Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

near sundown at that season. I went to dear old Frank Chaney, -the jolliest of jolly Englishmen, who was acting quartermaster-general, - and told him I must have transportation. I can see him and hear him now, -as he sat on his barrel head, smoked his vile Tunisian tobacco in his beloved short meerschaum, which was left to him ever since he was at Bonn, as he pretended, a student with Prince Albert. He did not swear, – I don’t think he ever did. But he looked perplexed enough to swear. And very droll was the twinkle of his eye. The truth was, that every sort of a thing that would sail, and every wretch of a fisherman that could sail her, had been, as he knew, and as I knew, sent off that very morning to rendezvous at Carrara, for the contingent which we were hoping had slipped through Cavour's pretended neutrality. And here was an order for him to furnish me “transportation” in exactly the opposite direction. “Do you know of anything, yourself, Fred 7” said he. “Not a coffin,” said I. “Did the chief suggest anything?” “Not a nutshell,” said I. “Could not you go by telegraph *" said Frank, pointing up to the dumb old semaphore in whose tower he had established himself. “Or has not the chief got a wishing carpet? Or can't you ride to Gallipoli 2 Here are some excellent white-tailed mules, good enough for Pindar, whom Colvocoressis has just brought in from the monastery. “Transportation for one!' Is there anything to be brought back 2 Nitre, powder, lead, junk, hard-tack, mules, horses, pigs, polenta, or olla £odrida, or other of the stores of war?” No ; there was nothing to bring back except myself. Lucky enough if I came back to tell my own story. And so we walked up on the tower deck to take a look. Blessed St. Lazarus, chief of Naples and of beggars a little felucca was just rounding the Horse Head and coming into the bay, wing-wing. The fishermen in her had no thought that they

were ever going to get into the Atlantic. May be they had never heard of the Ocean or of the Monthly. Can that be possible P Frank nodded, and I. He filled up with more Tunisian, beckoned to an orderly, and we walked down to the landing-jetty to meet them. “Viva Italia / " shouted Frank, as they drew near enough to hear. “Viva Garibaldi /* cried the skipper, as he let his sheet fly and rounded to the well-worn stones. A good voyage had they made of it, he and his two brown, ragged boys. Large fish and small, pink fish, blue, yellow, orange, striped fish and mottled, wriggled together, and flapped their tails in the well of the little boat. There were even too many to lie there and wriggle. The bottom of the boat. was well covered with them, and, if she had not shipped waves enough to keep them cool, the boy Battista had bailed a plenty on them. Father and son hurried on shore, and Battista on board began to fling the scaly fellows out to them. A very small craft it was to double all those capes in, run the straits, and stretch across the bay. If it had been mine “to make reply,” I should undoubtedly have made this, that I would see the quartermaster hanged, and his superiors, before I risked myself in any such rattletrap. But as, unfortunately, it was mine to go where I was sent, I merely set the orderly to throwing out fish with the boys, and began to talk with the father. Queer enough, just at that moment, there came over me the feeling that, as a graduate of the University, it was my duty to put up those red, white, and blue scaly fellows, who were flopping about there so briskly, and send them in alcohol to Agassiz. But there are so many duties of that kind which one neglects in a hard-worked world! As a graduate, it is my duty to send annually to the College Librarian a list of all the graduates who have died in the town I live in, with their fathers’ and mothers' names, and the motives that led them to College, with anecdotes of their career, and the date of their death. There are two thousand three hundred and forty-five of them I believe, and I have never sent one half-anecdote about one | Such failure in duty made me grimly smile as I omitted to stop and put up these fish in alcohol, and as I plied the unconscious skipper with inquiries about his boat. “Had she ever been outside P’’ “O signor, she had been outside this very day. You cannot catch tonno till you have passed both capes, – least of all such fine fish as that is,” —and he kicked the poor wretch. Can it be true, as C says, that those dying flaps of theirs are exquisite luxury to them, because for the first time they have their fill of oxygen 2 “Had he ever been beyond Pelorofo” “O yes, signor; my wife, Caterina, was herself from Messina,” — and on great saints' days they had gone there often. Poor fellow, his great saint's day sealed his fate. I nodded to Frank, - Frank nodded to me, – and Frank blandly informed him that, by order of General Garibaldi, he would take the gentleman at once on board, pass the strait with him, “and then go where he tells you.” The Southern Italian has the reputation, derived from Tom Moore, of being a coward. When I used to speak at school, “Ay, down to the dust with them, -slaves as they are l’” — stamping my foot at “dust,” I certainly thought they were a very mean crew. But I dare say that Neapolitan schoolboys have some similar school piece about the risings of Tom Moore's countrymen, which certainly have not been much more successful than the poor little Neapolitan revolution which he was pleased to satirize. Somehow or other, Victor Emanuel is, at this hour, king of Naples. Coward or not, this fine fellow of a fisherman did not flinch. It is my private opinion that he was not nearly as much afraid of the enterprise as I was. I made this observation at the moment with some satisfaction, sent Frank's man up to my lodgings with a note ordering my own traps sent down, and in an hour

we were stretching out, under the twilight, across the little bay. No! I spare you the voyage. Sybaris is what we are after, all this time, if we can only get there. Very easy it would be for me to give you cheap scholarship from the AEneid, about Palinurus and Scylla and Charybdis. Neither Scylla nor Charybdis bothered me, – as we passed wing-wing between them before a smart north wind. I had a little Hunter's Virgil with me, and read the whole voyage, – and confused Battista utterly by trying to make him remember something about Palinuro, of whom he had never heard. It was much as I afterwards asked my negro waiter at Fort Monroe about General Washington at Yorktown. “Never heard of him, sir, – was he in the Regular army?” So Battista thought Palinuro must have fished in the Italian fleet, with which the Sicilian boatmen were not well acquainted. Messina made no objections to us. Perhaps, if the sloop of war which lay there had known who was lying in the boat under her guns, I might not be writing these words to-day. Battista went ashore, got lemons, macaroni, hard bread, polenta, for themselves, the Giornale di Messina for me, and more Tunisian ; and, not to lose that splendid breeze, we cracked on all day, passed Reggio, hugged the shore bravely, though it was rough, ran close under those cliffs which are the very end of the Apennines, – will it shock the modest reader if I say the very toe-nails of the Italian foot P – hauled more and more eastward, made Spartivento blue in the distance, made it purple, made it brown, made it green, still running admirably, - ten knots an hour we must have got between four and five that afternoon, — and by the time the lighthouse at Spartivento was well ablaze we were abreast of it, and might begin to haul more northward, so that, though we had a long course before us, we should at last be sailing almost directly towards our voyage's end, Gallipoli. At that moment—as in any sea often happens, if you come out from the more land-locked channel into the larger body of water—the wind appeared to change. Really, I suppose, we came into the steady southwest wind which had probably been drawing all day up toward the Adriatic. In two hours more we made the lighthouse of Stilo, and I was then tired enough to crawl down into the fearfully smelling little cuddy, and, wrapping Battista's heavy storm-jacket round my feet, I caught some sort of sleep. But not for very long. I struck my watch at three in the morning. And the air was so unworthy of that name, —it was such a thick paste, seeming to me more like a mixture of tar and oil and fresh fish and decayed fish and bilge-water than air itself, - that I voted three morning, and crawled up into the clear starlight, —how wonderful it was, and the fresh wet breeze that washed my face so cheerily –and I bade Battista take his turn below, while I would lie there and mind the helm. If —if he had done what I proposed, I suppose I should not be writing these lines; but his father, good fellow, said: “No, signor, not yet. We leave the shore now for the broad bay, you see; and if the wind haul southward, we may need to go on the other tack. We will all stay here, till we see what the deepsea wind may be.” So we lay there, humming, singing, and telling stories, still this rampant southwest wind behind, as if all the powers of the Mediterranean meant to favor my mission to Gallipoli. The boat was now running straight before it. We stretched out bravely into the gulf; but, before the wind, it was astonishing how easily the lugger ran. He said to me at last, however, that on that course we were running to leeward of our object; but that it was the best point for his boat, and if the wind held, he would keep on so an hour longer, and trust to the land breeze in the morning to run down the opposite shore

of the bay. “If " again. The wind did not keep on. Either the pole-star, and

the dipper, and all the rest of them,

had rebelled and were drifting westward, – and so it seemed ; or this steady southwest gale was giving out; or, as I said before, we had come into the sweep of a current even stronger, pouring from the Levantine shores of the Mediterranean full up the Gulf of Tarentum. Not ten minutes after the skipper spoke, it was clear enough to both of us that the boat must go about, whether we wanted to or not, and we waked the other boy, to send him forward, before we accepted the necessity. Half asleep, he got up, courteously declined my effort to help him by me as he crossed the boat, stepped round on the gunwale behind me as I sat, and then, either in a lurch or in some misstep, caught his foot in the tiller as his father held it firm, and pitched down directly behind Battista himself, and, as I thought, into the sea. I sprang to leeward to throw something after him, and found him in the sea indeed, but hanging by both hands to the gunwale, safe enough, and in a minute, with Battista's help and mine, on board again. I remember how pleased I was that his father did not swear at him, but only laughed prettily, and bade him be quick, and step forward ; and then, turning to the helm, which he had left free for the moment, he did not swear indeed, but he did cry “Santa Madre!” when he found there was no tiller there. The boy's foot had fairly wrenched it, not only from his father's hand, but from the rudderhead, - and it was gone We held the old fellow firmly by his feet and legs, as he lay over the stern of the boat, head down, examining the condition of the rudder-head. The report was not favorable. I renewed the investigation myself in the same uncomfortable attitude. The phosphorescence of the sea was but an unsteady light, but light enough there was to reveal what daylight made hardly more certain, – that the wrench which had been given to the rotten old fixtures, shaky enough at best, had split the head of the rudder, so that the pintle hung but loosely in its bed, and that there was nothing available for us to rig a jury-tiller on. This discovery, as it became more and more clear to each of us four in succession, abated successively the volleys of advice which we were offering, and sent us back to our more quiet “Santa Madres” or to meditations on “what was next to best.” Meanwhile the boat was flying, under the sail she had before, straight before the wind, up the Gulf of Tarentum. If you cannot have what you like, it is best, in a finite world, to like what you have. And while the old man brought up from the cuddy his wretched and worthless stock of staves, ropeends, and bits of iron, and contemplated them ruefully, as if asking them which would like to assume the shape of a rudder-head and tiller, if his fairy godmother would appear on the top of the mast for a moment, I was plying the boys with questions, – what would happen to us if we held on at this tearing rate, and rushed up the bay to the head thereof. The boys knew no more than they knew of Palinuro. Far enough, indeed, were we from their parish. The old man at last laid down the bit of brass which he had saved from some old waif, and listened to me as I pointed out to them on my map the course we were making, and, without answering me a word, fell on his knees and broke into most voluble prayer, — only interrupted by sobs of undisguised agony. The boys were almost as much surprised as I was. And as he prayed and sobbed, the boat rushed on 1 Santa Madre, San Giovanni, and Sant' Antonio, - we needed all their help, if it were only to keep him quiet; and when at last he rose from his knees, and came to himself enough to tend the sheets a little, I asked, as modestly as I could, what put this keen edge on his grief or his devotions. Then came such stories of hobgoblins, witches, devils, giants, elves, and fairies, at this head of the bay !— no man ever returned who landed there; his father and his father's father had charged

him, and his brothers and his cousins, never to be lured to make a voyage there, and never to run for those coves, though schools of golden fish should lead the way. It was not till this moment, that, trying to make him look upon the map, I read myself there the words, at the mouth of the Crathis River, “Sybaris Ruine.” Surely enough, this howling Euroclydon — for Euroclydon it now was — was bearing me and mine directly to Sybaris : And here was this devout old fisherman confirming the words of Smith's Dictionary, when it said that nobody had been there and returned, for generation upon generation. At a dozen knots an hour, as things were, I was going to Sybaris | Nor was I many hours from it. For at that moment we cannot have been more than five-and-thirty miles from the beach, where, in less than four hours, Euroclydon flung us on shore. The memory of the old green settees, and of Hutchinson and Wheeler and the other Latin-school boys, sustained me beneath the calamity which impended. Nor do I think at heart the boys felt so bad as their father about the djins and the devils, the powers of the earth and the powers of the air. Is there, perhaps, in the youthful mind, rather a passion for “seeing the folly” of life a little in that direction ? None the less did we join him in rigging out the longest sweep we had aft, lashing it tight under the little rail which we had been leaning on, and trying gentle experiments, how far this extemporized rudder might bring the boat round to the wind. Nonsense the whole. By that time Euroclydon was on us, so that I would never have tried to put her about if we had had the best gear I ever handled, and our experiments only succeeded far enough to show that we were as utterly powerless as men could be. Meanwhile day was just beginning to break. I soothed the old man with such devout expressions as heretic might venture. I tried to turn him from the coming evil to the present necessity. I counselled with him whether it might not be safer to take in sail and drift along. But from this he dissented. Time enough to take in sail when we knew what shore we were coming to. He had no kedge or grapple or cord, indeed, that would pretend to hold this boat against this gale. We would beach her, if it pleased the Virgin; and if we could not, — shaking his head, - why, that would please the Virgin, too. And so Euroclydon hurried us on to Sybaris. The sun rose, O how magnificently Is there anywhere to see sunrise like the Mediterranean 2 And if one may not be on the top of Katahdin, is there any place for sunrise like the very level of the sea Already the Calabrian mountains of our western horizon were gray against the sky. One or another of us was forward all the time, trying to make out by what slopes the hills descended to the sea. Was it cliff of basalt, or was it reedy swamp, that was to receive us. I insisted at last on his reducing sail. For I felt sure that he was driving on under a sort of fatality which made him dare the worst. I was wholly right, for the boat now rose easier on the water, and was much more dry. Perhaps the wind flagged a little as the sun rose. At all events, he took courage, which I had never lost. I made his boy find us some oranges. I made them laugh by eating their cold polenta with them. I even made him confess, when I called him aft and sent Battista forward, that the shore we were nearing looked low. For we were near enough now to see stone pines and chestnut-trees. Did anybody see the towers of Sybaris? Not a tower l But, on the other hand, not a gnome, witch, Norna's Head, or other intimation of the underworld. The shore looked like many other Italian shores. It looked not very unlike what we Yankees call saltmarsh. At all events, we should not break our heads against a wall! Nor will I draw out the story of our anxie

ties, varying as the waves did on which we rose and fell so easily. As she forged on, it was clear at last that to some wanderers, at least, Sybaris had some hospitality. A long, low spit made out into the sea, with never a house on it, but brown with stormworn shrubs, above the line of which were the stone-pines and chestnuts which had first given character to the shore. Hard for us, if we had been flung on the outside of this spit. But we were not. Else I had not been writing here to-day. We passed it by fifty fathom clear. Of course under its lee was our harbor. Battista let go the halyards in a moment, and the wet sails came rattling down. The old man, the boy, Battista, and I seized the best sweeps he had left. Two of us at each, working on the same side, we brought her head round as fast as she would bear it in that fearful sea. Inch by inch we wrought along to the smoother water, and breathed free at last, as we came under the partial protection of the friendly shore. Battista and his brother then hauled up the sail enough to give such headway to the boat as we thought our sweeps would control. And we crept along the shore for an hour, seeing nothing but reeds, and now and then a distant buffalo, when at last a very hard knock on a rock the boy ahead had not seen under water started the planks so that we knew that was dangerous play; and, without more solicitation, the old man beached the boat in a little cove where the reeds gave place for a trickling stream. I told them they might land or not, as they pleased. I would go ashore and get assistance or information. The old man clearly thought I was going to ask my assistance from the father of lies himself. But he was resigned to my will,—said he would wait for my return. I stripped, and waded ashore with my clothes upon my head, dressed as quickly as I could, and pushed up from the beach to the low upland. Clearly enough I was in a civilized country. Not that there was a gallows,

« ElőzőTovább »