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After some angry words we sat down again, and he told me very coolly, laughing all the time, that he made it a rule never to quarrel with anybody over his wine-above all, with an old friend. So when he found I could not be angry with him, what do you think he did, signori ? why, cospetto! he persuaded me that as I was an inch over the head I might as well be a fathom, and before we parted he made me pay for two flasks more, and help to drink them. O he has a tongue like a snake-Giuseppe.
“ Well, at last I started for Chiaramonte, but I didn't feel at all easy in my mind at what I had been doing, and I wished Giuseppe là giù. The moon had risen, but there was still a little daylight in the west. As I travelled on, I couldn't help somehow thinking of the capuchin, and I whistled and sang, and said my prayers, to drive him out of my head, but it was of no use. The moon was very bright, but I could not help fancying, when I got into the wood, that its light had a curious blueness I never had observed before. The mule that I was riding stopped and snorted every now and then, a thing he was not at all in the habit of doing. Indeed he stopped so suddenly, that one would have thought he saw something right before him, and two or three times he nearly threw me out of the saddle. I thought this was very strange, but I wasn't much afraid, and I said over the seven penitential psalms, to keep away all evil spirits. Well, I went on in this way, the mule stopping every now and then, until I got near about the centre of the wood, when, at a turn in the road, the mule attempted to walk right into the bushes. I pulled and pulled to make him keep the path, but he was strong-headed and obstinate, and it was more than I could do to manage him. So after I had been trying a #hile to get him into the right way, I was much surprised to see on a sudden one of the trees moving slowly out from among the rest, and stoppipg right in the middle of the road that I wanted to go. You may suppose, signori, this seemed very strange to me, and I sat still in the saddle, looking at the tree for a good while. At last I turned my eyes from it, and looked to the right side and to the left, to see if there was any other way; but I could not see any, for a cloud had come over the moon. Well, signori, the cloud passed away, and when I looked at the spot where the tree had been, cospetto! there was a tall capuchin, with his hands behind his back, looking steadily at the mule with all his might. His beard was as black as charcoal, his face was white
- very white, and there was a curious wavering blue light in his eye that I could see glancing over the head and neck of the mule, as he looked at it. I'll not deny my being desperately frightened, but whether it was the Marsala, or the seven penitential psalms, or what it . was, I don't think, signori miei, that I was half so frightened as I was to-day at the sight of him in broad daylight. I looked at him very long and very hard, but he never said a word, only looking all the time at the mule and the trees, for his eyes rolled in his head, and I could see where his looks fell by the light they left upon everything, Now I don't know how it was, the longer I looked at him the less I was afraid, and at last, after a long pause, I plucked up courage, and said, “ Ebbene, Signor Andrea, come sta.' Signori, I had hardly said the words, when he looked up right in my face. Diamine ! his two
eyeballs looked like two suns, that fairly blinded me, and I could not see anything but themselves-rolling and blazing. At last he looked down, I suppose, for I saw him again, standing with his hands behind his back, his face as white as ever.
"6" Domenico l' said he, in a hollow voice.
“ . Eccomi, signor,' said I, for, signori miei, there is no use in speaking uncivilly, even to the devil himself.
" • Will you give me a ride ?' he said, in the same voice, without raising his eyes. " I'm very tired.'
" • Have you gone far?' I said.
“ I was a good deal surprised at this, and I was just thinking with myself what I should do, for I didn't like his company, and I was afraid to say so, when, per Dio! the glance of his eyes passed across mine like a flash of lightning, and before I recovered my sight, he was sitting behind me. Off we went like an arrow, for the mule was as frightened as I was, and that was very frightened indeed. Off we went, stretching down the rough path as if it had been a green sod, the capuchin squeezing me round the waist till I thought he would have fairly cut me in two, and kicking with his heels like the devil. Oh, Dio mio! I wonder the fright did not kill me. The trees seemed to fly past us. I felt his breath at the back of my neck as hot as fire, and I could see the light from his eyes glancing past me, first on the one side and then on the other. His voice boomed among the trees like a tempest, as he shouted • Via, via l' and spurred on the mule faster and faster. The sweat poured down my brow, and the poor mule was as if he had been in a river. The hot steam rose from him in a cloud, and rushed by me as we went. We swept through the cork trees and across the plain, over bank, and ditch, and river, making the water fly as high as the steeple at Palermo, when we plunged in. Where we went or how we went I don't know, for there was a mist before my eyes, and so fast we flew that I could not distinguish any one thing in the crowd that hurried past. For hours and hours we kept flying on, and though the mule panted as if he would have dropped, he went as fast as ever. At last (and I thought I should have died outright) I lifted up my eyes, and there straight before me was the top of Mongibello. I could not see the mountain itself, but there was the light from it flashing every now and then over the sky, which was as dark as pitch between,
for the moon had gone down and the stars had vanished. On we • went, and I could hear the hoofs of the mule clattering over the hard
lava. On, on, for hours, up the mountain, and the flash grew nearer and nearer, and brighter and brighter. We got at last to the bottom of the cone, and then I thought with myself, bewildered as I was, that the mule could go no further ; but, cospetto ! on he went, panting and gasping, but still tearing along over the loose ashes as fast as everon he went, and at one bound sprang far into the abyss from which the red flame and the blazing stones rose with a noise like thunder, mingled with a screaming laugh close at my ear from the capuchin.
* Mount Etna.
• Lord preserve me I said I, when we went over the edge, and letting go the reins, down we went, rushing through the sulphur-smoke-my breath and senses left me.
“ Well, signori, when I came to myself, there I was, lying among the cork trees yonder. The morning was just breaking ; I was cold and stiff, and had a cut on my forehead, that, as you may see, has left a mark I shall carry with me to the grave. My mule was lying at some distance, with his bridle broken, his saddle gone, and his ribs torn by the spurs. How I came back or he came back, Dio lo sa ! This I know, I wouldn't for all this world, and that's a good deal, have such a ride again."
“ Did you ever tell this to Giuseppe, Domenico ?” said the doctor. “ 'Ccellenza, si." 6 And what did he say?"
“ Why, laughed, 'ccellenza! as if it were the best joke in the world. He always does; he'd laugh at anything, Giuseppe."
As we stretched across the plain, which was one of the most extensive we had seen in Sicily, the doctor amused himself with a crossexamination of Domenico as to the further particulars of his ghostly ‘ride, enhancing the
muleteer's terrors by divers tales of gramarye, and sundry horrific suggestions as to the possibility of the ghost having come back with the determination to run off with Domenico, and make no mistake this time.
Portions of the plain were cultivated, and these gave bright promise of an abundant harvest; though, even amid the richest corn, thick clumps of the palmetta bore testimony to the careless, “cannabe-fash'd " style of Sicilian agriculture. In this, as in everything else, the Sicilian likes to come as near his beloved far niente as he can, by doing next to nothing.
Our route rose towards Chiaramonte as we commenced the ascent of the mountains that here form the central chain of Sicily, and we drew up for breakfast at the door of a miserable hovel that served for an albergo. It was situated, however, in a small square, composed on three sides of buildings similar in character to itself, while the fourth was filled up by the front of a large and splendid church, predominating in strange contrast over the mass of poverty and wretchedness with which it was surrounded. It was evident, as we dismounted, that something important was in progress. The inhabitants were clustered about the church door, and several officials were busily engaged in placing round the square a line of some hundreds of petards, with a small train of powder to each. It was the festival of the Madonna of Chiaramonte.
“ Now, Dawson, my boy,” said the doctor, “it is my duty to be out, and your turn to attend to the cookery while I go to church. So see that the tea is infused, the toast buttered, and the eggs boiled in half an hour to a minute, or you'll be turned off without a month's wages. Come, lads."
So leaving Dawson and the baggage-horses in a circle of admiring strangers, we crossed the square and entered the church. The preparations for the festival were nearly completed; and if the exterior was of a pretension apparently inconsistent with the poverty of the worshippers domiciled around, much more so were the interior decorations. A gallery for the musicians had been erected on one side of the centre aisle, covered, as were other parts of the walls, with silk hangings. At the further end, above the altar, was the Madonna of Chiaramonte blazing with gold and silver, in an alcove of similar materials with those that ornamented the other parts of the building, but of a richer texture.
After sauntering about the church, and examining the droll votive offerings of wax and silver, legs, arms, and heads, representing the identical legs, arms, and heads which had been benefited by the intercessions of the Madonna, we adjourned to our albergo. One small room, half shop half kitchen, opened to the street, and from this an ascent of a few steps led to an apartment at rather a higher level, one corner of which, by the falling in of the roof, was laid open to the light of day. This was our salle-à-manger.
Dawson, when we entered, was sitting beside the fire of woodashes, on which our tin saucepan, in default of a tea-kettle, was simmering, looking, with a droll expression of interest, into the face of the old landlady, who with her dark eyes, still bright, contrasting with her wrinkled and smoke-dried countenance, looked like a Norwood sibyl, reading his fate to some believing inquirer.
« Come here, old gentleman,” said Dawson, as we entered, “ you're a liberal, and wont drink the 'glorious, pious, and immortal.' I wish you heard this old lady’s notion of popery, brass money, and wooden shoes. Come, sit down, and I dare say she'll go through her points of doctrine for you once more.
She'll make an iconoclast of you, I'll venture to say, and set you bellowing No Popery—(or, as they write it up on the walls in College Green, No Poppery)—as loudly as the best of us. Come, madama," said he, addressing our hostess, “ tell this gentleman the great things that your Madonna here can do.”
“Ah! you've seen her," said the old lady in her Sicilian gibberish, addressing the doctor ; " is she not bedda (bella) ?"
“ Oh! very pretty indeed," said the doctor.
“ I knew you would think so," said she; and clasping her hands in enthusiasm, she proceeded to dilate, in the first place, on the personal perfections of their Madonna, and to draw certain invidious compa
isons between her outward appearance and that of some in the neighbourhood. She then proceeded to her spiritual gifts, and, after several specific instances of the wonders she had wrought, assured us, that to take care of us while we lived, and charge of us when we died, there was no Madonna in Sicily to be compared to that of Chiaramonte.
Well,” said Dawson to the doctor, when she had done, “you think us Orange-and-Blue men illiberal when we talk of image-worship. Now, Dr. Danks, will you be good enough to draw the distinction between that and the creed of this very venerable and right reverend old lady on my left? Come, no flying off on a theory, doctor-practice, my boy, experimental philosophy! Don't talk to me of the Fathers. What's the belief of this old gentlewoman?that's the question."
“My dear Dicky-bird,” replied Danks, “I would no more think of taking the exposition of her church's creed from her, than I would of taking that of yours from you. A pretty mess you'd make of the doctrines of St. Athanasius, wouldn't ye, if you were asked to expound them, after all your terms at Trin. Coll. Dub. ? "Pon my life, Dick, I think a man who would take an ignorant old woman's word on such matters, is the most ignorant old woman of the two." “ Doctor,” said Dawson,
you're— " What, Dick ?”
“ Beaten, my boy. I didn't ask her what was the creed of her church, but what it was to her—what the teaching of it had induced her to believe-what, in short66 O Dick! do come to breakfast;
Pass round the tea, and leave points of belief
To simpleton sages and reasoning fools.'
While we were agreeably engaged in discussing the viands which Dawson had been preparing, the explosion of a petard announced the commencement of the service, and at the same time produced such a convulsive effect upon Igins, as to cause a sudden collapse of the primitive egg-cup, by the aid of which he was discussing the delicate mangeaille which the foresight of Domenico had picked up at Biscari, for Chiaramonte would have provided us with no such luxuries.
We hastily adjourned to the church, which now contained nearly all the population of Chiaramonte, and in which a very respectable orchestra, many of the individuals composing which were brought, as I understood, from a considerable distance, was engaged in performing the service. The music was very good. The elevation of the host was marked by the explosion of the petards in front of the church, which produced a louder explosion than their appearance promised, and kept up a most deafening din while they lasted.
By the time the service was over, Domenico was ready with the mules, and we proceeded on our way towards Syracuse in the midst of a stormy political discussion between Danks and Dawson; the latter making the proceedings we had just witnessed the text of an angry homily on church and state; and the doctor mischievously fanning the flame of our worthy friend's indignation, by drawing a quizzical parallel, after the fashion of Plutarch, between the Irish establishment and the church of Chiaramonte.
The scenery around us, when we had fairly entered upon the hilly country, was bleak and wretched in the extreme, while occasionally the dangers of the path were such as to put a stop even to the polemics of my two companions. The doctor's mule, indeed, had a fancy for being occasionally unruly, at the very time when a tranquil demeanour on his part would have been most desirable. On several occasions our road lay for a considerable distance along a layer of smooth stone, projecting from the hill-side, and hanging over a precipice of considerable height. The pieces composing this natural pavement were irregular, but fitting so closely as to resemble a street at Pompeii, or a fragment of the Via Appia. Indeed, it was difficult