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Title: North Italian Folk - Sketches of Town and Country Life
Author: Carr, Alice Vansittart Strettel, Caldecott, Randolph
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           LONDON: PRINTED BY
                SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                         AND PARLIAMENT STREET


   [Illustration: _View of Genoa, from the Terrace of the
   Acquasola._]

                          Randolph Caldecott’s

                    Sketches of North Italian Folk.

                      Special Issue of 400 Copies
                           COLOURED BY HAND.

                             Each Numbered,
                         this Copy being No 339

                         PICKERING AND CHATTO,
                                LONDON.



                           NORTH ITALIAN FOLK

                   Sketches of Town and Country Life

                                   BY
                            MRS COMYNS CARR


                  _ILLUSTRATED BY RANDOLPH CALDECOTT_



                                 London
                     CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY
                                  1878

                        [_All rights reserved_]



PREFACE.


Italy—about which so much has been written—political, geographical,
social, pontifical, poetical—Italy is my theme. But not the Italy
of popes and priests and controversies, of civic struggles and new
kingdoms, nor the Italy of tourists or guide-books, of fame and
fashion, nor even the Italy of art and artists. The folk about whom my
gossip shall be are folk who, living or dead, have made the best part
of Italy these many years gone by. They are those who, unwittingly,
inherit most of the poetry for which their nation, long ago, won its
fame; on them—innocent of lore and reading though they, most of them,
be—has fallen something that recalls the great names of their own
great men of the past. They are of the people. To them rather than to
others in the land belong the freedom and freshness, the grace and
good-heartedness, the frank honesty that finds a place even beside
worldly-wise prudence, the simple and courteous dignity which the
educated classes have not always been able to maintain. No one who has
lived long beside them could have failed to learn the grace of their
ways, the humour of their rustic simplicity; no one who has grown
up in their midst could ever forget their pleasant faces and quaint
enthusiasms, their friendly greetings, their frank speech and emphatic
opinions.

I, who thus learned to know them in days gone by, can, at all events,
never so forget; and I am fain now to set down some memory of those
sun-lit scenes of the past, for friends whose lot has never been cast,
as mine was, among them. My sketches will not always be portraits of
living people or existing things, but they will always be sketches of
things or friends that have been: recollections vignetted in the past,
rather than photographs taken on the spot. And so, if anyone should
discover aught that is inaccurate towards the present, let him go back
a space upon the steps of time and live away fifteen years beside the
country housekeeper or _la Pettinatrice_, in the Signor Prevosto’s
company or with the village sempstress. For to these will I go for a
verdict, and to these—not my _readers_, because they will not read what
I have written, but my staunch supporters always—to the people of the
Riviera and the Apennines I now dedicate ‘North Italian Folk.’

                                                          ALICE CARR.



CONTENTS


  Part One.
  _ON THE RIVIERA._

                                                             PAGE
  GENOA                                                         3
  MARTEDÌ GRASSO (_Shrove Tuesday_)                             9
  LA FIORAJA (_The Flower Girl_)                               20
  LA FESTA DELLE PALME                                         28
  HOLY WEEK AND EASTER FEASTS (_I Sepolcri_)                   39
  LA FANTESCA (_The Servant Wench_)                            46
  IL NEGOZIANTE (_The Shopman_)                                57
  LA PETTINATRICE (_The Hairdresser_)                          67
  FISHER-FOLK                                                  77
  SANTA MARGHERITA                                             87
  THE LACE WEAVER                                              97
  IL MANENTE (_The Husbandman_)                               106
  LA DONNA DI CASA (_The Country Housekeeper_)                116
  BATHING TIME                                                125

  Part Two.
  _IN THE APENNINES.
                                                             PAGE
  THE MOUNTAINS                                               137
  AT THE CHESTNUT HARVEST                                     156
  UNDER THE CHERRY TREES (_The Bridal_)                       165
  THE PARISH PRIEST                                           175
  THE PRIEST’S SERVING MAID                                   185
  IL SIGNOR CAPPELLANO                                        191
  SWEEPING THE CHURCH                                         200
  THE VILLAGE SEMPSTRESS                                      208
  THE VILLAGE DAMSEL                                          217
  THE VILLAGE SWAIN                                           231
  THE LOVE-LETTER                                             240
  LA CRESIMA (_The Confirmation Day_)                         252
  IN VILLEGGIATURA (_Town Folk in the Country_)               263

  Conclusion.

  IL CORPUS DOMINI (_The Procession_)                         275



FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS.


  VIEW OF GENOA, FROM THE TERRACE OF THE ACQUASOLA     _Frontispiece_
  THE FLOWER GIRL                           _To face p._       24
  THE LACE WEAVER                                „             98
  THE HUSBANDMAN                                 „            114
  GOSSIP                                         „            170
  THE PARISH PRIEST                              „            182
  IL SIGNOR CAPPELLANO                           „            194
  THE VILLAGE SEMPSTRESS                         „            210
  THE LOVE-LETTER                                „            246
  IN VILLEGGIATURA                               „            266


HALF-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS.

                                                             PAGE
  THE CARNIVAL                                                 15
  ON-LOOKERS AT THE PROCESSION OF PALMS                        37
  MARKETING                                                    44
  THE SERVANT WENCH                                            49
  SHOPMAN AND PURCHASER                                        62
  LA PETTINATRICE IN AN OMNIBUS                                70
  PAOLO AT SEA                                                 81
  VIEW OF SANTA MARGHERITA                                     89
  THE MARQUIS AND HIS HOUSEKEEPER                             122
  FLIRTATION AT PEGLI                                         131
  IN THE FIELDS AT SAVIGNONE                                  142
  GATHERING THE CHESTNUTS                                     161
  THE PRIEST’S SERVANT ADMINISTERING A REPROOF                188
  BIANCA DECORATES THE ALTAR AND SNUBS THE UNDER PRIEST       202
  NETTINA RETURNING FROM THE WELL                             226
  THE VILLAGE SWAIN AT A BARGAIN                              237
  VIRGINIA GOES TO CONFIRMATION                               259
  THE PROCESSION OF THE CORPUS DOMINI                         279



Part One

_On the Riviera_



Genoa.


Spring returns. In northern lands, where much work is done and living
is hard, our skies are yet grey and the winds blow keen while the
earth is hard with the late frosts. Yet almond blossoms bloom sweetly
in scant little gardens or beside the bleak walls of town houses, and
spring begins to bud even in the lands where spring’s struggle is the
longest, and as I watch her oncoming and rejoice in her tender-toned
early flowers, I must needs remember the home where her life is the
fairest and merriest, and her sunlight the stronger to play and be
played with. It is the Mediterranean that I call to mind, her winds
and waves and sails and rocks, her shores, towers, villages, groves—the
light and colour on her kindly people’s life. And most of all, as the
sunshine grows and the air gets whiter, memory paints again for me that
whitest, but not newest of towns, where winds and waves and groves and
all are fair, the city of marble—_la Superba_—Genoa, the Queen of the
Riviera. Genoa, no longer the great republic, no longer the city of
much merchandise and wealth, but Genoa, the city of palaces still.

Who is there that has seen her from off the waves of her own
Mediterranean, and looked upon her as she climbs the slopes on every
side, gorgeous in her towers, her domes and cupolas, her terraces and
gardens, quietly lying within the great amphitheatre of her hills—who
could fail to acknowledge that she is the city of palaces still? Above
and around her stand her fortifications, gaunt and grey upon the soft
sky, like sentinels upon the tops of the green and barren mountains,
while half way down, the hills begin to be dotted with villas and
terraces, and, as they creep towards the sea, grow white with palaces
and _campanili_, that multiply upon their sides until they become the
great town itself, where whiteness is all around in stone and marble.
In the streets there is marble, for it is fashioned into churches
and colonnades; and upon the water’s brink there is marble still that
has taken the shape of terraces and loggias. There is no end to the
whiteness, for the air is white too on these early spring days, yet
there is no lack of colour as well; it lurks in the sunshine, it lives
on the earth and the sky, is dashed along the public ways in dresses of
the people, and over the harbour in curious hues of sails and flags,
red and green and yellow, that the weather has mellowed into harmony.
The sky is heavy with colour, in the March air that is keen and
sun-steeped. Genoa, with her crooked and narrow streets and her curious
nooks, with her picturesque piazzas and her sumptuous churches, of her
would I write as I dream of flowers and Eastertide.

The light is everywhere, and everywhere there is something to remember.
In crooked, winding ways that climb hills and go down again in steps,
and thread dark passages and cross bright piazzas, in ways where winds
can be icy cold and suns scarce reach, there are still things whereon
memory rests fondly, amongst quaint shops and stalls of fruit-sellers,
and fish and flower and green-markets, in hurrying or loitering
people, beneath dingy doorways, up dusty stairs, on solemn or gaudy
house-fronts. Down upon the wharfs and along the moles where the green
waters of the port are not always fragrant as they lap on to time-worn
marble steps, there are more things fair to think of in crowding boats
and quaint, noisy boatmen, in flapping amber sails of strange fishing
smacks, in fine-framed men and women whose shrill voices quarrel and
joke, and whose faces and figures bring more colour to the sketch—even
something perchance of gala days when stately vessels sailed into
the harbour, vessels that were thickly manned and royally freighted,
so that flags must needs wave from ships and skiffs and steamers on
the water, and, on land, from turret and terrace, while bouquets were
flung and floated, and royal salutes were fired. And from the broader
of old streets, where palaces flank the way and are sumptuous with
façade and arch and stair, from straight and new streets down which
the _Tramontana_ can blow grimly enough if the sun can shine also,
from loggias on hills that look towards the sunrise, from the walls
of tall ramparts that hang over the waves and see the best glory of
the sunsets, from every open place, from every nook and corner, more
recollections crowd around the first picture of the city’s whole. The
steep _salite_ that are paved with red bricks up the middle, the dark
cypress standing against churches, the scent of limes and acacias,
the growth of arbutus and horse-chestnut, all come telling some little
story of the past. Yet, perhaps, most of all, Genoa’s gardens recall
the best of Genoa’s life, because they are the most bound up with her
holiday life—with her Saints and fasts and feast days—for the Ligurians
make merry on most of these occasions, and the Acquasola is the way
to and from many a sanctuary. And Genoa is full of gardens. Private
gardens upon the hill-sides or upon terraces that appear suddenly in
the streets, where flowers grow in boxes, and orange and oleander trees
bloom in pots as in the free earth—gardens that are open to the public
but are none the less rich in all that nature can lavish, gardens that
spring at unexpected turns in the town’s heart to break the monotony
of the palaces. Some of them have restaurants in their midst, and
there, among Japanese medlar-trees with great fibrous leaves, beneath
acanthus and willow and magnolia trees, people dine or sip coffee and
ices in the company of marble nymphs and heroes, of shivering cupids
who toss the water from stone fountains. But the public promenade is
the garden that tells most about the town people’s public life, for
to the _Acquasola_ people are wont to go to walk and drive, and meet
their acquaintance, and show off new dresses and new equipages. It
is the place in which to spend a holiday afternoon. The broad walks
are crowded with people, who wander beneath acacia and arbutus trees;
fine ladies with attendant cavaliers, mothers of the middle class
chaperoning their marriageable daughters, fathers carrying their
children that the women may have leisure to enjoy the _festa_ dress and
the _festa_ scene; along the drive and the sycamore and horse-chestnut
avenues carriages roll smoothly with gay people. Flower-vendors are
there, and men and women with _Madonnette_ to sell, or filbert-strings
or iced-drinks and wafers. Sometimes a group saunters away to the
higher gardens, where the paths wind upward, till they reach a terrace
with flowers and palms and trees from foreign lands. The whole town
lies spread beneath; towers and palaces and domes seem to grow softer
of outline as evening lights creep around. In the far foreground lies
the great valley of the Bisagno, where troops have camped—Zouaves and
Africans in gorgeous dress. It is a long stretch of dusty road and arid
river-bed, but from the Acquasola none of this is to be seen, and there
is only an impression of green country far away, with palaces lying on
the slopes of Albaro’s hill, and a knowledge of sea beyond. Behind the
rising ground runs the town’s great aqueduct, that is built through
glens and copses when once it has left the city’s first outskirts. And
to your right is the harbour again, with ships and flags and masts, and
beyond the harbour a waste of Mediterranean neither blue nor grey nor
white, that, in the doubtful light, will seem neither land nor water,
lying out towards the sunset, where dim clouds hold Riviera mountains
in their midst.



Martedì Grasso.

Shrove Tuesday.


Of all the _festas_ we used to have—glorious days when the sun might
shine as fiercely as it liked and we were only the better pleased,
since it was a sin to work outright, but only a venial fault to keep
one’s shops open a little, and to forget about going to mass—of all
those most comfortable saints and Virgins, how few, alas! have they
left us now! One can count the strict day off one’s fingers. ‘_Per
Bacco_, ’tis a disgrace truly,’ mutter the old men and women who have
been wont to consider a week where there were not three holidays at
least, one really God-forsaken and cursed by the Evil Eye of luck! But,
‘well, well, days are changed, and Providence can’t expect us to give
all that time to religion when it’s all we can do to make way against
the bad times, and keep a roof over our heads,’ say the young men
who have wives and growing children, and the women whose piety would
not be at all equal to the giving up two francs for a day’s ironing,
merely because the Virgin chose to institute a rite, or some strange
saint had seen fit to die! ’Tis an ill wind that blows nobody any
good! Perhaps the greater half of the population are better pleased
than not. The days of the _dolce far niente_ are pretty well over, in
the north of Italy, at all events, and every man must keep pace with
his neighbours. So we let the old people grumble, the half of whose
portion it is the duty of sons and daughters to provide, and the rising
generation are content. Only when somebody wants to tell a story about
Italian _festas_, he finds that the throng which used to be so goodly
has grown small indeed, and that, if he must needs be faithful to the
present, his choice is very limited, and the colours on his palate
must also be only by half so brilliant as they used to be in the old
days. For where are the gorgeous trappings, the stately pageants with
which Mother Church was wont to send out her saints and her relics?
Alas, for the wild days of mirth and folly, for the glittering sights,
for the colours of street-pictures, we have grown too cynical and too
worldly-wise for such nonsense now! So, we who regret them a little—old
people or travellers that come only to marvel, modern Italy says—we are
fain to go back a step or two into the days when the sun’s glamour off
the Mediterranean could still bring colours into boldest relief against
dark backgrounds, could search out gloomy corners, and deck streets and
people in holiday garb, making mad with its glitter and its warmth the
reckless brains of an untutored Southern nation.

Time ago there was Carnival really as it should be, along the highways
and byways, and in the public halls and the private homes of Genoa—not
a Carnival so rich and so splendid as the Carnival of Rome, for Genoa
merchants have always been close-handed, and even her populace has had
a name long past in other Italian districts for shrewd economy; not
a Carnival so studied and so lengthened as the Carnival of Milan, for
Milan is a city privileged of Mother Church, and can keep up her frolic
when other towns have been three days shrouded in ashes and penitence;
still a Carnival no way to be despised as a means of enjoyment, even
of unmeasured madness and merriment for those to whom such things come
easily. And such things used to come very easily to many people in the
days that we, mourners of better Carnivals, can call to mind.

Holy Week, called _la settimana grassa_, is past. Lent moves forward
apace with gloomy garments, with sack-cloth and ashes, and calls to
prayer and penitence! Come, let us make good use of this last day of
reprieve! For it is Martedì Grasso, and with to-morrow’s sun dawns
Ash-Wednesday!

The picture is in shade as the morning breaks, for there are faint
clouds overhead—after all, it is only February—and the sun has only
half its strength, and only a grey colour for silver glory to shed
over the Mediterranean, and off the Mediterranean, up on to the green
hills and marble terraces of the town. The sea is not blue but white,
beneath these pearl-grey clouds, that let the sun through as through a
veil, but it is calm, the limpid waves of it lapping gently on to the
knotted and slimy rocks of the coast. There is but little to complain
of in the weather, and before the midday meal has been eaten, before
even the most impatient of spectators or the maddest of masqueraders
have begun to line the sides of the streets where the _Corso_ will
pass—our sun has made his way as usual through all obstacles, and makes
the sky and the sea blue, the streets and the people bright with his
gladdening warmth. The highways begin to swarm with people that press
and pour in from the hundred little yards and colonnades and alleys of
which the old city has so many; they are men and women of the peasantry
from without the walls, of the smaller tradesmen, from within—the
people who, in all nations, would rather stand breathless for hours
in a throng than miss the exultation of giving the first shout for
the first rumour of a pageant’s approach. The women of this crowd
are mostly conspicuous for dark red and blue gowns of stout homespun
linen, called in the neighbourhood _bordato_, or for gowns of brilliant
coloured calicoes gaily-flowered in pattern, for kerchiefs of still
gaudier hue, orange and crimson, for massive and curiously wrought gold
ornaments—they are the _contadine_, and as yet the tradesmen’s wives
are but a handful. You will know these, as they push their way into the
medley, by their cunningly built hair that is smoothed into a perfect
mirror of glossiness, and coiled and twisted and piled into a marvel
of structure; mark them by their worsted dress also, and by the silken
jacket after a Paris _mode_ of some years back, or the cashmere shawl
in place of the gaudy kerchief about their shoulders.

The Piazza San Lorenzo or of the Cathedral, the Piazza before the Ducal
Palace and Sant’Ambrogio, have both seen something of the crowd as the
people pressed up from the heart of the city to reach the more open
thoroughfares; the Piazza San Domenico where the Opera House stands,
and where of early mornings these same men and women are wont to come
buying and selling at market, has also been a gangway for the mob, but
none of these places see the best of the Carnival, for the cream of
the _Corso_ is down the Vie Nuove and Nuovissime. So the people fight
their way from Piazza S. Domenico, down the Via Carlo Felice, to the
Piazza delle Fontane Amorose, for here the Carnival will soon begin in
good earnest. The balconies of the Spinola Palace, of the Pallavicini,
Brignole, Serra, Durazzo, and of all the palaces down these chiefest,
beautiful streets, have been decked with crimson hangings and cushions,
with gold and green and amber trappings, curious heir-looms that
for centuries perhaps have been kept for such occasions. Baskets of
flowers, stocks, violets, heartsease, camellias red and white, and
everything that commonly blooms here in the winter time, are placed
ready for gallants and ladies soon to shower on the masqueraders
beneath. The air is a little cold, but the sun shines, the sky is blue,
faces and colours wake to merriest life.

The first of the merry-makers has appeared. He is a buffoon, with
tawdry costume and hideous mask, he is of the people and comes along
on foot, hurling jests and poisonous comfits around him, but all the
more the people are amused; they hoot and cheer, and so he passes down
the ranks. He is quickly followed by another mask, also of the people,
but this one drives a donkey in a small cart; he is ill-dressed with
a purpose, he screams, he gesticulates, he is evidently the caricature
of some pet grievance, for the mob cry aloud for joy. But this is not
the _Corso_; this would not content even the populace—great things are
coming. Ladies of the nobility—beautiful, with hair dressed after the
French fashion, and silken garments and graciously-smiling faces—begin
to fill the balconies. They nod and laugh and pose gracefully to their
attendant gallants, then they rise in their seats to pose and laugh
again for other gallants who are in the masquerading throng beneath,
and upon whom they will shower comfits and flowers and smiles alike,
to get comfits and flowers in return. For the _Corso_ is all alive now.
It is four o’clock, and past. On the lower ranges of balconies, windows
of offices and less important houses, the ladies of the merchant class
are airing themselves likewise in scarce less costly array, to get what
attention they may from masqueraders in their own set; while servant
wenches and shop-girls, who aspire to no post at a window and are
proud in the possession of a black silk apron, a _pezzotto_ veil, and
a little gold for ornament, parade the street happily on the arm or
in search of a lover. The air is laden with colour, and every turn of
the beautiful winding street flashes out some new bit of it, in waving
banner, fluttering drapery, or passing throng.

   [Illustration: THE CARNIVAL.]

The great car of the afternoon is coming. Most of the cars have been
out before at the Sunday _Corso_, but this one has reserved itself
for the last of the Carnival—it is the feature of this Martedì Grasso.
People shout along the street, and heads are all turned one way from
out the windows. It is in sight—a ship amid wavy billows of blue silk
for sea; it sways as the car moves. ‘’Tis truly natural,’ yells the
mob, and cheers. The ship’s bulwarks are of silver, its sails of rosy
silk and golden tinsel; its masts are manned with sailors in handsome
garb, whose masks counterfeit handsome faces. It is pronounced a
wonderful success. From the balconies flowery missiles fly swiftly, to
light daintily where they will—most often where the fair marks-women
themselves will _not_! And the handsome sailors pelt back again, pelt
on all sides, pelt the ladies with flowers, the children with comfits,
the mob with _coriandoli_, that, being made only of flour, burst as
they fall, to sprinkle their prey with a white storm of dust. It is a
scene of the maddest, merriest confusion. But the sailors have been
recognised by balcony ladies, pelted by mob admirers, appreciated
by all: the ship moves on to give place to some other part of the
pageant. Carriages follow closely on one another between the lines of
the crowd; they are all filled with masqueraders—boys in clown dress,
in Masaniello dress, as harlequins, as marquises; little girls as
shepherdesses, as vivandières, powdered countesses; fathers and mothers
in dominoes for escort. Out of every carriage somebody pelts and cheers
to be cheered again, and now and then comes a more elaborate car, on
which the mob are scarce restrained from falling for very excitement.
Afternoon wears away into evening; bouquets, that have loaded the air
with colour and perfume, are trampled now under foot; the _coriandoli_
bags are empty in the maskers’ cars; their supply of comfits is
exhausted—not so the spirits of men and women, whether of nobles and
gentle-folk at the windows, or of shop-girls and _contadini_ below. If
it is too dark to see the maskers, and to pelt in the streets—since
Government no longer allows the _mocoletti_ lights, which it used to
be our fun to put out for one another as darkness deepened—are there
not still the _Veglioni_ to come, and shall we not dance if we may not
pelt? Surely: for is not to-day the last of the Carnival? So, as the
night hours lengthen, and just before they begin to grow short again,
the streets, that were quieter for an hour, begin to live again with
bustle. In carriage or on foot, all classes of people are going to
the masked balls of the theatre. _Marchese_, in the boxes which are
their family’s heritage at the opera, to look down on the gay scene of
masked dancers in the amphitheatre beneath, and to receive the visits
of dominoed gallants with whom their jests are both broad and lively;
men and women of the lower orders to entertainments in their own
set, or even to the amphitheatre of the Opera House itself, where the
highest nobility has been known not too proud, in dominoes, gallantly
to address many a prettily masked servant wench: for of the nobles
only the men may fitly descend into the masked ball-room, just as the
_Marchese_ are free to receive who they will into their boxes, and to
thrust and parry with the masked intruder as best they may. ‘Ah, in
truth it is delightful to be noble and to possess a box at the Opera,’
sighs many a merchant’s lady, because for love or money you cannot
otherwise procure one for the night of the great _Veglione_. And so,
dancing and flirting and jesting, the hours grow old again into day,
the gas-lights burn yellow in the grey light of morning, the paint
and the powder have lost their excellence, the dresses are marred and
tarnished. But are spirits grown weary, is merriment spent, though the
Last of the Carnival is dead, and the sun has risen on Ash-Wednesday?
‘Ah—everything is changed,’ moans out some old lady of the old school;
‘so used the Martedì Grasso to be in my young days, or even a few years
ago, but now—_non c’è Carnevale_!’



La Fioraja.

The Flower Girl.


Sunshine is full on this picture even as it first climbs the horizon of
our memory: full on the shifting Mediterranean, that is bluer for its
presence, full on the white walls of new houses, on the yellow shutters
of old palaces inland, strong amid fleeting clouds that are the whiter
for its power, fitful on these girl-faces, that shine the merrier for
its sake. Because the wind has blown cold from the mountains these
three days past—the sharp _Tramontana_ that sweeps down the northward
valleys to blight the budding trees, to whirl the dust in clouds, to
lash the sea’s water into bristling crests—and if the cheering sun
shine not, we, who must ofttimes meet the wind’s greeting at street
corners, and shiver out the daylight hours beneath palace porticoes,
shall have but a sorry time of it indeed! For even the flowers that
make our livelihood have a hard fight and a poor success of it in this
weather. ‘One must have patience!’ Only ’tis pity the enemy could not
just have waited till a little further into Lent, when good Catholics
having had their fill of amusement, see fit to waken conscience to
a little necessary obedience and expiation: when camellias could
therefore no longer fetch so good a price! For so early in the Church’s
penance season as this, society makes Carnival still in her private
homes; we are grown lax about fasts nowadays, as we have grown wisely
cynical over feasts and processions, and who would drown merriment
to wear sackcloth forty days long, unless it were with a much surer
hope of reward than modern Romanists think prudent to believe? No, no;
the last Lenten week, when there is plenty of excitement in mission
preaching, _sepolcri_ and masses—when Easter’s sun, moreover, begins
already to lighten the horizon before us, the six days of Holy Week
make up the sum of all the fasts we do in our enlightened generation!
Let the camellias bloom fair yet awhile, and we will pray the Madonna
to keep the _Tramontana_ back for another month, say the flower-girls!

Rosina is the favourite of all the _fioraje_ of the Carlo Felice, and
that is the favourite flower street of Genoa. When the sun shines as
bright as it does to-day, out of a sky that is as blue in the cold, and
when it lies with a great sheet of light on the square flag-stones of
the Piazza S. Domenico, Rosina’s face is as the sunlight itself that
can be friendly even in an air so hard as this is with _Tramontana_.
And it is merriment that pays, that wins the loved jest from lowly
swains, the soft compliment from gracious _signori_, that sells
the camellias, and adds many a mite on to a bargain! Who cares for
a pathetic face and a wistful gaze? Such cunning arts are only for
‘_marchesine_’ and ladies who can afford powder; we of the people had
best trust to a healthy frame and a kindling eye, and to the jests
and smiles of a light heart, for _our_ conquests! Truly, it is in this
wise that Rosina has come to be ‘_la bella dei Portici_,’ and it is by
simple and lighthearted devices that have made many a gallant think of
her as the reflection of this cold, bright sunshine itself, that our
flower-girl can keep so many and such fragrant bouquets on her stall
in the gateway and such a goodly hoard of soiled old _soldi_ in her
pocket. To-day, heedless of the cruel _Tramontana_, she has been up
with the kindly sun’s return, and in her garden among the camellias.
All the buds that bore any promise for immediate use were nipped off
at the very flower and thrown into the common basket, and when the
round of the camellia grove had been made Rosina went on her knees
to pluck the purple heartsease, to strip the beds where bloom the
pale Neapolitan violets, and then on her tip-toes, with upstretched,
graceful arm, to tear down the ‘_fiorellin d’oro_’ from the wall, to
break the blossom of the Judas tree. All the time the wind was sharp,
the sky darkly blue; and the sun had no warmth till Rosina had been
awhile in the stock garden and had spoiled the straight stalks of their
gaudy flowers, mixing into this basket a handful of striving carnations
and a share of sweetly-scented myrtle twigs, besides large-veined and
dark-hued medlar leaves, wherewith to build the outer frame of her
stiff bouquets. Poor flower season! It is past, and is not come again,
but we have our glory still at Genoa, in the camellias, as people have
in no other town—thank the Virgin!

   [Illustration: _The Flower Girl._

   So she sits, with flowers close around her—red and
   yellow tulips, festive-looking camellias—to set off the
   strongly-coloured portrait of herself; and as she sits she
   picks the heads of blossoms from baskets at her feet.]

So the early morning is gone, and Rosina is at her post beneath the
Carlo Felice door-way. The sun has outstripped the east wind in power
by this time, and for those who walk within its hearty radiance, and
avoid the northward corners of streets—for those who, like our Rosina,
sit within reach of its rays in some sheltered corner, the _Tramontana_
matters but little. Indeed, Rosina forgot long ago how she had
grumbled at the cold in those early hours after dawn in her Villa delle
Peschiere, forgot it as she came down the narrow way of the Salita Sta.
Trinità, when you might have seen her tall and buxom figure swaying
gently on its firm, broad hips, erect as a reed, and as a reed pliant
to circumstance, while on her head and in one downward-pointed hand
she carried baskets of flower-material, and on her curved left arm bore
the child of some busy mother. Truly, she is a girl of much presence,
as indeed all the lads of the town do allow! For all the youth of
the town knows Rosina who sits all day in the portico of the Palazzo
Spinola, via Carlo Felice! It is not for nothing that she has that tall
and massive figure, those heavy coils of bright, black hair with the
broad waves, that smooth skin with the faint fresh colour, those even
rows of white teeth that appear so often when the merry smile parts her
rosy lips! She knows how to use all the fair gifts of nature, and best
of all how to make use of two saucy black eyes in the trade which she
plies daily so well—for who sells so many flowers as Rosina? Watch her
now at work. Her striking person sits framed in an old gateway, round
whose margin a graceful design of fruits and flowers in low relief—sad,
neglected memory of days long fled—lies yellow upon yellow marble.
Above her head, over the palace portal, another bas-relief, black with
age, serves her for canopy; but this one is of fighting men and horses,
and passionate of expression. Beneath her feet, a black and white
pavement stretches back into the gloom of the court, that finishes
in a scantly grass-grown yard whose almond trees will not be rosy
with blossom till the last of Lent. And the background is varied by
the flowering plants and shrubs of Rosina’s stock in pots, while away
in the dimness, the soiled staircase—of marble, like everything else
architectural—winds up to the first, and then higher and higher to the
fifth floor of Palazzo Spinola. So she sits—with flowers close around
her, red and yellow tulips, festive-looking camellias, to set off the
strongly-coloured portrait of herself, and as she sits she picks the
heads of blossoms from baskets at her feet, to open and bend the poor
petals of them at her will, and to wire them for her bouquets. See one
with pink carnations in a cross on a field of white! It is as large as
a small-sized table and quite even in its flatness—it is for the Church
of San Luca. And here another, smaller and choicer of flowers, but
scarce less stiff in appearance; it is white with violets around, and
has been ordered by the Marchesa Pallavicini. Rosina is weaving more
posies as she converses in loud tones with the old woman behind and
glances up now and then to the street’s opposite side where wayfarers
grow hourly thicker on the pavement and where, in another portico,
old but not as beautiful as her own, an aged man has already begun
to roast chestnuts. There is a _fiorista_, maker of false flowers, on
the first-floor of the opposite house—she has nothing picturesque to
show as our _fioraja_ has; but, alas, modern Italy thinks far more of
la Signora Raffo’s trade than it does of our Rosina’s! She herself is
of the same opinion for the matter of that, and no one can praise a
perfect flower of hers so much to her mind as by saying it is like a
false one.

‘To-night is the ball of la Marchesa Del Mele. I sell all that I have
in flowers before twelve o’clock, you will see,’ calls Rosina in her
loud brave voice to the porter’s wife who sweeps the staircase behind;
‘gracious! your honour did make me jump,’ adds she quickly to the
polished and perfumed _signore_ who now darkens the sunlight in the
portico. ‘Indeed!’ laughs the young man. ‘No, no, you don’t make me
believe I catch you unawares, _bella_—you, who have eyes at the back
of your head as sharp as those two bright ones in front! Well, well,’
as Rosina laughs to show her pearly teeth, ‘we all know you! But now
give me a flower—one for myself—a knot of violets, emblems of thine own
fair modesty;’ il Marchese del D—— (for it is he) laughs as he says
this, looking at Rosina. ‘Shame!’ remonstrates the damsel, bending
over her flowers to choose out the _mazzetto di viole_, but the blush
does not rise to her smooth cheek, and she only says, presenting the
flowers, ‘_Il signor marchese_ will buy something for his lady of
to-night?’ ‘Surely, make me a thing of taste, all white with violets,
and we will agree to-morrow for the price. With pretty girls one
makes no bargain!’ And the _marchese_ goes, only to leave the field
for other gallant butterflies and purchasers who all agree that ‘with
pretty girls one makes no bargain.’ Truly, Rosina’s free, fair face
is worth many _soldi_ to her purse! The day grows—it is time to eat
maccaroni in the porter’s lodge, while little Tonietta keeps watch
beside the flower-stall. And when the sun is near to setting in the
early afternoon and the _Tramontana_ blows chiller than ever, a man
passes down the staircase, out of the many that have passed up and down
this day, who calls the blush for the first time to the cheek of our
_fioraja_. He also is a perfumed youth, but he is no _marchese_—only
the son of Ricardi who keeps the manufactory for pianos upstairs. He
stands a long time beside Rosina’s chair while her swift fingers twine
bouquets for the ball of to-night; fast they talk, and merrily laugh
and broadly jest, till Rosina’s saucy glances are well-nigh quelled,
and she is forced to blush a bit and remonstrate—till the gas-lights
are burning in the streets, moreover, and it is time for the flowers
to go home to their purchasers. Then _la fioraja_ sweeps up the faded
blossoms and the broken stalks on her square of marble pavement, and
with them she sweeps away all the dead jests and forgotten words of
to-day, all the love-making and the banter. Gathering together her
baskets she climbs the Salita S. Trinità once more, to remember little
else at the top but the sum of those gains that she counts over so
proudly.



La Festa delle Palme.


There are no consistencies to uphold in Italy, no conventionalities
to overcome, and festa-making revels in true glory among the
pleasure-loving natures, that are soft and fiery, mad and merry, all
at one time. No fickle chances disturb the course of fasts and feasts;
the Roman Church holds her sway above all else, self-sufficient and
serene; and the people have learnt to love the old days and seasons by
this time, and are nothing loth to lend their aid to the pageant. Yet
even were her children deaf to the call, the Church would still put
up her pictures, nor alter one jot of her proceedings because of their
indifference. Amid all that is false and hollow the system has its good
side, as most systems have; the Roman Church binds the people together
with her festivals, even if they scoff at them now and then, and to her
we owe the beauty of the broad lights and shades that are thus cast
over the nation as a whole. Seasons change and come again (now days
of joy, now days of woe) bringing each some brightly-painted symbol
of ancient tradition, some well-worn mystery that has had its hold for
ages on the imaginative mind of the people; symbols and mysteries work
their way as of old, the days that are gone are linked to the days
that are, so that, in their festas, the people of Italy are one nation
from end to end of the land. They may not believe very clearly—many do
not pretend to believe at all—but they find a zest none the less eager
for that, in each of the seasons as it comes, with its mysteries to
be marvelled at, and its duties to be done. It is _festa_, and _festa_
garb must be donned, _festa_ bells must sound. The people put on their
bright colours, and are merry with a matter-of-course and yet a true
merriment, as though they caught the light-heartedness reflected from
their blues and reds and yellows. And when gala days are over, and Lent
is to be met, they put aside their carnival and eat ‘_magro_’ almost as
contentedly!

Carnival over, the pranks of the masqueraders are followed closely
by Lent’s fastings, and these would perhaps scarcely be borne so
patiently, were it not for the solace that can be seen throughout the
forty days in the distance. That solace is the Feast of the Palms,
with the strange week of mixed penance and excitement, of gay sights
interwoven with sorry dirges, that ushers in the Eastertide.

In days when people all go abroad, and can criticise and scan for
themselves, talk about these things would seem almost superfluous
were it not for those spots that lie beyond the range of the stream
of travellers rushing on year after year towards the great capital,
and that can yet show, within their capacity, as fair and joyous a
festival as any that reigns supreme at St. Peter’s, or flaunts its
gaudy pageant along the streets of Rome. Little roadside nooks there
are upon the shores of the Mediterranean, or among the clefts of the
Apennines—places still unspoiled and unmolested by the foreigners,
with their levelling influence—where perhaps the festival will be even
quainter than in any of the towns. Here and there, on the lip of little
dainty bays that secretly lie along the coast, palm-trees flourish in
the fertile soil, with the soft and sultry breath of African deserts
blowing gently upon them from across the Mediterranean. Sometimes they
stand alone in their grace, growing up erect and sudden from out the
moist hot earth, with arched and slender branches that are set around
their heads and that droop gently with the weight of tapering leaves.
Sometimes they grow in knots along the shore, or in little plantations
that stretch upward towards the hills. The pale-blue sky is spread
above the pale-blue sea, and above the deeper-coloured earth, and the
palm-trees stand up quietly against it, with frail outlines clearly
traced in the keen air.

All along the Riviera, whether in towns or villages, there is _festa_
for Passion-week and Easter. In rain as in sunshine, processions march
forth beneath weather-worn banners to worship familiar relics, and
bells chime gaily, and fresh veils and kerchiefs are pulled out to
deck pious or laughing faces, while the palms are blessed and the Holy
Sepulchre is built up around the altar.

And yet it is not the Cornice villages, nor the sunny groves where the
palms have their birth, that I remember at this season most willingly.
Again, the crooked ways of Genoa, her gorgeous churches and ample
piazzas, are the things that rise before me as the Easter time comes
back once more.

The Festival of Palms seems always to have been one of the dearest
of gala-days to the hearts of the Genoese people. Spring is then at
hand, that will bring flowers and fruits and warm days. Passion-week is
close on the festival’s joy, and there is woe to be met ere the Easter
sun can dawn, so the people make merry for Palm Sunday and for many
days before. Upon the first days of the preceding week those branches
are gathered from the sunny plantations of Bordighera, that are to
be plaited and adorned and consecrated in the churches, that they may
wither out a whole year above the bed of some peasant woman or child.
Not such a fair life, perhaps, as the life of those sister branches
that flourish and wave and grow green again in the pale sunshine and
the cool night-breezes of the shores; but the same blue sky of Italy is
overhead, and beneath it even the yellow boughs on a whitewashed wall
have their fitting grace.

On Monday the market of San Domenico begins to be filled with peasants
who bring palms from the Riviera, and by Wednesday the long leaves
are ready bleached to be fashioned into the wonted curious shapes;
for they may not remain green as nature bade them. By some process
handed down from past generations they are dyed of a faintly yellow
colour, that they may the better last unshrivelled from Eastertide to
Eastertide again for sacred guards and memories. The market-place,
always a wondrous scene of confusion and vociferation, is now more
perturbed than ever. The palms are set up in queer water-tubs, whence
they are taken one by one to be rapidly transformed into fantastic
shapes beneath the swift hands of girls who have grown deft in the
art of flower-weaving for which Genoa is specially famous. The women
split the slender fibres asunder, and then braid them together again
and build them up in a strange medley of loops and bows, from whose
midst one spray of the natural leaves is allowed to wave; at last they
fasten little patches of gold-leaf upon the plaits, and stick a bit
of olive-branch coquettishly on one side. The making of the _palme_
is a true example of Italian taste, that loves nothing so well in its
natural as in its artificial state. Flowers grow with little tending
and have beauty enough; magnolias and pomegranates, camellia and
oleander trees, bloom each in turn throughout the land, and never fail
in their perfection, and still the people have no higher praise for the
fairest blossoms of their glens and their gardens than the words, ‘They
are as good as false ones!’

As the days wear on—Thursday, Friday, Saturday—customers grow frequent
on the market-places, and inevitable vociferations wax more eager as
the sale progresses:

‘That palm there, with the golden leaf—how much, good woman?’

‘Forty-three _soldi_.’

‘Holy Virgin, you would rob the Lord Almighty himself! I will give you
thirty-five!’

‘Not for the world. I would sooner present it myself to San Lorenzo.’

And so the bargaining goes on for, perhaps, half-an-hour, until the
prize is carried off for some two or three centimes more than the first
sum offered by the purchaser. No Genoese marketer would dream of buying
at the price demanded, nor a seller of asking at first the price he
means to take at last.

In the _Via dé Orefici_, or the Goldsmiths’ Street, there are also
booths set up, and the palm-plaiting is going on vigorously. This
street is narrow, too narrow to be one of the main thoroughfares;
but it is also one of the most picturesque of the town. Most of the
jewellers’ shops have no plate-glass windows, they stand out into the
street, as it were, because the frames in which the gold-work is set
are fixed to the outer walls; and the shops themselves are freely open
to the passers, their glittering display of gold and silver filigree
making the way brightly gorgeous with a character that is quite
peculiar. There is no room for booths in the _Via dé Orefici_, but in a
little piazza close by, called the _Piazza di Campetto_, the buying and
selling of the palms go on busily. Throngs of people stream out thence
into the narrow streets around, where palaces stand up stately on
either side and, through a strip of blue sky above, the sun looks down
furtively upon dark and winding ways that are bright now with colour
and alive with hurrying folk. They are alive and strong and busy, yet
even in their bustle and merriment they seem like some picture of the
old life in those by-gone days when the lordly palaces and winding
streets first grew into being.

As the night draws on, the workers kindle rough pine torches, whose
fierce uneven light flares and flickers across the piazza and upon the
faces of near bystanders; the sky looks black then overhead, and there
are black shadows side by side with the red glare. The sale of palms
must cease early on the Sunday morning, so that by Saturday night the
holders of booths are well pleased to have their stock nearly disposed
of. At all events the palms must be ready plaited to be set in the
large market before sunrise to-morrow, because by eight o’clock the
Piazza S. Domenico must be clear, even of marketers who have left their
purchase to the last minute before church time.

Masses are being sung betimes, and the churches will be crowded long
before the great service of the day at eleven o’clock. The streets
are full to overflowing. Through the great _Piazza delle Fontane
Amorose_ the people flock in a strange medley, each class in special
attire. There are women of the merchant class, complacent in new spring
dresses, who wear their fresh muslin _pezzotti_ after the new mode,
the better to display their cunningly-plaited hair and ornaments of
finely-wrought gold. There are servant-girls who have not much gold
to show, but whose tresses are even more prettily arranged: and these
smooth their black-silk aprons with an air of superiority as they
note the factory girls, who have theirs only of woollen stuff. There
are people of the gentry, who wear silk dresses and bonnets of Paris
fashion, as they think, but these do not appear to much advantage on
a day like this. Then there are peasant women, whose gorgeous red and
orange-coloured kerchiefs serve better than all the rest to paint the
streets over with brilliant tone; their ornaments are of massive gold
moulded into ancient forms, the scarves that drape their heads and
shoulders of many colours grotesquely designed, and of thicker material
than the town-women’s muslin _pezzotti_; they call the thick scarf
_mezzaro_.

The crowds wend their way through the town to the different churches,
and now before the ducal palace they begin to grow denser than ever,
for this is the way to the cathedral, where the Archbishop of Genoa is
to bless the palms himself, at high mass. The great steps of the Duomo
are covered with the multitude; the people press up them between the
carven lions, through the beautiful gateways, and stand thickly packed
beneath the central arch, where St. Laurence lies stretched on the
torturing irons, and still other people are fighting their way through
the piazza, and keep pouring in from the back streets. Boys and girls,
men and women, mothers with swaddled infants, children that can barely
walk alone and that have to be perched on the great lions which flank
the steps of the Duomo, that they may have a chance of a sight of the
procession; old women with ugly faces, who seem to be the more devout
for their ugliness; men, of whom many make but a poor show even of
outward respect;—all are jostled together upon the steps and in the
entrances; and within the church’s aisles more people again are moving.

   [Illustration: ON-LOOKERS AT THE PROCESSION OF PALMS.]

The chanting and preaching begin within, varied now and then by the
rise and fall of barely suppressed voices throughout the nave. Then
the procession comes forth—banners and images, and crowds of children
bearing their white palms. The priest’s monotone continues within, and
the procession outside makes answer. Its flag-bearers knock upon the
gates of the church, and then the palms and the banners enter again.
There is more of the ceremony, but even the people attend but sparingly
to it. The crowd lingers awhile; some kneel on the steps to pray, some
enter the cathedral as best they can for benediction; many more wait
about outside and talk and laugh and gesticulate, but when mass is
done, mothers and fathers claim their children from out the procession,
and the multitudes disperse quietly.

The day’s afternoon is spent in the public ways and the public gardens.
Perfect enjoyment for an Italian is the enjoyment of idleness, and he
wears it with a graceful sort of sincerity. Day sinks into darkness,
but the caffès are still open. The fire must not die out too soon,
since with the morrow fasting must begin again.

So, amid laughter and jollity, _La festa delle Palme_ sinks away with
everything else that is gone into the past things of the year.



Holy Week and Easter Feasts. I Sepolcri.


The Palms are blessed and done with, fasting has begun, for even the
first week-days of the _Settimana Santa_ are ‘_giorni magri_,’ though
few folks pretend to practise any self-denial until the last three days
of the week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday pass without much ado. The
preacher-monks harangue congregations in churches, upon highways and
market-places, pouring forth strange prognostications and fiery words,
often of the most grotesque. But the _Frati predicatori_ are as nothing
in the eyes of the populace compared with the sights and wonders that
begin to multiply on Maundy Thursday. It is the day of the _Santo
Sepolcro_.

People throng the churches; a pilgrimage to one or more of them
is considered a sacred and a necessary duty. The Duomo is crowded.
Worshippers tread the aisles of _Sant’Ambrogio_, that church which
is famous to travellers for its Rubens, but to the inartistic natives
for its ashes of St. John, and at this season for its magnificence of
camellias: they kneel at its confessionals and bow before its altars
and pray before its Christs and Virgins.

The scene is strange. The priests have spread _Il Santo Sepolcro_
around the chief altar. It is arranged in every church more or
less fitly, but in every church the details are different, if the
main effect must needs be the same. Miniature gardens, meadows, and
cornfields, fashioned out of bleached and yellow grasses, with flowers
in their midst, cover the marble pavement within the altar rails;
and amid the gardens and the flowers little figures of men and women
are set talking and labouring in the fields. This is the foreground,
and in the near distance perhaps rises a tiny hill, with three nude
crosses upon it, while farther back, where the altar is wont to be,
rests—among a wealth of flowers and many gaudy trappings—the body of
the Christ in its rocky sepulchre. Hundreds of wax candles are alight
upon the reredos, and there is a soft yellow radiance in the nave.
_Sant’Ambrogio_ is famed for its flowers. To-day pillars of red and
white camellias stand high above people’s heads on either side the
chancel’s entrance, and down upon its pavement there are spring roses
and heartsease, daffodils and bright ranunculus growing among moss and
bleached grasses, or shining from out quaintly stiff posies.

People pass in and out of the churches all day. They say their prayers
to the Christ in _Sant’Ambrogio_, and then they go on to _La Maddalena_
or to _San Luca_, and say more prayers and gaze on new wonders. This is
penance and prayer-time, and people must think a little about the next
world, however much they love this one, says the good Catholic! And
these Lenten duties are not much harder than festival ones after all,
enshrined as they are in sights and sounds and beloved mysteries. _La
Madonna della Nunziata_ is another church, holding a place of honour
on this day, not so much by reason of her flowers as because of her
riches and the great number of her masses. _La Madonna della Nunziata_
is that church of most gorgeous interior, where massive columns of
rare marbles bear up a frescoed and heavily-gilded roof. It is rich
in costly decoration, in gems and bright colours. The citizens hold
it of great account and crowd thither to-day to worship at the _Santo
Sepolcro_, though they have flocked from church to church already,
and told their beads, and whispered their criticisms and little bits
of gossip, saying to themselves the while that the more churches they
visit the more ease it will be to their souls. The devout make a long
stride towards heaven on Maundy Thursday, but they have a hard day’s
work of it all the same, for when they are not on their feet they are
on their knees. It is sure to rain the whole time, if not in hearty
showers, then with a desponding fine rain out of scirocco clouds; as
indeed it ought in answer to the prayers that have bade Heaven send
moisture for all the good things of the land which are growing. The
devout do not complain. Heaven is forced to weep on this day of woe,
and all the green things of nature will spring the better meanwhile, so
they trudge contentedly, with veils that are soiled and damp (for the
devout are almost always women), and red and green umbrellas, to make
some gay-coloured things in the sad streets. They are not even too much
fatigued to go to the night ceremony at the Duomo, when the archbishop
washes the feet of the pilgrims; and even by that time the excitement
has scarcely been enough for them, but they must needs eagerly question
one another about the way in which the _Signore_ is laid out in _Santa
Catarina_ or in the _Cappucini_. And the prayers must all be prayed
before the Sepulchre, its wonders seen and conned over ere the dawn of
Good Friday, for then the spectacle must be cleared away to make room
for still graver duties. It is no doubt for the greater convenience of
Easter preparations that the Roman Church has decreed the Burial should
be solemnized before the Crucifixion—but the devout do not seem to have
a scruple as to the fitness of this arrangement, and are just as ready
for funeral ceremonies as though they had not celebrated the interment
beforehand. There are no flowers in the sanctuaries on Good Friday—all
day long there is only black drapery and sad music, and bells that
must not sound; for the Church would fain tune all to her solemn
silence until the mid-day of Saturday, when all the chimes from all the
steeples and domes break out together, and the great deep-toned bell
of the cathedral peals out afterwards alone. Easter is rung in with the
spring.


All over the country, and wherever there is a spare nook in this
town of palaces and marble, the peach and almond trees, the Judas and
apricot blossoms spread a dainty cloth of colour, while against the
rose-tinted flower of fruit-trees, lilacs and banksia roses begin to
bloom in contrast. Before the month is out laburnum and acacia will be
striving for mastery with the orange-blossoms.

A fresh wind blows over the town upon the morning of Easter-day. Ere
the sun has been up an hour house-wives are bargaining on the Piazza S.
Domenico for the peas and greens and gaudy tulips. Easter eggs are set
out for sale in confectioners’ windows, along the high streets, upon
booths in the public ways or smaller shops in the dark alleys. Every
child, rich or poor, must have an egg for his Easter morning gift.
People go to mass again, but not as they went during Holy Week, for
this day is a day of holiday-making proper.

   [Illustration: MARKETING.]

Scarce can a busy marketer spare time from her early purchasing to
spend ten minutes before the altar of some church on her way, that she
may just save her soul from the neglect of a binding duty, but no one
thinks very much of mass and vesper to-day, when the _ravioli_ have
to be made before twelve o’clock, and the fish-stalls have yet to be
sought far down the town, after the green-market has duly been searched
and spoiled. ‘The priests will pray for us to-day,’ say the devout,
as they dip their fingers in holy water coming out from Benediction.
They loiter awhile before the church door to buy some image, or coin,
or rosary as they talk—or some Easter egg of crimson dye; but they are
soon home again with the peas and the marjoram and bay for the day’s
great dish, with the fresh fish and the lump of lean, solid beef, and
the brains and the sweetbread. The dinner must be cooked, or at least
superintended, the dinner must be eaten before idleness can begin. But,
when the hours have crept well into afternoon, holiday dresses begin
to flit gaily through the spring green of trees on the public gardens,
holiday voices and holiday jests ring along the broad avenues and under
the boughs of budding chestnuts. The sunshine is broad and pleasant,
there is no heat to annoy and no curt breeze to ruffle tempers; it is
really warm weather. No one wittingly gives a thought to the blushing
orchard-bloom or the blue April sky—no one speaks of the fair tulips,
the white narcissus, the lilacs and roses that are a-flower, but the
light-hearted laugh the lighter all the same for knowledge that the
spring-time is back again.



La Fantesca.

The Servant Wench.


The sky is dull and sad to-day, and so the Mediterranean is grey. Even
where the low-lying horizon clouds have parted a little to let through
a far-away memory of sunlight, it is only a whiter grey light that
outlines the margin of water and sky, and where the sea’s surface is
broken into ripples by the softest of stirring breezes, the harmonies
of shadows and relief are still in faint and faded colour-scales. It
is a scirocco. Dull and sleepy vapours rest on the mountains around and
creep down towards the town and the bay.

This picture of the Mediterranean is in shade, and the Mediterranean
city lies clouded where Maddalena dwells, so that she is not glad,
for her mistress is to give her holiday to-day because Tomasina, the
sister’s eldest, is to make first communion, and, please the Virgin,
there will be fine doings. The sister is no poor woman; she married the
_pizzicagnolo_, or sausage merchant, in Via Luccoli, and can afford to
spend a few francs. ’Tis a sad shame indeed that the day be so gloomy,
for sunshine lights many a face into smiles that else would be shy and
sallow, and sunshine accords well with holiday doings; but as _la donna
grossa_, who comes in to help scrub and chatter of a morning, assured
our Maddalena, so soon even as six o’clock this day, scirocco does not
mean rain and, when the clouds lie so languid on the hills, one may
safely don the dress of woollen stuff, for the weather is too heavy
even to let the water come down from its skies.

Maddalena’s lady, _la padrona_, lives in a strange place near San
Matteo. And San Matteo is considered so strange a quarter for the home
of a widow who retains presence enough to have gallants still if she
would, that fond relations and neighbours have actually been heard to
say _la signora Marini_ must be out of her mind. And yet the _quartiere
S. Matteo_, if not fashionable, has beauties of its own. The little
church is of old and beautiful design that stands with black and white
marble façade on the piazza, and the gateway of the palace opposite
is rich without in graceful and elaborate carving, sumptuous within
by reason of a staircase weighty with ancient glory. But the widow
does not live over the piazza nor in the grimy old palace. Behind S.
Matteo’s sanctuary is its cloister, no longer set aside for religious
uses, no longer peopled by cowled monks or demure and whitehooded nuns,
but the same for shy and tender beauty as in the old days before Italy
became a kingdom, and the Church’s institutions had come to be held
in ridicule. A carpenter’s shop has grown into shape in the recesses
of those sacred colonnades, and a carpenter’s apprentice planes his
lathes and sprinkles his shavings beneath the graceful arches, while
around and looking down into the little grassgrown courtyard, tall
houses stand in a quadrangle, and white linen hangs to dry against
the time-tinted marble: but slender columns with twisted stem and fair
carven capital still spring frankly from out a daintily moulden base
around the green enclosure, and stand in their simple beauty through
shade and sunshine of Italy.

And this is where the _padrona_ lives. Our Maddalena has been with her
for sole servant wench these seven years past. One day _la signora
Marini_ came to the town Orphan Asylum, or _Albergo dei Poveri_,
as we call it, and there sought a child whom she might educate to
domestic service. Maddalena knew nothing at first; she was but thirteen
years old and had had little teaching; but, thanks to the thrifty
housewife’s pains and wholesome influence, assisted, as it surely was,
by many a sharp word and friendly cuff, thanks also to her own bright
wits, the little orphan grew rapidly into a servant of the quickest
and deftest—into a maiden of the strongest and comeliest. Not that
Maddalena was ever tall. Though, from their first frail babyhood, the
poor little foundlings have the best care that such an institution
as the _Albergo dei Poveri_ can afford; though they be plentifully
nourished by sturdy peasant nurses, according to the country’s custom;
yet a mother’s care has never been theirs, nor have fresh field breezes
ever fanned their cheeks, and strengthened their growing forms, such
as may, perhaps, have greeted the first days of their lives. And so,
though the little damsel be a pretty girl in her own style and fit for
all life’s work, she wears a sometimes wistful look behind her simple
face, and will always be of small and dainty type, though of firm-knit
frame and wholesome strength enough. She has a warmly tinted skin with
rosy flush, and two round brown eyes wherein the sunlight could dance
as it can dance on Mediterranean waves; but to-day—since the beams
are hidden that can so brightly catch those blue sea-ripples when they
like—curling black lashes veil the bright brown eyes, and they soften
their glance and darken their sunlight into wistfulness.

   [Illustration: THE SERVANT WENCH.]

It is three o’clock. The Mistress’s soup has been cooked and eaten,
the piece of dry boiled beef is removed at last from table, the dishes
are washed up, the last reproof has been administered. Maddalena
stands before her lady in all the glory of a new-patterned dress, with
silk apron, silken-fringed kerchief, brightly glowing gold brooch and
ear-drops, fresh _pezzotto_, whose white muslin folds drape her neck
and shoulders—she is ready to go. All blunders and scoldings of five
minutes ago are forgotten: the mistress is only a woman, and as a woman
she sympathises. Has she not herself smoothed those black braids whose
plaits lie round so wondrously? Has she not placed the gold pins to
secure the veil, and fastened the kerchief behind? ‘Thou hast a good
appearance, in truth,’ she remarks, complacently gazing on her work—for
Maddalena is her work, has been her work these years past—and the
girl’s blood kindles with pleasure at the praise: _la signora Marini_
knows what’s what, and would not, on _this_ occasion, take the trouble
to say what she did not mean!

The sky has not lightened with the growing day nor have the clouds
taken their load off the mountains, the scirocco is still in the
air, so that marble is less white and colour less brilliant along the
streets, but the shadow is a tender shadow, and we do not mourn the
searching sunlight. To-day is a great day at the Church of San Siro;
the first communion has been given there this morning to hundreds
of children, who now parade the streets in gala dress before going
home to join in festivities of quite a secular nature. The girls
have white dresses—satin, silk, or muslin, according to their degree,
with bridal-seeming veils and flowers—the boys wear, probably, their
first cloth suits and carry bouquets of flowers, of which they are
half ashamed. Maddalena hurries on, smiling complacently. In every
little white-robed girl she sees her own little niece, Tomasina, who
has also been this morning at San Siro, and in every escorting damsel
behind she sees herself walking beside the mamma, for is not she
the aunt of a first communion girl? It is not far from San Matteo to
Via Luccoli, and soon the little servant has climbed a dark winding
stair, has pulled a feeble bell-rope on the _5to piano_, has been
admitted and warmly embraced by many female relations, in the midst
of an admiring throng that is gathered round the little furbelowed
and perfumed doll, who stands beside her mamma. ‘What luxury!’ says
everybody, and congratulations pour from all sides upon the firstborn
and the firstborn’s parents, who have thus safely borne her to years
of discretion and the Church’s bosom. But she, poor infant, meanwhile,
being but nine years old, listens wondering, and sure only of her new
frock and her own importance, and of the comfits which are soon to be
hers.

Voices rise shrill, and jokes fly merrily. Maddalena is not of the
maddest among the guests. She stands now apart, softly conversing with
a young man from Rivarolo, who keeps a baker’s shop, and is in no way
to be despised. The shadow of the scirocco has not passed from her
eyes, and the heavy lids lie but half folded away, with long lashes
sweeping downwards; but the young man from Rivarolo does not seem to
mind that sleepy gaze, and has just made up his mind that last Sunday
shall not be the only time he follows a little maiden into the church
of Saint Ambrogio, when she goes to early mass! Now the board is spread
in this large, scantily furnished hall, where the floor is of red brick
and the walls of yellow cement, and the curtains of soft and faded
calicoes; sixteen people sit down to eat _ravioli_ and stewed beef and
truffles, to drink sour _Monferrato_ wine, and to break their teeth
over hard sugar-plums. They are all very free and friendly, and talk
loudly, all but Maddalena, who prefers to speak in whispers, but then
she is sitting beside the baker. When the evening is over it is this
same baker who walks with her slowly, in the darkness of eight o’clock,
up the steep of Via Luccoli, and along the broad way of the Carlo
Felice, till they reach the point where a narrow, brick-paved and rapid
descent runs down into San Matteo. ‘_Brava!_ thou com’st home to time,’
says the mistress, when she opens the door to the servant-wench. And
then they discuss the party and the presents, the viands, the dresses,
the conversation, and all the scandal that can possibly be gathered
from so humble an affair. ‘Well, thou hast amused thyself; to-morrow
there will be plenty to do, my child,’ says the _padrona_, as maid and
mistress retire to sleep.

And there _is_ plenty to do indeed! _La signora Marini_ has an
entertainment in honour of her name-day, and _la signora Marini_ likes
to make a show, while being at the same time economical. Mistress
and maid climb the steep hill betimes in the morning to have the
pick of the market produce in the Piazza San Domenico, and both are
a good hand at a bargain and a better hand still at a little friendly
wrangling to small purpose. Maddalena is all day long plucking fowls,
shredding beans, sorting rice, washing lettuce, rolling paste, stirring
_minestra_—graver kitchen duties the housewife attends to herself—and
when the dinner is under way the hall must be swept, and the girl has
her mistress’s hair yet to do, and her own little slip-shod person to
make neat! ‘_Dio_, how the ribs ache!’ says Maddalena, and while she
says it the feeble door-bell tinkles—the guests are there!

Every man and woman, however, has a word and a jest for the
serving-maid, which words and jests re-assure her a good deal, so
that by the time the _padrona_ is ready seated, among the company, at
the long board with the coarse tablecloth, she is herself again, and,
handing the viands, confidentially informs each guest of its chief
ingredients, recommending her own favourites to favoured ones in the
party. Only, when all are served and comfortably eating, Maddalena
does not blush to sit down on the soiled old chintz settee with the
vegetable dish in her lap. She can keep just as sharp a look-out over
the wants of the table, and feels no way guilty of neglecting any
duty—in fact, if reproved would have known quite well how to answer
that she had been on her feet all day and was tired. But no one makes
any complaint. People, on the contrary, are not afraid to exchange a
friendly word now and then with the winsome waitress; and even when the
guests are gone and the mistress goes into the kitchen to discuss the
party’s success, Maddalena gets no scolding, either for her freedom of
manner in the dining-hall, nor because ‘that young man of Rivarolo’
is there, having been brought by a third party in the shape of the
charwoman. Indeed the lady gives countenance to this affair by her
presence, and when the house is locked up, and both are alone again
for the night, the talk between them is just as much of ‘_him_’ and his
prospects as of the boiled beef and roasted capons, and of the success
of the _tagliarini_ as second course.

It is not a one-sided interest either. Maddalena has all her mistress’s
concerns just as much at heart, and the concerns of her mistress’s
aunts and uncles, and nieces and cousins as well. If the _tagliarini_
had not been a success, or the lady had failed to get her due of
compliment, the girl would have cried as copiously as when her own
new dress was spoilt, the first time of wearing, by the water-squirts
in the Pallavicini Garden at her sister’s wedding! And when _la
signora Marini_ had on that violet silk just new for the Corpus Domini
procession, Maddalena could not refrain from a friendly ejaculation
when she opened the street door to her—even though two strange
gentlemen had accompanied her back from church! It is she who greases
and plaits her lady’s hair on occasions less grand than those for which
_la pettinatrice_—or female hair-dresser—is summoned. Maddalena can do
a little of everything, and everything quite passably well, from the
mending of a bell-rope with a hairpin to the crimping and ironing of
fine muslins, the coiling of plaits, the stewing of fowls, the rolling
of paste, the sweeping of rooms, and last, but certainly not least,
the nursing of sick folk. When _la padrona’s_ aunt had the typhus, who
so deft, so patient, and so tender as the little servant wench? And
when the child of the first-floor lodger had to have leeches put on
for inflammation, did not the doctor say that he couldn’t have done it
better himself than did Maddalena? To which she had answered, ‘No—nor
half so well, being but a miserable man.’ Of course she must needs have
her cryings, and scoldings, and ill-humours, and many is the time she
has vowed to run away from the home she loves so well; but when all’s
said and done there is surely no happier place than the _4to piano_ of
that house in S. Matteo where mistress and maid live, and laugh and cry
and squabble so thoroughly.



Il Negoziante.

The Shopman.


Carnival has been and gone, Lent is over and Easter festivals, with
sunny smile, have opened the gate to Spring. Upon the country that
spreads around our goodly Riviera city, the flush of almond blossoms
still lies rosily, to fade soon into the paler tones of pear and apple
and cherry bloom. The trees are budding, to help with their faint
green for contrast, but the green that is fullest at this time lies
over the fresh, brown earth, where spring crops have come to life and
are growing fast in the keen, sunlit air. Nursery gardens spread fair
and far about the town, with little white and trellis-covered cottages
in their midst for the husbandmen—gardens that have neat furrows
intersecting them for water-supply, and that make a rich show in market
produce. This is towards Albaro, on Genoa’s eastern side, and the low
front of Albaro’s hill is adorned with many a white old palace and the
slender columns of marble _loggias_ that are fresco-painted within.
From the town’s ramparts these many marble buildings have a great
effect, that stand amidst green gardens, with roofs lying upon a bright
sky, and—walking along the straight and dusty road that makes, towards
the sunrise, for the sea-shore, and is flanked on both sides with
arbutus trees—the white colonnades of the _Paradiso_ palace are before
you all the time to make you remember for ever after the look of marble
arches on a green hillside and a strong blue sky.

Among the streets the spring cannot make itself quite so well
remembered, nor can the sun have such an effect, but here, as
elsewhere, April, May, and even March have quite another beauty from
January. The sunlight is dashed even across the dark narrowness of Via
San-Luca, and streams across the Piazza Soziglia to light upon the very
counter of Signor Giordano’s shop. Surely bargains must be the less
sharply driven, and the smiles of fair purchasers the more persuasive!
But then Tuesday is the night of _la marchesa Bice’s_ ball, and one
must make one’s profit when one can, for in a small town, where the
people are proverbially stingy, ’tis not every day that business is to
be done!

_Il Signor Giordano_ is a great man in Genoa. He has the largest shop
for the novelties of fashion, and is moreover almost the only one of
the first _negozianti_ who go to London as well as to Paris for spring
and autumn modes. On the other hand, he is not _too_ expensive! He
has his own interest at heart, of course, but he thinks to further it
better by a judicious lowness of price than by an assumption of foreign
exorbitance, as some others do. Then he is not impervious to female
flattery, and something can be done with him in this wise! The windows
of Signor Giordano’s shop are of plate-glass. Years ago there were no
shops in Genoa that had plate-glass for windows, that had any windows
at all in fact, just as there were no _cittadine_, or cabs, in the
streets, and private carriages were so few that one could tell them all
apart by their liveries: just as there were no gas lanterns but only
oil lamps in the public thoroughfares. Even now the shops that have
real plate-glass windows are few enough, and those that have them so
broad and so fine as Signor Giordano are fewer still. His premises are
large, large for a provincial town of Italy—and his young shopmen are
civil, his goods deftly displayed in the window; all these advantages
go to make the store in Via Soziglia one of the town’s favourites. So
to-day it is well beset with female customers—prudent and economical
mammas, eager daughters, placidly lavish young matrons, who are
the most acceptable of all to Signor Giordano—everybody wants some
adornment, great or small, for the coming festivity. A neat brougham
stops at the door, whence there steps a slim-figured and pale-faced
little dame, tastefully dressed in the latest of Paris fashions. ‘It
is the _Contessa Capramonte, per Bacco_,’ says the foreman in the
front shop to the great Signor Giordano, who is reading his _Corriere_
behind. [The _Corriere_ is the great mercantile paper.] ‘Excellent!
Show her those new gauzes that we had last night;’ then advancing to
meet this most graceful of customers, ‘Your servant, madam,’ bows the
vender of fashions to their wearer; ‘what might be your ladyship’s
pleasure this afternoon?’

And soon the hopeful comer is on the usual high wooden stool before
the counter, all the new Paris gauzes displayed for her choice, with
a dark and tall and perfumed young man to show them off, and the
proprietor himself close at hand to take advice of, to jest and chat
with besides, as these Italian ladies are never afraid to jest with
their social inferiors. ‘Pretty,’ ejaculates she, admiringly, as the
tall young man crushes and drapes a citron-coloured gauze the better
for the sunlight to catch and beautify it! ‘But with that stuff I shall
need a silk dress of the colour besides; it will cost me too much!’
‘Truly your ladyship has the love of fun,’ laughs fat Signor Giordano
at her elbow; ‘we know pretty well what the _Contessa Capramonte_ has
for money!’ ‘Truly,’ pouts the pretty lady; ‘_you_ are a good husband
one can see. Do you not reflect on the face which that sour-visaged
Count will make when I bring him the bill, and have no more money, of
the poor pittance he gives me, to pay it with? Oh, but _I_ must reflect
upon it, however!’ ‘The bill will not arrive yet awhile, and then, when
the Signor Conte sees your ladyship in that dress, whose colour fits so
perfectly to the complexion, which is the talk of our town——!’ ‘Come,
have a care,’ laughs the lady back again, but with no foolish blush.
Then considering, while the fatal look of indecision comes slowly
to her pretty face, ‘for the rest you are right, Signor Giordano;
no colour suits me so well, and with an assortment of tea-roses——’
‘And the diamonds of the Capramonte family,’ puts in the great man,
dexterously. ‘Yes, with the diamonds, perhaps,’ ruminates she. ‘Holy
Madonna! it will be a sight for men to come from far and wide to see,’
murmurs the gauze vendor, fervently, and the dark youth ejaculates, ‘I
believe it!’ as he is paid to do.

‘Well, I suppose I must,’ sighs the customer, and then there comes
a question of quantity, and the Signor Giordano’s advice is again
required about the number of metres for skirt, tunic, scarf and bodice,
the which great matter cannot be decided until the manner of making
have also been chosen, for _la Contessa_ says that for economy she
is going to have this dress made at home by her maid! It is pretty
well certain the matter will be settled and unsettled over again at
least twenty times by maid and mistress when the latter gets home,
but meanwhile it pleases her to discuss it with the shopman, so forty
metres are at last pronounced to be the necessary amount, and the lady
can always have more afterwards, remarks the perfumed shop-youth with
appropriate judgment.

   [Illustration: SHOPMAN AND PURCHASER.]

‘Two francs a metre, you said, did you not?’ asks the Countess,
innocently, watching the soft silk stuff being measured out. ‘Dear
madam, no; three francs,’ corrects Signor Giordano with all suavity,
and still the pale-coloured folds pass quickly through the hands of the
tall young man. His thumb is on the great scissors, he has counted the
forty metres, but ‘Stop, stop!’ cries the lady’s eager voice; ‘I must
do without the dress, then—for certainly all _that_ money, 120 francs,
_Dio_, never shall I obtain it from my husband! Pity,’ adds she, rising
gracefully, and replacing the high stool in its place, ‘for the colour
suits me to perfection, and the stuff pleases me; this satin stripe is
new, and looks well—but 120 francs—heaven forbid!’ ‘Eh, well,’ concedes
the shopman, glancing at his humble satellite over the counter, ‘what
do you think? For _such_ a customer it would be worth while to make a
reduction, is it not true? She would make such a figure, _per Bacco_!
Let us make it two francs and eighty centimes. For _you_ I will make a
sacrifice,’ adds _il Signor Giordano_, with an admiring bow, ‘only’—and
this in a lower tone—‘her ladyship will not mention the price.’ The
concession is indifferently well received. Scoffs the customer, with
a pretty toss of her small head, ‘I do not jest! Two francs a metre,
or else I buy my dress elsewhere; and if I cannot find another to my
taste, I stay at home to-morrow night.’ This is said poutingly, and
master and man utter at once a deprecating ejaculation. ‘Two francs!’
pleads the former; ‘sweet lady, I couldn’t do it! If heaven had
but been more generous to me, how proudly would I have made a gift
of the thing which has been fortunate enough to please you, but——’
‘Preposterous!’ laughs the beauty,’what a good thing that I know you!
Well—make it two francs and thirty _centesimi_! You will not? Oh, well,
I find my dress easily elsewhere. And there are to be many ladies
of great beauty at _la marchesa’s_ on Tuesday night. I should have
required silk for the skirt too!’ These parting shafts are sent home as
the lady retreats gracefully to the door. ‘_Addio_,’ nods she, and the
plate-glass swings to behind her, the citron-coloured gauze is folded
away off the counter. Yet both vendor and purchaser know well enough it
will be out again in a trice, and addressed, moreover, to the Palazzo
Capramonte.

So sure, in fact, is the shopman of this that when, five minutes later,
another and less constant customer sees, admires, and would purchase
that frail fabric, he is not afraid positively to state that forty
_metri_ of it are sold to the Contessa Capramonte; he is not ashamed
either, when asked the price by this next customer, to give it only
as two francs and fifty _centesimi_, but then this second lady is a
foreigner, and will not bargain, and the Signor Giordano knows exactly
how much to put on, because he knows how much a Genoese lady will have
off before she buys. Is it waste of time? Not at all, the shopman will
tell you—only part of the day’s work.

The _Contessa_ walks leisurely from Soziglia down the Via de’ Orefici,
and goes into a jeweller’s shop in this jewellers’ street, where,
over lumps of pale pink coral and finely-wrought trinkets of silver
and gilt-silver filigree, she plays her play over again, to come out
triumphant with a necklace, whose dainty lumps and loops and wires
are cunningly fashioned into leaves and roses. The necklace is not
for herself, for a Genoese lady despises the produce of that darkly,
strangely winding street, where the booths stand out freely to view,
and glitter with the light silver wares, or are rich with the red heavy
coral; but bargaining comes to her as second nature, so she has fought
none the less bravely over the trinket because the commission is for a
foreign friend. Thoughts of that dress have not strayed from her mind
all the same, and before the _Contessa_ drives out of Soziglia the
citron gauze has been purchased for two francs and fifty _centesimi_
the _metro_, which was the exact sum on which Signor Giordano meant
they should meet from the beginning; and silk to match, and flowers,
and ribbons have been added to the bill, all for something more than
the one, for something less than the other said at first. So _la
Contessa_ goes home to her palace at Carignano, where banksia roses are
blooming against the wall, and pink and white fruit-blossoms in the
_villa_, while a purple Judas-tree is a-flower before the house. And
the Signor Giordano goes home to the flat in Castelletto, where, though
it is five storeys high, flowers still bloom upon the terrace and over
the _pergola_, for winter is past, and we are in spring-time.



La Pettinatrice.

The Hairdresser.


Marrina has her hands full to-day; for though it is quite too hot for
early May—so hot that the first whiteness and crispness of a _pezzotto_
is gone before the week is out—there is to be a ball to-night, and a
ball in the sad old halls of the deserted Royal Palace; the king is
coming to Genoa—the king and the people’s favourite, our much-loved
Princess Margherita. Even the sparing Genoese do not grudge a little
money to be brightest and happiest on such an occasion. The people
and the shops are gay—the very streets, and walls, and houses seem
to shine with joy of the prospect; illuminations are preparing in the
public ways, the stalls of the _fioraje_ are well stocked, and on the
Acquasola the trees are a-flower, bright with green and wide spreading,
the air is sweet with acacia-scent and laburnum. Marrina lives without
the city’s gates, on the side towards the great cemetery. Why she lives
there, who knows, as she often says? For, although the way into town
is not further than even a buxom woman, like herself, can comfortably
do in half-an-hour, it is more trouble than it is worth, this being
obliged to pick up one’s petticoats, and turn out along the dusty
highway every blessed morning of one’s life—whether the sun be hot or
the _Tramontana_ bleak—just to coil, and plaster, and construct aloft
those heavy black masses of the Signora De Maroni’s hair! But, then, if
one always had a reason for everything one did, _Madonna_, life would
be a purgatory indeed! This is Marrina’s philosophy, and, indeed, the
rents are not so high without the walls, and one has a breath for one’s
money in summer time, if a colder blast in winter.

This morning there is little room for complaint of any sort. The
weary-white valley of the Bisagno opens out to the sea, and is,
perhaps, not beautiful in itself, because the shingle of its river’s
bed lies around so wide with so small a thread of water in its midst;
but, on either side of it, and beyond the dusty roads which hem its
margin, green slopes rise gently with palaces on their sides where they
are nearest the town, and with fruit trees in blossom and chestnut
trees in leaf, on the opposite slopes of Albaro, which the market
gardens of _manenti_ make green the sooner. Pinkest peach bloom is
over, but the cherry and the pear, and the tender-toned apple-blossom
have not cast all their flowers yet, while the may and the blackthorn
spread white and pink patches on hedge-rows inland, and, on the mossy
turf of the Quesia Valley some two miles ahead, violets bloom beneath
bright chestnut trees, and primroses on banks and boulders, faint
narcissus breathes a scent where the air plays freely, and cowslips
hang their heads in the sunshine. _La Pettinatrice_ does not often see
these things, it is true, for her own house stands nearer town upon
the high road, where the Bisagno is thick with the soap-suds of many
washerwomen who flog clothes upon hard flint, as they stand in its
stream. But she has an aunt who lives up there where the water flows
clean, and glides off mill-wheels into deep, green pools, and she has
plucked the faintly streaked tulips from out the new spring wheat, and
she knows the bloom of the fruit trees, though she is a town woman born
and bred.

The dust lies thick on the road; although the summer has scarce
begun, the sun shines hotly down, and Marrina is minded to spend two
_soldi_ that she may escape both dust and heat in a very insecure and
closely-packed conveyance that runs to the Virgin’s gate of Porta Pila.
Yet the sun is on Marrina’s broad back worse than ever, the dust whirls
in her face from the open door and the flies are numerous, but a little
altercation with the omnibus inmates makes up for all this and more.
There is a man who carries the most fragrant of truffles with stale
fish in a basket, and another who has just eaten freely of garlic and
onions, but both of them discourse well with the comely _pettinatrice_,
and she finds no fault in them. Marrina is a well-preserved woman
of some thirty years. She is, perhaps, a little more showy-looking
than some, even of the town-women of her age—that comes from her life
amongst many classes, and a little also because Marrina has no husband,
no home of her own, and no children. She has a shapely figure, that
is a little too short for its size, a full round throat which the
sun has burnt brown, a face that is one shade whiter than the throat,
and a fine head of black crimped hair, whereon her own craft is amply
displayed; her mouth is large, with full red lips and white teeth, her
cheeks are rosy, her eyes twinkle proudly, and she wears white thread
stockings and black shoes; her petticoats set out richly from her broad
hips, her dress is gaily patterned, her kerchief falls aside a little
at the neck, her hands are plump and smooth.

   [Illustration: LA PETTINATRICE IN AN OMNIBUS.]

The gate-keeper at Porta Pila, the host of the Osteria degli Amici,
at the corner, the woman who sells fried fish two steps further on,
all greet _la pettinatrice_ as she comes across the drawbridge, with
swinging gait, to turn up the first road on the right. La Signora De
Maroni is the first to have her hair dressed, for she is a constant
customer; but other thoughts and wider plans are rife in Marrina’s
brain to-day, and she bestows but scant attention on this lady’s
well-greased plaits. The morning’s unfailing gossip loses none of its
excellence, however, for the grist is more rather than less plentiful
to the mill. ‘Does _vossignoria_ call to mind the linendraper’s wife
who used to rent the little house with the _pergola_ here above the
convent?’ ‘That little red-haired one? Well, what of her?’ demands the
lady sharply. She is a fine woman for her years, and has a handsome
pile of hair, but _hers_ is black, which is common-place, and besides
the linendraper’s wife is ten years younger! Marrina knows all this.
‘_Giusto_,’ she answers glibly, ‘what a wit your worship has, to be
sure! Red it _is_—red enough to scare the devil! Well, they’ve made
a failure, they don’t live up here; they’ve only got a bit of a place
now—you should see what a misery—down in Via Giulia!’ ‘Truly,’ murmurs
La Signora De Maroni, well pleased. ‘I should think she wouldn’t be on
the Acquasola to see the Princess, then?’ ‘I believe you, she won’t,’
laughs Marrina, crimping a poor handful of front hair as she speaks!
Then, taking a hairpin from between her teeth, where it has been held
for convenience, and placing it firmly through the towering structure
of her victim’s head, ‘She’s too vain to show herself without a new
silk dress! It’s quite ridiculous at her age! If it were yourself now,
one would understand!’ ‘Go away with you,’ laughs the flattered dame,
now holding the hot irons ready, to have the little flat curls of long
usage made and plastered upon her forehead! ‘Yes, yes, it is true,’
continues Marrina, ‘and yet what is youth good for, I say? Only to play
the fool. See there that new bride of Signor Parini, the goldsmith!
People made such a noise of her youth and her beauty—only fourteen
years old, and a wife! Well, how does she use it? Not been a mother
three months, and a mere chit of sixteen as she is, before they do
say’—and _la pettinatrice’s_ voice sinks to an impressive whisper which
la Signora De Maroni alone is able to hear.

But the daily erection is done, and Marrina has no time for gossip
this morning. ‘Does _vossignoria_ go to the opera to-night to see the
Princess?’ she asks, rolling down her sleeves again. ‘Eh, _povera me_!
No, indeed I do not,’ answers the lady! ‘Not even for a joke could
I persuade that wretch of a De Maroni to hire me a box! And he that
everyone tells me is so rich. Shame on him!’ Marrina laughs loudly.
‘They are all so, those husbands,’ she says. ‘The Virgin defend _me_
from one!’ And with a ‘_dunque domani_,’ she is gone. La Signora
De Maroni has neither so interesting a head nor so interesting a
conversation as many whose hair she will do this day, for Marrina has
twisted and combed and greased those black locks every morning for
the last five years; so, swiftly running down the ninety-four dark and
dirty steps, perhaps not with the lightest of footfalls, she is glad to
greet the cobbler again, who stitches in the portico, and to be out in
the spring air. There are two more subscribing clients to be finished
off, and after that who knows how many chance heads of ladies who are
going to the Princess’s ball?

The next customer lives up one of the fine new streets. She is not so
rich as the De Maroni, but she is noble, and has better hair—hair that
it’s a pleasure to stick the pins into, as la _pettinatrice_ has been
heard to say. Lilacs are blooming, with snowy guelder roses behind
the tall railings of private gardens in Via Serra, and the banksia
buds have grown so wildly that their long and flowering sprays fall
back over the wall into the street. Marrina plucks a blossom with
which to greet her customer. It is not hers to pluck, but why should
that signify, any more than it can signify she should make fun of the
_bourgeoise_ De Maroni with this younger and prettier rival of the
aristocracy, telling of the grey hairs that lie underneath, if only
you lift the well-greased black ones, and of how that old husband of
hers refused to spend his money to take her to the opera. ‘And with
reason,’ says Marrina for comment; ‘if the poor devil must needs spend
money, ’tis natural he should prefer to spend it for a pretty face.’
Then the lady laughs, and quite agrees, and they fall to the discussion
of this one and that one—for this customer is young, and has her many
gallants, and Marrina is always very useful for gossip and scandal.
_La signora_ is going to the opera, and then to the ball—not with her
husband, of course—and must needs consult Marrina about her toilet, for
a _pettinatrice_ sees the costume of many a fine lady, and can advise
so as to make or to mar many an evening’s happiness.

On this occasion the pretty countess gets many a hint, and knows what
most of the _marchese_ will wear to-night, so that she is able still
to devise—with _la pettinatrice’s_ help—some extravagance that shall
outvie them all. Fortunately for her, she is a favourite with Marrina,
and may trust just a little more to the discretion of Marrina’s tongue
than all the poor ladies who confided the secret of their toilets to
her yesterday—because, though her hands will work amongst hair till far
into the coming night, Marrina dressed many a head yester eve, whose
owner sat upright in a chair till this morning—nor thought anything
of it—for appearance sake! ‘Amuse yourself, Signora Contessa, and have
a care for that poor little marquis of last week, now that you have a
new gallant,’ says Marrina, deftly placing the last pile. ‘_Dio_, what
time I waste with you,’ adds she, as the church clock strikes! And she
is down the stair, down the street almost with the thought, and out
into the flower-strewn Acquasola, where the air is flushed with summer
sunshine, and waxen blossoms stand stiffly amid the broad leaves of
horse-chestnuts in the sloping avenue. La Marchesa Tagliafico lives
on the Salita dei Cappucini, where she can see the flowering creepers
against the tall old wall of the Villetta de’ Negri opposite, that
is now the new Acquasola, where she can hear the rush of the cascade,
and scent the limes and acacias off the public-gardens, and watch the
nobility driving round of a warm Sunday evening; where she is close
to the ancient Church of the Cappucini, besides, and can stand beneath
its cypresses two minutes after leaving home, to visit its _Presepio_
at Epiphany or its _Santo Sepolcro_ in Holy Week, to hear its _Frati
Predicatori_, to attend mass and buy waxen images on all or any of the
_festas_. La Marchesa is one of the devout; nevertheless she is to be
at the ball to-night, and Marrina is to do her hair.

Even _la pettinatrice’s_ goodly strength is well-nigh spent and her
fingers greased to the bone, before the last head is finished off,
for, in spite of her only having taken half-an-hour’s rest to see the
Princess drive round the gardens, it is midnight long past when the
final touch is put to the final Marchesa. The day’s work is over, but
Marrina does not go home to the tall house on the dusty road beyond
Porta Pila. She too must have her night’s recreation. Who would expect
the love of folly to be spent in a woman of that figure and those eyes,
even though her calendar count thirty birth-days? But after the gas-lit
night, the summer sunshine still comes back, bright and pure, and fresh
apple-blossoms blow beside _la pettinatrice’s_ home.



Fisher-Folk.


When the high road of the eastern Riviera has left the town behind
a space, and has even travelled clear of the last palaces without
the walls of the city of marbles—when it has crossed that tongue of
Albaro’s Hill that divides the waves, and, having left sea behind
in Genoa’s Bay, comes back to more sea that laps freely upon a free
and rocky coast—when it has coiled closely round corners and skirted
precipices for many a mile—it comes, on its way, across a little town
where the hills rise abruptly behind, and the orange groves are thick
around, and the villas of nobles lie sumptuously upon the shore.

There have been many little towns, scarcely larger than villages,
all along the road from Porta Pila, and many a lovely palace standing
in its garden and fruit-groves along the coast—so many, indeed, that
even a quarter of a mile has not been left untenanted by man-kind; but
Nervi is a prettier place than any of the other places since Albaro’s
villas were left behind. The hills that stand for background to it are
straight hills and fairly wooded, yet they are not the best features in
its beauty, for, excepting from the sea, no one has seen their shapes
impressively, so close do they rise, looking down upon the village.
Nervi’s loveliness is in her gardens, with the palms and pines that
grow there, and the stately palaces whose time-tinted marble walls
stand in the midst; it is in her lemon orchards and orange groves,
where the breeze blows laden with scent in the flowering time, and the
pale or golden fruit hangs heavily-gorgeous through the early spring
days; it is in her rocky beach, where the changing sea laps for ever
and is never the same, where fishers spread their nets, and children
wade and play, and the wonderful water-line is broken and perilous
because of the cloven rocks that lie guarding it.

The little straight street is not beautiful, though its barber and
dressmaker and its _Fabbrica di paste_ be indispensable to the dwellers
round about, and though dirty shops and tall houses, because strange,
have often been called picturesque; the Mediterranean lies hid from
Nervi’s street, and, when one is on the Riviera the Mediterranean is
the thing most powerful to charm. But, on the sea-shore, street and
barber and shops are forgotten. The sun gleams on white wave-crests
that temper the sea’s blue on some breezy spring day; the sun lies
scorching the weed-grown jagged rocks, the sloping slate rocks that
slide far down beneath water that grows green near shore; the sun
sweetens the oranges, and makes the flowers more luscious of scent,
and the fishermen lay their nets. Though Nervi is a village where rich
folk have their dwellings and marble steps lead down to the water for
bathing, there are hamlets near around, of poorly squalid mien and
strangest name, where fisher-folk live and fisher-children hunt crabs
and shell-fish in the bays.

Walking along the winding way that creeps round the lip of little
gulfs, and dives into dark crevices of crags—or along the way that,
being poised midway aloft upon the cliff some hundred feet above
the water, leads from Nervi to the fishing village of Bogliasco—you
might see Maso, perhaps, out at sea in his broad and tanned old boat,
spreading nets for the night’s fishery, or, further on, from off the
smoother shingle, Paolo pushing out upon the coming wave, with the
children standing by to help with shout and laughter, and the women
with parting joke or reproof.

May is near to her end now, and the long evenings make summer again.
The water is warm, because the sun has lain upon it all day, and blue
with a memory of the clouds overhead, that are paling now in the waning
lights. A golden glamour comes down upon the waves; the sun is near
to setting. Paolo stands in the sea, making ready to push off; his
brown, broad feet upon the yellow shingle are broader, but not browner,
beneath the green water that reaches to his knee where the striped hose
rolls up; the golden light strikes across his face on its way to the
bright group upon shore and to the bright spring green over the hill
beyond. He is a tall man and strongly built, but his face is battered
and seamed; they call him in the fishery ‘the furrowed one,’ but he
is liked well enough notwithstanding, and, truly, that careworn face
has a kindling eye and an honest smile. Paolo is a married man. That
mischievous urchin is his own first-born, who leans against the boat
with his calves in deep water—as the calves of the rising generation
are apt to be; his hard young hands are eager to help, his keen black
eyes look for the signal. And that is Paolo’s wife—that broad-hipped
woman with the full, free figure, who waits upon the beach with the
swaddled infant in one arm and the year-old boy clinging to her skirt;
all the other children play around, they are waiting to see father
away.

Now his ropes are coiled, his nets are in order; Gian-Battista has
arrived leisurely—Paolo’s lazy nephew, who helps in the fishery.
When his lighter skiff has also been made ready, two strong pairs of
hands—that nine-year-old boy helping lustily—start both old crafts out
to sea. Paolo leaps in swiftly, the oars are dipped, and the golden
sun sinks a little lower upon the horizon. ‘_Andiamo bambini!_’ calls
Maddalena shrilly, only she calls it in strangest dialect, to the
loitering children. And by the time she has dragged the younger and
driven the elder up the short, steep slope of beach on to the jagged
rocks beyond, that lie beneath the village, the boats have pulled a
mile out to sea, and Paolo has sunk his nets for the tunny fishery.

   [Illustration: PAOLO AT SEA.]

Some two hundred yards and more each of them spreads around; you may
see the little brown bobbins, that mark the circumference, float and
jerk up and down on the water as Gian-Battista spreads his end of
net, rowing across the marked space meanwhile; then the two boats
lie sentinels at either end, to guard their sacred surface from other
craft, and to watch for the haul. So when the time has come, and the
watching has been long enough, calling to one another across the space
with deep, loud voices that are tempered to softness as they travel
over the water, Paolo and Battista begin slowly to row towards the
net’s centre with the net’s ends fastened to their separate boats, and,
when they meet in the middle, the net’s mouth will have closed upon the
captured fish.

There are not many this time. When Battista has got into his
uncle’s boat, and when together, with cheery cry and many a passing
ejaculation, they have hauled in the great net, it is but a _cattiva
pesca_ that is the result of their evening’s labour. And the sun has
gone down now behind the purple clouds and beneath the waves; the
sea’s blue is dark, almost to blackness, as the night breeze creeps up;
Sestri’s coast can no longer be seen—scarce even the great promontory
that hides La Spezia from sight in the daytime. Yet further out to
sea they lay down the net again, and little lanterns have had to
be lighted in either boat, other lights and lanterns have been long
put out that glimmered faintly from the village ashore, before Paolo
and Battista row back again towards the rock-bound bay beneath the
cliff. But a dying memory of sunset from the west can still light
the boats homewards though the summer night be far advanced, and,
against the background of this dim and distant brightness, Paolo’s
tall figure stands taller than before as he waits, with forward foot
and well-poised body, upon the boat’s prow, till the shingle shall
grind beneath her keel, and it be time to leap out into shallow water
and pull her high upon the yellow beach. Maddalena’s shrill voice is
hushed, the children are all a-bed and the hearth swept up; but, if the
fire be spent, the fisher’s meal has not been forgotten by the fisher’s
wife; cold _polenta_, brown bread and chestnuts stand ready by the
settle, though the portly fishwife lies asleep whose work it will be to
bear the haul of tunny-fish to early market.

The morning dawns, pure and bright. Beneath the _pergolas_ of Bogliasco
cottages the sun is warm already, though night-dews lie wet still on
flowers and herbage. The blue water below laps but gently against the
gnarled rocks where it can dash at will so wildly, for the sea is calm
to-day under a tender sky. ‘It will be hot,’ fisher-wives say, ‘but
what will you have when June days are so near?’ Scarce a ripple stirs
the water surface, whose blue is as only the Mediterranean’s blue can
be when the sky is full of colour as now, and the sun is strong to
perfect and enhance. Paolo has been abroad betimes, and Maddalena is
already on her way to the fish-market with last evening’s produce; but
we, who have not cared to rise so early, will follow Maso this time,
who, having neither wife nor children, begins only to fish when the sun
is aloft.

Maso has not so handsome a fame as he who stood last night against the
sunset. In fact, he is an ugly man, for, besides a face that is brown
and weather-beaten, and pitted with the small-pox (as his nickname in
the village dialect would tell you), he has a short, wiry figure, that
for all its ease of movement cannot compare with the tall, spare grace
of his neighbour. Maso had wonderful luck with the _bianchette_, that
are a kind of whitebait, through the past month of April, and he had
a good net of anchovies some three days ago; but anchovies are not the
surest sport, and this morning he will lay for the sardines, as Paolo
has done. Maso has a little brother—a brisk, lithe little ragamuffin
of ten years, one of those who rarely have time for aught but mischief,
as his keen eyes would tell you; him he sends up on the hill for watch.
And while the two men—for the fishing is all done in couples, and Maso
has a comrade like the rest—while the men spread their nets just beyond
the rocks in the creek’s clear water below, Giannino’s bare feet have
climbed the hill where the stones were sharpest for his long toes to
cling to, and is squatting on the hot earth amid the thyme and the
flowers and beneath the grey-toned olives, between the frail network of
whose boughs those blue waves shine with fairest glory.

But Giannino notes none of the things of Nature; he is watching the
sardine shoals come on. Maso and the other have parted company in
their separate boats now; each is posted at an opposite side, with a
net’s end fastened to his skiff. And presently Giannino, from behind
the olive trees, sees a goodly company of little slim and silvery fish
making towards that very pool of clearest blue-green water, where the
cruel snare lies spread in the rock’s great shade. A silent signal
is enough to the fishers, who are watching for it, and the boats row
slowly centre-wards, till the net’s mouth has closed upon the dainty
prisoners. Silver and gold gleam in the sun’s own silver light, for the
little fish struggle pitifully amid those horrible meshes. It has been
a _buona pesca_ this time, and the brown and dingy coils are soon in
the boat, the spoil secured safely within the well. It is Nicoletta who
goes to market with the sardines; but not into town, only to Bogliasco,
where men and women buy the fish from the fishers, to take into Genoa.
Nicoletta is a spare and tanned little maiden, with brown feet and
ankles that have never known shoes or stockings; she is sister to Maso
and Giannino, but it is the latter she resembles in her wild, wiry
strength, for she, too, is something of a pickle!

The sun climbs the sky till its rays are so hot that even Riviera men
and women are fain to fly from it for an hour or so, while they eat the
_merenda_, and sleep their own calm sleep beneath the shadows of rock
or fig-tree. The olives shine silver-white in the fair beams that ripen
their fruit; aloes and palms flourish, broad pines are darkly green and
perfumed; in bays and upon burning rocks the colour-laden water ebbs
quietly. But at last the sun sets again, and in the evening’s cool,
fishers sink the lobster baskets in rock-bound pools of the coast,
where the water is nigh to blackness in its depth beside the cliffs.
Night is near, and the sea’s colour fades awhile with the last of the
sunlight.



Santa Margherita.


Santa Margherita is one of the many little towns which have gradually
grown up along the eastern Riviera, gathering themselves together
around the country palace of some _signore_, which, first, had been
built alone upon the shore, or springing up where, for convenience
sake, a little fishing hamlet had been set in creek or bay, until now
the whole of the coast line from Genoa to La Spezia is studded thickly
with the white walls and glistening roofs of human habitations. The
little place has had a station since the railroad has come this way—a
station of its own, and not one shared with another village, as some
of its neighbours, and one, too, at which all the trains must stop
which run during the day to Sestri. There was a great palace built up
here many years ago. I forget to what family it belongs, but it is a
stately pile, whose marble steps creep down to the water’s edge, and
on whose battered face the dim colours of ancient frescoes still show
quaintly through the dirt which has encrusted them. The _signori_ used
to come here for the sea-bathing, and perhaps it was in this wise that
the town of Santa Margherita came to be built. Nevertheless it is in a
fair position upon the coast, and it was probably a prosperous little
fishing village long before it could boast its stone pavements and
its piazza of now-a-days. The coast swerves in gently so as to form a
smooth and ample bay just where the town stands, and jutting out on
either side into the blue waves stand two promontories guarding the
gulf. To the right is Porto Fino, and, within the bay round the point,
a little village bears the name. It is so called from the many dolphins
which, near to that shore, sport in bevies beneath the clear water
quickly to disperse at the approach of a boat. ‘Fino,’ for shortness
and convenience sake, apparently can mean _delfino_.

Hills, graceful and undulating, clothed with many trees and watered by
many a cool stream, are set against the sky for background, and Santa
Margherita lies within their lap, sending the gayest houses to adorn
her front upon the coast. Buildings of any note belonging to the place
are but few—only the Campanile, which stands up tall against the hill,
and has some pretty colouring in the mosaic of its belfry, and one or
two decrepit old mansions belonging to the gentry of the neighbourhood.
The great palace of which we have already spoken stands upon a low hill
without the town; orange groves gather round and about it, and woods
where dark and spreading pines are set against the tenderer foliage of
chestnuts and arbutus: its white loggias and colonnades face the sea,
hung richly with creepers and vines. In the town there are many poorer
houses—most of them modern—tall and thinly built, with ill-designed
proportions, and gaudily coloured paintings nowise resembling the
frescoes of olden times. Along the façade of the town houses stand
closely wedged together whose windows are thickly studded up and
down, and hung with the white linen from which meaner habitations in
Italy are rarely unadorned. This is the most populous part of Santa
Margherita, and between these houses and the waters of the bay there
is only the paved street from whence steps lead to the higher part of
the town, the railway station and the fair country beyond. Here roads
branch out on all sides; one leads from behind the town, over the hill
to more towns and villages inland, another is hemmed by tall rows of
ilexes, and others again, less important, creep up the clefts of the
valley until they are lost in the woods, and only peep out again on
the barren crests of mountains, where pine trees alone stand as fringes
against the sky.

   [Illustration: VIEW OF SANTA MARGHERITA.]

Santa Margherita is but one of a hundred nooks along the Cornice from
Nice to La Spezia; the villages all breathe the same balmy sea air
and bask in the same sunshine, and wear the same garb of luxuriant
vegetation, of quaint picturesqueness, side by side with gaudy
vulgarity; and yet each has its own life, each is home, as no other
place can be to its citizens. Santa Margherita, like the rest, has its
full sum of incongruity. Squalid habitations that yet have something
of the grace of Italy, with their green shutters, large windows, and
marble mosaic floors, stand, in dirt and poverty, side by side with
stately palaces of olden time or with the pretentious structures
of modern architecture. And in the inhabitants is the same apparent
discord. Men and women who for years have been used to exact the homage
of their inferiors, live side by side with the lowest and the poorest
of the people, and, even more, with a perfect grace and courtesy;
ladies to whom fashion is a necessity, and excitement has become a
second nature, take a naïve pleasure in the pursuits and interests of
poor fisherwives, of _contadine_ cooking the porridge, or lace-weavers
at their pillow.

And nature is there to keep all this strange medley in countenance.
Down upon the beach, where the fishers stow their craft when the day’s
work is over at sea, and where the little dark-eyed children, ragged
and dirty, play in and out the nets upon the shingle, the wind blows
hot from off the great moving plain of the Mediterranean and the sun
shines heavily for many an hour upon the houses and groves and gardens
that are on the water’s level. Leave the town a space, and take one
of those roads which lead upward among the mountain valleys, and in
a little half-hour the face of nature seems subtly to have changed,
and her voice tells a different tale, while yet murmuring of the
sea which is near. The summer breeze is scarcely cooler or the sun’s
rays less powerful where they break between the large-leaved foliage
of the chestnuts, yet a sense of freshness creeps silently around,
vigour is in the flowers that grow, in the trees, in the water that
flows and ripples. Ferns are tall and waving upon the banks of little
rills and beside cascades, or frail and feathery growing between the
crevices of loose stone walls. Maiden-hair is there in profusion, and
hart’s-tongue and holly fern, besides many others. The ways are rough
and stony, sometimes losing themselves in what seems to be but a mere
water-course, sometimes steeply climbing the hills in tortuous coils;
but even these rough footpaths look upon fair valleys, and the pale
sky is spread out above them, till they reach the mountain’s summit
and wind round again upon its crown back towards the whispering sea.
And now you will enter upon the region of stone pines, and this is
the promontory of Porto Fino. The goodly trees rise up from out soft
earth, and their straight stems, with the curiously carved bark, stand
tall and erect, many feet on high, ere the branches begin gracefully to
strike out on the several sides. Then the boughs grow more forked and
multiply again, and still there are no leaves yet to be seen, only when
you look up from below you see that there is a great shade spread above
you, and that all those thickly matted branches are clothed and adorned
with the dark and sweet-scented foliage. Then you sit down, perhaps, in
the dreamy cool and the twilight of this forest—where the trees do not
need to be thickly set that they may throw their shadows densely—and
you breathe the heavy-perfumed air from the pines, while you hear from
afar the murmur of the sea. These pine trees can grow on the narrowest
ledges of soil that have found a place up the face of the cliffs, and
can yet stretch their branches far out over the waves, so that the most
barren edge of land by them is made beautiful and softened. And all
the time, perhaps, that you have been walking you have scarce caught
more than a far-off vision of the magic water. As you made a turn in
the road or climbed some little knoll on your way there came a sudden
picture before you of a brilliant colour, neither blue nor green nor
purple, such as you ever saw it before, framed in the stately branches
of the dark pines. And the sky is pale, and yet the sky, too, seems
pregnant with colour, and fathomless, and so the sea and the sky meet
in one. Then you dive down into a little dale again and into a lonely
glen, and the sea is away and the memory of it, only still mysteriously
its influence seems to be around. The village of Porto Fino lies to
your left, but far below upon the sea-shore. You must descend. The
pines still fringe the ridge of land, where it overhangs the water,
but now the vegetation will change. Little tufts and sprigs of divers
shrubs cling to the rock—myrtle—and gracefully twining sarsaparilla;
but green things are not abundant here, where strange boulders of rock
strike down into the sea, or lift up their great forms from its depths
a little way from the shore; and when the cape is rounded, and the
woods begin again, they are no longer pine plantations but sweeping
chestnut groves that drape the hill-side. There is a little shrine that
has been built upon the farthest point of the Porto Fino promontory.
On windy days the ‘Madonetta’ has bidden fair to be cast from her home
and hurled into the treacherous Mediterranean, for the gales rise up
suddenly on this coast, and I have seen the smiling waters wax dark and
livid in one short hour, dashing their waves in mighty billows upon
the rocks, and tossing their white foam far aloft. Then the dolphins
gather themselves in companies below the surface, and the ships are
fain to take refuge in one of the bays which nature has provided along
the coast. Of these Porto Fino is by far the best and largest for many
miles ahead. The harbour can hold even large ships, and is a constant
halting-place for the smaller craft which ply their trade along the
coast. Then the little fishing-smacks are forced to be moored upon the
beach, for the swell of the sea is heavy even in this sheltered bay.

So the footpath will have brought you down, curling round the cliff’s
front till you come where the chestnut woods are growing luxuriantly
above the shores of the little harbour. Porto Fino’s church is to the
right of the village, and above it. It is on the neck of the peninsula,
just where the land is narrowest, so that standing beside it some windy
day you can feel, on the one hand, from the turbid billows beneath, the
foam that dashes up against the rocks, and on the other you can see the
gentle heaving of the calmer waters in the little bay at your left. You
must needs pass the church as you make your way down to the village.
The way is steep, but it is paved, though the round stones are somewhat
hard and slippery. Porto Fino is a small place. There is a piazza upon
the shore whence the little pier juts out into the water, and around
which the houses are built in a square. They are poor dwellings most
of them, though one or two pink and yellow houses, with balconies,
suppose themselves to be charming summer residences for strangers.
The village is a fishing village, and therefore is pretty well huddled
together upon the shore; but there are a few cosier looking cottages in
the woods behind, where the lace-makers live; and the odds and ends of
the place have crept up into the valley or upon the slopes. There are
pleasure boats at Porto Fino, besides the fishing-smacks: though when
I say pleasure boats I have not in mind those dainty little craft which
are wont so to be called in fashionable watering-places, for these are
rough and dingy, and built, I doubt not, against all rules of modern
invention. Nevertheless, they are safe and comfortable, and swift
enough when pulled by two stalwart fishers. They will beset you as you
come out upon the piazza, these swarthy boatmen, and clamour loudly for
your favour. Then the boat will row you over the dark green waters of
the little bay out into the wide sea without, where the water is bluer
and less transparent; and when you have rounded the promontory and
skirted other little bays you will be back at Santa Margherita.



The Lace Weaver.


On the hill with crest that is fringed with stone pines, above Santa
Margherita’s town and harbour, Lucrezia’s grey cottage stands, with
thatched roof, among the trees. Olives are around her dwelling, for
it stands on the nether slopes, where the fir’s fragrance from above
scarce reaches; their fine branches and crooked stems rest traced upon
the sky, and into their grey tones fig-trees bring brighter green for
contrast, though brightest of all are the vines that twine beneath.
The blue-grey smoke curls above the green-grey trees, to show where the
lace-weaver lives; a rough spring flows freshly out of the earth beside
her cottage, with wooden trough to guide its stream into the brick
basin, and thence into the beans and potatoes of her garden; a rude
balcony flanks the house, a walnut tree shadows it over, a _pergola_
dims the light at the kitchen window; and the gourd-plants trail
beneath it on the ground, with ample golden flowers; carnations, side
by side with kitchen herbs, grow in a box upon the window-sill.

Lucrezia sits outside on the little terrace; the pear tree is white
with blossom, just opposite, and at the foot of many a sloping,
stone-hemmed garden, where green wheat waves and gladioli bloom
between, the sunny sea spreads far away and breaks white upon the
rocks; but her face is not raised to look, for before her is the
lace-pillow, and, while her fingers ply busily, her head is bowed, and
she softly rocks a cradle with her foot. Lucrezia is a young mother.
Last year, when the fruit was at the best and the fishing had been
good, she was married to Pietro of Santa Margherita, and the little
swaddled infant that sleeps at her feet is the first-born, who came
with the summer’s return this May-time. He has no features to boast of
yet, and his legs and arms are tightly bound with swathing bands, but
Lucrezia thinks him truly fair nevertheless, nor minds the piteous wail
with which he will shortly break in upon her deftest bit of labour. She
is a comely woman, but beautiful rather with the recollection of other
beauty—the beauty of past generations—than perfect in her own person.
She is dark and tall and straight, with square, broad shoulders and
ample bosom; her hair is almost black, her eyes are grey, her skin is
bronzed and slightly freckled, her mouth is wide, and the teeth within
it white and even; the hands that weave and twist amid a labyrinth of
threads are coarse and large, though seemly shaped; the foot upon the
cradle’s edge is no dainty foot, for it has grown hard upon the hard
stones, and tanned with the sun, and soiled with the world’s work of
every day. Neither _contadine_ nor fisherwives waste their scant pence
on shoes and stockings.

   [Illustration: _The Lace Weaver._

   While her fingers ply busily, her head is bowed, and she
   softly rocks a cradle with her foot.]

Lucrezia plaits her white threads swiftly—so swiftly that you might
almost see the pattern growing beneath her fingers, though it is
no simple design that she weaves thus from memory, but an elaborate
arrangement of groundwork and spray and border, that go to make the
width most used for flounces. The wooden bobbins clap together merrily
when Lucrezia thus nimbly twists and crosses threads over the pink
pillow’s surface. She is crooning a lullaby to the bandaged _bamboccio_
the while, and nearly mars the use of it by the loud peals of laughter
that Maria’s conversation provokes, who sits idling on the cottage
door-step.

‘Marry? I wouldn’t marry for worlds, and have to work as you’re working
now,’ declares decisively that one who is yet a spinster. ‘What man
is worth it? For me, I like to amuse myself—in the way one should,
of course! _Santa Vergine!_ you’re always at it! If you’re not at the
lace-pillow, you’re with the fish to market or down in the villa round
the _tomate_ and the herbage! And then that marmot of yours! It’s one
thing to dandle him a bit for you when you’re up to Santa Margherita
on an errand, but to have a thing like that of one’s own——! Not for
me!’ ‘Go to!’ laughs Lucrezia. ‘And that young man of Camogli that I
know of?’ ‘And that young man—and that young man! What young man, and
what’s he to do with me?’ simpers the maid. ‘All very fine,’ replies
the married woman, with a giggle so loud that Ernesto gives an ominous
whine, and would probably move his limbs were they not so well secured,
‘that will _he_ know better than I for a surety!’ And she rocks
the cradle faster, and begins to croon afresh, till the pins on the
pillow want shifting forwards, and Maria so far recovers her gravity
as to continue, ‘You are always up to your jokes, you! But tell me a
little—wilt teach me the lace-making if I have the patience to learn?
It’s the only way for us poor girls to earn a pair of ear-rings, I
suppose.’ ‘Dear heart, you would never have patience,’ says Lucrezia.
‘A fisher-girl like you! Why, your hands are rough from the oar, and
you’d never sit still a little half-hour. It’s bad enough for me, who
have been used to it since I was twelve years old!’

A portion of the pattern gets finished off at this point, and Lucrezia
casts a handful of threads aside—the threads that have twined one kind
of weft for sprays—and takes up a new set to fill in the ground with.
She has had a good day’s work, has been at the pillow at least five or
six hours, and has completed nearly _mezzo palmo_ of flounce, which is
about five inches. If she were not the nimblest worker in all Santa
Margherita’s vicinity, she could never make as much lace as this in
the whole twelve hours, and yet the Genoa shops will scarcely pay her
more than a franc for the piece she has done, weaving since daybreak,
till now that it is time to cook the _cena_. Indeed, if hers were not
the best and smoothest made lace to be had along that shore, Lucrezia
would not even earn as much. It is not without some reason that to
Maria’s remark about its being the best means of gain for a woman, she
answers, but curtly, ‘You believe it? Listen to me rather; that you,
who have hard hands and slow wits, and the patience only of a spirit in
purgatory, you would not make half a franc with your day at the pillow!
Even the glove-sewing would suit you better, though ’tis but a poor
trade! Take to yourself that young man of Camogli, and go in peace! He
has a house above his head, and you are fit for nothing so well as to
sell his fish for him at Santa Margherita, and harvest his wheat and
his olives.’

Lucrezia rises to stretch her arms, for the shadows are creeping longer
and a filmier light dims the sun’s dazzle on the bay. It will be time
to pare the potatoes and wash the rice for _minestra_, though, on
second thoughts, she has a mind to cook some _polenta_—that is quicker
done, and just as acceptable for a second meal. Maria’s gossip must end
for this time. She, too, has a _cena_ to make ready at home for the
men, and Lucrezia has enough to do now, for, just when the pot wants
putting on—that bundle in the cradle begins to wail, of course! ‘It’s
always so,’ laments she plaintively, but the mother’s heart cannot
find it within to be cross, though she must rake the fire with one hand
while holding the infant to her breast with the other.

The first-born’s woes are stilled, supper simmers over the burning
logs, in the light of whose flames Lucrezia’s copper vessels shine
brightly on the smoke-tarnished walls; without, the sunlight has faded,
and grey clouds cross the west. ‘We shall have a storm to-night,’ muses
she on the terrace, looking seawards with her back to the road, and to
the chestnut-woods behind her olive trees. Truly, the blue waves are
sadder-coloured than before and begin to wear white feathers on their
bosoms. A wind moves in the grey branches overhead, and rustles more
noisily amid the broader-leaved chestnuts behind; on the hill’s crest
it is sighing beneath the stone pines. ‘Pietro will surely not go to
the fishing this night,’ says she, half aloud; and she turns to fetch
the copper cauldron to fill at the spring.

Some one is coming through the chestnut wood that lies away from
the sea—a lady. Is it one of the ladies from the _palazzo_ on Santa
Margherita’s beach? Yes—good Virgin—it is indeed, and the same one
who bought lace of her last week! What a good fortune, for a private
customer buys at double the price offered at Genoa shops. ‘Your
servant,’ says she modestly, but without a curtsey—that is not the
way with our _contadine_; yet her manner is none the less respectful.
‘A fair evening to you, my good girl,’ replies the town dame in the
high singsong that is special to Genoese dialect, and different from
the Venetian twitter or the deep Milanese chest notes. She is not
alone—a tall man attends her, dressed after a supposed English mode,
as for the country; he is chestnut-haired, and would call himself
_biondo_, or fair, spite of his skin’s colour; that is why he affects
the English style, and he too says a gracious ‘_Felice sera_’ to our
Lucrezia, because she is a comely woman. She meanwhile, standing beside
the fountain with her hand resting on the copper bowl to steady it,
gazes with appreciating eyes on the lady’s elegant attire, who says
presently to the swain beside her, ‘It will rain, I think—it behoves
to go quickly home;’ then to the _contadina_ whose vessel has filled
the while at the trickling spring, ‘Have you any more lace of that sort
that I bought last time?’ ‘Come up the steps beneath the _pergola_,
dear lady, and I will show you what I have,’ replies Lucrezia, frankly,
but with no curtness as the words might imply. And she heaves the
water-vessel to her head, which must first be replaced in the kitchen,
whence she then brings two nicely dusted rush chairs for the _signori_.
_La marchesa_ sits down, asks a question about the prospects of grape
and olive harvest, speaks a word to the now wakeful _bambino_, and
handles black and white lace while the fair-haired gallant leans
against the stone parapet and smokes and gives valuable opinions on
stitch and pattern and quality.

Lucrezia has a handsome store of completed lace—of course, some
of it is promised to the shop, but what matter? No one can quicker
invent a suitable lie for the shopwoman, should the _marchesa_ take
a fancy to any special piece. There are lengths of all widths, in
flounce, and edge, and insertion-lace; there are scarves and shawls,
and parasol covers, and every kind of female adornment that is in
fashion, whether suited to this special kind of _guipure_ trimming
or no. Lucrezia’s lace is the finest made in the neighbourhood, but
even hers is no fine and precious kind. True, in olden times the
Riviera girls used to make a straight-edged and thin-threaded lace
that was worthier the name, but, for this long time past, florid
designs and Maltese stitches have come into vogue, and now we have
nothing but _guipure_ made along the shores. _La marchesa_ buys her
five metres of heavy-weighted black silk flouncing, in which kind the
loose-woven patterns show to best advantage, and when she has bargained
a while over it, and laughed and talked friendly with Lucrezia, it is
discovered suddenly by all three that the rising blast has lashed our
blue sea’s waters into swelling and breaking billows, and that the
storm is overhead. Dark clouds hasten across the sunset, and the rain
begins to drop. ‘_Misericordia!_’ says the lady. For the square pink
palace looks a long way off. She is fain to take the shelter of the
lace-weaver’s shady kitchen, that is now gracefully offered, and to
blacken her dainty slippers on the square brick hearth and listen to
the first-born’s wail till the rain have ceased to water the garden,
and the wind to turn up the olive leaves’ white linings, till the
worst of the storm be over, in fact, though waves still dash white
spray on black and cloven rocks in the bay, and the sunlight be blotted
out for good this day. But Pietro has good news on his return to the
cottage; the fishing has been good this broken weather, and Lucrezia
has good news, too—she has sold five _metri_ at an honest price to the
_marchesa_ of the great palace.



Il Manente.

The Husbandman.


At Camogli, where the stone-pines adorn the cliff’s edge, and burthen
even the fresh sea-breeze with their strange and heavy sweetness—at
Camogli, that is built beside the waves, and that has the quaint
harbour where fishers dwell, there are many new houses for gentlefolk
to live in, and one or two old ones for old families to whom they
belong; and these well-worn palaces stand on their own lands, beside
their own fig-trees, and beneath pines of their own planting. Such
things are at Camogli, and even at Recco, though Recco is a little town
with church and streets, not so picturesque by half as the thriving
fishing village—such city memories are at both these places because
they lie beside the sea, and because from homes and lodgings in their
midst people can easily spend the half of their summer days in the
water.

But at Ruta there are not many fine houses for city folk, and not even
many old palaces, for Ruta is up on the hill with the land-breezes
behind it, that come through clefts and valleys, and the sea-scent
in front of it that must travel across vineyards and up corn-covered
terraces to get there. Yet there is a broad, smooth, carriage-road from
Recco to the village on the hill—that same old road along which many a
traveller of many a nation has come in the days when the railroad was
yet unmade, of which many another has heard tell because of its beauty;
for Ruta stands on the way that used to be the highway from Genoa to
La Spezia. And besides this wide and dusty one, there is another path
by which you may reach the village that I mean—a path that strikes off
from Camogli’s gayest front, to wind steeply up the hill when once it
has left Camogli’s church behind; a rough foot-path, whose sides are
hemmed with low stone walls, and upon which other loose stones roll
perilously. It is the way that the _manenti_ take when they come in
the sunrise hours to Camogli with their market goods, and carry fish up
again that has been bought on the shore with their morning’s earnings,
for Ruta lies crowning the valley that is called in Genoa and on the
Riviera the valley of fruit; and, though nobles of old did not build
their palaces so far from the sea, any more than town-folk of to-day,
all of them are glad enough of the fruit that grows better where the
shade is, and where dry sea-breezes are not so prone to wither.

Giovanni’s villa lies on the western side of the hill, and looks to
the sunrise. He is an old man, his hair is whitening fast and his
hands are wrinkled and horny, his face is seamed; though so tall and
strong a frame scarce will have need to stoop yet a while. But for
all he has been on the ground, pruning the vines and the fruit-trees,
and tilling the soil these many years, Giovanni has rarely yet had
occasion to grumble much at his land’s produce, though neighbours do
tell him oftentimes the place lies with an unprofitable aspect. The
terraced fields and little plantations where he grows the maize and
peas and fine asparagus in season, lie one above another in patches, on
the steep, with the rising ground behind to shield them from untoward
winds, and the sun full to their front; and beyond, where the hill
curves round to westward, his cherry trees and pear and plum trees
grow, with peach and almond trees between for a good sprinkling, and
aloes faintly grey and stiff on the rocky wall above; silver-lined
olive-leaves wave from knotted boughs where wheat grows, with gladiolas
blooming in its midst; fig trees spread widely, and vines twine around
wildly wherever there is room amongst all the cultivation: truly,
Giovanni has no need to complain.

The old _manente_ lives lonely; he has few friends so close as
the crops and the fruit-gathering that he labours so fondly for.
The tender-leaved lettuce and early asparagus are more to him than
neighbours, and the ripening of the red tomatoes is of keener interest
than anything that happens in the village, for the weather-worn man has
none at home to care for him: his wife is dead, and, of his children,
the sons are about the world, fishing at sea, and selling _pasta_ in
Genoa; the daughters are well married in distant towns and villages. It
is better so; and to heave the pickaxe in the upturned field, to train
the vines while thinking on Marrina’s last-born babe or on Pietro’s
success a-board the merchant vessel, is dearer to the husbandman’s
heart than the sound even of loved voices around his hearth.

The day is a July day; the wheat is waving yellow and near to the
harvesting; the melons have ripened well, and it is a good year for
all the fruit; the peaches have even been so many that _manenti_ have
given them away in baskets-full. Fine and tender spring crops have
had their day, and it is over. This is the full time when nature is
the most lavish—not a time of sharpest interest, perhaps, but the
husbandman joys in his reward. It will be a good vintage, and the green
autumn figs crowd thick on their trees’ branches; they are swelling
fast, and will streak their soft green skins ere long with pink, as
they come to full maturity. People say there will be a falling-off
in the chestnut-harvest on the other hand, but that matters less to
this _manente_ of whom I write, because his riches are greater in
olive-woods.

Giovanni has been to Camogli this early morning already, and he is an
old man, but he means to go to Rappallo in the forenoon yet. ‘Fair
Madonna, and it is the old ones must work whether they will or no,’
says he to neighbours who greet him on the steep and stony way, with
some comment on his toil; ‘the young have all gone to the devil,
and to the city trades; what would the soil do if it weren’t for us,
whose bones are oiled to the labour?’ But though he fret and fume a
bit now and then, if truth were told, Giovanni would ill brook even
a day’s idleness! What if the path be bad, and the burthen on an old
man’s shoulder makes the sweat to steal down his brow? Do not the
fig-leaves cast broad shadows where one sits awhile on the flints by
the roadside to rest, and is it not consolation enough to note how
the fruit waxes full, and how the olives are rich in berries? Besides
even at three hours after dawn, when Giovanni was climbing the hill
again from market, dews were still moist and breezes fresh off the sea
from behind; it is of a hot sultry night, or with a fierce midday sun
overhead, that one fears the mount a bit, and wearies of the secret
stillness amid trees, or of the silver dazzle on that blue sheet, of
Mediterranean that one leaves behind and below. No one can say that
in Ruta there is a hardier labourer than the _manente_ who rents the
larger portion of his villa from those silk-mercers of Genoa—owners of
the white house on the ridge. It is sale-time and profit-time now; and
though Giovanni may silently love the season best that is for tilling
and sowing and reaping, it is not he who will shrink from any day’s
work. Just an hour to eat the breakfast that a little neighbour’s wench
will have prepared him, who comes in from hard-by to do such jobs at
a modest price, just another little half-hour to go the dearly-loved
round of his property and pluck more fruit and herbs for the new
market, just a grim jest or two with the children of the _signori_
from the house, who frolic around and get many a handful of garden
spoil—then Giovanni is away again, for Rappallo is a bit of way off,
and one must be there not too late at the _stabilimento_, or others
will have gotten the custom.

The sun glitters on the pale sea that is down and away a mile or
more, beyond the sloping fields and gardens, and the dipping valley.
Giovanni’s villa is above that part of Ruta’s village lying along the
roadside, above the church too, and close upon the bend of a path that
turns away from the sea into turf and chestnut woods; nevertheless,
he keeps a hold on the great white water still, and can look over the
valley that is rich of careful cultivation, can see churches standing
cypress-guarded, and palaces where the land drops shore-ward—can see
as much, and even more, of the sea-view than they can from the top
windows of the old tavern in the village, where carriage-folk used to
stop when carriages were many along the highway, and Ruta was a place
for the horses to bait at and _vetturini_ to feed at, while their
_signori_ got dinner on the terrace beneath the vines. For all he never
remembers thinking of it, Giovanni would not like to have his back to
the sea, not though it dazzle old eyes, even from far, as it dazzles
them to-day, for no clouds have come up to make walking lighter beneath
a burthen by the time Giovanni shoulders his fruit-baskets anew and
comes down the steps upon the high road. The church bells ring a chime
as he passes, and Maria, the _pedona_ who sells eggs, comes down the
paved way behind to go to Rappallo as well. She is a woman of years,
and fit to join company with Giovanni, to whom her tongue can wag
none the less fast for his economy of response. The old _manente_ is
a heavy-jawed and tough-hided specimen of _contadino_; one can see
at a glance his words will be few, but Maria’s chatter flows not the
less merrily because his deep-set eyes show no sign, and the wrinkles
that strew his ancient face do not let themselves be displaced into
smiles. Maria is an old woman in whose yellow cheeks the lines seem
to have no rhythm, so purposeless is she; but every seam on the old
husbandman’s countenance is as though set there by careful length of
living. Striking into the tunnel that, just outside of Ruta’s village,
covers the roadway, Maria turns to hurl a neighbourly jest after the
girl whom they have met driving a donkey from some distant market.
A sapphire-coloured morsel of sea lies behind a frail-foliaged aspen
tree—lies framed in the green of shrubs that grow around the grotto’s
mouth; a long, broken water-line hems the land that fondly goes out in
crags and points to meet it, and puts forward her fairest vegetation
to fringe the border; in the farthest distance the sea seems to creep
into wider bays, and the cliffs to grow less, and the water margin
straighter, till a mist gathers into shape, and holds dim white roofs
and tall spires and domes within its folds where Genoa lies away to
westward. Giovanni, standing with head bent beneath a burthen, Maria,
with shrunken face and forehead bound about with crimson kerchief, have
this and more before them as they linger a space out of the sunlight,
but neither notes skies and seas so familiar, for Rappallo is yet
a long way off. ‘The _parroco_ of San Martino has got to manage now
without that serving-woman of his that he thought so much of,’ says
Maria, as they step out into the cooler shadow on the grotto’s other
side. ‘Did you know it? The foolish thing is going to marry! No husband
will be what _that_ old master was to her. Yes—yes, poor holy man!—the
feasts coming on, too, and he who scarcely knows where to lay hand
on his own canonicals unless she’s by. And as for the sacred wafers,
who, indeed, will see to them?’ Giovanni’s comment is but a suppressed
murmur as he turns to look towards the priest of San Martino’s Church,
whose spire lies up against a chestnut-mantled hill to left. The green
is the brighter green of inland foliage here, for even olives are
scarcer to mingle their silver-grey tones; hills lie behind and beside
one another, and turf is fresh beneath these shadier woods, rills
trickle and flowers grow; the Mediterranean’s memory is forgotten for
a while, and the hot, grey aloe plants and Indian figs give place to
gorse bushes and mountain ash. Giovanni tramps forward steadily, and
both man and woman have soon left the few tall houses of _negozianti_
behind, that have been built on this side the archway by those who
prefer land to sea breezes for change from town. And Maria beguiles the
way with many a tale about these same _negozianti_, till, rounding a
point in the smooth high road, Giovanni pauses to rest his burthen upon
the wall just where the way turns to right again and, with mountains
and chestnut-clad hills behind it still, looks forward once more upon
the blue, sunny sheet of the sea. Figs, and aloes, and olives grow
again by the roadside with vines between, and here the chestnut-woods
flourish beside them as well, and dark cypress trees crown the long
crests of hills to the front. So now, as the old people walk, the
sea draws ever nearer again if a bend in the road hide it sometimes
from view; but the mountains are not left behind all the same, nor
the chestnuts shorn for other culture, and, when they reach Rappallo,
a river winds about it, and mountains guard it, in whose cleft the
town lies; greenest woods girdle it round, though its front be spread
beside the waves, and the _stabilimento_ be aptly enough placed for
the bathing. Maria sells her new-laid eggs for the summer visitors,
Giovanni has disposed of green herbs and melons enough; but the one
lingers to return with the sunset cool, and the other hastens back
betimes to the village that is his home, and to the _villa_ that reaps
all his labours and his fondest affections.

   [Illustration: _The Husbandman._

   And Maria beguiles the way with many a tale, till, rounding
   a point in the smooth high road, Giovanni pauses to rest his
   burden upon a wall.]



La Donna di Casa.

The Country Housekeeper.


Portofino’s bay lies calmly blue beneath a morning sky: the sun shines,
and its glamour is set upon dainty ripples of restless sea, where the
Mediterranean sways and washes without a quiet harbour. The Villa C——
stands to westward, with face set seaward toward Sestri’s opposite
shore, and terrace built inward over the bay. It was a fortified castle
once upon a time, long ago, when battles were fought along the coast,
and Genoa was a great maritime power; the castle’s battlements are
there still, built down into the rock that lies sunk in the waves;
around their base aloes and sweet thyme cling to barren soil, and upon
their crown a modern dwelling-house has grown into shape, with windows
that see the water a hundred feet below, and a patch of terrace-garden
growing upon scant mould, between the old walls of the fortifications.
A goodly fig-tree finds room spite of scant space, and spreads wide
boughs into the castle’s very windows, with fresh big leaves upon them,
and luscious fruit thick between; the gate is to the hinder side,
looking inland, and, when you find its mouth in the hill-side among
the olives, dank and rugged stone steps will lead you within the house,
and through the house out again on to that terrace upon the battlements
that is sea-framed.

Here lived Teresa years ago when the Villa C—— belonged to an old
Genoese _marchese_ of lone life and bachelor ways, and Teresa is the
country housekeeper. Her master is her pride, her pet, and her slave;
she scorns the _negoziante_ class who can grow rich in a trice, and buy
a title, too, since the year 1848! She would tell lies, white or black,
for an old family’s honour; day and night her simple soul schemes
to uphold, amid poverty, the traditions of a race for whom she has
lived alone these twenty years; the coronet of the house of C—— is the
fairest of all in her eyes, and there is no place, though ruined, like
Portofino Castle and Portofino Bay.

And here Teresa is right. Leaning upon the fortification’s old wall
before the front windows—that wall that holds the terrace I have told
of, looking around on this sun-lit summer morning that I call to mind,
scarce anyone would grumble at Teresa’s verdict. To westward Genoa
is hid from sight because of many rocks and promontories that seek
the waves, and are pine-fringed and clad with olives; towards the
sun-rising a near point—the other of the harbour’s arms, of which our
Castle’s pedestal is one—hides neighbouring clefts of the shore, but
further on a space, the bays seem to sweep inland with larger curves,
and from the point of Portofino Cape many creeks, big and little, go
together at last to make the one great gulf that curves round again
to Chiavari and Sestri, lying opposite. The blue waves sway softly to
and fro with the sun’s glitter on their bosoms; the sky is pale and
calm in the heat; white sails and yellow mark the horizon and link
sea and sky in the nearer foreground; round shapes of hills along the
coast lie languidly to right and left, for the coming heat has sent
a white mist before it. This is all looking seaward; from beneath
the fig-tree or from off the hindermost wall of battlement you might
see that gentle slopes or steeps are around, to girdle the bay—that
vineyards and rich cultivations adorn them, that olive and fruit trees
shade their sides, that green turf springs near the water, and aloes
and house-leeks upon the rocks. And Portofino’s tiny town lies around
the head of Portofino’s harbour; this also you can see from off the
battlements of Villa C——, can even hear the sound of children’s voices
from off the stone-paved piazza—fisher-children, who play around the
beach and the little pier—or the harsher tones of women calling and
men in argument. Where the land heaves inward and the slopes climb up
into hills, chestnut trees grow in place of olives and aloes, and the
turf is more mossy beneath them, for streams flow there, on whose brink
ferns and the maiden-hair flourish. Looking across the tranquil blue
bay, to the hill and cliff over against us, other villas stand up on
the green background—where other old families live or have lived with
other country housekeepers. And of these our Teresa is strangest and
best of all. Watch her now, with Maso the fisher, as she stands in the
shadow of the Castle wall, with face set towards that inland aspect
that is green with luxuriant vegetation. No silk gown, white apron and
sober cap are here the badges of responsible service. Though Teresa’s
power be absolute and her position in the household invulnerable, she
has rough work to do and wears no stockings to her feet, while her
gown is but of homespun linen, her plaited, grey locks are uncovered,
and no collar shields a throat that is open to the sun within an amber
kerchief. But it is in her strange, strong face that she wears all the
dignity of her office. Seamed though it be with gathering years and the
labour of life, individuality is set in its every wrinkle, and power
in the massive chin, swelling nostrils and heavy brow, while in the
keen, black eyes youth’s fire is not yet quenched. Maso is afraid as he
stands, leaning with curly, dark head against a cherry tree, for ‘And
you think you can pass off your nasty tunny fish on me,’ screams the
tall, old woman! ‘And you would like to get _soldi_ from the _marchese_
for what you can’t sell elsewhere, I don’t doubt! Go to, ill-educated
man that you are! Sardines for the master’s dinner I will have, if
you fish for them even at this hour!’ And Teresa’s palms are poised
defiantly on her broad hips, her tall and powerful frame sways with
agitation. Maso laughs, but his laughter is timorous, and quickly he
turns to run lightly down the hill with the scorned contents of his
basket. ‘Yes, yes; you may well run, for back again you need to be in a
quarter of an hour, mind you!’ calls the housekeeper in his wake. ‘It
is a little fast day, and the _marchese_ eats _magro_, and requires
the fish! Truly it seems impossible,’ continues she, using this
favourite ejaculation as she comes slowly up again, and round the outer
battlements to the brick-paved kitchen! Its deep-set windows look down
the castle wall, and down the steep rock into the sea; the sunlight
streams through them to flicker the rough floor over, and noting this,
that tells the time of day, ‘Up, and quick, you lazy wench!’ calls
Teresa sharply to the gaunt help-woman who slaves at her orders. ‘The
_Signor padrone_ will be home presently, and no breakfast cooked, and
that linen yet to wring out! Come, lend me a hand!’ So the shirts of
the marquis being hung out to dry on the castle turret, in company with
sundry sheets and aprons, the crumpled-featured woman falls to fanning
the charcoal fire with a feather screen, whilst Teresa chops fine herbs
for the master’s daily omelette. ‘Here he is now,’ mutters she half
crossly, as a heavy footfall climbs the stone stair, and, bustling
into the forecourt that is open to the terrace by an archway, she
begins to set out two-pronged forks and blunt knives on a coarse linen
tablecloth for the meal. The _marchese_ always eats in this middle
court, whence he can see his pots of carnation and sweet geranium-leaf
on the terrace, and get a glimpse of the sea behind the leaves of the
fig-tree across the arch; but the housekeeper oftentimes scolds at him
for not using the _salotto_ in preference, which is dark and dirtily
furnished; here, in the hall, the coarse oaken table and carved oak
press stand alone with a few rush-seated chairs on the brick floor, and
are nowise adequate, in Teresa’s eyes, to her master’s high lineage.
He comes slowly, he is a man of somewhat sad countenance—dark, and
pale, and fat. He wears a limp, long frock-coat now, but soon changes
it for a many-coloured dressing-gown, while keeping the flower-worked
smoking-cap still that Nina, his pretty niece, made for him last New
Year. ‘I have fairly hunger,’ says he somewhat glumly to the old woman,
glancing at the scarce-spread table. ‘So much the better,’ replies
this one; ‘_vossignoria_ will eat with the keener appetite!’ ‘It is
near to eleven,’ murmurs he again, but would not venture closer than
this towards a reproof to the all-powerful _donna di casa_. Teresa
condescends to no reply; but, when she has placed the white-wine flask
beside plate and knife and fork, and has retired into the kitchen to
put the omelette on the fire, some sense of justice, perhaps, compels
her to deal sharp words again to the drudge, and this is the only
effect of the _padrone’s_ mild displeasure! But the omelette is good,
and the _funghi_ are better than yesterday’s, so when the _marchese_
has eaten a mouthful he is content to obey Teresa’s summons on the
terrace that he may see a white-sailed schooner pass across the
offing well in sight. ‘There will be ugly weather to-night,’ remarks
the woman. ‘No, I think not,’ replies he, thinking of an unfinished
tumbler of Monferrato. ‘_Vossignoria_ is not always right, however!
It is not the fishers who will make so sure of fine weather because
the sun shines in heaven and the sea is blue! Wait and see if they
moor not their boats high on the beach before evening!’ ‘May be,’ says
the _marchese_ mildly, and returns to his breakfast, while Teresa,
approaching that other turret over the harbour, sends a cry out of
good lungs to the fisherman coiling ropes in a boat below. It is Maso,
who has not sent the fish. His answer comes travelling up through the
olive trees, betwixt and above whose boughs the jewel-blue water lies
cool in the heat, and deeper-coloured where a rim of midday shadow
is around each brown old boat. ‘We have taken a “sea-serpent!”’ calls
Maso again, and Teresa hastens within with this piece of news, for the
capture of these dog-fish is an event, even if the sight of a shark
or a monster cuttle-fish be a matter of yet more thrilling interest
because of rarer occurrence. ‘What will _Vossignoria_ take for dinner?’
asks the housekeeper when the tale has been told. And after a moment’s
pause for the reply that well she knows the _marchese_ dares not give,
‘You have a miserable portion of sardines,’ continues the autocrat,
having been through this daily mockery of humility, ‘the half of a
boiled fowl—which well the priests allow on a half-fast day, having
but the health you have—two potatoes, and a filled tomato with a fry to
finish.’ ‘_Benissimo!_’ says the _marchese_, as he has said every day
these twelve years, and then he knows he has ordered his dinner.

   [Illustration: THE MARQUIS AND HIS HOUSEKEEPER.]

It is evening and—in the boat that has lain gently swaying in the
harbour all day, beneath a pink awning—the _marchese_ takes his nightly
row. The dolphins, whence Portofino has its name, sport around the
prow, but soon they gather in companies, and sink safely low beneath
the sea’s surface, for Teresa was right after all, and there is a storm
brewing behind the sunset. The _marchese_ comes within doors with the
clothes that hung a-drying, for the rain-drops begin to fall. The boats
are moored high, the waves gather white crests over the darkening blue.
Even in Portofino’s land-locked harbour that is the safest on all the
coast, the waters that were as smooth as glass begin to swell a little
with the rush of the sea from without; they are blue still from far,
and green from off a boat’s prow, but they are duller beneath the
grouping clouds than they were in the searching sunlight. Teresa does
not mind, for did she not prophesy that bad weather was blowing up?



Bathing Time.


The blue Mediterranean with warm and buoyant waters laps and breaks
around Italy’s peninsula, and Italy’s people are none the less fond
of their fair and treacherous sea than we of our greyer and more
boisterous Atlantic, even though theirs leaves them no passage
northward into other lands, nor binds them about with her waves.
Long ago, even so long ago as in the time of the first great Romans
of the Republic, Italians loved the shores of their land, and would
flock thither from the middle countries to breathe the stronger, if
not always fresher, sea-breeze, and to rest and revel in the clear
waters of ebbing waves. Many fashions have changed since then, but
that one still holds good. From inland towns people fly to the smooth
beach, or the rocky, of their sea’s landmark when hot August days are
heavy; scarce a family even of the hindermost nobility—and in Italy,
as is well known, this nobility is only the country’s gentry—but has
some kind of dwelling, good or bad, upon some portion of the shore.
Even seaport town people seek the mountains less readily than some
village on the coast which they have seen all their lives, for, though
briny breezes from off these inland waters can never be invigorating
as those that travel across the Atlantic, Italians have none the
less fond a belief both in them and in the soft waves wherein they
delight to plunge. And of all the sea-loving people of the south
the people of Genoa are best at the sport. Crowds seek the Lido at
Venice, bathing-houses are built into the waves, music plays and fine
water-costumes are there displayed. The rich and pleasure-loving of
all nations ply this summer pastime busily at Nice, but none of them
know the sea as do they of the quieter Riviera haunts; none of them can
leap from sharp rocks to cut the green surface, none can dive and swim,
and brave risks of dolphin and cuttle-fish, sometimes even of sharks,
as can the dwellers on the rocky coast where no smooth sands help the
timid ones.

All along the coast on Genoa’s either side habitations crowd the
earth; palaces, time-worn and soiled or new and gaudy, for the rich;
tall and thin and straight houses with small rooms and many storeys
for the class of the _negozianti_ and _artisti_; everybody must do
the ‘Season of the Baths’ somehow. Quarto, Quinto, Nervi, Bogliasco,
not to speak of Albaro nearer town, and then Sori, Recco, and best of
all, Camogli, where the stone pines grow in a fringe along the hill’s
ridge—everywhere there are houses in flats, with apartments to let;
everywhere cottages stand beside palaces or behind _stabilimenti_,
so that all classes should have room equally. The proprietors of
villa Franchi, villa Crosa, villa Gropallo, and many more, come in
elegant summer attire or in economical costumes, to recruit ‘_in
villeggiatura_’ and to bathe and dive and swim in waters that lap the
beach of their own domains. _La signora Friuli_, who has many children,
and whose husband is in the _Pasta_ trade, comes from the fifth storey
of a house in the narrow town street to wear out her own old clothes
and to send the children shoeless on to the beach of Camogli, whence
one and all dip in the mild blue sea. A terraced hill rises behind
Camogli’s picturesque harbour, with its fisher-huts; the hill is
cultivated with wheat patches and little potato fields, for it belongs
to the old palace that stands below, whose walls, once fresco-painted,
are now so weather-stained. But the cultivation is of a desultory
nature, and the olives are its best harvest, of which the small,
sturdy trees stand over the terraces with gnarled trunks and twisted
branches. Following the path that leads up to the flat of a ridge, you
can reach pine-plantations, where dark and widely-spreading trees stand
in the soft earth on the cliffs’ edge and on the side also where inland
scenery comes in sight, with church-steeples and houses dotted over
a valley’s expanse. The faint, heavy perfume of tropical vegetation
hangs around, pine-dust lies thick and slippery on the ground, paths
wind about, laurel bushes grow beside them, and, though the western
slope look towards mountains, the hill’s crest rests over against the
sea again. Waves lap far below, where cloven rocks and smooth rocks and
peaked rocks are sunk in the sand for ramparts; waves swell gently for
miles in front, more waves of clouds seem to be in the sky, and fishing
smacks sway on the sea’s surface; brown sails and white sails lie
against the cloud’s background, and the broken coast-line winds back
to where Genoa halts, like a fancy city, between mist and sunshine.
This is Camogli, where many a man and woman and lad and lass and child
has rejoiced in the _stagione dei Bagni_. And yet Camogli is not the
fashionable one among Riviera bathing-places, and we must turn to the
sun-setting side of the Riviera capital for a glimpse of the life that
is August life indeed to the professional pleasure-hunter.

A railway has been open for some time now along the eastern Riviera:
it has marred the perfection of some fair spots, but it has its
conveniences, and it cannot spoil far afield. But in the days that I
best remember there was no railroad to eastward, and the _Ponente_
shore had thus an advantage over the other in civilization’s eyes.
There was a _strada ferrata_ to Nice some time ago, a _strada ferrata_
that some people wondered was ever made: the _vetturini_, whose trade
is marred for instance, and the diligence proprietors, who can no
longer count on crowding their vehicles with dust-smothered passengers,
or the traveller, who has money to pay for a post-chaise, and can
spare time to loiter along the road at his pleasure, enjoying the
full fragrance of its loveliness, and providing food for extortion to
the innkeepers. The trains never run regularly—some part of the road
is always out of repair—you travel in fear of being plunged into the
sea, and the carriage route is altogether spoilt. Yet it is a step in
civilization. ‘What would you have?’ says the ever obsequious guard to
whom one confides one’s wrongs at having been five hours longer on the
road than the guide-book stated. ‘Did we go faster, you would be now in
the sea: the road is not safe. Patience!’ the invariable ejaculation of
an Italian when others but himself are complaining.

To anyone who knows the Cornice from Genoa to Nice the name of Pegli
will not be totally strange. It is, or rather used to be, a little
fishing village; used to be, for of late years there has been built in
the midst of it a grand Stabilimento, whither the town’s inhabitants
flock during the months of July and August for the sea-bathing.
In summer it is a fashionable place; many of Genoa’s nobles divide
their summer between Pegli and some inland foreign baths, whilst the
_bourgeoise_ class seek their holiday first in quiet mountainous parts
of Italy known best to themselves, but do not fail to return for _i
Bagni_ when the rich have left things cheaper. In winter Pegli is
utterly desolate, excepting for some few foreigners, mostly English,
who try to make themselves comfortable in the huge marble halls of the
Stabilimento, built only for coolness, in the delusion that they are
safer from bronchitis because they see the sun and know it is Italy,
than they would be, snug and warm, in English homes.

   [Illustration: FLIRTATION AT PEGLI.]

Pegli stands straggling along the beach of a sunny bay, almost within
the Gulf of Genoa. The village itself is not pretty, but around it
on the sea shore, with gardens sloping down into the very waves, and
stone loggias and terraces whose feet stand in the water, above it
on the hill-side, girt about with woods and vineyards, stand many a
grand old palace or cool and pleasant villa. True, there are here, as
everywhere else, in Northern Italy, queer examples of modern Italian
architecture, in thin, tall houses, painted over with every crude
tint of scarlet, orange, blue, and violet, bearing staring frescoes
of horses and water-nymphs, and balconies out of perspective. But
these defective edifices, though many in number, cannot utterly spoil
the place. Though dusty the highway and breathless the summer days,
the idle, hazy hours are happy that one may spend in the villas or
bathing-houses of Pegli. In the Stabilimento for ten francs a day
you have (according to the maître d’hôtel) every luxury which human
craving may desire. A cool, marble-floored, furnitureless room, with
goblin-bedizened ceiling and mosquito-curtained bed, an ample billiard
room, an elegant ‘salon,’ a vast dining-room, every convenience for
sea or freshwater bathing, even a ball-room, in which to flirt once a
week with any one of the pale dark-eyed ladies who invite you to that
pastime. Nor is the ball-room the only meet place for this exercise;
there is a balcony—two, nay three balconies—and a large marble terrace
that you can pace in the cool night air, gently smoking your cigarette
in company with an attractive Milanese, Piedmontese, or Tuscan
countess. Rising in the morning at five, or even before, you stroll
down lightly clad to the shore, where the little waves are washing
lazily up and down on the shelving beach, cool and limpid in the dewy
dawn; you cross the soft small strip of shingle and parched, wrinkled
sand—it is only a strip, for we have no tide—you secure one of those
quaint little tents built out into the water and you adorn yourself for
the great event of the day. Then issuing forth freely into the soothing
water, you meet all the lovely ladies whom you saw last night at _table
d’hôte_, in every variety of fascinating attire. Some are dressed as
nymphs, some wear the most elaborately embroidered flannel garments,
some have broad-brimmed Leghorn hats, but these are they who fear the
spoiling of their complexions, and are few in number. Out of this mass
of insinuating loveliness you choose the one to you most sympathetic,
you ask her if she swims (but of course she swims, since she is
Italian, or at worst Italian by education and customs), you engage her
for the morning as you would for a dance, you conduct her out to sea
and does she need any assistance you offer it. You talk, you laugh,
the hour passes, and you bring her safely to shore. You make your way
back to your apartment, return to your couch and smoke. You read the
paper, you drink coffee, then you dress, play billiards, and attempt
breakfast. You yawn, doze, but not again see the fair water-nymph
until dinner at five P.M., when she reappears in other guise, as the
perfumed, powdered, languid, and _bien coiffée_ lady of fashion. After
dinner everyone saunters forth to the woods and gardens. Those who
can, go in pairs, those who cannot in dreary solos or triplets. It is
still hot, but not beyond endurance. The Pallavicini Gardens close by
are wonderful; waterworks are there, artificial lakes, grottos with
stalactites, Chinese pagodas, Swiss châlets, and English farmhouses,
besides arbours, into which the confiding stranger strolls innocently,
to be drenched unawares from a secret stream, and whence he darts, less
confidingly, only to be met by four or five more conflicting streams on
some deceptive bridge or turret. There are many more cunning devices
besides, and beyond all—or rather not to be marred by them all—is the
subtly seductive beauty of Southern nature: the luxuriant vegetation,
the waveless dreamy sea, the tender rose-tinted sky, the trickle of
many a tiny rivulet, the hot, pale air rich with harmonious scents of
orange blossom, rose, and magnolia; and then later on, when the hours
have sped into darkness, the whisper of rising night-breezes amid the
foliage, the flittering of fire-flies, the shooting of stars, the hush
of waves on the shelving shore below, when the water is gently moved by
the touch of the wind. Night grows, everyone goes home. The terraces
of hotels and palaces are peopled with gracefully-reclining ladies
who smoke cigarettes and flirt fans, with obsequious and attentive
cavaliers, flattering and self-conscious; with fat dowagers, wearied
and sleepy, who yet will not for the life of them retire to leave the
field open to younger and fairer rivals. The cool hours wear away—the
only hours in which one lives in summer—a short while of sleep, and
the early morning is back again with its delicious water duties and the
lazy hours that follow on till night.



Part Two

_In the Apennines_



The Mountains.


Where the winding chain of the Apennines stretches upward from the sea,
crossing and recrossing the land with so many and such strange devices
that from off the height of one of the mountains themselves there seems
scarce room for a space of level plain, wedged in between ridges or
sunk in clefts of hills, are the fair valleys of North Italy. Away from
the blue sea and its blinding beauty, and from the leaden heat of the
shores, they hold a fresh and free life of their own. Heavy night dews
there feed the wild flowers that sicken in the nerveless pallor of the
summer sea-air, and fresh water runs swiftly from mountain springs.
Sometimes they are narrow and hidden valleys, in whose depth even
villages could scarce find a home, did they not climb the hill-sides on
either hand, and camp out, as it were, upon the meadows or among the
vineyards. Or, again, they are wider, so that little towns have been
built within them—quaint towns with tall houses and taller _campanile_,
at whose side there flows, perhaps, a shallow river, brown upon its
shingly bed.

Where, north of Genoa and the sea some twenty miles, the low back of
the Giove mountain lies across the country, there is one of these more
open valleys that creeps upward toward the higher peak of Antola, and
along its way many a picturesque little village has grown for years,
wearing out the thatched roofs of its chimneyless houses beneath
hot suns and sharp mountain winds, cheerily holding its own against
storms and inundations from the river hard by, that is so cruel a foe
when the great rains have been at work. Little hamlets cling to the
mountain sides, with scarce a common thoroughfare beside them; while
other hamlets that stand upon the roadside can often boast a finer
house in their midst, for the _forestieri_ come in summer, and people
whose houses lie conveniently can let rooms. By these villages a stone
bridge is even built over the stream, so that the torrent may be safely
crossed when it is swollen by the rains.

It was early on a summer evening that I first saw this broader
and loveliest of North Apennine valleys which is between Giove’s
mountain and the more cloven peaks of Antola hills. In the towns it
had been so hot of late that not all the delights of sea-bathing in
soft, Mediterranean waters, from the marble steps of olive-planted
gardens, nor even the seductiveness of the _dolce far niente_ beside
spouting fountains, beneath colonnades and on balconies, could banish
the longing for the freedom of a fresher air, could atone for the
remorseless Scirocco, for the sapping heat of those white August
days and terrible nights. I sought release from them all and from the
mosquitoes, where green trees might perchance fan a breeze towards me,
where turf would at least be cool to lie on, and I sought it in the
valleys—so little known even by those who live within their reach—of
the Piedmontese Apennines.

I had seen a little station, just at the mouth of the Giove tunnel on
the way to Alessandria, around which the country seemed to me crisply
and luxuriantly beautiful. It was called Busalla. No one knew of it
as a recommendable _villeggiatura_; Pontedecimo, Serravalle, Voltaggio
were suggested to me instead, but I preferred my own choice. The little
town is dirty, noisy, dusty as little Italian towns mostly are; but
in the country round about I was not disappointed. Dense, bountiful
chestnut woods, whose tender-coloured, fan-like leaves sway soothingly
in the whispering breeze, would alone have been enough to freshen
me, wearied by grand buildings and splendid colonnades. And besides
the desired trees there was the gurgling of water all about—sometimes
I could scarcely find from whence. I would glance around to see the
stream that was babbling so audibly, and lay my head down again on the
turf, fancying I was mistaken, only to hear the mocking laughter of the
water again when I had ceased to look for it.

When I arrived at Busalla, I was rather at a loss at first about
a shelter for the night. The cleanest even of the two inns looked
scarcely such as I cared to enter. I questioned a comely female in
the piazza, who had figs and peaches in a basket on her head, and who
was freely gesticulating and shouting at a handsome _negoziante_ from
Genoa. Having secured her attention by means of a larger remuneration
than the nominal price she asked for the fruit, I learnt that there
was a _magnifico stabilimento_ at Savignone, a village some three miles
off: I could have a conveyance, or she herself would show me the way,
as she was going to the village. I accepted her offer—the _vettura_ I
had seen standing out, and I should have feared for my safety at its
mercy.

We came first through the little town, with its butcher, fruiterer,
and inevitable barber, past the old whitewashed _campanile_ with the
sun-dial on its façade, and struck out upon a roughish way to the left.
There was a torrent to cross on stepping-stones. I recollect that my
guide laughed loudly at my care to keep on the stones. She trudged
through the water on her bare feet. For a good half-hour the road runs
alongside of just such a drowsy river as I have remembered before,
creeping away furtively in the midst of an arid bed, too weary in the
drought even to lift its voice; yet this river can swell beneath the
sharp lash of an angry thunderstorm, to roll onward in muddy, turbulent
volumes, regardless of walls, bridges, or any other obstacle. Now to
the left is a weir: the road mounts some hundred feet above the level
of the water, and is none of the safest to drive over, being narrow,
ill-made, and unparapetted. I was glad I had not chosen the _vettura_.

Glad too, because a more lovely walk could scarcely be conceived. The
valley lay before me in all its sweet, mellow beauty: fresh, crisp,
luxuriant, and yet burnished all over and saturated with the dim,
gently sorrowful shadow of coming autumn. The vintage was near, and the
terraced hill-sides were hung with the rich festoons of unpruned vines,
that seemed fondly to try and cover the bare ground whence the golden
wheat had been shorn. Waving, sweeping chestnut woods drape those hills
around, leaving bare only the summits, whose frail outlines lie clear
against the pale sky. Unlike bolder types of mountains, these Apennines
are fretted all over with a delicate tracery of faint furrows that
wander waywardly, and of watercourses that rise slenderly above to grow
into large ravines and gashes below. Nature is warm and gracious here,
but not wanton with luxuriance, as in the more tropical beauty which
I had just left; the country is not a wild country because the hand
of man has rested on it all to put cultivation within its valleys, and
even upon its hill-sides; but cultivation has not wiped away the mark
of nature’s own wayward grace, that is fit to that other grace, free,
winning, and wayward, too, even to quaintness, which belongs to its
people.

   [Illustration: IN THE FIELDS AT SAVIGNONE.]

We crossed the bridge—the only stone bridge on the river, that gives
its name to a village hard by—and followed the way that steeply climbs
the hill for a while until another Campanile is in sight. Ten minutes
more of climbing brought us out on to the piazza of Savignone.

I dismissed my friendly peasant guide, who promised me her warmest
prayers in exchange for my silver coin, and watching her as she reaped
neighbourly greetings from knots of country folk gathered on the
_piazza_ for their evening relaxation, I looked around upon the village
that was, for a while, to be my home. I stood in a large open square
paved with round pebbles; a church was on my right—on either side of
which, and forming a quadrangle round about, lay a long, low building,
yellow-painted and large-windowed, formerly a hospital, but now the
_magnifico stabilimento_ of which I had been told. Here were evidently
the remains of an old feudal borough, belonging probably in long-lost
times to one of those lords of the marshes so famous in the days of
the terrible _condottieri_. Even through the embellishments of modern
stucco one could trace the skeleton of a palace which had seen better
usage, in the days when architecture was something more than a name;
and besides the palace, hospital, or _stabilimento_, there were ruins
of a castle on a little hill close above, a hill that in the twilight
seemed to dwell beneath the shadow of another and rockier mountain.

All around me rose graceful and methodless mountains, with forms that
were broken into a wealth of harmonies, and sky-line lying clear-cut
and undulating upon the darkening blue. A soft dew fell from out
the hot day upon all drooping things, and, as I rested, the sound of
rippling water smote on my hearing—of water that, said I, would ripple
and murmur just the same to-morrow, when the sun should be burning
overhead. ‘Ah, yes, we have many streams here; that is why the doctors
have built a _Stabilimento Idroterapico_,’ was the old _contadino’s_
explanation, to whom I turned now for advice. ‘Your honour will be well
there in the Stabilimento; there is true luxury! We have a fair spot
at Savignone for anyone to pass the time in, and one does not feel the
heat too much—no! And over the gorge of the river is _la Valle Calda_.’
So I stayed at Savignone; and when the sun’s power had flagged the next
day, and dews crept down once more, I went back upon my steps of the
first evening—back almost as far as Busalla, that I might learn to know
that other gorge, which the old peasant had called _la Valle Calda_.

Leaving the town of Busalla, my road struck off from the main highway
across the Giove, from that highway which was in olden times the
traveller’s only route from Turin to Genoa. It is still studded along
with many a little wayside inn, now forlorn and impoverished, where
carriage-loads of foreigners used to stop in days gone by, while their
horses were baiting. These little inns have sunk nowadays to the lower
rank of ‘_bettole_’ or taverns; since the making of the railway they
lack the custom which raised them into ‘_alberghi_,’ and no longer
profess to find beds, but only to supply the wayfarer or the waggoner
with food and drink. Nevertheless the ‘_bettole_’ are still distinctive
features, and picturesque with a purely Italian picturesqueness.

The branch road up the valley of the Scrivia is not at first sight
inviting. Poor and dirty buildings of the town’s outskirts flank its
ill-paven and narrow streets, but squalid houses are soon left behind,
and the country opens out before and around you. As I have said before,
it is a free landscape, even though the hills stand about on every side
closing in the valley, and though, looking up toward the farther end
of it, you can see that the land grows more mountainous, and that the
cones and shoulders of hills seem to lie up more cumbrously against the
horizon. But they are not mountains whose peaks tower into the sky,
neither are their sides made up of cliffs and dark ravines. They are
scarcely perhaps high enough and important enough even to deserve the
name of mountains—these slimly moulded and graceful hills, daintily
muffled in luxuriant vegetation—excepting that they are so amply
cultivated where the chestnut woods are not, that something of their
height is lost, perhaps, because their nature is so like the nature
of the plains; the plains, that are no more than narrow little strips
of level land from which cultivation creeps up the steep slopes; for
patches of corn-field, of maize and potato crops, intersected with
vineyards and trellises, find room on many a tiny ledge or terrace of
earth till the whole land wears a look of careful plenty.

Even the timber vegetation of the country has a sort of prodigality
in its beauty, which seems to tell how the broad-leaved chestnut trees
are not only fair to behold but also bountiful in service. They wear a
promise of warmer tones now over their brilliant summer colouring, for
the autumn has just begun to shed a new influence abroad, and faintly
golden tints speak of the fruit-time of the year, after the sunnier
time of flowers and scents is over. The whole land has a flush of
this new promise. Harvest is over, and the corn-fields are laid bare,
yet there is a golden burnished hue upon the ground where the yellow
stubble is left upon the yellow clay soil. The vintage is not yet
gathered in, so that the vines have lost none of their beauty, but that
rather the cool purple-red of their luscious fruit-clusters, near to
that other warmer red which is faint as yet upon the gracefully-turning
tendrils and broad leaves of their foliage, serves to help the warm
painting of the whole. As far as the eye can see, gold and green mingle
in subtle harmony. A faintest fancy of coming gold in the chestnut
woods, the steadier gold and yet pale of the cropped fields, the gold
that almost deepens into brown where patches of ploughed land lie here
and there upon the hillsides and in the valley, and through the whole
the golden-winding thread of the river.

This is the valley of the Scrivia, from whose main course that side
gorge creeps up, among the mountains, to the village of Savignone
and the feudal castle. At its foot a mountain stands sentinel to
all the little quiet and cosy villages within the precinct below—a
tall mountain, uprising many hundreds of feet in one solid mass, but
indented with many clefts and water-courses, and cut at its summit
into many sharp peaks, each different in shape and in size, and all
lying clear and fine against the sky. Here the river winds in closer
coils, and its rough bed spreads across the valley; for soon the water
gathers itself together, since it is somewhere in the fissures of Monte
Baneo or her range that the Scrivia has its birth. At the foot of the
sentinel mountain you may see a little white town lodged—and this is
the town, more properly called the village, of Casella.

All this you will have seen on before you and beside you as you walked
up along the stony road from Busalla. The stream has been flowing at
your left, and on your right were chestnut woods growing up into the
hills, and turf and moss that spread beneath them, and little hamlets
dotting the wayside, and blackberry hedges by the road. Many little
torrents bubble across the footpath—streams that must be crossed on
the roughest of stepping-stones, for only the village called ‘_Ponte
di Savignone_’ boasts a stone bridge across the river for those who are
bound for the Baths, and here are houses gathered on either side of the
bridge, finer looking than the smoke-coloured and thatched cottages.
From this point the main road of the Scrivia valley runs on the farther
side of the water.

But I, in my evening ramble, was not bound for the high road nor
for the town of Casella, that lies at the valley’s foot. The old
_contadino_ had spoken of the mountain’s eastern side, when he had
pointed across the gorge to the slopes lying opposite, and he had
spoken of it as _la Valle Calda_. I did not therefore cross the stone
bridge again, but holding to the right, went in search of this new
valley. No carriage—not even the brave one offered to my notice the
evening before at Busalla—could have held its way upon this road, for
the stones lay looser and larger than ever upon it, and, as it went
farther into the hills, it narrowed, and grew more and more uneven.
Monte Baneo still stood up before me with the valley and the river at
its feet, and to westward the slopes of Antola. Little cottages began
to appear in clusters upon meadows and peeping from among woods; blue
smoke curled into the air from dells and copses, showing where other
human habitations lay hid; then the _Campanile_ came to sight. It stood
close against the hill, and as I came nearer the bells began gently to
chime with gladsome rhythm for the morrow’s feast of Saint or Virgin.

This was _La Valle Calda_; and as I stood gazing on the soft and
quiet scene there came an old woman along the road who went across
the mountains weekly with new-laid eggs to sell, and she, greeting me
friendly, as all these peasants do, told me many things of the country
and of the neighbours, and commending me heartily for my genuine
admiration of this valley of her home, she bade me turn my walk once
more to the right till I should reach a village called, she said, _La
Madonna della Vittoria_, for there should I behold a view worth the
seeing indeed!

So towards the east I turned again, and climbed my way into the
chestnut woods. I left the river behind that had been flowing on
my left through green meadows as I walked from Ponte towards the
chief village of _La Valle Calda_. I left even this semblance of a
high road, running parallel with the real high road on the stream’s
opposite shore which had seemed so close in the summer air that I
had heard the laughter of the _vetturino_ as he drove his infirm
vehicle, and chattered with his passengers, or urged his horse by loud
vociferations.

My new way was nothing but a mountain path, and a steep one—for _La
Madonna della Vittoria_ stands on a hill. The foot-track winds up
between chestnut groves, rising higher and higher above the banks of
a mountain torrent that in autumn and winter time is turbulent in its
downward rush to the river. Now and again little hamlets appear, whose
houses are ranged and huddled on both sides of the path; the road
grows steeper, and the sides of the ravine, in whose deep the torrent
gurgles, are rough and jagged as you look down upon them. In this side
valley the country is wilder and more bleak, for there is less room for
cultivation. The path creeps round an angle of the hill, and the long
ridge is in sight, where _La Madonna della Vittoria_ stands between two
heads of the mountain. The place takes its name from a little oratory,
sacred to the Virgin of that title. People come hither in pilgrimage
from the parish church; and in times of blight or of pestilence, of
rains or of long drought, processions are frequent. The chapel is
beyond the village, a little farther up on the hill. If you mount the
street and the flight of stone steps that is at the end of the village,
you will come upon the little mound on which stands the oratory. The
piazza is a paved enclosure with a low stone wall and a stone bench
that runs round hemming it in. There are acacia trees and cypresses
against the church, and upon its front a worn and faded image of the
Madonna, with sceptre and crown and glory, stands where it has stood
for many a year within shallow niche to receive the winds and the rain
and the people’s obeisance.

A sharp air blows of an evening around this little piazza upon the
hill, a breeze that is keen to refresh and yet soft enough to soothe.
Sitting upon the little low wall, it blows around, while your looks
stray over the goodly country spread out beneath and about you. Ranges
upon ranges of hills set a girdle on every side. But they are not
hills that tell of a mountainous land far ahead, as do the hills of
Savignone. There is a vague sense of space and freedom here, for we
have turned our faces back again towards the sea. The distance that
your eye can scan seems measureless: hills as far as you can see—tier
rising behind tier, the higher peaks standing forward and the lower
ones peering forth, as it were, from betwixt their shoulders; hills on
every side, but hills whose outlines sink and grow dim in the filmier
light as they near the sea far away. At first the mountains seem so
thickly wedged upon the soil that no room can remain for places of
human habitation; but as you gaze, you see how the rivers flow down
from them, growing wider in their course, and with space for towns
upon the banks. Far out ahead, where the blue air grows paler, the
dim sky sinks down into a silvery line, that is the Mediterranean.
And, perhaps, if the sunset has been clear, and if the vapours have
not arisen to muffle it, you may see in the vague distance other
things that are dim, yet more solid in their dimness, and these are
the islands of the sea; and further up, beyond the sky-line, forms of
dazzling whiteness, and these are peaks of the Maritime Alps; while
below, in the nearest valley, the town of Ponte Decimo gleams out in
the last of the sunlight, and _La Madonna della Vittoria_ looks down
upon it all.

The old _pedona_ had been right when she told me it was worth while to
climb the hill for the sake of the view at its top. I sat a while on
the wall of the little _piazza_ watching the evening vapours creep down
from the mountains, and feeling their breath on my cheek. Women with
children clinging to their skirts, and small, swaddled babies in their
arms, came to make their evening prayer in the sanctuary—to have their
evening gossip in its porch. They greeted me with courteous grace, and
one of them talked long with me, telling me of the neighbourhood and
of its people—rambling on with stories of her own and of many other
villages. They have the true grace of perfect unconsciousness, the
dwellers in these little Apennine homes, and have no conventionalities,
since each acts upon the moment’s impulse that he may enjoy life to
the full. I call them all to mind, those simple friends of a time long
past, and, as I think of them, I think of summer days when breezes
moved silently amid leaves, and the air was white with heat as it lay
clear above the tender green of chestnut trees.

I think of little rough and quaint villages that are the homes of
these my friends, and, best of all, I remember one village that stands
beneath the crest of a hill, with shady woods and orchards to girdle it
about. Another hill lies over against it, whose graceful form I seem to
see as I write—soft shapes, yet varied that rest upon the sky, subtle
waves and indentations of earth, with which play the lights and shades
of the daylight. It is that village of _La Valle Calda_, towards which
I turned my steps again after I had looked on the fair scene from _La
Vittoria’s_ hill. A church stands for centre to the parish—that church
with tall _campanile_ and blue-painted belfry—and, beside the church,
an oratory, where the memory of some special saint is sacred; but the
parish itself is scattered far and wide through copse and over meadow,
in hamlets that stand beside streams or on hill-tops.

The steeple is nevertheless, here as elsewhere, the beacon that can
gather all neighbours together, and beneath it is a piazza with stone
benches around, where at Ave Maria my memory confidently returns to
recall each one of those faces seen long ago. I know I shall find
them there, for I know they must have a goodly portion of gossip and
loitering, and am fain indeed to confess that if foreign sayings about
Italian impetuosity, and easily moved Italian feelings, have been
often exaggerated, these Apennine country people are, on the other
hand, no taciturn race. They are cunning to mould to their use the
lithe tongue of their land, to adorn it with expletives, and to point
it with gesticulation; and it is even this habit of noisy vociferation
which has perhaps won them abroad the character—so little deserved—for
curbless passions and vindictively cruel propensities. For they are
a kindly people in their mutual relations, and formed by their very
nature for warm, social life, since they need a free neighbourly
intercourse, such as quiet and colder temperaments can scarcely
understand.

Hence it is that the life of an Italian community, unlike the
comparatively secretive life of northern lands, is to be learned in its
open thoroughfares rather than its individual homes, and that we must
seek on cottage door-steps, in market-places and piazzas, where men and
women mix freely together, the true colour of the Italian people.



At the Chestnut Harvest.


As October days draw nigh to their end there is festival in the
cottages of North Italy. Walking at evening among her mountains and
passing through her homely villages, a red light of wood fire comes
streaming upon you from open cabin doors and from between the chinks
of clumsy window-shutters, and noisy sounds of revelry fall around.
For this is the season when the chestnuts are ripe, and the peasants
are making merry by dark, for the work they have had during the hours
of day, and they are glad for that harvest which is to them the most
bounteous of the year.

In autumn, thunder-storms lower in the Apennine valleys. Torrents
grow turbulent, hurling themselves in foam from the hills around, and
rivers that, in the long drought, have grown meagre, swell rapidly to
great size, fed by rains amid the mountains and by the hundred little
streamlets and torrents that cast themselves noisily down ravines.
The river-beds are wide—so wide that in summer their barren expanse
of shingle looks ill amid the green land—yet now there is often no
room within them for the mass of moving water. It overflows the banks
and swamps the near-lying cultivation, till the maize plantations lie
dashed and the meadows are soft, like bogs. It carries away the little
temporary bridges which, spring after spring, are newly set across the
streams; scarcely can it flow, sometimes, beneath the arches of more
stable bridges that, here and there, are built for greater security; it
damages the weirs, and brooks no obstacle in its way, flowing swiftly—a
great muddy, turbid stream, that bears upon its breast the trunks or
the branches of trees and many other spoils from off the banks. And
year after year the people know that this may all happen, yet year
after year they take no precautions to shield themselves from evil;
they build up no embankments, turn aside the course of no injurious
waters, only, laughing they say, or sighing, ‘It is time that the great
waters descend.’

And during the present month they are almost sure to descend, once,
at least, with all their power of devastation, for the best of the
sunshine has taken its leave of the land by the end of October. Down
in the more level parts of the valleys, where the meadows lie, little
cottages look out ruefully from amid the dripping walnuts, their
thatched roofs damp and glistening in the wet; and higher up, among the
chestnut woods, sad leaves lie damp upon the ground, where the mossy
turf is so moist, that mushrooms are spoiled ere they be grown. The
country looks tenderly forlorn, that was so gay with its vintage in
September. Trees shed their foliage early in chestnut-wooded districts,
and already tints have little left that is freshly green, but leaves
are yellow upon boughs, and scattered day by day more thickly to earth.
There is no hot sunshine, no blue light that is misty with heat; yet
the valleys can still smile in their soberer mood when chance and
glorious sunbeams strike across the land, or when the rain ceases and
bright days come back, here and there, with warmer breezes. Swollen
rivers abate if the deluge cease only for a day, and as you walk upon
their banks the waters are limpid again, yet green from their depth
with an intenser colour.

And wandering beneath the chestnuts, no sense of damp or dreariness
oppresses now that sunshine is abroad once more, for yellow-tinted
leaves wave brightly overhead, and yellower leaves, that are scattered,
rustle pleasantly beneath your feet, while now and again a quick sound
breaks the stillness, and that is the fall of the fruit. Since the
middle of October you might have heard it when you were in the woods,
for the chestnuts began to ripen at that time and the brown-burnished
fruit to peep from out its prickly shell. But scarcely before the
end of the month does the chestnut harvest begin in earnest in the
Apennines. There are divers kinds of chestnuts, and the gathering
of each dates properly from a different day: the so-called ‘timely
chestnuts,’ that ripen before the commoner sorts—but this variety is
rarer and the fruit finer than that of others—the late chestnuts, such
as, of their own accord, do not fall sometimes till November—though
these trees are often thrashed during the general harvest for the
greater convenience of the gatherers.

Companies of women and girls greet you now upon your walks. They have
little bags of sackcloth slung around their waists, and rough wooden
tweezers in their hands, with which they open the spiked husks, where
the fruit lies yet in its green case. They are merry; they laugh and
talk, their shrill Italian voices sounding shriller to English ears
in the harsh Genoese dialect. It is a season of festivity. The festa
of the ‘_Santi_’ has but lately passed, and there is much interchange
of colloquial news and much surmising on parish matters, with a little
gossip and neighbourly scandal mixed therewith.

The ‘_Santi_’ is the last great feast of the year until Christmas be
come, and it is treated with much solemnity throughout the whole of
Italy. The ‘_Giorno dei Morti_’ is likewise a great day among the
people, but then the pageant is one of mourning and of woe. Black
garments are donned by those who have lost friends during the year,
and little charms and candles are sold throughout the streets of the
towns, with black and yellow garlands of everlastings, with which
people are wont to adorn the graves. Yet there always seems to be as
much excitement around this day as any other. Southern feelings love so
dearly to be moved, that apparently it matters little whether it be to
joy or to grief.

However, this great homage to the day of the dead seems to be confined
more to the cities, and beneath the chestnuts, where our people are
gathering up the harvest, there is little talk of sadness. Here a man
has come to the aid of the girls, and has climbed to the top of a huge
tree, that he may the better thrash down the fruit. It falls in prickly
showers upon the crackling dead leaves below, but the women seem little
to fear any hurt from thorns, for they tread boldly amid the heap,
often with bare feet, and take the harsh shells within their hands to
open them. All day the people are at work. They are almost all women
at this task, for the men are labouring in the fields. Some few of them
return home at midday to cook and to carry the dinner for brothers and
husbands without, but most of them remain in the woods till dusk, and
eat their cold ‘_polenta_’ at midday, resting upon the banks. Towards
dark the great baskets are piled up that have been filled all day from
each woman’s sack, and then the girls lift them upon their heads or
their shoulders, and pick their way deftly along the stony paths with
the burthens. Sometimes the loads are too heavy and must be left for
the men, but this does not often happen, for these peasant women are
strong, with a beautiful ease of strength, and proud of their power.

   [Illustration: GATHERING THE CHESTNUTS.]

So, whether the day has been dark and cheerless, or whether the kind
autumn sunshine has been there to brighten up all anew into a beauty
more beautiful than summer-time, the women have been at work in the
woods, and now the recreation hour has come. Within cottages great
fires are lit upon hearths that are in the chamber’s midst, and the
pot is put on to boil; rough wooden benches are drawn around, and men
and women meet after their labour to commemorate, with fun and jollity,
the first of the chestnuts. Upon each successive evening they meet in
different cottages according to the help they have lent to one another
during the day; land is not rented in the Apennines, neither do the
people labour for pay, but each has his small homestead according to
his wealth, and cultivates the ground himself, men and women helping
their neighbours during every pressing season, as they themselves
expect to be helped in turn.

When the ‘_minestra_’ has been eaten, or the ‘_polenta_’ then the
pot is taken off, with the great chain from whence it hung, and the
‘_padella_’ is brought forth, upon which chestnuts are to be roasted.
The red wood fire flares and flickers upon the hearth amid its heap
of embers, throwing fitful dashes of light upon faces around—copper
vessels and platters make sudden gleam upon dingy walls. Again the bold
flames die away, and there is only a lurid mass of cinders, and then
the women toss chestnuts in the pan and the men slit the brown hide
of other chestnuts that are yet unroasted, and they all chatter and
gesticulate the while in a fashion so quick and eager and with voices
so high and thrilling, that foreign ears, to whom the shrill dialect is
unknown, might fairly hear therein the words of an angry quarrel.

And sometimes there are quarrels even at these scenes of merriment.
Italian natures are hot, and Italian women are jealous, besides
being coquettes too, in their way, with often prudent or mercenary
considerations, so that wrangles come and altercations; but they make
it up again most times, and do not seem to break their hearts.

The women are not, as a rule, beautiful hereabouts. They are superbly
built and powerful, with graceful movements, but their faces belong to
a heavy-featured type that lacks much in delicacy of form, even though
the ruddy pallor of colouring might atone for many deficiencies. The
splendour of dark eyes can sometimes scarcely kindle them into real
brilliancy, nevertheless these women have their lives to live and their
wars to wage, and they bear the tokens, in themselves beautiful, of
toil and the labour of living.

The chestnut harvest lasts some three weeks or more, and, when the
fruit is all gathered in, it is spread above the open rafters that form
the roof of every kitchen in these Italian cottages—there to be dried
during winter by the fire’s heat from below. And when the chestnuts are
dried, and the outer skin has been cracked off by the heat, then they
are ground in a mill, so that the flour goes to make bread and cakes
and porridge during the barren season, when there is little fresh food
to be got by the poor. The dried chestnuts are boiled whole likewise,
and in one form or another the common production of the woods provides
nourishment, during this time, for all the peasants throughout the
land.



Under the Cherry Trees.

The Bridal.


Summer sunshine lies gladly upon the green hill-sides of _la Valle
Calda_. It moves in broken light over the warm green of broad-leaved
chestnut trees that daintily sweep the turf with their branches, it
quivers across the stream’s passing wave, or rests in a sheet of silver
upon the still pools of the slowly flowing river. Flowers bloom gayer
and breathe forth a stronger scent for its goodly radiance, summer
fruits ripen the sooner. For these are June days, that I call to mind,
as I think of _la Valle Calda_, that fairest of North Apennine valleys,
and the wild cherries are ripe upon the land, the lads and the maidens
are merry, for to-morrow is the Feast of St. John and the bridal day of
Caterina Ponte.

In the hamlets around, excitement has waxed high these many days
past. St. John is the patron saint of this little church that stands
so simply beside the green background of the richly-wooded mountain,
with belfry tower whose top seems almost to lie against the far
horizon clouds. St. John is the saint to whom most honour is due from
the dwellers in this particular parish. There will be a procession
to-morrow, and that would be grave enough matter, even without the
wedding of the prettiest girl in our village.

Down by the river’s brink, where the tall cherry trees grow whose
large black fruit will not be ripe yet awhile, the morrow’s bride has
had her home these twenty years long. Her cottage roof is thatched
and moss-grown, as the roofs of all the other cottages that are here
gathered together into a hamlet—one of the many hamlets that go to make
up the parish.

The father’s homestead, where Caterina has lived away her life till
to-day, is nothing but a low, one-storeyed house, that has no chimney
to its roof and no glass to its windows, blackened around where the
smoke has made its way; there are rough wooden shutters to keep out
the night air and the coldest of winter blasts, but, in these happy
dog-days, is no need to fear the fresh breath of the outside breezes,
and, upon the sills, carnations bloom in pots, with marjoram and
rosemary for the soup-flavouring, and marsh-mallow for the healing
of hurts. The stone steps are uneven that lead to the threshold; the
kitchen is dark, above the loose rafters of which chestnuts lie all
winter time to dry with the heat of the fire below; a great black pot
is hanging now over the red embers on the square centre-hearth, and
Caterina knows every dint in those bright copper vessels that gladden
the gloomy walls—every sunken brick in the floor. No wonder she sorrows
a little to leave the hard bench where she has sat so often to fan the
flame or—one among many—to roast chestnuts of an autumn evening; no
wonder she drops a passing regret to the broken stone balcony without
the door, where ofttimes she has stood gossiping with neighbours
beneath the trellised vine or has listened to the ready vows of village
swains! Though she be going to a better cottage, where there are
windows and even a chimney, Caterina can still be sorry to leave the
yellow gourd flowers that trail across the ground in the garden of her
girlhood, will still perchance miss awhile the Michaelmas daisies, the
sunflowers, the tomatoes, and even her own pet fruit-orchard stretching
across green grass towards the river. But though she sigh a furtive
sigh for all this, the vows of the one particular swain have been heard
and registered now, so there must be a good-bye for ever to anything
the others might have had to say, and this must be the last day even
for the gossip of a maiden.

Where the land leaves the river-side and swells up into hills, wild
cherries grow better than in low-lying orchards, and it is the wild
cherries that are ripe for the feast of St. John; so that now, while
it is yet daytime, girls of the village are still plucking the fruit,
up among those further plantations, nor will be down till dark for the
last chat beneath the vine of Caterina’s maiden home.

The trees are small and slender trees whereon grow the _amarene_,
bitter wild cherries of our country, and it needs but the deftness of
a light-footed mountain girl quickly to climb them, while the strength
of some other tall Apennine maiden can boldly reach down branches with
long arm and lithe figure, cruelly to strip them of the glistening,
ruddy fruit.

Margaret and Virginia, Paula and Bianca are there at work, and they
are favourite friends of the bride, and will hold a good place in the
morrow’s ceremonies. ‘Yes, yes, he is rich, I tell you; she will be
married in no dress of homespun! The stuff is to be of real wool! You
will see!’ says one. ‘What luck, and she the poorest of us all,’ sighs
another damsel for reply, and breaks the full-laden bough of a low
little tree as she speaks. ‘But I grudge her no good fortune. Our turn
will come, girls, and meanwhile who can put the garlic so justly into
the pot, who can knead the maize so smoothly or the dough for household
bread, who can mend a man’s suit or iron his shirt better than Caterina
of the Walnut Cottage?’ The bride’s old home is thus named in the
parish because of the fine nut trees that grow beside and around it.
‘See the fine cherry bough,’ pursues this last speaker; ‘she shall have
it for gift in sign of prosperity.’ The luscious, bright fruit hangs
in richest clusters from this slender stem; such tender stalks seem
scarce able to uphold the heavy knots. Beside the crimson berries grow
tufts of pale leaves, the same leaves that a moment before have had the
soft blue sky behind their young green for background and the summer
sunlight shining through them. ‘Truly it is pretty!’ say the girls in
chorus, and then they all agree that Caterina has deserved so fortunate
a fate as that which will be hers to-morrow ere noon, and they slake
their thirst with the tart cherry-juice, the while they pile baskets
with the spoil, and weary their lungs with talk and laughter, if not
their limbs with toil.

So do evening shadows begin to creep over the soft slopes of those
tender-carven hills, begin to lie darkly in their ravines; and when
the ebbing sunlight is near to leaving the frail outlines alone upon
the sky, then the bells of St. John’s strike their gladsome chime,
for to-morrow is the day of the patron saint. It is the girls’ token
that the day is done, and each lifts a basket to the head of a comrade
ere, with firm step—the step that comes easy to women of such strong
and graceful figure—they descend the mountain path towards home and
a gossip with the bride. And all the while the bells are ringing so
noisily, so wildly hurrying in merriest triplets, so loudly pealing
with deep bass voice now and then, that even Virginia’s clear tones,
and the chatter of other three good lungs besides, can scarce make
themselves heard above the din.

If yesterday was a happy day when things were bright and hearts were
glad, to-day is better a thousand times, with sun that is hotter and
land that lies fairer before the eyes: so thinks the bride, and so
think those four girls who are the bride’s friends. Many a little
half-hour went by last night while these five told old tales and
fancied new wonders, as they sat on the old wall beneath the vine,
in the growing summer darkness. The wedding gown was handled and
criticised, so were the wedding garments and the bride’s little dowry
of household linen, that she and her mother and her mother’s sister had
been spinning and weaving on the rough handloom these many months past.
So was that fine young man criticised—the betrothed—who had been able
to furnish his house so suitably, and had given the bridal gold of such
massive weight and fine workmanship!

   [Illustration: _Gossip._

   These five told old tales and fancied new wonders, as they
   sat on the old wall beneath the vine, in the growing summer
   darkness.]

But past discussions, past surmises are all over now: the wedding
morning is here. Upon the hedgerows that hem the path all the way
from this river-side hamlet to the church, there has glossy homespun
linen been hung in long lengths for adornment, with red and yellow
church properties between, that have belonged to the vestry for
processions these twenty years. This is all for St. John’s Day, and
so are the flower-heads of gorse and poppy that strew the ground, the
fresh-plucked posies in the little shrine on the bridge. But Caterina
gets the benefit of it all notwithstanding.

The marriage is to be at eleven. It will not be in the church, but
when the ring has wedded bride and bridegroom, and the sacred words
that bind them have been spoken by the priest in the priest’s own
house, then Caterina and her husband will come before the great altar
for benediction, and that is the only part of a wedding which the
congregation may see in Italy. The villagers are nevertheless assembled
on the _piazza_ just in front of the church, that they may see the
bridal pass, because the priest’s house is just behind the church,
and even Caterina, in all her glory, must pass under the arch of the
belfry, and up between the two trimmed box-hedges to-day, just as
she has passed up many a time before with the tithes in kind or the
priest’s best linen from the wash.

All the village children cry aloud, for the bride is in sight. ‘See!
the dress is really of woollen stuff,’ whisper the women, and the men
make comment on her comely person, for truly Caterina is a pretty girl.
Her white stockings and clean bright shoes are neat (small are the
dainty feet they clothe, say the village swains); her dress is costly
for a peasant bride, the gold about her neck—gold that is no vanity
here, because it is the bride’s invariable marriage portion—the gold
in her ears and hair is of good quality, the muslin veil is fresh and
fine, that drapes head and figure, after her country’s costume; but
best of all is Caterina’s proud and merry face, best are her deep,
brown eyes, her strong, lithe frame, and the healthy blood that flows
beneath her olive skin. Caterina is a handsome girl, but, more precious
in the sight of her bridegroom, she is a sound woman, fit to be a
peasant’s wife.

Laughing—half with shyness, half with pleasure—the bride and the
bride’s mother pass first through the little archway: the wedding
party follows after. In the kitchen of the priest’s house—which is
the entrance to his oratory and to all the rest of his abode—more
admiration, more talk and wonderment from the old housekeeper, delay
the couple awhile on their road. Caterina must be examined from top
to toe while the men stand impatient at such female frivolity, and the
guests are gathered, waiting, beneath the wide-spreading vine-trellis
of the priest’s garden, or beside the trickling fountain in its midst.
Everybody is glad when the ring has been put on—(Caterina has already
twenty-three gold rings on different fingers, all part of her only
dowry)—everybody sighs a little sigh of relief when the last Latin
words have been spoken, of that ceremony which is about the same in all
lands and in all religions. Nothing of importance occurs—only once a
candle on the altar goes out unaccountably, and Caterina is frightened
at the evil omen—a woman and an Italian peasant, she must needs be
superstitious! But all the same, it serves for conversation at the
wedding feast. The priest has had his comfit-box with the gold coins
hidden within it; the old housekeeper has not been forgotten, since
this bridegroom is not of the poorest; the wedding party descend into
the church.

And, when the exhortations are said and the benediction has been
given, Caterina is quite a married woman. The neighbours may have
their fill of comment and admiration now, and the children their
portion of comfits which Caterina scatters among them. Good words and
bad words—ejaculations and laughter—fly to and fro, and resound under
the trees of the cherry orchard, where they eat the marriage feast.
Everybody is contented. Even the girls who have no husbands, and the
fathers who have more mouths to feed than money withal to feed them,
are glad to-day; for the sun shines and the harvests are all yet to
come, and the winter is a long way off, and the bells ring merrily,
for it is the Feast of St. John. And when they have done ringing for
morning ceremonies and the marriage, they begin again for afternoon
ceremonies and the procession. There, Caterina walks with her husband,
and sees Bianca in her own old place, carrying the great cross in
front. The pop-guns are fired, the procession has been round the
meadows by the well, and is near home again. And the bells’ ringing
dies away slowly, as banners and crosses are lowered beneath the porch.
The lads and lasses have their simple dance on the green by the river,
and the day of St. John sinks away into night.

Cherry trees still bloom and bear fruit in that North Apennine valley.
Walking in and out amid the little frail trees, brushing the quaker’s
grass and ragged robin, and treading down the buttercups and daisies,
you might look up to see the ripe and ruddy fruit overhead, and
listening, hear just such joyous voices as I have written of—voices
of laughing maidens stripping the orchards’ cherry-trees. But Caterina
would not be there, nor Virginia nor Bianca, nor any of the girls that
I know, even though upon the stillness of the waning day there might
come to you a sound of bells—joyful pealing bells—such as those that
ring in the Feast of St. John.



The Parish Priest.


It is the day of the Corpus Domini. As though to herald in the sun,
bells began to ring this morning from every church throughout the
valley. For this is a great feast. It does not belong more to San
Matteo than to San Luca, nor can even _la Madonna_ claim it for a
special honour: it is the property of every village, of every saint,
and of every parish. That little church niched in among the chestnuts
has, therefore, just as good a right to sound her peal in the grey
hours of the morning as has any other _campanile_ throughout this
valley of the Northern Apennines. We are among the mountains of the
Polcevera—in one of the numerous indentures of the land, scarcely large
enough to deserve a more important name, which serve to vary and make
more beautiful this already richly gifted portion of the country.

Twenty miles away from us is the Mediterranean, and on the other side
of us lie the plains of Lombardy, white with the sun’s heat as it
rests on the rice plantations. But here there is not even a remembrance
either of plains or of sea. We are in the depth of the country, where
the view has no monotony as of the flat, or even as of the sea, when
it is unruffled by wind, and dazzling beneath the sun’s power of this
summer time. The horizon’s margin is broken by the outline—now gently
undulating, now jagged—of hills against a limpid sky; the foreground is
varied—hill and dale, rugged wildness and careful cultivation, subtly
balancing each other as separate effects in the landscape’s picture.

The scenery is characteristic of the Northern Apennines: a river gently
flowing, and many a little quiet spring, thickly-growing chestnut
woods—where the trees are not always tall and spreading, but somehow
always shady—mossy banks that are green for Italy, and the land divided
into plots and terraces, where each man grows his own corn and beans
and potato-crops, gathers his own maize, and trains his own vines.
The strawberries are nearly over—little rough, red fruit, that grows
wild and luscious among the grass and the turf in the spring-time: but
the glory of the fruit season is all to come. Large yellow plums and
little blue plums, peaches and apricots, medlars, figs, grapes, melons,
blackberries that are as large as mulberries, all these will follow one
another in time, and great handsome golden gourds, with every kind of
vegetable: now it is the season of the cherries. There are tall trees
whereon the fruit grows small and jet black, and others whose berries
are large, and sweet according to the usual shape and savour of their
kind; but the type of the Apennines at this season is the _amarena_.
The little trees are small and graceful, growing over the hill-side,
often so low that the fruit can be plucked by the mere outstretching of
a strong arm from the strong and graceful figure of an Apennine damsel.
The _amarene_ are ripe for the Corpus Domini, and the bright red fruit,
with the merriment of its ingathering, makes the brightest of all
the bright colours in memory’s picture of these festivals of summer’s
prime.

The long grass is not all yet mown, and among it the ragged robin,
the buttercup, scabius, and ox-eyed daisy have woven a medley of
merry colour; while, upon the river’s banks, meadow-sweet blooms, and
higher up among the budding heather a golden field of yellow gorse.
This forms the floral feature of the festivities. Yesternight, in the
long June evening, after work was done, girls and boys wandered up
the hill-sides, and, in their aprons, the maidens stored the golden
bloomlike chaff. Then, when the bells awoke this morning at daybreak,
the women rose to spread, along the highway before their dwellings,
yards and yards of newly-bleached linen, spun with their own hands,
and woven on the homely looms—a snow-white carpet on which to strew
the gay blossoms. Upon the hedges, and hanging from the windows of
the little cottages, bright crimson draperies and curious heirlooms
are not wanting to honour the way where the sacred procession is to
pass. Merrily the bells jangle—trills and triplets up and down—with
the deep-toned first bell tumbling in now and then as bass, to add the
necessary touch of solemnity. The ringers have been at work for hours.
The first mass has been sung, and the second will soon be coming on,
but the procession will not be till after vespers. The _parroco_ (or
parish priest) stands on the piazza in black gown and biretta. He has
said his say in church, and has no further work till afternoon: he is
a peasant again, among his peasant flock, as he is on week-days, with
only the faint halo of skirts and head-gear to keep him from his pipe
and the broadest of his jests.

‘His reverence will walk himself in procession this afternoon?’ asks a
lean peasant.

‘Surely, yes,’ replies the priest. ‘I would not if I could help myself,
but the parish is not content unless I go through the farce myself
for them. The Virgin grant a breeze, or we shall die of heat under the
panoply, with the chin buried in devotion!’

‘Truly!’ laughs another peasant, a pipe in his mouth. ‘It’s poor work
being a priest. And a fine sermon it was you preached, though! I wasn’t
in church myself, not longer than for my duty at the right minute,
but my wife told me! A woman’s not to steal excepting her husband’s
drunk, and then it’s her duty to take the gains from his pocket for the
household’s benefit. Sound religion! But the women aren’t always to be
trusted!’

‘No, no; we preach these things, but you do as best you can. There’s
no telling how things’ll turn out. Now, there’s myself even. Preach
toleration in church, but, _Corpo di Bacco_, wouldn’t I have boxed
Luigina’s ears, as soon as I was out, if she’d have let me!’ Luigina
is the priest’s cousin—a lady of portly frame and of years that waver
’twixt forty-five and fifty. She lives in two brick-floored rooms
on the top storey of the parsonage, lives and dresses like a peasant
woman, and would fain have more to do with the priest’s household than
his old servant permits.

‘Signora Luigina’s no fool,’ laughs the first man; ‘and she’s been a
companion to you, your reverence.’

‘Yes—by the Virgin—thirteen years, more is the pity! I’d bury her for
nothing, poor soul, and shed a good tear afterwards; but she spoilt
those mushrooms all the same, that she cooked me to-day as a favour!
Let the oil get outside them, would you believe!’

‘San Pietro—that was enough to drive a saint to swear, much sooner a
priest; and they say she leads you a life as bad as Caterina does. But
what can a man expect when he keeps women in his house that are not
tied by the hand of the law?’

‘What can I do?’ objects the priest, laughing, and nothing depressed!
‘One had to choose a profession. Caterina’s a good servant, and Luigina
is as good as most women when she doesn’t force me to a clean shirt.
There she is. You there! Have you picked me out those two clean girls
to scatter the flowers before the priest’s face in the procession?’

‘I know none so good as myself in the village,’ answers the woman,
laughing. ‘Though it’s odd I should scatter flowers before _your_
face—only you’re not the same man, and that’s of course, when once
you’re under the banner of the Lord!’

‘What, and do you think He’d put up with an ugly old scarecrow like
you! Go to. I’ll find out the girls for myself.’

‘_Santa Madonna!_ And you’re right,’ says the woman, looking round and
laughing. ‘So much the better for me! I must see to my own _minestra_.
_I’m_ not going to eat beans half-cooked, that Nicoletta has put
to boil in cold water, so that the Lord’s own mercy wouldn’t soften
them—nor cabbage either, that’s not had a scrap of the vice cut out of
it! _Andiamo_, let me be quiet! _Vossignoria_ might be ashamed to be
so light-minded at his age!’ A laugh greets the two from around, for
the Vicar, forgetful of dignity, has thought fit to inflict summary
punishment on the portly shoulders of Luigina, to whom the diminutive
scarcely applies! But the joke is hurriedly thrust aside as the little
bell sounds from within the church, which quickly brings the people,
priest and peasants alike, to their knees.

The act of devotion is no long penance—it is over almost as soon as
begun, and, from the building, the congregation now pours out upon the
piazza, mixing with the set of earlier worshippers, and entering busily
with them into the pleasures of the present, and the business of before
and after as well.

The Corpus Domini is over. The Virgin’s statue has been carried
in state—hideously painted effigy with her gorgeous and silver
trappings—the priest has muttered his say beneath the panoply, walking
in the slow pace of the procession, and swearing fitly afterwards
at the cruel infliction; the girls and the young men have vied with
one another for who should carry crosses, and banners, and candles;
the children have shouted, the bells have jangled, and the pop-guns
been fired. Now the gorse blossoms are trampled and withered, and the
linen has been gathered up. Girls are weaving new linen at the loom,
and women bleaching it on the river’s shingle. The Signor Prevosto is
himself again and has ceased to lament the fearful consumption of beans
and pumpkins—no lavish hospitality will be dealt out from the parsonage
yet awhile!

Good-bye vain and yet so dearly-prized rejoicings! Good-bye, till next
week! The priest works in his garden. His spare form needs no longer
be hampered with black gown; his movements have their freedom in the
most threadbare of frock-coats, and his eyes may be comfortably shaded
by the useful brim of an old straw hat. And the priest’s housekeeper
shreds peas on the porch step, and scolds neighbours who are remiss
in the payment of tithes in kind, or who would presume too far on the
generosity of the _Parroco’s_ garden. He is happy tilling his ground,
watering the choicer of his vegetables, pruning his fruit trees,
training his vines, and blowing upon them through bellows the sulphur
which is to save them from the fell disease.

Now a girl comes to ask his advice on the acceptance of a suitor.

‘Marry him, and he has been fitly presented to you by a third party,
my child. A damsel must let no man seek her himself,’ says the old man,
as he hammers at the rotten wood of his pergola, or digs trenches about
his maize.

   [Illustration: _The Parish Priest._

   “A damsel must let no man seek her himself,” says the old man,
   as he hammers at the rotten wood of his pergola.]

A neighbouring contadino turns up next, to bargain for the sale of a
calf. Here the Prevosto is all alert. His thoughts would be distracted
by gardening. The affair must be concluded over a bottle of sour
Monferrato.

‘Two _marenghi_—why, you take me for a fool! I will give you one, and
pay you for ten francs with a portion of the hay from the field of the
marshes!’

‘_Per Bacco!_ But I also am no sucking child! The hay is all rotten.
No—a _marengo_ and fifteen francs on this table, as the Madonna hears
me swear it.’

The bargain is made, the old Parroco has none the worst of it, and the
maid, or rather the mistress, Caterina, announces, ‘Here is the wife of
squinting Giacomo, who bids you quickly to the cottage of Maddalena of
the cherry orchard!’

‘I come—I come quickly; but why the woman should have owed me such a
grudge as to die when the polenta is cooked and I faint from hunger!
These peasants are uneducated!’ And he hurries to shrive the departing
soul—none the less tender-hearted, none the less moved for his rough
words of five minutes before; none the less ready, either, to advise
the girl whom he meets on his downward path as to the superior
usefulness of wool over cotton for a dress, be it for wedding or _prima
communione_.

The men chatter to him of crops, the women of sick children, of
inconsiderate husbands, of the expense of linen fabric, of the scarcity
in eggs, and all the while he rapidly recites to himself the obligatory
office, answering merrily to questions at every breathing space.

Then home to boiled beans and oil, to the perusing of a newspaper,
or perhaps, even of a book and certainly to a sharp word-tussle with
Luigina, his cousin of upstairs, or with Caterina, the rough and
faithful companion of his long years of contented loneliness and
poverty. Such is the parish priest.



The Priest’s Serving Maid.


The little footpath that, amid pear and cherry trees, and
vine-trelissed ‘_pergola_,’ runs up alongside of the church, leads to
the threshold of the _prevosto’s_ house. The establishment does not
boast many rooms, and these are rough and poorly built, with great bare
rafters, whitewashed walls and deep embrasured windows. The walls are
ill-plastered, so that, when the weather has been hot and the rains
heavy, spiders and scorpions can creep from out the cracks; the doors
are cumbrous and unsightly, with great chinks at the hinges, but the
rooms are large and lofty as far as may be, and in summer the _curato_
is cosy enough.

It is the kitchen that you must enter first, and through it alone can
you pass into the rest of the house. Caterina, the maid-of-all-work,
stands before the dresser, rolling out the paste for _minestra_.
Beans and potatoes, sliced gourd and mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet herbs,
and the unfailing garlic are already cooking, so that the kitchen is
filled with a fragrant odour. Caterina rolls out the paste, throwing it
gracefully over the rolling-pin, wielding and handling it artfully. She
is a gaunt, threadbare-looking woman, of some five-and-thirty years—but
the _prevosto_ is gaunt too, and sallow; the two match well together.

‘The neighbour, Maddalena, has come to eat two _lasagne_ with us,’ says
the priest, now entering timidly—for Caterina is a bit of a tyrant. She
does not answer now, and he makes a sign to the woman to seat herself
upon the stone step at the threshold. There are platters and dishes
ranged upon the shelf, and the peasant woman eyes them with interest.
There is bread baking, too, in the oven, and Maddalena fancies perhaps
that the poor little place wears even an air of opulence.

She sits on the doorstep chattering away fluently in a shrill soprano,
that her voice may be heard above the noise of rushing water from
without—for there is a fountain beneath the vine _pergola_ in the
courtyard—a rough little fountain, into which water pours incessantly
from a spring above, and from which troughs are laid sometimes to
water the flowers and vegetables in the _prevosto’s_ little garden.
This fountain is well known to the people of the village; there is a
back-way to it which does not pass before the priest’s door, and many
a time have I seen the villagers, when other springs have run low,
filling their pitchers at this spout.

The peasant woman holds the talk herself, for Caterina makes no answer.
She is in a bad humour. Both the women are plain and ill-favoured
specimens of their class, only that Caterina is a little less unkempt
and disorderly than her neighbour. Her hair is smooth though scant,
and her faded print dress is neat; but Maddalena has many different
patterns and patches upon her skirt—the bright yellow kerchief around
her shoulders is soiled, and the fine and cunning plaits of her grey
hair are not as well ordered as the women’s are wont to be on mass
days.

Presently Caterina bustles into the darkened parlour, where, sits the
_prevosto_ lazily smoking his pipe and reading the country newspaper.
He has put aside even the least of his clerical garments now, and
lounges at ease in an old coat and slippers, his tonsured head covered
by a battered straw hat.

   [Illustration: THE PRIEST’S SERVANT ADMINISTERING A REPROOF.]

‘Listen to me, _Prevosto_,’ breaks forth the faithful woman, and she is
not careful to modulate her voice even to a semblance of secrecy; ‘you
don’t bring another mouth for me to feed here when it is baking-day
again! _Per Bacco!_ no, indeed! The mean, grasping creature! She has
as much food in her own house as we have in ours any day, and she
must come here, forsooth, to delay me in my work, and to pry into
my affairs, that she may report them in the village! It’s all her
laziness. Who’s to get the _merenda_ for her husband and her children,
I wonder, if she’s to find her’s ready for her here, whenever she
chooses to ask for it! I’m sick of her slanderous tongue. But it shan’t
happen again, do you hear? And I have the holy wafers to bake to-day,
besides. For shame of you! Come now to your dinner in the kitchen.
I’m not going to bring it in here. You’d best look sharp, for I know
there’s that dying woman up at San Fedele, you ought to go after. I
don’t know what you took off your canonicals for!’ And Caterina, the
better for this free expression, hastens to dish up the _minestra_.

‘Poor old priest! What a shrew has he got in his house!’ says some
pitying reader. Yet he would not part with her for worlds! She is
his solace and his right hand, and loves him, besides, none the less
because of her sharp and uncurbed speech.

Words in Caterina’s mouth are only the natural vent of her quick and
eager nature, when the words are spoken to the old priest. For the
most part, they are forgotten as soon as uttered, both by master and
servant. The lonely man cannot afford to quarrel with mere froth of
words in the woman who devotes her life to his comfort. Who would
care for him as cares this poor hard-working servant? Who else would
lay aside her ease, and forget her people, that she might carry his
interests the steadier at heart, the better fight his battles and guard
his homestead, and order his goods to advantage?

Yet Caterina is no miracle of a servant. In many a lone and cheerless
home of Italian priest can I call to mind such a woman as this—such
a fond and faithful drudge, with harsh ways and soft heart! And where
the priest is old, having plodded out his life in some little secluded
parish, amid a people more uneducated than himself—there the servant
is old also, and the one has almost drifted into a shape and mould of
the other’s nature and mind. For, as far as home-companionship goes,
are these not all-in-all to each other? There is no wife for a comrade,
there are no children to keep the old life burning to the end, in these
homes of the Roman priesthood. And yet, who shall pretend that they
are always sad? If you have been to see them now with me, surely, for
all their quarrels, for all her loud voice and his cunningly judged and
well-feigned meekness, you will scarcely say this is an unhappy house!

So the _lasagne_ are cooked and eaten with a good relish, and Maddalena
has her portion upon the door-step, spite of Caterina’s vehement
remonstrances beforehand. Neither is a little plateful denied to the
pretty _contadinella_ who comes presently to the door with a summons
for the _prevosto_. ‘Did I not tell you that you had best hasten up the
hill without further delay?’ says Caterina, sending forth her parting
shaft. And the priest sallies out on his mission while the girl gets
detained awhile for a gossip. For this one is a favourite; she is young
and merry, and comes not too often nor a begging. Caterina loves her
well enough.



Il Signor Cappellano.


The Signor Prevosto is parish priest, and yet he is little more than
a peasant. The _Signor Cappellano_ is under-priest, and he is just
nothing more than a peasant. ‘_Abbiate pazienza_,’ his own parishioners
would say if they were excusing his deficiencies to you! What would
you have? San Matteo is not a large parish; though its hamlets lie far
from one another, and it takes a long while on a weary way to bear the
Sacrament to the sick, or even to offer homely advice to marriageable
girl or ill-used wife, still the parish does not require three priests.
And since they are kept merely to say a mass each on Sundays and holy
days, why, they must manage with what pay they can get, for the best of
the tithes must go to the rectory.

So the _Cappellano_ has little to do and little to earn for doing it.
The Church gives him a cottage and a slip of barren land that lies
mostly alongside of the stream’s bed; the cottage is weathertight
and sufficient for himself and his old servant, and, with the aid of
heaven’s mighty sun and man’s patient care, the land brings forth
produce enough to keep two souls and two bodies—what more could an
under-priest expect? Michaelmas daisies stand with goodly sunflowers
in a row before his porch, brilliant _pomi d’oro_ ripen their fruit
against the southern wall, while the gourds trail large leaves and
golden flowers along the ground, among wheat and beans and potatoes.
Neither he nor old Ninetta taste meat more than once a week, but what
of that? The _minestra_ is as wholesome without, and of _polenta_
one never wearies, only the _Signor Cappellano_ himself must till the
ground and sow and reap and manure again, or even the pumpkins would
not grow large nor the maize fill its cones, so how can you expect him
to be other than a peasant? ‘_Abbiate pazienza di lui!_’

‘_Frà Giuseppe_’ has the care of the parish school. Perhaps he gets
paid a trifle more for it—a trifle that goes towards the meat on
_festa_ days; be that as it may, if you come down the hill from the
‘Square Village’ towards the church, early upon any morning but a
Sunday or a Thursday, you may hear certain monotonous sounds that leave
no doubt as to the employment pursued beneath the thatched roof of the
_Cappellano’s_ outhouse. The sound is the sound of lessons repeated, of
moral tales read aloud, often of the switching of boys’ calves, oftener
of the poor pedagogue’s swearing. He knows little enough himself, but
the boys know less, and will never know more, because both teacher and
pupil are sure that knowledge is quite useless, having got along, and
seen others get along, very well without it thus far.

The school hours last till ten o’clock only—if he does not receive
much, at least _Frà Giuseppe_ gives but little—the best of the day
is all in front, and the _Cappellano_ makes good use of it. Besides
digging trenches amidst maize and rice, training the vine, pruning
the fig and the cherry tree, besides kicking the shins of refractory
urchins, and having altogether a good deal to do with the boys, he
has something to do with the girls too—he is the writer of village
love-letters. The post is one of some importance: _Frà Giuseppe_ turns
another honest penny by it.

But this is scarcely a matter we speak of. The love-letters—and
even other letters, would-be business letters, which _Frà Giuseppe_
writes for the parish—cannot always be free from little white lies
and intrigues of an innocent nature if they are to satisfy their
purchasers, and in this, as in other trades, one must go heart and soul
into one’s affair, and always work for the most lucrative market. So
it is not as _Cappellano_ that _Frà Giuseppe_ writes his customers’
letters, but only as village _Scrivano_, and that is quite a different
thing, and not a thing to be mentioned in the same breath with his
priestly title. One is not forced to be consistent, and though,
for the half-hour when he is in canonicals, the under-priest thinks
fit—as under-priests do everywhere—to differ from his superior in
matters of religious theory, though as in this case, he belongs to the
Ultramontane party when he wears robe and biretta, and would fain make
a stir in the parish about the _Prevosto’s_ laxity and so forth—in
fact, though the _Signor Cappellano_ be a bit of a bigot in intention,
both time and policy forbid him any indulgence of his opinion in
practice.

‘Life is short and argument is long,’ says he. Were he possessed of
ever so much more influence than he has in the parish he would still
be a poor man, whose gourds and vines must always be a great deal more
important to him than the souls of human creatures.

So, in other things beside the writing of letters, does the
_Cappellano_ wear two faces, and having salved conscience by the
preaching of fiery doctrines within the church’s walls of a Sunday and
feast-day at Second Mass—he has the worldly wisdom to be nothing more
outside the pulpit than that which he really is: a peasant amongst
peasant neighbours. Who can afford to be a priest all day long for
so poor a salary? One must needs have a little fun to one’s victuals
when poverty forbids better sauce, or even a priest’s digestion would
suffer, and the _Signor Cappellano_ knows well enough fun is not to be
got by a strict face outside the church doors.

   [Illustration: _Il Signor Cappellano._

   A plump, hardy-looking girl of some twenty-five years accosts
   him with rough raillery.]

It is Sunday morning, and _Frà Giuseppe_ has just sung mass and
delivered a scathing discourse in broad Genoese dialect to the
somewhat empty benches of a nine o’clock congregation. He comes out
of the sacristy now, having doffed his _soutane_, to keep only the
knee-breeches and stockings with steel-buckled shoes for a finish, the
long black coat and three-cornered hat of etiquette. He crosses the
_piazza_, which is crowded with peasants, male and female, not all of
whom have been in church, except for a moment at the Elevation. A group
of lads and maidens turn towards him; none of them are very respectful
in manner, but _Frà Giuseppe_ takes no offence. Though his person
were held in ever such veneration—even as the _Prevosto’s_ own—though
his voice be listened to with some amount of awe, as it is at the
confessional, though, on holy ground, his counsels and upbraidings be
sometimes regarded, none knows better than the _Cappellano_ himself
what a mere name is any priest’s power outside of his office.

A plump, hardy-looking girl of some twenty-five years accosts him now
with rough raillery. She has made a bet with some of the village swains
on a matter regarding the under-priest, and at his answer the group
around burst into loudest laughter. But even this is not enough to
discomfit _Frà Giuseppe_; he has seen the joke and retaliates smartly,
neither fear nor prudery hindering.

Another damsel appeals to him for succour against the too forward
advances of a stalwart old farmer, and something of a romp ensues.
Broad jests and plain words are spoken, but though a spade be called
a spade with little ado, _Frà Giuseppe_ offers no reproof. His own
education has not aimed at making him peculiarly sensitive to outward
grossness of speech, and that is generally the worst feature about this
frank and merry people. Who that is Italian, by birth and by nature,
could have grown to be thus susceptible? A country priest, at all
events, is not, and, as a rule, he gets on best by descending—if such a
word be the fit one—to the work and the interests of the peasants about
him, happy enough in his own way, and careless of any great show of
respect.

Now he joins another party, and this time the group is one of old
and seasoned men, whose interests are wrapped up in the crops and
the coming fair. Hear him, as with avidity he discusses the country’s
prospects, or reconnoitres cautiously, that he may know the better how
to buy and to sell with advantage on Monday next!

Here is no moonstruck priest, but a man of the world—poor,
parsimonious, and prudent. Poor, but not always stingy, not always
grasping, because he, too—though pinched and careworn far more than the
greater number of his people, who have their own lands and crops—he too
has the proverbial _buon cuore_ of the Italians.

‘Eh, Teresa,’ he calls now to an old woman whom, as he turns his steps
back to the little cottage, he meets coming down the path, a basket of
eggs and vegetables on her head. ‘Hast brought my portion at last? And
thou hast made me wait for it!’ ‘It is too true, _Signor Cappellano_,’
replies the poor soul. ‘Your excellence must excuse. It has been a bad
time, and I have not had the things to bring, though, the Virgin knows,
the will to bring them!’ ‘Well, well, it signifies not. Come now to the
kitchen, and you shall eat a good mouthful of _minestra_ with Ninetta
and myself.’

The little footpath leads down the meadow to the house with the
thatched roof, where Michaelmas daisies grow to the front. There are
no glass windows, there is only one chimney, the hearth is in the
middle of the floor: it is just like a peasant’s hut. Ninetta has the
_minestra_ ready; its savoury perfume pervades the kitchen, and she
stands with the great pot tipped up to pour it out, blowing away the
steam from her face meanwhile. She is a merry-eyed, wrinkled old lady
of considerable years, and she is not conspicuous for a superabundance
of mother-wit; in this she differs from Caterina, who is the Prevosto’s
housekeeper. The poor peasant wife eats the good soup silently, while
Ninetta chatters and the _Cappellano_ scolds.

‘Well, well, I shall get a better mess than this to-morrow, _Ninetta
mia_,’ says he; ‘truly no man could keep his heart alive many days on
nonsense of this sort. But with the morning’s sun I go to the threshing
at neighbour _Pasquale’s_, and thank Heaven there will be a _minestra_
there that is fit to be called one, when it will be his daughter
_Marrina_ who has made it!’

‘Oh, yes, you—you are always for praising what the pretty girls can do!
An old woman like me can never please you. I’m ashamed of you, priest
as you are!’

_Frà Giuseppe_ laughs contentedly. Such talk is his pleasure, spite
of Ultramontane convictions. So is it also his pleasure to go to the
common threshing-floor next day, where he handles his flail with the
best of them, and bandies compliments with the pretty hostess as well,
to quarrel afterwards—a pipe in his mouth—over bowls and _moro_ with
village swains.

But none the less tenderly does he doctor the hurts of the very men
with whom he has quarrelled—for the _Signor Cappellano_ is village
physician too—none the less patiently would he sit beside a sick bed
that night, for the sun goes down on nobody’s wrath—the sun that sinks
behind the stately cone of Monte Baneo’s hill, to leave the rich little
valley lying quiet beneath a clear summer night. And walnut trees stand
still upon the darkened sky, to shadow the cottage over, where _Frà
Giuseppe_ sleeps the placid sleep of the field-labourer.



Sweeping the Church.


Bells ring in the great Festa of San Giovanni Battista, and chosen
girls of the village are busy with their preparations within the
church, preparations both for the _funzione_ and for the procession.
San Giovanni Battista is the patron saint, and hence it is that his day
is held in higher honour here than even in the other villages around.

It is evening, and the vigil of the feast. All the afternoon, wearisome
chimes have been sounding overhead, rippling along in a joyous,
careless fashion, with here and there a great echoing stroke to give
them emphasis. Upon the church piazza, or even within the building
itself, the noise is almost maddening, but from woods and valleys
around, or, better still, from the far side of the torrent, the bell’s
voices have a sweet and plaintive ring that might almost lull to rest
in these summer days.

Within the church four or five girls are at work. Some sweep the
tesselated, marble floor of the nave, some dust the queer gaudy figures
of saints and Virgins or the vessels of the sanctuary. Others, again,
are busy hanging heavy crimson damask from windows and cornice, and in
this work a man must needs be found to help with ha’mmer and steps.
Two—and these are the greater and more privileged spirits—stand upon
the daïs of the high altar to adorn it with flaring artificial flowers;
fresh blossoms are rarely seen in a Romish church. The maidens ply
their tasks merrily, not overanxious that the work be quickly ended,
for it is pleasanter than toil in the fields or at home in cottages,
and they chatter noisily the while. There is none of the reverential
awe in their behaviour for which Roman Catholics are usually credited.

Presently the _Signor Cappellano_ comes in. He is supposed to be
superintending the business, but there is field labour to attend to,
the potato harvest is at hand, which the _Cappellano_ can ill afford to
leave in other care than his own.

‘_Orsù_,’ begins the little man sharply. ‘Haste with your business,
girls, for I have much to do and little time to waste.’

‘And it is perhaps necessary that your honour remain here to spy upon
us,’ retorts the foremost of the maidens, pertly? ‘We are fairly
capable of setting in order the church, and you may return to the
fields.’

The little priest laughs. He knows that he is not much beloved among
the neighbours, but the speaker is a pretty girl among her set, and the
_Cappellano_ would fain be a favourite. He walks around, making a few
haphazard remarks, that are received with about as much scorn as the
feeble suggestions of an English curate who comes in among the squire’s
daughters in the midst of decorations. He is soon out again in the hot
daylight.

   [Illustration: BIANCA DECORATES THE ALTAR AND SNUBS THE
   UNDER-PRIEST.]

‘The good-for-nothing meddler!’ ejaculates she fervently who has spoken
before. ‘It seems impossible he should not have understood by this
time that I will have none of his impertinence!’ and she laughs a loud
laugh, in which the others join also, furtively glancing at one another
and then giggling afresh.

‘Say on, Bianca, and tell us a little news,’ they plead. And
the request is readily complied with, for Bianca is the bold and
adventurous spirit of the village, and has always some tale on hand
which she loves to pass on amongst the quieter of her companions. The
damsel is a proud and powerful woman; she has taken her stand long
since in their midst, and, before her face at all events, the rest of
the flock is tacitly content to submit to her sway.

She stands now upon the altar steps as she begins her story—a fine and
goodly figure. Through the soft texture of her blue homespun, likely
enough her only garment, one can clearly see the curves of her large
and shapely form. Her bare feet rest freely upon the cool marble; one
of her bare arms, from whence sleeves are tucked away, is stretched on
high to fix a garland around the reredos, the other—curved and rounded
beautifully—selects flowers from the basket at her side. Firm and
graceful are the poses into which her figure is thrown as she moves and
stands and stoops in the various requirements of her task. Bianca is no
wondrous beauty; she has the heavy features and the sallow complexion
of her race—she is but a fair sample of our Apennine _contadina_, only
a woman with dark and fervid eyes, with masses of coarse and glossy
hair; yet she has a fairness of form and a perfection of graceful
strength, that we may not look to find elsewhere, as we find it at
every turn amongst the North Italian peasants.

‘Well, girls,’ says she, and her voice sounds clear above the noise of
the bells, ‘you must know that I’ve had an adventure—a fine and a merry
one, too, and, what’s more, it’s the son of the _sindaco_ that I have
to thank for it.’

‘Oh!’ comes an ejaculation in many tones from all the maidens.

‘It was down at the fair of Presoli. I went to sell and to buy for the
mother, and as I was bargaining over a handkerchief—and I must have
been red with excitement, too—he comes up behind me, and I hear him
laughing with right good-will at my tussle with the old _pedona_. “Ha,
ha! my pretty girl,” says he, “and I will give you the handkerchief.”
“A thousand thanks, Signor Beppo,” I answer, and then we discourse a
little, and when I have sold the little white heifer and bought the
sieves and the rolling-pin for the mother, “It is nearly evening,”
says he, “and at dusk the dance is to begin. Thou wilt surely come and
step one measure with me.” I stay for the dance, I give no thought to
the scolding which the mother will, perhaps, give me—for she expected
me home for the supper, you must know—but I just enjoy myself to the
full. Then the Signor Beppo gives me to eat and to drink, good wine of
Monferrato, and he conducts me home in the later evening—it must have
been upon ten o’clock.’

‘Oh, what fun!’ exclaim all the girls. ‘But didst thou not fear the
mother?’

‘_Che!_’ the girl ejaculates, shrugging her shoulders. ‘I invented a
little white lie for her. I told her there had come a rich _signore_,
and wanted to buy the heifer for a good price, but then, that he went
away, having said he would come back for her; that I waited, though
tired and weary I was, until dusk of evening, and when he never came,
that I sold to another man. Oh, the mother praised me for a thrifty
girl! You think I am so stupid that I can’t even find a lie when I want
it!’

The girls laugh. ‘Oh, no,’ says one, ‘and the white lies which one
needs not to tell in confession are so fair and convenient.’

‘But say on, Bianca,’ calls out another. ‘The handkerchief that he gave
thee—thou hast it?’

‘Surely. It is a ravishing handkerchief. He would have given me a
brooch of gold, but that I would not.’

‘Oh, pity!’ says a sympathetic maid.

‘Pity!’ retorts Bianca. ‘Thou little fool! And what excuse should I
have given for the trinket? The kerchief the mother knew well I meant
to buy for myself, but gold gives no man to a girl but he who will
marry her, and where was then my suitor to show? No, Bianca has got no
gourd’s head on her shoulders! She knows her business! Also did he get
his box on the ear before I had done with him, the fine young man,’
laughs she!

‘How was that? tell us,’ come the voices in chorus. But Bianca has said
as much as she means to say, and no entreaties can extract more news
from her.

‘I’ve told you the story for fun,’ says she, ‘and as to how I played my
cards and why I spoke my mind as I did, that’s no concern of yours. And
what’s more, girls, when your day comes, I don’t doubt you’ll know how
to manage your game just as well as I did without any advice of mine,’
puts in this wary daughter of Eve. ‘All I say is, have your fun, and
mind you don’t pay the bill.’

And Bianca is right, for again she is but a fair specimen of her class.
The girls of North Italy are by no means so weak and impressionable
as their free and fiery natures have led it to be surmised. Fun and
frolic they love well enough, it is true; neither do they fear to run
a risk of misunderstanding, sometimes, for the sake of a little glory
and a brave adventure. But the girl who has not been dexterous with
her weapons and bold in her dignity is for ever scorned amongst her
neighbours and her comrades.

Therefore it is that our girls can freely go their way.



The Village Sempstress.


When the road leaves the church to steer for the valley’s narrower end
and to follow the river’s course, it leads, before half a mile is gone,
into the midst of a little hamlet that is one of San Matteo’s prettiest
parasites. And there stands a cottage that has always been a marked
feature in the neighbourhood. It is the house of Marrina, the village
sempstress.

When the day’s heat has abated, and the shadows begin to deepen, and
the breezes to blow more freshly, let us, with the villagers, gather
round one of the village’s greatest characters.

She is an old maid. An old maid with plenty of ditties, like most
of her kind, ditties about the youthful days when Paolo proposed,
and nothing but prudence induced her to send poor Giovanni about his
business—he who was such a handsome young fellow, too, and had such
a flourishing _pasta_ business! But in spite of them all, Marrina is
still single, though she is past fifty, and is of so portly a figure as
to excuse any man for thinking twice about the necessary allowance of
_polenta_ and beans. If you ask her, she will praise the Virgin to your
face, who has kept her a virgin in peace and contentment until this
age, and will assure you that, though Giovanni and Paolo were dying of
love, nothing should persuade her to change her determination. Has she
not nephews and nieces of all sizes, sexes, natures, and ages to cheer
her loneliness? Does she not nourish towards all the men whose coats
she fashions, and whose breeches she mends, a love far greater and more
philanthropic than any she could have borne to one poor single husband?

It must surely be under no protest that Marrina is happy. Watch her
broad, beaming face as she turns it round on the bystanders; listen to
her good-humoured jests! She is no soured woman, though she has been
lame from childhood, and has probably never been wooed as she pretends.
She is proud of her position—the position which gowns and petticoats,
corduroys and jackets, have won for her. With heavy figure, scantily
clad in red and purple _bordato_—the homespun linen of the district—a
bright yellow kerchief folded across her ample bosom, and her few
grey locks neatly braided and packed into a lump behind her head, she
sits on the stone bench beneath her cottage porch, two stockingless
feet propped on an opposite stool, while she clips rashly with great
scissors, sewing, settling, and jabbering jocosely the while.

A knot of peasants has gathered round; Marrina’s porch is almost as
common a meeting-ground as the church piazza on _festas_ or the well at
sunset. If there is any news rife anywhere, it is to be heard from the
sempstress sooner than from anyone else; if there is any advice wanted,
she is the one whose advice is asked at least, if rarely taken. A more
sympathetic person could not be with whom to gossip over all matters of
personal interest, with whom to weigh the pros and cons in all affairs
of female indecision, and perhaps the taking of advice rarely includes
much that is more definite. Besides the family circle—that children
of brothers and of sisters, boys and girls of all ages, have swelled
to goodly proportions around her—many inhabitants, not only of this
hamlet, but of others in the parish, have met together to-night. Some
have brought their own supper from home to eat, standing or lounging
on steps and wall, others content themselves only with taking their
evening rest. Amongst the men, many do not even talk; Marrina and her
crew do it for them.

‘I never knew a man like you, Gian-Battista, for wearing out the knees
of your breeches! I’ve patched this pair for you three or four times!’
(And this may clearly be discerned, for stuffs of more than one colour
and texture have been used to help out the poor brown fustian.) ‘If
you had a wife, and were not a blessed unencumbered mortal as I am, she
would have told you long ago it wasn’t worth paying two _soldi_ every
fortnight to get these things seen to! But I must earn my money, though
I shan’t have the face to ask you for the coppers this time! Look
there, here’s Bianca! She’s been to Ponte Decimo and some new stuff
she’ll have brought to show me! I’m sick of these girls’ vanity! When I
was a girl we took what our aunts and mothers gave us, without being so
bold as to choose for ourselves. Eh, well, come on, child! What if I do
talk? We’ve all been young once. Hand over the things.’

   [Illustration: _The Village Sempstress._

   “I never knew a man like you Gian Battista, for wearing out
   the knees of your breeches.”]

And the old face is as eager as any of the young ones over the merits
of pure wool _versus_ cheaper mixed wares. ‘Give over thy silk apron,
for the love of the Holy Mother, girl, and just buy a good thing while
you’re about it! Who cares whether you’ve a silk apron or a decent
stuff one? New-fangled notions from the towns! I’ve no patience with
you all! As long as you’ve a good dress, a clean veil, and a little
gold on, not the Lord himself but must needs be content with your
looks!’

‘Don’t you think it’s too bright?’ objects the anxious and undecided
purchaser. ‘They do say that in Genoa one wears nothing but dark
colours.’

‘You go away with you!’ retorts the old woman angrily. ‘Why, when you
can’t _get_ a colour now if you want it! When I was young that pedlar
that you’ve heard me speak of—who used to look two ways out of his
eyes, you know—why, I’ve known him bring round stuffs with colours in
them that shamed the very Creator of the world! Now, hasn’t the Virgin
that they carry round in procession got fine colours on? You don’t
suppose the holy _Madonna_ doesn’t know what’s to be worn! Go to!’

And Marrina flings her big shears recklessly into some yards of calico,
out of which there issues speedily the roughest pattern of a man’s
shirt.

‘You’ve woven good linen this year, mother Teresa. I’ll buy twenty
_palmi_ of it to make my Virginia some sheets against her marriage. The
girl must have them, and, if her mother won’t give them her, I suppose
her aunt must! And you,’ turning to the former girl, ‘not content with
a stuff like that for a mere _festa_ dress, when my poor Tonietta has
got nothing but a calico frock to have her First Communion! Why, I’d
almost believe the wool was English, and they make no bad goods there,
for they’re so rich they don’t need to.’

And Marrina takes the coveted stuff in her hands, crushing it to test
its genuineness, and regarding it with the eye of a true connoisseur.
Then, carefully refolding it, she gives back the packet without another
word, and returns to her work.

The sky has become overcast. Banks and boulders of heavy cloud rest on
the hills of Savignone down the valley. The mountains have caught the
gloom, and look so dark that the ruined castle upon Monte Pilato’s side
scarcely shows from off its background. A storm has been prophesied all
day, because the air was so sultry; and now the walnuts overhead rustle
ominously, and even the chestnuts far away seem to sway as though
before a coming strength. Large drops of rain begin to fall.

‘Holy Madonna, and the tempest must come now when we want to keep the
wheat upright!’

Marrina takes her huge person hastily away, limping over the stones,
and calling with shrill voice to one niece to see to the linen, to the
other to drive in the cows.

‘Ah, it’s become a strange parish since the days when I was a girl,’
she mutters. ‘Not a bell ringing yet for the Lord’s mercy against the
storm, and it’s upon us, with the corn standing half a yard high, and
the maize too!’

Most of the neighbours have disappeared to see after their property,
but to the remaining Marrina addresses her complaint.

‘Why, when I was fifteen there wasn’t a stranger in the village—not
even other country folk, let alone town folk! And now, because our
valleys grow things better than theirs do, they must come and spoil our
luck! It’s the strangers do it all. Not but that I admire the fine pink
house over the river that Signor Mendicano built, as well as the blue
front to the miller’s new cottage, but I say it’s the strangers spoil
everything!’

‘You can’t have it both ways, dear heart,’ remarks a young man from
beneath.

‘That’s all very well for you, Giannino. The strangers do you a great
deal of good, I suppose, when they persuade you to play bowls all day
and waste your time! When your land has gone to rack and ruin, and
the disease has killed all your vines from want of a little care, they
can set it all to-rights, I suppose, by just talking you over to go to
America! It’s no fortune you’ll make there, but the fortune of pride
and conceit, though you’ll have left your native land for it, and the
girl who loves you well! But the young are all alike nowadays—no fear
in them, and no fitting shame of things they know nothing about! And,
to be sure, it’s not much there is in the girls of to-day that would
keep a man to them! Yes, they’ll be all off to get their fortunes too,
as if the poverty that did for their parents couldn’t do for them!

‘Ah, the bells _have_ begun to ring at last,’ she puts in as the
clashing chime breaks in on her speech.

‘It’s all the foreigners from the towns!’ she goes on again glibly.
‘Now, I remember when I first used to go and mend canonicals in
the sacristy for the _Prevosto_! It was as fearful he was of these
_Signori_ as I am. They’ll ruin the village, Marrina, he said. And
now doesn’t he go and eat their very _minestra_—I should even dare to
say broth that’s made with meat on a Saturday, if it weren’t I’d be
afraid for my soul at saying such a thing of the Lord’s priest! And no
more delight does he take in walking under the canopy at procession
than—_Dio!_ And there he is with the lady of the Signor Perrino! And
a real woollen dress she has on, with this rain down on us! Why it’s a
sin!’

Marrina quickly swings herself down the broken steps of her abode, and
hastens towards the advancing couple.

‘Fetch a chair for her under the _pergola_; why it’s no education you
young men have nowadays,’ she whispered angrily to Giannino.

The rain has come up the valley in a great mist; it has broken over the
fields and the woods in a torrent that quickly saturates the ground; it
drops again from the broad-leaved chestnuts. It is scarcely a wholesome
rain, though the land was parched, for the hail descends and a violent
storm might heavily damage the growing things of the country.

The _Prevosto_ seeks Marrina’s sympathy in this evil chance, but
all her complaints have quickly given place to pleasure in the
very presence of the townwoman with the real woollen dress on of a
working-day. She is only a tradesman’s wife, but she has bits of news
from the city and a figured silk jacket to display, and Marrina warms
so that she is really mortified at the refusal of beans and _polenta_,
which refreshment was offered at once with the gracious hospitality
that comes as naturally to these courteous peasants as the passing
benediction or chance greeting by the roadside.

But at last the storm is over, the air is fresh, the soil is fragrant
after the rain. The _Prevosto_ goes on his way towards the sick
person, whom he has to visit. The tradesman’s wife, after an exciting
gossip, returns to the pink house in the meadows. Marrina lays aside
her needle, for the night has darkened, and work cannot be done by
firelight. ‘She’s a good soul, and it was a beautiful stuff,’ she
murmurs sitting by the hearth. ‘But I say let everyone keep to what
he’s been brought up in. And as for the strange folk and the going to
America, I say, God forbid!’



The Village Damsel.


For a time holidays are over. Until the festival of the Madonna is due,
after the dog days, there is no rigorous necessity for laziness. San
Giovanni is past, and the most particular feasts of the early summer.
Work is again the order of the day, with only the less important
interval of Sunday to make a little breathing space—breathing space
that will scarcely seem necessary from such pleasurable labour,
perhaps, for all the peasants of the Northern Apennines think it
indispensable even though they cannot be so fitly accused as the
Southern Italians of that love of the _dolce far niente_ which has come
to be considered, sometimes most unjustly, such a good description of
their existence.

To-day is a _giorno feriale_, a working-day proper: let us judge for
ourselves of the aptness of the proverbial reproof.

Standing on the church steps, as we stood on the day of the Corpus
Domini, with the peasants—men and women—gathered in knots on the
piazza, and the priest in their midst, you might see straight before
you a road running right away amongst the meadows to the river’s bank,
while to left of you another way winds itself above the water; and
behind, a third, more rugged than ever, climbs the mountain’s side to
a hamlet on the mountain’s brow. Take either of those three paths, and
you cannot miss coming shortly into the midst of some steady labour.

Down towards the river’s shingle girls are driving cows to their
evening drink, women are spreading yellow linen to bleach in the
sunshine and moistening it with water that they dash up from the
stream with their wooden scoops, or perhaps rolling it into bales
before carrying it home. Below them the torrent’s bed widens out in
the broader expanse of the valley, with plantations of willow trees
guarding its way on the stones, and coronella shrubs bending over from
the rocks; above them the water’s line dwindles away to a mere thread
as it nears the mountains where it has had its birth. With the heavy
homespun in coils on their heads and shoulders, or neatly folded away
in baskets which they swing between them, the _contadine_ climb up to
the meadow’s level, and so home to thatched cottages where walnuts grow
in the fields, to lonelier cottages that stand in strong breezes on the
ridge of the hill-side: home to fractious children, famished husbands,
sons and brothers—the linen, the dinner, and the supper, have been
their day’s work.

And on the broader way that leads to a larger neighbouring village,
there have been also wayfarers. The little town that lies some three
miles off down the river’s course holds a few things which cannot be
procured in the village. It boasts a fair now and then, whence the
head of a household brings back a calf or a heifer perhaps, and even
on common days the town has a few shops that can produce articles of
homely furniture, or even of bright peasant dress.

Nettina has been there this very afternoon. She is coming home as
cooler shadows lengthen over the meadows and furrow the hills: she has
a new wooden _conca_ on her head—the old timeworn copper one has been
soldered so often, and yet always wears through and lets the water
leak! In her hand she carries shoes which clash against a red earthen
pot that is one of her purchases, and her large, shapely feet rise
up and down off the sharp stones as fearlessly as though her way were
across the cool turf of the meadow. Nettina is considered a handsome
girl. She has keen dark eyes, a well-cut face, a brown skin, and black
glossy hair that ripples gladly down beside her face and behind her
ears, its plaits fitting round tightly into the head’s hollow above the
nape of the neck; her teeth stand in beautifully even rows, large and
white, and ready to be shown upon the slightest provocation to a smile.
She walks well: though she must have been walking all day, she walks
well, and is not tired. Her head is erect—the wooden bowl, poised on
the cushion of her own knotted kerchief, only sways with the motion of
her own gait. Her square shoulders scarcely give at all to the swing of
her quick step, but the limbs move freely, and the body sways easily on
the hips, upon one of which she holds a hand, as though to steady her
step.

The last corner of the road has been doubled, and the well-known church
spire with its blue painted belfry is in sight. Here the path from _La
Madonna della Vittoria_ strikes the main road. A man descends it now.
He should be a young man from the strength and speed of his step, but
his face, and even the top part of his figure, is not visible, while
his gait is of necessity stooping, for on his shoulders he bears an
enormous load of hay packed into an enormous wicker pannier of coarsest
network, through the holes of which long grasses press out to hang
in a fringe around him. Nettina, however, seems to know, in spite of
travesty, whether he be a young man or not.

‘A happy night to you, Beppino,’ she calls out, but without stopping
her way.

‘And is it you, Nettina, of the walnut-grove? What, again to Ponte
Novo? How many days in the week do you go to Ponte Novo?’

‘You’re an ill-educated man to speak so! But I pay no heed to you. Why
should I wish, suppose you, to go to Ponte Novo? But a woman has duties
which you men only remember when she forgets them!’

‘You say well—you say well! All the same the miller’s son who lives at
Ponte Novo is better than the poor devils who grow the _gran turco_ up
in the valley! Eh, I should like to see what you look like now?’

‘But you can’t! And it’s like your impudence to think I should look
anything for you to see! I shall have no shame to tell you, when I go
to say the “Yes” in church, _that_ you may count upon! So I will give
you the holy night.’

And with this greeting Nettina hurries on. She has the water to fetch,
and the supper to see to. She has no time for further parley. Only,
as she walks, her white teeth are the better to be seen, as she thinks
over the little conversation.

The sun has set. The sky is deeper and further than ever, for it is
more transparent now that there is only a remembrance of the rosy glow.
The solid hills meet the air that seems almost solid, too, so far away;
their outlines lie peacefully upon the sky, soft browns and greens of
pastures contrasting with the harsher character of rocks, and again
with the softest quality of clouds. Just opposite, Monte Pilato breaks
from out the quiet line of the horizon to strike up a great mass into
the air, and at the foot of the valley Monte Cranio makes a mitre with
its two sharp peaks, in whose clefts one can see the chestnut trees’
outline even from this distance.

The woods cluster so richly over the country that there scarcely seems
room for the waving wheat to grow, for the large-leaved maize, nor
the tall grass of the meadows. Below the road, some hundred feet, the
river is creeping lazily, but now the rush of water over the weir warns
Nettina that she is close at home, and must leave the river’s bank and
climb a steep bit of path to reach her cottage on the hill’s ridge. Yet
her figure scarcely stoops, nor her pace slackens, though the way is
hard. To her right a little gorge cleaves the land, in which gurgles
a half-parched rill, and Nettina’s lungs have strength, even as she
climbs, for a merry shout to the labourer who works on the opposite
side.

Now she has gained the more level road above. On her right hand, thick
chestnut woods clothe a hill-side that slopes up toward the horizon;
but on her left, fields, and vineyards, and meadows lie in fertile
terraces one below the other, until they reach the valley’s depth where
the stream, shallow sometimes and calm, then tossed and wayward, flows
onward to the larger river. Chestnut woods again are upon the further
slope. They grow and flourish everywhere—tall and sweeping where the
ground is richest, but finding room even upon those narrowest ledges
of earth for which the rock makes a little place. The woods are not
very dense, nor the trees noble and stately, as in English parks and
forests, but the trunks are old, and hollow sometimes, or gnarled again
and sinuous and sweetly scented; the branches are curved, and graceful
with a strange and pertinacious grace; large and full-veined leaves
fan kindly in the breeze. Who would seek fairer and pleasanter woods
wherein to pass summer days?

Now thatched and sloping roofs and whitewashed walls of cottages peep
out from between the trees, and the damsel knows that she will soon be
home. For there is the village which lies opposite to her own across
the gorge, and little lights are already beginning to flicker from its
open doors and windows. Not lamp-lights, or even rushlights; in the
July days, at least, no light is needed after daylight is gone but the
light of dying embers or of newly kindled sticks upon the hearth. These
that she sees are the flames of the wood fires just lit for supper.
And Nettina hastens forward with quicker step. There is a cool wind
creeping softly about, and even the noise of the rushing water below
seems to freshen the air. She has entered the hamlet. Walking upon the
soft dead leaves which have been strewn over the stony way, and running
up the few broken steps beneath the little _pergola_, she turns in at
the cottage door.

The mother is on her knees, blowing from her sound lungs upon the
struggling fire, whence the white wood smoke ascends freely. The
kitchen is an odd and dingy little place, with its solitary window and
blackened ceiling, where slender rafters are set widely apart, that the
chestnuts, strewn over the floor above, may be dried during winter by
the heat from beneath. There is no glass, moreover, to the window, but
only heavy little wooden shutters; but these are not often closed, and
the free air blows in by night and by day, bearing the sweet scent of
carnations, that stand in a broken pot on the sill. There is no door
leading into the sleeping-room—only an aperture in the wall. The pot
hangs over the fire by means of a heavy chain from the centre beam.
For the hearth is in the middle of the room in these Italian cottages,
raised a few inches above the rest of the floor.

Rough benches stand around it, and these, with a table and a dresser
at the further end, where paste is rolled out for the _maccaroni_,
are all of dark walnut wood. The room is the dwelling-room as well as
the kitchen—this do many little signs of rough comfort and homeliness
abundantly testify. Red earthenware platters are ranged on a shelf,
and several curious water-vessels, of earthenware, or metal, stand
about, giving colour and quaintness to the room. On a low wooden stool
without the doorstep sits a little maiden of some eight or ten years,
dark and richly brown, like the greater part of Italian children; she
shells beans into a platter of quaint yellow ware, and beside her,
upon the low wall of the little terrace, sits another child—older by
a year or two, who carries a tiny, swaddled mummy in her arms. She is
no doubt the daughter of some neighbour, and is sitting here with her
little charge, that she may, at least, not be scolded by the mother and
worried by more babies at home.

‘Hie thee to the well, Nettina,’ says the elder woman, almost without
looking up from her task, as she sees her daughter stand within the
kitchen. ‘Thou hast been long at the fair. But patience! I will kindle
these two sticks while thou art gone, and then we put on the _polenta_.
Haste thee.’

The girl has already twisted her kerchief into a firm little cushion
upon which to rest the water-vessel on her head. Then she takes the
great copper _conca_ and sallies forth.

The village fountain lies hard by, and at this evening hour it is
thronged with women, young and old, in quest of their nightly supply.
A great chattering may be heard; the well is a trysting-place for young
men and maidens, and a place of gossip for the old women: it is noisy.
Nettina has ever been a favourite; proud though she be, she is fond
and gentle, so that, peasant girl as she is, she has more tact and
courtesy than many a high-bred lady. The girls welcome her loudly, and
would fain detain her awhile for the usual exchange of confidences,
but she is firm to-night in her resolve not to loiter, and only laughs
at the importunate questions of companions, all eager to know if
that rumour be true about the new gallant. The _conca_ is filled in
a few minutes, and then lifted to its place on her head; lifted, not
painfully nor clumsily, but with a movement full of that grace for
which these strong and hardy girls are so specially remarkable. Watch
her now as she descends the steep and stony path upon the village. Her
figure—strong and beautifully measured—sways gently upon its hips, her
knees are straightened slightly, and her toes are pointed that she may
the better feel her way as she comes down the hill. The way is rough,
and the stones roll from under her, neither dare she look to her steps
by reason of the burthen on her head; yet her bare feet tread none the
less firmly, nor fear to cling to the rocks. The brown column of her
throat grows erect to support a shapely head from out curved and goodly
shoulders, and, beneath a soft silken kerchief which she wears loosely
across the top part of her figure, the breasts swell tenderly. One
arm rests curved on her hip, as though to steady her gait; and, even
through a sleeve of soft, stout stuff, the firm moulding of the flesh
can be distinctly traced. The other arm hangs at her side, and seems to
emphasize the graceful motion of her limbs.

   [Illustration: NETTINA RETURNING FROM THE WELL.]

The _polenta_ is boiling in the great pot, the beans are shelled,
and the neighbour’s baby has been carried away to be unswathed and
swathed again, when Tonietta, playing now in the road, shrieks out in
her piping treble to say that the _signori_ of the _villa_ are about
to come by on their evening walk. Nettina steps out upon the terrace,
the wooden staff in her hand with which she has been stirring the
pot, and even the mother is no less curious to have a peep at the blue
muslin dresses, and starched frills, and elaborate-dressed hair of the
gentry. They pick their way over the dirty ground with dainty shoes,
no wise fitted for mountain wear. The ladies belong to a fine family of
_negozianti_, who have rented the doctor’s house in the larger village.
They are grand now, and glad to be stared at, for it is the eve of a
great _festa_, otherwise might they be seen in the mornings, around
their lodging, in attire far more slatternly than Nettina’s at the
present moment.

‘_Orsù_,’ whispers the elder woman loudly to her daughter, ‘haste thee,
and dish up the _polenta_. The _signori_ will eat with us to-night, who
knows?’

But ere the meal is served and ready, the fine ladies have gone their
way, mobbed and gazed at by many children, commented upon by many
voices of the more learned ones.

Further down the village, families are already at supper, eating their
_minestra_ from off wooden platters, while they lounge in the cool upon
steps and balconies of rough stone.

‘A happy evening, pretty ladies! Come and eat a mouthful with us.’
Such are the courteous invitations poured out from all sides upon the
passers-by. Hospitable-natured, for all their rough simplicity and
their poverty, these good peasants are gracious and gentle-mannered,
with never a thought of false shame. What they offer is of their best,
and the gift needs no apology. Frank and primitive people, with winning
and cheery ways, are these. Often have I rested with them beneath
vine-trellised _pergole_, eating of their savoury food, or have sat
upon a wooden bench, when youths and maidens gathered round the hearth
on autumn evenings to toss and roast the chestnuts, and always have I
been cared for as an honoured guest, while yet the merriment and the
plain-speaking went on alike, nor did irksomeness creep in amongst them
because of the presence of one guest who was not of their own caste.

But the twilight is fast deepening into night. The _signore_ have
doffed their holiday clothes, doubtless, and are eating their supper by
this time. Within the cottage there is scarce time to display the goods
bought at the fair, scarce a moment wherein to question and marvel at
the _centesimi_ which were deducted from each bargain, before the men
are all there, clamouring for the supper that is so late to-night, and
laughing at the yellow kerchiefs and tapes and buttons displayed to
view on the kitchen dresser. All the purchases are quickly cleared away
for very shame! Nettina lifts the flat baskets within doors, in which
maize has been drying all day in the sun, and gathers up the golden
cones that were hanging on cords along the cottage’s front; that other
gold of the gourd-flowers, where they trail on the ground, changed to
green an hour ago, when they shut their petals with the sunset.

Men and women close round the hearth, for supper is ready at last.
‘The minestra is good to-night,’ some one remarks; ‘the _faggioli_ are
boiled to a savoury pulp, the _tagliarini_ are finely cut.’ Darkness
has fallen; nine o’clock strikes. ‘Good-night, neighbours; I am weary,’
says Nettina. ‘Good-night.’



The Village Swain.


Ask Nettina what she thinks of him: pretty, proud Nettina, who can
tread so stately a measure at the village _fête_, and can throw
so scornful a glance at the man who has been too frivolous for her
well-ordered mind! Well, maybe she is a bad one to choose for a fair
opinion, for whether he please her or no she will toss her head,
and answer you only with a gruff ‘_Cosa me ne fasso?_’ which, being
interpreted from our dialect, means, What is he to me? So, better than
that, ask our village pet, our dear little cosy, most comfortable,
and convenient of flirts—Bianca del Prato; she will tell you truth!
Yes; though with her lips—curling, smiling, rosy lips—she only simper,
‘he is not amiss,’ yet does not the creeping crimson colour say as
clearly as any words, and would not the two brown eyes say so too, if
only they were not cast down, ‘The village swain? He is charming; he
is beautiful! Life would be nothing without him! And the red kerchief
that I wore at the fair is lovely only because he told me my lips
could shame the colour even of _that_.’ And yet he is not Bianca’s
betrothed. Prepare to be shocked, oh righteous damsels! He is only one
of the village swains—only ‘a young man like every other’—only a youth
whose name and whose voice she knows well, the fire of whose banter she
has stood bravely, the glance of whose eyes she has blushed beneath,
nothing more. But where would be the use of the summer sun, thinks
Bianca, if one might only look pretty for one’s own _gallante_!

There are three village beauties—you have seen them all. There are
_four_ village beaux—of the very first water! So much the better for
the girls, _they_ think! Pietro Mazzacane shall serve us for a type.

If, from the church, you take the straight road that has led you before
to the home of Marrina, the sempstress, and if, instead of following
your shadow, you turn to its right, and cross the river upon those odd
old stepping-stones, if you do this of an evening after work hours,
and climb the opposite hill till you reach the hamlet in front of you,
maybe you may find Pietro smoking a clay pipe on the doorstep, whilst
he devours a goodly bowl of the home _minestra_. He is a tall man, not
heavily built, not even very broad-shouldered; as he lounges, one leg
bent, one arm upraised behind his head, consolation’s emblem in clay
between his lips, as he appears now, propping his manly form against
the grey stone of the cottage wall, you might scarcely believe him to
be strong or even a good labourer. His crisp black hair vies with the
tendrils of his own vines in curly, wayward beauty; his dark, deep
eyes tell of fire that can swiftly be roused, of love tales that can
sweetly be told; his lips are ruddy, his limbs have the subtle shape
which should be theirs. All this you will allow: even of his yellow
skin you will graciously say ‘it harmonises with the rest.’ But still
you doubt that that man can ever labour with the stern strength that
labour demands: he does not look like it. And you are right. Put him to
till _your_ ground, to dig _your_ trenches, to plant _your_ potatoes,
and his long lazy limbs will achieve not a whit more than you gave them
credit for, though his clay pipe will work busier than ever, and his
siestas be the more frequent as also his merry jokes and his friendly
conversations.

But do not judge our Pietro’s powers from _your_ trenches. Get up
some day, when the steaming land bids men know how brazen will be the
mid-day’s heat—get up when Pietro, when Nettina, and when Bianca get
up: at three o’clock in the morning. The sky is grey. Perhaps there is
not a cloud, and yet it is grey with a solemn greyness, and one would
scarcely dare to hope for the rosy young light that will steal over it
before long to flush it slowly into warm and fulsome life.

The mountains seem very near; their peaks and cones look very tall as
they stand out of the morning mists that creep around their girth and
wind themselves away into the hollows of the hills. Perhaps you find it
almost cold. So does not Pietro. Only the sack in which he is to carry
down a load from the mountain is wound round his shoulders above his
linen shirt, but the keen exercise stands in place of covering, for an
hour’s hearty lung-labour has brought him out upon the cone of Monte
Marzo, some five hundred feet above the placid valley of his home.
Bianca has driven the cows to pasture upon the slopes just below, but
the village swain has only time for one shout in far-off greeting now;
it is his _own_ business that he is about, and his own corn must not
rot, nor his own land lie fallow for want of a good day’s swing of the
pickaxe. What say you now? Are not his muscles tough, and is that arm
not mighty that hurls the _zappa_ above his head and brings it down
again into the stiff clay to dig up his field?

Look around you off this mountain-top. Behind you lies Monte Stella,
before you the range of the Polcevera hills, to your right Antola with
her great stretching shoulder and heavy-browed summit; below you are
valleys, where meadows lie and waters flow and fall and trickle; and
everywhere on high hills and descending slopes there is cultivation.
It is no lazy race of men that has notched those mountain-sides with
terraces the better to train the vines towards the sun, that has
planted them with corn and maize, with peas and beans and potatoes,
with fruit trees of every kind, that has trained the gourds and the
vines, that has utilised every strip and corner of land upon the
steeps, that has quarried the stone, and fed and tended the silk-worms.
‘_Per Bacco_, the Lord Himself could do no more,’ Pietro would tell you
as he shoulders his huge pickaxe and, beneath the chestnut wood hard
by, gathers and crowds into his sack no mean load of the first fallen
leaves to strew beneath the cattle in cattle-sheds. One does not go
down the mountain empty-handed, even after a hard day’s work, and no
one could say that Pietro does not show to advantage running down the
steep with faggots on his shoulders and over his head—running to keep
his balance on the rough and rapid incline. Though Bianca would laugh
if you found anything to admire in him at such a moment! ‘A young man
not amiss, I grant you, but with a load of _foglia_ on his head—_Dio_,
what a taste!’

No, Bianca likes him better on the days when, he being somebody else’s
brother working with her own father, she can go with ‘somebody else’
to take the meal to them at midday; better still on the days when he
is threshing with all the neighbours on her father’s threshing-floor,
and comes to eat a _cena_ of her own preparing in her own home; best
of all, when there is a fair at Ponte Novo or Bossola, and she, who
is going to buy _conche_, can walk by his side, who is going to buy
cattle.

Yes, those are fine days! One goes to see a friend the evening before,
and gets one’s hair plaited in a beautiful _resca di pesce_ for the
morrow’s adventure. [It does not get tossed as you might fancy; the
sleep of the just is sweet and sound.] Then to rise with the daybreak,
to don one’s best _bordato_ dress, to fold one’s yellow kerchief, and
tie one’s heavy shoes, that all ‘goes without saying’ for a girl. That
would be done for mere pride’s sake, whether one’s _gallante_ lives in
Genoa, as Bianca’s does, or no.

And is it not the merest chance that Pietro, sauntering up the hill
with two or three other young fellows abreast, all of them with hands
in their pockets, and pipes in their mouths, and carnation in their
soft felt hats, is it not the funniest thing that Pietro should just
meet ‘_Bianca bella_’ upon the bend of the rising ground, where the
town first comes to sight, and just have been making a joke about
her to Giovanni, too? Well, well, at all events, Pietro has a very
bright red scarf to gird up his loins, and a very specially handsome
carnation, and quite a remarkable blue cravat, besides wearing his hat
a little more to one side than the rest. He looks quite as well as if
he had been dressed in Genoa; one cannot be expected not to see that,
though one has a lover in the town! And Pietro knows that Bianca _has_
seen it, and is as pleased as he need be.

   [Illustration: THE VILLAGE SWAIN AT A BARGAIN.]

Surely no man ever had his way with the girls better than Pietro!
Though Bianca picks up a friend at Cerisola, and there is a great
deal of talk about woollen stuffs, our swain still fancies even the
female rubbish is trimmed and fitted to his special ear. Oh, blessed
and invariable male content! A pretty girl in front who cannot fail
to admire the best-looking man about, a glass of sour _monferrato_
at the first village, and a pipe in your mouth—Paradise can offer
nothing better! Excepting a good bargain, and for the better chance
of that, all those other three good things are abandoned when once our
Pietro gets into the thick of the cattle market. That poor pale little
brindled heifer means success or failure, perhaps for the whole year,
to our modest land and farm-owner. No wonder that knuckles come down
bravely on the little three-legged table of the _osteria_ where Pietro
sits face to face over wine with the seller; no wonder that oaths are
frequent, and words run high! Is it not a question of two whole francs?
Nevertheless, they split the difference, and make up the quarrel till
it needs must be opened afresh over the game of bowls, whither buyers
and sellers soon carry every grievance.

As Pietro stands swinging his arm for the fling—handling the bowl or
stooping for his aim, as he saunters about among the company or drinks
his glass at the open-air bar—in all or each of these poses he is an
object of admiration to many even more than to Bianca del Prato, who
has seen him grow tall ever since the day, ten years ago, when he
switched the cherry-bough back into her face! An object of admiration,
and, though he is a simple-hearted fellow enough, to none more than
to himself. Is he not young and healthy—what better can he do? And
no doubt he is right! Though Bobbio can perhaps produce better and
Cerisola several as good, our Pietro is a good enough example of his
kind. He is not very religious; he will laugh at the priests to their
face when they pass in procession, and make fun of their Latin, but he
will bend his knee and doff his hat and wedge his person just within
the church-door at benediction time, or when the bell sounds at the
elevation, as a good Catholic should: what man of sense does more? And
at a bargain he will hold his own to the last, and come off triumphant
if it be only to one _centesimo_; what better praise can one give to
a man’s honesty? Surely, Pietro Mazzacane is as good as you could wish
for a village swain!



The Love-letter.


There are three of the village girls who are prettier than its other
girls. One of them is red-haired and buxom, with pink cheeks and white
arms—she is the most admired by townsfolk: village folk have another
taste. Nettina, from the walnut-grove, carries the palm with them—she
has a figure that is grand in its every line, and when she dances
on the green on a _festa_ night, she does not bound and frolic with
uncurbed merriment, but moves stately through the ring, and has no mind
for any foolish jest with men that are from the cities. Nettina is a
very proud and modest maid—she cares for no new fashions of dress, she
is thrifty and patient, and when she walks up the steep from the church
to her father’s cottage she can bear the floursacks on her shoulders
or the dry leaf on her head without show of weariness or stain. ‘What
a fine chip of a woman,’ say the village suitors! But Nettina looks
neither to right nor to left till a fitting offer be made and a trusty
mediator ready to negotiate—so—to meet coming down the mountain or
at the well of an evening or upon the piazza at Ave Maria and at the
fair—Bianca even before Nettina is the pet of our village. She is
grey-eyed and smooth-tongued, with long hair and lithe figure, not
proud nor hasty, but good-tempered and merry, with ready jest, when the
evening’s ‘chaff’ has hit the hardest. Moreover, she can deftly spin
the distaff and weave linen on the hand-loom: Bianca is San Matteo’s
second belle.

The daylight is gone, but the clearness of the summer’s night is as
good as the sun. Supper has been cooked and eaten at home; the hearth
is swept, and though the Angelus has finished sounding awhile ago, and
resting-time is near, our Bianca sallies out into the white evening
to do a commission that has been on her mind all day. The Signor
Cappellano shall earn four _soldi_ to-night, and who knows if he shall
not earn some more on the day of the wedding, for Pietro Gambari is
rich, and every priest shall have his due. Already she begins to dream
of that pretty day in the mellow autumn, and of the silk dress, which
surely such a promising lover will not fail to bestow for the marriage,
even besides the gold which it is her right to expect! And so many
_confetti_ for the children! Bianca is rash. She is going to negotiate
a little for herself, without the help, as yet, of the inevitable
mediator. But only a little, to the extent of answering a love-letter!
If the suitor be true and worthy, he will find the mediator to send to
her father’s house.

There is an early moon. It hangs in the clear sky just above the church
spire, and floods the _piazzetta_ with grey light. The leaves of the
walnut tree near by shiver gently, and the black cypresses in the
burying-ground look very ghostly, but far off the moonlight only makes
things lovelier. Everything is a little mystified in its treacherous
beams, only the mountain’s outline looks more simply clear than even
in daylight, when white vapours are prone to stray upon the border.
Monte Bruno’s three cones stand, in even row, against the southern
sky, and the moon is so bright that you can see the large chestnut
that grows in one of the curves. Mon Pilato rears a tall mass into the
nearer distance. The Cappellano’s cottage stands quite in the shadow
of the oratory of San Gian-Battista, and there is even no light in the
window this evening; but ghosts are few in the pious valleys of the
Scrivia—Bianca has no fears.

‘Are you at home, _Frà Giuseppe_?’ she calls from below.

‘Who is it wants me at this hour of night?’ growls the under priest, as
he comes out upon the stone balcony beneath his porch? ‘And is it you,
_Bianca bella_? Come up, come up only!’ Even a priest is appeased by
the sight of a pretty girl. ‘Who would have thought of _your_ coming to
visit an old man like me?’

The Cappellano knows as well as another what is likely to be the
errand of a damsel who seeks him after working hours! But he is not in
canonicals, and would not be averse to a little amusement on his own
account before the love-letter business begins.

‘Come in, _Bianca bella_, I have two mushrooms in oil on the hearth,
that, if I don’t mistake, you will thank me right prettily for when you
have eaten!’

‘_O bella!_’ cries the girl laughing, ‘_Bella come il fondo della
padella_’ (pretty as the bottom of the frying-pan), ‘as the proverb
says. You don’t take me in with that kind of fun. I come on business.’

But even while she speaks Bianca has seated herself on the bench beside
the hearth, and is proving the merits of the mushrooms.

‘How goes it, Ninetta?’ says she the while to the old servant. You have
a fine time of it with this man, I can take my oath. If I live to be a
hundred, I’ll have nothing to do with men.’

Master and maid burst into a loud laugh.

‘I suppose it’s not to see the colour of my ink that you’ve come again
to-night, then, you little liar.’

The Cappellano makes as though to pinch her cheek, but thinks better of
it, for the girls of this village are very proud.

‘Well, well, I have a new bottle of beautiful red! Oh, what _funghi_,
eh? Come into my study. I never do business in the kitchen. Ninetta has
the long tongue; and a love-letter, why, it’s as delicate a matter as
the confessional!’

‘_Vossignoria_ can easily jest, because you are but a priest, who knows
nothing of these things’—Bianca blushes and is pleased as she says
this—‘but indeed it is of no love that I speak to-night, and that you
might have known me better than to suppose!’

More laughing; nobody believes a word that anybody else says! More
chattering, and a little good, sound gossip; then the Cappellano leads
the way to his study. It is not very different from the kitchen.
Instead of a hearth in the middle of the floor, there is an old,
rough-hewn table; instead of bright copper and earthenware vessels upon
the walls, there are strangely-coloured maps of the two hemispheres.
Two or three books bound in white calf—breviaries perhaps—lean to
one or other side of the bookcase shelves; in the table’s midst is
an ink-stand with a sponge soaked into it, a sand-pot, and a steel
pen. The Cappellano sits before these implements, takes a sheet of
pink paper from a drawer, dips the pen in the ink, shakes it, writes
the date, and awaits further orders of Bianca, who stands smiling to
herself in a corner.

She has a blooming, winsome face, grey eyes that are soft and shady,
and crisply waving hair; she has full lips, too, and lovely rows of
white gleaming teeth, and she laughs as she pulls a letter from her
pocket.

‘This is the one which he wrote to me,’ she continues. ‘Perhaps you may
like to see it, that you may know the style that will fit him best.’

‘No, no! my daughter; I have written many a love-letter, and can trust
to my own sense,’ grumbles the _scrivano_, as he sets pens and paper
in order, for he has his own well-worn phrases ready flowing to hand,
and would be greatly discomfited at having to invent any new ones. He
puts on his spectacles, smoothes the fair sheet of paper, and, dipping
his pen in the ink, again glances up at the girl for instructions.
She meanwhile stands awkwardly before him, smiling to herself, and
ejaculating beneath her breath, as she twirls her apron mechanically
round finger and thumb.

‘But I never said it was a love-letter,’ she says at last, laughing
again.

‘Eh, well, well, my daughter. A letter to a gallant, then? What matter?
it’s all the same thing. Tell me his name, and whether you mean to have
him or no, and then leave the rest to me.’

‘But no, _Signor Cappellano_,’ remonstrates the damsel eagerly; ‘it is
not just so. You must understand the affair.’ And she comes closer to
the table, for Bianca wants to have a finger in the matter herself.

‘You see,’ she says, ‘the young man is rich and fine, they tell me, and
a good match for me, a poor _contadina_: I don’t want to send him quite
away. But then, I don’t just know either if he will suit me or no! Now
you, who know the Latin, and are fine and wise, you can put it grandly,
what I mean.’

‘Yes, yes, my daughter, surely; so tell me what to write first.’

‘Well, first you shall put,’ and Bianca plays again with her apron,
‘You shall put—that I have received his letter,’ she blurts forth, as
though struck with a good and sudden thought.

The fine steel pen proceeds to work, and makes a few flourishes on the
pink paper, while the girl looks on, eager and intent.

‘That have I written,’ says the _scrivano_ at last. ‘What next?’

‘And next, next! You shall put that he does too much honour to a poor
peasant girl such as I.’ Again the pen moves warily over the paper, and
this sentence takes long to indite, for it can be inflated with many a
fine word and sentiment; but in time the _scrivano_ looks up for fresh
matter. The girl is sorely perplexed, indeed.

   [Illustration: _The Love Letter._

   The fine steel pen proceeds to work, and makes a few
   flourishes on the pink paper, while the girl looks on, eager
   and intent.]

‘But, _vossignoria_, who knows Latin,’ says she again, ‘can you not put
together a fine letter?’

‘That can I do, my daughter; but do you wish me to say he shall come
and see you or no?’

‘Well, you will understand, _vossignoria_, this is about how it is.
Pietro Gambari is a rich young man, and I am only a _contadina_. For
me, I should not mind being a miller’s wife, but it is not enough that
the man tells me I am _graziosa_, and would give me earrings.’

‘The Virgin forbid!’ ejaculates _Frà Giuseppe_.

‘Well, that’s what I say, and so I spoke up to him, “Signor Pietro, if
you wish to know of me,” said I “you can ask Pasquale, the baker, at
Ponte, and for me I will inform myself of you.” And that I have done
surely, but Pasquale has heard no word of this fine youth, so when he
lets it be written to me whether I go to the fair at Damigiano or no,
I wish to say, “Signor Pietro, it may happen I go and it may happen I
stay at home,” and who knows but that may bring him to his senses! Oh,
but you who know the Latin will understand better than a poor girl like
me!’

‘Surely, surely, _figlia mia_,’ replies the Cappellano, returning
to his flourishes on the paper, ‘we will say all that and more.’
Yet, in truth, he is somewhat puzzled at the prospect of something
outside of the elegant ready-made phrases that have served the parish
for sentiment during the last twelve years. Bianca begins to grow
suspicious after a few dozen lines.

‘You understand,’ she says, ‘he must come, and he must not think I want
him to come. So I shall go on the arm of Pasquale, and if he comes I
shall leave those two to arrange the business as well as they can. Not
another smile from me till I see the gold of his gifts to me and know
his position! I am an honest girl, and no fool! And who knows but it
might please your honour to tell him,’ adds she, as though struck by an
after-thought, ‘that Paolo of our village is speaking to the _manente_
about me! It would be but a white lie, for it was true a while ago, and
I could tell it quickly in confession!’

‘Oh, for that, no matter; but it is whether he would believe it, my
daughter!’ replied _Frà Giuseppe_. Nevertheless, something he writes
down. Poor credulous Bianca!

‘I want naught else,’ says she now, thinking of her pence.

But the priest means to earn something more yet out of this weary
letter.

‘You have said nothing, hitherto,’ he complains! ‘Poor young man! He
won’t know if you mean to have him or no! One must give him at least to
understand if you mean to look favourably on his suit.’

‘But if I don’t know myself?’

‘Eh, eh, _per Bacco_; what is to be done then?’

There is a long pause. The _scrivano’s_ pen glides cunningly over the
sheet: it forms capital letters, and small letters, and flourishes;
it reaches the bottom of the page, and then he takes the sand-box to
sprinkle it over. Bianca has looked on gloomily. She has been watching
her little earnings ebb sadly away in all those lines, and strokes, and
dots, and yet it seems as though she were to get no good out of this
epistle. She is very sore and angry.

‘Is there anything more?’ says the little man, at last, in a
provokingly mild tone.

‘No, _per Bacco_, there is no more! Is not that enough?’ she mutters
crossly.

‘But I have said no word as to whether you will have him or no!’

‘Eh, Holy Virgin! Say what you will! I care not! For the rest, so
long as you make it fine, he will not understand much of what you
mean, unless he is more of an ass than I take him for. Give here,’ she
concludes, petulantly, ‘till I put my cross.’

And the letter is sanded once more, as Bianca pulls out her silken
netted purse.

‘How much?’ demands she; ‘and are you sure the affair will lead to a
good end?’

‘The Virgin will see to your right, child, but twenty _soldi_ are not
too much for this. I say it with a clean conscience!’

‘_Dio!_ what a bold heart you have to rob a poor girl so! And if Signor
Pietro does not come after all, and if I am forced to content myself
with a peasant?’

‘_Eh, anima mia_, that will not be my fault!’

‘But it will be the fault of your letter! Oh, these men, when I could
have written it so well myself! But I can tell you, you may keep your
fine scrawl many a day before I give you a franc for it. Ten _soldi_,
come!’

‘My child, you dream! Ten _soldi_! I might have made two _Spiriti
Santi_ in the time. Impossible! Eighteen.’

‘Nevermore,’ declares Bianca, staunchly. ‘Before I pay you eighteen
_soldi_ I take the letter to some one who knows how to read, and I make
myself be told if you have said what I required.’

The poor _scrivano_ begins to get frightened. What would this bode? He
might never write a letter again. ‘Make it fifteen _soldi_,’ he pleads.

And long and hotly they wrangle ere the price can be fixed between
them, but at length a compromise is effected. _Frà Giuseppe_ is to
put up with twelve _soldi_ now, and to have a hand in the marriage
ceremony, if the letter fulfil its purpose. What more could justice
demand? The document is folded and sealed. Bianca exchanges it for
the dirty coppers, and with a hasty leave-taking makes her way across
the stream and up the rugged path to the thatched house, under the
chestnuts. Neither Pietro Gambari, nor _soldi_, nor Cappellano, trouble
her slumbers much in spite of all apparent excitement. Even a white lie
rests lightly on a conscience of eighteen years old, that gets up at
four in the morning.



La Cresima.

The Confirmation Day.


The cherries are over; neither large, black nor small bright ones are
on the trees now, and the wood-strawberries were forgotten long ago.
The grapes begin to flush purple-red over their pale green skins: soon
they will be ready for the vintage. But the grapes are not havoc for
the village children, and if it were not for many another kind of fruit
that grows on trees, and can, happily, not be made into wine, it would
be a weary time till the walnut harvest came round! Heaven be praised,
there are large purple plums and larger yellow plums and little blue
plums that may all be climbed for, letting alone the peaches, and
apricots, and figs, and the large pears, that are ripe enough now for
the taste of any simple-minded village child!

And summer is play-time. Nobody thinks of the girls till winter is well
in, and then it is only one or two out of the whole village gang whose
mothers will spare them to learn reading of the _Signor Prevosto_ of
an evening, or knitting and darning of _Ninetta del Cappellano_ in the
forenoon.

But whatever is done in the bleak months, we have not long passed
the dog days now, and no mother gives a thought to any child but the
swaddled puppet who hangs at her breast, or the tall damsel who can
weave at the handloom and fetch back purchases from town or fair. So
Virginia had naught else to do all the days of the summer but be up
and down, with the rest of the village children, amid the hamlets and
through the woods, across meadows and streams. Her mother is Maddalena,
the wife of Pietro the _pedone_, but she has six children, and four of
them are girls, who are of an age to help in the house and the fields.
Virginia thanks the Virgin that she has been of more use out of the way
than anywhere else!

Till last week nobody thought of her; she was one of the village
torments, neither more nor less: one of the children who shout at
festivals, and stare and wonder at mass when a newcomer enters the
church; one of those village inflictions who are always up other
people’s fruit trees, yet never get properly punished; one of that
dark-eyed, walnut-hued gang, whose feet are always shoeless, whose
hair is always rough, whose garments are always in rags; one of the
rest, in fact, to share and share alike, excepting that when ‘the rest’
happen to be all boys it isn’t much Virginia gets but a cuff here and
there, and not much that she gives, for the matter of that, but a good
blow back again! That was how Beppo came by his black eye yesterday,
perhaps, and Virginia by that ugly rent in her apron!

Well, till last week, nobody thought of Virginia; but last Monday, when
the _pedone_ went to Ponte Novo with the letters, he was accompanied
by the pretty Nettina, who is Virginia’s eldest sister, and in Ponte
Novo Nettina bought a piece of stuff, for which she bargained many a
long hour, on and off, and which was just enough of a remnant to make
the child a new frock. And it was no flinsy print material either, but
a bit of woollen fabric, for is not Virginia’s father the postman,
and must not his child look more fitly dressed than a mere poorest
_contadina_ when she goes to take _la Cresima_ from the Archbishop?

Yes, truly this is the great event to which we look forward, and we
have been thinking of it ever since the San Giovanni, when it was given
out in church. No wonder that the mother has been saving her _soldi_
very zealously, for after the _Cresima_ Virginia must make her _prima
communione_, and Pietro’s wife would suffer a good deal of privation
rather than not make a fitting show with each of her girls on such an
event. Even the child herself grumbles at no loss of bird-nesting or
fruit-stealing when it comes to such a grave matter as making a better
figure than anyone else! She is only nine years old, and knows no more
of the mighty problems that she will have to believe ere the week is
out, than does any other little girl of the same age who has run wild
all her life among the brambles. But the Archbishop does not come round
very often, and many of the children must needs be confirmed as young.

So Marrina, the sempstress, sets to work upon the little lithe figure,
and, though she has plenty to do with all the other confirmation
children, she will make a grown-up little gown, that shall fit to the
childish form as the mother’s fits to full and ripe proportions—a
little gown that will set in at the waist and fall down to the
ankles, with beautiful trimming on the sleeves, and buttons up the
front: henceforth Virginia will be a woman. Then to vie with the new
frock Virginia has a pair of new shoes, a little black apron, and a
transparent veil arranged over the tightly-plaited hair and falling
over the proud little childish face. What finer costume could any
town-child boast?

The great day is here. It is August—an August so hot and so dry that
even the sturdy _contadini_ have been murmuring at such heat for
harvesting. The wheat has been gathered in, and the vines upon their
trellises stand out brighter than ever against the shorn hillsides.
Those damsels who have care of the church were at work all yesterday;
they swept, and washed, and garnished, and then they adorned the
sanctuary with those choicest of adornments that only come out on the
best of all the _feste_. Above the great picture of Rachel at the Well
there are draperies of amber damask, and the high altar is profusely
laden with every description of artificial flower, with tinsel stars
and hearts and gaudy streamers. ‘Truly it will look well when the wax
candles are alight,’ says Nettina, whose work are the paper flowers!
Upon the side altars hang gorgeous embroideries, and around the
pictures and the organ-loft more of the orthodox crimson damask.

It is evening: six o’clock. He will soon be here. For he is to arrive
to-night, and to address the flock briefly from the church steps,
before he retires to rest his portly form under the Parroco’s humble
roof. The _Cresima_ will be given to-morrow morning at seven.

Caterina, the Parroco’s servant, is in a fever of flurry and
nervousness, for _he_ is the Archbishop, and he brings two _Cappellani_
with him! Besides which there will be all the neighbouring clergy to
dinner to-morrow, at mid-day! _Bontà di Dio!_ The bells are at work
merrily—so merrily that no one can hear the first of the popguns that
shall announce the approach of his Holiness. Six of the handsomest
village swains have gone up the mountain to meet him. Swains of the
village whence he comes, will bear him in sedan chair to the confines
of the parish, but on San Matteo’s frontier it will be San Matteo’s
duty to provide for the progress of the guest. So six of our best grown
lads have gone up the road as far as the turn where, if you went up
with them, you would have a view of valleys and mountains that stretch
as far away as to the sea. The Signor Prevosto is nervous. He stands
upon the church porch in canonicals and snaps at _Frà Giuseppe_, who,
also in canonicals, offers curious suggestions as to means and manners.

‘Here are baskets and enough of plucked flowers,’ says he, ‘but no
one is ready to shower them before his Holiness! Pick me out two clean
girls from among you to do this work!’

There are many ‘clean’—even pretty—girls among the village
damsels, much prettier girls than those daughters of townfolk in
_villeggiatura_, but the _contadine_ are all too bashful, even whilst
longing for so prominent a post, and it is only just as the pop-guns go
off again, and the bells cease jangling because the great man is close
by, that two maidens are found, who, being children of Maso, the baker,
feel themselves worthy of so mighty an office. ‘_Eccolo, eccolo!_’ The
piazza is full of people, and with one voice they raise the shout.
His shoes with the bright steel buckles rest against the foot-board
of a lowly sedan chair! His purple stockings have not been too grand
to be donned for ‘us lowly peasants!’ His broad, red face beams on the
company, and his sacerdotal hat crowns all, as the baker’s girls strew
their gorse and daisies! Truly, the village swains have been honoured
in bearing so goodly a burden! They rest, and mop their hot brows as
_l’Arcivescovo_ descends to greet the people, and, ascending the church
steps, prepares to give them his friendly address.

_Dio!_ how short it is! One has barely time to note the folds of his
garments, the shape of his cuffs, or the turn of his hat! But he is
tired and hungry, _povero sant’ uomo_! And does not the whole village
know that Caterina has a supper prepared that would tempt the Lord
himself to forget his duty? All the priests, big and little, file
off through the piazza and through the gateway; they go past the
oratory and under the _campanile_, and up into the Prevosto’s garden.
The Archbishop is very fat; he has to be helped up the broken stone
steps that lead to the piazzetta, where vines hang and climb on the
_pergola_, where gourds ripen in the sun, and the fountain trickles
and the cherries lie drying in flat baskets. The Prevosto makes many
excuses for his lowly fare and lowlier habitation; but is it not the
will of the Holy Church that he should have no better? The great man
and his chaplains eat their supper bravely, nevertheless, whilst the
villagers gather in knots to talk them over; then they all go to bed
until the daybreak of the morrow.

   [Illustration: VIRGINIA GOES TO CONFIRMATION.]

Virginia wakes with the greyest of the dawn. It is a fine day for
her—one that will never come again till the day she is married and
then—are there not graver responsibilities therewith? The ‘remnant’
has been enough to make a gown as quaint as any little maiden could
desire, but this little maiden has a fear lest it should be too quaint,
lest the girls of the walnut-grove should eclipse her! New shoes,
a new kerchief, and the lace veil go far, however, to restore her
complacency.

The family get under way, and set off towards the church, Virginia
walking two paces in front of the rest, as befits so great a personage.
Upon the piazza she must fall into the ranks of children of her
own parish, for many other parishes have sent candidates to this
_Cresima_. So they enter. The organ-loft is thronged with parents
and relations, and other spectators have climbed to the gallery which
encircles the roof; the nave is exclusively reserved for the priests
and their prey. Behind and around a barricade covered with crimson
damask, the candidates are ranged in methodically-moving ranks, while
the bishop and his priests stand in the midst, ready to perform upon
each advancing boy or girl. The organ sounds, it plays merry waltzes
and pathetic love-songs, with now and then a warlike march. ‘_Il
nostro Arcivescovo_’ stands and mutters low, whilst he dabs each
newly-presented cheek with oil from his sacred phial, and anoints each
separate ear. Then the chaplain wipes the oil off again, and for each
the deed has been done. ‘What a mercy it didn’t drop upon my dress,’
thinks Virginia, and fans herself with her first fan, and feels her
new earrings. How nice it is to be a _figlia di prima communione_, but
alas, how many more there are still to have the oil, and how long it
will be before we can eat plums again and climb for apricots!

At last the great day is drawing to its close. Everybody has amused
themselves well. There was so much fine music, you might almost fancy
you were at the opera—from what we’ve heard tell of it! And so much
beautiful damask and false flowers and incense! Paradise could not much
excel such a place, especially as everyone had their best things on!

‘Did you see Marrina? Not pure wool, that! And Tomasina—well, hers was
a real silk stripe in the material. But Tomasina is proud! I wouldn’t
be proud like that—I’d as soon have a _bordato_ gown!’ says one. ‘And
the holy man’s sermon! That did make one laugh! He doesn’t know much
about us, that’s evident! Would have made the prevosto out to be a
saint!’ continues another.

‘The Prevosto knows better than to come over us with such nonsense! As
if he were the Madonna’s own friend! Patience, they’ve got to be so in
church! And of course it’s only right a priest should talk fine when he
gets into the pulpit or the confessional! Where would our poor souls be
otherwise?’ objects a third.

Everybody has had their dinner. The Archbishop and the priests ate
Catterina’s mushrooms and _risotto_ and _polpette_, while Virginia had
real holiday _ravioli_, with plenty of honour and glory for condiment.
To-morrow mother Maddalena will have enough to do thinking of her
family as a whole, but to-day Virginia is the child _par excellence_.

After dinner there is more congregating, more admiring of garments;
then more church, when the great man sings vespers in a splendid cope,
and Virginia still keeps on her frock, if not her veil, and rests
content that she looks as well as little Bianca of the village on
the hill. But now it is all over. The fine trappings are put away—the
church’s damasks stored in the press of the Sacristy, and Virginia’s
frock in an old oaken chest at home. The Arcivescovo is gone, and the
walnuts will soon be ripe, with the chestnut harvest coming quickly
on. Virginia has her rags on again and is up the trees, but she has not
forgotten her _vestito di lana_, nor how _la Cresima_ has made a woman
of her.



In Villeggiatura. Town Folk in the Country.


_La Signora Pareto_ lives in town—Via degl’Uffiziali, No. 4. She lives
at the top of 149 steps, on the sixth floor of a very new and very
pink house in the most recent suburbs of the city. It takes such a
long time and, when one has only one maid-servant, and is blessed with
six children, time is a precious thing—it takes such a long time and,
for a lady of la Signora Pareto’s goodly proportions, it takes so many
more long breaths than she can, in wisdom, spare to get up those said
hundred and forty-nine steps, that, it may safely be stated, neither
mamma nor children go out for a walk more than once a month. What would
you have? Children would wear their very souls to rags if the good Lord
weren’t wiser than to leave souls in people’s own keeping, and you
couldn’t let folk see them in plain things any more than you can let
them wear out their best ones: that is only natural!

So it comes to be just about once in a month that _la Signora Pareto_
thinks it is time to have the children’s faces washed and their short
hair, that was shaved last summer, brushed up in a ridge on their
crowns, and their hats with the bright flowers and feathers put on,
while she herself dons silken and trailing garments for a walk in the
lime-scented _Acquasola_. Who would believe this to be the same Signora
Pareto who, with heel-trodden slippers and loosened gown, stirs the
_polenta_, and fans the fire, and shrilly scolds the children on the
top floor of No. 4 Via degl’Uffiziali? And who would recognise in the
primly-walking and stiffly-dressed boys and girls of the public gardens
those scantily-attired mortals who hunt the house-top above the sixth
floor, and peril their necks on dangerous parapets, and furtively feel
for small spoil in the kitchen, and get whipped for venial sins in
theft and fibbing?

The lady mother walks with portly, swaying frame and upright head,
that black tresses profusely adorn; behind her trail yards of green
silk in the gravel’s dust, and on her broad bosom, mock gold and stones
glitter, for alas, she is not of the peasant women, who fear aught but
the true metal! And the children plod primly two-and-two, with all
that tells of childhood carefully hidden from the much-revered gaze
of the world, and too proud of furbelowed frocks to think of any other
enjoyment, to borrow any youthful glee from the sweet-scented acacias
or the flowering laburnum and purple Judas-blossoms.

No wonder that not much of country pink flushes the cheeks of the poor
town-bred babies who get so little fresh, free air; no wonder that from
time to time the town-bred mother, who thinks more of outward show
than of any other human advantage, begins to note the pallid hue on
her offsprings’ faces, begins to long for a bit of rough life, where
they can rejoice in heaven’s pure air without new frocks, and where her
own battered slippers and torn skirts will be good enough to breathe a
mouthful of honest wind in, when the wind blows around homely meadows
and cottages, where the great world’s criticism does not, happily,
penetrate.

_La Signora Pareto_ has a brother-in-law who is a great _negoziante_;
he is rich, richer far than herself—which is a trial when one is in
town, for appearances must be kept up and the brother-in-law’s wife has
to be vied with! But when the time comes for going _in villeggiatura_
then those riches in the family are an advantage, because there is a
little house up in the Apennines, some mile or two from Busalla, that
belongs to the brother-in-law, and which one may have for very little
money, if a little squabbling and haggling be added thereto.

So one day at the end of July the family from the sixth floor in Via
degl’Uffiziali makes a move. The maid-of-all-work is sent home—in the
country one does not only half, but all, the cooking oneself, and has
a village girl in to help! The good papa takes charge of numbers four,
five, and six, because his arms are the strongest; the shrill-voiced
mamma attempts to keep three elder boys in order, whose spirits are
quite too much for them at the prospect, first of a journey, and then
of green trees, and fruit to plunder! One kisses the neighbours all the
way down the staircase—inmates of pianos five, four, &c.—one reaches
the station, one takes many a second-class ticket, half and whole.
After an hour’s slow progress, sitting in a railway carriage, with
the din of children in the ears, and, in the nostrils, the smell of
truffles and fish and such things as cannot be procured in the country,
one descends at last on the platform of a little station, and lifts out
the joyful half-dozen of one’s progeny!

How green the trees are, how fresh the breeze, even along the dusty
highway, that would lead across the mountains of the Giove, were one
not minded to turn aside and follow the torrent’s course to left! Paolo
and Checchino, and even the little Emilia, feel it blow pleasantly,
indeed, upon their almost bare heads that were short-shaven again
yesterday for the season of recess! They caper gladly along the
road, while father and mother exchange greetings and compliments with
fruit-sellers and barbers in the town’s little street, with peasant men
and women as they strike out into the free country beyond.

   [Illustration: _In Villeggiatura._

   “Madonna, what a heat!” complains the town lady, while the
   papa trudges on wearily in front with babies two and three.]

The chestnut leaves are broad and full on the boughs of trees to the
road’s right hand, the river runs idly to left, and beyond the river
more turf springs and more chestnuts grow upon it. Woods flourish,
with meadows, and fields, and vineyards. After the village of Ponte is
past—with the bridge over the stream whence the carriage-road begins
to run to left of it—when the last of the houses, that have been
built for summer visitors, is behind, papa and mamma Pareto have a
rougher and stonier way along which to drive their little flock—for the
brother-in-law’s cottage lies up the side valley of _la Valle Calda_.
‘_Madonna_, what a heat!’ complains the town lady, loosening the scarf
around her throat! And even the children’s strength begins to ebb into
fretfulness, while the papa trudges along wearily in front with babies
two and three. It is three miles from Busalla to the parish church of
the village, and town heat has not been apt to fit anyone for work.
‘_Andiamo_, Nina, thou art truly the laziest of all, because thou art
tall! Fie and for shame!’ scolds the mother to her eldest-born girl.

But the tall campanile is in sight at last, and everybody plucks up
courage to take and give friendly greetings courteously. The Prevosto
comes out on the _piazza_ with his serving-maid behind; the Cappellano
descends the rugged steps of his dwelling to give a welcome. Neither
priest is in canonicals—the one has been tilling the soil, and the
other pruning the vines—but the family of Pareto are no sticklers
for etiquette when once out of town. Compliments and greetings flow
graciously, words and jokes fly swiftly; the children are admired,
the village news is told. Then the party moves onward towards its
destination, but escorted now and strengthened by gathering friends.

The sun is setting above the tree-tops of the little deep, dark dell
beneath the church: it is night before parents and children are well
installed in the black and white cottage that stands in the midst of
open meadows, having maize fields around it, and a fence about its
modest garden. The family has come by an afternoon train for the cool’s
sake, and it is time to go to bed before the well has even been visited
hard by, or any of the familiar nooks; indeed, the children are asleep
almost before the fire has been lit for them to have their supper, and
the sharp words of the mother, who is ever threatening punishments that
have no room in her heart, fall but lightly on their ears.

The morning sun creeps softly down the side of tall Monte Mazzo
opposite. When the Pareto family gets up next morning, the cottage lies
yet in shade, as do the meadows also and our own chestnut woods above
the well, and even the _campanile_, with everything that is on this
side the torrent. ‘One must rise early to enjoy the Creator,’ says the
mother, and the children are not prone to quarrel with her advice in
these country days! With garments that already are faded and soon will
be torn as well, with white-toed shoes and heads bare to the sun and
the breezes, they scour the country betimes to visit their favourite
haunts, to spoil the fruit trees that are in season, and to coax scrap
and bit from neighbourly cauldrons and granaries. Nobody gives much
thought to them all day. They are safe, for everybody knows them, and
will take a turn at looking after them, safe as the peasant children
themselves, of whom they are part and parcel now that town pride and
strivings are left behind.

_La Signora Pareto_ has gossip enough to do herself this first day.
There is no need to hire any girl for a help _this_ week, for there
are neighbours and to spare who will gladly give a hand for the sake
of a bit of city news! They must see once again the fine dress which
the lady wore yesternight when she arrived! ‘Oh, but that is nothing!
On the day of the Assumption, at mass and procession, you shall see
what you shall see,’ boasts the town bird, and yet at the present
moment her dress is more slatternly by far than that of the peasant
women who throng her kitchen. They wear skirts of dark homespun linen,
bright cotton kerchiefs, and aprons, but her garments are of threadbare
woollen stuff and soiled, while a loose black bodice hangs carelessly
upon her shoulders in place of the folded square, and her hair is still
in the fashionable coils of last night, but rough now and disordered.

Caterina, the parsonage housekeeper, calls in now with a supply of
eggs and vegetables to help out the first day’s dinner. She thinks but
slightly of _la Signora Pareto’s_ grandeur as she looks on the stained
and trailing skirts that are deemed good enough for the country—for
Caterina is a strict and thrifty woman. But when the day of the
Assumption comes, and the lady of the cottage comes to mass, then even
the priest’s servant is forced to admit that her costume is one ‘truly
of luxury!’ For the silk dress with the train that Marrina, the village
sempstress, declared would have reached right over to America, where
the emigrants go—the violet silk and the gold ornaments, and the French
cashmere shawl, have all been thought worthy of so grand an occasion!
Nina, the firstborn, has her hat and feathers on, and her white frilled
petticoat, whilst even the boys have been promoted to cleanliness.

The day is bright even amid this dazzling summer brightness. Spite of
the heat, meadows are fresh and the wooded turf, because of many rills
that water the valley. Orchis and yellow lady’s-slipper and broom have
come in place of the ragged robins and the buttercups, and upon the
open land over the hills the little pink heather blossom will soon be
abloom. The river winds slowly, the mountains make a dark, dented line
upon the calm sky, all around, the chestnut woods stir in the breeze,
and droop their boughs upon the green grass.

The stars on the Virgin’s blue robe glitter in the sunlight as the
procession winds up across the fields, by the well, and by the cottage
of the town family, to come back again along the river path into
the church. And _la Signora Pareto_ is proud to walk behind the Holy
Madonna, for she is well-dressed, and people stare even more at _her_
garments than at the Virgin’s own, which they have seen many times. ‘It
is even more worth while to don one’s finery here than in town,’ thinks
the lady, for in town there is always a fear it may pass unnoticed in
the crowd! But all the same one must do one’s economy in the country.
For what else does one come but to economise, and to rejoice in the
Creator, as _la Signora Pareto_ says? So to-morrow the soiled grey
skirts will be on again, the children will be shoeless and ragged, and
we shall eat _minestra_ of beans in place of _ravioli_ for dinner.

But the cool air fans freshly all the same upon the children’s cheeks,
meadows are soft and fragrant that lie around the black-and-white
house—the garden grows peas and beans and gourds and lettuce beneath
the fruit trees, and this is matter of interest to everybody. The vines
trail wildly across the kitchen window, and boys and girls think it
fine fun to blow the sulphur upon them that keeps off the fell disease.
Who cares whether children’s clothes are rent and threadbare, since
roses are coming to their cheeks in the wild, free life and the good
air of this Apennine _villeggiatura_?



CONCLUSION.



Il Corpus Domini.

The Procession.


A June day’s dawn breaks white over the land, and in its wake comes the
sun, glorious to shine where dew-drops have lain cool through the short
summer night. They lie still on plucked flowers and herbage in the town
market of S. Domenico, though the sun rose half an hour ago, and they
lie thicker on soft green turf and gently stirring blossoms, beneath
the breezy chestnut woods of Apennine or Riviera mountains.

And the fair fine weather gladdens many a heart to-day, for it is the
feast of the Corpus Domini. Whether in country cottages or in city
streets—those small and darker streets where dwell the working people,
who yet can be moved by a feast day—in homes that stand beneath a cool
green shade, as in flats that have but the sadder shade from tall, town
houses opposite—all rise early on this hot June morning, because after
mass there is the great procession. Many folk, young and old, poor and
gentle, donned holiday dress to see the carnival of Martedì Grasso and,
of these, all are, perhaps, not left to wear their best clothes again
for this other pageant that is of the Church.

But Rosina, the fair _fioraja_, still combs her long black hair and
smiles to show her fine white teeth, and, from her room beside the
camellia-beds of the Peschiere, she comes forth adorned for the day.
And many others walk beside her in the procession, who stood beside
her, perhaps, to see the blessing of the palms at S. Lorenzo, and knelt
in divers churches before the _Santo Sepolcro_.

Maddalena, the little servant wench, walks behind the great cross
in crisply-smoothed _pezzotto_ and ear-drops that were new for the
sister’s festival of the first communion. She is proud to be so near
the procession’s heart, and glances along the ranks to see the crimson
banners floating aloft, and the Virgin’s images, to marvel at the great
throng of priests, where the Archbishop bears the Host beneath gaudy
panoply. Yet Maddalena cannot see the whole of the great sight so well
as can _la padrona_, who sits on a convenient balcony of the Via Nuova,
and sprinkles flowers upon the crowd, while she listens to compliments
from the rich silk mercer at her side, and secretly admires that very
dress which her little maid has so often assured her is becoming.

Not even _la Pettinatrice_, who has secured a side window through
hair-dressing acquaintance, can see the great silver ark that holds
the ashes of S. John, so closely as can _la Dè Maroni_, whose plaits
she has greased this morning, or _la Contessa Capramonte_, who sits
on a family terrace, with fair coils twisted by Marrina’s own hands,
and silken draperies purchased at the shop of fat Signor Giordano,
gazing placidly from a plebeian ground-floor opposite. For these, on
their balconies, are above the heads of the crowd, and close where the
procession must pass. Sprinkling their gorse-bloom and camellias, they
can look along the winding stream of the people, and see the companies
of friars and monks and Jesuits, the ranks of municipal orders,
gorgeous in civic dress, the blue-robed children of the Virgin, the
crosses and banners and saints, till the shaven crowns of officiating
priests are just below them, and rich vestments glitter, and incense
from acolytes’ censers floats around the Archbishop’s panoply, ere it
is wafted to the very windows where they kneel.

But, for all the grandeur and the throng, perhaps the town-folk have
not the best of it. At Bogliasco, where fisher-folk live, bells have
been ringing for the Corpus Domini as well, and Paolo has lounged about
the church door, smoking pipes with Maso, while the fat fisherwife and
Giannino and Nicoletta walked in the procession. At Ruta, on the hill,
old Giovanni, the _manente_, has knelt to the passing Host also, and
Maria has chattered whisperingly to the neighbours.

Though hot it has been, indeed, beneath the frail olive foliage and
beside the shining blue sea at Camogli, the priests have not failed
to go forth in their muffling copes under the panoply, chaunting
the office and bearing the Host. Nor has Lucrezia, the lace-weaver,
forgotten to carry the swaddled _bambino_ to see the procession at
Santa Margherita, while pop-guns were fired and men played at bowls on
the high road.

Even Teresa—the thrifty housewife at Portofino Castle—has found time,
amid manifold duties, to attend this most delicate of feasts, and has
gone so far as to leave the premises in charge of the household drudge,
while she follows the old _marchese_ to the pageant of Corpus Domini.

These all prayed their prayers in stifling churches, and knelt by dusty
waysides as the sacred Host went by, but, beneath the shady woods of
the Apennines, cooler breezes have stirred the broad chestnut leaves
upon this joyful June afternoon.

The parish priest has risen betimes, for the _Signor Cappellano_ can
only preach at second mass, and the sermons are many to be preached,
the masses many to be sung on this greatest of holidays. Caterina,
the spare serving maid, was all day yesterday baking the communion
wafers, but even she finds time to don holiday garb and pace holiday
paces to-day. Everybody is not at the same morning mass, but everybody
comes to vespers at three of the afternoon, and everybody walks in the
procession.

   [Illustration: THE PROCESSION OF THE CORPUS DOMINI.]

That tall, strong wench, who is village story-teller in chief—_Rosa
la bruna_—walks first in the file, and bears the great cross that
is silver-ornamented, while Nettina and others come behind with the
candles. And everyone has on her dress of gay print or of stout woollen
stuff, with golden ear-drops and freshly-smoothed veil.

She of the love-letter, is neither last nor least, the soft-eyed
Bianca, whose gallant follows after with crimson banner! And the town
lady is there too—that merchant’s wife who rents the cottage in the
fields, and whose children run rougher, amid country breezes, than the
very peasants themselves: she wears the purple silk dress, with the
long train and trimming of notoriety, while upon her ample bosom rests
the gold chain, and across her fair tresses the black veil that is to
distinguish her from the girls round about. She is proud to be thus
gorgeous, and envied in the female crowd, proud that she can so vastly
outshine even the portly dame who comes after—her whom they call the
priest’s cousin.

But Marrina, the sempstress, will not walk in procession, for she is
short and stout, and there is wayfaring enough to be done in the world,
says she! So, from the low seat of a rough stone wall, she sees the
pageant go by. She nods scornfully to Rosa with the big cross—for Rosa
is a curt-speaking girl—and sympathetically to Nettina with the small
crucifix, who should have been the leader, thinks she, for Nettina is
a free-and-easy one, more to the mind of this proud old lady. Then for
a moment Marrina kneels painfully at the wayside, because the panoply
passes, borne up by the miller and three farmers in red cotton robes,
and beneath it walks the parish priest slowly, with stiffly gorgeous
cope about his shoulders and clumsy hands that bear aloft the Sacred
Host. And secretly, as she prays, Marrina chuckles, for well she knows
the priest loves not to pace, closely-robed, in procession on a hot
June afternoon! ‘But it is his duty,’ says the sempstress to herself
gladly, as it is the fat _Cappellano’s_ duty to uphold the vestments of
his chief, in company with a second priest on the other side.

And, when the mumbling and panoplied trio have gone by, Marrina
rises to her feet again, to wait for the Virgin’s blue-robed image,
and to laugh at the staggering steps of Giovanni and his comrades as
they carry Heaven’s Queen on their shoulders: to scoff also at the
clumsiness of Pietro, who strives vainly to adjust her crown with his
stick! Then, scolding little Virginia, the confirmation-heroine, for
her loud laughter with romping companions in the procession’s very
midst, she, laughing herself, adds her ambling gait to the pageant’s
outskirts, and climbs the church steps once more.

For the procession is over. Village boys, shrieking with delight, have
fired the pop-guns in its honour; the bells have ceased their jangle.
The village bride has been admired, whose home is new beneath the
cherry trees: the village swain has whisperingly begged a promise of
the village belle for the dance later on in the meadows. Bianca has
brought the affair of the love-letter to a fortunate close on this very
church porch; Caterina rests from scolding the priest. A glamour of
coming night begins to creep down from the mountains upon the valley,
and, though still the river flows and still Mon Pilato stands against
the twilight, our tale is told, our procession is finished. Town folk
and country folk have all passed away in its wake.


  THE END.


                           LONDON: PRINTED BY
                SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                         AND PARLIAMENT STREET



Transcriber's Notes

Original spelling and punctuation have been preserved as much as
possible. Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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