Page images
PDF
EPUB

A JOURNEY INTO CALABRIA,

A FALSE ALARM.

I took a journey into Calabria, a country full of bad fellows, who bear good-will to nobody. In these mountains, the roads are precipitous, and our horses walked with difficulty. My comrade, leading the way, struck into a path which seemed to him shorter and easier than the one we followed, and led us astray. It was my own fault. Why did I put my trust in a young fellow only twenty years of age? We tried to find our way through the woods as long as daylight lasted; but the longer we

. walked, the more we lost ourselves, and it was black night when we reached a house, itself as black as night. We entered not without grave suspicions, but what could we do? There we found a family of charcoal-burners seated at table, who invited us to share with them. My young friend needed no second invitation. We ate and drank—he at least. As for me, I was too much occupied with the place and the bearing of our strange hosts. Our hosts were like their trade, but the house was a perfect arsenal. On every side pistols, sabres, cutlasses, guns. Everything displeased me, and I saw too that I was not much liked. My companion, on the contrary, was like one of the family. He laughed and talked freely, and, with an indiscretion which I ought to have anticipated, he told whence we had come, where we were going, and who we were. And then, that he might leave out nothing likely to rouse their cupidity, and lead to our destruction, he acted the rich man, promising every one ample payment on the morrow. At last he spoke of his valise,

:

[ocr errors]

begging them to take special care of it, and to put it on his bed to serve as a pillow : he wished, he said, no other.

Ah, youth ! youth ! how much your age is to be pitied !'. My friend, I assure you, one would have thought we were carrying crown diamonds, while the object of all his solicitude about his valise was the letters of his sweetheart, with which it was stuffed.

Supper ended, we were left to ourselves. Our hosts slept down stairs, we in the upper chamber where we had supped. An attic, seven or eight feet high, reached by a ladder, was our sleeping-place-a place hung with provisions to serve the year. My companion crept up alone, and being very sleepy, lay down, his head resting on his precious valise. I was determined to sit up all night and watch; and so making a good fire, I sat down near him. The greater part of the night had passed quietly, and I had begun to regain confidence, when, just before dawn, I heard below me our host and his wife discussing together ; and applying my ear to the chimney, which communicated with the room below, I distinctly heard the husband say: • Well, let us see, must we kill both of them ?' To which the wife replied : Yes.'

And after this there was silence.

What shall I say? I could scarcely breathe ; my body was cold as marble. If you had seen me, you could not have said whether I was dead or alive. Heavens! what a thought! We two unarmed against ten or twelve, who had arms of all kinds. My comrade dead with fatigue and sleep! To escape alone was not to be thought of ! The window was not very high, but below two huge dogs were howling like wolves. Imagine if you can my horror.

At last, in about a quarter of an hour, I hear on the

[ocr errors]

:

stairs the footstep of some one ascending, and through the chinks of the door I see the father, a shaded lantern in one hand, and in the other a huge knife. He came up, and behind him his wife—I standing close behind the door. He opens the door, but before entering he gives the lantern to his wife. Then on bare feet he creeps in, and she behind him whispers : 'Gently! go gently ! When he reaches the ladder he ascends softly, his knife between his teeth, and approaching the bed on which the poor young man lay extended with throat exposed, with one hand he seizes his knife, and with the other—ah, my friend !he takes hold of a ham which hangs from the roof, cuts a piece out of it, and withdraws as he came. The door closes behind him, the light disappears, and I am left alone with my reflections.

When day appeared, we were awoke by the whole family, and a very good, nice breakfast we had, I can assure you.

Two fowls were on the table, one of which we had to eat, the other our hostess insisted on our taking

When I saw them, I understood the dreadful words, 'Must we kill both of them ?' You have sagacity enough to see what they referred to.

with us.

6

HOME THOUGHTS FROM ABROAD.

1.
Oh, to be in England,
Now that April's there
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf;

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now !

2.
And after April, when May follows,
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the

hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dew-drops—at the bent spray's edge-
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice

over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture !
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
With butter-cups, the little children's dower,
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

BEARS OUT FOR A HOLIDAY.

Some seven or eight years ago I was going on foot to Paris. I had started tolerably early, and about noon the fine trees of a forest tempting me at a place where the road makes a sharp turn, I sat down with my back against an oak on a hillock of grass, my feet hanging over a ditch, and began writing in my green book. As I was finishing the fourth line, I vaguely raised my

I eyes, and I perceived on the other side of the ditch, at the edge of the road straight before, only a few paces off, a bear staring at me fixedly. In broad daylight one does not have the nightmare; one cannot be deceived by a form, by an appearance, by a queer-shaped rock, by an absurd log of wood. At noon, under a May-day sun, one is not subject to illusions.

It was indeed a bear, a living bear, a real bear, and, moreover, perfectly hideous. He was gravely seated on his haunches, shewing me the dusty underneath of his hind-paws, all the claws of which I could distinguish, his fore-paws softly crossed over his belly. His jaws were partly open ; one of his ears, torn and bleeding, was hanging half off; his lower lip half torn away, shewed his well-bared tusks; one of his eyes was gone, and with the other he was looking at me with a serious air.

There was not a woodman in the forest, and what little I could see of the road was entirely deserted.

One may sometimes get out of a scrape with a dog by calling Gip or Flora, but what could one say to a bear? Where did he come from? What could it mean, this bear on the Paris high-road?. What business could this new sort of vagabond have? It was very strange, very ridiculous, very unreasonable, and, after all, anything but pleasant. I was, I confess, much perplexed. However, I remained immovable. The bear on his side also remained immovable; he even seemed to me, to a certain extent, benevolent. He looked at me as tenderly as a one-eyed bear could look. True, he had his jaws wide open, but he opened them as one opens one's mouth. It was not a grin, it was only a gape. There was something honest, sanctimonious, resigned, and sleepy, about this bear. Upon the whole, his face was so good that I, too, resolved to put a good face on the matter. I accepted

I

« PreviousContinue »