« НазадПродовжити »
NOTES FROM THE SOUTH.
N ON MATTEO, the incomparable host of the Cappucini at
Amalfi, lies dead. The loveliest spot in Italy will henceforth lack one great charm for those who have known Amalfi as Don Matteo's guests. “Such a gentleman !” was the description oftenest heard of the courteous, graceful-mannered, lynx-eyed, ever-active old man. He was versed in all the ingenuities of kindness. Each guest believed himself the host's most favoured. To some one taking care of an invalid he said, “Tell the lady no dish goes up to her room that I don't inspect first myself.” And the answer was, “ You need not say so. I know that often you lend a hand in cooking for her.” Long years ago, a titled Scotchman and his beautiful wife, whose rank was still higher than Milordo's, stayed long at Amalfi. They wanted other fare than that of ordinary travellers-even in those distant days when few but persons of importance made the grand tour. Don Matteo said, “Princes must dine well, even though they have not wherewithal to pay their cheer.” Another of his maxims was, “ Always give the most exquisite wine, whether or no you can make a profit upon it.” His Milordo liked good wine, and a good deal of it. The great lady loved boating in the radiant southern nights. Boats were retained permanently for her use, and for her husband's fishing expeditions. Then there were mountain excursions, with guides and mules; shooting parties, too, in the hills, when sometimes tents had to be carried as well as provisions. Milordo told his host that he had had "some monetary difficulties." Don Matteo paid all the daily expenses. “Ah," he would say, “ his lordship attracted me. I love him as one of my own-love the very recollection of hin-in spite of everything !” Amalfi grew too warm. The foreign guests must depart. But the “monetary difficulties" continued in full force. Some of the hotelkeeper's family suggested that an embargo should be laid on the nobleman's valuables. But Miladi said, “You will let us go away, Matteo, still in your debt.” (“She used to call me 'Matteo,' just like that,” le explained.) “Still and ever in your debt, even after the money has been sent you," and, in presence of Milordo, the great lady kissed him on the forehead! Milordo's mother eventually paid his bill, and refunded cash advances made by Don Matteo. Meantime, however, the anxious risk he ran cost Matteo a brainfever; for that all happened in the early beginnings of Amalfitan hotel.keeping, and the Vozzi family were not affluent.
And here is another story : A prosperous English merchant arrived. His family was numerous, and brought a retinue of maidservants and men-servants. Some of the party were very delicate, and they wintered at Amalfi with much benefit to health. They engaged nearly the whole hotel, including the principal public rooms. When they left Italy they continued to keep Don Matteo informed of the well-being of the convalescents. The next winter they returned, but they could not instal themselves so comfortably. The merchant had had heavy losses. Still they were welcome guests. One of their little boys was Don Matteo's prime friend and playfellow. Stories of him were told in Amalfi twenty years after he had left the place. The second year all went well, as far as the health of the Northerners was concerned, but disquieting news about their ships kept pouring in upon them. Again, from England, his guests sent Don Matteo tidings of financial disasters ; but they cheerfully "thanked the Amalfi climate, and their host's good care, for strengthened muscles and healed lungs." To have faced their altered circumstances in bad health would have been “terrible,” they wrote. Later, Don Matteo sent letter after letter, but received no answer, and he pined for news of his English friends. Three or four years later, one autumn day, a dusty pedestrian came up to the Cappucini. Time and sunburn had greatly altered the English merchant's eldest son. Don Matteo did not at first recognise in the knapsacked tourist the very smart youth of yore. But he knew the voice that hailed him cheerily, and his kind heart leapt for joy. “Don Matteo ! Don Matteo ! I'm going to be a landscape-painter. Do you remember my sketches? There's no place so beautiful as Amalhi. Where can I lodge? You know, we're all poor as church mice now. Will anyone take me in for half a crown a day?”.
“I will,” said Don Matteo.
But the youth was as proud as he was poor, and he refused firmly.
“Then,” said his host, "you shall come to me for nothing. I have the right to a visit from a friend (though I am an innkeeper), haven't I?" And Matteo folded the stalwart English art-student to
his honest heart, shedding salt tears to think the one-time gilded youth must now travel on foot, and win his way in the art-world among a host of common mortals !
Don Matteo described himself as prepotente, i.e. masterful. has been seen to tweak the nose of a luggage-porter who shirked his work. He would box the ears of guide, cook, or boatman, who failed in duty; and a crew who refused to strike up La Fata d'Amalfi for a close-fisted stranger would bellow melodiously the four-part boat-song at his frown, or the least eloquent gesture of his cane. Certainly he was prepotente ; but this did not interfere with his popularity among South Italians. He was, indeed, much beloved. The poor, the sick, the sorrowsul, had everything to hope from the generous hand of Don Matteo. The telegram announcing his death lies before me, and well I know that to-day floods of heart-warm tears are flowing in Amalfi. The sorrow in that fair white city by the sea will find a response also among the cosmopolitan society which called Don Matteo “the most perfect of hosts.”
A VAL SESIAN DRIVER.
They said, down at the negociante's, that there might possibly be a mule disengaged at the wine-shop ; and, to my joy, there happened to be just one available beast. For I had walked a good many miles to Mullia, and the climbers' nails had pierced the soles of my mountain boots, making eight more kilometres of the highway far from an agreeable prospect.
“You must wait till they harness him," said the house-mistress. “ It 'll take half an hour. Go into the shade.”
I preferred a bench in a moderately sunny corner, but the Padrona was cbstinate, and insisted on ushering me into a room furnished with bare tables, bare shelves, and empty benches. The only other occupants were my dog and dozens of lively, hungry flies. “ You 'll like to drink,” she said. “ Shall it be wine or coffee ?” I asked for milk, but, as usual in country places in Italy, there was none to be had in the daytime. The floor was one of a common Italian sort : the boards are well brushed, but never washed, and the boots of the habitués grind the dirt into them all the year round. It was a dull enough waiting-room, and I wished myself in the sunny seat by the entrance.
" “Ready!” said the energetic house-mistress, suddenly popping in and out again.
I went to look for mule and trap. They were by the stable, and the Padiona was with them,
“The coachman ?” I queried.
“I'm coachman,” answered the Padrona, with a toss of her be-ribboned head.
The calèche was high, and of the kind in which steps and wheels are curiously intermixed. I lifted the tired dachshund in by the back of his neck, and the little Padrona tried to do the same by me. Standing in the trap she hauled me up, in spite of protests; then she scrambled round the front wheel into the box seat, catching up whip and reins. But the big mule preferred to return to his stall. There was a brief tussle—the Padrona employing reins, whip, and voice with great effect—and she conquered. “Corri !” she cried, in a note of triumph, and the mule sped away uphill at a very respectable trot.
“What brings you here?” asked my driver, swinging half round on the box, and resting one short leg on the spare seat in front, just as my favourite, lame vetturino used to do.
“Health," I answered. “I am here to convalesce."
“Irlanda ? Irlanda ? That's towards England (della parte d'Inghilterra).”
“But farther," I explained. “How much farther ? "
“There are a hundred and thirty odd kilometri of sea between the two islands at the nearest point.” (I was thinking of the crossing from Holyhead to Dublin.)
“La !" she cried, “don't tell me a hundred and thirty! I don't know what it means.” And, to the mule, “Corri !"
The Padrona had not the soft and quiet expression of the local physiognomy, Her face showed decision, resourcefulness, capacity, and a rough kindness, while most of the women who are her neighbours on the southern side of Monte Rosa are like painted saints and Madonnas. It is a strange thing that I find what best describes them in English memorial verses—a literature of natural, most pardonable exaggeration :
Deep curving lashes, long and soft, and dark :
Deep gentle eyes . . .
Might pause, blest rather, overshadowed
That (crown] the innocent brow, the gracious head ;
Transparent, sensitive, and smooth and fine ;
Well-chiselled features, mutely eloquent
Of the great Master-workman's touch divine-
The Padrona was dressed in the costume of the Val Grandea short, dark skirt; a dark bodice, like many Swiss bodices, but with blue side-pieces having folds that suggested lacing with a broad blue silk string ; the local camicia, a wide-sleeved white home-spun linen chemisette, adorned with lace insertions and trimming of a charming kind only made in these regions; with silver hairpins and coloured head-ribbons in and about her plait of hair. All the contadine have a headkerchief-brown as to the ground, and bordered with woven red roses and green leaves. The pattern and colouring must be traditional, for all wear exactly the same kerchief, which serves equally well against heat or cold, and can be tilted cunningly, to make a shade for the eyes in the vivid sunshine. The little woman had shapely, expressive, small brown hands, and wielded a carter's whip with much adroitness.
After the usual series of questions incidental to first acquaintanceship in Italy—“Married ?” “How many children ? " Parents living ?” &c.—the Padrona threw this interrogation at me over her shoulder : “Walked alone to Mullia ?”
“No, there was the dog," and then she brightened up.
“ You're right. Animals are company. If people were only half as pleasant ! Look at the beasts! They're never contrary. But people” (contemptuously), "you don't go far with them before they vex you u! Do you see me? I'm forty-seven. Well, I've spent my whole life with animals, and I never found horse, or mule, or ass, or cow that would not do my bidding. Ma, la gente !-- Corri” (to her mule, and he fled uphill again)!
After a while : “ Irlanda ?' You mean Ollanda, perhaps ? No! What do you grow in your country? Hay, oats, cattle, and horses ! Indeed! But horses are not to compare with mules for usefulness. With a horse you must keep your hand on the reins the whole time. Look ! I throw down my reins when I want to chat. This is a very prudent beast-tanto prudente. See how he pulls up all incontro (when we meet traffic)! The coachman on that pairhorse carriage was asleep. Very remiss! But now, about horses : They've no resistance. A mule
And this beast keeps his little trip-a-trot ever the same. Then, what is a horse worth that has lost his shoe? A mule will go a journey wanting a shoe, and not suffer for it. Horses are soft things ” (contemptuously). “I keep four mules and only one horse.”