By-Ways of Europe: A Visit to the Balearic Islands. Ii
THE same spacious omnibus and span of dun-colored ponies which had taken me to Valdemosa came to carry me across the island. As there is an excellent highway, and the distance to Alcudia is not more than ten leagues, I could easily have made the journey in a day ; but I purposely divided it, in order to secure a quiet, unhurried enjoyment of the scenery of the interior. It had rained violently all night, and the morning of my departure from Palma was cold and overcast. The coachman informed me that four months had elapsed since a drop of rain had fallen, and that for two years past the island had suffered from drought. I therefore wrapped myself in my cloak, contented with the raw air and threatening sky, since the dry acequias would now flow with new streams, and the empty tanks of the farmers be filled.
It was like a rainy day in the tropics. There was a gray veil all over the sky, deepening into blackness where the mountains drew down the showers. The soil, yesterday as dry as a cinder, already looked soggy and drenched ; and in place of white, impalpable dust, puddles of water covered the road. For the first two leagues we drove over a dead level, seeing nothing but fig, olive, and almond trees, with an occasional palm or cactus, fading out of sight in the rain. Majorca is in reality the orchard of the Mediterranean. All its accessible surface is not only covered with fruit-trees, but the fruit is of the most exquisite quality. The apricots are not dry and insipid, but full of juice, and with a flavor as perfect as that of a peach. The oranges and figs seemed to me the finest I had ever tasted; even the datepalm matures its fruit, and the banana grows in the same garden with the cherry and apple. The valley of Soller, the only port on the western side of the mountains, was described to me as one unbroken orchard of superb orange-trees, a league or two in length. The difficulty of transportation has hitherto robbed the people of the profits of their production, and a new prosperity has come with the recent improvement of their roads. Within a league of Palma an entire village has been built within the last five years ; and most of the older towns are in rapid process of enlargement.
After the second league, the country became undulating, the trees were loftier and more luxuriant, and woods of picturesque Italian pine covered the rocky crests of the hills. The mountains on the left assumed very bold and violent forms, rising through the dim atmosphere like so many detached towers and fortresses. There were two dominant peaks, which in the sheer escarpment of their summits resembled the crags of Königstein and Lilienstein in Saxony. They were the Torrella and the Puig (Peak) Major, —grand, naked, almost inaccessible mountains, which shed the rain like a roof. The watercourses which came down from them were no longer dry hollows, but filled to the brim with swift, roaring, turbid floods. These peaks appeared to be detached nearly to the base, and between their steep abutments the mouths of dim, folding gorges gave promise of rare and original scenery within their recesses.
We passed Santa Maria, a beautiful little village of two streets, at the intersection of which rises a fine square belfry, connected with the buildings of a defunct monastery. The picture was so pleasant that I brought its outlines away with me. In spite of the rain, the people were at work in the fields, turning the red soil about the roots of the olive-trees. The flowing trousers were no longer to be seen ; even the old men here wore the gigot. Others, with the words Peon caminero on their caps, were breaking stones by the roadside. I received a friendly Bon di' ! from each and all. Both robbery and beggary are unknown in Majorca ; they have no place in a land of so much material order and cheerful industry.
Beyond Santa Maria the road again became quite level, and the courses of the streams pointed to the northern shore. The fruit-trees temporarily gave place to vineyards so luxuriant that the shoots, unsupported by stake or trellis, threw their tendrils around each other, and hid the soil under a deluge of green. The wine of Benisalem (Arabic beni-salaam, “ the children of peace") is considered the best on the island. It is a fiery, golden-brown vintage, resembling ripe old Malaga in flavor.
We were within a league of Inca,— my destination, — when the rain, which had already blotted out the mountains, began to drive over the plain. A fine spray beat through the canvas cover of the omnibus, condemning me to a blind, silent, and cheerless half-hour of travel. Then, between garden-walls, over which the lemon-trees hung great boughs breaking with fruit, and under clumps of rustling and dripping palms, I entered Inca. My equipage drew up before the door of a new fonda in a narrow old street. There were billiards and coffee on the groundfloor ; over them a long hall, out of which all the doors and staircases issued, served as a dining-room. The floors were tiled, the walls whitewashed and decorated with the lithographed histories of Mazeppa and Hernan Cortez, and the heavy pine joists of the ceiling were fresh and unpainted. There was an inconsiderate waste of space in the disposition of the rooms and passages which was pleasant to behold. Contrary to the usual habit of travellers, I ventured into the kitchen, and found it — as it ought to be — the most cheerful and attractive part of the house. The landlord brought a glass of the wine of Benisalem to stay my hunger ; but I was not obliged to wait overlong for the excellent meal of eggs, kid with pepper-sauce, and an exquisite dish of lobster stewed with leeks and tomatoes, which I tasted for the first time.
Towards evening the rain subsided, and I went forth to view the place, finding a picture at every turn. First, a group of boys burning shavings before a church-door ; then a gable embowered with one enormous grape-vine, and touched with sunshine, while beneath, in the gloom of a large arch, the family ate their supper ; then a guitarplayer in the door of a barber’s shop, with a group around him, or a company of women, filling their jars at a fountain. The town is built upon an irregular hill, overlooking the finest orchards of Majorca. The clusters of palm-trees which spring from its topmost gardens are far more beautiful than its churchtowers. Nothing can be more picturesque than the narrow valleys on either side, which slope sufficiently to bring out in sumptuous contrast the foliage of the terraced gardens. The people looked at me curiously, but with no unfriendly air, as I followed the winding streets into the country, or loitered through some country lane back into the town. Only two persons spoke to me, —the letter-carrier, and a boy who was trying to knock down swallows with a long pole. The latter made a remark which I did not understand, but it was evidently witty, for we both laughed. The workmen at their avocations sang with all their force, and very dismally. It was difficult to say which were the more insignificant, — the melodies or the words of their songs. One specimen of the latter will suffice to give an idea of both : —
(Since they nothing better have then to do,)
Watering their pots of carnations sweet ;
Saying, Drink, my dears, for you cannot eat ! ”
When I returned to the fonda, the landlord took me into a part of his house which was built like a tower above the level of the city roofs. A thunderous mass of clouds still hung over the Puig Major, but between its rifts the low sun cast long lines of brassy radiance over the wide landscape. Westward rose the torn and shattered mountains ; eastward the great orchard-plain stretched away into purple dimness, only broken by the chapel-crowned peak of Santa Maddalena, near at hand, and the signalmountain of Felaniche in the distance. Inca, under my feet, resounded with wailing noises, which, nevertheless, expressed the cheerfulness and content of the inhabitants. Through the lanes dividing the rich vegetation, the laborers were flocking homeward from their fields ; rude tartanas rattled along the broad white highway ; and the chimes of vesper presently floated over the scene in slow, soothing vibrations. “ You see how beautiful the country is ! ” said the landlord; “ I suppose there is nothing finer in the world. You will think so too, when you have been to the cemetery, and have seen the new monument. It is wonderful ! A basket full of flowers, and if they were not all white, you would take them to be real. They say it cost an immense amount of money.”
When I asked for juevos (eggs) for my supper, the landlady shook her head, until somebody suggested joāos ! with a sound like the whistling of wind through a keyhole. They were then speedily forthcoming, with another dish of the lobster and leeks, and a bottle of excellent wine. I was kept awake for a long time, that night, by the thrumming of guitars and the click of billiard-balls in the café below; and when sleep finally came, it was suddenly broken by the bursting open of the doors and windows of my room. The house seemed to rock under the stress of the hurricane ; the lightning played through the torrents of rain in rapid flashes of transparent silver, accompanied with peals like the crashing down of all the Puigs in the mountainchain. But at sunrise, when I went upon the roof, I found the island sparkling under the purest of morning skies, every leaf washed, every outline of the landscape recut, and all its colors bright as if newly dyed. A bracing north-wind blew over the fields, and there was an expression of joy in the very dance of the boughs and the waving of the vines.
When we set out for Alcudia, the coachman first drove to a fountain at the foot of the hill, and watered his horses. There was a throng about the place,—old women with huge earthen amphoræ, young girls with jars which they carried on the hip, donkeys laden with casks, and children carrying all sorts of smaller vessels. The water is brought from the mountains to this fountain, which never fails in its supply. It is shaded by grand old plane and carob trees, which throw a network of light and gloom over the great stone tanks and the picturesque moving crowds. Rising out of the glen where it stands, I saw the mountains bare in the morning sun, every crevice and jag of their rocky fronts painted with a pre-Raphaelite pencil. Past the foot of the solitary mountain of Santa Maddalena ran our road, and then northward over a second plain, even richer than that of Palma.
The olive and almond trees by the roadside had been washed clean of dust, but they hissed in the breeze as dryly as if they had never known rain. The very colors of the olive, ilex, and myrtle express aridity. Their dry leaves seem to repel moisture, even as the mellow, sappy green of the North seems to attract it. But their soft grays relieve the keen, strong tints of soil, sea, and sky, and we could ill spare them from these landscapes. As accessories to sun-browned houses, or masses of ruined architecture, they are invaluable. They belong naturally to an atmosphere of age and repose, while fresh turf and deciduous trees perpetually reproduce the youth of Nature. Something of Attica always comes to me with the olive, something of Tusculum and the Sabine Farm with the ilex. The box, I know not why, suggests the Euphrates ; and the myrtle in bloom, the Garden of Eden.
While these thoughts were passing through my mind, the road slowly fell to the northward; and I beheld in the distance fields of a green so dazzling that the hackneyed term " emerald ” seems much too dull to express it. It positively burned in the sun, drawing into itself the lustre of the sky, the distant sea, and the leagues of glittering foliage. Over it rose, as a completer foil, the gray mountains of the peninsula dividing the bays of Pollenza and Alcudia. I was at a loss to guess what plant could give such an indescribable color; and not until we were within a stone’s throw did I recognize the leaves of hemp. An open, marshy plain, entirely bare of trees, borders the bay at this point. The splendid orchards ceased ; the road crossed some low hills overgrown with ilex and pine, a turbid, roaring stream, with poplars on its banks ; and then a glimmer of the sea on either hand showed that we had reached the peninsula. There were Moorish atalayas, or watch-towers, on the summits nearest the sea, and a large ruined fortress of the Middle Ages on a hill inland. Alcudia, with its yellow walls, its cypress and palm trees, now appeared at the foot of the barren heights, Oriental in every feature. It was a picture from the Syrian coast, needing only the old Majorcan costume for the laborers in the fields to be perfect.
Contrasted with those parts of the island which I had seen, the country appeared singularly lonely and deserted. Few persons met us on the road, and we passed none on their way to the town. Grass grew on the huge walls of defence, the stones were slipping from the arch of the gateway, and we passed into a silent street without seeing a living thing. My coachman stopped before a mean-looking house, with no sign or other indication of its character, and informed me that it was the only fonda in the place. A woman who came to the door confirmed this statement, modestly adding, “ We are not very fine, but we will give you what we have.” A narrow room on the ground-floor was at once entrance-hall, dining-room, and kitchen ; it contained one table, three chairs, much dirt, and very nimble insects. The inmates were two women, and a small dog with a bell on his neck, which, whenever he scratched his head with his hind foot, rang a peal of alarm through the house. Feeling the need of consolation, I summoned a boy from the street, and gave him some money to bring me cigars from the estanco ; but the hostess, taking the coin, cried out in great excitement : “ Don’t send that ! Holy Mother, don’t send that ! You ’ll lose a ’chavo on it! ” The coachman burst into a laugh, repeating, “ Lose a 'chavo ! ” -—which is about the eighth part of a cent; but the woman was so horrified at the idea that I gave the boy another coin.
While the eggs and tough scraps of beef destined for my meal were simmering in pans of strong oil, the hostess conducted me into a room above, which contained a large and very ancient bed, five blue chests, and twentythree pictures of saints. “ There ! ” she exclaimed, with a wave of the arm and a look of triumph, “ my own room, but you shall have it ! We may not be very fine, but we give what we have.” Whatever my thoughts may have been, it was quite impossible to avoid expressing my entire satisfaction.
I took my books, went outside the walls to a tower which I had noticed on the ridge, and there found the very view of the town, the mountains, and the bay which a stranger would desire to take home with him. In the full noonday sunshine, there was scarcely shadow enough to relieve the clear golden tints of the landscape ; but the place was entirely deserted, which was a better fortune than I enjoyed at Valdemosa. Three peasants were reaping wheat in a little field behind the tower; now and then a donkey and rider jogged slowly along the distant highway ; but no one seemed to notice the mysterious stranger. I had an undisturbed dream of two hours, for the forms before me, half borrowed from my memories of Oriental life, half drawn from those landscapes which rise in our minds as we read the stories of the Middle Ages, satisfied both the eye and the fancy. Some scenes suggest the sound of a flute and Theocritan idyls ; others, horns and trumpets, and fragments of epic poetry ; but here the only accompaniment was cymbals, the only poems suggested were “Fatima” and “ Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli.”
In the afternoon I walked around the city walls, climbed upon them, visited the deserted monastery of San Diego, and wandered at will through its picturesque ruins. The place is surrounded by double walls of great strength, divided by a moat cut out of the solid rock. The caper-plant, the ivy, and the wild fig-tree have taken possession of the parapet and the rifts between the stones, goats browse in the bottom of the moat, and children’s faces peep forth from the watch-towers on the ramparts. Outside the principal gate, I came upon a Gothic cross, resting on an octagonal base, so very old and weatherbeaten that it must certainly have been erected during the first years of the conquest. The walls of the city are said to be Saracenic ; but the people are poor authority on this or any other historical point. It is certain, at least, that Alcuclia was formerly much more important than now. Its bay was a naval station, whence expeditions were sent out to Africa or the Levant; and there were times when the kings of Spain built whole fleets from the forests of the island.
Of late, a little fresh life has begun to flow into the silent old town. On the shore of the bay, a few miles off, an English company has undertaken agricultural operations on a grand scale. Many square leagues of the former useless, pestiferous marshes have been drained, steam-engines erected to supply water for irrigation, and an attempt made to cultivate cotton. Concerning the success of the undertaking I heard the most contradictory accounts. The people could only tell me of the immense sums expended,— sums which appeared almost fabulous to them. The agents, of course, claimed to be entirely successful, notwithstanding the cotton-plants, this year, will scarcely produce enough to pay for the seed. Last year, I was informed, the yield was very fine ; the staple being equal to that of our Sea-Island cotton. The intention of the English capitalists was probably to produce a similar article, and it cannot be denied that they have shrewdly chosen the spot for the experiment.
When the afternoon shadow filled the street, I seated myself at the door of the fonda, and amused myself with the movements of some carpenters in an opposite shop. Two lusty apprentices were engaged in the slow labor of sawing beams into boards, while the master fitted together the parts of a door. The former used an upright saw, one standing on a frame overhead, and the other on the floor below ; they were just an hour and a half in sawing five boards from a beam a foot wide and sixteen feet long. Whenever a neighbor dropped in to gossip with the master the saw stopped, and the apprentices took an active part in the conversation. There was also a boy of twelve years old, who did no work except in the way of singing. With his head thrown back, and his mouth open to its fullest extent, he poured forth an endless succession of piercing cries, recommencing, at the end of each lamentable close of the measure, with a fury and frenzy which nearly drove me wild. The little dog in the fonda, from time to time, rang a suggestive peal upon his bell, and echoes from other streets, and distant bells from other tormented dogs, filled up the pauses of the performance.
At sunset the other inmates of the fonda began to collect. First, there arrived two French workmen, of mean aspect ; then a Spanish cavalier, who was evidently a person of some importance, for he invited nobody to partake of his supper. He was a large, olivecolored man, with a loud voice and opaque gray eyes, in which, as he fixed them upon my face, I read the question, “ Are you not going to salute me ? ” I returned the look, and my eyes answered, “ Who art thou, that I should salute thee ? ” After these remarks, which both understood, we spoke no more. Several natives came during the evening, to be paid for some service ; but they received no money. The two Frenchmen supped with the hostess and her family, but the important Spaniard and myself had our meals apart. Finally the comedy became tiresome, and I went to bed.
Not to sleep, alas ! The little dog’s bell was silent through the night, but had there been one around my neck it would have chimed the quarter-hours without a single failure. The steamer for Minorca was expected in the bay at sunrise ; so I arose with the first stir in the house, and found two gentlemen who had come from Palma during the night, and three man-of-war’s men, waiting in the street for an omnibus which was to carry us to the mole. We all waited together an hour, took chocolate, and then, after another halfhour, were requested to climb into a two-wheeled cart, drawn by a single horse. The hostess said to me, “ We are not very fine, and I don’t know how much you ought to pay, but I will take what you think right,” — which she did, with honest thanks, and then we clattered out of the gate.
A descent of two miles between fields of wheat and olives brought us to the mole, where we found only a few lazy boatmen lying upon heaps of iron castings, which were waiting, apparently, for the English engineers. Shoals of young sardines sprinkled the clear green deeps of the sea with a million points of light, and some dead flounders lay like lozenges of silver among the dark weeds of the bottom. A new fish-crate, floating beside the pier, was a mild evidence of enterprise. The passengers sat in the sun until it became too powerful, then in the shade, and so another hour and a half rolled away. With the first appearance of the steamer, we got into a boat, and slowly floated out between two crystal atmospheres (so transparent is the sea) into the roadstead.
The extent of the Bay of Alcudia cannot be less than fifteen miles, for our deliberate steamer was nearly two hours in getting its southern headland abeam. Once outside, the eastern coast of Majorca opened finely with a long, diminishing group of mountains, and the dim, nearly level outline of Minorca appeared in front. The sea was like a mirror, broken only at times by a floating turtle or the leap of a dolphin. I found the Mahonese on board to be a very different class of persons from the Majorcans in whose company I had left Barcelona. Port Mahon was for twenty years our Mediterranean naval station ; and although for twenty years it has ceased to be so, there are still traces of intelligence, of sympathy, of language, and of blood, which our quasi-occupation has left behind. Two of the passengers had visited America, one had an American wife in Minorca, and all became friendly and communicative when my nationality was announced. They had faithfully followed the history of our navy through the war, and took especial pains to claim Admiral Farragut as a countryman. His father, they said, was a Minorcan, and the farm in the interior of the island upon which he once lived still bears the family name. I was brought back suddenly from the times of Tancred (which had faded out of sight with the walls of Alcudia) to our stormy politics and the new names they have given to history.
All the afternoon we skirted the southern coast of Minorca. The town of Ciudadela, at its western extremity, showed like a faint white mark in the distance ; then some groups of hills interrupted the level table of the island, and, farther eastward, the solitary mountain of El Toro. The two gentlemen of Palma, neither of whom had ever before made a journey, went below and slept the sleep of indifference. Many of the Mahonese followed their example ; and, the quarter-deck being left clear, I stretched myself out over the cabin skylight, and quietly watched the moving shore, as if it were some immense diorama unrolled for my eyes only. The white cliffs along the sea, the tawny harvest-fields, the gray olives embosoming villages and country-houses, and the occasional shafts of cypress or palm, slowly photographed themselves upon my consciousness, and became enduring pictures. Had I climbed and hammered the cliffs as a geologist, scoured the fields as a botanist, analyzed the soil, or even measured its undulations, I could not have obtained a completer impression of Minorca.
El Toro was drifting astern, and the island of Ayre showed its light-house in front, when the sound of a guitar disturbed my comfortable process of absorption, and brought the sleepy passengers upon deck. The performer was a blind Spaniard, a coarse-featured, clumsy man, whose life and soul had gone into his instrument, separating light, beauty, and refinement from earthy darkness. When he played, the guitar really seemed to be the man, and his body a mere holder, or music-stand. The Mahonese, I was glad to see, not only appreciated the performance, but were very liberal in their contributions.
The island of Ayre lies off the southeastern extremity of Minorca. In the intervening strait, the sea was so wonderfully transparent that the alternations of bare limestone floor and fields of seaweed far below our keel changed the color of the water from a turquoise so dazzling that I can only call it blue fire to an emerald gloom pierced with golden lightnings. Even that Southern temperament which cares so little for Nature was aroused by the sight of these splendors. The passengers hung over the railing with cries of admiration, and the blind minstrel was left to soliloquize on his guitar. Against a headland in front, the smooth sea suddenly rose in a crest of foam, behind which a gleam of darker sapphire denoted the mouth of a harbor. In a few minutes more we were abreast of the entrance to Port Mahon, with a great ascending slope of new fortifications on the north. Hundreds of men are now employed on defences which the new developments in naval warfare have rendered useless ; and the officials conceal with the most jealous fear the plan of a system of forts and batteries which no other nation need care to know.
The lower ground, on the southern side of the entrance to the inner harbor, is entirely covered with the ruins of the immense fortress of San Felipe, built by the English during their occupation of Minorca from 1708 to 1802. The fate of Admiral Byng, executed for a naval victory over the French, gives a tragic interest to these ruins, which, in their extent, resemble those of a city. All governments (our own included) know how to make their individual servants the scapegoats for their blunders or their incapacity ; but I know not, in all history, of a case so flagrant as that of Byng. The destruction of Fort San Felipe cost nearly half a million of dollars, and yet it appears to be only partial.
On passing the channel between the fort and Cape Mola, we found ourselves in the port, but only at its entrance ; the city was not yet visible. A bright white town crowned the low cliffs of the southern shore, — the former Georgetown of the English, the present Villa Carlos of the Spaniards. Opposite to it, the long quarantine island divided the intensely blue water; and my fellowpassengers claimed with pride that it was capable of accommodating a whole fleet. Beyond this island the harbor bends southward, shutting out of sight the sea entrance ; it becomes a still lake, enclosed by bare, bright hills. The Isle of the King, with a splendid military hospital ; the ship-yard, with a vessel of a thousand tons on the stocks, and various other public constructions, appeared successively on our right. The nearer southern shore, a wall of dark gray rock, broken by deep gashes in which houses were hidden and steep roads climbed to the summit, increased in height ; as we approached the end of the harbor, quays along the water, and a fresh, many-colored, glittering town on the rocks, showed that we had reached Port Mahon. Nature has made this basin as picturesque as it is secure. The wild cliffs of the coast here pierce inland, but they are draped with splendid gardens ; fields of wheat climb the hills, and orchards of olive clothe their feet; over the table-land of the island rises in the distance the purple peak of El Toro ; and the city before you, raised on a pedestal a hundred feet in height, seems to be one of the most beautiful of the Mediterranean. “ Did you ever see a place like that ?” asked a Mahonese at my elbow. “Captain --, of your navy, used to say that there were only three good harbors in the Mediterranean, — the months of July and August, and Port Mahon ! ” Captain ---, however, as my friend perhaps did not know, borrowed the remark from Admiral Andrea Doria, who made it centuries ago.
The “Fonda del Oriente ” looked down upon me invitingly from the top of the rock, which was made accessible by a road carried up in steep, zigzag ramps. At the door of the hotel I was received by a stout old man with a cosmopolitan face, who, throwing his head on one shoulder, inspected me for a few moments with a remarkably knowing air. Then, with a nod of satisfaction at his own acuteness, he said, “Walk in, sir ; how do you find yourself?” Ushering me into a chamber furnished with an old mahogany secretary, heavy armchairs, and antiquated prints,— the atmosphere of Portsmouth or Gravesend hanging over everything, — he continued, after another critical survey, “ Mr. Alexander, I believe ?”
“ That is not my name,” I said.
“ Not Alexander ! Then it must be Sykes ; they are brothers-in-law, you know,” persisted the stout old man.
I answered him with a scrutinizing stare, and the words, “Your name is Bunsby, I think?”
“ O no ! ” he exclaimed ; “ I am Antonio. You can’t be Mr. Sykes, either, or you 'd know me.”
“ You are talking of Englishmen ; I am not English.”
“Not English?” he cried. “ H’m, well, that’s queer ; but, to be sure, you must be American. I know all the American officers that ever were here, and they know me. Ask Commodore — and — if they don’t know Antonio ! The greatest mistake I ever made was that I did n’t move to Spezia with the squadron.”
“ Can you give me dinner?” I asked, cutting off the coming yarn.
“ Stop ! ” he said ; “ don’t tell me ; I can guess what you want. A beefsteak rare, hey ? and mixed pickles, hey ? and potatoes with their jackets on, hey ? But it ’s too late to make a pudding, and there ’s no Stilton cheese ! Never mind ! let me alone ; nobody in Port Mahon can come nearer the real thing than I can.”
In vain I declared my willingness to take the Minorcan dishes. Such a taste had probably never before been expressed in all Antonio’s experience of English and Americans ; and my meals then and thenceforth were a series of struggles to reproduce Portsmouth or Gravesend. But the hotel was large, airy, and perfectly clean. Antonio honestly endeavored to make me comfortable ; he knew a great many of my naval friends, and I had no complaint to make with his reckoning at the close of my stay. He was, moreover, a man of progress; he corned beef, and cured hams, and introduced the making of butter (not very successfully), and taught the people how to cook potatoes. He even despatched a cheese, as a present, to Marshal Serrano, before I left Port Mahon.
Refreshed by a long sleep, which was not disturbed by any little dog with a bell on his neck, or that which the sound of the latter suggested, I sallied forth in the morning without any objective point. The city must first be seen, because it lay between me and the country. I was delighted to find wide, well-paved streets as compared with those of Palma, clean, cheerful houses, and an irregularity sufficient for picturesque effect, without being bewildering to a stranger. Very few of the buildings appeared to be older than the last century; there was nothing characteristic in their architecture ; but the city, from end to end, was gay, sunny, full of color, riante, and without a trace of the usual Spanish indolence and uncleanliness. It has somewhat fallen from its former estate. Grass grows in many of the streets, and there is less noise and movement than one would look for with the actual population,— some fifteen thousand. Three or four small craft in the harbor did not indicate an active commerce, and I presume the place is kept alive mainly by the visits of foreign men-of-war. A great many of the common people speak a few words of English, and you may even read “Adams, Sastre,” over the door of a native tailor !
The climate, although considered harsh by the Spaniards, seemed to me perfect. The sun of June shone in a cloudless sky, flooding the sharp, clear colors of the town with a deluge of light ; yet a bracing wind blew from the north, and the people in the fields and gardens worked as steadily as Connecticut farmers. I saw no loafers upon the island ; and I doubt whether there are enough of them to form a class among the native population. While there was evidently a great deal of poverty, I encountered no beggars. I felt, as in Majorca, that I was among a simple-minded, ignorant, but thoroughly honest and industrious people.
The street I had chosen gradually rose as I proceeded inland; walled gardens succeeded to the houses, and then fields of wheat or vines, separated by huge agglomerations of stones. I looked over an undulating table-land, covered with such lines and mounds of rocky débris, that they seemed to be the ruins of a city. Every patch of grain or fruit was enclosed by a cannonproof fortification ; and the higher ridges terminated in bald parapets, whereupon the dark mounds of box and ilex held fast and flourished without any appearance of soil. At the foot of these wild growths the fig-tree grew with wonderful luxuriance, and very often the foliage of the untamable rock was mingled with that of the gardens. Here every foot of ground had been won by the rudest, the most patient toil. Even the fields conquered centuries ago are not yet completely manageable ; hundreds of stony fangs still protrude from the surface, and the laborer is obliged to follow the plough with hoe and spade. Thus, in spite of the almost incredible triumphs of agriculture with which the island is covered, its general aspect is that of a barren, torn, hopeless wilderness. Without broad or grand features of landscape, it is crowded with startling contrasts and picturesque details.
I wandered southward between the high, loose walls, towards a mound which promised me a wider inland view ; but on approaching it, the road entered an impenetrable shade, and passed beyond. There was no gate or entrance of any kind into the fields, so I took advantage of a jagged corner of the wall, and climbed to the top. On the other side there was a wheat-field, in which three men were reaping. I now saw that what I had taken for a mound was a circular tower, the top of which had been torn down, forming a slope around its base, which was covered with rank thickets of mastic and myrtle. I asked the men, who had stopped work, and were curiously regarding me, whether I might cross their field and visit the ruin. “ Certainly, Señor,” said the master; “come down, and walk about where you please.” He then called, in a loud voice, “ Miguel! ” and presently a small boy came to light from behind a pile of rocks. “ Miguel,” said he, “go with the Señor to the atalaya, and show him the steps.”
I clambered down into the little field, which, sunken between enormous walls of stone, somewhat resembled a volcanic crater. Miguel piloted me silently across the stubble, between solid mounds of ilex, which seemed no less ancient and indestructible than the rocks upon which they grew, and by a gap in an outer wall into the bed of a dry moat around the tower. The latter, though only ten feet wide, stood thick with ripe wheat ; but it was bridged in one place by a line of stones, and we thus crossed without trampling down the precious stalks. There were no steps to the tower, but a zigzag path had been trampled among the ruins, at the foot of which I dismissed Miguel, and then mounted to the summit. I first looked abroad upon the bright, busy, wild, savage, wonderfully cultivated fields and gardens, the white towers and tiled roofs of the city behind me, and a single blue fragment of the sea (like a piece chipped out of the edge of a bowl) in the east. The characteristics of Minorcan scenery, which I have already described, gave the view a character so novel and so remarkable, that I studied them for a long time before examining more closely the ruin upon which I stood.
The farmer had called it an atalaya, and the tower was clearly of Moorish construction. Its height must have been originally much greater, or it could not have answered its purpose of watching the sea. The hollow interior is entirely filled with the fragments, so that nothing of the structure remains except its circular form. Outside of the dry moat there is a massive pentangular wall, with a lozenge-shaped pile of solid masonry at each corner; the whole evidently designed for defence, and of later date than the tower itself. Such quantities of stones had been heaped upon the old foundations by the farmers, in clearing spaces for their crops, that very little of the masonry was to be seen. To be of service, however, the walls must have been at least twenty feet higher than at present. Many of the stones have no doubt been carried away for buildings, and there are still huge piles of them in the adjacent fields. Towering out of one of these piles I caught a glimpse of another relic of a still remoter past, — an object so unexpected that I first took it for an accidental disposition of the stones. I descended to the moat, clambered over the outer wall, and made my way to the spot.
It was a Celtic tor, or altar, — a large upright block of gray limestone, supporting a horizontal block about ten feet in length. The pillar was so buried in fragments which had been piled about it, that I could not ascertain its height; but the character of the monument was too distinctly marked to admit of a question. After returning to Port Mahon, I found that its existence was well known. In fact, the first question asked me was, “ Have you seen the Phœnician altar ? ” When and by whom these remarkable monuments — which are found in all the Mediterranean islands between Greece and Gibraltar — were erected, is a point which I will leave antiquarians to discuss. It pleased me, as I sat under a fig-tree which shot up through the stones, to fancy that the remains of three memorable phases in the history of man were before me, — of the Druids in the crumbling altar, of the Saracens in the watch-tower, and of the house of Aragon or Castile in the fortress enclosing it.
According to Strabo, the Balearic Islands were colonized by the Rhodians ; hut Strabo probably knew less about the matter than any respectable antiquarian of our own day. The people of Minorca firmly believe that Magon, the brother of Hannibal, founded Port Mahon, and they attribute the Druidic stones and the Cyclopean constructions (which are here found side by side) to the Phœnicians. The English occupation, which left at least a good map behind it, led to no historic investigations ; and I cannot learn that any detailed account of the antiquities of the island has ever been published. Those remains which we call Druidic are very numerous ; some of the upright monoliths are more than twenty feet in height, supporting horizontal stones of nearly equal dimensions. Nothing but the lack of archæological knowledge prevented me from making a journey through the interior for the purpose of examining the other monuments.
I made use of my brief visit, however. to test the truth of another storv, which is among the permanent traditions of the American navy. Every one has read the account of a captain’s son leaping from the main-truck of a frigate ; and in the days when Morris was popular, his verses commencing
In the harbor of Mahon,”
went the rounds of all the country newspapers. There was a melodramatic air about the incident which made me suspicious. I suppose the lines recalled themselves to my mind from the fact that Port Mahon is nowhere else embalmed in poetry. The Consul, who kindly seconded my curiosity in a matter of so little importance, went to an old Mahonese, who has had the greatest experience of our vessels and officers, and questioned him, taking care not to suggest the story in advance. But the old man instantly said: “ O yes ! I remember all about it. Fifty years ago, or more, when the Constitution frigate was here, a boy climbed to the very top of the mainmast, and was obliged to jump into the harbor, as there was no other way of getting down. Not many persons saw the act, but it was much talked about, and nobody doubted that the boy had done it.” Whether the captain forced his son to take the terrible leap by threatening to shoot him with a rifle, the old man could not tell.
The next morning the Consul accompanied me on another excursion into the country. We passed through the town, and descended to an alameda which skirts the harbor to its western end, where the highway to Ciudadela strikes off towards the centre of the island. The harbor once penetrated a mile deeper into the country than at present, so the people say ; but it must have been a shallow, marshy basin, as the hills around could not possibly spare enough soil to fill up and make fruitful the valley which one now enters after leaving the harbor-wall. This valley is the largest tract of unbroken garden land which I saw in Minorca. Its productiveness is apparently unlimited. Maize, cabbages, sweet potatoes, hemp, vines, vegetables of all kinds, covered the surface ; date-palms and orange-trees, so overwhelmed with fruit that scarcely a green leaf showed through the dazzling gold, turned it into a garden of the tropics ; while precipitous walls of limestone, resting on rough natural vaults and arches, shut out the rocky upper plateau from view. The laborers were planting new crops in the place of the old ; so valuable is this rich basin that no part of its surface is allowed to lie fallow for a day.
On the left, the enclosing walls were broken by the mouth of a glen, the sides of which — regular terraces of rock, resting on arched foundations — seemed at first sight to be the work of art. Here, in the shade of a group of poplars and sycamores, stood the chapel of San Juan, white, cool, and solitary. A fountain, issuing from the base of the rocks near it, formed a little pool, in which some women were washing clothes. The picture was Oriental in every feature, — so much so that I was surprised not to hear “Taba’ el-kheyr! ” when the women said to us, “ Bōn di’ tenga ! ”
Entering the glen behind the chapel, a few paces brought us into a different world. Except upon some painfully constructed shelf of soil, built up or rescued in some way from the rocks, there was no cultivation. Our path was a natural pavement, torn by the occasional rains ; bare cliffs of gray limestone, vaulted at the base, overhung us on either side ; and the mounds of box on the summit sparkled against the sky. Every feature of the scenery bore the marks of convulsion. Enormous blocks had been hurled from above; the walls were split with deep, irregular crevices ; and even the stubborn evergreen growths took fantastic shapes of horns, fluttering wings, tufts of hair, or torn garments. Now and then a dry-leaved ilex rustled and rattled in the breeze ; and the glen, notwithstanding it brimmed over with intensest sunshine, would have seemed very drear and desolate but for the incessant songs of the nightingales. While I crept under a rock to sketch a singularly picturesque combination of those cragforms, — every one of which was a study, the joyous birds made the place ring with their pæans. The daysong of the nightingale is as cheerful as that of the lark ; its passion and sorrow is kept for the night.
If I had been an artist, I should have spent a fortnight in the glen of San Juan ; but as it was, having only another day in Minorca, I could not linger there beyond an hour. At the point where I sat it divides into two branches, which gradually rise, as they wind, to the level of the table-land ; and the great stoneheaps commence immediately behind the topmost fringe of box. The island, in fact, is a single rock, upon the level portions of which a little soil has lodged. Wherever one may travel in the interior, it presents the same appearance. The distance from Port Mahon to the old town of Ciudadela, at the western extremity of Minorca, is about twenty-five miles; and the Consul informed me that I should find the same landscapes all the way. There is nothing remarkable in Ciudadela except a cathedral of the thirteenth century, and some Saracenic walls. On the way are the three other principal towns of the island,—Alayor, Mercadal, and Ferrerias,—all of which are rudely built, and have an equal air of poverty. It was for a moment a question with me whether I should employ my little remaining time in a rapid journey to Ciudadela and back, or in strolling leisurely through the country around Port Mahon, and setting down my observations as typical of all Minorca. The reports of the Consul justified me in adopting the latter and easier course.
In the afternoon we walked to the village of San Luis, about four miles distant, and recently made accessible by a superb highway. The great drought which has prevailed in all the Balearic Islands during the past two years has seriously injured the crops, and there is much suffering in Minorca, which is so much less favored by nature than its larger sister island. I heard of families of five persons living for months on less than twenty-five cents a day. Agriculture is profitable in good seasons, on account of the excellent quality of the wheat, oil, and oranges ; but the deposit of soil, as I have already explained, is very shallow, there is no sheltering range of mountains as in Majorca, no supply of water for irrigation, and the average production is therefore much less certain. The price of land is high, for the reason that the proprietors are satisfied if it yields them annually two per cent of its value. Shoemaking is one of the principal branches of industry in Port Mahon ; but of late the foreign market has been disturbed, and the profits are so slight — whether through slow and imperfect labor or the sharpness of contractors I did not ascertain — that any check in the trade brings immediate suffering. The people, nevertheless, are very patient; they invariably prefer work to mendicancy, and are cheerful and contented so long as they succeed in clothing and feeding themselves.
The Minorcans seemed to me even more independent and original in character than the Majorcans. There is still less of the Spaniard, but also less of the Moor, about them. I should guess their blood to be mostly Vandal, but I stand ready to be corrected by any ethnologist who knows better. They have a rugged, sturdy air, little grace and elegance, either of body or of manner, and a simplicity which does not exclude shrewdness or cunning. It is considered almost an insult if the stranger speaks of them as Spaniards. The Governor of the island said to Marshal Serrano, the other day, when the latter was in Port Mahon in temporary exile : “ The Minorcans are a curious people. You probably find that they do not take off their hats to you in the street, as you are accustomed to be saluted in Madrid?” “Yes,” answered the Marshal, “I have already learned that they care nothing whatever for either you or me.” The older people look back on the English occupation with regret ; the younger generation would be exceedingly well satisfied if Spain would sell the island to the United States for a naval station. But all unite in calling themselves Minorcans, or Mahonese, and in drawing a very broad line between themselves and the Spaniards of the Peninsula.
The Consul confirmed my first impressions of the honesty of the people. “ You may walk on any road in the island,” said he, “ at any hour of the day or night, with the most perfect security.” He also gave them the highest praise for cleanliness and order in their domestic life, which are certainly not Spanish qualities. The young men and women who are betrothed save every penny of their earnings, and invest them in the articles of furniture necessary to the establishment of a household. Simple as are these latter, many years often elapse before they are all procured and the nuptials may be celebrated, the parties remaining steadfastly constant to each other during the long time of waiting. They are a people in whom almost any honest system of education, any possible sound ideas of progress, would take immediate root; but under the combined shadow of Spain and Rome what progress is possible ?
I have never seen Broek, in Holland, but I think San Luis must be the cleanest village in Europe. I attributed its amazing brightness, as we approached, to the keen semi-African sun and the perfectly clear air ; but I found that all the houses had been whitewashed that very afternoon, as they regularly are every Saturday. The street was swept so conscientiously that we might have seated ourselves and taken our dinner anywhere, without getting more than each man’s inevitable proportion of dust in the dishes. In the open doors, as I passed, I saw floors of shining tiles, clean wooden furniture, women in threadbare but decent dresses, and children — no, the children were dirty, and I confess I should not have been pleased to see them otherwise. The sand and fig-stains on those little faces and hands were only health-marks, and they made the brightness of the little village endurable. It would else have seemed to be struck with an unusual disease. We went into a house where two old women —very, very poor they were, but uncomplaining — received us with simple, unaffected friendliness. I spoke in Spanish and they in Minorcan, so that the conversation was not very intelligible; but the visit gave me a fleeting impression of the sterling qualities of the people, inasmuch as it harmonized with all that I had previously seen and heard.
The Consul conducted me to a little casino, where refreshments, limited in character, were to be procured. The maestro, a stout fellow, with the air of a Bowery butcher, opened his heart on learning that we were Americans. He had served a year on board one of our men-of-war, and repeated, over and over again, “ The way things were managed there satisfied me, — it corresponded with my own ideas ! ” He made me read, around a spiral pillar, the words, “ Casino del Progreso,” saying, “ That’s what I go for ! ” There was a church nearly opposite, and from its architecture a man with half an eye could see that the Jesuits had had a hand in building it. This I sketched, and the progressive host, leaning over my shoulder, interpreted the drawing correctly. His extravagant admiration made me feel that I had done well, and we parted mutually satisfied. Indeed, this little village interested me even more than Port Mahon, because it was more purely Minorcan in character.
The quantities of the fig-bearing cactus about the country-houses surprised me, until I learned that the fleshy leaves are used during the dry season as food for the mules and asses. The fruit, which is said to be remarkably fine on the island, is eaten by the inhabitants, and must form, in times of want, an important article of their food ; yet so much space would not be given to the plant, or rather tree, if the animals had not been taught to subsist upon it. I have never before heard, in any part of the world, of the cactus being utilized in this way. Its huge, grotesque masses are an inseparable part of every landscape on the island.
We walked back to Port Mahon in the face of a north-wind which was almost cold, which blew away the rich color from the sunset sky, leaving it pale, clear, and melancholy in tone ; yet thunder and violent rain followed in the night. I spent my last evening with the Consul and his agreeable family, and embarked on the steamer for Barcelona in the morning. As we passed out of the harbor, Antonio’s daughter waved her handkerchief from the window high above, on the cliff. The salute was not intended for me, but for her husband, who was bound for Madrid, carrying with him the cheese for Marshal Serrano. Rocked on a rough sea, and with a keen wind blowing, we again coasted along the southern shore of Minorca, crossed the strait, touched at Alcudia, and then, passing the mouth of the Bay of Pollenza, reached the northern headland of Majorca at sunset. Here the mountain-chain falls off in perpendicular walls a thousand feet in height, the bases of which are worn into caverns and immense echoing vaults. The coast-forms are as grand and wonderful as those of Norway. Point after point, each more abrupt and distorted than the last, came into view as we cleared the headland, — all growing luminous in the mist and the orange light of the setting sun.
Then the light faded ; the wild mountain-forms were fused together in a cold gray mass above the sea ; the stars came out, and my last Balearic day was at an end.