All through the beautiful Villa Nazionale with your face towards Vesuvius, pass the Vittoria, and on under a mountain to the left that is topped with battlements and starred all up and down with marble houses of magnificent style and perfection, and you will meet on your way some of the most beautiful, as well as the most wicked, women in the world.
Pass the sharp musketry of their dark eyes if you can possibly do so, for it is certainly best that you should; and there, under this mountain that almost leans over you to look into the sea at your feet, you will come upon an old castle to the left. which, after having served for a palace for centuries, is now simply a lodging-house; the dirtiest, gloomiest, lonesomest lodging house in all Italy; and that is saying a great deal indeed.
The great Castel dell' Ova lies back of it, a little to your right, with the sea breaking and booming quite around it all the time. The sea is always troubled there. If a steamer goes by, the sea runs with its trouble right to the old castle, and complains and complains for half an hour at a time, till a greater trouble, in the form of an ugly piratical sort of a steam-tug, goes groaning by with a long kite's tail of flat crafts laden with freight from Heaven knows where.
Then the sea is at it again, lifting up its hands, clinging like a big clumsy baby to the mossy sea-washed walls, breaking up against the little stone causeway that reaches over to the land like a long finger making fun of our dingy old lodging house.
Then the wind is up!
Ah! the sea laughs a little at first! then it frowns, then it turns, and, like a dog, shows its white teeth and begins to growl. But now it runs away — this sea that showed fight at first — and goes tearing up under the guns of the castle, and pale and white and all in tears, it tells its troubles to the Castel dell' Ova — the gray old castle that sits there like a grandsire, white with time. Verily the sea is the biggest coward in all the land!
It is just at the head of the Strada Lucia, this old lodging-house, that has been in turn castle, palace, prison, hotel, and lodging-house. And now I remember, there is, or was two years ago, an old sign lifted up above the lofty door that bears this inscription: ''New York Hotel;" and it is built right into, or fastened right up against, the perpendicular face of the mountain, topped with a fortress where music plays of a morning, and cannon boom over tha sea at sunset.
You enter here, and pass the old porter asleep in his little lodge to the right, all unchallenged. You pass on and attempt to go up the stairs, and there a porter calls to you loud and sharp enough. It is a red faced turkey, tied by one leg, and kept there — the old landlady will tell you — to waken the porter when people attempt to pass up the stairs. This explanation is necessary, else you might possibly infer that the turkey was tied there because of his wonderful capacity to gobble — a talent possessed by Italian porters to an eminent degree. In fact, no people in the world have ever carried such arts to the perfection attained by the Italian. Live in Italy, travel in Italy, and you will soon find a very worldly reason and a deal of wisdom in the injunction of our Saviour when He directed His disciples to take with them no second coat.
You stand with one foot on the step, and wait for the sleepy porter to hobble out and inspect you, as if you were a ship about to land, and he was a health officer.
If you have any business up the great granite stairs — wide enough to admit a carriage to pass, and dirty enough to grow something better than the stray bits of grass that have wedged in between the cracks — if you have any business at all up there, I say, you simply nod to the nodding porter, the porter grunts, the turkey gobbles, and you pass on. If you have no business at all up there, you simply give the sleepy old man half a franc and pass on all the same.
Up! up! up! You are in the crater of a sort of Vesuvius, and are trying to get out. Fifth, sixth, seventh floor! Old pictures, every one of them with a Mount Vesuvius in it, and one certainly with two Mount Vesuviuses — one the mountain, and the other the shadow in the sea, though the sun and the sea are quite on the other side! and you begin to feel, or rather to smell, that you are certainly in an artistic atmosphere.
All these dirty little rooms, once so rich and beautiful, and even now gorgeous with mosaics and frescoes, are studios for painters — very poor painters, painters just beginning and painters just ending, old men and young men. Men there are in here so poor that they borrow each other's clothes when they go out. And it certainly does not require many clothes to cover you in Naples. Men here must always pay the franc a-day in advance. Four or five of them are sometimes tumbled into a single room.
Some of them are poets; some of them are musicians. They will not tell you they live here; they in fact do not live here, they are only waiting for something to turn up. They work an hour or two in a day if they have anything at all to do, and wait, and wait, and wait — and so life passes by. Naples is the poorest place for something to turn up in outside of a tomb.
An aristocrat had recently come among these men. A man he was, this new comer, this rich artist, who could really pay two francs a day. He had the corner room, as well as another receding back towards the bold white wall of the little mountain that hung over the old castle. This lofty second story apartment had a little iron railed balcony where two persons could stand together and look over the crowded strada, a half a mile underneath down into the sea.
Standing here on this little balcony, holding on to the knob of the door behind you in half fear that the old balcony might break loose and drop, you could look, as it sometimes seemed, almost down into the smoking crater oi Vesuvius.
It was a beautiful place. Artists, poor as they are, build like birds in the choicest spots. They find out these places with an intelligence that the world does not understand.
Standing on these little iron-barred balconies, that stand out from every door all along the long front of the seventh story, these artists drank dry the Bay of Naples. It was underneath them, its thousand sails in the sun were constantly raising pictures for these poor children of art, and the sun was just as glorious to them there, the air just as sweet, the sea just as soft and silver, set and sown with ships as beautifully, as if they had looked from this palace when a lord sat master of it.
The doors of these two rooms were never locked. There was no occasion for such a thing, even had there been a dishonest man in this lofty rookery looking down into Vesuvius and the Castel deir Ova. There was nothing at all in these rooms but a book or two, brushes, and an easel. Men would come and go in and out at will, lean from the little balcony when the smoke came up from Vesuvius, or see the tawny boatmen draw their nets in the Bay; and even the man whom they had at first thought an intruder into their sort of special paradise, did not seem to be any more the master of the place than the others.
Once this new comer rose up, opened the door, and, standing out on the balcony, turned his back to Vesuvius and parted his coattails as a man does when standing before a great log fire on a frosty morning in the West. But it did not warm him at all. An artist passing the open door looked in, and laughed.
In the course of a short time a little picture was finished.
What do you think it was? What could it have been?
It was a picture of Vesuvius. It could not have been anything else. Down in the corner of this picture there was written a name — Murietta.
There was some little surprise among the artists and poets and composers and musicians. In fact the little over-full rookery was quite in a flutter for half an hour. Men told of the artist's presence abroad.
The next day a tall, thin, lean man, in a tall napless hat and a long, threadbare coat, with a very long umbrella under his arm, and a face as long and woeful and flinty and hard and white as the oldest kind of a tombstone, passed the porter, passed the turkey, who evidently held him in too much contempt to gobble at, and stood before the young artist, bowing, bent and curved, with his umbrella under his arm, and looking just as though he might be an Indian bow, and this long, thin, hungry umbrella, so poor that you could count every rib in it, an arrow drawn up to the head as if about to shoot.
There were stray gray streaks of long straight hair hanging down about this tombstone of a face as if they had been the long leafless twigs of a weeping willow hanging down over this monument above the dead.
The tombstone began with a nasal twang that showed from whence it had been quarried.
"Sir, I have read your "Two Years before the Mast" your "Innocents Abroad" your "Roaring Camp" your "Little Breeches" 1 (with the most intense satisfaction). And I have come to pay my respects to the genius of Boston, and to welcome you to Naples."
The bow twanged with a flourish as it shot the umbrella into the floor, and the tombstone lifted straight into the air and set its thin stony lip, and looked straight at the artist as if it dared him to deny it.
"But I am a painter."
"Ah, a painter. No matter." The bow was bent again, the arrow in rest, and the tombstone again bowed low with its cluster of willow twigs bristling all around it. " No matter. Genius is genius. No matter. I came to pay my respects to genius. Genius in any form is genius, and I — and I — "
The bow slowly relaxed, for the tomb stone felt that it had not this time at least made a centre shot, and it lifted a hand and brushed the willow tvvigs slowly back from the right side of the marble monument.
"I have been in Naples nearly thirty years. I could not leave dear Naples now." The man said this with enthusiasm, and Murietta looked at his coat and believed him as certainly as if he had been on oath.
"And you are — "
"A missionary, the Reverend Doctor Tomlinson Fullerton, of Boston, and I am" — here the bow was again bent and the arrow jerked into rest for a shot at the artist — "I am, sir, I am of the old Puritan stock of Plymouth Rock. We were missionaries five hundred years ago. I was bom a missionary, a missionary I will die."
The bow unbent, the head shot up, and falling sideways, the eyes closed, the hands clasped, and the umbrella stuck still in rest, tight under the arm and elbow of the missionary, and aimed right out into the eye of the artist.
"Ah! and you are getting on, then, in Naples?"
The hands unclasped, the arrow shot into the floor, and the head shot up.
"We did get on; we did get on." The arrow shot like a little thunderbolt into the floor, and the willow twigs about the tombstone trembled as if a wind was blowing through the railings. "We did get on — until that cursed, that abomination of the Lord, came in the shape of the Hard Shell Baptist Bible and Tract Society from South Boston. I knew them, knew them every one at home. I knew that this was done expressly to ruin me and my future, and put an axe at the very root of my work. I was here established one month and three days before they had established themselves in Naples. I gave them notice at once when they came. I told them that the seventh article in their practice of worship and their interpretations of certain passages of the Acts of the Apostles were not to be tolerated. They answered me with scorn. I gave them notice that they must leave. I laid the case before the consul; and a war, a thirty years' war, ensued. But at last it has been settled. At last it has come before the General Conference of the Society for the Establishment and the Maintenance of Foreign Missions in Heathen Countries; and my course, I am advised, will be fully approved at home, and I am to be sustained abroad in the service of my Master."
The bow was bent again, but the tombstone leaned on the arrow, and the eyes closed as the head fell sideways, and the weeping willows moved gracefully about the old white monument.
"And you have converted some?" said Murietta, going on steadily with his work, and trying to shake this ghostly tombstone from its pedestal by something but a little short of incivility.
"Yes, yes, yes, the Lord be praised! "
The little thunderbolt shot into the floor, and the face of the tombstone took on a smile of unutterable satisfaction as the eyes closed and the head fell forward and peacefully to one side.
"Ah, that one then is certainly a solace and companion to you in your labours?"
"No, no, no. The devil came in the guise of that other mission from Boston, the Hard Shells. They offered her better living, wine twice a day, polenta — plenty of polenta — and she became converted to them in spite of their fearful seventh rule and form of practice and worship and unholy interpretation of certain Acts of the Apostles. Twice converted in one year!"
The head fell wofiilly and sadly to one side, the tombstone looked the tombstone indeed, and the willows waved mournfully about the brows.
"Twice converted in one year. It was too much. She died. She died, and then — don't you think —" The bow sprang up, the arrow shot into the floor with a force that made the tall tombstone shake and the willows toss as if in a wind. "And even then don't you think, after all that trouble with her, after all I had done, the ungrateful, the infernal little minx went and called in a Catholic priest at the last minute, and died and was buried a Catholic, and went to hell in spite of me! "
Murietta laughed from the bottom of his heart. The tombstone took a mournful step sideways and around the easel as if it had been a sort of crab, and looked over the artist's shoulder. The thunderbolt shot down and the hat shot up, and the hands clasped together with a noise which spoke the man's perfect delight.
Murietta had been fastening him on his canvas. Never did missionary feel so perfectly complimented. He smiled and smiled and walked around and around and admired himself a long time in silence. At last, dropping his head sweetly to one side, he said:
"That is what I call fame."
"I am going out for a walk," said the artist.
"I will show you through Naples," said the missionary.
The turkey gobbled his "all right" as they came down, the porter rubbed his eyes and pretended to be wide awake, and they passed on, down by the hundred little oyster-stands on the edge of the Strada Lucia, ever in the edge of the sea, and on around by the great theatres, by the splendid Piazza del Plebicito to the Strada Toledo.
The next day Murietta was in his studio again at work. There was a woman's face on the canvas. It was that of a splendid, dark, dreamy face. It seemed to move before you, to pass on, to look back, to lead you. It beckoned from, and belonged to the future. It was of a race that you might imagine but would never find, though you should go the whole girdle of the earth. It was the divinest face that had ever belonged to woman since the blessed Madonna. Standing before it as it looked back over its shoulder from the cloud and mystery, from the future, you would have said this face is as the face of woman will be millions of ages in the years to be, when we have attained to perfection on earth.
The artist had painted this picture because he could not help it. It had always been in his mind. It was no new thing when it came from behind the canvas as it were, and stood before him. He had seen this face all his life. It was now only like meeting an old friend after a few days' absence. He painted this without design or effort. It was, as it were, the work of a day.
But he put this picture away when done.
He did not care to hear the remarks of other men upon it. Their comments, good or bad, would jar upon his gentle nature. Besides, he felt that it would be a sort of sacrilege, to let men see this face. Why? Because it was the face of Annette, the one fair woman — He would sometimes take this picture out from under the mantle which he had thrown over it on the easel, and sit before it for hours with his brush in hand. But he never touched it any more. It seemed a sort of idol too sacred to touch.
The missionary, or doctor as he claimed to be, came very often now. The artist had shaken him off, he had avoided him, but he came all the same, the same singular, half insane enthusiast, who would not be offended, and who could not offend any one else, and perhaps his mortal enemies, the Hard Shell Baptists of the rival foreign mission in Naples did not fear him.
Yes, he would show Murietta the city. There was the wonderful museum with the autograph of St. Thomas, and all the charred parchments of Herculaneum; and all the ten thousand things found in the excavations of the buried and half unburied cities. Then there was the great poor house, the largest and best thing of the kind in all the civilized world. Then there was the tomb of Virgil.
"Come" cried the threadbare man one bright winter morning, after having passed both porters unchallenged, "Come, let us go to the Theatre at Herculaneum. It will be opened to-day. It has been closed for more than seventeen hundred years; but it will be opened to-day.
"Then may I not have the honour of conducting you to the summit of Vesuvius? It is necessary that you have some one with you; some Christian to protect you from the popes and priests, and the reformed and unreformed brigands. I can show you how to make the trip in a gorgeous way on twenty francs at the farthest. Go with the usual guide and the customary crowd, and it will cost you at least fifty. You see we will take the stage at Herculaneum for a franc, then we take horses for five francs up to the hermitage, and beyond that we walk up the great ash heap of about half a mile at an angle of forty-five degrees, and we are on the summit. No crowd, no rush, no crush, nothing. You will have the whole spectacle to yourself, and then you will not be robbed, you will not be fleeced; no vulture, no beast, will attempt to pick your bones.'*
The artist laid down his brush. "Come to-morrow, doctor, at sunrise, and we will set out on this excursion just as you propose." The man turned and danced about till his bones fairly rattled. The missionary was once more in the seventh heaven.
What a beautiful morning! The sea lay there in the sun like glittering gold. The smoke curled over the summit of Vesuvius. It gleamed and glanced in all the colours of the rainbow as the two men mounted a coach and drove about the head of the Bay of Naples toward the mountain of fire.
What a populous city, and how wide and grand and beautiful its suburbs! If Naples continues to build so like a western town for a century longer, it will reach from Pompeii to Pozzuola.
What a yelling of men as the artist dismounted! They gathered around him ten deep. They laid hold of him and pulled this way and that, and yelled and shouted, and shook each other off, and elbowed their way up and near each other, as if they had been a lot of street dogs in a fight.
The missionary was right. These fellows, would literally pick your bones. His bones, however, for good and sufficient reasons, they would not pick. He advanced upon these pirates with his umbrella in a sort of bayonet charge, and dispersed them as if he had been a Murat at the head of a thousand horse.
Here was a white-bearded old man in a sheepskin, who wanted to sell a staff of oak to be used in climbing Vesuvius. Five centimes, only one cent, was the price that this old merchant asked for his whole stock in trade. Murietta bought him out at a single purchase, and made him happy for a whole day.
Then there was a pirate, or brigand, or gipsy, or perhaps all three, who had a great knife, which he said he had made with his own hand. A sharp, bright, ugly customer it was. The old leather-clad pirate, or brigand, or gipsy wanted to sell this to the artist. The old merchant protested that he would need this deadly weapon to defend himself with against the wolves on the mountain.
Horses! Sheep they were. Barefooted, long-haired, limping little things, no larger than a Mexican mule. There they stood, fifty in a row. Pay your money and take your choice, if there can be any choice between these bruised and battered and longhaired and helpless little horses.
Up a narrow lane, and out of the street, up a road that widened soon into a splendid thoroughfare, rising, rising, rising above the sea and above the city, the two men rode against the sun as it pitched down into their faces over the summit and through the smoke of Vesuvius.
A splendid carriage road, paved, and set with trees, and with fountains on the way where you can stop and drink, lines the whole route even up to the hermitage away up there, almost at the base of the mighty cone of fire, and great mountain side of growing grapes.
That hermitage, or rather the man in charge of it, has a history. When the mountain was pouring out rivers of fire a few years since, and all the land was dark with smoke, this man, this scientist, placed here to take observations, refused to leave his post.
He had a telegraph connecting with the city. He stood here in the smoke and fire, with his fingers on the very pulse of Vesuvius as it were, telling the world every hour what transpired, and what he beheld.
At last the river of lava, half a mile wide and a hundred feet deep, pouring down to the plain, ran within a pistol shot of the hermitage. The heat was almost intolerable. The lone man stood there calmly telling all that happened to the world..
At last the river of lava overflowed on the mountain above him, and flowing on as if it would swallow him up, came to within fifty yards of the hermitage, and there striking against the upper part of the promontory on which the hermitage is built, poured down on the other side.
The lone man had now a river of fire on either side of him. He was implored to come down to Naples, and escape certain death. He stood there with his finger on the throbbing pulse of mother earth, and refused to retreat.
At last the two rivers of lava met together below the promontory. The man was now on an island in the middle of a sea of fire, and flight was impossible. Then the telegraph poles were swept down, and they heard from him no more. Months after that, when the lava grew cool enough to cross over to the island, they found the old man had done all his work with the utmost precision and minuteness, and buried the products in a small copper box in his cellar. And he, the bravest old man ever heard of, was found down under the hill, where there was a little soil, planting a little garden, for his provisions were gone, and he was well nigh starved.
As our jtwo travellers reached this hermitage they stopped, dismounted, and turned to look on the world below. Ships on the bay blew in and out, white as sea gulls' wings, and their sails seemed scarcely longer. The great city of Naples seemed drawn up close to the base of the mountain. The sea seemed to be almost under them.
Suddenly some clouds blew in between them and the sea. These clouds were below them. The thunder growled as if it had been a monstrous beast shut up in the lava caves below them.
Then there was lightning. Then the clouds rolled black and dense, and tumbled like seas of the north.
Then the lightning wove and wound below them as if running threads of fire and gold in this woof and warp of storm and of darkness. Then stab, stab, stab! the lightning struck on the earth as if angry; and the thunder boomed, and then the great white rain, the high-bom beautiful rain, poured down below them, and then all was light and bright as summer morning.
Out of this rain rode a lady. She had a better horse than was to be had below, and she sat it as if she had been born in the saddle. She led her party, and an old man, a tall man with a serene face who might have been her father, rode at her side.
Murietta mounted and rode on as he saw her ride out of the cloud and rain up one of the terraced turns of the tortuous road below, for he had no desire to be disturbed that day by the presence of strangers.
Peasants were coming down in parties, bearing wood on asses all along the road and baskets of flowers on their heads. Wild, splendid-looking women they were, and polite as if bred at court. Right and left were high-heaved masses of lava in all conceivable shapes, and over these ugly masses ivies were climbing and twining tenderly, as if to hide them from sight. Nature had been on a spree and, now penitent, was trying to cover up what she had done.
Here and there the smoke came curling up through fissures in the road. And over there, to the right, the smoke curled up as if from many wigwams. Yet all over this grew roses and grapes, and olives and oranges, and fruits of the four parts of the world.
A beautiful peasant girl aroused the sensitive mind of the artist with the present of a beautiful forest rose from the basketful which she bore on her head.
The artist handed her a franc. Then the grateful girl reached him the whole basketful, for he had given her thrice the price of it. He took the fragrant and beautiful basket of roses np before him, smiled and wondered what in the world he could do with it.
There had been some delay, and fearing lest the party led by the lady might be drawing very near, he looked back down the road over his shoulder. They were indeed very near, but he could not see the lady well for the vines and trees by the tortuous road.
What shall be done with the roses? He must ride on or the strange lady will be upon them. He lifted a handful and breathed their fragrance, and then let them fall in the road. A thought came like an inspiration. The doctor was in advance awaiting him.
"I will scatter roses in the path of that stranger. In the way of that brave, lone woman, whoever she may be, I will strew roses and wish that they shall have never a thorn. Here on this mountain of fire, in this strange land, in a pilgrim's path, a pilgrim shall scatter roses." And then the man rode on slowly and lifted the roses by the handful and scattered them in the pleasant Roman road, in the path of the strange woman, while the pretty peasant girl, who seemed to understand and sympathize with the sentiment and admire his strange fancy, ran beside him, showing her pretty teeth and shaking out her abundant hair.
The artist emptied the basket, handed it to the girl, but did not dare look back lest he should see the strangers. He put spurs to the little pony, rode on, and joined the sedate doctor of divinity.
CHAPTER VIII.Start reading Chapter 8 ofThe One Fair Lady