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MEMS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. 1
BY LAUNCELOT LAMPREY.
“ Chi va lontan’ dalla sua patria, vede
Cose da quel che gia credea, lontane."
Departure from Biscari-Brigands—A false alarm-“ Wants a situation”-A Ghost
Story—The Madonna of Chiaramonte-Polemics and Pallazuoli. The rusty clang of the gate-bell roused me in the morning, and announced the arrival of Domenico with his mules. We were soon in the saddle. The whole posse comitatûs of the brotherhood poured out to bid us farewell, and Antonio, in the midst of a thousand thanks for the dollar which was dropped into his expectant palm, recommended us to the convent of Pallazuoli as our resting-place for the night.
Addio,” said we. “ Benedicite," said the capuchins,--and we departed.
Soon after we left the convent we entered a small forest of cork trees. Domenico, as usual, led the way, perched on the croupe of one of the baggage-horses, and keeping up a shrieking whoop, which was possibly intended for a song. As the path curled like a snake through the underwood, he was generally out of sight, and the only intimation of his presence was this running accompaniment, rising and falling with the wind that came sighing through the foliage.
“ Sweet nightingale !" said the doctor; but suddenly reining up his mule, while his usually ruddy cheek turned to a deep brick colour, he added—Who the deuce is that?”.
“ Who is what ?” said Igins, following with his eye the direction pointed out by the doctor's index finger, which rested on a clump of bushes a little in advance.
“What's in the wind now, doctor ?” said Dawson, after a glance over the terrain, without discovering anything more alarming than the rustling leaves.
Brigands, my boys !” said Danks, coolly extracting from his coat-pocket a short matter-of-fact looking pistol with a portentously large bore, which had been at the storming of Seringapatam, and had been presented to the doctor by a red-coated cousin of his own, with the recommendation of its having sent six-feet-two of dingy humanity to its long account. “Brigands, my boys!"
“ Nonsense, doctor,” said Dawson, clapping his hand into the pocket of his shooting-jacket.
“ Nonsense, doctor,” said Igins, getting into the rear.
“Nonsense, doctor,” said I, feeling, I confess, a kind of cold-watery sensation about the præcordia.
Continued from p. 319.
“It's as true as the forty-seventh," reiterated the doctor, cocking
“ The scoundrels are down among the underwoodlook there !"
Sure enough, from behind the black-barked stem of a cork tree a head muffled in a hood was slowly and cautiously protruded. With a stealthy glance it looked down the path by which Domenico had passed, and seemed to listen for a moment to the receding tread of the horses. Its glance was then turned upon us, and I could almost fancy I saw the dark eyes glisten as they looked. A jet-black beard did not increase the amiability of the gentleman's appearance.
“ Confound it,” said the doctor, “if we give them time to aim, we shall be shot down like partridges. Come, my lads, charge !"
Down the path cantered Lo Zingaro, bearing the doctor with a pistol cocked in his right-hand ready for action. Down the path poured the rest of the troop in somewhat irregular array ; Igins, who was unarmed, bringing up the rear, and galloping to death or glory with a most lugubrious expression of countenance. His mule, however, would not be denied, and was rapidly getting into the van, when, just as the doctor got abreast of the supposed ambuscade, a brownrobed capuchin rose from among the underwood.
The mule sprang aside, the doctor lost his balance in clutching at the pommel, the pistol went off, (the ball kicking up a dust in the road, and very nearly making cat’s-meat of Lo Zingaro,) down came the doctor among the long grass, and as the supposed brigand, springing forward to his assistance, placed him on his sitting part, he looked up, and found that his valet on the occasion was Antonio.
“Oh, che disgrazia !" said the capuchin. The doctor looked at Antonio, then at the pistol, from the muzzle of which the smoke was still eddying, and laughed, and rubbed his shoulder till, either from the laughing or the pain, or both, the tears ran over his cheeks.
“Is your excellency hurt?” said Antonio.
“ Not a bit of it, my dear fellow," said the doctor, getting to his feet ;“ but it is a mercy that you hav'n't got an ounce of lead in your midriff. What brought you here?”
“I ask pardon, eccellenza ; I hope your excellency will not be angry -oh, Dio mio! I am so sorry,” said Antonio, half crying, as he rubbed the dust with the skirt of his robe from the doctor's habiliments; “I wished to speak to your excellency without Domenico seeing me, and came through the underwood from the convent. Oh, Dio mio, that I should have hurt your excellency ! Mi rincresce eccellenza, mi rincresce assaissimo.”
* Pooh! never mind it, man,” said the doctor, “we are both in luck that it is no worse. What have you got to say to me? There can surely be nothing wrong about Domenico," he added to us in English. “ He's no brigand, I'll be bound.”
“I would wish to go with you,” said Antonio, clasping his hands, and looking with tearful eyes imploringly in the doctor's face. “ If your excellency would only take me for your servant, I would serve you with heart and soul fin' alla morte. I want no wages,” he added, as the astonished doctor shook his head; “only a morsel of bread,
and I would go with you over the wide world. Indeed, indeed I would try to please you, and I am sure, very sure, you would never have cause to regret having taken il povero Antonio along with you.”.
“ It is impossible, Antonio,” said the doctor. “ In the first place you are a Capuchin.” “ I know it,” said Antonio, shaking his head; “but if your
excel. lency will only say you will allow me to go with you, I can be a contadino in a twinkling, and will meet you at Syracuse."
“But are you tired of your present life ?"
“ Perdutamente ! signor. I was young–very young, when I began it, and I cannot bear it any longer. I am young still, and I find that life is good for something better than begging for a convent. Pray let me go
with “I cannot do any such thing, Antonio," said the doctor. “I have no need of a servant, and if I had, I would not, on any account, encourage you in a step of which you might afterwards repent. It is a long way to England, and once there you would soon wish yourself back again.
You had better remain at Biscari.” “ That I will not,” said Antonio firmly. 6 I should have been happy-oh, so happy! if you would have taken me with you; but, ahi ! poor Antonio must push his fortune by himself. Addio, signori, may God bless you—I hear Domenico coming back with the mule.”
Šo saying he drew his cowl over his head, and was lost among the underwood.
He had scarcely disappeared when Domenico came in view, wearing on his face an expression of the greatest consternation, and urging Lo Zingaro to the top of his speed by digging the goad into his shoulder, accompanying each application with that pithy Agh! which on the lips of a Sicilian muleteer expresses the most venomous malignity towards the animal whose progress he thus endeavours to accelerate.
“Ma! cosa è ? 'ccellenza, cosa è arrivato ?” he exclaimed, as he reined
up his mule. “ Santa Caterina ! is there any body killed?” And the great fellow turned pale, and his teeth chattered as if he had seen a spectre.
“O no, Domenico,” said the doctor ; “I was only trying a shot, and Lo Zingaro wouldn't stand fire. Come! don't sit gaping there, but dismount.”
Domenico did dismount without a word, and held the stirrup for the doctor, looking stealthily round the while among the cork trees. There was clearly some mystery that he could not fathom.
“Oh, Dio mio, there he is," he exclaimed, dropping the stirrup. “ Ahi ! ahi!" and off he dashed down the path as fast as his fat would permit, bellowing and blubbering as he ran, like a schoolboy after a whipping
The doctor being once more steady in the saddle, we posted after the fugitive at a smart trot, wondering what could have caused all this alarm, and laughing in chorus at the droll Sancho Panza looking figure that bowled along before us, every inequality of the rough road introducing into his song a sudden crescendo, the effect of which was extremely ludicrous. In vain we called on him to stop—the noise of the mules and our mingled voices served only to increase his alarm. There was no room to pass, and by getting in front intercept his progress, so that we could only follow in his train until we arrived at the outskirts of the wood, where we found the baggage-horses tied to the boughs of a cork tree, on the edge of the wide plain that extended nearly the whole way to Chiaramonte.
“ What is the matter? bestia che tu sei,” exclaimed the doctor impatiently, as Domenico scrambled on the croupe of one of the horses, and urged him across the plain.“ Have you bid good-by to the little wits you had ?”
“Oh, the ghost, 'ccellenza !” said Domenico, gasping: “The ghost -didn't you see him? Agh!” and he again gave the horses' withers a punch with the goad. “What ghost, you blockhead ?" said the doctor.
“O the capuchin! the capuchin! I saw him once before;” and Domenico looked back with a shudder to the wood we had just left, somewhat reassured apparently by seeing that nothing supernatural was emerging from it. It was, however, some time before he had recovered breath and self-possession enough to give us an account of the circumstance which had caused his alarm. He did so at length only in reply to our repeated inquiries.
Why, signori,” he said, drawing a long breath as if to remove some oppression about the præcordia, while we gathered round him on the smooth and trackless sod over which we were passing, “I once saw in that wood the ghost of a capuchin, unless it was indeed”—and here he most devoutly made the sign of the cross-“ the devil himself. I got a peep of his hood to-day again skulking among the bushes, It is so long since I saw him before that I had almost forgotten it, and began to think he was snug in Mongibello-but, mercy on us! he's here still.”
There was a chorus of laughter from Domenico's audience, which brought the colour back with a rush to his cheeks. He again applied himself diligently to his goad, as he grumbled, “ If you had seen what I have seen in that wood, you would not think it a thing to laugh at.”
“ Nay, Domenico,” said Dawson, “ a laugh is good for the health, and it breaks no bones. What was it, man, that you
did see? Are you sure it was a ghost, and not a downright capuchin, after all ?”
“ Ha!” said Domenico, emphatically tossing his head, as much as to say I should think not; adding, in a parenthesis to his horse, “ Andatevi, Satanasso !"
“ Come, come, Domenico, let us hear it, and we'll not laugh any more.
“Well, signori,” he said, beginning rather sulkily, but warming as he went on, it was, I should think, about seven years ago—yes, it was just seven years ago—that I met, at the albergo at Biscari, two guides who were going from Syracuse to Palermo. I was going the other way, and stopped to give my mules a bit of bread, and take a bit of caccio cavallo for myself, before going on to Chiaramonte. One of the two was that little reprobate Giuseppe, who overtook us as we were leaving Segesta. He's a briccone that Giuseppe, and, what with his songs and his chatter, there's no rising from the table while he chooses to sit. Now I must tell you, signori, that I was then under a vow not to drink more than a flask of wine a day, and I had brought my allowance with me from Terra Nova. I had about half of it left when I got to Biscari, and, while my mules were feeding, I sat on a bench before the door of the albergo with Giuseppe and Adrian-that was the name of the other muleteer. So we talked and talked, that is, Giuseppe did, telling lies by the score about what he had done and what he had seen on his last journey, and joking and laughing with the landlady when she came to the door. A pretty merry landlady she was then ; she's not ill-looking now, but if
had only seen her“ Skip the landlady, Domenico,” said Dawson ; “ she had a very dirty face when we passed that way.'
“ Ah, 'ccellenza, when a woman has half a dozen children to take care of, and to work hard besides, she can't keep her face as clean as if she was a principessa ; but, as I was saying, Giuseppe was chatting and joking with the landlady, when, emptying his glass, and setting it down, with a smack, on the bench, he says to her, laughing, · By the way, have you seen Andrea since I was here?'
“Dio me ne guardi !' said she, looking very serious, 'don't talk so, Giuseppe. You had better let him alone, or you'll suffer for it some day. He nearly frightened an old woman of Chiaramonte out of her senses about a fortnight ago, and I expect he'll tear your little body limb from limb one day or other, if you go on in this way.'
"• Give him some trouble,' said Giuseppe, kicking out his bow leg, I'm pretty tough.'
“ . Now do have done, Giuseppe,' said the landlady, you have had too much wine, and don't know what you're saying. I wish, at any
you will talk so, it wouldn't be at my door.' 66. But who is Andrea ?' said I. “ • Hush !' said the landlady, don't talk of him.'
“• Why, I'll tell you who they say he was,' said Giuseppe, taking another good drink of wine. Nay, don't run away, cara mia. You will go, will you ?' (and slap went the door.) • Why, what silly things these women are ! You must know, then, Domenico,' said he, 'that there's a ghost haunts the little wood of cork trees between this and Chiaramonte. They say he was a capuchin, who hanged himself for love long ago, but whether that was his reason, or whether he hanged himself at all, was never, I believe, very well made out. However, it is certain ; that his ghost is seen now and then by old women and little boys, and that he wears the ghost of a robe, and is girded with the ghost of a rosary. There is no doubt about his lodging in the wood, and, if you doubt it, you may ask the landlady.'
Well, signori, Adrian, and Giuseppe, and I sat and talked until near sunset, and I still took another drink of wine. It seemed as if my little wooden wine-keg would never run dry, and I began to think I never had had so much drinking out of one flask of wine in my life, when, as I happened to turn suddenly round, I found Giuseppe had been pouring Marsala in as fast as I took it out. Now you may suppose, signori, I was rather angry at being cheated into breaking my vow, and if Adrian and the landlady had not held me, I was determined to give Giuseppe a beating he would not soon have forgotten.