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

by

GERTRUDE FORDE.

In Two Volumes.

VOL. I.



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

(All rights reserved.)

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



PREFACE.


The popularity of Corsica is increasing so rapidly, and information
regarding the island is so difficult to obtain, that these sketches may
not be unacceptable to intending travellers.



CONTENTS OF VOL. I.


  CHAPTER                                                   PAGE
  I.             Perils in Corsica                             1
  II.            The Town of Bastia                           11
  III.           The Grotto of Brando                         27
  IV.            To Isola Rossa                               50
  V.             The Curé of Calvi                            74
  VI.            The Haute Balagne                            87
  VII.           The Country of Serafino and Massoni          94
  VIII.          Some more about Bandits                     105
  IX.            Corte and its Hotel                         116
  X.             An Encounter with Street Urchins            125
  XI.            Manners and Customs at Corte                133
  XII.           San Rocco by the Restonico                  142
  XIII.          A Thirteen Hours' Drive                     151
  XIV.           A Bandit Village                            170
  XV.            The Town of Ajaccio                         190
  XVI.           Napoleon's House                            201
  XVII.          The Chapel of St. Anthony                   213
  XVIII.         Les Iles Sanguinaires                       224
  XIX.           Jours de Fête at Ajaccio                    229
  XX.            A Raw Lunch                                 239
  XXI.           Bergers and Gamins                          255



A LADY'S TOUR IN CORSICA.



CHAPTER I.

PERILS IN CORSICA.


It is strange that Corsica should be as little known and visited as it
is. Placed within easy reach of the most unambitious tourist, offering
him the loveliest scenery and few serious difficulties of travel, it
yet remains comparatively a _terra incognita_.

Many people have a vague idea that its sole claim to distinction lies
in the fact of its having given birth to the great Napoleon, and that
it is now a land of semi-savagery, snakes, brigands, and other horrors.

There is not a brigand on the island.

Snakes exist in some numbers, but the majority are harmless; and, of
those whose bite is dangerous, there need be no fear on the part of the
traveller, as they are in a far greater hurry to get out of his way,
than he of theirs.

As regards the semi-savagery, that is perhaps a matter of opinion.
The Corsican comes of a race of heroes: he is proud, conservative, and
reticent; phlegmatic until roused, then dangerous.

The lower orders are full of intelligence, but their domestic
surroundings are utterly bare and unrefined, and the comparative luxury
of our working class is unknown to and apparently undesired by them. In
one respect the Corsican is certainly uncivilized; he is, as a rule,
quite indifferent to the value of money, and prefers his own inherent
idleness, or supposed dignity, to any pecuniary advantage. A gun is
generally in his hand, a spade never; and he will often starve before
he will work, beg, or cheat.

Rich lands lie uncultivated, and houses fall to ruins in Corsica,
because the inhabitants are too lazy to spend a few hours daily in
toil.

On the other hand, especially coming from Italy, the land of cheats
_par excellence_, it is refreshing to be in a country where there
is neither whining beggar, overreaching landlord, nor humbugging
tradesman.

A traveller may go from one end of Corsica to the other, and if
he behave courteously himself, will probably never meet with a
discourteous word, from the time he sets foot on the island until he
leaves it.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that the Corsicans, though
polite and even friendly to strangers, have a weakness for shooting one
another. It is nonsense to suppose the vendetta is crushed out; it is
as lively as ever in some parts.

The almost inaccessible mountains are still the resort of escaped
bandits (outlaws)--pursued by the weak arm of the law--who,
occasionally bringing down their gend'arme, are never known to
interfere with a stranger. Their object is not robbery, but concealment
from justice, and the crime for which it follows them is generally the
result of some private feud.

In all this, I speak of the lower orders, the Corsicans _purs et
simples_. The upper classes are not Corsican at all, save in their love
for their country.

A Corsican gentleman essays to speak French like a Parisian, and
imitates both the French manners and character. He is generally lively
and talkative, and has quite cast away the ignorant apathy of his
poorer brethren regarding the value of money. He is the advocate of
commerce and railways, and all modern improvements, and dreadfully
ashamed of such barbarous national customs as the vendetta, generally
flatly denying that such a thing exists at the present day, and boldly
telling you that not a bandit is now to be found in the mountains.

When we expressed our intention of visiting this unknown land, many
were the warning voices raised to intimidate us by alarmed friends,
and we felt that we were bold women to stick to our project. One by
one, the terrible prophecies poured in, like so many shadows of Job's
messengers, until the stoutest heart might have been excused a quiver.

The plague, malaria, sunstroke, serpents, brigands, bugs--these
were a few of the horrors held out by sensible people, some of them
travellers, for our consideration.

Notwithstanding these reports, however, we persevered; and the result
showed how much faith is to be given in such cases to friendly advice.

Each of the threatened perils turned out, more or less, nothing but a
phantom.

The truth of the matter is, that Corsica is a remarkably easy country
in which to travel, totally without difficulties or dangers of any
sort, to the person who is only careful to select a good coachman as
his pioneer.

On the other hand, the accommodation is often extremely rough, and it
is by no means the place for an invalid or a fastidious person.

The cooking is nearly always good, and the dinners excellent; but the
village inns are sometimes filthy, and the bedrooms horrible. There is
only one good hotel--really excellent--in the whole island, and that
is at Ajaccio; and people who travel in Corsica must be prepared, not
only for broken windows, sour bread, and no butter, but for bad smells,
black floors, and a total absence of all the decencies of life. They
will also occasionally find an army of black beetles in their rooms,
and sometimes something worse.

Sundry and manifold remedies we tried against this last and most
terrible plague; but all in vain.

One friend, a consul, counselled the use of carbolic soap, and we
accordingly each invested in a slab of this not over inviting article,
submitting ourselves to a scent like that of puppy dogs on washing day.
But the enemy didn't mind it in the least.

Another, military, friend believed strongly in Keating's powder, and
informed me how, one night in Poland, upon a threatened attack of
vermin, he had put it to a severe test. He had thrown up an earthwork
of Keating in a ring round the bed, reposing within peacefully
unmolested until morning. The enemy had stormed the bastion, but failed
to make a breach, being repulsed with heavy loss; and, when day broke,
retired discomfited and utterly routed, leaving their dead upon the
plain. But clearly the Polish bug has not the indomitable energy and
insular enterprise of his Corsican relative. Our carefully prepared
entrenchments were utterly futile; and the foe, when present, speedily
gained possession of the battle-field, causing ignominious flight.
But in many instances, where the village inn looked of the poorest and
lowest, our anticipations, in respect of uncleanliness, were agreeably
disappointed.

Our party, when at last it started for the island, consisted of three
unprotected ladies, whom, for the sake of distinction, we will call
Nos. 1, 2, and 3.

It was towards the end of April when we left Leghorn for Bastia, and
not a propitious day. All night long a high gale had been blowing, and
the lightning dancing across a black sky; and when, at about 8 a.m.,
we left the quay in our little boat, the wind had not moderated much,
and even in the harbour the waves tossed us up and down in a most
lively manner. When we reached the steamer, we saw that she was a most
wretched little concern, laden with merchandise, and of no beam at all;
whilst the open sea beyond was covered with high white breakers.

I think our hearts would have failed us, and we should have turned
back, notwithstanding the good augury of a Sunday morning, had it not
been for the tedious term of delay circumstances had already imposed
upon us at Leghorn and at Florence. We felt that if we did not go by
this boat, we might never go: the season was already late for Corsica:
so we shut our eyes, and went.

For nearly three quarters of an hour that horrid little knife-shaped
steamer rose and sank on the heavy swell inside the harbour; and then,
at length, when every one was beginning to look pale, she heaved up her
anchors and departed on her way. And what a way it was!

There were but few passengers on board beside ourselves, and no ladies.
The others consisted of half a dozen French and Corsican gentlemen,
one of whom, a stout, middle-aged individual, returning to his native
land after a thirty years' absence in France, took a special interest
in the three adventurous English ladies, who could brave such a sea
for its dear sake. This person, watching our failing powers, offered us
much kindly sympathy and well-meant advice, received, I fear, with the
amount of ingratitude usual on such occasions.

For eight long hours we tossed, and rolled, and danced about on the
bosom of that heartless sea. It was really bad weather, and the waves
washed clean over the rickety little vessel. I lay vaguely wondering
whether we should share the fate of a large Indian steamer, which the
very day before had been wrecked in this sea, on the Elba rocks, on
its way to Bombay. Starting from Leghorn at 5 a.m., at seven o'clock
she struck upon the rocks, and before an hour was over the fine vessel
was not only a total wreck, but almost entirely submerged. Fortunately,
a fleet of fishing-boats in the neighbourhood rescued the crew, and
passengers, who, after an unenviable cruise of seven or eight hours,
and with the loss of all their baggage, found themselves relanded
at Leghorn, where some of them came to our hotel and detailed their
misfortunes.

But over those eight hours I draw a veil. I would only caution any
intending visitor to Corsica, who may not be a good sailor and a tough
traveller, not to be misled by any popular delusions as to the "calm
blue waters of the Mediterranean," but to be careful as to the boat and
day he selects for his voyage. Also, to make sure that the boat marked
in his time-table does really go at the hour specified, or indeed at
all that day, which is by no means to be taken for granted.

     "O that steamer to Bastia!
     There could nothing be nastier,
         Not even in Charon's dark wherry;
     For _that_ passage is quicker,
     And you cannot be sicker
         In crossing the Stygian ferry!"



CHAPTER II.

THE TOWN OF BASTIA.


Soon after four o'clock, our small vessel laboured its way into Bastia
harbour, and a crowd of little boats came alongside to convey us and
our effects to shore. I looked down, and saw the most wonderful sea, a
deep Prussian blue, tossing against the steamer's sides; looked above,
and saw a long, level shore, backed by low hills, the large town of
Bastia rising gently from the water's edge, with complex streets and
tall, factory-like houses. In a few minutes we were landed on Corsican
soil; and, whilst our things lay before the door of the custom house
just opposite the landing-stage, they became the cause of a lively
altercation between the many female porters anxious to appropriate them
as far as the hotel. We were the centre of an admiring, or curious,
crowd of about a hundred natives; and amongst these, twenty or thirty
tall, stalwart women and a few boys pushed, and jostled, and fought
over our possessions, with an intense determination good to see. The
men, meanwhile, Corsican fashion, stood by, silent and dignified, their
hands in their pockets, looking on indifferently at the struggles of
their better halves. When at length we were ready to start, and the
three trunks had been replaced on the hand-cart, we had to pursue and
divest five women of our small handbags, sketching blocks, and bundles
of wraps, with which, deprived of the trunks, they were separately
consoling themselves, deciding, to their mortification, that it did
not require that number of stout females, in addition to a strong
cart, to carry our very moderate allowance of luggage. Three of them,
nevertheless, followed us to the hotel door, where, placing the heavy
boxes on their heads, they marched with stately steps up the dark and
dingy staircase, and deposited them in our rooms.

It is astonishing what weight Corsican women can bear upon their heads.
From childhood upwards, they are accustomed to carry all the heavy
domestic burdens, and to carry them on their heads. They will pile one
thing on the top of another, until, in the distance, they look like
an advancing phantom of monstrous form. Enormous piles of wood, two
or three yards long, large baskets full of heavy family goods, great
wooden or earthenware cans and jars full of water, with sometimes a
baby on the arm, are their usual burdens. Nothing but a baby is ever
carried on the arm; and so much more convenient has habit made it to
them to use their heads rather than their hands, that I believe, if
the baby could be induced to keep its equilibrium as surely as the can
of water or the load of wood, it would long ago have been transferred
likewise to that elevation. Here is a specimen of a woman, who, with
a remarkably strong and plunging infant on her arm, and a very large
jar balanced sideways on her head, remained placidly motionless for at
least ten minutes before us at the village of Buchisano, to have her
portrait taken.

The men of Corsica never carry anything except a gun or a
heavily-knobbed stick; in fact, they rarely carry themselves, as they
are generally on mule or donkey back; and it is no unusual sight to
meet one or two of the nobler sex jogging along, pipe in mouth, on
their mules, whilst the women of the family trudge behind, bearing babe
and burden.

The Corsican women are much more lively than their helpmeets; they
have less of dignity and a vast deal more energy. They can appreciate
a joke, which, as a rule, the men apparently cannot.

I should imagine that a woman is never, or hardly ever, ill-treated in
Corsica. She is too useful, and the men of the family too apathetic;
but, undoubtedly, she is looked upon as an inferior animal by the other
sex.

"Les femmes sont si ignorantes," as a man said to me, with good-natured
contempt; and certainly they cannot discuss the politics and resources
of their country with the glib intelligence displayed by nearly all
the men; but the country would be in a queer condition without their
industry and energy.

The men mostly slouch a good deal, the result of a lazy, useless life,
spent in wanderings up and down the village street, and ceaseless
gossip, varied by an occasional expedition with their guns into the
country; but the women have a fine upright carriage, owing to their
long habitude of balancing heavy articles upon their heads.

The dress of the men at Bastia, and indeed all over Corsica, differs
little from that of the English working classes, and generally consists
of brown fustian or black velveteen. The only variety is caused by the
wide-awake hat, the high boots, and the invariable strap across the
shoulder supporting the large yellow gourd, which, hanging at their
side, contains their wine.

The women dress very quietly, nearly always in black or white, or
some equally sober shade. They wear a skirt and jacket of different
materials, with a large white or black handkerchief tied under the
chin. This handkerchief, when pulled well forward, is a good protection
against the sun; but, in the heat of summer, most of them perch upon
it an enormous low-crowned, flat-brimmed, white straw hat, as big as an
ordinary parasol, which, as it bears no trimming whatever, is somewhat
trying even to a good-looking face.

You never see a Corsican woman's hair, which is a pity, as there is
reason to believe it is often pretty and luxuriant.

Every Corsican carries a huge cotton umbrella--red, green, or brilliant
blue--both for the heavy rains and for protection from the sun.

Our first view of the Hotel de France somewhat appalled us. The street
in which it is situated is a fine one--the finest in Corsica--wide and
full of handsome houses; but the entrance to the hotel was mean and
dark, and the outside decidedly dirty.

The first hotel in Corsica, after leaving luxurious Italy, is certainly
a shock to a sensitive mind; and that at Bastia does not let you down
gently. The food is good and abundant, the charges very reasonable,
and the people exceedingly good-natured; but the stone hall and narrow
staircase are unswept, the bedrooms dingy, and the floors and walls not
above suspicion.

Nevertheless, the Hotel de France is the best in Bastia; and, although
we did not find it clean, we probably should have found the other
hotels (of which there are several) a good deal dirtier.

Our fat friend, who had established himself as our guide and protector
through the custom house and streets, and who had given his arm to one
of our party who was in a shaky condition, owing to the voyage, now
left us in the hotel hall, bidding us farewell till dinner time, and
commending us to the care of M. Stauffe.

It was an amusing table d'hôte at six o'clock. There were about
eighteen or twenty gentlemen, all Corsicans, we being the only
representatives of our sex. All were exceedingly lively, our stout
friend especially being the centre of much repartee and rapid argument.

As usual in Corsica, the conversation, carried on in very good French,
was almost exclusively devoted to political questions, which were
discussed very freely, and with so much animation that now and then hot
words seemed imminent; but they always passed away in a joke.

Our friend, after living so long abroad, found his opinions rather too
cosmopolitan for his neighbours, and they hammered away at each other
with an amazing freedom and familiarity.

But the old fellow continued to take a great interest in us,
interspersing his political talk with polite remarks across the table,
and recommending to us in turn nearly every dish. If we seemed to
approve of any of these, he became quite excited, nodding his head with
many smiles, and remarking in a satisfied tone, "Bon, bon, bon!"

This was repeated so often, being only diversified by an occasional
"Bien, bien, bien!" that it was quite impossible to resist laughing,
which at length we all did, including himself.

"Mais avouez, mademoiselle," he remarked to No. 3, "qu'il y a de beaux
plats dans la Corse."

"Sans doute," she replied, politely; "and many other beautiful things,
I believe."

"Mais oui!" he returned, smiling. "Un beaux pays. Et," with a sudden
happy thought, turning towards a good-looking young man seated next
him, and who did not attempt to disclaim the compliment, "de beaux
garçons! Blonds, comme lui. Et noirs--comme moi!"

The fair young man turned upon him quite fiercely. "_You_ a garçon?" he
asked. "How old are you? _I_ am twenty-four."

"And I forty-seven--un bel âge!"

His neighbour pulled his long yellow moustaches with a scornful laugh.

"You are an old man--voilà!" said he, curtly.

The wind that night at Bastia was remarkable. This part of the coast
is noted for its constant and varying gales. Whether this particular
wind were the "Sirocco," or the "Grecale," or the "Libecchio," or any
other of the various currents which afflict this town, I know not; but
it was a most unpleasant wind, and one that seemed especially weird in
the darkness of night.

My bedroom was a thorough Corsican room; not a bolt nor a lock fastened
properly, and doors and windows were confidingly open to every sound
within doors, and every breeze without.

Chimneys and roofs constituted the chief look-out, but my view likewise
comprised, between the two high towers of the church of St. Jaen, a
small stretch of blue black sea, lying heaving angrily in the fitful
moonlight, with now and then a gleam of sheet lightning illuminating
its dark bosom.

Wonderfully still and soundless was the night air, until suddenly,
every quarter of an hour or so, came a wild gust that rattled loose
slates outside, and shook the doors and windows as if they were wrested
by some violent human hand. This sort of thing, repeated all night long
at short intervals, and accompanied by a dismal howling like the wails
of lost souls in purgatory, is not exactly conducive to repose; and
my first night on Corsican soil was spent in pondering over insular
phenomena, and speculating how many would be of an equally disturbing
nature.

We spent several days in Bastia, during which time, either the sirocco,
or one of its family, continued to blow with unabated vigour; and, as
I found an equally squally wind in possession on my return many weeks
later, I concluded that this sort of thing had been going on all the
time. For which reason alone, if for no other, I infer that Bastia is
not a desirable place for a prolonged residence.

It does not take very long to explore the town. It is a rather compact
place of about eighteen thousand inhabitants, curiously built, as are
most Corsican towns, running up the side of a hill, with one large main
street, joined to the lesser ones by flights of steps, or more often by
steep stony ascents.

The houses are perfect factories for height and baldness
of architecture, being, however, a shade cleaner and less
repulsive-looking than in any other Corsican town, except perhaps
Ajaccio. Seven stories is the usual height; some of the houses having
windows closely barred and wired (the remains perhaps of the outward
symbols of a vendetta in higher life than is now the fashion). It is
the only town in the island, except Ajaccio, which really has any shops
to speak of; but they are rather difficult for an English person to
find, as comparatively few of them have "shop windows," and you have
to peer in through dark, dingy doorways, to perceive the wares sold
within. It took us nearly half an hour to find the photographer, and a
long walk up steps, and down steps, and through gardens, among which an
occasional guiding placard encouraged our wearying search. But, on the
other hand, I found quite an ornamental straw hat, trimmed with blue
wool, was to be bought for the modest sum of fivepence halfpenny in the
high street!

Judging from their shops, the people of Bastia must be uncommonly
fond of sweets. The streets are pretty equally divided between the
"patisserie" and "confisserie" shops, and the coiffeurs, with here
and there a jeweller's window. But the best jewellery shops (and they
are not much to speak of) are in the Rue St. Jaen, behind the church;
and here, as in duty bound, we invested in little yellow gourds and
silver-mounted daggers. These daggers--the smaller ones made of coral,
ebony, or silver, in silver sheaths, and the larger ones of metal--are
inscribed with the fatal words, "Vendetta," or "La mort," and are very
thrilling to a stranger. But the thrill cools somewhat when one learns,
as we did later on, that whatever may have been the fashion in olden
times, the dagger is now comparatively unknown to the Corsicans, and
its use confined to the Italian and "Continentale." Probably, in the
days when the vendetta was the fashion amongst the upper classes, the
dagger was its usual instrument of vengeance; but now that murdering is
banished in great part to the lower ranks, guns and pistols have almost
entirely taken its place.

The Hotel de Ville at Bastia, with its high flight of steps, and
containing some specimens of native marble, is considered a fine
building; but to eyes fresh from Florence, the land of enchanted
palaces, there was not much to admire about it.

The same may be said of the church of St. Jaen. Its two high
towers were imposing at a distance, but otherwise the exterior was
commonplace. Inside were some large Norman arches of white marble;
and the different altars were surrounded by balustrades and pavements
of local marbles--green, and red, and variegated--curious, but not
nearly so beautiful as the Italian marbles. The six or seven wide
steps up to the church door were covered by groups of picturesque,
barefooted, dirty little children, who roamed unchecked in and out of
the building, laughing and chatting, and occasionally enjoying a game
of hide-and-seek behind the pillars. Some black-robed women, and a man
with tin-tacks in his mouth, were busy arranging a large figure of the
Madonna on a pedestal within the altar-rail, in front of the principal
altar.

This position of dignity was no doubt owing to the approaching month of
May, or "month of Mary;" but also partly, as a good woman informed us
in a whisper, because of the present severe affliction of bad weather
under which the country was suffering. The prayers of Mary, besieged
as her ear would be, in this position, night and day by the petitions
of believers, would, it was hoped, effect a mitigation of the evil. The
image was of china, life size, highly coloured, with golden crown, pink
cheeks, and blue robe, and was placed upon a pedestal about five feet
high, from the sides of which sprung a large arch of white roses and
gold tinsel, which completely encircled the Madonna. This pedestal was
being covered by the devotees, who bowed the knee each time on passing
the image, with coloured stuffs and white lace, and bedecked with many
brass candlesticks and vases of artificial flowers. It struck me as
a singular fact, that in a country so grandly prolific of beautiful
flowers as Corsica, the artificial should be preferred to the real.

Continuing our walk through the curious, narrow, stony streets, where
in one place we had to run the gauntlet of a large bonfire in a very
small byeway, over which the Bastia urchins, with bare legs, leaped
to an inspiring tune of their own chanting, we arrived at the bastion
walls. They are high and picturesque, but not to be compared with those
of Calvi or Bonifacio.

Here, also, we came upon a market with uncommonly dear oranges, and
with gay stuffs ranged upon open carts or stalls for peasant purchase.

The best looking end of the town is near the landing-stage. A fine quay
stretches out for some distance, and there is a good harbour, generally
floating one or two fine steamers from Africa or Marseilles. There is
also, of course, a statue of Napoleon on the place in front of the
quay, and here the soldiers, in their gay uniforms of blue and red,
drill unceasingly, and daily parade the town twice to the oft-repeated
tune of their particular local march.



CHAPTER III.

THE GROTTO OF BRANDO.


Notwithstanding the cold wind and the uncertain weather, we could not
leave Bastia without an expedition in the Cap Corse direction. Cap
Corse is the northern peninsula of Corsica, stretching out into the
Mediterranean for many miles, like a long tongue. At its extremity are
fine rocks and one or two lighthouses, but these we were fated not to
see.

We started from the hotel in good time, leaving behind No. 1, who
preferred the quaintness of the Bastia architecture, and wished to
sketch in the streets.

Our equipage was a little open carriage, drawn by a pair of lively
chestnut ponies that went like the wind; and we were further escorted
by "Bigemark"--a black and tan quadruped apparently belonging to the
pointer breed, intelligent and affectionate, but not endowed with the
fatal gift of beauty, and possessed of barely a remnant either of ears
or tail. Our first object was to see the Caves of Brando, wonderful
grottos of limestone formation, in the hillside close by the seashore,
about seven miles from Bastia.

The road to Brando was charming, following the shore the whole way,
about a dozen yards above the sea level; the slope downwards being
clothed with splendid cacti, and with groves of olive, orange, cherry,
walnut, and fig trees, with here and there an ilex. Out of the forests,
the two common trees of Corsica are the olive and the ilex; and
beautifully they harmonize together, the rich shining green of the ilex
contrasting effectively with the silver grey of the olive.

The forest trees consist chiefly of pines, firs, and beeches, varied by
a few oaks and cedars; and the chestnut woods generally stand alone.

Bordering the slope, and amongst the olives, bloomed flowers of every
description and colour; whilst great grasses, pale pink asphodel, and
giant golden spurge, grew like young trees among the rocks, and all
along the roadside the weird prickly pear raised its ghostly arms in a
huge hedge.

Beyond this, almost from beneath our feet, stretched far away the wide
sweep of Mediterranean, sparkling with countless flashes, and bearing
on its laughing bosom the islands of Capraya, Elba, and Monte Christo.
Monte Christo was but a blue cone above the waters; and Capraya, though
larger, was cloudy and mysterious; but Elba lay before us majestically
grand in the dappled sunlight, precipitous walls of barren rock and
smiling hillside standing out in a fine contrast.

On the other side of the road, and rising steeply up, were rocky hills,
well clothed with the sweet-smelling macchie; whilst, between every
rocky rift, showed glimpses of wilder mountains, the inland chain of
Corsica, raising their grey heads from misty veils of morning.

Macchie, in Corsica, is a word that means much. It is, literally,
scrub or undergrowth; but it is, practically, one of the most perfect
garments ever woven by nature. It may be thick or thin, but is
generally composed of a dense mass of shrubs, from two to four feet
high, massed over and carpeted under by the richest and most luxuriant
flowers.

The pink and the white cystus, the common weed of Corsica, which covers
miles of country with its red or snow-white bushes on their sturdy
growth, is the usual foundation of the macchie; but mingled with it
are a score of other low growing plants, of various and often aromatic
scents.

Here, by the Bastia road, where the hills sloped gently up from the
road, the macchie grew closely; but where the grey and green and red
rocks rose more steeply, the plants could only hang in the crevices
overhead--here a cystus, and there a purple thistle, with the little
crimson cyclamen peeping out of every cranny, and the bright lizards
darting across the sunny stones.

Very beautiful was this first view of the Corsican rocks, and of the
wide sea panorama of historic islands, each telling in silent grandeur
its own history of adventure, heroism, or the stern freaks of fortune.
The very name of Monte Christo seemed to launch one into dim dreams
of wild peril and desperate attempt; whilst the dark cliffs of Elba
frowned in a stern harmony to their tale of the despotic emperor, whose
heart for a time beat in impotent resistance against its prison walls.

What a satire it seemed, to place that proud, all-conquering Corsican
on an island from whose heights he could plainly see the rugged
mountains of his native land--almost smell the sweet odours of the
macchie-covered hills, wafted across his childhood's sea, from her to
him!

At last, in a blue bay where little breakers dashed merrily, the red
ponies were suddenly reined up. Bigemark came to the carriage door
to offer his congratulations, and our taciturn coachman informed us
we were at Brando. At the same time he obligingly pointed out to us,
up the side of the steep hill, a stony watercourse, down which ran
a lively little stream, and which, he told us, was the "path" to the
grotto.

Up this we accordingly went, with one hand keeping a desperate clutch
on our straw hats (which evinced a strong disposition to obey the
invitation of the sirocco, and fly away for a nearer view of Capraya),
and, with the other, rescuing what garments we could from the running
stream.

About half-way up the hill we were met by an aged but lively crone,
who with another woman escorted us to the caves, informing us, as
we supposed (for it was quite impossible to understand her toothless
jumble of bad French and Italian patois), that she was the custodian
of the place. The grottos belong to a private family, of the name of
Ferdinandi, who have made the winding staircases, and whose name, on
the stone slab fixed in the rock outside, is appended to the intimation
that this their work is devoted to the enjoyment of all lovers of
beauty.

Leading us by the hand, and laughing much at our evident want of
comprehension of all the interesting facts with which she was beguiling
the short way, our cavern crone opened a little wooden door in the
face of the cliff, and ushered us straight into a Gothic-roofed
hall of limestone, the reception room in this winding gallery of
nature's building. Here we were told (by gesture) to remain until our
guides returned. We accordingly sat down on a block of limestone,
which constituted the one chair in this chilly, half-stuffy hall,
semi-darkness revealing the grey white walls and roof, and the rude
staircase up which had gone our two companions to light up the many
hanging lamps necessary to illuminate the caves.

In about ten minutes they returned, and we then proceeded up the same
staircase, cut roughly out of the rock, into the heart of the cliff.
Overhead hung countless glittering stalactites, whilst on each side
the most fantastic walls enclosed us, the dim rays of the oil lamps
throwing open tracery and arched roof into weirdest shadows and gleams
of sparry radiance.

Here and there the path was broken, and in some places we had to bow
humbly beneath the drooping arch; sometimes up, and sometimes down, we
went on in this airy labyrinth for about ten minutes before we turned
and came back by another path. The limestone formations probably extend
much further into the cliff; but the winding pathway goes no further,
and one can only be thankful that Corsican energy has effected so much.
The forms of some of the stalagmites were most curious, rising like
Alpine ranges, with an infinity of Matterhorns, above many a little
hollowed nook, or like the carved screen behind some marble altar; some
so delicate in tracery and so transparent that a light, held behind
them, lit them up like finely veined cream-coloured glass; whilst the
stalactites overhead were countless and most graceful, often passing
below their stalagmitic brethren and falling between them in a rich
confusion of spiral carving.

What a glare it seemed when we emerged again from fairyland, out among
the arbutus and the foxgloves on the green hillside, overlooking the
dazzling sea!

The old woman was merrier than ever after her short incarceration in
Mother Earth, and held out her capacious apron to receive our fees;
sending after us many good wishes, which I have no doubt were as
sincere as her witticisms were pungent, but which unfortunately were
quite lost upon us.

The stipulated sum to see the caves of Brando is a franc and a half
each person. It seems a good deal at first; but the visitors are no
doubt few, and the expense of so many lights rather heavy.

In a minute or two more, we and the red ponies and Bigemark were off
again, trotting on to the marina, or little sea hamlet of Sisco. A mile
or two past Brando, we came in sight of Erbalunga, a most picturesque
little village lying on a low tongue of land right out into the
Mediterranean, a Genoese round tower at its furthest end, standing on
black rocks washed incessantly by the breaking waves.

Towards one o'clock we reached our baiting place, a seashore village
which appeared to consist of one house, namely, the dirty and
unpretentious inn before which we stopped. Since leaving Brando, the
road had become sterner, the rocks barer, and the flowers more scanty;
the green groves disappearing from the waterside, and being replaced by
great blocks of granite and porphyry.

Feeling a little doubtful as regarded lunch, we entered the inn door,
and picking our way across the very dirty floor of the outer room, in
which were assembled some half dozen or so of peasant men and women,
with the usual accompaniment of dogs and guns, we were shown by the
host into an inner apartment, and supplied with two rickety chairs.

The floor of this apartment was not much cleaner than the other, and
a bedstead lately in use filled one end of it. But a capital smell
of cooking came from the kitchen on the other side, and through the
grimy little window gleamed the bluest sweep of sea and sky. After some
conversation with our host, a hairy, black bearded man of polite and
sociable proclivities, smoking a short pipe, we discovered that the
culinary resources of the establishment consisted of an omelette. But,
sniffing again incredulously, and stating our conviction that something
better was secreted in the little kitchen, after some hesitation, a
soup tureen, containing the most savoury smelling soup, was brought to
us.

"Look here, mesdames," said the landlord confidentially, "I have two
more ladies upstairs, lodging here; young ladies, whose home is in the
Cap, and this is their soup. But, if you will not take too much, you
shall have some. The ladies have also my best room, or you would not
have had to put up with this poor apartment."

Whilst making his polite speeches, and they were many, our host
constantly half raised his fur cap from his bushy hair; but he
continued to smoke his short black pipe.

Whilst we were eating our soup, he drew a chair up to the table, and
continued the conversation.

"You are Continentales, ladies, are you not? Are you Frenchwomen?"

"No, monsieur, we are English," we replied, feeling gently flattered by
the compliment to the purity of our French accent.

It was not until some time later that I discovered that the Corsican
lower orders, although often speaking the French tongue tolerably
fluently, yet were not very correct judges of the French accent. And
I confess my vanity received a shock when a young Corsican gentleman
at Corte, who had travelled a good deal and lived some time in Paris,
remarked, almost before I had opened my mouth, "You are English, I
perceive, mademoiselle? One discovers that at once by your accent!"

This gentleman was very agreeable, and gave me some interesting
information about his country; but, from his opening speech, I
could have told _him_, however good his accent, that _he_ was not a
Frenchman.

"Ah!" said the landlord, thoughtfully, "English, to be sure. They
travel a great deal, for they are all rich, as rich as possible."

"No," said I; "some of them are very poor." Whereat our black friend
laughed incredulously.

It is simply impossible to convince any uneducated Corsican that
England is not a nation composed exclusively of millionaires. He thinks
every English person has his pocket full of gold.

England, although well known to them all by name, is to them a sort of
Ultima Thule; and the mere fact of a journey taken from such a distance
for purposes of pleasure, seems to them conclusive upon the point.
"How can you say you are not wealthy when you have come all this way to
amuse yourselves?" was frequently said to us in a tone of conviction.

This being the popular notion, it is much to the credit of the people,
and a proof of the national simplicity and honesty, that imposition and
overcharging to strangers is almost unknown.

A little stir outside now attracted the attention of the landlord, and
he left us to finish our lunch alone. This appeared to me a favourable
opportunity for depriving the Cap Corse young ladies of a little more
of their good soup, and I was just going to help myself to a second
basinful when the old woman who had spread the table for us, and who no
doubt had suspected my felonious intentions, entered from the kitchen
and abruptly bore off the tureen upstairs.

So I had to content myself with munching some sour bread, which my
companion was already sharing with a happy family gathered around,
consisting of three cats, a dog, two pigeons, and a hen. They did not
seem to share our objections to the bread which we found difficult to
swallow, even when soaked in the good red wine upon the table.

The peninsula of Cap Corse is celebrated for its red and white
wines, which even in the sixteenth century, we are told by the native
historian Fillipini, were exported to the Continent and much thought
of.

In some particulars, this northern district of Cap Corse bears a
stamp of its own, apart from the customary Corsican character. It is
one of the most fertile districts in the island. Oranges and lemons,
and the fruit called the cédrat, which is neither orange nor lemon,
but something between the two, and is much preserved, grow here
luxuriantly; whilst vineyards flourish in every direction.

The valleys all along the coast, and especially the Vale of Luri, are
green and cultivated; and the population is thicker and more well-to-do
than in the other parts of the island. The land certainly is rich and
peculiarly friendly to the growth of vines, but the secret perhaps lies
in the superior energy of the Cap Corse people.

For several centuries they have manifested an industry truly
unpatriotic, and a corresponding neglect of warlike pursuits. Among
the gentler inhabitants of this district it was, too, that Christianity
found its first converts on the island, from them gradually spreading
to the sterner tribes southward; and tradition asserts that St. Paul,
amongst his many perils by sea, braved the dangers of this rocky coast,
and landed somewhere on Cap Corse as its first missionary.

Sisco also, Gregorovius tells us, possesses a marine church dedicated
to St. Catherine, and containing some very remarkable relics, such as
the rod with which Moses smote the Red Sea, almonds from the garden
of Eden, and even a piece of the lump of earth from which Adam was
modelled!

I saw no church in or near Sisco during my short stay there; but, had I
then been aware of the reputed possession of these treasures, I should
certainly have made some efforts to discover its whereabouts.

We were still struggling with the sour bread when the landlord
re-entered. He had rather a triumphant smile upon his countenance, as
he remarked quietly, "You cannot go back to Bastia; you must stay here.
Your carriage is all broken to pieces."

"That is unfortunate," said we; "but we could not stop here, quand
même; we could walk back to Bastia, it is not ten miles." And, leaving
the happy family, we walked outside to see the truth of the assertion.

A little crowd of about a dozen people, constituting, I fancy, all
the population of the village of Sisco, had gathered round the inn,
watching the course of events with a sort of phlegmatic interest.

Our carriage was gone from its original position in the middle of the
road, and stood by the wall of the inn yard, with one red pony standing
quietly beside it, and the other enjoying a canter on his own account
about a quarter of a mile off, and rapidly becoming a speck in the
distance.

As we came up, our driver advanced to us, with the pole and part of the
carriage in his hand, saying curtly, with the first smile we had yet
seen upon his countenance, "The carriage is broken."

To use a slang expression, we both felt a little "floored." "Yes," we
replied to this incontrovertible fact; "but don't you think you had
better catch the pony?"

Jehu acquiesced silently, and proceeded in a leisurely manner up
the road, where, assisted by another man, he managed to capture the
recalcitrant pony in an incredibly short space of time.

"Well," we inquired when he returned; "and how are we to continue our
journey?"

"You cannot."

"Won't the carriage hold together?"

"Mais non!"

"And how are we to get back to Bastia?"

"Oh, I will mend it up enough for that."

It was impossible to be angry with such a piece of placid indifference
as this man, however much one might wish it; one might as well have
been angry with a sack of wheat.

So we left him, humming softly to himself, to mend up the carriage as
best he could, whilst we walked on towards the Cap for a two or three
hours' stroll.

The sun now lay hot upon the shadeless road, which began to mount
gently, keeping, however, close above the seashore, and always
bastioned on its other side by rocky walls, which after a while
gave place to massive lordly hills, green and steep, more than one
surmounted by ruined tower or long deserted cloister, braving in
solitary grandeur the eastern gales that sweep each crag-topped
eminence.

It was a beautiful walk; only a little bit marred by the unpleasant
attentions of two men in a mule cart. They passed once, stopping the
conveyance to offer us a seat, which we declined; and afterwards
shouting and calling after us from a wayside inn, where they had
stopped.

On returning homeward, we were not overpleased to see our persecutors
again coming after us in their blue blouses and black wide-awakes.

Apparently their journey had been no further than to the inn; and it
was probably not the first inn they had visited, for they were more
pressing and less agreeable than ever. One man went so far as to jump
down from his seat, insisting upon the advantages of a drive in the
cart; and it was only by walking on rapidly, with the damping remark
that we did not understand a word they said (which, as they spoke a
harsh Italian patois, was nearly true), that we at length managed to
get rid of them. This, I must remark, was the sole occasion on which
any one of us experienced any rudeness or unpleasantness from the
behaviour of any grown up Corsican man or woman. One could scarcely say
as much for many more frequented countries, after incessant travelling
for several weeks in their loneliest and wildest regions.

On nearing Sisco, we met the carriage, driver, and ponies coming slowly
towards us.

"See," said the coachman, with a gay, placid smile, "am I not a good
workman?" And he pointed to the pole and broken carriage, pieced
together by his bits of string. He really seemed to think the breakage
altogether quite a clever affair.

"How did the accident originally happen?" we inquired.

"The ponies ran up against the wall whilst I was out of sight for a
moment," was the careless reply.

The man was evidently not a fool, but his comfortable phlegm surpassed
anything I ever saw, out of Corsica.

On the road home, we passed another round tower standing lonely by
the roadside overlooking the sea, and No. 3 got out to sketch it. It
was--like all the Genoese towers which strew the country, standing
erect on every high cliff and commanding hill--perfectly round and not
very lofty, but of immense thickness, and but little ruined.

Apparently, our coachman had not profited much by his morning's lesson;
for, whilst we sat by the roadside, he found it more to his taste to
come and look over our shoulders than to remain by his carriage. The
ponies were anxious to get home, and would not stand. They had already
taken the empty carriage, with no guard save Bigemark, half across the
road, when I pointed out the fact to Jehu.

"Oh," said he, composedly, "they will stand."

"But," said No. 2, "they are _not_ standing; they are moving now."

Again he smiled silently.

"Is it your carriage?" I demanded of the imperturbable man.

"Mais non!"

"Whose, then?"

"M. Stauffe, sans doute."

"Poor M. Stauffe! I am sorry for him. His carriages must come
expensive."

Jehu gave a momentary stare, and then took the hint, and departed to
his ponies.

No town could look more lovely than did Bastia as we returned
homewards. Framed in by a foreground of noble cacti and of green hills
on one side, and blue sea on the other, the shipping stood out against
a crimson sky, and the white houses lay in the soft evening light
against a range of pink and blue and purple mountains.

The wind had moderated, and the Mediterranean, as we entered the town
and passed along the broad quay, lay like a shining sapphire against
the dark mole; but the calm was delusive, for at night again the
sirocco resumed its sway, and a few hours later a vivid thunderstorm
was rolling over the angry sea.

Not much beyond Sisco lies Pino, a village on the western shore,
surrounded by gardens, vineyards, and the residences of some of the
wealthiest of the islanders. Not far from it is the celebrated tower
of Seneca, a round tower standing in stern solitude on the summit
of a pointed rock rising from amongst the mountains and overlooking
two seas. We were very sorry not to see this tower, although it is
very doubtful whether it deserves its name, and whether the Roman
philosopher, during his eight years' exile in the uncongenial land of
Corsica, did really frequent these rocky wilds in preference to the
neighbouring towns of Mariana or Aleria. Corsican savagery and Corsican
character were unpalatable and incomprehensible to the courtly, selfish
stoic, and his comments upon his hosts are little flattering. He
calls them liars, robbers, revengeful, and irreligious, and will not
even admit the natural beauties of this "rude island," "desolate in
situation, scanty in products, and unhealthy in climate."

But the unhappy position of poor Seneca may well explain his
ill-temper. He might write long-winded letters of consolation to
his mother, inculcating the beauty of resignation and of a calm
indifference to earthly surroundings; but I have no doubt the sour
bread and stony roads tried the equanimity of the polished Roman
just as much as they do that of the fastidious traveller nowadays,
who moreover comes, unlike Seneca, by his own will and for his own
pleasure.



CHAPTER IV.

TO ISOLA ROSSA.


Our first long expedition in the island was what may be called the
north-western tour, embracing the best part of a circle, and comprising
St. Florent, Ile Rousse and Calvi; thence on to Corte.

This tour I think is a good one to begin with, as it is on the whole
less interesting and beautiful than the others. After the first day's
drive, it does not abound so very much in beauties, and it does abound
to a remarkable degree, even for Corsica, in dirt.

Yet, although not so wildly beautiful as some of our expeditions, there
was much that was exceedingly picturesque and curious; and Calvi, above
all, is a town worth going far to see.

There is only one way of travelling in Corsica, for those who wish
to see anything of the country and obtain any enjoyment from their
travels; and that is, in a private, hired carriage, which--driver,
horses, and carriage--may be had at a reasonable rate per day.

From Bastia we started in style, with a roomy carriage and three
horses, for which luxurious equipage we paid thirty francs a day; but
charges are higher here than at Ajaccio, and, in our other rounds, we
obtained an equally good carriage and two horses, with a very superior
coachman, for twenty francs a day.

This is the usual charge all over the island, and includes the keep of
both driver and horses; but half the return journey is expected to be
paid, as well as a douceur of about two francs a day to the man.

In this case, the excuse was the hilly roads and our heavy luggage,
necessitating a third horse; but I think our inexperience was the real
cause of the difference. It is as well to fix the bargain beforehand,
and also to make some inquiries regarding the man to whom you entrust
your precious lives and limbs for several days, as, on these roads,
a tipsy or inefficient driver would be no joke. For the comfort of
timid travellers I may, however, as well remark, that every Corsican
seems born to handle the reins, as a South Sea Islander to swim; and,
although very furious drivers, they are remarkably safe ones. Also,
that their undoubtedly thirsty habits interfere wonderfully little with
their duties.

For instance, the drowsiness which is prone to take possession of
many Corsican drivers after the midday halt and thenceforth, and which
causes them to nod ominously on the box, has no effect apparently upon
a sort of sixth sense, which wakes them up by instinct just in time for
a sharp turn, a steep descent, or a bad bit of road.

This Bastia coachman of ours--a big, rough, bullet-headed fellow--was
not the most sober of mankind; but, although probably the worse for
drink every evening when off duty, he took care not to overstep the
nodding stage when in its discharge.

More than once, at the approach of some nasty corner or sudden
precipice, the point of an umbrella was levelled at the small of his
back; but it never had cause to culminate in a prod, for, precisely at
the necessary moment, the furry cap adorning the unkempt head, raised
itself, and the brown hands tightened their hold upon the loose reins.

The best course, however, is to forget both bad road and sleepy
driver in the glorious prospect that seldom is wanting in Corsica;
for a system of nervous watchfulness is not conducive to comfort or
enjoyment.

It was not an auspicious day on which we started on our tour. After
an early breakfast, we left the Hotel de France at eight o'clock in
pouring rain, and began mounting the steep ascent to the Col Teghine.

Steep, indeed, was the hill, and very long; and the position of the
third horse was no sinecure. Fortune, however, favours the brave; and
before an hour was over, the sun came peeping forth through many a dark
rift, blue clouds rose up and filled the gaps, and the sunlight glanced
sparkling on dewy flower and crystal-covered olive grove. Thenceforth,
the day was fine, and showed to advantage one of the most beautiful
drives that can well be imagined.

Steep rose the green hills above and below us, with the blue sea at
every turn stretching wide before us, and bringing out into clearer
prominence its three islands, whilst the opposite shore of Tuscany
lay a soft blue line on the horizon. On the lower slope, groups of
olive, orange, and lemon trees--the two latter in full fruit--and the
sun shining gaily on the many golden balls; above us, banks of cystus,
shining arbutus and Mediterranean heath, with foaming cascades pouring
down from the rocky hillsides, and rose-coloured cyclamen and golden
broom bending lovingly above their banks.

Bastia, looked down upon from this road, had a very picturesque
appearance. It seemed the only bit of life on the wide,
desolate-looking plain which stretched away into dim distance to the
south, bordered on one side by the sea, and on the other by the inland
range of hills, and enclosing an arm of the sea called the Lake of
Bigulia.

There is said to have been a Roman settlement and several large towns
in this region long ago; but now, all along the extensive plain, the
eye can only make out one small village, and it has a pale, deserted
look, as if unloved by nature or by man.

And not without reason. From Bastia downwards, almost to the
southernmost extremity of the island, this eastern coast is flat,
marshy, and malarious.

A man of forty is an old man in this fatal district. Even the natives
fly from it, leaving its shores barren and uncultivated; and the poor
Italian labourer, who, more industrious than his Corsican neighbour,
comes over the sea in spring to till the soil, creeps up each night
into the mountains, to avoid sleeping in the deadly air.

When at length we reached the summit of the Col Teghine, the view was
magnificent. We were on a narrow ridge 1735 feet high--on one side
looking down upon the eastern coast; on the other, upon scattered
mountains of every strange form, and a vast panorama of western sea
and coast. The large gulf of San Fiorenzo lay before us, indescribably
blue; and, into it, stretched out arm after arm of wildest red and
purple rocks, glowing far, far below in the cloudless atmosphere.
Anything more beautiful than those far-away vivid rock ranges beneath
our feet, it would be impossible to conceive; and as for a moment,
with our hands full of lovely flowers, we paused on the lonely
sky-surrounded pass, and threw ourselves down on the rich maquis, a
little lark rose from beside us, in the still mountain hush, and gave
voice to nature's meaning. In another moment we began the long descent
to St. Florent, surrounded by wild and rugged mountains, the sea always
beneath us, the steep road winding along the flanks of barer and less
verdant hills, the maquis more abundant, and the flowers rarer than on
the other side.

For an hour or more we gallopped down, passing a picturesque high
towered church, and finally going over a flat plain by the winding
shores of the lake-like gulf of St. Florent. Then, with a sudden
turn, into a narrow unsavoury little street, where our carriage could
scarcely pass, and up to the door of a very uninviting inn, whose
interior, however, proved superior to its exterior.

Inns and innkeepers in Corsica may be most correctly described as
uninviting. Whatever flourish of trumpets you make on arriving,
and however rare an event may be the advent of a carriage of any
description, the proprietors never appear to welcome you; and you are
expected to toil panting upstairs, all your baggage in your arms,
before meeting with any assistance. And this very often in a place
where the excitement of a foreigner's coming has been sufficient to
rouse the entire population, and send a score or two of shrieking
children at your heels.

The hall and staircase of this particular inn were remarkably still
and deserted; and being then unused to Corsican eccentricities, we felt
doubtful, after one or two silent flights, whether the stone staircase
led to anything more promising than empty chambers. But at length, a
long, low _salle-a-manger_ burst upon us round a corner; and here, with
the assistance of a nice dog, and in company with a party of remarkably
lively Germans lately deposited by the diligence, we managed to get
through some rather sheepy mutton cutlets, good cheese, cakes, and
wine, for the modest sum of fifteen pence a-piece. We were likewise
offered a dish of raw ham; but this, although included gratis in the
bill of fare, we declined politely.

St. Florent is a small and rather dirty village, placed in most
picturesque fashion by the edge of the sea. Some of the houses are
built upon a narrow ridge of black rocks running out into the sea, and
have both back and front washed by the waves and sprinkled by the surf
on stormy days.

It has a nice little quay, along which were several good coasting
vessels at anchor.

From the inn, whose base was at the water's edge, was a lovely view,
spreading across bright blue sea, and over the houses on their rocky
ledge to the rosy tinted range of hills behind.

We were to rest here two hours, and determined to take a sketch.
But, being about noon, the sun was blazing down upon the unsheltered
white road and on the hard brown rocks in an unpleasant manner. So
Nos. 2 and 3 crept up a perpendicular bit of cliff, on to a narrow,
steep ledge, where there was a foot or two of shade; and here, with
the cliff overhanging their perch, and the wonderful water, malachite
and purple in its lights and shadows, beneath them, indulged in happy
contemplation and artistic effort.

But, alas! solitude and silent reflection are not possible to the
English traveller in Corsica; and although the boys of St. Florent
were a most superior lot, kind and gentlemanly, they very soon invaded
our retreat--creeping along to us on hands and knees (for our ledge
necessitated this lowly position), and offering for sale some pretty
shells, freshly gathered from their sea bed. For the modest sum of
three soldi, or three halfpence, I invested in half a dozen of these.
But my St. Florent shells never reached England.

Happening to look up from my sketch a few minutes later, I found that
the little heap beside me had all dispersed, and walked themselves
over the side of the cliff; whilst one particular beauty, that I had
put in my pocket, having taken a little longer to free himself from
his embarrassing situation, was yet in sight, making the best of his
hermit-crab way back to mother sea. The small salesman evidently
did not belong to the anti-vivisection society, for, seeing my
discomfiture, he borrowed a hairpin with much solemnity, and catching
the poor crab in mid career, began to pick him out, raising his large
brown eyes to us in silent affliction when our humanitarian principles
forced us to stop this proceeding.

On returning towards the shore, we found a small crowd of kindly
intentioned women and boys gathered on the rocks beneath, to assist
us in our perilous descent. Notwithstanding this little obstruction,
however, we managed to alight safely, and rejoin No. 1, who, from her
baking seat below, had been regarding our amphibious proceedings with
some anxiety.

Directly after leaving San Fiorenzo, we began to ascend, the town
behind us lying on its little peninsula among the wide blue waters like
a crystal, and backed by hills glowing vividly in the hot noonday sun.

In an hour or two we reached the summit of the Col Cerchio, where the
scene changed, the hills beside the road opened out, and revealed to us
a fine panorama of inland mountains and villages.

The road to Ile Rousse lies nearly all the way through barren rocky
hills, varied occasionally by greener cones. A wonderful, weird-looking
mountain of red granite, called Monte Temorro, keeps always in sight,
sometimes at one side and sometimes at the other of the winding
road, but its precipitous bare head never lost. This mountain, in
its bleakness, reminds me strongly of the pictures of Quarantana in
Palestine.

The rocks grew wilder as at length we reached more level ground, and
here there were some attempts at agriculture, refreshing after so much
barren scenery.

Jogging along on muleback, we met a man and a woman, both seated on
the same beast. It is only round Bastia that the Corsican women affect
continental fashions and the side-saddle; everywhere else in the island
the women ride cavalier style, and side-saddles are unknown. The two
were driving before them a large flock of native sheep, black and
white. Corsican sheep are simply lovely. They have long, soft, silky
hair, instead of wool, upon their bodies, and their faces are full of
expression, with large, pathetic brown eyes.

The road now wound again right over the edge of the sea, and the clear
green waves dashed against the brown rocks beneath us, and rolled in
transparent curls upon the sandy shore for many a mile, watering with
spray the rich shrubs that clothed the cliff to the very water's edge.

Here, on many a lonely hill overlooking the wide waste of waters, stood
a massive, round Genoese watch-tower--half-ruined memorial of a cruel
sway now passed, but which for centuries crushed out happiness and
prosperity, although not resistance, from the heroic little island.

It was between six and seven when we reached Ile Rousse; but long
before this, the picturesque promontory from which it takes its name
was visible, standing far out into the bay, blood-red against a sunset
sky.

The town, neat and tidy, lies at the water's edge, backed by the white
snow-cones of Monte Pedro; but the rocks themselves are distinct, and
are connected with it by a straggling little quay and long wooden
bridge. They are composed of a long rough tongue of red sandstone,
torn and rent into every picturesque shape, and running out into the
sea for about a quarter of a mile. On the furthest rock rose a solemn
watch-tower; on the nearer one, some grey old ruins.

The sun was just setting as we walked over the wooden bridge and
climbed upon a high point. The rocks gleamed a fiery red where they
caught the last rays, but ghostly black shadows filled their crevices
below; and the old watch-tower looked grandly out towards the French
coast, painted against an orange sky.

The road leading up from the quay was shaded by an avenue of trees,
and was evidently the favourite evening stroll of the Ile Rousse upper
ten. A great number of the inhabitants were here, and we were much
edified by the polite manner with which one and all raised their hats
to us, wishing us "bon soir," one nice-looking Italian sailor, however,
varying the salute by offering it in English--we, of course, responding
in like manner, greatly to his delight.

The bump of manly courtesy is evidently well developed in Ile Rousse;
for, coming up the street, pursued by a horde of excited children,
shouting "Inglesé!" the tribe were reprimanded and even caught and
pommelled by one or two of the smoking idlers at the street corners.

We often experienced courtesy of this sort amongst the Corsican men,
who were far too kind and too well-bred to enjoy seeing us mobbed
and annoyed by their progeny; but unfortunately, as a rule, their
remonstrances proceeded no further than words, and for a verbal
remonstrance the juvenile Corsican cares but little.

These Corsican children were a curious study. In some few places,
notably Corte and Propriano, the children were unboundedly impudent;
in some few others again, quiet little country villages, they had the
modesty and simplicity to be expected in sweet Auburn; but these were
exceptions.

They are, generally speaking, utterly fearless, but highly intelligent,
eager to follow and criticize your every step, and to demand an answer
to every question possible regarding your person and your nationality;
but quite open to friendliness.

To those who are neither afraid of them nor angry with them, the
pursuing horde will generally, after a few moments, show both civility
and politeness. The age of chivalry in Corsica comes early. At
thirteen, or even younger, a Corsican boy becomes a courteous young
gentleman; and we soon learnt to feel at ease regarding our tormentors
if we saw any approaching to that civilizing period of life.

The inn at Ile Rousse was not uncomfortable, and in appearance
was vastly superior to many to which we went later on. We hoped
and believed it was the abode of cleanliness; but, alas! hopes and
appearances are delusive. The food, however, was excellent.

On our return from our twilight walk, we found our little table d'hôte
dinner awaiting us, consisting of good soup, boiled beef, excellent
duck, salad, cheese, "gateaux de Corse," and dessert. There were other
diners in the general salle; but in consideration of our sex and our
gentility, our dinner was brought to us in a smaller detached room.

The diners, however, soon cleared away; and when we entered the
salle-a-manger to write our letters, we found the young landlady and
her sister quite ready for a chat.

This was our first introduction to an almost invariable custom in small
Corsican inns. The reserved Briton who would decline the after-dinner
chat with his host or hostess, would be considered here a very churlish
individual.

Our landlady, we found, was quite a historical character, being no
other than the young woman of the "rose," named in Mr. Lear's book
on Corsica. She was not quite so young now as then, it being eleven
years since that episode; but she was still blooming, and as gay and
talkative as a tame parrot; and whenever she laughed, (and that was
not seldom or gently,) she shook the long plait of black hair that hung
down her back until it danced again.

First presenting us each with a handsome bouquet of flowers "out of
the garden," she and her sister drew their chairs up to the table, and
leaning their elbows upon it, prepared for an hour's good gossip. Every
one of our nation who had ever visited Ile Rousse was described to us
minutely, with the inquiry as to whether we knew him; and the visitor's
book, with its laudatory remarks and poetical effusions, shown us, with
the urgent entreaty that we would translate those of them that were
written in English.

This we did, refusing, however, when we were requested to indite a poem
on our own account therein.

This was a sore disappointment to the "lady of the rose," who declared
emphatically of No. 1 that she had "la physiognomie poetique!" but who
recovered herself the next moment, and begged that we would, on our way
upstairs, peep at any rate into the beautiful best bedroom, which she
generally gave to her English guests, and which we should have had,
had we sent a telegram beforehand to say we were coming, but which
unfortunately was now occupied by a Corsican messieur.

So much occupied was it, that it was not until we were fairly in the
show apartment, that we discovered that the occupant was already in
bed, sleeping the sleep of the just!

We were not aware then, what we learnt later on, how necessary a thing
it is in Corsica to telegraph one's coming beforehand. It insures a
good dinner; and, at any rate, a room swept out to a certain degree.

You pay a penny a word for telegraphic messages, and there is scarcely
a village in the country without its office. Without a telegram,
you may arrive to find no rooms, or, what is almost as bad, to be
placed in rooms out of which the _family_ have kindly turned for your
accommodation. We soon learnt by experience to have a perfect horror of
these "family rooms."

The accumulated garments of the family lie about in all directions,
your jug and basin are even more lilliputian than elsewhere, your bed
quilt is grimy (they do not often supply you with blankets in Corsica),
and the apartment appears, from its fugginess, never to have known the
luxury of open windows.

A gun also occasionally peeps at you from a corner, and a pistol from
the mantle-piece; and the family run in at all hours for their blacking
brushes, their best boots, or a bottle of _vin ordinaire_ on the top of
the household chest: but these are small matters.

Very beautiful looked the sea, lapping against the walls of the houses,
and scattering spray over the red rocks, at 6 a.m. next morning; but
in an hour it had clouded over, and sea and sky and rocks were all
leaden grey in a lowering thunderstorm. At nine o'clock, however, it
cleared up a little, and we started for Calvi, passing through green
meadows and cultivated land to the summit of a mountain, and down again
to the village of Algajola by the sea shore. Loving maquis clothed
the limestone hills as we ascended again, looking beyond the grey
crags, covered with soft green moss or scarlet leeks, to the village
and ancient castle of Lumio. Long before we reached them, the snow
mountains were raising white heads over the green hills before us; and
as we paused on the summit of the second pass, the full view of the
magnificent bay of Calvi burst upon us, sweeping out as far as the eye
could reach, and glowing in the midday sun.

Figs, lemons, and prickly pear bordered our road as we descended
through rocky hills to the long narrow level tract preceding Calvi;
and, all the way, the wide blue sea beckoned on one side to the solemn
range of snowy Alps upon the other.

It is impossible to describe the exceeding picturesqueness of the town
and citadel as you approach from this road. Calvi lies upon a peninsula
of high ground jutting out into the sea, and consists of two distinct
towns--the lower, at the water's edge; and the upper, which comprises
the citadel, built upon the hill.

The citadel, with the exception of Bonifacio, is the strongest in the
island. Its bastion walls are of an immense height, gleaming white
against the blue sky, and their thickness and impregnability are
equal to their height. Nine or ten times have these bastion walls been
assailed by foes of every nation, including the English, wearing out
the very heart of the foe by their stern resistance, and often finally
foiling his most determined efforts.

Planted upon inaccessible rocks commanding the sea, and formed by the
very nature of its position for defence, the Genoese at an early date
(about the fourteenth century) fortified it thus strongly; and although
sometimes losing it for a while, yet managed to keep it in their hands
for long centuries. Bonifacio and Calvi, both to a certain degree
colonized by Genoese families, and filled with Genoese soldiers, were
for many years the main, and often the only, cords by which this cruel
and tyrannical government held on to unfortunate Corsica.

In the year 1735, a romantic little incident occurred upon this coast.
It was towards the conclusion of one of the innumerable Corsican
struggles against Genoese despotism, when, in the hopeless but undying
cause of liberty, the blood of the islanders had been shed with an
unwearied devotion and unassisted heroism that at last moved the
heart of the practical but freedom-loving Briton to a sudden burst of
sympathetic feeling. It would be a pity to tell the story in any other
words but those of Gregorovius.

"Their embarrassments had become almost insupportable, when, one
day, two strange vessels came to anchor in the Gulf of Isola Rossa
(Ile Rousse), and began to discharge a heavy cargo of victuals and
warlike stores--gifts for the Corsicans from unknown and mysterious
donors. The captains of the vessels scorned all remuneration, and only
asked the favour of some Corsican wine in which to drink the brave
nation's welfare. They then put out to sea again, amid the blessings
of the multitude who had assembled on the shore to see their foreign
benefactors.

"This little token of foreign sympathy fairly intoxicated the poor
Corsicans. Their joy was indescribable: they rang the bells in all
the villages; they said to one another that Divine Providence, and the
Blessed Virgin, had sent their rescuing angels to the unhappy island,
and their hopes grew lively that some foreign power would at length
bestow its protection on Corsica.... Generous Englishmen had equipped
these two ships...."



CHAPTER V.

THE CURÉ OF CALVI.


Driving through an irregular little street with overhanging houses,
our coachman suddenly stopped before a dirty stone staircase. This, he
informed us, was the entrance to our hotel. We were suspicious; and the
event proved how just were our suspicions.

It seemed incredible that a large town like Calvi should furnish no
better inn than this wretched looking one; besides which, we had been
distinctly advised to go to a certain Madame Puoggi in the Haute Ville,
and this was the Basse Ville.

But it was impossible to move our stolid coachman. This was the best,
the only inn in Calvi: he had never heard of Madame Puoggi: there was
no inn in the upper town at all. Alas! we afterwards discovered that
this degenerate Corsican lied in this, as in other matters; and that
fate and his obstinacy had led us to the third best inn in the town!
But, unable ourselves to discover the mysterious Madame Puoggi, we were
forced to submit to destiny.

The sun was shining hotly upon white (or what had been white) pavement,
when we descended from the carriage, and the scene was one of the
gayest and most pictorial I ever looked upon.

A narrow, uneven street, houses with tumbledown balconies and broken
stone staircases, opening out before us to a wide white quay with the
gleaming sea alongside, and a row of vessels like Arab dhows at anchor,
drying their long drooping sails in the sun.

Behind these, the grand old citadel, white and fierce, looking down
with the pride of five centuries upon quay and town, and sea and hill;
and from the opposite coast, as far as the eye could reach northward,
a chain of receding blue mountains.

Most of the vessels had come from the African coast, bringing a motley
array of foreign sailors.

As our carriage drew up, three ghostly beings, draped in white sheeting
from head to foot, with nought but black beard and shining black eyes
emerging, stood motionless, a yard or two off, silently watching our
unbelieving footsteps as we entered the inn. Calvi is full of these
stately Arabs. Every corner you turn, you find one or two sitting
squatting in the sun in their white sheets, still as statues, but
silently following you with eyes full of a contemptuous astonishment.

After a hasty lunch in a room overhanging the emerald sea, and where a
balcony looked straight into its depths--a room with the most perfect
view ever framed by nature, but greatly marred by man's neglect of
drainage--we went out to explore the citadel.

Passing along the gay quay, and ascending a steep slope of stones and
rubbish between the houses, we found ourselves on the hill from whence
sprung the bastion walls, surrounded by sea on every side save one.

It made one almost giddy to stand at the base of these great sloping
walls, and look up their lofty face; and one felt no surprise at the
numerous shocks they had defied. Then, by a steep narrow ascent, cut in
the rock and protected by stony walls, we mounted into the heart of the
citadel, and the haute ville within. This haute ville, enclosed by the
fortifications, is the original old town; the basse ville below being
of much later date.

The houses inside the citadel were all of stone, and although close
together, in narrow, winding stony streets, up which no vehicle could
possibly go, were built with some attempt at regularity, and were not
so dirty looking as those in the lower town. There being absolutely
nothing but stone in the haute ville, the streets were comparatively
free from dust, and the high wind that swept over this lofty perch sent
a sweet refreshing air through the walled-in causeways.

The church stood in the main street, in the centre of the citadel.
Repairs were going on inside, and we strolled in, being soon joined by
the curé, a man about thirty, with a thin pale face and a sweet smile.
Gentle goodness was written on the features of this man; and very shy
was he before three strange Englishwomen, and altogether nervous of his
French idioms, but with a Corsican enthusiasm in his wild dark eyes.
The church, he told us, was built in 1100, but partially destroyed by
fire (coming, of course, from an enemy's bombshell!) about two hundred
years ago, as an inscription cut upon the outside steps testified.
He showed us the old font of black and white and red Corsican marble,
belonging to the fifteenth century, of which age also was the marble
altar. A strange old bas-relief in the chancel wall was much older
than this, and had been only lately found and uncovered. "Calvi,"
said the curé, with his dark eyes glowing, "has been bombarded eight
or ten times, but she has never succumbed. The church is as strong
as the rest of her fortifications, and has resisted many a siege. She
has never been taken, 'si ce n'était pas par les Anglais.'" He showed
us a large, badly executed statue of our Lord, placed within a most
curious and beautiful old frame, composed of separate small squares of
oil-paintings on sacred subjects.

"See," he said, "there used to be a life-size picture of the Saviour
inside that frame, and it was very ancient and beautiful. It hung upon
that wall opposite, under the western window; but the English, in
bombarding our citadel, sent a ball clean through the wall and shot
away the picture. So we removed it here behind the altar, and placed
this statue within the frame."

"Ah!" said No. 1, "that was Nelson's doing."

"Yes," said the curé, with one of his shy bright smiles, "it was
your great naval commander, Nelson. But, although he took Calvi, and
destroyed the picture, he left an eye behind him!"

And this was true enough.

"But," said No. 3, "you Corsicans like the English, do you not? They
have often been friendly to you."

"Yes," he replied; "the English are a free nation, and they can feel
for those who fight for liberty."

We were quite sorry to say good-bye to our new friend, as we left him
standing on the steps of his grand old church, the wind lifting his
black hair, and a farewell smile lighting up the refined, visionary
face, as he crossed himself with a thin brown hand.

Leaving the church, we wandered amongst the mazes of the little
streets, which seemed strangely deserted in the midday sun; feeling
glad at length to leave the strong glare of the citadel, and descend to
the sea and lower town.

In doing so we missed our way among the many loopholed stone passages,
and No. 1, fired by a desire to rouse one of those impassive white
statues and hear his voice, stopped short before an Arab crouched upon
a step, demanding of him our whereabouts.

The white bundle with the swarthy face, however, treated us with the
contempt due to our temerity, never even taking the trouble to raise
his black eyes, but keeping his stolid gaze fixed upon the sea before
him.

I began to think these doubled-up men could not move, so motionless
were they; and felt quite relieved when, later on in the evening, I
saw them striding, positively running--turbans unloosed, white robes
flapping, and shoes and stockings showing--up and down the streets,
buying provisions preparatory to a start.

The shore of the bay surrounding Calvi is wide and smooth, with a fine
sand and pretty shells, including a vast number of the mauve-coloured
_Donax_. The morning mists were clearing away, and it was very pleasant
to lie here, as we did, basking in the sun, watching snow peak after
snow peak, behind the blue hills opposite, slowly unveil itself and
stand out in a lovely white glow. The snow looked so close and so cool,
bowing over the hot sands, and throwing shadows on to the sea beneath.

Coming home across the sandhills, which separate the shore from the
level road, we came upon the most perfect and beautiful flowers I
ever saw. They were a species of low growing cactus, only rising a few
inches from the ground, the blossoms of a most brilliant rose colour.
They had the appearance of chrysanthemums, and were about three or four
inches across, covering the sandhills for yards with an unbroken sheet
of vivid crimson.

Returning to the inn, we found our dinner awaiting us, as well as three
native "gentlemen," who were anxious to commence operations at their
table, but could not do so until our advent.

These were the three avocats who, we had been previously informed,
unfortunately occupied the three best bedrooms. These individuals
we necessarily looked upon as our natural enemies; and our prejudice
against them was not mitigated by the terrific noise made by them and
the pretty waitress together.

She was a fat, untidy, golden-haired blonde; one of the prettiest women
I ever saw in or out of Corsica, but gifted with the strongest faculty
for banging about earthenware and metal utensils that could well be
imagined.

This was the spoilt child of the house, adopted, we were informed,
by the dark young hostess because of her superior education, which
enabled her to talk French to the guests. And talk French she did,
unceasingly--to the male guests, at any rate; standing with arms akimbo
against the wall, chaffing Messieurs les avocats to our utter neglect,
and making such a babel, between crockery flung about and shrieking
repartee, that we felt strongly inclined to throw a plate at her
touzled golden head.

Dinner, however, was achieved at last; and on re-entering our rooms,
what a sight met us!

The sun had just set, and twilight was creeping on, but the whole of
the near range of hills opposite lay bathed in a crimson glow that was
almost blood red, and was reflected in the clear waters below. The
glow remained for about five minutes, and then gradually faded away
into the soft grey of evening. Never in my life did I see anything more
beautiful or vivid than that sunset glow at Calvi.

Nos. 2 and 3 soon found that no retirement was to be had in their
chamber. The low open window looked out upon a balcony, which led up by
steps direct from the main street of the town.

The window-sill was just of a convenient height for the populace to
lean their elbows upon, which they accordingly did, in large numbers.
We could only shut out our visitors by closing both windows and inside
shutters; and we preferred the populace.

At last came a swarthy black-browed Italian, introduced by the pretty
waitress, whose noisy admirers had departed with their cigars down the
street, and who therefore had nothing better to do than to gossip with
us. He was a sailor, and his hands were full of pretty trinkets of
coral and lava, picked up by himself.

His Italian patois was peculiar, and the waitress acted interpreter,
whilst we bargained for his wares. He was a queer looking man, as black
and dirty as soot and absence of soap and water could make him, with a
passionate, cut-throat looking face, that broke out occasionally into
childlike smiles.

The bargains being completed to every one's satisfaction, No. 1, who
alone of us three could make herself understood by our dark friend,
plunged him suddenly into a condition of hopeless confusion and swarthy
blushes by requesting of him a song.

"Oh, madame, I cannot sing!"

"What! an Italian sailor not sing?"

"No, no; indeed, madame, I cannot."

"What, not this?" and madame hummed a gay boating song.

If our friend did not sing the song, it was clear that he knew the
words of it well, for on hearing them he became greatly excited,
seizing both madame's hands in his and pressing them affectionately.

Some weeks later, when at Ajaccio, Nos. 2 and 3, strangely enough,
again lighted upon our sailor friend. He was standing at the hotel door
with a companion, armed with fresh corals and some lovely feathery
seaweed. He seemed delighted to see us again, inquiring effusively
after No. 1, and informing us that he had worked his way on foot from
Calvi.

By the time our sailor had departed, it was growing dark. But our
visitors were not over. The door opened, and in trooped four or five
people, carrying with them the "canapie" which was to be devoted to
our use for the night, and proceeding leisurely, amidst much gossip, to
make the bed.

We understood and tolerated the presence of the master of the house
over this ceremony; but I was a little puzzled by the comfortable
deportment of a tidily dressed young man, who came in with the rest,
examined the shells upon the dressing-table, and entered into easy
conversation with us.

I inquired of giddy golden-head who he was.

"Oh," she said, carelessly, "he is a friend of ours; mate of a vessel
in the harbour."

I made no response to this, for I began to feel my ignorance regarding
manners and customs in Corsica.

The next morning, the usual rain was pouring down in bucketsful
overhead; but very thankful were we, after a sleepless night, an
early breakfast, and a dear bill, to depart from Hotel Colombani, with
its indescribable dirt and smells, its exquisite views, and its loud
waitress.



CHAPTER VI.

THE HAUTE BALAGNE.


The road from Calvi to Belgodere, usually the third day's journey from
Bastia, mounts nearly the whole way, Calvi being on the sea level, and
the village of Belgodere high up amongst the hills. It passes along
one of the most famous routes in Corsica, that which runs through the
mountains overlooking the Haute and Basse Balagne.

The Balagne shares with Cap Corse the reputation of being the richest
and best cultivated district in Corsica, and consists of a splendid
valley, apparently from three to seven miles wide, filled with rich
grain fields and vineyards, and scattered with fruit trees. Oranges,
cherries, and figs lined the road, and crept down towards the valley,
varied by thick groves of olives. As the road ascended more and more,
the view across the valley becomes more extensive and magnificent,
until at length the most splendid panorama of mountain ranges, of snow
Alps, and of peeps of blue sea, lies before the traveller.

Both Mr. Lear and Miss Campbell speak of this Balagne country as one
of the most beautiful conceivable, and its views as unparalleled; but,
unfortunately for us, we passed the first half of it in a downpour that
veiled everything a dozen yards off with a thick white curtain. The
second half was seen imperfectly, yet grandly, as the sun broke out in
gleams, parting the mists in eccentric mood; showing here a mountain,
there a bit of sea, and further on a line of sparkling valley.

For several miles we had to return upon our yesterday's road, but
at Lumio branched off. The castle was wrapped in a grey cloak this
morning; and long before we could see them, we heard the numerous
swollen cascades rushing down the hillside in front of us, then dashing
below in a leaping waterfall as we passed over the stone bridge.

The drenching rain had now continued three hours, making a temporary
bath of the bottom of our carriage, and dripping in a melancholy
sequence of drops through the rather ancient hood above our heads.

Stopping at the half-way house, to bait the horses, we found they were
better off than we, for that absolutely nothing was procurable for
lunch but sour bread and uneatable goat's cheese.

Both mind and body were beginning to feel thoroughly damped, when a
sudden lifting of the clouds, and ray of blessed sunshine, revived our
hopes and restored our equanimity. We left off feeding the handsome,
timid retriever, who, sitting half-drowned in the middle of the river
course which we called our road, was gratefully accepting bits of brown
dusty bread, and began to look about us. All around the olives were
trembling with the rain, looking more purely silver than ever with the
dewdrops hanging on their grey foliage, and beneath our feet stretched
the rich, winding valley, filled with rolling banks of vapour.

Scattered thickly over the valley were the houses of the proprietors;
and a village nestled in every available mountain cranny, and on many
a hill top.

Speloncato especially, a village on the summit of a very high conical
hill, is most picturesque, and followed us all the way to Belgodere,
the road winding round it.

The sun had a magical effect, not only in lifting the thick curtain
that hung before nature's fine panorama, but in drying the broad level
road. The roads throughout Corsica, with very few exceptions, are first
rate. They are kept smooth and in good repair, and are often soft as
park drives. Many of them were constructed by the First Napoleon, and
are perhaps his best legacy to his native land.

In an hour the water course had almost dried up, and the steep ascent
became less dragging to the tired horses.

A lovely snow mountain rose suddenly up from the very road-side, and a
cold wind blew between the crevices of the hills upon us.

Belgodere is a large, picturesquely placed village of twelve hundred
inhabitants, rising up the side of a sugar loaf hill, backed by
ranges of mountains, and looking over lower hills in front to the
Mediterranean below.

The tiny village inn was more unpretentious than any we had yet seen.
The doorway was about equal to that of a labourer's cottage in England,
and the little broken wooden staircase up which we went was dark and
dirty. The bedrooms, however, were a pleasing disappointment. There
were only two in the house, prepared for the reception of guests;
but they were spotlessly clean, and, as we afterwards found, very
comfortable.

The man and his wife, as usual accompanied by all the family, (in
this case only consisting of an octogenarian father, one or two small
children, and four cats,) escorted us to our rooms, and apologized for
the fact that we could not have the third room, as it was occupied by
"les vers." This explanation rather tickling my curiosity, and being
anxious to know whether "les vers" could, by any possibility, desert
their room for ours, which I felt undesirable, I presently peeped into
the third apartment, and found it a mass of sleepy silk-worms, hard
at work absorbing cabbage leaves. In this part of the country, a great
many silk-worms are kept, and they are more lucrative than occasional
guests. This was not the only occasion on which we found them filling
one of the best bedrooms, to our exclusion.

After depositing our wraps, we went out, and were conjured to mount the
"Rocher" on the very top of the hill; where, as our landlady informed
us, all "les Anglais" went to see the view of the Balagne.

The opinion of society, as expressed in the inn, being too much for
us, we accordingly climbed over stony ruts, and up a steep stone
staircase to the Rocher, in a tearing wind, and escorted by twenty or
thirty excited children. There we found the view, as we had expected,
precisely the same as that we had seen on our drive hither.

We accordingly returned to our six o'clock dinner, when we were
informed that we must not open the windows of the little sitting-room,
as the silk-worms did not like it, and it might give them cold!

The dinner was, as usual, very good, consisting of soup, a very
excellent little Mediterranean fish, called sahl, haricot beans,
and fowl, finishing with the national dish of broccia. Broccia, or
"brasch," as some of the country people call it, is a pudding made
of the pressed curds of goat's milk. You get it almost every day for
breakfast, lunch, or dinner, in the inland parts of the island, and it
is excellent, mixed either with a little lemon, or a sauce of brandy
and sugar. It is a trifle insipid by itself.

After dinner, the cats all paid us a visit, and then the dear old
octogenarian came in and had a chat, showing us an Italian sort of
_British Workman_, profusely illustrated, which he seemed to consider
an untold treasure, and which he said had been given him two years ago,
by a "gentille jeune Anglaise."



CHAPTER VII.

THE COUNTRY OF SERAFINO AND MASSONI.


The next morning, at half-past seven, we left pretty Belgodere among
its wild hills, saying good-bye to the simple-hearted proprietors of
the clean little rooms, to the courteous old octogenarian, and to the
four cats.

All night long the nightingales had been shouting, from under a clear
sky, through our open windows; but the clouds began to lower as we
started, and a showery day ensued.

For several hours we continued mounting towards the Col Colombano,
the cultivated Basse Balagne lying at our feet, and the noblest views
of sea and mountain constantly before us. Belgodere was at no mean
elevation; and, as we mounted higher and still higher amongst the
"everlasting hills," ranges of mountains of every colour lay, one
behind the other, before us--red, blue and purple--some veiled in half
mists, and some shining with a far-away sunlight,--separated from us by
miles of grey atmosphere.

Over our heads and under our feet, great white masses of cloud were
constantly passing hurriedly, often wrapping us in a fine rain, and
hiding from us, for a few moments, everything but their own chilly grey
curtain.

At the summit of the Col the sun broke out for a few minutes, and lit
up a most magnificent view. It seemed as if we could go no higher.
Everything lay beneath us, to the very edge of the distant soft
horizon, and the hush of Nature in her solitude and her solemnity fell
gently over sea and land and sky.

Not a sound was to be heard among those lonely hills; and yet the
silence was eloquent, as is always such a summer silence up in the
heights.

     "For when the eloquent is mute,
     Silence itself is eloquent.
     It is the dam upon the river,
     Whereon the waters press for ever,
     By their own fulness pent."[1]

The road at the Col split into two; and, taking the inland one, we
began at once to descend rapidly, leaving behind us the magnificent
views and the blue sky, and turning into monotonous green hills,
sloping down to a river bordered by willows, and a colourless
sky, whose leaden clouds were discharging themselves with a quiet
persistence that denoted their "staying" properties.

Our mid-day halt was at Ponte alle Lecchia, where the river, widening
out and dashing in white foam, throws itself over boulders of bright
green porphyry under a handsome bridge. Ponte alle Lecchia is an
inconsiderable village, but it is the junction between the Bastia and
Calvi roads, and every diligence stops here on the road from Bastia
to Corte. The little inn, before which we stopped, was wretched and
filthy, and they had absolutely nothing in the house but bread and
sardines, for which they charged us a high price. I say "nothing," for
I mean nothing eatable by civilized people. We were, as usual, offered
bacon and cheese; but, as the first was raw, and the second could have
been smelt a quarter of a mile off, these we declined.

We made, however, a good fire of blazing sticks on the open hearth,
and, surrounded by the curious eyes of all the inmates of the inn,
guests or otherwise, dried our soaked garments.

The hills between Belgodere and Ponte alle Lecchia were the home of the
celebrated bandit Serafino.

Serafino was a man of war, as is every bandit; but he appears to have
been of gentlemanly manners. His death occurred about thirty years
ago, and many stories are preserved of his courtesy to women, and his
protection of the poor. The Corsican bandit, as a rule, never robs: he
is supported, either by the produce of his flocks, which he brings in
by night to his native village, or by the voluntary contributions of
his relations.

But, on one occasion, when Serafino found it absolutely necessary that
he should possess himself of a pair of new boots, he demanded them with
so much courtesy from a solitary officer of gendarmerie, not fully
armed, that that individual must have felt the loss of his property
almost compensated for by the genteel politeness of the robber.
Serafino never permitted the poor to be molested, and it is related of
him that he one day pursued and slew with his own hand a thief, who,
under the false cover of his dreaded name, had deprived a peasant of
his wallet,--restoring his possessions to the poor traveller.

Serafino, although a bandit pursued incessantly by the law, did not
find sufficient excitement in his skirmishes with the French gendarmes,
and kept up a lively vendetta on his own account with a fellow-bandit
named Massoni.

On one of these occasions on which the brother bandits chanced to
meet each other in the lonely maquis, Massoni's shot took effect, and
deprived his enemy thenceforth of one of his fingers.

About the year 1850, Serafino met with the almost invariable end of
the bandit. He was shot dead by the soldiers whilst lying asleep in his
cave, having been betrayed by some villagers.

With all other bandits, he was hunted from hill to hill like a wild
beast by the gendarmes, who showed no mercy and gave no quarter to
the men who would have scorned to receive it, and whose whole life was
spent in outwitting and murdering them and their companions.

Wonderfully brave, and even noble hearted, were many of these Corsican
bandits; and it seems sad that apparently a mere chance of life should
throw splendid qualities, an indomitable energy, and dauntless courage,
into the cause of murder and vagabondism.

Massoni, the enemy of Serafino, roamed about the same fastnesses, and
originally belonged to a Balagna family.

He was by birth a gentleman, and brave as a lion; but the unhappy
vendetta had driven him from his home, believing himself a righteous
avenger, but pursued by the gendarmes as a murderer.

For many years he lived amongst the mountains of La Haute Balagne, in
company with his brother and another bandit called Arrighi, keeping the
French police at bay, and in their frequent contests killing numbers of
their pursuers.

The trio were supported by their relations, and were surrounded by
friendly shepherds. But treachery, incited by a rough action, overtook
them at last.

Massoni was one day visited by a friend from his own village in
Balagna, who came to ask his advice and assistance regarding the
revenge to be taken on a man of position who had insulted his family.
Massoni, wishing to treat his guest hospitably, requested a lamb from
a friendly shepherd. His request was not refused, but Massoni took
offence at the leanness of the gift. "It is for a guest; I must have a
fat one," said he; and without further ceremony he chose out his lamb,
and, shooting it down, carried it off in his arms.

The shepherd had neither the power nor the daring to resist the bandit,
or openly resent his rudeness, but he determined to pay him out for
what he had done.

Soon after the departure of Massoni he left his rocky cabin among
the hills, and, descending to the gendarmerie, offered to betray the
hiding-place of the bandits.

Cautiously, and in great numbers, the gendarmes mounted the steep
hill, until at length the shepherd paused before an almost inaccessible
cave, the mouth of which was entirely hidden by the maquis. Arrighi and
Massoni's brother were within, asleep; but Massoni himself kept watch
at the entrance.

He had not heard the soldiers creeping noiselessly up the rocky paths,
and now he was surrounded, some above, and some below. Nothing was
audible, until one of the soldiers, to find out if the men were really
there, threw a stone from above into the thick bushes at the cave's
mouth.

Massoni sprang out to see the danger, firing off his pistol to awaken
his companions, who started up from their sleep as he fell upon the
cavern floor, pierced by the balls of the soldiers.

And now Massoni's brother leapt out among the rocks, bounding like a
wild goat from point to point, until one of the many shots fired at him
took effect, and he fell dead upon the hill-side.

Arrighi, however, remained within, and when, at length, after much
hesitation, some of the gendarmes dared to enter the cave where lay hid
the dreaded bandit, he was nowhere to be found.

All night was the silent watch kept; but when, early in the morning,
some of the soldiers moved off to a neighbouring spring for water, two
shots, fired suddenly from the mysterious cavern, struck through the
heart two of their number; and the party who went to fetch in their
dead bodies lost another man from the same fatal gun.

It was of no use to fire madly into the rocky cavern, the prisoner
remained uninjured and undiscoverable.

After waiting another day or two, and vainly endeavouring to smoke
their enemy out of his concealment, an engineer with other officials
were sent for from Corte, and it was arranged that the cave should be
blown up by gunpowder. The desperate man inside, for whose death, just
though it certainly was, it seemed pitiful to think that the assistance
of so many of his fellow-creatures should be required, overheard the
proposal, and resolved at last to take flight.

He waited, however, for night, when, under cover of the darkness, he
escaped from his hiding-place. He had already got away to some distance
when a ball hit him in the leg; but, with the despair of the hunted
animal, he struggled on, leaving a bloody trail upon the ground as he
passed.

When morning dawned, the gendarmes found the outlaw, who for years
had been their terror and the object of their pursuit, lying faint and
exhausted among the rocks. Yet, even then, they feared to approach too
near the dying brave, and creeping up cautiously, they fired upon him
whilst yet he was unconscious of their approach, and in another moment
Arrighi lay upon the slope of Monte Rotondo, a dead man.

The next day the bodies of six men--three bandits and three
soldiers--were carried in a sad procession down the hill-side to the
plain below, and the French Government was rid of three of the most
celebrated and intrepid of Corsican bandits.

FOOTNOTE:

     [1] "Poems written in Barracks."



CHAPTER VIII.

SOME MORE ABOUT BANDITS.


Some of the Corsican bandits have been, not only objects of admiration,
but of love, to their fellow-countrymen in general, who willingly
contributed to their support. Even if their first adoption of lawless
life were not due to their dislike of a foreign government--for long
not quite palatable to the free wild people of the interior--yet their
after-life consisted of a series of skirmishes against, and contests
with, a police towards whom the majority of the islanders owed some
grudge or other. One of the most celebrated of these men, and one who
became, in the eyes of his own people, a hero of romance, was a bandit
of the name of Teodoro, who lived at the commencement of the present
century.

Teodoro became a bandit, not from any private quarrel, or from fear of
the consequences of any deed of violence, but to escape joining the
ranks of the French soldiery, by whom he had been somewhat roughly
seized and enrolled amongst their number.

The young Corsican had no objection to a warlike occupation, but he did
not choose to lose his liberty, nor had he any wish to fight for the
masters of his country.

So he escaped to the mountains, by his daring spirit and love of
adventure becoming at once the terror of his enemies and the darling of
his countrymen.

He called himself King of the Mountains, and imposed taxes upon the
villagers around to keep up his state; but they were grudged by few,
for the king was handsome, fascinating, and generous. His life was
full of wild, bloody, and romantic incidents; but meanness was never
connected with his name. He was a staunch friend, and even a forgiving
foe. His companions, besides his queen, were an uncle named Angellone,
and another bandit called Brusco.

Brusco and Teodoro were bound together by the ties of a tender
friendship, but this friendship was the cause of secret jealousy to
Angellone. One day a quarrel took place in Teodoro's absence, and the
elder man murdered his nephew's friend, then escaping to the maquins.

Teodoro, heart-broken at the loss of Brusco, swore a furious oath to
avenge him at the hands of his murderer. According to ancient fashion,
he began to let his beard grow, as a solemn witness to this oath.

But not for long. The murderer could not long escape his pursuing hand,
and ere long the King of the Mountains re-appeared with a smooth chin.

Teodoro shared the usual fate of the outlaw. He was betrayed, whilst
lying ill in his mountain home, to the gendarmes, who showed little
mercy to the dying man. Sick though he was, however, he fought even
then to the death, and laid two of his assailants low, before his arms
fell motionless and his proud spirit succumbed to the last of his foes.

It is reported that, after his death, some of the villagers came up
the hill-side, and, under the influence of love or fear to the memory
of the famous bandit, offered the contributions due to the King of the
Mountains towards the support of his queen and her infant child.

Probably of a different stamp was a young brigand whose execution at
Bastia, in the summer of 1852, is so pitifully described by Gregorovius
in his book on Corsica, himself being an eye-witness of part of the
scene.

He was but three and twenty, beautiful of face, strong as a lion, and
brave and fierce as a wild beast; but the accusation against him was
that he had murdered ten men out of "caprice"!

What an extraordinary madness must that have been which incited this
poor young Corsican, probably from no reason but the insensate lust of
blood, for no purposes of robbery or even adequate anger, to murder his
fellow-men!

The very unnaturalness of the phenomenon arouses pity from those
whose bringing-up makes such a wild-beast madness incomprehensible
to them. One wonders in what atmosphere poor Bracciamozzo had been
reared--whether he had been brought up in the bandit's cave, accustomed
to sights of brutal ferocity and the indulgence of every fierce
passion, and growing up to find his hand against every man.

This was the probable commencement of a life which, at three and
twenty, was to end stained by so much crime. That the young brigand was
all bad, it is impossible to believe, reading Gregorovius' account.

Death was no terrible stranger to him; he had been accustomed to its
pale face from boyhood, and he was not likely to flinch even before its
more horrible appearance on the public scaffold.

With his one arm bound behind his back (for he had lost the other
in a fight with the gendarmes), he walked to his death firmly and
quietly. There was no vulgar air of braggadocio about him, no attempt
to excite any momentary popular sympathy by dramatic means. He died
unflinchingly, not as a hero, but as a penitent, acknowledging his
black deeds. "I pray God and the world for forgiveness," said the young
murderer, with native brevity, on the scaffold, "for I acknowledge that
I have done much evil."

I will not here stop to speak of the Bella Coschia brothers, the last
two bandits whose wild deeds have made them famous in Corsica. They are
yet alive, and not much beyond middle age; but their history belongs to
another part of the island, where I heard much of them.

I must close this chapter with a dirge, or _vocero_, roughly translated
from the Corsican patois, and which was improvised at the funeral of a
bandit called Canino, some years ago.

These voceri are one of the peculiarities of Corsica. Until quite
lately, it was constantly the custom, at the funeral of any great or
popular person, or, indeed, over the coffin of any man, woman, or child
whose death was due to accident, murder, or any sudden and terrible
circumstance, for the nearest of kin (usually the sister or mother of
the dead person) to break out into some impromptu song of lamentation,
couched in rude but often stirring verse.

These mournful dirges were striking in their rugged but earnest
simplicity; and fortunately some of them have been preserved and
printed at Ajaccio.

The custom of singing the vocero, like most other ancient and romantic
customs, is now, however, slowly but surely dying out in the island.


VOCERO OVER THE DEAD BODY OF CANINO, A BANDIT.

BY HIS SISTER.

     Now shall my voice re-echo
       Loud as the thunder roars,
     Where San Pietro nestles,
       Or Vizzavona soars;
     By which to many a distant land
     Gallona bears her witness grand.

     In Luco Nazza see a crowd
       Met together for the chase:
     Bandits[2] and soldiers all as one--
       A right accursèd race:
     With bloody hands but yesterday
     They started all upon their way.

     In the valley's deepest gorges
       Might be heard the roaring wind,
     From Ghisoni bringing evil--
       Terror, in its wake behind--
     In its hollow notes proclaiming
     Coming treachery and wailing.

     At the horn's shrill sounding gathered,
       Wolves and lambs together showed:
     Marched alongside in their union,
       Quickly up the rocky road,
     Till upon the pass they stood,
     Where they shed thy heart's life blood.

     When I heard the loud lamenting
       I threw wide the lattice pane,
     Asking, "What has happened? tell me?"
       "'Tis your brother--he is slain!
     Captured in his mountain lair,
     He was foully slaughtered there!"

     Now thy skill can spare thee nothing--
       Of what use thy bravery?
     What thy dagger or thy pistol
       Now can do for thee?
     What avail thy charm to wear,
     Or to hug thy secret prayer?[3]

     At the sight of all thy gashes,
       Anguished grows my wailing.
     Wherefore comes no answer from thee?
       Is thy courage failing?
     Cani, thy sister's heart grows strange
     And all my nature seems to change.

     In the neighbourhood of Nazza
       A blackthorn I will grow,
     To show that of our race no longer
       Any shall come or go:
     Because at last, not two or three,
     But five opponents worsted thee!

     Oh, for thy shoulders broad!
       Oh, thine activity!
     Like to a stalwart, budding branch--
       None could compare to thee.
     Save for thy memory alone,
     My weary life could not drag on.

     Beneath the flowering chestnut-tree,
       There will I take my rest,
     Because that there, O much beloved,
       They pierced thy bleeding breast.
     Now will I drop my woman's garb,
       Take gun and pistol in my hand,
     The tarzitta will buckle on,
       And gird the weapon band.
     Cani, a sister's heart will know
     How to wreak vengeance on thy foe!


IN MORTE DI CANINO, BANDITO,

VOCERO DELLA SORELLA.

     (_Dialetto della pieve di Ghisoni._)
     Eo buria che la me' voci
     Fusse tamant'e lu tonu,
     Chi passasse per la foci
     Di San Petru e Vizzavonu;
     Per chi soni in ogni locu
     La gran prova di Gallonu.

     Quandu intesi li brioni,
     M'affaccai a lu purteddu
     Dimandai: chi nova c'eni?--
     Hanu tombu u to frateddu:
     L'hanu presu in du la serra;
     N'hanu fattu lu maceddu.

     Nun ti valse lu curaggiu,
     Nun ti valse la schiuppetta,
     Nun ti valse lu pugnali,
     Nun ti valse la tarzetta;
     Nun ti valse ingermatura,
     Nè razione binadetta.

     A guardà le to ferite
     Mi s'accresci lu dulori.
     Perchè più nun mi rispondi?
     Forse ti manca lu cori?
     O Canì, cor di suredda,
     Hai cambiatu di culori.

     A lu paese di Nazza
     Eo ci vogliu pianta un prunu,
     Perchè di la nostra razza
     Un ci passi più nisunu:
     Perchè un funu duji nè treni,
     Ma cinque omini contr'unu.

     Tutti a lu Lucu de Nazza
     Tutti s'eranu aduniti
     Cun quella barbara zazza
     Li sullati e li banditi:
     Cu a tempesta d'eri mani
     Tutt'insemme so partiti.

     In fondi di lu rionu
     Si sentia rugghia la ventu,
     Chi purtava da Ghisoni
     Lu malori e lu spaventu:
     Si vidia chi per aria
     Bèra accidiu e tradimentu.

     Somo subitu partiti
     Tutti i lupi cull'agneddi,
     E merchiavanu aduniti
     A lu son di cialambeddi.
     Quandu junsenu a la serra
     Ti taglionu i garganeddi.

     Lu me' largu di spallera!
     Lu me' minutu di vita!
     Cume teni, nun ci n'era;
     Parii una mazza fiurita.
     Solu u pinzeru di teni
     Or sustene la me' vita.

     A lu pe' di stu pullonu
     Ci ogliu piantà lu m'è lettu;
     Parchì qui, u me' frateddonu,
     Ti tironu a mezzu pettu.
     Bogliu leche lu buneddu,
     Bogliu armà schioppu e stilettu.

     Bogliu cinghie la carchera,
     Bogliu cinghie la tarzetta:
     O Canì, cor di suredda,
     Bogliu fà la to bindetta.

FOOTNOTES:

     [2] Personal enemies of Canino, who betrayed him to the
     soldiers.

     [3] A little prayer enveloping some relic, and worn as a
     charm about the person.



CHAPTER IX.

CORTE AND ITS HOTEL.


From Ponte alle Lecchia the road follows the course of the foaming
river Vecchio for a long way, along a wide valley, where the green
hills circling round are somewhat monotonous for a time, but presently
turn into handsome grey and white limestone cliffs, hanging in one
place in wild and curious peaks above the passing carriage.

After the large village of Cabouralino, the scenery becomes tamer
again, the ground more cultivated, flocks of black and white silky
haired goats with silvery bells passing us constantly.

The road, too, was here alive with men riding mules, and leading after
them by a cord a string of other mules with packs on their backs. It
was a matter of difficulty to pass some of these mules, who were not
accustomed to "carriage company," and who backed towards the precipice
occasionally, kicking wildly, to the discomfiture of their owners.

This part of the country was the scene of the battle of Ponte Nuovo,
in 1769, the last battle fought for Corsican independence; and the date
from which Corsica became a French province. It has a touching interest
for this reason, and on account of its being a witness to the last vain
effort of Paoli in his country's cause.

But now we were leaving the river, with its foaming waters and its
bloody memories, over which the fine thoughtful face of Pasquale Paoli
seemed to cast a humanizing influence, and were ascending the mountains
under a blue sky.

Vast quantities of handsome hellebore, with large ball-like clumps
of flowers, and of a species of pale green spurge (its flowers like
a number of yellow caterpillars attached to the stem), grew by the
roadside; ilex-trees scattered themselves up and down rocks of every
form and height, above and below the road, and the mountains all round
us became more and more covered with snow. Here and there were placed
villages in lofty and commanding situations; one especially, named
Suaria, which was perched just above us on a conical green hill rising
from the road-side. The village was partially hidden by firs and ilexes
crowning this pretty eminence; but the high four-storied campanile of
Suaria Church stood out, white and imposing, above their sheltering
branches. Very cold and frosty was the wind, notwithstanding the
brilliant sun, as we reached the summit of the pass; but the view of
mountain scenery spread out beneath us was magnificent.

And now we began our descent through many a tree-covered hill, towards
Corte, its high, red-tiled houses visible miles before we reached
it. Corte, the central inland town of Corsica, is, after Bastia and
Ajaccio, the largest town in the island, and has a position unequalled
for wild beauty.

It lies in the very heart of the wildest mountains of Corsica,
surrounded on every side by their gaunt and precipitous flanks.
Monte Rotondo, one of the highest of the inland chain, raises its
snow-crowned head to look over the solemn blue-grey hills immediately
behind Corte; and two broad foaming rivers dash down the gully beside
the town, and unite, after passing under their handsome stone bridges,
in the narrow valley just beneath.

Corte is itself at no mean height above the sea level; and, at the
time of our first visit, was exceedingly cold, with a sharp north wind
rushing through the town from the numerous mountain ravines.

The citadel, which of itself is not much, is built, with
extraordinarily picturesque effect, upon the summit of a precipitous
hill, rising from the midst of the town; up whose sides run a few
houses, until the overhanging rocks force them to give place to the
prickly pear. The main streets in Corte are wide, and paved with rough
stone, with enormously high, factory-like houses, of seven or even
eight stories, on each side. The houses are remarkably hideous, even
for Corsica; built of dirty white stone, and red roofed, without any
eaves, the windows irregular and poor, and the open doorways (into
large buildings) often showing dirty and poverty-stricken interiors.

Very steep side streets, impassable for carriages, and sometimes giving
place to a series of stone steps, lead up into the higher parts of the
town, and towards the citadel and church.

Fine elm-trees make a nice avenue all up the main road, at the end of
which are the two respectable hotels of Corte, Hotels Pierracci and
Paoli, so precisely opposite that the rival guests can look into each
other's windows.

If it were not for its dirt, and its ugly houses, the beauty of Corte
would be almost unrivalled in European scenery. How one sighs in
Corsica for the lovely grey cottages with broad eaves, and for the
stately art-decorated mansions with graceful towers, of beauty-loving
Italy!

No such thing is to be seen here. I doubt if, from one end of Corsica
to the other, there is one building with any pretensions to real
architectural beauty.

Art has never been much cultivated in the island. A people who for
centuries have lived in a condition of incessant warfare and personal
insecurity have but little time or inclination to indulge in the
peaceful pursuits of their more luxurious neighbours; and Corsican
architecture partakes of the Corsican character, being stern, rugged,
and primitive. Many a village, nestled in some exquisite situation
among snow-capped hills and orange groves, we found perfectly ruined,
in an artistic point of view, by its ugly dwellings.

The churches are the only redeeming feature in Corsican architecture.
Their campaniles, or bell-towers, are generally lofty and picturesque,
divided into several stories, and standing apart from the body of the
church.

Hotel Pierracci, which had been recommended to us, we found a fair
hotel in many respects, but intensely national in its peculiarities.
The despotic Briton, coming straight from club luxuries and obsequious
attentions, would feel himself decidedly out of place there, and not a
little miserable.

It is a large hotel, with two handsome dining-rooms, and spacious,
well-furnished bedrooms; and although the broad stone staircase is
somewhat odoriferous and the passages not over clean, yet the rooms are
comfortable and perfectly above suspicion.

But, for the whole of this large establishment, generally well filled
with a constantly changing series of guests, there appeared to be only
one terribly overworked young waiter, and an elderly maid of all work,
(exclusive of the kitchen department).

The result was, that even if you had that un-Corsican luxury of a bell
in your room, which was not often, its repeated calls were unheeded;
and you had speedily to learn and put in practice that great law of
uncivilized regions, "If you want anything done, do it yourself."

As, however, every domestic was in a gasping hurry, and the
big landlady--a mixture of sudden irascibility and occasional
benevolence--was apt to regard your wants as puerile, and, Corsican
fashion, to tell you so loudly to your face--a foray in dressing-gown
and slippers to the kitchen, after hot water, or cleaned boots, or any
other necessity of man and woman, was apt to end in ignominy and the
trial of English tempers. The crockery and cutlery of Hotel Pierracci
also run notably short.

It was a current joke amongst the English visitors, that the one
coffee-pot of the establishment not only supplied all the numerous
breakfast-tables of the different guests, but also did duty on
occasions for shaving and toilette water. And this fact I can believe;
for one morning, having by persistent obstinacy triumphed over the
difficulties of obtaining a little hot water for dressing purposes,
my tin jug was fetched away almost immediately afterwards, and I was
astonished to see it reappearing on the breakfast table ten minutes
later in its habitual guise of coffee-pot.

At breakfast this same coffee-pot was the cause of continual contention
between the worried little waiter and ourselves. When it pleased him to
give us our breakfast, he used to run in, fill our cups hastily, and
whisk out again with his precious pot; and no entreaties or commands
would persuade him to leave that invaluable and useful little metal
jug behind him, or even to return with it and refill our cups. I think
there was a bond of sympathy between that waiter and his coffee-pot,
both so terribly overworked.

The food at Hotel Pierracci was good, but rather scarce, and it was
difficult to make a dinner off the microscopic scraps which adorned
the dishes during the eight courses of the table d'hôte. We noticed
this particularly on our road home again, when perhaps our long
stay in mountain air and the fine Corsican climate had increased our
correct English appetites to a country voracity. But, on the whole,
for Corsica, Hotel Pierracci may be considered a very comfortable
hotel; and, excepting that at Sartene, which is also a good one, has
the reputation of being almost the only large and handsome hotel out of
Ajaccio.

Hotel Paoli, we were told afterwards by some French acquaintances, was
clean and well ordered, with good rooms and very moderate charges; but
we did not go inside the place.



CHAPTER X.

AN ENCOUNTER WITH STREET URCHINS.


Corte has one terrible drawback--nay, two: its extreme dirt and its
impudent children.

I have heard it said that the position of the town gives it the
advantage of being both a good summer and winter residence, the climate
being never too hot or too cold.

It may never be too hot, but it must undoubtedly be a very cold place
in winter, from its elevation among the numerous snow mountains that
surround it. This, of course, is a matter of taste. But I should doubt
extremely its being in any degree healthy in summer.

I heard vague rumours of malaria whilst we were there; and I should not
doubt the existence of fever in the hot weather.

I have been in a good many German, Italian, and Corsican towns; but not
one of them can vie with Corte in uncleanliness. Corte, I should think,
would carry off the palm in filthy pavements, and putrid odours, from
any town in Europe.

It was only the beginning of June when we visited it for the second
time, and yet there were certain streets, and those not insignificant
ones, where it was absolutely necessary to hold one's nose and run.

As there were waste rubbish places in many of these parts, which were
nothing at all but open drains, and receptacles for everything horrid
that could be thrown upon them from the windows and balconies of the
houses around, the objectionable odours were neither astonishing nor
unaccountable.

As regards the children of Corte, they are no small drawback to the
delights of the place.

The inhabitants are altogether a rough, uncivil set, far less courteous
than the generality of Corsicans, and have had an evil reputation
amongst strangers for many years.

It is not conducive to the enjoyment of beautiful scenery or a quiet
stroll, to be surrounded down the street, and followed far into the
country by a mocking, shouting horde of dancing dervishes, not content
with roaring out "Inglesé! Inglesé!" with unceasing energy, but making
occasional clutches at your dress or umbrella, and stopping up the
public way.

The ingenious youth of Corte has one especial diversion, retained for
the delectation of the stranger. This consists in holding a stout piece
of cord across the road, barring the path, with the shouted intimation,
"No pennies, no passage!" or, in their own words, "Sou, sou, Inglese!"

English pride naturally determines that its owner will die sooner than
bestow the required penny on these little pests; but this righteous
wrath sometimes entails unpleasant results. An acquaintance of ours,
then at Corte, had, a few weeks before, been nearly mobbed by the elder
part of the community when he attempted to cut the rope and offered to
thrash the children. We ourselves came in for an unpleasant encounter,
that might have ended awkwardly. We were taking a walk across the
valley of the Tavignano, where it rushes, boiling and foaming in
splendid cascades over its green and grey boulders, past the city,
before joining the equally picturesque river Restonico.

It was Sunday evening; and, unfortunately, we had chosen a time when
all the juvenile populace were out of school, and on the look-out for
a little innocent amusement.

I have noticed that a demoniac phase often comes over naughty children
on a Sunday evening. Be that as it may, a troop of about twenty,
chiefly boys, pursued us unrelentingly far outside the precincts of the
town, shouting their war-cry of "Sou, Inglese!" and running round and
round till we could neither see the views, nor hear ourselves speak.

A rope which they stretched across the road for the customary pastime
fortunately broke, and we passed on through the gap; but the broken
remains, held by two youthful fiends, served as an instrument of
torture wherewith to wind us up and hopelessly confuse our footsteps.
Human endurance could bear no more; and, after one or two stern
warnings, No. 3, whose wrath had been gradually gathering, suddenly
saw her opportunity, and, darting upon two small tormentors before they
could escape, she brought down her umbrella upon their degenerate backs
with as much force as nature had supplied to her.

Instantly, the attitude of these juvenile Corsicans changed. They
had been disporting themselves before: now they prepared for serious
warfare. There was a moment's pause; and then a volley of sharp stones
came after us.

We walked on quickly, but the charge increased instead of decreasing,
one striking No. 2 on the head, and another No. 3 on the heel, but
fortunately without inflicting any serious damage.

But flint stones from off a roadside are not pleasing weapons; and
things might have ended badly for us, but for a sudden diversion.

From a cottage by the roadside just before us, dashed out three big
boys, all over the humanizing age of thirteen; and, undertaking our
defence without a word, they made a sudden onslaught upon our pursuers,
and in two minutes had put them all to flight.

We were really relieved, and thanked the knights-errant warmly. Two of
them, boys of about fourteen or fifteen, had pipes in their mouths;
and one of them, a young man a year or two older, remarked sagely,
that it was always thus with visitors: "Les enfants de Corte étaient
terriblement méchants."

Having bade adieu to our gallant defenders, we were walking on, and
had almost forgotten them, when the noise of a terrific struggling and
scuffling behind us again attracted our attention.

Our friends had got a boy of about eleven between them, and were
dragging him along by the arms by main force.

The boy was resisting with all his power, and was being dragged along
almost double, his bare feet scraping the ground in a vain effort not
to move, whilst he sobbed and shouted in a passion of rage and terror
very unbecoming in one of his heroic race. He was a ragged, dirty,
pretty urchin, with large brown eyes, and a wicked face that prophesied
for him bigger scrapes some day than stone-throwing.

The two boys who had him in custody brought the unfortunate imp to
our astonished feet, and rested there; still gripping him fast, and
demanding our good pleasure concerning his chastisement.

"Tenez, mademoiselle," said the third, holding up a big pointed
stone, "voilà la pierre qu'il a jetée!" Circumstantial evidence with a
vengeance; the culprit confronted with the instrument of his iniquity!

Perhaps we were weak; but we forgave that terror-stricken boy (who, I
verily believe, expected some vendetta-like vengeance at our hands),
and he was allowed to slink off with an admonition from us to "do so no
more."

Coming back, these same big boys again overtook us; and, quietly
remarking that they would see us safe home, they escorted us to the
door of our hotel with much polite conversation, and then made off,
raising their caps.

These boys were in the lower ranks of life, although decently dressed;
but it would have been an insult to offer them any recompense. Their
action proceeded from chivalry "pur et simple," and they had no notion
of any reward.

Weeks afterwards, when two of us returned to Corte, a smiling face
suddenly attracted our attention in the streets one day, and we
recognized one of our boyish defenders. Of course we greeted him, and
he lifted his cap, remarking, "I have seen _you_ for the last half
hour."



CHAPTER XI.

MANNERS AND CUSTOMS AT CORTE.


A good deal of historical interest is attached to Corte. From the
earliest times it has been the seat of the national government, and
the centre of the more important popular demonstrations. The old town
and citadel have undergone more sieges and been worn by more numerous
assaults than even Calvi or Bonifacio.

Here Paoli lived, and, from his modest home, regulated the government
of his country; and here was the home of the patriot Gaffori.

An anecdote is told in connection with the latter which is truly
Corsican in its Spartan-like heroism.

It was in 1746, during one of the ceaseless conflicts with Genoa, and
Gaffori was storming the city. He had already made much progress, and
the Genoese commander was beginning to tremble for the fate of his
fort. Suddenly the Corsican firing ceased, and every gun was silent,
whilst the islanders gazed horror-struck on the walls. Upon them was
bound the young son of Gaffori, who had been taken prisoner, and whom
the Genoese general had commanded to be placed there in order to deter
the successful storming party, or as a mark for his father's guns.

Gaffori paused a moment; but only a moment. In another minute he gave
the order, and the assault continued.

But the heroic father had his reward. The breach was made, Corte fell,
and Gaffori's son was rescued unhurt from his perilous situation.

Corte abounds in pointer dogs. Paoli had his six canine friends, who
kept house with him at Corte; but tradition tells not whether they,
too, were pointers or no.

The men of Corte struck me as being a finer race physically than any
other in the island. They are tall and well-made, with upright figures.

Corsicans, in face and figure, are more akin to the English than the
Italians: there is none of the soft roundness of the Italian about
them; they are bony, manly, and muscular.

But the Cortéans appeared to me to excel even their other compatriots
in idleness. As one of themselves said, "The young men of Corte do
nothing but walk the streets from morning till night, and all they have
to occupy them is to think of evil."

The Corsican women, however, at Corte as elsewhere, are essentially
domestic and retiring. Flaunting and finery have not yet become the
fashion among these simple-hearted daughters of Eve; and as long as
their lords require it of them, they will probably remain the same
light-hearted, energetic, hard-working family supporters that they now
are.

To them may be applied, with great accuracy, the old rhyme:--

     "Good wives, like city clocks, should be
     Exact with regularity;
     Yet not, like city clocks so loud,
     Be heard by all the vulgar crowd.

     "Good wives to snails should be akin,
     Always their houses keep within,--
     Yet not to carry (fashion's hacks)
     All they possess upon their backs."

The only occasion on which the women of Corsica appear to have an
outing is on Sunday morning, after early Mass, when, in their neat
attire of black and white, they sometimes take a quiet turn up and down
the main street or place.

A funeral, too, may bring them out. On passing through Olmeto some
weeks afterwards, we met half a dozen women coming down the road
together, dressed rather more gaily than usual; and our driver
immediately remarked, "There must be a funeral in Olmeto, or the women
would not be out."

"But," we asked, "do they not put on mourning for the occasion?"

"Oh no; only the relatives do that."

"But," we said, "there are so many people always dressed in black in
Corsica; how is that?"

"Well, people only go into mourning for a very near relation; but the
first time they wear it for three or four years, and the second time,
unless they are young children, for the rest of their life."

This accounts for the number of sombre female figures one sees in this
island, the black handkerchief which is worn over the head rendering
them peculiarly funereal-looking; and explains why you never meet an
elderly woman in any other attire.

But the group of women we met were evidently only acquaintances or
distant relations of the dead, for their costume was more than usually
lively, one or two of them wearing a blue or orange head-gear and other
unaccustomed bits of finery. The ceremony appeared to them, no doubt,
in the light of an agreeable dissipation, as it did to a certain poor
Welshwoman of my acquaintance, who remarked, cheerfully, that "Mother
had a' been quite gay lately; she'd a' been to three funerals last
week!"

The church at Corte is in the higher part of the town, surrounded by
narrow streets and houses that have lain in ruins ever since the last
bombardment of the town. It is not a pretentious building, either
within or without.

Poor paintings and gaudy images of saints bedecked every side altar,
and a highly coloured Madonna stood in a niche on either side of the
principal altar, where the tall candles shed artificial sunlight on
beautiful but badly arranged flowers.

The service was mumbled through by an old priest, less to our
edification than apparently to that of the reverent crowd of women
worshippers who filled the building.

Scarcely a man was to be seen in church. Their Sunday duties appeared
to consist in squatting in rows just outside the porch, smoking their
pipes, and watching the entrance of their better halves.

In Corsica the men are not church-goers. Coming from North Italy, where
the congregations are composed more of men than of women, one cannot
fail to be struck by this fact.

Fillipini remarks of his countrymen that they are a religious
community. He would scarcely say so now. French influence and French
scepticism are already making themselves felt among the Corsican
men; and the priesthood on the island does not appear sufficiently
strong, as a body, intellectually or morally, to preserve their fading
influence. But the men in Corte, although they may not care to go to
church, yet are sufficiently orthodox to join in a good procession on
St. Joseph's Day.

It was about five o'clock in the evening, when the sound of distant
chanting and the hum of many voices drew us to the window.

There we saw, coming up the road under the elm trees, a troop of
about sixty or seventy men and women, carrying banners and dressed in
uniform.

First came the women, of whom there were not altogether more than about
a dozen.

They were dressed in a pretty costume of bright blue skirt, white head
kerchief, and round white cape, trimmed with blue, and they carried in
their midst a banner "with a strange device," that we could not make
out.

Then came men, in white shirts and trowsers, with white head-gear
something between a cap and a turban, and green capes.

Then more men, with white attire and crimson capes. These capes
evidently differed according to the relative wealth of the wearer, for
some were of crimson silk edged with gold, and some of simple calico.
These carried a large crucifix.

Finally came a troop with rich purple capes. These were carrying, with
some difficulty, an immense statue of St. Joseph, gilt all over, and
surrounded by a gold frame. Four of the men bore the image on stout
poles, whilst a fifth held it straight in the centre.

This troop was evidently the "picked lot" of the procession, for they
chanted, as they walked, an extraordinary dirge-like chant, and were
accompanied by a few priests in black cassocks, likewise singing.

I have seldom seen anything much more picturesque than that gay
procession, as it wound with its banners under the shady avenue, and up
the hill-side towards the little church, now lost, now seen, between
the narrow crooked streets, the weird chant dying and rising by turns
on the quiet evening air.

Everything solemn, however, has its travesty, I imagine, and children
always reproduce in their games what has most impressed them.

So, an hour or two later, when the twilight was falling, and
the faithful were mostly in church, there came the parody of the
afternoon's procession.

Hearing a prodigious drumming, and the shouts of children, I looked out
and saw a collection of about twenty or thirty of the ragged barefoot
urchins of Corte, promenading the street in solemn procession, shouting
a song that I fear was profane, at the top of their voices, drumming
energetically with an old spoon upon a broken brass can that they had
evidently picked up from the roadside, and following the lead of a
bold-faced, pretty boy, who bore aloft the seedy remains of a large
wooden cross, which had apparently been previously used in church
decoration, as it still showed the remnants of withered moss and
evergreens.



CHAPTER XII.

SAN ROCCO BY THE RESTONICO.


The environs of Corte abound in lovely walks. Surrounded as it is by
mountain, ravine, and river, this is no wonder. Certainly, one not
easily rivalled, is to be found in the valley of the Restonico, one of
the two rivers which rush seething and boiling just below the town.

We strolled into this beautiful vale quite by accident, after hastily
skirting the streets, to avoid those "horrid boys." The road, which
was rough but broad, wound for miles through a narrow gorge, bordered
on both sides by the wildest and steepest walls of rock, at the bottom
of which swirled, in mingled white foam and malachite green, over a
boulder-strewn bed, the busy Restonico.

The rocks upon the opposite side especially were inaccessibly steep,
and appeared about five hundred feet high; but were in places clothed
by rich herbage, and, here and there, wherever their straight sides
sloped a little, covered by thick groves of chestnut trees.

The road itself was shaded in parts by the great crags that hung
overhead, and in parts by avenues of chestnuts; while many a gurgling
little stream rushed down the hill-side and ran merrily across our
path. In front, filling up the end of the gorge, sometimes hidden by
massive rocks or sudden luxuriance of foliage, rose the stately white
head of Monte Rotondo.

Looking back, the town of Corte rose from amongst its coronal of hills
with beautiful effect, the long cross-topped church spire pointing
faintly into the bright blue sky, and the white citadel on its strange
precipitous eminence, peering, as it seemed, into heaven itself.

It was one of the hottest days we had felt in Corsica, and, beautiful
though the walk was, it was almost pain to hurry, umbrella in hand,
from one shady spot to another. If ever snakes would stand upon their
tips and dance in the sun together, as our driver once informed us he
had seen them do, it would have been to-day! The lizards on the glaring
walls seemed countless; and, wherever the glare was intensest, there
the little green husband and brown wife basked together in loving
enjoyment.

Very thankful were we at last to sit down on some large boulders beside
the rushing waters, where a grove of thickly growing chestnuts threw
a grateful shade around. The river here had thrown up quite a little
shore of gravel, now partially grassed over with soft green turf; and
the chestnut pods of last summer almost covered the ground at our feet.

At a short distance from us, stood, on a little grassy plain, beneath
a blighted tree trunk, a tiny chapel, about six feet high and two feet
wide, containing a golden image of the Madonna.

It had the appearance of a doll's house, and somehow looked out of
place beside that wide, wild, tumultuous river. This was about two
miles out of Corte; but, considerably nearer the town, is a much more
singular chapel.

Chapel, perhaps, is scarcely the word for it, since it is only a
species of box, or square hole, formed by nature or blasting, in a
large block of solid rock by the roadside. The hole is about three
feet square and deep, and is glassed over in front. Inside this strange
little tabernacle is a highly coloured, well-modelled figure of a man,
with one of his trouser-legs turned up to show a remarkably life-like
wound on the knee, to which he draws the attention of the passer-by
with a pathetic countenance. A dog, looking rather ashamed of himself,
stands beside the pilgrim and completes the group.

This individual is, we are informed, San Rocco of rather obscure
memory, and beneath the tabernacle is the following inscription,
cut into the rock:--"Fermati, Passegioro, e prega intanto se vuoi
l'assistanza di San Rocco."

The little white oratory fixed in the huge glaring rock, with the tiny
stone steps beside it, and the Restonico roaring beneath it, would have
been a picturesque sight to English eyes, had it not been that the
figure within reminded one irresistibly and most unpleasantly of our
late tormentors, the Italian beggars, with their officiously displayed
surgical horrors.

According to Baring-Gould, in his "Lives of the Saints," San Rocco,
or Saint Roch, was a rather mythical personage. All that is authentic
about him is that he was a Frenchman, a native of Montpellier, who went
on a pilgrimage to Rome, and, on his return, not being recognized,
was taken up as a spy, and died miserably in the common gaol. He
was of good family and some means (which he forsook for the sake
of his pilgrimage), and died about the year A.D. 1350. Legend adds,
that whilst in Italy, where the plague at this time was raging, he
miraculously cured thousands by making over them the sign of the cross,
until himself attacked; when, creeping into a miserable hovel, he was
supplied by a friendly dog with necessary food. An angel subsequently
touched him upon the thigh, from which place the plague boil rose and
burst. When dying in the Montpellier prison, St. Roch prayed that all
invoking him should be henceforth delivered from the plague; and an
angel appeared with the written promise that his patronage should prove
the perfect cure of all suffering from this scourge.

In several of representations St. Roch an angel is seen beside him,
touching his thigh, and the dog also sometimes carries a loaf in his
mouth.

It was just beginning to cool a little when we were forced to turn
homewards. Monte Rotondo was growing grander and nearer, the path was
more lovely, and the chestnut woods thick and shady; but all these
charms, alas! had to give way to the claims of the six o'clock table
d'hôte at Hotel Pierracci. The return walk was delicious, and the
fashionable hour of promenade had evidently just commenced; for we
began to meet family groups taking their evening stroll together up the
hitherto deserted gorge. Just where a lofty cypress, stem and solitary,
lifted up its dark, pointed head high into the deep blue sky, to mark
the presence of a tiny cemetery upon the steep hill-side above us, the
sun suddenly fell behind Corte's framework of hills, and we re-entered
the baking streets in early shadow.

At the doorway of the hotel a very tall sentry stood at arms; for we
had the honour of housing a general beneath our roof.

This general was a very grand person. At dinner-time his rank and
dignity obliged him to have a table to himself, where he sat eating
his chicken and salad in solitary grandeur and profound silence. I was
really sorry for the poor general; for he was young and good-looking,
and seemed intended by nature and his own inclinations (as evinced
by sundry half-wistful glances towards the large table, where we, the
common herd, dined in unpretending sociability), for a more agreeable
and gregarious lot than the one forced upon him by the claims of his
exalted position.

It was very thrilling, however, to see our _militaire_ receive his
letters in the morning. The sentry entered, musket on shoulder,
clanking through the salle à manger (for I am ashamed to say this
military grandee had not a private sitting-room, or did not use
it); grounded arms, saluted, presented the epistles from the extreme
length of a very stiff arm, and then stood motionless at attention, an
inanimate blue and red human poker.

Tremendously hot though the day had been, the evening was exceedingly
chilly, and we at last requested the morbid waiter to light us a fire.

"What! cold?" he asked, incredulously.

"Yes," said I, apologetically, "I am afraid we are."

"Dear me, how strange it is! There are you cold, and I quite warm.
Women are queer!"

"Well," said I, meekly, feeling quite relieved that this was all the
scolding I was to receive; "you see, you work hard, and we are sitting
still; that makes the difference."

"Si, si," said the little gloomy man, as he blew at the wooden logs
with good-natured assiduity; "but you women are always chilly. We men
are stronger, that is it." And he gave a final puff and positively
smiled.

We soon learnt that, in Corsica, the word "lady" was an unknown
quantity. Whenever, solicitous of our dignity, we used it in speaking
of ourselves or companions, we were generally corrected by the natives,
and the word "woman" substituted. "The reason why I cannot tell;" for I
fancy Corsicans are above any petty democratic pride of equality; and
they usually behave towards our sex with a kind courtesy that is the
evident offshoot of the old national virtues of a brave and hospitable
race.



CHAPTER XIII.

A THIRTEEN HOURS' DRIVE.


At Corte we bade adieu to our not too fascinating Bastia coachman; and
the journey to Ajaccio we performed by diligence.

The diligences that run between Corte and Ajaccio are not numerous, nor
very convenient. Only one, going every other day, has a good banquette.
The daily diligence, which is a poor stuffy little concern, goes, by
way of a Hibernianism, at ten o'clock every night; and all the journey
is performed in the dark.

As we, however, came to see the country, we waited for the "diligence
de la Concurrence," as the best diligence is called, and engaged the
three banquette seats. And very good ones they were, high up behind
the coachman's box, and completely open, save for a hood which could be
raised or lowered at will. From this place we saw the country well, and
the seat was roomy enough for three not very corpulent people.

It is a matter of some difficulty to discover the facts about the
Ajaccio diligences. The hotels are in league with one or another
of them, and the result is a profound ignorance concerning any but
the favoured vehicle, which is not conducive to the comfort of the
traveller.

For instance, Madame Pierracci unfortunately favoured the stuffy and
banquetteless diligence; she therefore swore by all her household gods
that no other was in existence, and that by no possibility could we go
at any other time, or by any other conveyance than the night diligence.
She even denied the existence of any private vehicles whatever, that
would hold our luggage, or more than two persons.

It was only after going out ourselves to make inquiries, that we found
that a man of the name of Laurenz would supply a private omnibus to
Ajaccio and back for sixty francs; and that M. Dionyse's "diligence
de la Concurrence," of which the office was only a few doors from
the hotel, ran every other morning to the capital. This is the best
diligence in Corsica; and, for the modest sum of eleven francs, you may
travel the twelve hours in the banquette, behind very fair horses.

We started about six a.m., changing horses five times, and reaching
Ajaccio at seven in the evening; but the journey is not generally so
long.

It was an exquisite day, and the sun, even so early in the morning, was
"deliciously baking," said No. 3, "decidedly oppressive," said No. 1.

We departed in style, with our coachman on one side of the box and
our conductor on the other, with five horses, and an energetic little
black dog perched on the roof of the carriage, who evidently believed
himself the guardian of the whole concern, and at the approach of every
stranger ran, frantically barking, backwards and forwards, along his
elevated platform, to the imminent risk of his neck. Once, indeed, the
small beast overbalanced himself, and was only saved by alighting on
the conductor's shoulder, where he was quickly transferred to No. 2's
knee, and his acquaintance cultivated.

During the whole journey the conductor remains the same, but the
coachman changes with each relay of horses. The conductor was a big,
fine man, with a good head, and remarkably well-informed. As, however,
he thought it necessary to descend and refresh himself ("with a little
water," as he remarked innocently) at every village we passed, his
conversation became less interesting and his company rather less
agreeable towards the middle of the day; and we were not sorry when
he found it necessary to retire to the summit of the diligence, and
the terrier's company, for an hour or two of snoring repose. Both he
and the coachman were armed with an enormously long whip, some five or
six yards in length; and with these they simultaneously slashed at the
poor horses whenever we came to any steep hill. This duty was, however,
sometimes undertaken by a juvenile amateur of thirteen or fourteen,
whose business and pleasure it was to run along by the side of the
panting horses, cracking the long whip furiously against their steaming
flanks, and encouraging them with every conceivable Corsican epithet of
abuse and entreaty.

The road to Vivario, where was the mid-day halt, was for some time a
continual ascent among beautiful views of snow-streaked ranges on both
sides.

Further on, we passed through an avenue of chestnuts, not yet, however,
in leaf, the great boles standing by the roadside among picturesque
green and grey moss-covered boulders of limestone, from between which
darted sparkling little streams and many waterfalls.

When we again passed over this ground in June, the place was a soft
fairyland of beauty, the bright green chestnuts bending lovingly over
the great stones, and throwing dappled light and shade over the uneven
turf.

Monte Rotondo had accompanied us part of the way from Corte, but,
at the large village of Serraggio, Monte D'Oro's great white flanks
started out in dazzling brilliancy, and continued for the rest of the
way to take its place.

Serraggio is beautifully situated; but it is not a tempting-looking
village. The houses are tumble-down and dirty, and the pigs appear to
walk amicably in and out of the houses.

From Serraggio to Vivario, passing by Ponte Vecchio, the route is
perfectly lovely. It winds through the gorge of the Vecchio, the
river foaming at the bottom, and wildest rocky hills, varied by snow
mountains, rising up on either side. The peaks that stood over us were
of the most eccentric shapes, pointing like grey and brown battlements
up into the unclouded sky, and flowers of every description blossomed
beside our path. The Mediterranean heath, especially, with its delicate
little bell-shaped flowers and strong, sweet scent, grew luxuriantly by
the roadside, generally in height from six to ten feet.

Ponte Vecchio is exquisitely beautiful. At a winding turn in
the road the tall one-arched bridge spans the boiling river and
boulder-strewn gorge, surrounded by every eccentricity of rocky hill
and pine-scattered snow mountain.

It was evidently considered rather a show place, for the driver pulled
up his vehicle, and we all descended to take a good look. Perhaps,
too, he was not averse to resting his horses before the final climb to
Vivario, for he gave a ready assent to the proposal of Nos. 2 and 3,
that they should finish the distance on foot.

"How far is it?" we asked.

"About two kilomètres, mademoiselle."

We had heard of the Corsican inability to reckon distances; but,
unfortunately, at the moment forgot it. So we set off, after a few
minutes' rest above the lovely gorge, in an easy stroll after the now
distanced diligence, nothing suspecting, and prepared to enjoy our mile
and a half walk.

The views were exquisite,--snow mountains rising before us on every
side; but the ascent was uncommonly steep, and our pace insensibly
slackened.

Only as the sun, after half an hour's retirement, came out in noonday
force did we recollect that we had left our umbrellas in the diligence.

We began to boil as we toiled up the steep hill, with our pocket
handkerchiefs under our hats, and the mocking diligence, ever
decreasing, yet ever in sight, winding up the endless glare of white
road above and beyond us. And still no village to be seen!

Presently we were overtaken by some native workmen going up the road
with their tools. They increased their pace to come up with us, and
then walked beside us conversing.

"How far is it to Vivario from here?" we asked, thinking surely we must
be near our goal.

"About five kilomètres, mademoiselle," was the answer we received, to
our mortification; almost immediately followed by the usual question,
"Are you Frenchwomen?"

"Is it often as hot as this at this time of the year?" we inquired, as
we trudged on despairingly.

"This hot? It is not hot now; this is only spring," was the
unsympathetic reply.

We walked on so fast that we distanced our companions, who seemed
astonished at the energy of Englishwomen, and stopped to remark upon
it to some friendly road-menders a little further on. It was certainly
six or seven kilomètres before, with faces like boiled lobsters, and
much tried equanimity, we reached the promised land of Vivario, and,
passing through a stable-yard of odoriferous propensities, ascended a
little steep wooden staircase, or outside ladder, and entered the cool
sitting-room of the village inn.

The Vivario inn is really superior. The people are civil and obliging,
the bedrooms are beautifully clean, the little sitting-room is nicely
furnished, and there is an air of comfort and refinement about the
household arrangements not often to be found elsewhere in Corsica. It
possesses also a really charmingly furnished private sitting-room, full
of rugs, pictures, easy-chairs, and other luxuries, as a rule unknown
to Corsica, where any one in search of lovely scenery and healthy
mountain air might well spend a week or two with great pleasure.

When we arrived, lunch was ready. We were a snug little party of four
ladies and two gentlemen, the strangers being French; and we improved
our acquaintance with each other rapidly as we satisfied our hungry
appetites and discussed our sweetbreads, duck, broccia, and dessert.

It was a short acquaintance, however; for on reaching Ajaccio our
foreign friends went to the Hôtel de France, whilst we went to Hôtel
Germania, and we saw no more of each other.

After a good rest and refreshment, we started anew, with fresh horses,
for the Foce Pass.

The people of Vivario had all assembled to see us off, and two priests
walked up and down amongst their flock, pretending to read, but in
reality as much interested in the strangers as the smallest of the
crowd. As the diligence rolled off with a "Hué, yoop!" from the
driver, we nodded good-bye to the friendly looking assembly, and a
number of hats were immediately taken off, the men wishing us "salut"
or "bonjour." Only the two priests declined to take any notice of us,
and retired to a low wall a few yards off, where, sheltered, as they
fancied, by their shady wideawakes, they peered at us curiously out of
the corners of their eyes.

It was a terrible mount up to the top of the Foce Pass, and, long
before we reached it, the five poor horses were exhausted with pulling,
and driver and conductor with beating. Amateur flagellants were at a
premium, as we toiled painfully up the smooth road, steep as the side
of a house, with greenhouse shrubs bordering it, fir-trees on the hills
above, and snow mountains overhanging them.

In two or three hour's we reached the forest of Vizzavona, and
continued to pass right through it. The forests of Corsica are almost
the _specialité_ of the country.

Wide and trackless, whole mountains are covered by these splendid
forests, in many of which the sound of the hatchet has never been
heard, nor the foot of man passed, but where the birds, the snakes, and
the insects live and die unmolested. The trees which compose them are
often magnificent, and consist of larches, pines, firs, beeches, and
chestnuts, with a mixture of other kinds.

The Larriccio pine, which sometimes attains a height of two hundred
feet, almost without branches, but with a thick leafy tuft at the
summit of the long straight stem, is a peculiar beauty of Corsica, and,
I believe, almost unknown elsewhere.

The chief forests in the island are those of Sorba and Vizzavona in the
centre, Aitone and Valdoniello in the north, and Cagna and Bavella in
the south. Cagna and Valdoniello are the largest, stretching over miles
of hill and dale, and fighting with the snow for the rocky ledges on
the mountain crests.

Vizzavona, Valdoniello, and Bavella are almost equally beautiful, and
Sorba not much behind them; but perhaps the views on each side of the
Bocca di Bavella, or Bavella Pass, are the finest in Corsica.

Half of the forest of Vizzavona consists of beeches, and the other half
of pines; but there are also a good many chestnuts, which were not yet
in leaf.

Red and brown branches mixed with the soft young green of the beeches,
and the darker hue of the pines, as we mounted the steep ascent under
a thick avenue; through which, on the descending side, came glimpses
of the dazzling snow of Monte Rotondo, rising up from beneath us to a
giddy height in the cloudy sky.

Countless bags of caterpillars hung from every tree, and from the
branches above our heads. These bags were some of them a foot long, and
had the appearance of white muslin. It seemed as if it was Christmas
Day in the forest, and a quantity of nomad cooks had hung out their
pudding bags upon the boughs. After a while, snow patches began to
show, and, when at last we reached the summit, thick snow lay all
around us.

A young Corsican who sat on the box before us was friendly and
communicative, and, a little while before reaching the pass, pointed
out to us a queer little isolated fort, standing on a lonely hill-top
just above the forest; which, as he informed us, with a twinkle of his
eye, was built to defend the pass "from the English invader."

Stone shanties, with log or pebble roofs, stood here and there along
the steep roadside--mere hovels, built for the accommodation of the
road-menders, or _cantonniers_; and, except the little grey fort on its
exposed hill, were the only signs of human life, past or present, in
the lonely forest.

We paused for a few minutes on the top of the pass to let the horses
regain their breath, to look to the harness for the long steep descent,
and probably also for the conductor to refresh himself with another
dose of "water" at the miserable little inn on the plateau.

The two leaders also were loosed from the traces, and, with a parting
flick at their hind quarters, were sent cantering down the road in
front of us. Meanwhile, we got down from our perch, and tasted Corsican
snow for the first time.

The col, or Bocca, was bare of trees; and we looked down upon
magnificent views. These cols are nearly always denuded of vegetation,
even when surrounded on every side by rich forests. Exposed to the
winds from every quarter, they rise out of their green nest, grey and
bleak, like a bald head surrounded by a thick monastic fringe.

On one side of us lay the forest through which we had passed; on the
other lay a chain of blue inland hills and valleys, and the chestnut
region of Bocognano. Indigo clouds, fringed and angry, hung above, and
everything was toned down to the same deep stormy blue, as the thunder
growled heavily beneath us.

The snow lies exceedingly thick upon the Foce Pass in winter, and only
three weeks before our arrival some fellow-countrymen of ours had
experienced the difficulty of crossing the island between Corte and
Ajaccio. The diligence had broken down, and they had been compelled to
walk nine miles through heavy snow to the nearest halting-place; and
this in the month of March. Yet it gave one almost a shudder to leave
the cold, clear bracing air of the col, with its sunny sky and snowy
hills, for the blue-black growling inferno at our feet. But it had to
be done, and we little guessed with what celerity.

No sooner were the passengers reseated, and the driver and conductor
each in his place, than both the long whips began to play furiously,
the horses were put into a gallop, and down we went, flying over the
steep winding road like the wind, the men shouting madly, the carriage
swaying from side to side, and the rocks and trees passing us as in a
dream.

Every corner turned was a miracle of skill on the part of the clever
horses, and, as we hung mid-air over the precipice, balanced like
Mahomet's coffin twixt earth and heaven, we one and all mentally
breathed our last prayer, and thought of the obituary columns of the
_Times_ or _Galignani_.

The pace grew more fast and furious, and the fun more boisterous than
ever when we sighted a porcine happy family on the road before us, and
enjoyed the sport of a chase.

Certainly those pigs ran as never could run British or civilized
pigs. The family consisted of a stout mamma, three little ones, and a
handsome large papa, one of the "hogs of the country," with a good deal
of the wild boar about him, being of a bright orange colour, with high,
stiff, black bristles up his back. The chase was kept up for a mile or
two, with wonderful spirit on the part of the exhausted pigs, and amid
a chorus of laughter from drivers and passengers, until at length a
little roughness in the side of the road allowed the panting, squeaking
victims to escape down the precipitous slope.

Chasing the two leaders seemed tame work after this; and No. 3 ventured
to put in a word for the general safety of the public.

"Have the goodness," she said with dignity, touching the arm of the
conductor, and casually moving her other hand towards the region of her
pocket, "to go a little slower. This pace is unsafe."

The conductor looked at her with a grin of good-humoured contempt.
"Oh," said he briefly, and as if it settled the point, "les femmes ont
toujours peur!"

"I am not afraid," she responded (I fear not very truthfully), "but I
possess only one neck, and I do not wish to break it!"

"Well, I have only one neck too!"

"Ah! but yours is evidently of less value to you than mine, or you
would not risk it so lightly."

A shrug, and a mutter concerning the relative value of heads, male
and female, was heard indistinctly; but the exordium was not without
its effect, and, rather to our astonishment, the conductor allowed his
whip to be influenced by the words of woman. For the next few miles,
we were allowed to run down the mountain side at a less breakneck pace,
and could enjoy the splendid grey snow-crowned rocks that rose up from
the other side of the gorge beneath us, and the chestnut-covered walls
towering above our heads, with less fear that every look would be our
last, finally reaching the village of Bocognano in safety about four
o'clock.

Our fears were not unjustifiable.

When, some weeks later, we returned up this Foce Pass to Corte in our
own private carriage, I noticed one of the many black wooden crosses
by the roadside about half-way up the pass; and, by chance, asked our
driver if he knew its story.

"Oh yes," said he; "that is where the prefect was killed a year ago."

"How did that happen?" we asked.

"Coming down the pass, something broke in the harness, and of course
the diligence went over the precipice. The coachman (who is a friend
of mine, and told me about it) jumped off somehow and saved himself--he
drives the same diligence now--but of course both horses and passengers
were killed. There happened however, fortunately, to be only one
passenger, the prefect of this part, and he was pitched on his head
just here, and died on the spot."

Had _our_ diligence upset, there would have been seven mortuary crosses
to bedeck the mountain side.



CHAPTER XIV.

A BANDIT VILLAGE.


Bocognano is, par excellence, the village of the bandits. It was
formerly the home of the brothers Bella Coschia, the latest and most
famous of the bandits of the present generation.

It is difficult to get at the truth regarding these two men, but there
is little doubt that they have never had much to recommend them. Out
of their own village they are generally admitted to have been regular
ruffians; although, in Bocognano, they are declared to be most pleasing
fellows.

There is a little shyness, however, in speaking of their errors,
especially in this neighbourhood, which perhaps is not much to be
wondered at, considering that sixty members of their family inhabit the
village. The younger of the two brothers is only forty-two, and the
elder one not more than fifty; but for some years these wild animals
have shown signs of taming, and now lead a tolerably harmless and
inoffensive life on the mountain side, where, by tacit consent, so
long as they thus keep out of the way, they remain unmolested by the
gendarmes.

A dark ravine on the blue flank of Monte D'Oro, a few miles above and
beyond Bocognano, was pointed out to us as the almost inaccessible home
of the two bandits.

Their native village receives from them the milk of their mountain
goats, and supplies them with the necessaries of life.

By day, the men remain in their rocky stronghold; but at night they
constantly descend the ravine and visit their friends and relations at
Bocognano.

Night and day are the same to these wild, lawless climbers, who leap
down the precipitous crags which separate their cavern dwelling from
the village, with fearless security, in the darkest night.

A gentleman we afterwards met, who had been introduced, by special
favour, to their stronghold, and appeared to have relished his call
much, described them as well-educated men. They could both, he said,
speak and read either French or Italian; and he had seen a letter
written by one of them in the most idiomatic French. The younger
brother, he asserted, became a bandit because of the conscription;
preferring a roving and lawless life, and amateur skirmishes on his own
account with the gendarmerie, to a forced service in the French army.

The Bella Coschias, however, were not of any particular rank amongst
their fellow-villagers, although their name, like that of so many
Corsicans, is one well known and a good one in Italy.

A driver whom we employed later on, and who was much more trustworthy
than our French friend, afterwards told us more of the bandit brothers.
On one occasion, one of them had made his way for some reason to
Ajaccio, and our coachman drove him back by night in a close carriage
to Bocognano--some twenty miles.

This was several years ago, when the man was undoubtedly a _mauvais
sujet_, murdering and evil-doing in every direction, simply for the
gratification of his own bad passions; and yet neither our driver, a
remarkably superior, unprejudiced man, nor his master, a well-to-do
coach owner, dreamt of doing otherwise than protecting the bandit from
the French government.

It will be some time yet before law is recognized in Corsica, or the
natives learn to give up, into its hands, their right of judgment
regarding private feuds and local offenders.

After all, the excuse for this condition of things lies in the
mal-administration of justice under which poor Corsica groaned for
centuries, and which forced public opinion to take the law into its
own hands, and regard the procedure of the courts as only a source of
foreign oppression and complicated misfortune. The same cause probably
has to answer for the vendetta, for so many years the curse of Corsica,
and the disgrace of a noble people.

The vendetta has been the internal disease of the island, breaking
out again and again, and often sapping the strength and destroying the
harmony of the different members of the community.

It was the natural result of a hopelessly corrupt legislature among a
warlike people of strong passions and revengeful propensities; and as
such, must not be judged too hardly.

It is an incontrovertible fact that the law of the vendetta was, in its
first action, not only allowed, but enforced, among the early Jews by
the Mosaic dispensation.

The Corsicans (if we put aside the humanizing effect of Christianity)
have had greater reason and excuse for their practice of private
retribution than ever had the Jews; for the Jews had a court of
unassailable purity presided over by the delegate of the Deity
Himself, whilst the poor Corsican could hope for no verdict unbought
by gold, or uninfluenced by party spirit, and could bring down no
judgment on the head of assassin or robber, save that meted out by
the wrathful strength of his own right hand. But a custom which began
not unreasonably, and with so much excuse, spread until it became a
monstrous horror in the land.

Men were not content with the pursuit and death of the murderer or the
robber only--his whole family became their lawful prey; and, in return,
every member of that family sought to shed the blood of their pursuers.

Children, before they were born, were doomed to the same unrelenting
life of savage hate and bloodshed; and boys of tender years were
brought by the mothers that bare them, before the bloody corpse of
their father, and made to swear, with baby lips, undying vengeance and
murderous retribution, so soon as their hands should be strong enough
to grasp a gun, and their skill sufficient to point it home to the
heart of the foe.

Thus the hand of every man was against his neighbour; and this not
for serious causes only. Soon, the vendetta between different families
began to arise from the most trivial causes. A man spoke slightingly
of another man's friend or relative, or, maybe, his dog--a dispute
occurred as to a date, a measurement, the opinions of a third. A hot
word was spoken: out came the ready dagger, or the ever-loaded gun
or pistol,--a human heart ceased beating, and a murderer fled to the
maquis on the mountain side, or the caverns on the lonely rocks, and
became thenceforth a pariah, issuing only to commit fresh murders,
supported secretly by his relations, but never more known to the world
at large; until at length a retributive bullet laid him low, or his
hiding place was betrayed, and he miserably slain by the military
police of his country.

This hydra-headed monster had grown to such an extent, that between
the years 1770 and 1800, when the vendetta was at its height, some 7000
murders occurred, all on its account; and only the strenuous measures
of the French government succeeded in checking the evil.

It was made penal for a man to carry a gun or any other weapon, except
under certain restrictions, and in certain cases. This law continued in
force for a few years, and worked so well that the number of violent
deaths decreased almost to _nil_. But the law has been rescinded the
last few years, and now again you see every man with his loaded gun.
And the number of murders, although nothing like what it was in former
times, yet has increased again greatly.

This inland region is specially the region of arms. You rarely meet a
peasant without a gun strapped behind his shoulder, and a pistol or two
in his vest; and our driver informed me that they are always carried
loaded.

"With what?" I asked.

"With bullets, of course."

"To kill game?" asked I (knowing, however, that this was not the place
for large game).

"Pour se defendre," said he, with a queer look.

"That means--to shoot one another as soon as a quarrel occurs?"

He shrugged his shoulders silently, and smiled assent.

In the vendetta one touch of barbarity is spared--the women and
children are unassailed.

But instances where women have taken the law into their own hands, and
shot a faithless lover, or even a family foe, are not unusual; and of
course, they are constantly the provoking cause of many a masculine
vendetta.

As a rule, these female murderers are leniently judged. One young
woman, well known to our driver, had, a short time before, openly shot
her lover through the heart with a pistol, but had only been condemned
to six months' imprisonment; while another, for a similar offence,
but probably rather less of provocation, had received sentence of a
year's incarceration. Capital punishment is abolished in Corsica, and
imprisonment for life substituted. It is doubtful whether this latter
penalty, to the free islander, is not a more dreaded calamity than even
the loss of life.

But the fierce and revengeful nature which has fostered the vendetta
is combined with many noble qualities. The Corsican is, and always
has been, honest, hospitable, and truthful; and he would scorn to take
advantage of a lonely stranger. There is something essentially manly
about these people; and the base and petty vices of more so-called
refined countries are unknown to them. There is an immense difference
between them and the people of the neighbouring island of Sardinia, or
that of Sicily.

The Corsicans have a thorough and well-merited contempt for the natives
of Sardinia. "They are nothing, those Sardes, but a race of robbers,
assassins, and liars," said a man to me with emphasis at Bonifacio.

Bonifacio is the nearest Corsican town to Sardinia, and looks across
some narrow straits towards the Italian island with no friendly
feelings.

From what we heard of Sardinia, travelling is neither safe nor
agreeable there. It is not a particularly interesting country save for
its antiquarian remains, being far flatter and less full of natural
beauties than Corsica; and, although it boasts a railway, it is as
far behind its neighbour in civilization and in the character of its
inhabitants, as in the facilities it affords to travellers.

The inns are, I believe, worse, and dirtier than in Corsica; the
roads are not so good, and brigands abound; whilst there is little
in the character of Sardinian scenery to compensate for the domestic
discomfort.

The people are reported sly, and as possessing little of the honesty
and courtesy common in Corsica; on the contrary, they regard travellers
as their lawful prey. The railway trains are occasionally fired at and
pillaged by brigands, and highway robbers still infest the country.

This was never the case in Corsica. For centuries the people have
prided themselves upon their honesty, and a murder for greed of gold
is unknown. The traveller's purse and his person are safe, amongst
the wildest and roughest of the inhabitants. Quarrelling over money
interests is unusual; and a vendetta is said to have been rarely, if
ever, caused by a dispute over such matters.

The killing and slaying amongst the people has been barbarous enough,
Heaven knows; but it has rarely owed its origin to any lower motive
than a mistaken or exaggerated idea of honour, or, at the worst, a love
of lawless freedom and adventure.

The difference between the Corsican bandit and the Sardinian or
Sicilian brigand is the difference of races far apart from each other
as the poles. Notwithstanding their contiguity, the two islands have
rarely had anything to do with each other for many centuries, and the
wild white breakers that roll, nine months of the year, between the
"Bouches de Bonifacio," separate two nationalities that have never
known sympathy.

A Corsican bandit can occasionally be a much nearer neighbour than one
suspects.

A gentleman at Bocognano told us that a bandit, about a year ago, had
spent six months in a cave at the bottom of a garden close to Ajaccio.
During this time, he was regularly supplied at night with food by one
or two friends, at which time also he emerged from his hiding-place
and walked abroad with caution; and, at the end of the six months, took
his departure and escaped to the mountains near. The garden was close
to the house, and the bandit, in his gloomy hole, must have listened
almost daily to the voices of the children playing about, and watched
the householder and his wife as they strolled up and down.

It was only after the bird had flown that the owner was made aware of
the strange visitor he had unconsciously harboured for so long in the
vicinity of his home.

"Did it not give him a shudder to think of the man lying there close
by, night and day?" I asked.

"Oh no," was the reply; "why should he fear? The bandit had no quarrel
with _him_."

Walking through the lonely mountains, and in and out of the wild
country rocks, one feels that one is in the natural country of the
fierce outlaw; but in sunny, modern, cheery little Ajaccio, it is
almost as difficult to realize the existence or the close proximity of
the bandit as it would be in a Belgravian drawing-room.

For some time after leaving the dirty uninteresting-looking little
village of Bocognano, the road continues very fine, descending
constantly among magnificent mountain forms, heaped together in every
direction, and passing under the grateful shade of young-leaved oaks
and budding chestnuts. Miniature Geissbach falls dropped beside us, and
long-haired goats, black, and brown, and parti-coloured, with graceful
heads and large shy eyes, bounded past in terror.

At a village boasting the queer name of Fiasco, we took up our last
relay of horses, and our fifth coachman. He was a young fellow with a
gentle, smiling face and courteous manner. His horses were, contrary to
most of the diligence horses, in excellent condition. They had not a
rough or a sore place upon them apparently, which was more than could
be said for any of the others; and their driver neither required nor
used his long whip, nor did he indulge in the various and inharmonious
yells of the other four coachmen.

This young man was afterwards introduced to us by a fellow-driver as a
nephew and great admirer of the two Bella Coschia bandits.

"He looks kind," said I.

"He is a 'brave homme,'" was the warm reply; "and would not injure a
fly"--which, I have no doubt, was true.

The barbarous condition in which horses, and especially mules, are
driven in Corsica, is much to be deplored. It is a rare exception to
meet with a mule without one or more sores upon its back or legs; and
we sometimes saw them at work with an open wound the size of a saucer
upon them. The flies in summer must be a terrible aggravation to the
sufferings of these poor beasts.

As a rule, however, it is only the draught mules which are thus
wounded; and the riding mules are generally whole and well-looking.

There is great excuse for the condition of the animals in the steep
roads and the wretched pay received by their owners, the charettiers.

Forced to bring heavy loads of wood down mere mountain paths,
dangerously steep and twisting, working often night and day for very
insufficient pay, and often at risk of life and limb to themselves,
these poor charettiers are constrained to overwork their mules, as
they are themselves overworked, and have neither the power nor the
inclination to spare them ill-usage.

Yet, I do not think the Corsican is often a voluntarily cruel driver. I
never, or rarely, saw one of these wood-carters beating or personally
ill-treating his mules. But all over the island there is a tacit
indifference to animal suffering.

I wish the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would
establish a branch for the service of mules and horses in Corsica.
But they would probably find it hot work at first, as these are not a
people who approve of interference in any quarter.

One lady, well known in Ajaccio, who took up a short time ago the
cause of the poor mules, and made an effort to bring to justice one or
two owners of ill-used animals, was rewarded by a small hornet's nest
about her ears; and, I was told, had a note sent her anonymously "à
l'Irlandais," in which she was informed that it was well for her she
was of the weaker sex, or she might have suffered for her temerity!

As we approached the neighbourhood of Ajaccio, the mountains lowered
their heads and soon gave place to wooded hills; and, beyond this,
to fine rocks. Then, as the sun sank slowly towards the horizon, the
fading sunlight fell upon a foaming river following the road, on one
side, and lit up the upper part of the rich shrub-covered cliff which
overhung it on the other.

We were now almost on level land, and a broad plain lay before us,
about six miles long, marshy and malarious, at the end of which was the
wide-stretching Mediterranean, blue and still, with a white tongue of
land reaching out, and dotted with little houses sparkling in the last
rays of evening sunshine.

This bright little town, lying on its white arm far out into the lovely
sea, was Ajaccio. Round it curved many a bay; and beyond it gleamed
many a distant island, as we sped over the plain at an easy gallop,
under young Bella Coschia's gentle rein.

Then came an English-looking lane or two, with grassy banks and
overhanging trees; and then, a sudden turn on to what may be called the
Esplanade of Ajaccio--a broad flat road, shaded by a grateful avenue
of chestnuts and sycamores, winding along the shore of the bay, past
the quay and the statue of Napoleon, and up the hilly street of the gay
little town.

No place could have looked fairer than did Ajaccio on our first view of
it. Sea and sky were glowing crimson with sunset hues, the hills and
promontories on the other side of the bay were a rich purple, while
the houses shone bright and clean against the vivid background, their
windows painted gold, and the streets shaded by fresh-leaved young
trees.

The little town was all astir in the freshness and cool of a lovely
spring evening; for it was just the time when, in Corsica, men, women,
and children are all abroad in the streets.

Gay stalls of oranges and vegetables lined the ascent; bright red
and blue uniforms mixed with blue blouses and brown velveteens; mule
carts, with their jingling bells and scarlet trappings, ran up and down
merrily; and men in their shirt sleeves (and every Corsican seems to
wear a white shirt) sat before their open doors, smoking their pipes,
with children and dogs playing round them, and their wives, in white or
coloured head-gear, standing near in gossip under the trees.

A few young ladies, got up in tight dresses and frizzed hair, likewise
walked, in couples, or arm in arm with a dark-complexioned father,
solemnly up and down; while whiskered Frenchmen sat in front of the
little cafés under their awnings, and sailors of several nations rolled
merrily along the streets, whistling or singing.

Then on through the main street of the town, out again upon the blue
sea, the Place de Napoleon with its fine statues of the first Napoleon
and his four brothers, past the Hôtel de France close by, and up
the Cours de Grandval a little way, planted with its avenue of young
chestnuts,--on to Hôtel Germania, lying against a wooded hill, the last
house in the street, with front door open to welcome the traveller, and
green shutters just being turned back from the shaded windows.

Oh, the delights of once more entering an establishment where the
polished floors shone with cleanliness, where the paper did not hang
in foul strips from the walls, where indescribable odours did not
greet one from every open window and up every staircase, and where the
reptile and the insect knew no abiding-place! Oh, the revelling in tubs
and cold water, the luxury of a bell with some one to answer it, and
the charms of bread not sour, and butter that could be eaten!

Howsoever beautiful be nature, the most æsthetic mind is too much a
slave to the vile body to know perfect mental enjoyment when living in
constant dread of physical discomfort and disgust. Any one who has ever
travelled out of the beaten track will understand the joy with which we
took possession of our dainty little rooms at Ajaccio, after our week's
roughing, and will excuse this rhapsody.



CHAPTER XV.

THE TOWN OF AJACCIO.


English people are apt, at Ajaccio, to incur a good deal of public
obloquy and well-merited contempt by their pronunciation of the name.
In their Northern ignorance, they are accustomed to pronounce the two
_c_'s soft; and find considerable difficulty in schooling their tongues
to the popular sneeze-like intonation.

In this dilemma, I bethought me of a plan adopted by a fond and
phonetic mother I had known years ago, to cure a failing common amongst
those of tender years, viz., the adding of an agreeable but unnecessary
_r_ to those Christian names which terminate in a vowel, and by whom
the following couplet was composed, to be repeated twenty times daily
by her children--

     "Give Anna-an apple, and Julia-a cake;
     Send Maria-Eliza-afloat on the lake."

Acting on this precedent, I put my poetic muse to work, and, in an
incredibly short space of time, had composed this chaste and elegant
refrain--

     "Ajaccio! Ajaccio!
     What name so very catchy, O!
     Is there a town can match thee, O,
     To turn adrift a scratch trio
     Of English dames, Ajaccio?"

This verse I took, as a sort of mental pill, last thing before getting
into bed, repeating the dose whenever I happened to wake in the night.
At breakfast time, and whilst employed at my toilet, I continued the
same process, mixing Ajaccio up with coffee and rolls; and, before
noon, had the comfort of feeling that the disease was cured, and the
national sneeze effectually imitated.

This trifling incident is only named for the benefit of any future
English travellers afflicted with a like difficulty.

Ajaccio is one of the most delightful little towns possible for a
residence. Both climate and population wear a sunny air that can hardly
fail, one would think, to put even the proverbial British grumbler into
good spirits and a good temper.

The views on every side are smiling and lovely, without being
oppressively grand. For everyday use such a landscape wears best,
as, in domestic life, a cheerful comely woman is preferable to a
magnificently attired belle.

Soft purple hills, a blue, gently heaving sea, and pretty white
villas, nestling amongst groves of trees, are the sights of Ajaccio,
all melting and glowing in the glory of the mid-day sun, or gathering,
every half-hour, new lights and shadows, till the haze of evening.

The town itself is far cleaner than any other in Corsica; the streets
are gay and busy, with a French liveliness; the inhabitants have a
remarkable talent for smiling, and the tradespeople are the most civil
in the world. Their politeness absolutely knows no bounds. They place
the most unbounded confidence in strangers; and you may enter a shop
without your purse and carry off an armful of purchases, to the entire
satisfaction of the owner, who quite blushes on being told of your name
and residence.

It is apparently considered quite a favour to be allowed to show you
the way, and the straw hats are pulled off with a polished smile worthy
of Beau Brummel. One man, at a chemist's door, went so far as to thank
us for having thus appealed to him!

Another, an optician, a sweet-looking old gentleman, in a grey slop and
wide-awake, after having vainly searched for some time for an eye-glass
to suit No. 3, was quite overcome when she apologized for the useless
trouble given; and showed off the talents of his handsome black and
white retriever, which, at his request, leaped upon a chair to kiss his
master, with a paw placed on either shoulder.

The shops at Ajaccio are fairly good, and more modern in appearance
than at Bastia; and certainly they deserve to be patronized, if it is
only to learn good manners.

The climate of Ajaccio is lovely; very little rain falls there.

During our different visits to the town this highly rainy and
unsatisfactory spring, only one day, I think, was really wet; and I
noticed that the weather generally seemed brighter here than elsewhere.

In winter it is charming. November, December, January, February, and
March, vary exceedingly little in temperature, ranging from fifty-five
to sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit, with an average of sixty-two degrees;
but Miss Campbell declares January and February to be the most perfect
months of the year in Ajaccio; and March is certainly far less windy,
chilly, and dusty here than on the Riviera.

In April the temperature generally rises considerably, and towards
the end of the month the winter visitors begin to leave in a body.
It becomes then rather too relaxing, but is wonderfully free from
mosquitoes and fevers, and other Southern plagues, up to the month of
July; when, although not positively dangerous, like the towns on the
eastern coast, it is decidedly not healthy for any Northern stranger
who may be enough of a salamander to brave its tropical heat.

In July and August, even the natives, under their big umbrellas, dread
the glaring sun; the upper classes all remove to their country houses
or summer lodgings up among the hills, and the snakes and lizards
hold high jinks on deserted road and furnace-like rock; whilst the
scorpions, whose sting is death to man or beast, occasionally vary
their amusements by appearing _within_ the houses.

Ajaccio is more and more becoming a winter resort for consumptive
persons. The temperature is as mild as that of Mentone, and more
equable. It is less expensive, equally comfortable, and equally
beautiful in its surroundings.

The one drawback, of course, is the voyage; but good vessels run two
or three times a week from Marseilles to Ajaccio direct, a voyage of
sixteen hours; and this is decidedly the best and easiest route for
invalids (unless exceptionally bad sailors), as they then avoid the
smaller vessels, and the long cold land journey over the interior from
Bastia.

The Hôtel Germania in Ajaccio is excellent, and leaves nothing to be
desired.

There are, as I have said, two hotels in the town; both large and good.

The Hôtel de France is decidedly cheaper, and, we were told, was
comfortable, and well-managed by an exceedingly attentive landlord; but
I fancy a few luxuries to be had at Hôtel Germania are not attainable
there.

But the great attraction for invalids in Hôtel Germania is that it is
the usual nucleus of the resident English.

The chaplain (here for the winter season) usually stays at this hotel;
the house is warm, and airy, and spacious; the bedrooms are dainty and
well furnished, and there is a cosy salle de lecture, or drawing-room,
containing a good piano.

Tidy little maids, in muslin caps and aprons, attend upon the ladies'
wants; the mistress is kind and attentive, and the food is said to be
rather superior to that at the other hotel.

From ten to twelve francs a day is the usual price at the Hôtel
Germania for "pension" in the season. This includes a nice room with
sofa and writing-table; attendance, and three meals, including six
o'clock table d'hôte.

The hotel is out of the town, but within two minutes' walk of it; built
against a green wooded hill, covered with prickly pear, and thickly
populated by nightingales; and has a nice little garden of its own,
rich in roses and scarlet geraniums.

Every winter a little English band of visitors, from twenty to forty
in number, gathers here; and the society within the house is generally
exceedingly pleasant and sociable.

Outside, there are lovely walks and drives; carriages can be hired at
two francs the hour; and the pretty English church (in which, during
the winter, service is held two or three times a week by the chaplain)
is within a stone's throw.

For a botanist, there are ferns and flowers innumerable along the
roads; and for a conchologist, there are plenty of pretty shells on the
long range of sands.

The town itself has remarkably few smells for Corsica, and strangers
can walk about without being followed and mobbed by juvenile savages.

The Place du Marché, out of the principal street, and looking upon the
open quay, is a pretty square. In the centre of it, gazing out upon
the blue sea and the bluer hills, rises a large marble statue of the
first Napoleon, surrounded by little fan palms and other shrubs, and by
light fountain jets. The statue is not worth much, but its position and
surroundings are well chosen; and the Ajaccio fountains, unlike those
of Trafalgar Square, play constantly, not occasionally.

Place Buonaparte, a little further on, in the Cours Grandval, is very
fine. It is just beyond the street and the town, and is a wide open
space facing the sea, and in front of the tree-lined Boulevard.

A large and imposing group stands in its midst. Napoleon on horseback
is the central figure; on each side of him stand two of his brothers,
guarding, as it were, the four corners of the dais on which he is
stationed. The figures are in bronze, and well-executed; and the group
is most striking, seen from the Boulevard, standing out vividly, as it
does, against the perfect blue of sea and sky.

Behind the group are some remarkably hideous but useful drinking
fountains; an oasis for the thirsty traveller in the midst of the
white, dusty, unshadowed Place.

The cathedral (for Ajaccio is an ancient bishopric) is but a poor
building. It is small, ornamented with a few pillars of grey Corsican
marble, with local black marble round the principal altar, and another
of a peculiar but not pretty tint, dappled yellow, decorating some of
the side altars.

Two of these, both dedicated to the Virgin, were illuminated in a
singular way. A slit was made in the roof, through which the light of
a lamp streamed down upon the picture, shining upon the head of the
Madonna, and gilding the sky behind her.

The images of the saints were peculiarly grotesque and out of taste
in their adornments, and one wondered how any one, with the smallest
sense of the ludicrous, could have allowed such absurdities to mar a
religious spot.

A brightly coloured Madonna, with a very yellow face, placed upon
a small pedestal, wore a huge wreath of white artificial flowers
surmounting and almost concealing her most uninviting countenance,
whilst another hung on her outstretched wrist, and innumerable
glass beads and gaudy brass rings decked throat, and dress, and
well-displayed fingers.

But, further on, was a far more ridiculous figure on another pedestal.
It was, I fancy, St. Nicodemus--an exceedingly black-browed personage,
got up in a species of ball-costume, with a large white wreath
decorating his thick black hair, and another, equally big, hung round
his neck and falling below a heavy beard, whilst a long red-beaded
rosary fell from his extended arm.

If the clergy of Ajaccio, however, have no sense of humour, they
apparently understand the meaning of hard work; for I was struck by a
written notice, affixed to one of the confessionals, which stated that
a certain Abbé Simconi, one of the cathedral staff, attends daily here
from 6 to 11 a.m., and from 1 to 6 p.m., for the purpose of hearing the
confessions of his flock. After this, no one can say that the Corsican
clerics are idle.



CHAPTER XVI.

NAPOLEON'S HOUSE.


One of the first sights to be visited in Ajaccio is the house belonging
to the Buonaparte family, and in which Napoleon was born. Every
Corsican is, of course, proud to the backbone of the great national
hero; and as Corte seems to breathe the presence of the wise, heroic,
unselfish Paoli, so Ajaccio is full of the footmarks of the world-famed
conqueror, the second son of Carlo Buonaparte, the Corsican solicitor.

The emperor, during his lifetime, did not perhaps do much for his
country. He loved it, but the benefits he intended to confer upon it
were, like many of our good deeds, from the time of Felix downwards,
put off to a more convenient season; and those he effected consisted
chiefly in the making of a few good roads in the island, and the
raising to posts of honour of many of his more talented compatriots.
His adoption of French nationality, and elevation to the imperial
throne, smoothed the path of submission to his proud and independent
countrymen, who delight to say now, with an excusable and harmless
conceit, of their paternal government, "_We_ have annexed France."

At one time it was proposed to rechristen Ajaccio after the name of
the great emperor; but this was wisely given up, and the old title
(supposed to be from an ancient hero called Ajazzo) was retained.

Turning out of a main street to the right of the sparkling Place du
Marché, runs a narrow entry, opening upon a tiny square, formed by a
garden and cottage on one side, and by a high, comfortable-looking, but
unpretentious house on the other.

Place Letitzia (so called from Napoleon's mother) is the name of this
little square, and the high, modern house was the home of Napoleon.

Going through a gate into a little garden, we knocked at the cottage
door smothered in roses and creepers, and an aged crone, of dainty
appearance and pleasant countenance, came out, key in hand. This
old lady is the _concierge_ of the house, and an old servant of the
Buonaparte family. As she was toothless, and spoke a most extraordinary
jumble of French and Italian, consisting chiefly of French words with
an Italian termination, it was difficult to understand much that she
said; but there was no mistaking her devotion to the family.

She remembered Madame Mère well, whose death occurred so many years
after that of her exiled son; and she spoke with enthusiasm of her
present mistress, a princess of the Buonaparte family, and daughter of
Prince Lucien, who lives in the upper storey of the house. "Ah!" she
said, laughing and clasping her hands, "she is so sweet and so kind,
my dear princess, and so pretty! If you could but see her! But she is
now gone to Mass, unfortunately. She does not seem more than sixteen,
she is so bright and young, although she is nearly sixty. Look at her
portrait here."

We did not see the princess, whose tame parrot kept calling from the
upper regions. But we heard that her old servant's admiration of her
amiability was not unmerited. This lady gave some pleasant _réunions_
at her house last winter, at which some of the English, resident in
Ajaccio, attended.

In some of the rooms were drawings by the late Prince Imperial, who,
with his mother, some years ago, visited the home of the founder of
their dynasty. The empress, then in the heyday of prosperity and glory,
and little foreseeing the widowed exile so soon to come upon her, was
yet deeply moved as she went through the deserted rooms, and shed tears
of emotion.

Passing through the unpretentious doorway, we went up a stone
staircase, three or four feet wide, until we reached the first storey.
It consisted of a succession of six or seven rooms, all opening one
into the other, and coming out finally at the other side of the little
landing. The rooms were square and comfortable-looking, of a good size,
most of them with chairs or armoires, or some articles of furniture
left in them. Some of the tables and chests were very pretty, of
marble, or inlaid with coloured woods.

On the first storey was the "reception-room"--a long, low apartment,
from which the chandeliers had been removed, but still hung round
with numerous small mirrors, and prettily painted. In this room M.
Buonaparte (who was a man of position, his family being considered the
second in Ajaccio, and he himself being rather a noted local orator and
politician) received a good deal of society, assisted by his beautiful
and graceful wife, Letitia Ramolini.

The portraits of Madame Mère, taken in her youth, some of which were
hanging on the walls of her house, show us the _spirituelle_ beauty,
with her dark, brilliant eyes, her sweet smile, and her bewitching
features.

Few women have had a more romantic life. Married at the age of
seventeen, to a husband who fell passionately in love with her before
she was much more than a child, and whose rank was scarcely equal to
her own, her devotion to him and to her children was only equalled by
her remarkable spirit and her natural ambition.

It is easy to see whence the first Napoleon gained his early childish
aspirations after greatness.

The wife of a simple _avocat_ in a small Mediterranean island, she
lived to see four out of her five sons crowned as kings, and two of
her daughters become princesses. But she lived, too, to see those
kings dethroned and disgraced, to see the greatest of them dying
slowly with a broken heart; and herself to close her eyes on a foreign
shore, exiled and sad of heart, driven out from her own country, and
repudiated by the very town in which her son was born. If ever any
woman had cause to learn the sad meaning of the oft-repeated adage,
"Sic transit gloria mundi," it was Madame Mère in her prolonged old
age at Rome, where, though still surrounded by loving and admiring
friends, the beautiful old lady must often have looked back with a sore
heart to the cosy house at Ajaccio, in which, years ago, she and Carlo
Buonaparte ruled over their numerous family of sons and daughters,
little dreaming of slippery sceptres, or of the unsubstantial greatness
of conquest.

The reception-room windows opened out upon a paved and enclosed
terrace, surrounded by flowers. Here Napoleon and his four brothers
used often to play, peeping through the balustrade upon the sunny
street below; and here the old concierge picked us each a spray or two
of scented geranium that was _said_ to have been growing there ever
since his time.

A little bedroom on this storey is shown as the one in which the great
man was born, and here is still the small iron bedstead always used by
madame.

This storey was kept for the use of Monsieur and Madame Buonaparte
and their friends, and for the reception-rooms. The second storey,
up another stone flight, was devoted to the children. Here we saw
Napoleon's bedroom, with a broken chair or two, and a curious old
inlaid brown wood chest, in which he kept his playthings and clothes.
Leading out of it was the children's play-room, where the boy, always
military in his tastes, made tiny cannon, and fought on the table mimic
battles, which, out of the house, developed into assaults and sieges
with his brothers or schoolfellows, of whom he was always the leader.
Even as a child, Napoleon was the ruling spirit among his brothers; he
was a second Joseph, to whose superior energy and genius the rest of
his family intuitively bowed down.

All these rooms were airy, large, and pleasant-looking; and I felt that
I had not sufficiently realized before, the comfortable position and
ample means belonging to the Buonaparte family.

We came down the stone staircase, and out of the cool, shady rooms,
with a strange new feeling of the _reality_ of Moscow, of Waterloo, and
of St. Helena; and, going across the sunny glare of the little garden
opposite, acceded to the kind invitation of our old woman to visit the
snug sitting-room.

This cottage and garden, in which she and her husband live, belongs to
the Buonapartes, but is a gift to her for life.

Her little sitting-room, cosily furnished and full of flowers, is a
perfect commentary on European history for the last century. Scarcely
an inch of the four walls is left uncovered by photograph, engraving,
or sketch: nearly all of historical interest.

Madame Mère and the first Napoleon commence the series of
portraits--taken from life, nearly a hundred years ago, in their
native land; many of the emperor's brothers and sisters are represented
also; the present Princess Marianna, with other relatives; sketches of
Napoleon's exploits, from the time he was "le petit corporal" until
he became the dethroned emperor; and every possible episode in the
life of Napoleon the Third, concluding with a large engraving of the
Chislehurst exile lying upon his pillow, the crafty, ambitious face
still and calm in the solemnity of death. Then came a likeness or
two of Eugénie in her exquisite beauty, and a row of portraits of the
Prince Imperial, developing from the somewhat plain, pugnacious-looking
boy, to the intelligent, spirited, earnest face of the young soldier
who fell among the Zulus but yesterday.

Leaving the old woman, with her smiling face and trembling limbs,
standing in her sunny porch surrounded by flowers in the quiet little
court, and emerging into the noisy street, we seemed to return, with an
effort, from the romance of the old empire to the prose of modern life.

Another little property, formerly belonging to the Buonapartes, lies at
the end of the Cours Grandval, beyond the hotel. Here is the "Grotte
de Napoléon," a little natural arbour or open cave formed by granite
boulders and shaded by ilex, where the boy Napoleon used to study his
lessons, or arrange his mimic campaigns with his companions.

It was formerly in the midst of a sheltered garden, but a road now runs
close beside it; and this publicity destroys much of its romance.

The road, a new, as it is a rough and steep one, ascends for several
miles, showing a pretty bird's eye view of the town, and by degrees
revealing a panorama of distant mountains in every direction, standing
in purple and snowy circles round the greener, smaller hills.

It is a beautiful drive; and nothing can well be more refreshing than
to wind slowly up the steep road, as we did on a breathlessly hot day,
out of the quivering heat of Ajaccio, into the vast open hill scenery
and gradually freshening atmosphere. Gardens, full of shady groves
and tall fan palms, line the way, occasionally marred by the defective
proportions of a family tomb.

Every road round Ajaccio, and, indeed, round any considerable Corsican
town, is full of these family tombs, placed in private grounds beside
the highway; sometimes, but rarely, picturesque in architecture and
embosomed in shade; but, more generally, square and hideous, bearing,
but for the iron cross on the roof, a greater resemblance to a
bathing-machine than to aught else.

There appear to be few churchyards in Corsica. Cemeteries there are,
often beautifully placed among cypress groves upon the hill-side; but
the greater proportion of the well-to-do inhabitants prefer to bury
their dead in their own grounds.

A little tomb or chapel is erected over the remains, generally large
enough to hold eight or ten people; and here, once a year, on the
anniversary of the death, the family meet to hear Mass performed.

This road, called "la route de Salario," from a fountain further
on, bearing that name, was particularly unfortunate in the style and
position of its numerous tombs.

The least unsightly were the poorest. It was touching, here and there
in a little wayside garden, to see, half hidden amongst overgrowing
herbage or creeping flowers, a simple stone cross rising out of the
ground to mark where lay the remains of the poor man or his child,
whose days had been spent in the cottage close by, surrounded by that
glorious amphitheatre of hills.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE CHAPEL OF ST. ANTHONY.


There are not many excursions round Ajaccio; but the Chapelle de Saint
Antoine, about seven miles off, is well worth a visit.

The road winds for five or six miles among green hills and through ilex
avenues to the base of the slope, where you are obliged to dismount and
continue the rest of the way on foot.

It is an exceedingly rutty and bad road, although tolerably flat, and
we did well in providing ourselves with a little light open carriage,
drawn by a pair of energetic ponies. In this vehicle we went jolting
along, more often in the air than on the cushions, and getting
decidedly more exercise than would be useful or agreeable to a winter
invalid.

On the way we passed two pénitenciers, or prisons, for French male
culprits. Our driver informed us, with what accuracy I am not certain,
that only French prisoners are confined in Corsica, and that Corsican
delinquents are sent to the Continent to work out their time. It was
found that, with the facilities of the universal maquis, and the deeply
rooted sympathies of their own countrymen and women, escape for these
latter became too easy and too frequent in their own country.

I fear, in that case, the poor Corsican has made a bad exchange.
These Ajaccio pénitenciers have a very modified prison air, and are
apparently much less stern in discipline than the Continental jails.

One of them was placed high up, some distance from the road, upon the
summit of a steep hill, where the prisoners must enjoy the purest of
airs and the most beautiful of views.

The other was close by the roadside. It was a large white building,
with barred windows; but, in other respects, with little of a prison
look about it. Only a low wall and open gates divided it from the
high-road, and handsome trees shaded the surrounding courtyard.

It being Sunday when we passed, few of the men were at work; and
several were standing idly in the courtyard, with a strangely
independent and comfortable air. A warder was certainly with them, but
he had an unobtrusive manner, and appeared to be unarmed. The men were
dressed in quiet brown suits, which, to a stranger's eye, had little of
the convict cut; and, but for the evil expression on some of the dark
faces that scowled at us over the wall, it would have been difficult to
realize the fact that these were robbers and murderers.

Fresh from a visit to Portland, with its high stony walls, its enclosed
and guarded outlets, and its separate small gangs, each with an
athletic warder with ever-watchful eye and loaded gun, the contrast of
this French-Corsican prison, with its open portals and happy-go-lucky
air of nonchalance, struck me forcibly.

Soon after passing the pénitencier, the carriage, with a final jolt,
stopped at the foot of the green slope, and we got out to pursue the
narrow winding track, passing among macchie-covered sand-hills, and
mounting steeply towards the rocks beyond. It was hot work, for there
was no shade, and the sand burnt beneath our feet, and the rocks glowed
before us; but the cystus gave out a refreshing scent, and at every
turn the grey walls grew taller and more rugged and imposing, as the
green mounds in front cleared away.

About half-way to the chapel, we fell in with some _bergère_ women,
bringing supplies to their lords upon the mountain side, from the
town of Ajaccio. There were three of them, and they were certainly as
rough and wild, and unfeminine-looking as the wives of the bergers are
usually reported to be.

They had flung down their bundles, and were lying on the banks of
cystus, playing with a dirty pack of cards, with more merriment
than refinement. They favoured us with a good deal of notice as we
passed; and, when No. 1 addressed a good-natured greeting to them,
notwithstanding their scanty knowledge of the French language, were not
slow to respond, and to pursue us with much chaff.

A few more turns brought us to the foot of the splendid rocks, and to
the wide open plain, on which stands the little chapel of St. Anthony.
The chapel itself is a queer little building, dirty and unpretending,
the size of a small cottage, and possessing the odour of a pig-sty,
with only one window and a wooden door.

Climbing on the step below this window and peering in, we saw a low,
mean-looking room, with a few common wooden benches in it, and a small
altar at the end, surmounted by an insignificant picture. An iron cross
was placed on the west end of the little edifice, which otherwise might
have been taken for a cow-shed.

Two or three hundred yards from the chapel, and just at the foot of the
rocks, was a small cottage, uninviting and unclean-looking; but, saving
for this, a grand solitude reigned over this most wild and picturesque
spot.

The plain, or rather valley (for high hills mount guard on either
side), runs some distance out towards the sea, which beats angrily at
the foot of the cliffs which abruptly break its course.

The rocks facing the north are the grandest imaginable. Several hundred
feet high, and composed of magnificent grey granite boulders, they
rise, with jagged and serrated points, into the blue sky in two almost
perpendicular ridges.

Maquis clings to the lower crags and fir-trees to the higher, and
little paths, made by the sheep, and steep as ladders, wind confusingly
in and out among hollowed and grotesque rocks.

Round about the cottage were two or three little gardens, fenced in
with wattles to a height of six feet, to keep out the destructive
goats, and giving the appearance of African kraals.

Nos. 1 and 3 were still sketching the little chapel, and No. 2 sitting
upon a furze bush in silent reflection, when our card-playing friends
reappeared round the corner of the sand-hills. Laying down their
burdens on a knoll close beside the chapel, they proceeded to put their
fingers in their mouths and give a series of shrill whistles, which
echoed among the rocks.

The call was soon answered from the heights, and presently, bounding
down the steep hill-side, came three of the wildest and roughest human
animals of the male species it is possible to picture.

There was little doubt about the purpose of their meeting, as men and
women reclined upon the grassy bank, and set to, with hearty good will,
at their _al fresco_ repast, cracking noisy jokes, and retailing rapid
gossip to each other.

They were rather a cut-throat looking party; and when, half an hour
afterwards, No. 1, who had departed a little distance for another
sketch, could not be found for some minutes, a horrid qualm, having
reference to brigands, vendetta knives, and deep gorges, came over Nos.
2 and 3 with unpleasant force.

Notwithstanding the heat of the day, and the steepness of the paths,
Nos. 2 and 3 determined to scale part of the rocky walls. An old man,
seated in a little enclosure, like a spider in his web, and probably
belonging to the cottage hard by, had apparently some insuperable
objection to this proceeding, and rather startled the weak nerves
of No. 3, already a little upset, by shouting after the pair in an
undistinguishable patois jargon, and following them for some little
distance. Their legs were younger than his, however; and as he got
worsted in the chase the equanimity of No. 3 was restored.

This part of the country is said to be a favourite resort of the
bandits, special advantages being offered, in the inaccessible rocks
and hollow caverns, to the hardy fugitive from the law.

Some of the boulders are so entirely hollowed out as to resemble an
egg-shell or a woman's hood. They must have been filled formerly with
a softer substance, which, by degrees, has been worn away by rain and
frost, leaving the harder coating of granite, sometimes only an inch or
two thick.

As we mounted slowly up the little rocky winding path, pushing our way
through thick growing shrubs, and hid from each other at every turn,
one felt that nothing could well be more appropriate to the scene than
the appearance, from behind any boulder, or at the entrance of any
of these stony egg-shells, of a black-bearded, eagle-eyed man, gun in
hand and pistol in belt. A bandit seemed the natural appendage of such
surroundings; but he appeared not.

Nothing was to be seen except sky, and rock, and hill, as we gained the
summit of the first ledge, and, wiping our fevered brows, sat down to
rest; whilst far, far below, almost out of sight, fled and tumbled a
little stream, gurgling away to the plain with a cool, inviting murmur;
and from enormous distances echoed the wild calls of shepherd boys and
men, far apart and far away among the rocks, sounding weird and unlike
anything human across the stillness and the wide solitude.

Hurrying down again after a short rest, to see if No. 1 had, during our
two hours' absence, fallen into a chasm or been kidnapped by bandits,
we found her somewhat nervous at our lengthened stay, but otherwise
uninjured, surrounded by a group of dark-eyed, wild-looking maidens
and children, whom she had arrested in their work of gathering sticks
among the maquis, and was hastily transferring with skilful pencil to
her sketch-book.

These barefooted, picturesque girls evidently came from some shepherd
hut buried amongst the rocky wilds around. They were an amusing mixture
of shyness and merriment. At first, pulling their white handkerchiefs
well over their sunburnt faces, they turned away giggling, silently
refusing to be pourtrayed, without however the least understanding what
the process was; but presently, becoming bolder, they consented to turn
their faces towards us and make some effort at standing still. They
could not, of course, speak a word of French, and their patois was so
strong that they could not even understand No. 1's grammatical Italian,
nor make their answers comprehensible to her. When the portraits were
finished and shown to them, being the first drawing they had ever seen,
they could not for some time make out the meaning of the cabalistic
marks; but, when at last it was explained to them that these were
intended to represent themselves, they laughed long and loudly.

But, what with bandit caves and shepherd maidens, time slipped away
rapidly; and a glance at our watches suddenly showed us that it was now
nearly five o'clock, dinner being at six; and we began a hasty retreat
to the carriage, spurred on, over the sandy, rutty path, by the mundane
reflection, that, unless we could do our seven miles in something like
an hour, we stood a chance of going to bed supperless.



CHAPTER XVIII.

LES ILES SANGUINAIRES.


Another pleasant excursion and drive from Ajaccio is to the Iles
Sanguinaires, about nine miles' distance. A good bye-road has been
made to this place, flat and sandy, and following the edge of the
Mediterranean the whole way.

The islands lie to the south-west of the town, and probably owe their
title to their dangerous position.

St. Nicodemus appears, for some reason (certainly not, one would think,
from the natural timidity and vacillation of his character, so foreign
to theirs), to be a favourite amongst the Corsicans; for here again,
just outside the town, upon the sea-shore itself, we found a little
tabernacle, about six feet high, erected to his memory. It was open in
front, with a wire covering, and contained two figures, one apparently
representing a dead person, being supported on the knees of the other,
probably intended for our Lord and the Saint.

For two or three miles outside Ajaccio, the road, on the land side,
was bordered without intermission with a succession of little green
enclosures, each containing a small square building placed in the
centre. These are the tombs of all the principal families of Ajaccio.
They differ in size and in shape, but all have an iron cross upon the
roof, and almost all are ugly.

This was not the case everywhere. At Sartene I saw some pretty and
picturesque tombs; but none here.

As we left the tombs behind us, steep hills began to rise from the
road, some green with maquis, and some clothed in grey rocks, where
however the asphodel and the universal cystus clung with a loving
tenacity here and there.

The prickly pear, too, which loves the very edge of the sea, and
abounds near Bastia and Ajaccio, grew in thick rough hedges along the
roadside, covered with its little reddish pear-like fruit, which was
beginning to ripen. This fruit is much eaten by the poorer Corsicans,
who say it is very pleasant. It is ripe about July; and as nearly every
hill and sandy wayside near the coast is more or less covered with the
uncouth-looking tropical plant, its fruit must be a great boon to the
very poor, and to the passing wayfarer.

We reached the Iles Sanguinaires in a little more than an hour and a
half; and, drawing up, the driver immediately turned the horses across
the road, and flung himself, face downwards, upon the grass in the sun
to sleep, whilst we wandered on to the promontory before us.

It is a high conical hill, joined to the mainland and road by only a
narrow strip of land, and looks, at a little distance, like another
island. On its summit is a Genoese round watch-tower, very little
ruined. The entrance (if ever there was one to this tower) is now
choked up by sand and soil and pebbles; and the one square window is
about eight feet from the ground, so we could not peep inside; but
the window showed us the massive proportions, more than a yard thick,
which, in company with so many others in the island, have stood on
their stormy eminence facing two seas, and defying the attacks of winds
and foul weathers as well as foes. The hill was almost covered with
a beautiful, mauve-coloured, low-growing flower, something like an
English stock, and of a star shape, with a white centre. Between the
shrubs, too, and upon the grass and flowers, lay scattered hundreds of
lovely echinæ, three or four inches in diameter, with spikes an inch
long of a rich purple, crimson, or brown. They were all broken in half,
and tenantless; but not otherwise injured by the violence of the wind
which blew them up to this grassy height.

The islands, three principal ones, and some lesser, lay scattered out
to sea beyond the hill; the nearest perhaps not more than a quarter of
a mile off; and, between them and the mainland, ran a fierce current.

They were very picturesque, as they lay, one behind the other, each
with its warning lighthouse perched on its rocky summit. The largest
was several miles in length, and had soft green patches mingling with
the cold grey of its granite walls. But, even to-day, under a cloudless
blue sky and calm still atmosphere, the white surf beat against
the steep sides; and, as the sun sank lower towards the horizon,
a blood-red hue crept over the rough, jagged island heads, which
suggested another and more literal meaning for their appellation of the
Bloody Islands.



CHAPTER XIX.

JOURS DE FÊTE AT AJACCIO.


The 10th, 11th, and 12th of May were grand days at Ajaccio; regattas
going on the first two days, and horse races on the third. For some
days beforehand preparations were being made, triumphal arches put up,
and posts hung with Chinese lanterns. For once, the Corsican natives
seemed to wake up, and an unwonted number of men were to be seen, in
their excitement standing upright, instead of lounging before their
doors or lying asleep upon the quay.

Saturday, the first day of the regatta, was rather a failure, owing
to the weather. It was a gloomy chilly day, raining a good deal in the
morning.

In the afternoon, however, it cleared up partially, and we strolled
out under a grey sky towards the harbour. The _Agincourt_ lay in the
offing, sent by the English Government as a compliment to the French;
and also a large American vessel, as well as some handsome steamers.

Leaving the crowd upon the quay, we climbed out upon the masses of
great white stone, which just now constitute the remains of the pier.
It shows the force of the waves, even here in this sheltered corner of
the bay, that, a few months ago, during a sudden storm, these enormous
masses were broken up and thrown one upon another by the furious
waters, like wooden blocks heaped up by a child.

It was exciting work climbing upon these blocks, and looking down upon
the bright emerald water and white surface rolling under our feet, or
playing at catch-me-who-can with the advancing and retreating waves;
but, as far as the regatta went, the scene was as dull and unenlivening
as possible; and two or three sailing vessels appeared to represent the
competitors. Half an hour of this was quite sufficient, and we returned
to our hotel, feeling that foreign regattas were just as much a slow
and stupid pastime as they usually are in England.

The next day's proceedings, however, were much livelier.

We did not care to see more of the marine amusements, so, after morning
church, spent the afternoon in a lovely drive, reserving the evening
for dissipation.

At this time of the year the season is over, and the pretty little
English church, raised during the last few years through the personal
energy and generosity of a Scotch lady, is usually closed. This it had
been for two or three Sundays before our arrival, since the chaplain
had departed; but this Sunday we had the unusual good fortune of a
choice between two services--one on board the _Agincourt_, to which the
officers kindly invited us, and one in the little church itself.

With a strong desire to attend both at the same time, we finally
decided on the church at our gates, feeling it a duty not to lessen
the small congregation expected there, and perhaps a little comforted
by the heavy swell that reigned in the bay, and which might possibly
affect the deck of the _Agincourt_.

So we made three of the little congregation of fifteen, where the
chaplain of the winter before last (who happened to be on a visit) read
prayers; and Dr. Prothero, queen's preacher (on board a yacht in the
harbour), preached a beautiful sermon on the text, "Master, we have
toiled all the night, and have taken nothing." We were not even devoid
of music, owing to the kind offer of a young Englishman stopping at
the hotel, whose harmonium strains we all followed to the best of our
fifteen abilities.

Dinner was a very merry one in the hotel that evening. About eight of
the _Agincourt_ officers, accompanied by a noble colley dog, joined
our small party, and added a good deal to our sociability. In honour
of them we had quite a genteel spread, and generous allowance of nuts
and oranges, some of which served to seduce the Ajaccio street gamins,
peering curiously in at the open window, into a condition of excitement
which resulted in the well-merited reproof of cold pig, administered
unseen from an upper window--and in their consequent flight.

The whole town was _en fête_ to-night, and at eight o'clock we went
out to see the fun. Fun it certainly was; the entire population out
and enjoying itself noisily; but, apparently, no one rough or tipsy or
disorderly.

Most of the principal buildings were illuminated; whilst the town
presented quite a fairy-like appearance. Down all the principal
streets, there was a continuous succession of large Chinese lanterns,
hung from posts about eight feet high; and nothing could well have
been prettier than this uninterrupted line of hundreds of golden balls,
scarcely swaying in the still evening air.

The Hôtel de Ville, close by the quay, appeared to be the centre of
excitement, and here a thousand or two of people, chiefly men, shouted
and hurrahed, jostling each other good-humouredly, and without fear of
pickpockets.

It was pleasant for once to see the popular apathy in abeyance.

The light which streamed from the illuminations on the houses round
lit up the large open square with its seething mass of humanity into
picturesque groups, showing here a black velveteened Corsican with a
white kerchiefed companion, there a French soldier in bright uniform,
and, further on, two grinning, good-tempered British tars, as shiningly
clean and as much at their ease as they have a habit of looking all
over the globe.

A little higher up, it fell, with a fainter radiance, upon Napoleon's
grave features in the Place du Marché, turning the numerous fountain
jets around him into rainbow arches of fairy-like tracery.

We had not been long on the quay before the shouting redoubled, and the
crowd, falling back with some difficulty, made room for a procession to
pass out from the Hôtel de Ville.

A tremendous tattoo was heard, and out came a band with a prodigious
number of drums, every one of which was made to exert itself to the
fullest extent of its parchment lungs. It was preceded by a large flag,
vociferously applauded, and which, doubtless, was the national flag,
and followed by a troop of soldiers bearing aloft Chinese lanterns or
flaming torches fastened upon poles.

Forming upon the Place outside, they started off on the tour of the
town, followed by most of the populace; and the great square became
deserted. For the next hour it was very pretty to see them, as, at some
break in the streets or sudden turn, the golden lamps and torches came
into sight in the distance, winding in and out, and moving slowly on,
followed by the roll of drums and the shouting crowds.

Meanwhile, we strolled up and down the quay, close beside the edge
of the water, waiting for the electric light which had been promised
from the deck of the _Agincourt_, and which was our national quota
contributed to the night's amusement. All afternoon the English nation
had been "doing the civil" in honour of the occasion, which was said
to be the first on which a British man-of-war had appeared upon the
Corsican coasts out of compliment, and not for _business_. Tribes of
residents had visited the ship, and been introduced to the captain's
cabin, where fraternity had been sworn between French and English, and
sealed with champagne.

It was a beautiful evening for the electric light; calm and still, and
so dark, that it was with some difficulty we managed to escape falling
over the unprotected sides of the quay, and thus meeting a watery
grave.

At first it burnt simply as a bright star upon the deck of the
_Agincourt_; then, moving swiftly round, it turned a stream of light,
clearer than day, upon the distant horizon, lighting up sailing boats
upon the far-off line; then again, piercing the utter darkness to one
side, it suddenly brought a fishing smack, at anchor in the harbour a
furlong or so off, into closest contiguity, showing every rope upon its
yards, every man on deck, in clearest detail.

Then, with mysterious, stealthy movement, flitting on, it turned
abruptly towards the quay, and a shout of delight broke from the
spectators, as the houses round shone in the glare of day, and the
faces of the crowd stood out for a few minutes in unnatural clearness.

There was something appallingly, horribly perfect about the management
of the light; and one felt almost sorry for the foe whose little night
manœuvres would be rendered entirely hopeless by such an invention.

The light played about for more than an hour, and then faded slowly
away; and we returned to our hotel while still the crowds were shouting
and amusing themselves, but with some of the hanging lanterns already
beginning to take fire in the deserted Cours Grandval, and drop
unnoticed on to the darkening pathway.

The nest day, Monday, this same Cours was to be the scene of another
wild excitement.

The horse races are always held up this road, which is hard and not too
good, and terminates in a steep hill.

Every evening, about six o'clock, for some weeks, the practising for
these races had been going on; and consisted generally of four or five
raw-boned horses with long striding paces, ridden by rather ragged
jockeys, sans saddle, and with reins held well up in the air.

This did not promise great things for the eventful day; but perhaps the
races turned out better than appearances warranted.

We saw nothing of them; for, after a breakfast at 6 a.m., and a
farewell to a dear canine friend called Chivey, we started off that
very morning for a week's tour to the forest of Bavella.



CHAPTER XX.

A RAW LUNCH.


It was a lovely sunny morning when we three, in high spirits, set
out on our expedition to the forest of Bavella, and the south of the
island.

Our open carriage was exceedingly comfortable, with a hood in case
of bad weather; the bay horses went well, and the coachman appeared
irreproachable.

There is no feeling in the world so exhilarating and delicious as
that experienced in starting off on a Bohemian tour, without luggage,
without responsibilities, unhampered by fear of railway time-tables
or the care of boxes, dawdling or hurrying at will, starting at what
hour one pleases, and out all day in the fresh mountain air, with _al
fresco_ meals and a turf siesta. It is the gipsy's life, robbed of its
discomforts, but not of its primitive ease and romance.

As we rolled round the circular bay, and up the winding ascent on the
further side, the water sparkled calmly in the glassy mist of morning
sunshine, and the _Agincourt_ lay with deserted deck, like a "painted
ship upon a painted ocean."

But the road leading to the town was already all astir with country
people coming in for the races; and, further on, higher up the hill, as
the pretty white houses of Ajaccio on their spit of land grew less and
less distinct against the blue Mediterranean, we met with more and more
of these.

Men and women, all on muleback, and all seated astride--sometimes two
men, or a woman and boy on one animal--the men with their gun behind
their shoulder, and their red gourd slung by their side,--were driving
strings of cows, horses, and foals before them, for the fair which was
to be held that morning prior to the races.

All the men lifted their caps politely; but some of the animals
objected strongly to us and our carriage, and could scarcely be got to
pass us.

We soon passed away from the sea-coast and the sea views, and entered
the inland country, among green hills, and past a broad river, with
blue and snow-streaked mountains rising up before us.

Presently approaching the village of Cauro or Cavro, where we changed
horses, the mountain of Bastelica stood out in unrivalled grandeur of
white cone above us; and as we slowly ascended the steep road in the
exquisite freshness of morning, the birds sang loudly and continuously
from the banks of white cystus which covered the lower parts of the
wooded slopes lining the road.

Though so early, it was almost too hot to walk; and when we reached
Cauro, the horses were in a bath of perspiration.

From Ajaccio to Cauro and Bastelica is a favourite excursion; but it
is a very long and fatiguing one for one day, and Cauro does not look
a tempting place for a night's rest.

As we left Cauro and continued our steep ascent, the mountains grew
grander, and the trees increased. Maquis of the most delicious sort
followed the roadside, and the air was laden with the strong scent
of the tall Mediterranean heath, which fought with arbutus and cystus
for the foremost place, whilst cyclamen, golden bloom, and hellebore
clustered at their feet.

Here we met some women whose costume astonished us considerably. Their
white handkerchiefs were closely wrapped about their faces as well
as heads, in Mohammedan fashion, covering up all their features, and
leaving only the eyes visible. They appeared to be on their way to
Ajaccio, and were driving a few cows before them; but it seemed more
than probable that they would be suffocated with heat before they got
there. On one other occasion, in the region of Bastia, we met with some
more women dressed after the same uncomfortable fashion, but failed to
discover its meaning.

Up on the summit of the Col, overlooking lovely views, was a most
filthy, picturesque village. Queer little balconies surrounded
half-ruined but inhabited houses, which were approached from the
sloping hill-side by broken-down wooden bridges.

Stalking about in front of one of them, was a dignified and
majestic-looking goat, enormously large, as are many of the Corsican
goats, and of a peculiar piebald--pure white up to the shoulders, and
jet black over head and neck. He seemed to hold the porcine and canine
companions (who, with him, had evidently the right of entry into most
of the houses) in supreme contempt; and it was a marvel to me how he
had preserved the cleanly whiteness of his long hair--for the small
specimens of ragged humanity who sat upon the dung-heaps close by, or
swarmed noisily after the carriage, were so encrusted with dirt as to
leave their original colour a matter of speculation.

But we did not pause long in this unsavoury village. We were soon
through its one little street, dashing down--through green hills, and
by falling streams with trees overhead, with a succession of exquisite
mountain ranges, one layer behind the other, lying before us--to the
cleaner village of Grosseto.

From Grosseto to Bechisano--a hamlet of some size, where we were to
make the mid-day halt--the views were most lovely. For miles we wound
above a verdant gorge, grassy broken hills on either side, and grey
moss-covered rocky cliffs rising immediately beneath us from the bed of
a foaming boulder-strewn river, sometimes hidden by the bending trees
which caressed its rapid stream.

From the pretty stone bridge of two uneven arches which presently
spanned this river, a beautiful view was obtained of winding waters,
green tufted rocks and background of jagged blue mountain tops. Every
turn was a richer study for an artist, and Nos. 1 and 3 lived in a
constant frenzy of effort to secure a sketch, under the unfavourable
conditions of a rapidly descending carriage, and two minutes of time
allowed.

The irritation became a little less when once more we commenced
ascending towards Bechisano; but the sky was now growing heavy and
ominous with dark blue clouds, and the shade cast over us by a great
hill--covered from top to bottom with ilex-trees, some hoary and grey
with age, but for the most part shining in their rich young green with
golden shoots--was no longer welcome, but depressing and gloomy.

Close to Bechisano, and exactly as we reached the summit of the Col
San Georgio, the storm burst upon us. It had been raining more and
more heavily for some time, when suddenly, without a previous rumble of
any kind, came a vivid flash of lightning that blinded us, accompanied
instantaneously by a crash of thunder like the firing of artillery.

After that storm, I never felt a moment's suspicion of Corsican horses.

We were creeping up the hill, the driver walking beside them; and
although he put out his hand and silently clutched the reins, the jump
they gave was almost imperceptible. As for him, he never turned a hair,
but continued his silent reflective walk with the same equanimity,
whilst the lightning flashed about him playfully, and spouts of rain
poured down from his wide-awake hat.

The next hour was spent in a vain endeavour to keep out the driving
sheets of rain which made all nature a blurred blot around us; and when
we got out at Bechisano our feet were in a pool an inch or two deep,
and our shawls made running streams over the floor of the dirty little
inn. This inn was a wretched welcome, even for travellers so drowned
and depressed as we were. There was a better one about half a mile
further on, at the other end of the village; but, through some mistake,
for which he afterwards deeply reproached himself, our driver halted
here.

The little broken glass door led into two very small rooms, one opening
out of the other, both stone floored; with one or two apologies for
chairs, and a greasy table in the first room. This apartment had no
fireplace; so necessity forced us to take refuge in the inner one,
where a few sticks burnt upon the hearth, and where the family of four
or five men and women, a dog, and a due proportion of babies, were
huddled together, but they politely endeavoured to make room for us
and our steaming garments. It was difficult not to stumble over the
smaller fry, as the tiny room appeared to have no window, and was only
partially lit up by gleams from the wood fire.

Logs, however, were piled up for our benefit; and as we made a feeble
effort to dry our soaked feet, a cheerful maiden prepared our mid-day
meal in the next room.

The floor of this room was in such a condition, that, when we entered
and took our places beside the round table, we kept our eyes carefully
turned heavenward, for fear of losing our appetites. We need not have
feared, however, for there was nothing to eat.

Raw ham, with a steel fork sticking in it, was first offered to us; and
when we declined that, then raw fish, and afterwards some third dish,
likewise raw, of what nature I forget. We were hungry, and began to be
desperate.

"Could nothing cooked be had?" inquired No. 3. "For the English do not
eat their food uncooked."

The woman looked amazed and perplexed. "Mais non?" she asked,
incredulously, as we pushed away the unpalatable dishes.

But our relief was great when it turned out that the inn boasted a
small leg of mutton, which could at once be got ready for us. This was
done by placing the meat upon a charred log, with a dish beneath, and
dropping lard upon it. When roasted, it was more like a rabbit leg than
a mutton leg, but was not bad, and, together with a very good omelette,
soon disappeared, to the relief of our famine.

There are but two things which it is safe to order for lunch in
these third-rate Corsican inns, and which are invariably eatable and
good--omelette and broccia.

One of the queerest anomalies in Corsica are the perfectly clean dinner
napkins, with which you are invariably supplied in the poorest inns;
and which contrast with the total absence of tea-spoons and saucers at
breakfast, and the appearance of the dirty two-pronged forks at dinner.

The old man, to whom the establishment belonged, assisted at our
lunch, and was delighted to air his French, which, like his daughter's,
seemed to consist of a capacity of saying half a dozen words, and not
understanding one.

Conversation, under these circumstances, with the most polite
intentions, became somewhat embarrassing; and pleasing diversions were
caused by the entrance of a blind man, led in to the fireside in the
inner room, and the occasional onslaughts made by mine host upon the
juvenile inquirers, who, regardless of the pouring rain, pressed their
wet noses persistently against the panes of the glass door, to obtain
a glimpse of the Inglese.

They had their reward when, shortly afterwards, the carriage came round
again, and we packed ourselves in, amid an admiring crowd.

It was still raining, but not so heavily, and there was no possibility
of a recurrence of the pond beneath our feet, as our driver had bored
three little holes in the flooring of the carriage to act as drainers.

From Bechisano to Propriano, a drive of about four hours, the road is
one continual descent through steep rocky hills of picturesque form;
some covered with shrubs, and some with trees, and often overhanging
the road as it winds by the edge of the precipice.

Not far from Bechisano we passed a great boulder, hanging over the
road and supported by two or three tiny ones, reminding one of a huge
cromlech. Near to it spread a many-tongued waterfall, spanned by a
stone bridge, from under which it poured its heavy volume of water into
the gorge beneath.

Ilex and great hedges of Mediterranean heath grew by the roadside; and,
as we approached the large village of Olmeto, and the hills opened out
a little, a superb panorama of mountains rose behind us.

Olmeto is a gloomy-looking village, perched half-way up the mountain
side ascending from before Propriano.

It has something forbidding about its aspect, and gave one a shudder
as one passed through. The houses are filthy, and many of them lie
in untouched ruins, with here and there a half-broken balcony, and,
much more rarely, an unbroken window; and the men who stand and slouch
at the street corners have a dark, inhospitable, hang-dog look about
them, which is no improvement upon the usual national expression, half
contemptuous, half good-natured, of lethargic pride.

Olmeto and the neighbouring village of Olio have both an exceedingly
bad reputation.

The men out-Herod Herod in idleness, even for Corsicans; and nearly
every man carries his gun and pistol, even to patrol the village
street. Two or three murders occur every year in Olmeto alone; and the
only wonder is that the number is not greater.

The vendetta is of course very strong at Olmeto; and altogether, it
must be an uncomfortable place to live in.

No women at all were visible in the village, either on our passing
through it on our way to Propriano or on our return some days later;
the presumption being, that the weaker but wiser sex were, Corsican
fashion, making up in some degree for the dangerous idleness of their
lords by their own household industry.

Coming back to Ajaccio by this same route, our driver pointed out to
me, near the Col San Georgio, about half-way between Bechisano and
Olmeto, a little maquis-covered hill by the lonely roadside.

There, he said, among the thick shrubs, about a year ago, a man
concealed himself to lay wait for a passing gendarme.

This man's father had been a bandit, whom, in the performance of his
duty, years ago, the gendarme had shot.

Upon the bandit's death, his son had taken to the hills, vowing
vengeance upon his father's murderer.

For years he had waited patiently for his victim, until this day, when
he knew he must pass by alone.

Shot after shot pursued the gendarme from his hidden foe, until at
length one pierced his neck, and laid him stiff upon the grass, where
his dead body was found some time afterwards by a passer-by.

Tombs were scattered along the roadside beyond Olmeto here and there;
and an avenue of young trees was planted for some way down the descent.
The mountains were magnificent; and before us rose a peculiar, high,
conical hill, rearing itself abruptly from the gorge, surmounted by a
crag which bore the most extraordinary likeness to a ruined castle.

Peeps of blue sea shone out at our feet as we went lower and lower;
and presently, turning a corner, the full wide sweep of the Gulf of
Valinco, glittering in evening sunshine, opened out before us. Heavy
white surf lined the red shore, and five or six good-sized charcoal
vessels, trading to Italy, lay in the harbour.

Propriano gleamed white and pretty just above the sea, surrounded
by its many little bays, as we dashed down the hill-side, through
green country lanes, lined by wide hedges of brilliant purple vetch
and ponderous prickly pear. Then, reaching the plain, we wound round
the boggy, sandy shore, and mounted into the little narrow street of
Propriano, full of shouting children and grunting pigs, up to the door
of the Hôtel de France.

Very grand was the title of our inn, but not so grand its exterior,
nor the dirty little staircase and ground floor. The upper storey,
however, showed us a clean, airy, cheerful salle à manger, into which
opened three little bedrooms of inviting appearance, and apparently
irreproachable cleanliness. The muslin window curtains were crisp and
new, the floors were swept, and the blankets, as well as the sheets,
bore inspection. The washing basins, too, were much beyond the usual
regulation size of a soup plate.

Whilst the good and cheap dinner was preparing, Nos. 2 and 3 took a
turn up the little town, and scrambled out upon the sea-shore.

A lovely blood-red sunset showed off to advantage the purple range of
hills opposite, with the Genoese tower at their furthest point, and
cast deep shadows over the Col San Georgio, with its sparkling snow
neighbours, and Olmeto lying on its flanks in sullen twilight. But
it was impossible to enjoy any view with a pursuing crowd of yelling,
mocking children at one's heels; and the usual scourge cut short our
walk.



CHAPTER XXI.

BERGERS AND GAMINS.


The next morning was showery, but not devoid of sun; and, leaving No.
1 to rest in the hotel, Nos. 2 and 3 set out early for a country walk.

Our first object was to escape our juvenile foes; our second to get
upon the sea-shore, which, we had heard, was covered with beautiful
shells. We managed (it being school time, and so a portion of the
little savages out of the way) to effect the first; but the second was
not so easy of attainment as it sounded.

Everywhere, except just beneath the town, the shore was surrounded by
a ridge of sand-hills, divided from the sea by broad, boggy plains.

The rain that had fallen the last few days made us sink in over the
tops of our boots when we attempted to cross these bogs. So, for some
distance, we continued skirting the sand-hills, and following a little
path, which presently led to a small running stream.

As we were preparing to make our leap over this, a voice suddenly
arrested us.

"What! You don't know the country--you? You two women must not go alone
among the hills!"

Looking up, we saw a young woman standing in the stream before us,
arms akimbo, and contemplating us with disapproving curiosity. Her face
was brown and pretty, with the brightest of coal-black eyes and white
teeth; her petticoats were pinned up above her knees, and, with her
shapely arms covered with soapsuds, and her brown legs planted firmly
in the rapid stream, she presented an artistic appearance well worthy
of the brush of a Faed or a Nicol. Thee was something audacious and
determined, and yet straight-forward, about the young woman's address
and appearance, which impressed us both.

"Why not?" we asked.

"But why!" she retorted, peremptorily. "Do you know the country, then?
But of course you do not. Any one can see that you are strangers!"

"Yes," we admitted, "we are strangers. But what then?"

"Ah, well! If you knew the country, you two would not dream of going
about like this by yourselves."

"But why not?" we persisted, vaguely impressed by our companion's
manner. "Every one is good to us in Corsica. What will harm us? What is
there to frighten us?"

The young woman spread out her hands in amazement at our obstinacy.
"What? Well"--with a shrug--"des chiens, et des bergers!"

Later on, we learnt to regard this threat of _bergers_ in somewhat
the same light as the Saracen babies did that of Richard Cœur de
Lion, according to tradition; but at present we had scarcely imbibed
that morbid and not very well-founded dread, and the response of our
black-eyed friend did not inspire the terror she seemed to expect in
our breasts.

For a moment or two we debated, and then, thanking the young woman
for her kindly meant advice, we sprang over the stream and passed
on, leaving her standing staring after us with all her black eyes,
her hands still clasping her supple waist. We had no reason to repent
our resolution, as we wandered amongst the sand-hills, winding down a
little overgrown path which seemed to lead to a further bay.

Anything like the flowers which, for a mile or so of our way, covered
the hillocks around us, I never saw or dreamt of before.

People talk of the beauties of rock and mountain scenery in Corsica,
and the wild grandeur of its wide forests; but, to my mind, the
distinguishing beauty of Corsica lies in its flowers.

Switzerland and Italy boast their rocks and mountains, and colder lands
their forests; but neither Switzerland nor Italy, nor, I believe, any
other country in Europe, can attempt to rival the flowers of Corsica in
richness of colouring and luxuriance of growth.

Here, as we worked our way through interlacing shrubs, on each side
of us stretched a sea of blossoms, completely hiding from sight both
stalks and green leaves. Sheets of pink and white cystus, brilliant
purple vetch everywhere scrambling over them, scarlet, crimson, and
pink poppies, blue borage, Michaelmas daisies, cyclamen, and what in
England we call the garden sweet-pea, together with a host of other
gorgeous floral dainties, massed and tangled themselves together in a
blaze of beauty.

We had walked about three miles when a muddy bog brought us to a sudden
stop. The bay still lay some distance from us, and we now saw that
a tolerably wide river ran across the plain between it and us; so we
turned back, sadder and wiser, baulked once more, but with our hands
full of lovely flowers.

Not a creature did we see on this dangerous route, except one
very ragged boy who was tearing madly after a herd of cows on the
boggy plain beneath; but here and there, in the distance, were
wretched-looking stone or mud hovels, belonging, no doubt, to the
dreaded bergers of whom we had been warned. These shepherds, scattered
all over the country, among the hills and lonely pastures, are,
according to all accounts, a very rough lot.

They live almost like wild beasts, and appear to be half savage.

Their miserable hovels are generally without window or chimney, and
utterly destitute of furniture, even sometimes of any approach to a
bed, or any cooking utensil.

Their clothes are in rags, and their food consists chiefly of the milk,
cheese, and mutton they obtain from their flocks, with the addition of
sour bread. Their wives are as wild and uncivilized as themselves; they
know little or nothing of religion, and their children grow up utterly
ignorant and uneducated.

I never heard of their robbing strangers; but their rough lawlessness
makes the more civilized village women afraid to go amongst them.

Returning to the village, we determined to brave one of the boggy
plains; and, creeping along by the side of a hillock, managed at last
to reach the sea-shore without much damage. The rocks, scattered about
the little bay on which we entered, completely sheltered us from the
village, and looked picturesquely black with the clear white foam
dashing over them in the occasional gleams of a stormy sun. Regardless
of the great blue-black curtain darkening the hills before us and
spreading over half the sky, we flung ourselves, face downwards, upon
the sands, and commenced an energetic search for shells.

The shore here was simply covered with them; some small, some large,
but all of them lovely; especially the large Venus' ear, or _Haliotis
Tuberculata_, with bright mother-of-pearl lining.

A brilliant flash and loud thunder-clap roused us from our interesting
occupation; and, together with heavy rain, put an end to the
shell-gathering of No. 3, who fled ignominiously homewards, leaving
No. 2 still reclining in dignified persistency, regardless of storm
and rain, under the lowering sky. It is a very great mistake to wear
a billycock hat and a light-coloured ulster in Corsica. They were the
cause of much persecution to poor No. 3.

When she reached the hotel, she was dripping from head to foot, and a
lively thunder-storm was raging; but this was not cause sufficient to
depress the energy of the infant islander, who (now, alas! let forth
from school), with many a hoot and yell of triumph, pursued both her
and No. 2--who arrived in the same condition ten minutes later--not
only to the door of the hotel, but half-way up the stone staircase.

I never felt safe on these occasions until I had entered into my
bedroom and locked the door; as the bolder part of the troop sometimes
came to the very door of the sitting-room upstairs: and I always
felt an affinity with the poor fox pursued by his yelping pack of
tormentors.

At length, emerging heated and indignant from my retirement, "Why,"
asked I, of the broad, good-humoured landlady, who, with Italian
head-gear and voluble tongue, had just come upstairs, dispersing the
juveniles on her way--"Why are your Corsican children such fiends, and
how do they ever manage to grow up into such respectable, civil men and
women?"

"Ah, mademoiselle," said she, "you must forgive them; they are very
rude; but, voilà, they take you for men! At least, they say you are
women dressed up in men's clothes. I heard them calling it out on the
stairs," she continued. "One says, 'The tall one is a man!' and the
other says, 'They are both men. Don't you see they have both men's
hats, and men's cloaks, and black pantaloons?'"

Alas for English fashions of 1879! Ulsters, wideawakes, and tight black
dresses suited the spring climate of Corsica uncommonly well; but not
equally well the tastes of the inhabitants.


     END OF VOL. I.

     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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