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'Have you finished copying the invoice ?' says Uncle Peter. I shake my head apologetically at his bald head the other side of the mahogany rail, and again seize my pen. For a moment or two all goes well, and then the dream steals over me anew.
What a cheery, jovial company we are as, each riding upon his shaggy little donkey, we pick out our path in single file to the top of Capri! How our elated spirits rise still higher, and manifest themselves in boisterous shouts, as gradually we wind up from one plateau to another, the view of the blue Mediterranean continually widening at each turn, and the breeze seeming to fan our cheeks ever more and more freshly! Now at last we are at the top - nothing above us but one inaccessible peak, seen from below, smooth and slender like a needle. But we care not to go further, for already we can lean over the side of the rock where we stand, and gaze thousands of feet down the perpendicular descent to where the waves beat against the base. It is far enough to look – too far to fall; and as we think of the past, it needs no very vivid imagination to believe that those leaping waves are the same which so many hundreds of years ago were wont to stifle the victims of Tiberius, and that they are now crying out for further prey. It is a relief to raise the eyes from that dizzy steep, and look around. Surely no place in all the world can show at one glance such a wealth of natural beauty, all whispering of the glowing memories of the past. Upon the right is Sorrento, the home of Tasso; not so far off but what the hills are seen patched with the mingled brown and green of olives and vines. Upon the left is Ischia, lifting its embattled castle upon its uppermost crags, like an enchanted giant, keeping watch over the safety of its kindred islands, which cluster around. In front, far over the water, is the long line of pearly white fringing the bay, life a surf, and marking the spot where Naples lies. And beyond is the destroyer and tomb of cities — gleaming against the sky in azure beauty — sending up one faint thread of smoke with a pretentious air of peaceful serenity; and so well acting its role of hypocritical innocence, that for the moment it is difficult to believe its true mission is to ravage and overwhelm; and that even now it is crushing down beneath its weight treasures of art, and, like a fettered Moloch, is eagerly looking forward to a new era of fiery confusion. Are all these scenes of beauty too profusely blended for our minds to take in their full worth? There is no way of escape. Upon all sides they lie thickly. Even under foot are the mosaic pavements, speaking of the palaces of the past; and if we would turn away our eyes from all to the vacant sky and sea, we gaze upon a sky and sea purer and bluer than any that bave ever elsewhere greeted us. How even the smallest and more trivial accessories of the scene now come upon me! The very costumes and grouping of our party are fixed upon the camera of my mind, as things of romance and beauty. The slouched and broad-brimmed hats, which cannot, however they may ward off the sun, hide the pleased kindling of the eyes which peer out beneath them; the old monk, with cord, and crucifix, and sandals, and shaven head, asking for his dole; the donkeydrivers standing in a group by themselves, their forlorn rags fluttering loosely in
the breeze; the donkeys themselves calmly awaiting the hour for return, and thinking dreamily about thistles, or prickly pears, or whatever other wild, rough food the country may chance to produce for them; the little
'Do not forget to write to-day to Cross and Patterson, about the shipment of the patent-scales,' says Uncle Peter, reaching over for the interest-book. I take out a fresh sheet of paper, and prepare to do so at once. But first I steal a farewell glance out of the window. The sailors have not moved from their position under the old whaler's bows; the sleepy horse in front of the coffeeladen cart still dozes; the shipping looks more inanimate than before; even a fly, which has slowly crawled to the centre of a window-pane, with some faint idea of reaching the top, gives it up, rolls over upon his back, and slides to the bottom again. The contagion overpowers me, and in a moment more I find myself again no longer in the office.
I Am far away in another land, which for centuries past the foot of the hunter alone has trod, until now that the first faint rays of civilization are beginning to gleam over the trackless borders. I am on my journey up a sluggish river, which loiteringly winds through the low-land, making needless and tedious circuits, but all the time, little by little, approaching the mountains. We have stopped awhile to await the turn of the tide, for our boat is small, and it is fatiguing to row against the current, slight as that may be. We have gone ashore to stretch our cramped limbs, and there have trampled down a circuit of dry reeds, and built our fire. Not a mere fire of a few small tenderly nursed chips; for upon the bank we have found a net-work of drifted timber, and we pile up the logs and mingle with them great arm-loads of brittle reeds, until a huge flame leaps up ruddily against the sky, a beacon to be seen from miles around. Night has fallen about us, and we gather together in conversation. Behind us lie leagues on leagues of level prairie-grass, neck high; and in the distance there is a broad sheen of wild-fire — not a camp-fire, like our own, but a conflagration, sweeping resistlessly over the more distant borders of the plain. In front is the river, dark and still, winding between the islands like a coil-encircling snake. We are not alone in our bivouac, for at a little distance lies another vessel a lumbering brig, crowded with passengers. They have passed us in the early part of the day, sweeping gayly on with full-distended sails, and as the foam of the bows tossed us one side, pleasantly deriding our humble oars; but now she is fast aground, and we know that before she is lifted off again, we will be many miles nearer our destination. So we lie around our fire, and complacently gaze upon the poor brig's stranded helplessness, and good-naturedly shout back the taunts of the morning, and bestow our sarcasm upon the crestfallen passengers who crowd her deck, and hang disconsolately upon her rigging, peering anxiously down the stream, as though they could see the approaching swell of the tide. To me there is an inexpressibly pleasing charm in that wild prairie-scene; and
I lie with my back propped upon a pile of dry reeds, and wonder if the tread of man has ever pressed these banks before ; and gaze abstractedly upon the starry sky, and upon the distant conflagration, rolling over miles of country, and lighting up half the northern heavens; and upon the glimmer of our own fire against the vegetation; and watch our deserted boat gently rocking upon the waves, and the brig so motionless in her enforced quietness; and in some mechanical manner join vacantly in the chorus of the song which the brig's passengers suddenly raise to stimulate their drooping spirits; and then, as the swell of rough melody dies away, pause to listen to the low sighing of the wind over the grass, and to the sudden leap of salmon in the water, and to that long, low, unearthly moan far away; the wail of a moose startled, for the first time, by the neighborhood of strangers. And I feel sorry when our unsympathetic leader comes to tell us that the tide has turned at last, and that we must be away.
* Also, write to Hickman and Company, that the cutlery will arrive by the • Enoch Stimpson,'' said Uncle Peter.
‘Have you never, Uncle, sitting as you have done, year after year, in sight of the flowing tide, felt tempted to give up, for a while, this monotonous life, and travel off to see what the world is made of ? And when you were young, did you expect to spend all your days in making entries and checking off invoices ?'
I speak hesitatingly, for I do not know how my boldness may be taken. Uncle Peter rubs his nose with his ruler reflectingly, as though a new idea had been suggested to him, and answers not unkindly:
When I was a boy, I was very poor, and only knew that I had my living to make. I had no time to think about foreign countries. Enforced necessity has little by little created the fixed habits of my old age, and ended in making all places, except my home, a matter of indifference to me. It may be that in yielding to the habit I am somewhat doing a wrong to my nature; but it is too late to alter now and Finish the invoice first. The letters can wait till afternoon.'
What confusion and tumult is this which now deafen my ear? Can this long avenue ringing with merriment and grotesque life be the staid and quiet Corso through which I have so often sauntered alone and unregarded, as though it were a desert ? What has now metamorphosed those humble shops, those dingy churches and palaces into festive shrines ? Where are the people who, with minds embittered by the ever-present consciousness of deferred freedom, were wont to stand sad and reflective in their doorways, and scowl with equal hatred upon each passing priest or soldier? By what magic have they succeeded in an instant, as the signal-gun from St. Angelo peals forth the permission, in fitting to their souls this garb of reckless, wanton gayety? It is hard to tell — and it is scarcely worth the while to analyze too minutely the complexities of the Roman heart. I only know that now, from the obelisk of the Piazza del Popolo to the Column of the Antonines, there is one tumultuous
outbreak of uncurbed festivity. How like new creations do these old palaces now shine with their gay drapery of festoons and flags! Whence have come those
groups of dark-eyed native women, in the picturesque attire of past centuries, who now crowd the overhanging balconies ? What genius of originality has been created by the gods to assist mortal invention in contriving these thousands of masks and dresses, which throng the foot-ways or roll past in carriages ? Here Punch jingles his bells; there are the Seasons, crowned with their attributes; now comes Achilles, arm in arm with a modern quack; yonder pass by, in artistic groups, the embodied flowers of Spring; Joan of Arc trips dancing along, in the midst of grinning satyrs; and Arab chieftains are dragged past, sitting reflectively beneath the spreading boughs of their native palms. Sober reason may pronounce it all a foolish and unmeaning show, but reason has no business here. I spurn its dull suggestions, catch the gay infection of the populace, and spring into the first empty carriage. Then for two hours I ride up and down, gaining at each corner new frenzy and elation. None now more recklessly gay than I ; none more desperate in assaults with confetti upon each passing party; none more prodigal in flowery combats with the answering balconies. Even when, at noon, there is a momentary hush as the bugles ring out, and the whole Papal guard ride through, escorting the gilded carriages of the city dignitaries, my soul chafes with the temporary interruption, and I burn to assail the leaders of the proud procession. It has now passed, and the sports recommence. Who is it that casts blinding confetti into my eyes ? It is a Russian princess. And how she siniles with untrammelled delight as she observes the accuracy of her aim! Who is it that catches the misdirected bouquet with which I try to return her challenge ? A beggar from the Trastevere. And with what a knowing laugh the rascal shows his white teeth as he straightway brings his booty to me, and attempts to sell it back. And when toward evening
It is not the words of Uncle Peter that now awaken me. It is rather his silence, for of a sudden the scratching of his pen, which has soothed me as would the monotonous hum of an insect, ceases altogether. I look up and see that he is again rubbing his nose with his ruler, and watching me with a queer, puzzled expression, as though wrestling with some thought which he had found too much for him. He shakes his head as though he would give it up.
“The Rattletons have just returned from Europe,' at length he says.
• Ah!' I simply answer. And I vigorously go to work and finish the invoice. Then, laying the sheet one side, I once more sink into reflection.
The return home! That surely is an essential portion of the pleasure attending every journey, without which the best-planned wanderings are as naught. It is not good, indeed, to stay for a life-time tied unmovingly to one dull home; but it is far worse to stray for a life-time about the world without a home to come to at last. The one must be the supplement of the other.
What is the worth of all the most attractive scenes abroad if not enjoyed with the recollection that there are distant loved ones, to whom one day the whole can be described ? As I now stand in imagination upon the vessel's deck, and approach my native shore, I feel how true this is. I envy not the recollections of the Englishman who stands beside me, for though his roamings have ranged from the very bounds of India, he must ever be a lonely wanderer. To him that light-house which gleams white against the green Jersey hills is but an ordinary soulless piece of mechanism; to me it is the first warm greeting of my home.
It speaks of my native vale, of kind friends, of loving relatives. My eyes are dim as I gaze upon it. And now, as the steamer dashes onward, the hills become greener ; the little villages nestling at their feet grow into distinctness; the broad bay opens before me; the city appears in sight, ever drawing nearer ; there is the well-known spire of Trinity; here the broad Battery, where I have so often played. And now we slowly turn in to the wharf, crowded with welcoming friends; the faces come nearer, and are recognized ; I see all that I hold dear in life waiting to grasp my hand; even Uncle Peter for this once has left his counting-room to greet my return; he waves his broad-brimmed hat; he climbs on board, and places his hand on my shoulder; and now
A HAND is indeed placed on my shoulder, and Uncle Peter is standing over me. He has come round to my side of the desk, and gazes kindly in
* Is the invoice finished ?'
I place it in his hands, and he rapidly runs it through, muttering to himself the while. Over the two or three last items it is something as follows:
‘Olives, three, six, two, fifteen; figs, eight, two, one, thirty-seven — right; maccaroni, eleven, three, fourteen all right! And now, would you like to go and see where those olives and figs grow?'
• Would I like to Uncle ? I
"Well, well,' he says, and he slips something into my hand. I know by the feeling of the paper that it is a check. "There, not a word !'he continues. • It is too late in life for me move about, but not for you. And because my nature loves stock-accounts and ledgers, it is no reason why yours should. We are made differently, I suppose, that is all. Why should I not let you enjoy yourself? Whatever I have is for you, and there is enough. All I ask is – try in Lisbon to get me some genuine Port, I am tired of drinking red lead and logwood for dinner.'