Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

but hardly have I seated myself in contemplative mood upon the stone coping of the fountain before I see Zingarella, the very Zingarella, about whom I have so often read and dreamed. Clashing her tamborine against her clenched hand overhead, she comes skipping through one of the dark stone apertures of the arcade, like some volatile spirit emerging from the tomb, and with a quick run, which seems like a single bound, she stands before me. A moment more and the whole piazza is astir. From the arches, from the church, from the sidestreet, a little crowd collects, as if by magic, and disposes itself in a circle about her, with an accidental but pleasing commingling of picturesque costume. There is a beggar, old and white-bearded enough for Belisarius; a group of soldiers; a white-veiled shop-woman, a Maltese sailor, and fruit and flower-girls by the score. Even a priest who is passing lingers near at a convenient spot, whence, though unable to join the circle, he can watch the dance. And the dear, old donkey is not wanting to complete the scene, for aroused by the eager stir of the crowd, he shakes his ears, postpones further reflection, and with the wise purpose of enjoying the present, pokes his head into the ring between the sailor and a flower-girl, and winkingly looks on with a saturnine expression of quiet approbation.

The dance begins. The girl waves her tamborine at arm's-length over her head, and bends slowly back with a sidelong and not ungraceful motion. Yes, it is the Zingarella herself, for I recognize the very attitude she has taken in my dreams. Perhaps, indeed, her eye is less bright, and her teeth less sparkling than I have been led to to think, and the face which should be round and cheerful is somewhat care-worn and haggard, and the striped dress might not be the worse for more frequent renovation; but what need to criticise too closely? At least, the lightness of step and the grace of motion are left to her. And even were all merits wanting, I cannot but see the desire to please pleading longingly for applause, on every feature and gesture; and as she glides from one position to another, gradually quickening her movements, until at length she bounds with rapid step from side to side, every limb in motion, and every feature aglow with excitement, I fail not to applaud; at times it may be merely because my pity urges it, but other times because, as some unanticipated grace reveals itself, pity gives place to admiration, and I no longer hear the inward whisperings speaking of defects, and telling me that this is not the true Zingarella of my fancy's play. A moment more, and the dance is

Her arms fall at her side, and for an instant she stands panting for breath. Then, raising her head, she gazes at me inquiringly. I know well that, though the crowd have equally looked on, and joined in applause, she has more especially danced for me, hoping that the foreigner would give a liberal reward. I beckon to her, and she approaches on tip-toe, holding out her tamborine in front of her. As her eye meets mine, a pleasant smile gladdens her features ; a smile so winning and apparently so untaught, that at once it banishes all critical perception of even her more evident defects. The hard lines of care seem to vanish from her face, its coarseness dissolves like a cloud, her too palpable maturity flies back to the borders of rosy youthfulness, her very rags and tangled locks become picturesque, and all because of that soft,

over.

beaming smile; and, more than all, the fancy for the moment comes into my mind, that she might not be accustomed to greet every one with that same pleasant look; but that, with her more sordid anticipations of professional reward, there may now, perhaps, be mingled some little unconscious admiration for the giver. I drop the expected coin into the hollow of the tamborine; a word of whispered thanks, and then she turns away. Once, before she passes into the narrow street at my right hand, she gazes back for an instant, and I again see the same insinuating smile upon her face.

She vanishes; the crowd disperse. Some follow her to witness another dance; others resume their interrupted occupations; the flower-girls stroll away; the priest walks on; the beggar poses himself anew upon the stone steps; the donkey again wheels around to the fountain; silence and desertion reöccupy the piazza. The shadow of the long-gone days of Colon again falls blightingly upon fountain, arcade, and church. A moment more, and nothing remains to tell me that Zingarella has not, after all, been as of old, a dream.

'She performs pretty fair,' says Little Briggs, coming up to break the charm, like an unrelenting fate. ‘But there's a girl in Boston Museum, who can dance her out of sight. Well, how do you get along, any way ? and what have you seen? Nothing ? Merely strolling about? Why do n't you take your guide book, and study up things as you go along ?'

Listen, Briggs,' I say. “If a botanist were suddenly placed in the valley of the Amazon, would it not be a greater treat for him to rove at will for a time amidst the unknown vegetation, which every where meets his eye, than to be brought at once into some royal conservatory, where each plant is catalogued and ticketed according to class and species? He might not be averse to some such assistance at the end; but might it not destroy his pleasure, if from the first he were thus to avail himself of the labors of others, and gain none of the merit of individual exploration ?'

'I do n't know what that has to do with it,' answers Little Briggs, 'but if I were the botanist, I should want to turn to at once, before the fever scason came on, copy off the royal catalogue, hurry home to Boston, make up and publish my report, and realize the profit and reputation as soon as possible.'

What after that can I do but turn and flee away from my little piazza ?

A Few moments more of wandering through narrow and winding passages, and then sudden relief bursts upon me. The street empties itself into a broad esplanade, a grassy slope rises in front, and I find myself at one of the outer works of a great stone fortification, whose encircling ramparts extend to the

ght and left, with scope enoug to embrace an army of thousands; and climbing a long flight of gray stone steps, I scat myself under the shadow of a huge black gun a mute enough instrument now, but one that in its time may have done good service at Solferino ; and in this quiet nook compose myself to enjoy the prospect spread out before me. There is no guide at my side, to point out in professional whining tone the scattered objects of attraction. No

loitering citizens have congregated in or near this corner, for noisy promenading. Even the sentinel, who keeps guard over the nearest battery, stands with his back toward me, unobservant and half-asleep. Not a sound reaches me, except an indistinct murmur now and then, borne upward by the breeze. I am alone, and all aglow and throbbing with delight, I gaze down uninteruptedly upon a scene such as the dullest and most unimaginative could not contemplate without emotion.

Behind me the ramparts fall gradually lower and lower in the line of vision, as they follow the slope of the hill, until at the end I can see the blue sea glowing and trembling in the sun-shine, and sparkling over the more distant of the gun-crested lines. At my left hand, where the slope descends yet lower, the whole expanse of the mole-protected bay glitters before me, crowded with shipping lying so peacefully at anchor, that it is hard to conceive that its serenity has ever been disturbed by the war-galley of the Carthaginians, or by the late and more successful fleets of the Lombard, the Saracen, and the Briton. In front, and at my right hand, spreading out at my feet with all the distinctness of a chart, lies the whole city of Genoa. Genoa la Superba at last! No longer a confused mass of dark, narrow alleys; for now those close quarters are hidden from sight in the veil of their own gloom, as completely as if they had no real existence. It is as though I were looking upon a different place. I see broad palace-lined avenues, stretching from one end of the city to the other. I sce open squares, and wide extended quays. I look down into quiet gardens, luxuriant with groves of olive, orange, and pomegranate. I can trace through its whole length the terace-promenade, which skirts the bay. In every direction your eyes are greeted with a confusing display of churches, piazzas, theatres, and whatever else can contribute to the stateliness and magnificence of a proud city. Some of these I can recognize from what I have read or seen depicted of them. These must surely be Stradas Balbi and Nuova; this statuesque erection in yonder square is surely the great navigator's monument; that pile of alternate white and black marble courses, surmounted by a single tower, can be none other than the Cathedral of San Lorenzo; and there are of course the Palaces Balbi, Durazzo and Doria. And glancing over into the suburbs, I can note how the city stretches out its arms lovingly into the country; how the streets unite and form broad roads leading away over the rolling ridges of the Appenines; how the long lines of fortified walls wind and cross hill and dale in unbroken course; how here and there gay villas with frescoed sides stud the landscape; how, more distant still, faint glimmers of brightness, nestling among the valleys, betoken quiet villages, gathered, as it were, for protection within reach of the strong city. I can, in fact, at one glance take in, not merely the superb metropolis at my feet, but the whole pleasant vista of land and sea, which is bounded within the basin of the encircling mountains. Now I feel that for the first time I taste the visible picturesque of Italy, which has for ages past so intoxicated the brain and heart of thousands. But which of my two impressions of this city bears the stamp of truth? Should I rightly think upon it as Genoa, the dark and gloomy, a remorseless prison - house, a bewildering labyrinth hiding in & seques

scene.

tered vale, like a weak and timid child — or as Genoa the magnificent, replete with light and grace and beauty, spreading grandly from crest to crest of the Appenine hills, the armed and fearless guardian of the sea ?

The shades of evening now begin to fall, and I stand before a column-porticoed building. Listlessly and with tired limbs, I drag myself up the marble steps ; and then, passing the leather curtain which closes the door-way, I find that I am in the Church of the Annunziata. The stained and battered exterior has given but slender expectations of any beauty to be found within ; and therefore, as with one sudden flash, there bursts upon my sight that long perspective of graceful arches, of tesselated pavements, of panelled ceilings, of gilded cornices, and of lofty altars, adorned with polished and variegated marbles, an emotion of grateful surprise thrills every nerve. At the extreme end it is aglow with the last beams of the setting sun, stealing through the transept window, while beyond it blends into pleasant disposition of light and shade, as the evening gloom slowly creeps along the nave.

In the carved pulpit stands a monk, shaven, crowned, and sandaled, loosely clad in coarse serge, with a knotted cord around his waist, and a rosary swinging at his side. He is preaching to a congregation grouped upon the pavement below him. Most of these are women, and their white veils, so picturesque in the street, in the church impart a pleasing, novice-like appearance to the

It is New-Year's eve; and as far as I can judge from intonation and gesture, the monk is using this occasion to set before his listeners a summary of their lives during the past twelve months. Certainly he does not speak in any strain of compliment, for he violently sways to-and-fro, his half-clenched hand waving in the air, his deep-set eye rolling in a stern frenzy of anathema. With all that, there is no awkwardness, or coarse unbecoming display of roughness; for his voice, though sonorous, is not harsh, and his manner is full of impassioned grace. Meanwhile, his little audience listen calmly. Perhaps they have all heard the same so often before, that they have learned no longer to regard it. Yet I, who cannot comprehend a word, am moved; and as the monk for a moment lets his eye rest upon me, a strange shudder thrills my frame, and I feel inclined to hide behind the pillar against which I am leaning. What one of my past sios may not that man have discovered, and be now reproaching me with ? Is it merely my imagination that makes me for an instant think that from those around, inquiring eyes are turned upon me, as though the most guilty man of all has at last been found ?

Gradually the light fades away. The flickering sun-beam deserts the chancel-window, arch and cornice become involved in deeper obscurity. The whte-veiled forms of the listeners lose distinctness, and assume a ghost-like outline. Still the monk continues with unabated vigor. He needs no light to see by, for his swelling heart is the open book from which he reads. At length bis voice falters. Will he now close, and send them away in anger ? No ; for in an instant his manner changes, and even in the dim light I can see that his eye has lost its stern flash, and his lip its contemptuous curl. Bending over, he now lavishes upon his hearers soft and pleading words. Is he depicting the joys and blessings which will attend a proper use

of the coming year ? How caressingly and tenderly he stretches. out his hands! How lovingly his accents fall upon the ear! Once more his eye rests upon me, and it seems as though it brought peace again to my soul. Surely my sins are at last forgiven. His audience no longer look indifferent. This also they may have Often heard before, but what repetition will ever make kindness lose its charm ? While he had spoken like a wrathful Peter, they could defy him ; now that he has become a mild John, they can weep with him. The men bow their heads. The women sob, and sink upon their knees; and with one parting outburst of eloquence, the monk waves a blessing upon them, and turns away.

Is all over now? No; for at this instant I hear the tinkle of a little bell, and a dim light shines out from the nearest chapel like a star. Then the whole throng falls prostrate, and, with a fitful melody, begin to swell up the paintive notes of the ‘Via Crucis;' at first a single, long-continued utterance from one voice; and then as one after another of the worshippers joins in, rising into a grand, wild symphony of beauty. It seems to me neither chant nor anthem, but more like a broken prayer, falling from the trembling lips of an anguished spirit, crying out in disjointed accents for mercy and pardon; a wail of bitter remorse ; a wild impassioned plea for pity; the natural outbreak of despair from a stricken heart, every breath of which is a supplication for help, or a penitential sob. Whatever it may be, whether hymn, anthem, or impassioned prayer, the tears gather in my eyes as I listen; and not in mine alone, for in front of me a young girl softly weeps, and at my side I see the monk wiping the moisture from the eyes which so lately flashed forth fiery rebuke. Now that his condemnation upon his listeners has been uttered, he has come to kneel in humility with them, and with prayers and tears ask pardon for his own transgressions. And as I cover my face with my hands, the strain of mingled voices rises, swells, and floats into one grand, majestic utterance; then softly dies away into a single, liquid note – then all is once more still.

My stroll about the city is over, and I am in my room again a lofty room, six stories from the ground, and with windows that overlook the bay. I need not move a hair-breadth to the right or left to see each feature of the pleasing panorama. The street below me singing with volatile life; the terrace-walk, the closely-packed lines of lantern-sailed feluccas, the more distant square-rigged vessels, the single stately man-of-war, anchored by itself at the outermost verge, with swarms of little boats around it: and here and there a wbite speck of swelling canvas gleaming in the moon-light; the sea stretching far beyond; to the left the fort, to the right the two-storied beacon; why attempt to describe what in its chaste beauty baffles all description ?

As I gaze upon the beacon at the mole, thoughts of home come thronging into my mind. It is to be sure a quaint old light-house, and unlike any that I have seen before. I know that it would seem but an ungainly structure beside the tall and graceful columns which illuminate the approaches of my native land. But I also know that, with the best of these, it has its kindred mission, the task of shedding safety over the broad seas, and proclaiming to all who

« AnteriorContinuar »