PAOLO AT SEA

Some two hundred yards and more each of them spreads around; you may
see the little brown bobbins, that mark the circumference, float and
jerk up and down on the water as Gian-Battista spreads his end of
net, rowing across the marked space meanwhile; then the two boats
lie sentinels at either end, to guard their sacred surface from other
craft, and to watch for the haul. So when the time has come, and the
watching has been long enough, calling to one another across the space
with deep, loud voices that are tempered to softness as they travel
over the water, Paolo and Battista begin slowly to row towards the
net’s centre with the net’s ends fastened to their separate boats, and,
when they meet in the middle, the net’s mouth will have closed upon the
captured fish.

There are not many this time. When Battista has got into his
uncle’s boat, and when together, with cheery cry and many a passing
ejaculation, they have hauled in the great net, it is but a _cattiva
pesca_ that is the result of their evening’s labour. And the sun has
gone down now behind the purple clouds and beneath the waves; the
sea’s blue is dark, almost to blackness, as the night breeze creeps up;
Sestri’s coast can no longer be seen—scarce even the great promontory
that hides La Spezia from sight in the daytime. Yet further out to
sea they lay down the net again, and little lanterns have had to
be lighted in either boat, other lights and lanterns have been long
put out that glimmered faintly from the village ashore, before Paolo
and Battista row back again towards the rock-bound bay beneath the
cliff. But a dying memory of sunset from the west can still light
the boats homewards though the summer night be far advanced, and,
against the background of this dim and distant brightness, Paolo’s
tall figure stands taller than before as he waits, with forward foot
and well-poised body, upon the boat’s prow, till the shingle shall
grind beneath her keel, and it be time to leap out into shallow water
and pull her high upon the yellow beach. Maddalena’s shrill voice is
hushed, the children are all a-bed and the hearth swept up; but, if the
fire be spent, the fisher’s meal has not been forgotten by the fisher’s
wife; cold _polenta_, brown bread and chestnuts stand ready by the
settle, though the portly fishwife lies asleep whose work it will be to
bear the haul of tunny-fish to early market.

The morning dawns, pure and bright. Beneath the _pergolas_ of Bogliasco
cottages the sun is warm already, though night-dews lie wet still on
flowers and herbage. The blue water below laps but gently against the
gnarled rocks where it can dash at will so wildly, for the sea is calm
to-day under a tender sky. ‘It will be hot,’ fisher-wives say, ‘but
what will you have when June days are so near?’ Scarce a ripple stirs
the water surface, whose blue is as only the Mediterranean’s blue can
be when the sky is full of colour as now, and the sun is strong to
perfect and enhance. Paolo has been abroad betimes, and Maddalena is
already on her way to the fish-market with last evening’s produce; but
we, who have not cared to rise so early, will follow Maso this time,
who, having neither wife nor children, begins only to fish when the sun
is aloft.

Maso has not so handsome a fame as he who stood last night against the
sunset. In fact, he is an ugly man, for, besides a face that is brown
and weather-beaten, and pitted with the small-pox (as his nickname in
the village dialect would tell you), he has a short, wiry figure, that
for all its ease of movement cannot compare with the tall, spare grace
of his neighbour. Maso had wonderful luck with the _bianchette_, that
are a kind of whitebait, through the past month of April, and he had
a good net of anchovies some three days ago; but anchovies are not the
surest sport, and this morning he will lay for the sardines, as Paolo
has done. Maso has a little brother—a brisk, lithe little ragamuffin
of ten years, one of those who rarely have time for aught but mischief,
as his keen eyes would tell you; him he sends up on the hill for watch.
And while the two men—for the fishing is all done in couples, and Maso
has a comrade like the rest—while the men spread their nets just beyond
the rocks in the creek’s clear water below, Giannino’s bare feet have
climbed the hill where the stones were sharpest for his long toes to
cling to, and is squatting on the hot earth amid the thyme and the
flowers and beneath the grey-toned olives, between the frail network of
whose boughs those blue waves shine with fairest glory.

But Giannino notes none of the things of Nature; he is watching the
sardine shoals come on. Maso and the other have parted company in
their separate boats now; each is posted at an opposite side, with a
net’s end fastened to his skiff. And presently Giannino, from behind
the olive trees, sees a goodly company of little slim and silvery fish
making towards that very pool of clearest blue-green water, where the
cruel snare lies spread in the rock’s great shade. A silent signal
is enough to the fishers, who are watching for it, and the boats row
slowly centre-wards, till the net’s mouth has closed upon the dainty
prisoners. Silver and gold gleam in the sun’s own silver light, for the
little fish struggle pitifully amid those horrible meshes. It has been
a _buona pesca_ this time, and the brown and dingy coils are soon in
the boat, the spoil secured safely within the well. It is Nicoletta who
goes to market with the sardines; but not into town, only to Bogliasco,
where men and women buy the fish from the fishers, to take into Genoa.
Nicoletta is a spare and tanned little maiden, with brown feet and
ankles that have never known shoes or stockings; she is sister to Maso
and Giannino, but it is the latter she resembles in her wild, wiry
strength, for she, too, is something of a pickle!

The sun climbs the sky till its rays are so hot that even Riviera men
and women are fain to fly from it for an hour or so, while they eat the
_merenda_, and sleep their own calm sleep beneath the shadows of rock
or fig-tree. The olives shine silver-white in the fair beams that ripen
their fruit; aloes and palms flourish, broad pines are darkly green and
perfumed; in bays and upon burning rocks the colour-laden water ebbs
quietly. But at last the sun sets again, and in the evening’s cool,
fishers sink the lobster baskets in rock-bound pools of the coast,
where the water is nigh to blackness in its depth beside the cliffs.
Night is near, and the sea’s colour fades awhile with the last of the
sunlight.

Santa Margherita.

Santa Margherita is one of the many little towns which have gradually
grown up along the eastern Riviera, gathering themselves together
around the country palace of some _signore_, which, first, had been
built alone upon the shore, or springing up where, for convenience
sake, a little fishing hamlet had been set in creek or bay, until now
the whole of the coast line from Genoa to La Spezia is studded thickly
with the white walls and glistening roofs of human habitations. The
little place has had a station since the railroad has come this way—a
station of its own, and not one shared with another village, as some
of its neighbours, and one, too, at which all the trains must stop
which run during the day to Sestri. There was a great palace built up
here many years ago. I forget to what family it belongs, but it is a
stately pile, whose marble steps creep down to the water’s edge, and
on whose battered face the dim colours of ancient frescoes still show
quaintly through the dirt which has encrusted them. The _signori_ used
to come here for the sea-bathing, and perhaps it was in this wise that
the town of Santa Margherita came to be built. Nevertheless it is in a
fair position upon the coast, and it was probably a prosperous little
fishing village long before it could boast its stone pavements and
its piazza of now-a-days. The coast swerves in gently so as to form a
smooth and ample bay just where the town stands, and jutting out on
either side into the blue waves stand two promontories guarding the
gulf. To the right is Porto Fino, and, within the bay round the point,
a little village bears the name. It is so called from the many dolphins
which, near to that shore, sport in bevies beneath the clear water
quickly to disperse at the approach of a boat. ‘Fino,’ for shortness
and convenience sake, apparently can mean _delfino_.

Hills, graceful and undulating, clothed with many trees and watered by
many a cool stream, are set against the sky for background, and Santa
Margherita lies within their lap, sending the gayest houses to adorn
her front upon the coast. Buildings of any note belonging to the place
are but few—only the Campanile, which stands up tall against the hill,
and has some pretty colouring in the mosaic of its belfry, and one or
two decrepit old mansions belonging to the gentry of the neighbourhood.
The great palace of which we have already spoken stands upon a low hill
without the town; orange groves gather round and about it, and woods
where dark and spreading pines are set against the tenderer foliage of
chestnuts and arbutus: its white loggias and colonnades face the sea,
hung richly with creepers and vines. In the town there are many poorer
houses—most of them modern—tall and thinly built, with ill-designed
proportions, and gaudily coloured paintings nowise resembling the
frescoes of olden times. Along the façade of the town houses stand
closely wedged together whose windows are thickly studded up and
down, and hung with the white linen from which meaner habitations in
Italy are rarely unadorned. This is the most populous part of Santa
Margherita, and between these houses and the waters of the bay there
is only the paved street from whence steps lead to the higher part of
the town, the railway station and the fair country beyond. Here roads
branch out on all sides; one leads from behind the town, over the hill
to more towns and villages inland, another is hemmed by tall rows of
ilexes, and others again, less important, creep up the clefts of the
valley until they are lost in the woods, and only peep out again on
the barren crests of mountains, where pine trees alone stand as fringes
against the sky.

[Illustration: VIEW OF SANTA MARGHERITA.]

Santa Margherita is but one of a hundred nooks along the Cornice from
Nice to La Spezia; the villages all breathe the same balmy sea air
and bask in the same sunshine, and wear the same garb of luxuriant
vegetation, of quaint picturesqueness, side by side with gaudy
vulgarity; and yet each has its own life, each is home, as no other
place can be to its citizens. Santa Margherita, like the rest, has its
full sum of incongruity. Squalid habitations that yet have something
of the grace of Italy, with their green shutters, large windows, and
marble mosaic floors, stand, in dirt and poverty, side by side with
stately palaces of olden time or with the pretentious structures
of modern architecture. And in the inhabitants is the same apparent
discord. Men and women who for years have been used to exact the homage
of their inferiors, live side by side with the lowest and the poorest
of the people, and, even more, with a perfect grace and courtesy;
ladies to whom fashion is a necessity, and excitement has become a
second nature, take a naïve pleasure in the pursuits and interests of
poor fisherwives, of _contadine_ cooking the porridge, or lace-weavers
at their pillow.

And nature is there to keep all this strange medley in countenance.
Down upon the beach, where the fishers stow their craft when the day’s
work is over at sea, and where the little dark-eyed children, ragged
and dirty, play in and out the nets upon the shingle, the wind blows
hot from off the great moving plain of the Mediterranean and the sun
shines heavily for many an hour upon the houses and groves and gardens
that are on the water’s level. Leave the town a space, and take one
of those roads which lead upward among the mountain valleys, and in
a little half-hour the face of nature seems subtly to have changed,
and her voice tells a different tale, while yet murmuring of the
sea which is near. The summer breeze is scarcely cooler or the sun’s
rays less powerful where they break between the large-leaved foliage
of the chestnuts, yet a sense of freshness creeps silently around,
vigour is in the flowers that grow, in the trees, in the water that
flows and ripples. Ferns are tall and waving upon the banks of little
rills and beside cascades, or frail and feathery growing between the
crevices of loose stone walls. Maiden-hair is there in profusion, and
hart’s-tongue and holly fern, besides many others. The ways are rough
and stony, sometimes losing themselves in what seems to be but a mere
water-course, sometimes steeply climbing the hills in tortuous coils;
but even these rough footpaths look upon fair valleys, and the pale
sky is spread out above them, till they reach the mountain’s summit
and wind round again upon its crown back towards the whispering sea.
And now you will enter upon the region of stone pines, and this is
the promontory of Porto Fino. The goodly trees rise up from out soft
earth, and their straight stems, with the curiously carved bark, stand
tall and erect, many feet on high, ere the branches begin gracefully to
strike out on the several sides. Then the boughs grow more forked and
multiply again, and still there are no leaves yet to be seen, only when
you look up from below you see that there is a great shade spread above
you, and that all those thickly matted branches are clothed and adorned
with the dark and sweet-scented foliage. Then you sit down, perhaps, in
the dreamy cool and the twilight of this forest—where the trees do not
need to be thickly set that they may throw their shadows densely—and
you breathe the heavy-perfumed air from the pines, while you hear from
afar the murmur of the sea. These pine trees can grow on the narrowest
ledges of soil that have found a place up the face of the cliffs, and
can yet stretch their branches far out over the waves, so that the most
barren edge of land by them is made beautiful and softened. And all
the time, perhaps, that you have been walking you have scarce caught
more than a far-off vision of the magic water. As you made a turn in
the road or climbed some little knoll on your way there came a sudden
picture before you of a brilliant colour, neither blue nor green nor
purple, such as you ever saw it before, framed in the stately branches
of the dark pines. And the sky is pale, and yet the sky, too, seems
pregnant with colour, and fathomless, and so the sea and the sky meet
in one. Then you dive down into a little dale again and into a lonely
glen, and the sea is away and the memory of it, only still mysteriously
its influence seems to be around. The village of Porto Fino lies to
your left, but far below upon the sea-shore. You must descend. The
pines still fringe the ridge of land, where it overhangs the water,
but now the vegetation will change. Little tufts and sprigs of divers
shrubs cling to the rock—myrtle—and gracefully twining sarsaparilla;
but green things are not abundant here, where strange boulders of rock
strike down into the sea, or lift up their great forms from its depths
a little way from the shore; and when the cape is rounded, and the
woods begin again, they are no longer pine plantations but sweeping
chestnut groves that drape the hill-side. There is a little shrine that
has been built upon the farthest point of the Porto Fino promontory.
On windy days the ‘Madonetta’ has bidden fair to be cast from her home
and hurled into the treacherous Mediterranean, for the gales rise up
suddenly on this coast, and I have seen the smiling waters wax dark and
livid in one short hour, dashing their waves in mighty billows upon
the rocks, and tossing their white foam far aloft. Then the dolphins
gather themselves in companies below the surface, and the ships are
fain to take refuge in one of the bays which nature has provided along
the coast. Of these Porto Fino is by far the best and largest for many
miles ahead. The harbour can hold even large ships, and is a constant
halting-place for the smaller craft which ply their trade along the
coast. Then the little fishing-smacks are forced to be moored upon the
beach, for the swell of the sea is heavy even in this sheltered bay.

So the footpath will have brought you down, curling round the cliff’s
front till you come where the chestnut woods are growing luxuriantly
above the shores of the little harbour. Porto Fino’s church is to the
right of the village, and above it. It is on the neck of the peninsula,
just where the land is narrowest, so that standing beside it some windy
day you can feel, on the one hand, from the turbid billows beneath, the
foam that dashes up against the rocks, and on the other you can see the
gentle heaving of the calmer waters in the little bay at your left. You
must needs pass the church as you make your way down to the village.
The way is steep, but it is paved, though the round stones are somewhat
hard and slippery. Porto Fino is a small place. There is a piazza upon
the shore whence the little pier juts out into the water, and around
which the houses are built in a square. They are poor dwellings most
of them, though one or two pink and yellow houses, with balconies,
suppose themselves to be charming summer residences for strangers.
The village is a fishing village, and therefore is pretty well huddled
together upon the shore; but there are a few cosier looking cottages in
the woods behind, where the lace-makers live; and the odds and ends of
the place have crept up into the valley or upon the slopes. There are
pleasure boats at Porto Fino, besides the fishing-smacks: though when
I say pleasure boats I have not in mind those dainty little craft which
are wont so to be called in fashionable watering-places, for these are
rough and dingy, and built, I doubt not, against all rules of modern
invention. Nevertheless, they are safe and comfortable, and swift
enough when pulled by two stalwart fishers. They will beset you as you
come out upon the piazza, these swarthy boatmen, and clamour loudly for
your favour. Then the boat will row you over the dark green waters of
the little bay out into the wide sea without, where the water is bluer
and less transparent; and when you have rounded the promontory and
skirted other little bays you will be back at Santa Margherita.

The Lace Weaver.

On the hill with crest that is fringed with stone pines, above Santa
Margherita’s town and harbour, Lucrezia’s grey cottage stands, with
thatched roof, among the trees. Olives are around her dwelling, for
it stands on the nether slopes, where the fir’s fragrance from above
scarce reaches; their fine branches and crooked stems rest traced upon
the sky, and into their grey tones fig-trees bring brighter green for
contrast, though brightest of all are the vines that twine beneath.
The blue-grey smoke curls above the green-grey trees, to show where the
lace-weaver lives; a rough spring flows freshly out of the earth beside
her cottage, with wooden trough to guide its stream into the brick
basin, and thence into the beans and potatoes of her garden; a rude
balcony flanks the house, a walnut tree shadows it over, a _pergola_
dims the light at the kitchen window; and the gourd-plants trail
beneath it on the ground, with ample golden flowers; carnations, side
by side with kitchen herbs, grow in a box upon the window-sill.

Lucrezia sits outside on the little terrace; the pear tree is white
with blossom, just opposite, and at the foot of many a sloping,
stone-hemmed garden, where green wheat waves and gladioli bloom
between, the sunny sea spreads far away and breaks white upon the
rocks; but her face is not raised to look, for before her is the
lace-pillow, and, while her fingers ply busily, her head is bowed, and
she softly rocks a cradle with her foot. Lucrezia is a young mother.
Last year, when the fruit was at the best and the fishing had been
good, she was married to Pietro of Santa Margherita, and the little
swaddled infant that sleeps at her feet is the first-born, who came
with the summer’s return this May-time. He has no features to boast of
yet, and his legs and arms are tightly bound with swathing bands, but
Lucrezia thinks him truly fair nevertheless, nor minds the piteous wail
with which he will shortly break in upon her deftest bit of labour. She
is a comely woman, but beautiful rather with the recollection of other
beauty—the beauty of past generations—than perfect in her own person.
She is dark and tall and straight, with square, broad shoulders and
ample bosom; her hair is almost black, her eyes are grey, her skin is
bronzed and slightly freckled, her mouth is wide, and the teeth within
it white and even; the hands that weave and twist amid a labyrinth of
threads are coarse and large, though seemly shaped; the foot upon the
cradle’s edge is no dainty foot, for it has grown hard upon the hard
stones, and tanned with the sun, and soiled with the world’s work of
every day. Neither _contadine_ nor fisherwives waste their scant pence
on shoes and stockings.

[Illustration: _The Lace Weaver._

While her fingers ply busily, her head is bowed, and she
softly rocks a cradle with her foot.]

Lucrezia plaits her white threads swiftly—so swiftly that you might
almost see the pattern growing beneath her fingers, though it is
no simple design that she weaves thus from memory, but an elaborate
arrangement of groundwork and spray and border, that go to make the
width most used for flounces. The wooden bobbins clap together merrily
when Lucrezia thus nimbly twists and crosses threads over the pink
pillow’s surface. She is crooning a lullaby to the bandaged _bamboccio_
the while, and nearly mars the use of it by the loud peals of laughter
that Maria’s conversation provokes, who sits idling on the cottage
door-step.

‘Marry? I wouldn’t marry for worlds, and have to work as you’re working
now,’ declares decisively that one who is yet a spinster. ‘What man
is worth it? For me, I like to amuse myself—in the way one should,
of course! _Santa Vergine!_ you’re always at it! If you’re not at the
lace-pillow, you’re with the fish to market or down in the villa round
the _tomate_ and the herbage! And then that marmot of yours! It’s one
thing to dandle him a bit for you when you’re up to Santa Margherita
on an errand, but to have a thing like that of one’s own——! Not for
me!’ ‘Go to!’ laughs Lucrezia. ‘And that young man of Camogli that I
know of?’ ‘And that young man—and that young man! What young man, and
what’s he to do with me?’ simpers the maid. ‘All very fine,’ replies
the married woman, with a giggle so loud that Ernesto gives an ominous
whine, and would probably move his limbs were they not so well secured,
‘that will _he_ know better than I for a surety!’ And she rocks
the cradle faster, and begins to croon afresh, till the pins on the
pillow want shifting forwards, and Maria so far recovers her gravity
as to continue, ‘You are always up to your jokes, you! But tell me a
little—wilt teach me the lace-making if I have the patience to learn?
It’s the only way for us poor girls to earn a pair of ear-rings, I
suppose.’ ‘Dear heart, you would never have patience,’ says Lucrezia.
‘A fisher-girl like you! Why, your hands are rough from the oar, and
you’d never sit still a little half-hour. It’s bad enough for me, who
have been used to it since I was twelve years old!’

A portion of the pattern gets finished off at this point, and Lucrezia
casts a handful of threads aside—the threads that have twined one kind
of weft for sprays—and takes up a new set to fill in the ground with.
She has had a good day’s work, has been at the pillow at least five or
six hours, and has completed nearly _mezzo palmo_ of flounce, which is
about five inches. If she were not the nimblest worker in all Santa
Margherita’s vicinity, she could never make as much lace as this in
the whole twelve hours, and yet the Genoa shops will scarcely pay her
more than a franc for the piece she has done, weaving since daybreak,
till now that it is time to cook the _cena_. Indeed, if hers were not
the best and smoothest made lace to be had along that shore, Lucrezia
would not even earn as much. It is not without some reason that to
Maria’s remark about its being the best means of gain for a woman, she
answers, but curtly, ‘You believe it? Listen to me rather; that you,
who have hard hands and slow wits, and the patience only of a spirit in
purgatory, you would not make half a franc with your day at the pillow!
Even the glove-sewing would suit you better, though ’tis but a poor
trade! Take to yourself that young man of Camogli, and go in peace! He
has a house above his head, and you are fit for nothing so well as to
sell his fish for him at Santa Margherita, and harvest his wheat and
his olives.’

Lucrezia rises to stretch her arms, for the shadows are creeping longer
and a filmier light dims the sun’s dazzle on the bay. It will be time
to pare the potatoes and wash the rice for _minestra_, though, on
second thoughts, she has a mind to cook some _polenta_—that is quicker
done, and just as acceptable for a second meal. Maria’s gossip must end
for this time. She, too, has a _cena_ to make ready at home for the
men, and Lucrezia has enough to do now, for, just when the pot wants
putting on—that bundle in the cradle begins to wail, of course! ‘It’s
always so,’ laments she plaintively, but the mother’s heart cannot
find it within to be cross, though she must rake the fire with one hand
while holding the infant to her breast with the other.

The first-born’s woes are stilled, supper simmers over the burning
logs, in the light of whose flames Lucrezia’s copper vessels shine
brightly on the smoke-tarnished walls; without, the sunlight has faded,
and grey clouds cross the west. ‘We shall have a storm to-night,’ muses
she on the terrace, looking seawards with her back to the road, and to
the chestnut-woods behind her olive trees. Truly, the blue waves are
sadder-coloured than before and begin to wear white feathers on their
bosoms. A wind moves in the grey branches overhead, and rustles more
noisily amid the broader-leaved chestnuts behind; on the hill’s crest
it is sighing beneath the stone pines. ‘Pietro will surely not go to
the fishing this night,’ says she, half aloud; and she turns to fetch
the copper cauldron to fill at the spring.

Some one is coming through the chestnut wood that lies away from
the sea—a lady. Is it one of the ladies from the _palazzo_ on Santa
Margherita’s beach? Yes—good Virgin—it is indeed, and the same one
who bought lace of her last week! What a good fortune, for a private
customer buys at double the price offered at Genoa shops. ‘Your
servant,’ says she modestly, but without a curtsey—that is not the
way with our _contadine_; yet her manner is none the less respectful.
‘A fair evening to you, my good girl,’ replies the town dame in the
high singsong that is special to Genoese dialect, and different from
the Venetian twitter or the deep Milanese chest notes. She is not
alone—a tall man attends her, dressed after a supposed English mode,
as for the country; he is chestnut-haired, and would call himself
_biondo_, or fair, spite of his skin’s colour; that is why he affects
the English style, and he too says a gracious ‘_Felice sera_’ to our
Lucrezia, because she is a comely woman. She meanwhile, standing beside
the fountain with her hand resting on the copper bowl to steady it,
gazes with appreciating eyes on the lady’s elegant attire, who says
presently to the swain beside her, ‘It will rain, I think—it behoves
to go quickly home;’ then to the _contadina_ whose vessel has filled
the while at the trickling spring, ‘Have you any more lace of that sort
that I bought last time?’ ‘Come up the steps beneath the _pergola_,
dear lady, and I will show you what I have,’ replies Lucrezia, frankly,
but with no curtness as the words might imply. And she heaves the
water-vessel to her head, which must first be replaced in the kitchen,
whence she then brings two nicely dusted rush chairs for the _signori_.
_La marchesa_ sits down, asks a question about the prospects of grape
and olive harvest, speaks a word to the now wakeful _bambino_, and
handles black and white lace while the fair-haired gallant leans
against the stone parapet and smokes and gives valuable opinions on
stitch and pattern and quality.

Lucrezia has a handsome store of completed lace—of course, some
of it is promised to the shop, but what matter? No one can quicker
invent a suitable lie for the shopwoman, should the _marchesa_ take
a fancy to any special piece. There are lengths of all widths, in
flounce, and edge, and insertion-lace; there are scarves and shawls,
and parasol covers, and every kind of female adornment that is in
fashion, whether suited to this special kind of _guipure_ trimming
or no. Lucrezia’s lace is the finest made in the neighbourhood, but
even hers is no fine and precious kind. True, in olden times the
Riviera girls used to make a straight-edged and thin-threaded lace
that was worthier the name, but, for this long time past, florid
designs and Maltese stitches have come into vogue, and now we have
nothing but _guipure_ made along the shores. _La marchesa_ buys her
five metres of heavy-weighted black silk flouncing, in which kind the
loose-woven patterns show to best advantage, and when she has bargained
a while over it, and laughed and talked friendly with Lucrezia, it is
discovered suddenly by all three that the rising blast has lashed our
blue sea’s waters into swelling and breaking billows, and that the
storm is overhead. Dark clouds hasten across the sunset, and the rain
begins to drop. ‘_Misericordia!_’ says the lady. For the square pink
palace looks a long way off. She is fain to take the shelter of the
lace-weaver’s shady kitchen, that is now gracefully offered, and to
blacken her dainty slippers on the square brick hearth and listen to
the first-born’s wail till the rain have ceased to water the garden,
and the wind to turn up the olive leaves’ white linings, till the
worst of the storm be over, in fact, though waves still dash white
spray on black and cloven rocks in the bay, and the sunlight be blotted
out for good this day. But Pietro has good news on his return to the
cottage; the fishing has been good this broken weather, and Lucrezia
has good news, too—she has sold five _metri_ at an honest price to the
_marchesa_ of the great palace.

Il Manente.

The Husbandman.

At Camogli, where the stone-pines adorn the cliff’s edge, and burthen
even the fresh sea-breeze with their strange and heavy sweetness—at
Camogli, that is built beside the waves, and that has the quaint
harbour where fishers dwell, there are many new houses for gentlefolk
to live in, and one or two old ones for old families to whom they
belong; and these well-worn palaces stand on their own lands, beside
their own fig-trees, and beneath pines of their own planting. Such
things are at Camogli, and even at Recco, though Recco is a little town
with church and streets, not so picturesque by half as the thriving
fishing village—such city memories are at both these places because
they lie beside the sea, and because from homes and lodgings in their
midst people can easily spend the half of their summer days in the
water.

But at Ruta there are not many fine houses for city folk, and not even
many old palaces, for Ruta is up on the hill with the land-breezes
behind it, that come through clefts and valleys, and the sea-scent
in front of it that must travel across vineyards and up corn-covered
terraces to get there. Yet there is a broad, smooth, carriage-road from
Recco to the village on the hill—that same old road along which many a
traveller of many a nation has come in the days when the railroad was
yet unmade, of which many another has heard tell because of its beauty;
for Ruta stands on the way that used to be the highway from Genoa to
La Spezia. And besides this wide and dusty one, there is another path
by which you may reach the village that I mean—a path that strikes off
from Camogli’s gayest front, to wind steeply up the hill when once it
has left Camogli’s church behind; a rough foot-path, whose sides are
hemmed with low stone walls, and upon which other loose stones roll
perilously. It is the way that the _manenti_ take when they come in
the sunrise hours to Camogli with their market goods, and carry fish up
again that has been bought on the shore with their morning’s earnings,
for Ruta lies crowning the valley that is called in Genoa and on the
Riviera the valley of fruit; and, though nobles of old did not build
their palaces so far from the sea, any more than town-folk of to-day,
all of them are glad enough of the fruit that grows better where the
shade is, and where dry sea-breezes are not so prone to wither.

Giovanni’s villa lies on the western side of the hill, and looks to
the sunrise. He is an old man, his hair is whitening fast and his
hands are wrinkled and horny, his face is seamed; though so tall and
strong a frame scarce will have need to stoop yet a while. But for
all he has been on the ground, pruning the vines and the fruit-trees,
and tilling the soil these many years, Giovanni has rarely yet had
occasion to grumble much at his land’s produce, though neighbours do
tell him oftentimes the place lies with an unprofitable aspect. The
terraced fields and little plantations where he grows the maize and
peas and fine asparagus in season, lie one above another in patches, on
the steep, with the rising ground behind to shield them from untoward
winds, and the sun full to their front; and beyond, where the hill
curves round to westward, his cherry trees and pear and plum trees
grow, with peach and almond trees between for a good sprinkling, and
aloes faintly grey and stiff on the rocky wall above; silver-lined
olive-leaves wave from knotted boughs where wheat grows, with gladiolas
blooming in its midst; fig trees spread widely, and vines twine around
wildly wherever there is room amongst all the cultivation: truly,
Giovanni has no need to complain.

The old _manente_ lives lonely; he has few friends so close as
the crops and the fruit-gathering that he labours so fondly for.
The tender-leaved lettuce and early asparagus are more to him than
neighbours, and the ripening of the red tomatoes is of keener interest
than anything that happens in the village, for the weather-worn man has
none at home to care for him: his wife is dead, and, of his children,
the sons are about the world, fishing at sea, and selling _pasta_ in
Genoa; the daughters are well married in distant towns and villages. It
is better so; and to heave the pickaxe in the upturned field, to train
the vines while thinking on Marrina’s last-born babe or on Pietro’s
success a-board the merchant vessel, is dearer to the husbandman’s
heart than the sound even of loved voices around his hearth.

The day is a July day; the wheat is waving yellow and near to the
harvesting; the melons have ripened well, and it is a good year for
all the fruit; the peaches have even been so many that _manenti_ have
given them away in baskets-full. Fine and tender spring crops have
had their day, and it is over. This is the full time when nature is
the most lavish—not a time of sharpest interest, perhaps, but the
husbandman joys in his reward. It will be a good vintage, and the green
autumn figs crowd thick on their trees’ branches; they are swelling
fast, and will streak their soft green skins ere long with pink, as
they come to full maturity. People say there will be a falling-off
in the chestnut-harvest on the other hand, but that matters less to
this _manente_ of whom I write, because his riches are greater in
olive-woods.

Giovanni has been to Camogli this early morning already, and he is an
old man, but he means to go to Rappallo in the forenoon yet. ‘Fair
Madonna, and it is the old ones must work whether they will or no,’
says he to neighbours who greet him on the steep and stony way, with
some comment on his toil; ‘the young have all gone to the devil,
and to the city trades; what would the soil do if it weren’t for us,
whose bones are oiled to the labour?’ But though he fret and fume a
bit now and then, if truth were told, Giovanni would ill brook even
a day’s idleness! What if the path be bad, and the burthen on an old
man’s shoulder makes the sweat to steal down his brow? Do not the
fig-leaves cast broad shadows where one sits awhile on the flints by
the roadside to rest, and is it not consolation enough to note how
the fruit waxes full, and how the olives are rich in berries? Besides
even at three hours after dawn, when Giovanni was climbing the hill
again from market, dews were still moist and breezes fresh off the sea
from behind; it is of a hot sultry night, or with a fierce midday sun
overhead, that one fears the mount a bit, and wearies of the secret
stillness amid trees, or of the silver dazzle on that blue sheet, of
Mediterranean that one leaves behind and below. No one can say that
in Ruta there is a hardier labourer than the _manente_ who rents the
larger portion of his villa from those silk-mercers of Genoa—owners of
the white house on the ridge. It is sale-time and profit-time now; and
though Giovanni may silently love the season best that is for tilling
and sowing and reaping, it is not he who will shrink from any day’s
work. Just an hour to eat the breakfast that a little neighbour’s wench
will have prepared him, who comes in from hard-by to do such jobs at
a modest price, just another little half-hour to go the dearly-loved
round of his property and pluck more fruit and herbs for the new
market, just a grim jest or two with the children of the _signori_
from the house, who frolic around and get many a handful of garden
spoil—then Giovanni is away again, for Rappallo is a bit of way off,
and one must be there not too late at the _stabilimento_, or others
will have gotten the custom.

The sun glitters on the pale sea that is down and away a mile or
more, beyond the sloping fields and gardens, and the dipping valley.
Giovanni’s villa is above that part of Ruta’s village lying along the
roadside, above the church too, and close upon the bend of a path that
turns away from the sea into turf and chestnut woods; nevertheless,
he keeps a hold on the great white water still, and can look over the
valley that is rich of careful cultivation, can see churches standing
cypress-guarded, and palaces where the land drops shore-ward—can see
as much, and even more, of the sea-view than they can from the top
windows of the old tavern in the village, where carriage-folk used to
stop when carriages were many along the highway, and Ruta was a place
for the horses to bait at and _vetturini_ to feed at, while their
_signori_ got dinner on the terrace beneath the vines. For all he never
remembers thinking of it, Giovanni would not like to have his back to
the sea, not though it dazzle old eyes, even from far, as it dazzles
them to-day, for no clouds have come up to make walking lighter beneath
a burthen by the time Giovanni shoulders his fruit-baskets anew and
comes down the steps upon the high road. The church bells ring a chime
as he passes, and Maria, the _pedona_ who sells eggs, comes down the
paved way behind to go to Rappallo as well. She is a woman of years,
and fit to join company with Giovanni, to whom her tongue can wag
none the less fast for his economy of response. The old _manente_ is
a heavy-jawed and tough-hided specimen of _contadino_; one can see
at a glance his words will be few, but Maria’s chatter flows not the
less merrily because his deep-set eyes show no sign, and the wrinkles
that strew his ancient face do not let themselves be displaced into
smiles. Maria is an old woman in whose yellow cheeks the lines seem
to have no rhythm, so purposeless is she; but every seam on the old
husbandman’s countenance is as though set there by careful length of
living. Striking into the tunnel that, just outside of Ruta’s village,
covers the roadway, Maria turns to hurl a neighbourly jest after the
girl whom they have met driving a donkey from some distant market.
A sapphire-coloured morsel of sea lies behind a frail-foliaged aspen
tree—lies framed in the green of shrubs that grow around the grotto’s
mouth; a long, broken water-line hems the land that fondly goes out in
crags and points to meet it, and puts forward her fairest vegetation
to fringe the border; in the farthest distance the sea seems to creep
into wider bays, and the cliffs to grow less, and the water margin
straighter, till a mist gathers into shape, and holds dim white roofs
and tall spires and domes within its folds where Genoa lies away to
westward. Giovanni, standing with head bent beneath a burthen, Maria,
with shrunken face and forehead bound about with crimson kerchief, have
this and more before them as they linger a space out of the sunlight,
but neither notes skies and seas so familiar, for Rappallo is yet
a long way off. ‘The _parroco_ of San Martino has got to manage now
without that serving-woman of his that he thought so much of,’ says
Maria, as they step out into the cooler shadow on the grotto’s other
side. ‘Did you know it? The foolish thing is going to marry! No husband
will be what _that_ old master was to her. Yes—yes, poor holy man!—the
feasts coming on, too, and he who scarcely knows where to lay hand
on his own canonicals unless she’s by. And as for the sacred wafers,
who, indeed, will see to them?’ Giovanni’s comment is but a suppressed
murmur as he turns to look towards the priest of San Martino’s Church,
whose spire lies up against a chestnut-mantled hill to left. The green
is the brighter green of inland foliage here, for even olives are
scarcer to mingle their silver-grey tones; hills lie behind and beside
one another, and turf is fresh beneath these shadier woods, rills
trickle and flowers grow; the Mediterranean’s memory is forgotten for
a while, and the hot, grey aloe plants and Indian figs give place to
gorse bushes and mountain ash. Giovanni tramps forward steadily, and
both man and woman have soon left the few tall houses of _negozianti_
behind, that have been built on this side the archway by those who
prefer land to sea breezes for change from town. And Maria beguiles the
way with many a tale about these same _negozianti_, till, rounding a
point in the smooth high road, Giovanni pauses to rest his burthen upon
the wall just where the way turns to right again and, with mountains
and chestnut-clad hills behind it still, looks forward once more upon
the blue, sunny sheet of the sea. Figs, and aloes, and olives grow
again by the roadside with vines between, and here the chestnut-woods
flourish beside them as well, and dark cypress trees crown the long
crests of hills to the front. So now, as the old people walk, the
sea draws ever nearer again if a bend in the road hide it sometimes
from view; but the mountains are not left behind all the same, nor
the chestnuts shorn for other culture, and, when they reach Rappallo,
a river winds about it, and mountains guard it, in whose cleft the
town lies; greenest woods girdle it round, though its front be spread
beside the waves, and the _stabilimento_ be aptly enough placed for
the bathing. Maria sells her new-laid eggs for the summer visitors,
Giovanni has disposed of green herbs and melons enough; but the one
lingers to return with the sunset cool, and the other hastens back
betimes to the village that is his home, and to the _villa_ that reaps
all his labours and his fondest affections.

[Illustration: _The Husbandman._

And Maria beguiles the way with many a tale, till, rounding
a point in the smooth high road, Giovanni pauses to rest his
burden upon a wall.]

La Donna di Casa.

The Country Housekeeper.

Portofino’s bay lies calmly blue beneath a morning sky: the sun shines,
and its glamour is set upon dainty ripples of restless sea, where the
Mediterranean sways and washes without a quiet harbour. The Villa C——
stands to westward, with face set seaward toward Sestri’s opposite
shore, and terrace built inward over the bay. It was a fortified castle
once upon a time, long ago, when battles were fought along the coast,
and Genoa was a great maritime power; the castle’s battlements are
there still, built down into the rock that lies sunk in the waves;
around their base aloes and sweet thyme cling to barren soil, and upon
their crown a modern dwelling-house has grown into shape, with windows
that see the water a hundred feet below, and a patch of terrace-garden
growing upon scant mould, between the old walls of the fortifications.
A goodly fig-tree finds room spite of scant space, and spreads wide
boughs into the castle’s very windows, with fresh big leaves upon them,
and luscious fruit thick between; the gate is to the hinder side,
looking inland, and, when you find its mouth in the hill-side among
the olives, dank and rugged stone steps will lead you within the house,
and through the house out again on to that terrace upon the battlements
that is sea-framed.

Here lived Teresa years ago when the Villa C—— belonged to an old
Genoese _marchese_ of lone life and bachelor ways, and Teresa is the
country housekeeper. Her master is her pride, her pet, and her slave;
she scorns the _negoziante_ class who can grow rich in a trice, and buy
a title, too, since the year 1848! She would tell lies, white or black,
for an old family’s honour; day and night her simple soul schemes
to uphold, amid poverty, the traditions of a race for whom she has
lived alone these twenty years; the coronet of the house of C—— is the
fairest of all in her eyes, and there is no place, though ruined, like
Portofino Castle and Portofino Bay.

And here Teresa is right. Leaning upon the fortification’s old wall
before the front windows—that wall that holds the terrace I have told
of, looking around on this sun-lit summer morning that I call to mind,
scarce anyone would grumble at Teresa’s verdict. To westward Genoa
is hid from sight because of many rocks and promontories that seek
the waves, and are pine-fringed and clad with olives; towards the
sun-rising a near point—the other of the harbour’s arms, of which our
Castle’s pedestal is one—hides neighbouring clefts of the shore, but
further on a space, the bays seem to sweep inland with larger curves,
and from the point of Portofino Cape many creeks, big and little, go
together at last to make the one great gulf that curves round again
to Chiavari and Sestri, lying opposite. The blue waves sway softly to
and fro with the sun’s glitter on their bosoms; the sky is pale and
calm in the heat; white sails and yellow mark the horizon and link
sea and sky in the nearer foreground; round shapes of hills along the
coast lie languidly to right and left, for the coming heat has sent
a white mist before it. This is all looking seaward; from beneath
the fig-tree or from off the hindermost wall of battlement you might
see that gentle slopes or steeps are around, to girdle the bay—that
vineyards and rich cultivations adorn them, that olive and fruit trees
shade their sides, that green turf springs near the water, and aloes
and house-leeks upon the rocks. And Portofino’s tiny town lies around
the head of Portofino’s harbour; this also you can see from off the
battlements of Villa C——, can even hear the sound of children’s voices
from off the stone-paved piazza—fisher-children, who play around the
beach and the little pier—or the harsher tones of women calling and
men in argument. Where the land heaves inward and the slopes climb up
into hills, chestnut trees grow in place of olives and aloes, and the
turf is more mossy beneath them, for streams flow there, on whose brink
ferns and the maiden-hair flourish. Looking across the tranquil blue
bay, to the hill and cliff over against us, other villas stand up on
the green background—where other old families live or have lived with
other country housekeepers. And of these our Teresa is strangest and
best of all. Watch her now, with Maso the fisher, as she stands in the
shadow of the Castle wall, with face set towards that inland aspect
that is green with luxuriant vegetation. No silk gown, white apron and
sober cap are here the badges of responsible service. Though Teresa’s
power be absolute and her position in the household invulnerable, she
has rough work to do and wears no stockings to her feet, while her
gown is but of homespun linen, her plaited, grey locks are uncovered,
and no collar shields a throat that is open to the sun within an amber
kerchief. But it is in her strange, strong face that she wears all the
dignity of her office. Seamed though it be with gathering years and the
labour of life, individuality is set in its every wrinkle, and power
in the massive chin, swelling nostrils and heavy brow, while in the
keen, black eyes youth’s fire is not yet quenched. Maso is afraid as he
stands, leaning with curly, dark head against a cherry tree, for ‘And
you think you can pass off your nasty tunny fish on me,’ screams the
tall, old woman! ‘And you would like to get _soldi_ from the _marchese_
for what you can’t sell elsewhere, I don’t doubt! Go to, ill-educated
man that you are! Sardines for the master’s dinner I will have, if
you fish for them even at this hour!’ And Teresa’s palms are poised
defiantly on her broad hips, her tall and powerful frame sways with
agitation. Maso laughs, but his laughter is timorous, and quickly he
turns to run lightly down the hill with the scorned contents of his
basket. ‘Yes, yes; you may well run, for back again you need to be in a
quarter of an hour, mind you!’ calls the housekeeper in his wake. ‘It
is a little fast day, and the _marchese_ eats _magro_, and requires
the fish! Truly it seems impossible,’ continues she, using this
favourite ejaculation as she comes slowly up again, and round the outer
battlements to the brick-paved kitchen! Its deep-set windows look down
the castle wall, and down the steep rock into the sea; the sunlight
streams through them to flicker the rough floor over, and noting this,
that tells the time of day, ‘Up, and quick, you lazy wench!’ calls
Teresa sharply to the gaunt help-woman who slaves at her orders. ‘The
_Signor padrone_ will be home presently, and no breakfast cooked, and
that linen yet to wring out! Come, lend me a hand!’ So the shirts of
the marquis being hung out to dry on the castle turret, in company with
sundry sheets and aprons, the crumpled-featured woman falls to fanning
the charcoal fire with a feather screen, whilst Teresa chops fine herbs
for the master’s daily omelette. ‘Here he is now,’ mutters she half
crossly, as a heavy footfall climbs the stone stair, and, bustling
into the forecourt that is open to the terrace by an archway, she
begins to set out two-pronged forks and blunt knives on a coarse linen
tablecloth for the meal. The _marchese_ always eats in this middle
court, whence he can see his pots of carnation and sweet geranium-leaf
on the terrace, and get a glimpse of the sea behind the leaves of the
fig-tree across the arch; but the housekeeper oftentimes scolds at him
for not using the _salotto_ in preference, which is dark and dirtily
furnished; here, in the hall, the coarse oaken table and carved oak
press stand alone with a few rush-seated chairs on the brick floor, and
are nowise adequate, in Teresa’s eyes, to her master’s high lineage.
He comes slowly, he is a man of somewhat sad countenance—dark, and
pale, and fat. He wears a limp, long frock-coat now, but soon changes
it for a many-coloured dressing-gown, while keeping the flower-worked
smoking-cap still that Nina, his pretty niece, made for him last New
Year. ‘I have fairly hunger,’ says he somewhat glumly to the old woman,
glancing at the scarce-spread table. ‘So much the better,’ replies
this one; ‘_vossignoria_ will eat with the keener appetite!’ ‘It is
near to eleven,’ murmurs he again, but would not venture closer than
this towards a reproof to the all-powerful _donna di casa_. Teresa
condescends to no reply; but, when she has placed the white-wine flask
beside plate and knife and fork, and has retired into the kitchen to
put the omelette on the fire, some sense of justice, perhaps, compels
her to deal sharp words again to the drudge, and this is the only
effect of the _padrone’s_ mild displeasure! But the omelette is good,
and the _funghi_ are better than yesterday’s, so when the _marchese_
has eaten a mouthful he is content to obey Teresa’s summons on the
terrace that he may see a white-sailed schooner pass across the
offing well in sight. ‘There will be ugly weather to-night,’ remarks
the woman. ‘No, I think not,’ replies he, thinking of an unfinished
tumbler of Monferrato. ‘_Vossignoria_ is not always right, however!
It is not the fishers who will make so sure of fine weather because
the sun shines in heaven and the sea is blue! Wait and see if they
moor not their boats high on the beach before evening!’ ‘May be,’ says
the _marchese_ mildly, and returns to his breakfast, while Teresa,
approaching that other turret over the harbour, sends a cry out of
good lungs to the fisherman coiling ropes in a boat below. It is Maso,
who has not sent the fish. His answer comes travelling up through the
olive trees, betwixt and above whose boughs the jewel-blue water lies
cool in the heat, and deeper-coloured where a rim of midday shadow
is around each brown old boat. ‘We have taken a “sea-serpent!”’ calls
Maso again, and Teresa hastens within with this piece of news, for the
capture of these dog-fish is an event, even if the sight of a shark
or a monster cuttle-fish be a matter of yet more thrilling interest
because of rarer occurrence. ‘What will _Vossignoria_ take for dinner?’
asks the housekeeper when the tale has been told. And after a moment’s
pause for the reply that well she knows the _marchese_ dares not give,
‘You have a miserable portion of sardines,’ continues the autocrat,
having been through this daily mockery of humility, ‘the half of a
boiled fowl—which well the priests allow on a half-fast day, having
but the health you have—two potatoes, and a filled tomato with a fry to
finish.’ ‘_Benissimo!_’ says the _marchese_, as he has said every day
these twelve years, and then he knows he has ordered his dinner.

[Illustration: THE MARQUIS AND HIS HOUSEKEEPER.]

It is evening and—in the boat that has lain gently swaying in the
harbour all day, beneath a pink awning—the _marchese_ takes his nightly
row. The dolphins, whence Portofino has its name, sport around the
prow, but soon they gather in companies, and sink safely low beneath
the sea’s surface, for Teresa was right after all, and there is a storm
brewing behind the sunset. The _marchese_ comes within doors with the
clothes that hung a-drying, for the rain-drops begin to fall. The boats
are moored high, the waves gather white crests over the darkening blue.
Even in Portofino’s land-locked harbour that is the safest on all the
coast, the waters that were as smooth as glass begin to swell a little
with the rush of the sea from without; they are blue still from far,
and green from off a boat’s prow, but they are duller beneath the
grouping clouds than they were in the searching sunlight. Teresa does
not mind, for did she not prophesy that bad weather was blowing up?