Wintering on Ætna
MORE years ago than I now like to remember, I had my first sight of Ætna. It was from the sea, as we coasted the Sicilian shores on our way to Messina, and I recall how unlike other mountains it looked, rising as it did from a base which seemed to spread over all visible Sicily, till the eye was led up a steeper and steeper ascent to a summit that was lightly touched with snow in the upper sky. The strangeness was partly in the way the slopes were covered with what seemed little volcanoes, which studded the great mass they rose from so thickly that one grew tired of counting them. No mountain has ever so impressed me since, and I looked back at it, regretting to leave it unvisited, but hoping to return and study it at leisure.
As fate willed, it was unseen by me for many a year after, until, unexpectedly, I lately found myself occupied with a scientific errand, which brought me once more to Messina, but this time with Ætna as my destination.
I should have been there in October, and it was now December, but in spite of my haste to get on the mountain before the snows covered it, I stopped at Taormina, half-way to Catania (whence the ascent was to be made), to view Ætna from the north. Taormina is built on the southern slope of a spur projecting into the Mediterranean, whose northern ridge, rising a thousand feet above the sea, is crowned by the ruins of a Grecian theatre. The stream of pleasure travel seems to pass by this wonderful coast, so that comparatively few tourists see the shores of Sicily, except from the steamer which takes them to Athens or Alexandria; but if the reader is among those few, he may remember the view from these ruins at sunrise as one of which the earth cannot furnish many. He will remember, perhaps, rising long before daybreak for a solitary climb through steep lanes, half seeing, half groping, his way between high walls, over which started into dim sight spectral figures with outstretched arms, resolved, as he drew nearer, into some overleaning cactus, vaguely outlined overhead against the starry sky. Mounting higher, one comes out from between the overshadowing walls into the moonlight, the waning moon, a crescent in the east, “ holding the old moon in her arms,” while, when higher yet, the columns of the ancient proscenium stand out against a faint glow that shows where the Sun is yet to rise ; till, passing by these, climbing and groping up the stone benches which once held tiers of spectators, one takes a solitary seat at the summit. Below, the last lights are still twinkling on the coast, but beyond and over the columns, all along the south, rises a dark something, which might be a hundred yards away, but is Ætna, and twenty miles distant. As the dawn grows brighter the outlook extends north and east to Italy, and as the sun makes ready to come out of the ocean the gray mass in the south moves further away, and takes on distinctness as it recedes, until we make out the whole form of Ætna, with the outline of the crater and of the snow fields about its summit. These distant snows suddenly changed their gray to a rose pink as they caught the light of the sun before it had risen to me ; but of all that was seen when it came out of the ocean I was most concerned with the mountain itself, which can be viewed better here, as a whole, than from any nearer point.
The coast line on the left preserves the level to the eye, but except for this, so wide is the base of Ætna that it fills the whole southern landscape, which seems to be tilted upward till its horizon ends in the sky. I could see from here how almost incomparably larger the immense volcano appears than Vesuvius; and the actual difference is in fact enormous, the height of Ætna being (if we disregard the terminal cone of each) nearly three times, and its mass probably twenty times, that of its Italian neighbor. The entire mountain in all its substance is lava, which has built itself up in eruptions ; but from this point the successive zones of vegetation are visible which in the course of ages have in part occupied, its surface. Extending to perhaps a fifth of the whole actual height before me (but covering a great deal more of the foreground in appearance) is the cultivated region, dotted with villages, which shine out from a background of what we know must be vineyards and olives. The second zone is barren, and in sharp contrast with the former. It rises to perhaps two thirds of the whole height, and its broad masses of gray are patched with moss-like spots hardly distinguishable in color, but which are really forests of oak and chestnut. All above this rose what even from my distant station could be recognized as naked black deserts, streaked here and there with snow, while above this was the terminal cone, snow covered at the time I saw it, and with a depression at the summit from which slowly drifted a thin vapor. The railway south of Taormina runs along the coast (and is carried through cuttings on old lava streams, which here flowed down to the sea) until it reaches Catania, a city which, as every one knows, is not only built on lava, but which has been cut through and through by lava streams, and shaken down by earthquakes in recent times, and which lives from day to day at the mercy of its terrible neighbor.
The city wears an air of freshness unusual in Europe, for it has been almost wholly rebuilt since the last destruction in the seventeenth century, and with its handsome streets, bright, clean stone façades, and the bustle of its hundred thousand inhabitants, it seems to belong less to the Old World than to the New. But if new in some respects, it is old in other ways. That faith in the supernatural which is dying out so rapidly elsewhere in Europe — and nowhere more rapidly than in Italy — is lively and strong among all classes in Catania. For over against the place is an outlet of those very infernal regions whose existence some deny, whence come rivers of fire which run through your streets and carry your houses away as water does grains of sand, not to speak of earthquakes which shake the stone walls down on you without warning when you are asleep ; death in sudden forms, for thousands at once, and against which thousands are powerless as one, has come from there before, and will again at some unknown moment, and is an ever-impending terror, against which science is unavailing and man’s strength impotent.
Only if the reader has had the fortune or misfortune to experience an earthquake can he know that sense of utter helplessness, that distrust of every accustomed stay, mental and material, when the solid frame of earth is shaken ; for there comes with this earthshake a belief that the order of nature itself is going from under us, and that neither in the moral nor physical world is there anything left to stand on. This may seem fanciful (those who have tried an earthquake know whether it is so), but after one brief personal experience I am disposed to confess a doubt whether my reasoned faith in the order and harmony of the universe would last through another ; whether, that is, it would not irrationally yield for a little — let us say while the tremor lasted — to an overwhelming need of something to cling to.
At any rate, there is a good deal in Mr. Buckle’s theories, and I don’t wonder that these dwellers on the great volcano trust nature less and the supernatural more ; more than people in the West End of London, for instance, where two or three earthquakes would probably help more to restore old ways of thought in the public Mr. Mallock addresses than the same number of his cleverest essays. The very street carts of Catania are painted in the liveliest colors with devotional subjects. Profane ones sometimes intrude, it is true, but more often we have martyrdoms of the saints, the holy souls in purgatory, or the sufferings of the damned, — themes which are selected both as tending to edification and as calling for a great deal of red and yellow in the flames. The long Strada Etnea, which points straight at the mountain, was gay with these carts when I started, one December day, for the ascent. I had been recommended to lodge during my stay at Nicolosi, the highest village on the mountain ; but beside that it was not high enough for my purpose, I had found it on a previous exploration so uninviting that I had decided on making my quarters in the uninhabited region several hours’ journey further up, where on the property of the Duke of Alva is a mule shed, which from the neighborhood of some chestnut-trees has received the fine-sounding name of Casa del Bosco ; and this was my final destination. I had received contradictory accounts as to the safety of this region, most of them agreeing that, though bandits were a very real danger in Western Sicily, the eastern part of the island was safe. Mr. Marsh, our minister at Rome, however, strongly urged me not to make a prolonged stay in the desert region unprotected, and his kindness had procured me official recommendations from Rome to the local authorities ; the final advice I received at the consulate being to accept the guard which would be offered as a courtesy, and to dismiss it if it seemed superfluous. It was to meet me at Nicolosi, to which the carriage road was now climbing with many zigzags. It passes in sight of the place where the great lava stream of two centuries ago turned aside at the intercession of St. Agatha, and a little higher up we drew sensibly near to the Monte Rossi, whence the terrible destruction flowed. They are now two peacefullooking hills above Nicolosi, the terminal village; where all roads end, all cultivation ceases, and where begins that uninhabited waste, covering an area of something like two hundred square miles, which Ætna lifts into the cold upper air from out of the centre of a densely populous and fertile region on the warm slopes below.
The day was growing gloomy, and when the carriage reached Nicolosi it had settled into a fine rain. Here I found Giuseppe, at once guide, philosopher, and cook, whom I had engaged during my stay at Casa del Bosco ; and here the mayor or syndic of the town appeared with the soldiers, and made me an address in Italian (which I unfortunately do not understand), and to which I replied, as best I could, in French (which, I have been sorry to learn since, he does not speak a word of). These formalities settled, I mounted a most ungainly mule, and preceded by a train of others, bearing instruments and provisions, with Joseph and two aids leading and two soldiers following, under the admiring gaze of the whole population of Nicolosi, disappeared from their sight, in the mist.
The ascent was at first slow and regular, and the feet of our animals sunk deep in powdery lava dust, as we crawled upward. At a dilapidated shrine, whose mildewed saint and half-effaced frescoes represented the last outpost of the local civilization, the road ceased wholly, and the path was strewn thick with lava lumps, through which the mules picked their way with steady steps. The horizon rose as we ascended, and through occasional openings in the mist we saw it slowly climbing the sides of the Monte Rossi, and finally surmounting them ; but one more volcanic cone, and then another, appeared above us, and was successively overtopped by the stillmounting horizon line, which we still seemed to carry with us, till thicker mist and coming twilight shut out all but the immediate foreground. This consisted of ridges of lava, old streams, which, like glaciers and rivers, rise highest in the middle, but which have cooled so long ago that they have had time to become partly broken. Great masses have fallen off, here and there, from some of the later and harder rivers, each of which has its history of ravage and its name. All these are known to Joseph, who beguiles the way by opening the stores of a wonderful memory, and telling of the many great personages whom he has served as guide in former years. Among these I particularly remember her majesty Queen Victoria and the Empress Eugénie, both of whom, Joseph assures me, he personally attended in their ascent of Ætna over this very path ; but in spite of the interest such associations ought to attach to it, it grows more and more weary, and the climb has seemed interminable an hour ago, when, with the last twilight of our day, we scramble up the bed of one final lava ravine, and reach Casa del Bosco.
It consists, as I had found on a previous visit, of three rooms (without windows), in one of which the horses and mules were stabled (and made night hideous by their fighting and screaming) ; on the other side the guard was bestowed; while in the middle of the floor of the central apartment, which I reserved for myself, Joseph kindled a charcoal fire, over which I tried ineffectually to get warm or dry, till I got a headache which sent me early to bed. Before retiring I examined the ornaments of the room, which consisted of several rather curious printed prayers against earthquakes, stuck up on the lava walls, and one engraving in which the Blessed Virgin was represented as trampling upon an ugly beast with seven heads, which were marked with the names of the seven deadly sins, except that the Catanian artist had characteristically labeled the biggest head, on which the Virgin’s foot was treading, “ Ætna.” So guarded, I lay down, after supper, in the driest corner, and went to sleep to the sound of the rain dripping on the floor, — not uncomfortably ; thinking of a house on the other side of the Atlantic, where certain people would be gathered round the dinner-table, for this was Christmas Day.
The next morning brought snow, which did not stay on the ground, but turned to more rain, and I had little to do but to watch the guard eat my macaroni and drink my wine, which latter was done without the help of bottle or glass, these experts lifting the small barrel (holding perhaps twelve gallons) high in the air, and letting the contents fall into the open mouth. One or two men, armed with carbines and mounted on horses which seemed to tread with the security of mountain goats, made their appearance during the day, to inquire after my welfare and to drink my health. Joseph calls them forest guards of the Duke of Alva, in whose mule shed I am living on sufferance. There are twenty-four of them, it seems, patrolling the various deserts and forests of the mountain, and an indefinite number may be expected to find Casa del Bosco on their way so long as it holds wine, macaroni, and a simple stranger. These gloomy reflections were aided by a report from Joseph that the barrel was already nearly empty, and that it would certainly be necessary to send down for more wine the next day. Believing that it was at any rate a debatable question whether the brigands, if they came, might not be less expensive than my defenders, I sent the soldiers off the next morning, with a letter to the syndic, thanking him for their services.
At night, however, two new ones appeared through the rain to replace them, bringing a message from the syndic to the effect that he was only acting under orders from the prefect of Catania, who had concerned himself in the matter, and who was the person to address.
The third morning broke bright and calm ; the rain and mist that walled us in were gone, and as I opened the door my first glance fell through the exquisite transparency of the air, on what seemed to be an adjacent pool, with its water slowly rippling as from a gentle breeze. There was an instant of wonder how I could have passed it unseen, even in the twilight; when a second look showed that the pond had no further shore, and I saw with a startled sense of strangeness that I was looking at the Mediterranean, in this direction over twenty miles away. The ripples, or ocean waves rather, crawled over it with a distinctness which seemed almost impossible, and I found I was in fact witnessing a phenomenon rare enough to have had its visibility called in question altogether. I did not see it again during my stay, but its visibility appears to depend on the united conditions of a previous easterly gale rolling a swell upon the coast and a clear sunrise filling the valleys between the waves with shadow, and marking their long moving crests with light.
The coast was seen for a great distance to the south, a part of ancient Syracuse being visible, while between the foot of the mountain and the sea stretched a great plain with a river running through it. Near the bottom of the mountain the plain rose into steep foothills crowned with villages, whose white square houses ou the lava soil looked like dice thrown upon the top of some black pedestals, and among which the outlines of more than one mediæval castle grew afterwards discernible through the telescope. When I try now to recall what struck me most at first, I seem to re-gather the impression that the whole plane of the earth was tilted about me, owing to the vastness of the slope of the mountain, beside which Vesuvius, with its railroad and shoals of tourists, is a parlor volcano.
Here all is lonely. Below is one volcanic cone upon another; all around are ridges of black lava. Just behind the hut, on a higher ridge, a pile of snow seems near enough to gather a snow-ball in and bring it back before it melts, but it is eight hour’s’ journey above us ; and a faint smoke ascending from what looks like a little depression in the summit of the snow heap helps one to realize that it is the terminal cone of Ætna, further above our heads than we are above the Mediterranean down there.
After looking a while, till the real dimensions of the scene were partly comprehended, I turned to my work. A little later I was disturbed in it by voices, sounding very near and distinct, though no one was visible. I looked for some time in vain for the speakers, until I discovered them at a distance (as I afterward found by measurement) of over half a mile from me. The voices of the two, in apparently ordinary conversation, continued to reach me, till I asked myself whether I had been gifted of a sudden like Fine-Ear. I think it was this which first drew my attention to the phenomenal stillness of the place, devoid as it is of animal life and deserted of man. This was the only time I remember hearing a human voice except from the visitors to the hut. Here were no tourists, Murray or Baedeker in hand, to invade the quiet; no song of a wayfaring peasant, no lowing of cattle; none of that faint, multitudinous hum of insect notes that make an all-pervading something in our own fields, which is hardly recognized as sound, and yet is not silence. Its entire absence here shows that one may never have known what real silence is like. When the wind was still, the ear seemed to ache for a sound, and I should almost hesitate to say how far its powers were sharpened. On another day, for instance, I was startled at my work out-of-doors by a noise like that of a fanning close to my ear. I looked round and finally up, discovering its origin in the flapping of the wings of two crows at a great height overhead, every motion of the wings seeming to he repeated at the very ear.
This fourth day my diary records that two more soldiers arrived, and that the second barrel began to run low. I sat down and wrote a letter to the prefect, commending the admirable good order of the country under his charge, as rendering the services of the military superfluous, and suggesting their withdrawal. This was sent down by Joseph, who was instructed to deliver it, if possible, to the prefect, in that dignitary’s own person, and to make sure of an answer ; and in the afternoon I started out for a walk. Monte Vittori, one of the innumerable volcanic cones which lay apparently close at hand, was my objective point. It looked to be a few minutes’ walk, but it was nearly an hour of climbing over the chaotic lava masses, through and across fissures in the old fields, down which later lava streams had flowed, and hardened in falls that made precipices to clamber up, before I reached its foot. In the latter part of the way, I became conscious that I was under the surveillance of a soldier from the hut, who was trying to keep me in sight from a distance without being seen. His orders must have been strict indeed to take him out from his comfortable idleness to a climb (which every Italian detests), and I pushed on, thinking he would give me up and go back. Finally I lost sight of him, and after another half hour of desperate struggle on its smooth, yielding slopes I reached the summit of Monte Vittori.
Casa, del Bosco had disappeared; the great white cone above was just as far, or just as near, as ever, and the only new prospect was that of endless barren mountain ridges to the west. My guardian had disappeared also, and convinced that I had beaten him I slid down, reaching in two minutes’ descent the foot I had been thirty in climbing from. After a rest here, turning for one last look at the summit, I saw a figure emerge from the other side above the crest. It was my soldier! The next day it was the same thing, and I found myself under unobtrusive but constant guardianship when I went a hundred yards from the hut.
In the evening Joseph returned, bringing a message to the effect that the prefect was desirous of taking the extremest care of my safety, as a thing precious to him, and that to this end he sent two more soldiers, makingfour en permanence and six during half the time ! There was nothing for it but resignation and another barrel; but I then and there issued orders for the regulation of my household, giving Joseph, my majordomo, to understand that the hospitality to wandering forest-guards must have its limits ; that hereafter each warrior was to have three bottles of wine per diem, and no more; and that no one was hereafter privileged to drink from the barrel except myself.
Each day after this passed uneventfully. I was busied with my work, and after it took a ramble for exercise ; after that a solitary dinner, and when the night was cloudy went to bed to pass the time. I recollect views in some of my climbs which exceeded in lonely wildness and strangeness anything else I ever saw on the earth, but strongly resembled certain prospects the moon offers to the student of her surface, when, armed with a powerful telescope, he is transported to the awful solitudes of that dead, alien world. Just such a purely lunar landscape I have often looked at below me on Ætna : the long rifts filled with little craters, the loneliness and the silence helping the illusion, till after a time, during which no bee hummed, or fly buzzed, or sight or sound of life appeared at my lonely perch, it was easy to fancy myself on another planet, where this one seemed so unearthly. Even at the hut, except for the fluke’s guards, who rode up occasionally, there were not many signs that men still lived on the earth. I should except, though, the passage of a muleteer and three mules, in the early dawn, on their way up to the snow-fields ; they came down toward twilight, laden with what looked like packages of dried leaves and straw, in which the snow was bundled, and would keep till it reached Catania the next day, and was sent on thence to Agosta. This was the ice supply not only for Catania, with its hundred thousand inhabitants, but for the towns along the eastern coast, to all of which not only in the winter, but in the torrid heats of their spring, the great white summit of Ætna hangs like a cloud in the upper air, tantalizing them with its suggestions of delicious cold. The snow at this time, though it occasionally fell at the Casa, never remained long on the ground, and the mules had to go far above for their load. The only animals I ever saw besides were sheep in the nearer valleys below, up to which they had been driven for pasturage ; but wolves were plenty, and left their tracks each night in the lava sand by the hut, close to which, ap parently, lay their highway to the food in the valleys below. They are cowardly if alone, but when united in packs and starving it goes badly with the solitary shepherd who meets them in their raids through these places, from which they retreat before daybreak to the still more desert solitudes above.
One day, when some leisure had been earned, I started with Joseph at midday for a walk. Our object was to ascend to the base of the snow-fields, and to enable me to judge for myself how farthe ascent to the actual summit would be practicable at another time. We left, after an hour’s walk, most of the scattered chestnut-trees behind us, and then climbed, for hours more, over lava ridges looking much like glacial moraines, through a region almost utterly bare of vegetation, without bringing the great terminal cone much nearer; we finally reached the source of the snow supply, and then a plateau, whence we could see, over the western shoulder of Ætna, a prospect limited only, I think, by the island; and a wonderful view of mountains it was ! Not in the Alps nor in the “ Rockys ” have I seen a region more rugged or more savagely desolate than the interior of modern Sicily; though it is this barren land which was once called “ the granary of Europe.” Only to the south and east we saw signs of towns and cities. Fifteen miles away, as the crow flies, in something which looked like a tuft of spear-grass, we recognized the masts of the huddled shipping in the little harbor of Catania. The coast line extended beyond the promontory that bounded it at our lower station, and beyond still another on the south we could catch the glitter of the sunshine on the white houses of ancient Syracuse, forty miles away. Far below us the snow lay in what looked like patches in the wrinkles of the hills ; but some of them we had passed over, and knew them to be snowfields sheltered in the ravines from the sun. Above us the snow stretched unbroken, but immediately around us it had melted on the powdery black lava, which showed wolf-tracks everywhere. There was no vegetation, except, at rare intervals, a tuft of what looked like the softest grass, springing unexpectedly out of the volcanic soil, and inviting one to a seat, — treacherously, for the “ grass ” is filled with fine thorns as delicate and sharp as cambric needles. The plant is called, according to Joseph, “the Holy Spirit.,” and the wolves (still according to Joseph) eat it, rather than starve ; but this I found it hard to believe. In spite of the snow-fields, I resolved to attempt the ascent to the cone the next fair day, and after lingering to the last minute it was necessary to tear one’s self away from the sight of the approaching sunset, and, making our best speed downward while daylight lasted, we finally groped our way to the Casa, which we reached after dark.
Tired of the monotony of succeeding days of rain, I started for an expedition to the Valde Bove, a huge depression in the eastern side of the mountain, flanked by almost precipitous walls some thousands of feet in height. Two of the soldiers accompanied me as an escort, and were changed below at every station. Their presence was not unwelcome when we reached, in a dark night, strange quarters in an unprepossessing neighborhood. Here my sleeping-room was guarded efficiently by my military friends, who lay down outside the chamber door on some straw, and slept there all night, as I did too, with a uot unpleasant sense of security. This was all very well, but next day, after being turned back by a violent snow-storm from the entrance to the Valde Bove, I resolved to have one day of civilization, and started down to Aci Reale, on the coast, where I knew there was a hotel kept for the benefit of foreigners, and where, presumably, a bath and other long-missed luxuries were to be had. As we descended, the snow was left behind us. The way was through almost continuous vineyards and villages, and in the latter I grew aware that I was an object of lively interest and curiosity from my escort; popular opinion, as well as I could make out, being divided as to whether I was some very eminent personage indeed, with a military guard, or a captured brigand under the conduct of the gendarmes. To the latter theory my general appearance — I had slept in my clothes for two nights — lent, I was painfully conscious, but too much plausibility, and at the first station we reached I stopped, and in what fragmentary Italian I could muster explained to the officer on duty that I was going down into a town of twenty thousand inhabitants, in which the presence of my defenders, although a highly considerate attention on the part of his government, was not positively necessary, and was in fact an honor of which I was undeserving. My polite friend answered, however, that it was none too much for a person of my merit, and that, besides, he had strict orders; and I resigned myself to seeing a fresh detail of men provided, with which I entered Aci Reale, causing an amount of public interest and discussion which few tourists can flatter themselves with having aroused there.
To all this, at last, I grew case-hardened, riding through the villages indifferent to the admiration I was the cause of, and finally set out to climb to my hermitage again. Here it was too evident the halcyon days were gone, and that my expedition to the summit was a thing not to be thought of till another season. As we ascended we encountered snow when but a little way above Nicolosi, and had to dismount and struggle through it, till, wet and weary, we got back to my hut once more, toward which I was surprised to feel a home-like warming. I could, in fact, adopt almost every word of what another solitary remarked on a similar occasion: “ I cannot express what a satisfaction it was to me to come into my old hutch and lie down in my bed. This little wandering journey, without settled place of abode, had been so unpleasant to me that my own house, as I called it to myself, was a perfect settlement, and it rendered everything about me so comfortable that I resolved I would never go a great way from it again while it should be my lot to stay on the Island,” said Robinson Crusoe. Here, however, day after day went by in dull monotony ; the snow fell thicker than ever, and it was plain that work was over for the winter. I waited on for a few hours of sunshine and starlight to complete my observations, and beguiled the days as well as I could ; but they seemed long, and not having kept a tally of them by notching a post for Sundays, as Robinson Crusoe did, I almost lost count of the time. Once the silence was broken by the sound of fardistant, deep-voiced bells, coming up from the remote Piano di Catania, hidden in the perpetual mist (and hence Joseph and I conjectured that this day was a Sunday), and once the clouds rolled away below, and while the snow still fell from a leaden sky overhead, the sunlight for a few minutes streamed up, reflected from the green bright plains where it was still shining. Twice mule trains came up to me, bringing into my snow and fog tokens that the sun had been shining somewhere, in the shape of newly picked ruddy-golden mandarins and other fruits, along with wine and more substantial things for my men, — my men they were, up here, though down below they perhaps considered me their man. They were all civility and obedience, poor fellows, in everything not touching their orders to see personally that I came to no harm, and I used to enjoy watching their apparent bliss in their idleness. Free of guard duty, with nothing to do save to lie on straw, talk, and play cards, eat infinite sausage and macaroni, and drink, alas, not unlimited wine, — but still each man his daily three bottles, — with plenty of sleep, these stormy days were, I imagine, happy days to them.
I remember the last time that the sun shone ; the clouds opened just as it had set to us, and before its rays had left the summit of the mountain. The light climbed fast, till it lay rosy for a few seconds on the snowy cone. Then this turned to an ashy gray, as the light lingered for a moment more on the smoke which rose above it, and then all went out. This is the last I remember of the sunshine on Ætna, and it came no more till it was time to go ; and I packed up my instruments, saw them loaded on the mules, locked the door of the hut, — it had a door, though no window, — and waded through the snow which hid Casa del Bosco when I turned for a last look at it. A twenty minutes’ descent carried us down to where the snow was beginning to melt as it fell, and here the mules were mounted again, and we kept on them till in about three hours we saw the houses of Nicolosi, -where the mules were left. My coming was unexpected, and no carriage was to be had, and I walked on attended by two of my ever constant guard, whom it was impossible to shake off. At last a carriage presented itself in the road, and calling to the driver my destination in Catania I got in, leaving the soldiers to take care of themselves. They were equal to the occasion, however, and mounted the carriage, where their uniforms and the presence of a passenger inside, whom they were supposed to be guarding, excited even more than the usual attention. I turned for one final look at Ætna. We were driving through sun-lit streets, but the clouds hung over the mountain and wrapped all its vast bulk in gray, except the villages about its base through which we had come. I was recalled by the shouts of delight and interest with which my equipage was greeted as it rattled through the more crowded streets. Carriages were drawn up to see what must have been imagined a political prisoner of distinction go by, and shrill Italian screams, which I interpreted to mean, “ They’ve got him! ” heralded the coming wonder; and happy were they who could look into the carriage windows as we drove up to the consulate.
Here, borrowing in part the words of another, I will only say, “ As I never happened to stand in a position of greater dignity, I deem it a stratagem of sage policy here to close these sketches, leaving myself still in so heroic an attitude.”
S. P. Langley.