ONE DEAD IN THE FIELDS

“Where he fell there he lay down and died.”

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK tells a story—and this story teaches an obvious
lesson—of certain red warrior ants, who capture black fellow pismires,
and hold them as slaves; an outrage which must certainly shock all true
pismitarian ants. The captors become in time so dependent upon their
negro servants that, when deprived of their attendants, they are unable
to feed or clean themselves, and lie helplessly upon their backs, feebly
waving their paws in the air!…

Peripatetica, having but recently suffered the loss of a maiden slave of
a dozen years’ standing, had suffered a like moral disintegration, and
she violently lost her taste for travel whenever it became necessary to
move from one place to another, attempting to deal with her packing by a
mere series of helpless paw-wavings, most picturesque to observe, but
which for all practical purposes were highly inefficient. So when she
and Jane dropped down and down the zigzags to Giardini—each of those
famous views self-consciously presenting itself in turn for the last
time—the light figure which hurled itself boldly down the steeps by a
short cut, springing along the daring descent with the sure-footed
confidence of a goat, proved to be not a wing-heeled Mercury conveying
an affectionate message from the gods, but merely a boy from the villa
fetching Peripatetica’s left-behind nail brush, hot-water bottle, and
umbrella….

From Giardini a spacious plain curves all the way to Syracuse. This
broken level is built upon a foundation of inky lava cast out from
Hephæstos’ forge in Ætna, in whose wrinkled crevices of black and broken
stone has been caught and held all the stored richness of the denuded
mountains so long ago stripped of trees; and in this plain grain and
flowers and trees innumerable find food and footing. Peripatetica, bred
in deep-soiled, fertile fields with wide horizons, drew, as they passed
into the open vistas, deep breaths of refreshment and joy. The fierce,
soaring aridity of Taormina had oppressed her with a restless sense of
imprisonment. Her elbows were as passionate lovers of liberty as the
Spartans, and she demanded proper space in which to move them. What she
called a view was a _view_, not merely more mountains climbing, blind
and obstinate, between the eye and the landscape. Being, too, of a race
always worshippers of Demeter—a race which had spent generations in her
service, which considered the cultivation of the soil the only possible
occupation of a gentleman, and all other businesses the mere wretched
astonishing fate of the unfortunate—she rejoiced loudly and fatiguingly
over the blessedness of a return to a sweet land of farms.

“I don’t call that Taormina window-box-gardening on tiny stone ledges a
thousand feet up in the air _farming_,” she scoffed.

“If your tongue was a spade what crops you would raise!” sniffed Jane.

“Well, I raise big harvests of diversion in my own spirit,” retorted the
unsuppressed chatterer. “Besides, it’s now my turn to talk. You have
done a lot of elaborate speechifying about Taormina. I made you a
present of the whole jaggèd, attitudinizing old place, and for the
moment I mean to flow unchecked! You needn’t listen if you don’t like. I
enjoy hearing myself speak, whether anyone pays the smallest attention
or not.”

Which was why, while Jane settled down comfortably to a copy of
Theocritus, Peripatetica continued to entertain her own soul with spoken
and unspoken comments as to a certain restful letting down of tension
which resulted from sliding away from the dazzling, lofty Olympianism of
Taormina into a region Cyclopean, perhaps, but with a dawning suggestion
of coming humanity. For here, in this plain, succeeding those bright
presences that were the elementary forces of nature—forces of the earth
and sea and sun, of fire and dew, of thunder, wind, and rain, of the
shining day, and the night with its changing moon—first came the
primitive earth-spirits, rude and rugged, or delicate and vapourous.
Creatures not gods—no longer immutable and immortal, but stronger,
older, greater than man, who was yet to come. Creatures partaking
somewhat of the nature of both gods and men, but subject to
transformation into stream and fountain, into tree and flower; very near
to the earth, yet swayed by human passions, by human sorrows and joys.

This plain was the home of nymph and oread, of dryad and faun. Here had
the Cyclops and the Titans wrought—first of the great race of Armourers
and Smiths—under the tutelage of Vulcan, shaping the beams of the
heavens, and the ribs of the earth; arming the gods and forging the
lightning.

Ulysses, the earliest of impassioned tourists, had had dealings on this
very spot with the last of the Cyclops. A degenerate scion of the great
old race, as the last of a great race is apt to be, Polyphemus had sunk
to the mere keeping of sheep, and according to Ulysses’ own story he got
the better of Polyphemus, and related, upon returning home, the triumph
of his superior cunning, with the same naïve relish with which the
modern Cookie retails his supposed outwitting of the native curio
dealer. Very near to the train, as it ran by the sea’s edge, lay the
huge fragments of lava which the blinded Cyclop had cast in futile rage
after the escaping Greeks. He was a great stone-thrower, was Polyphemus,
for further along the coast lay the boulders he had flung at Acis, the
beautiful young shepherd. Polyphemus having still an eye in those days,
his aim was truer, and the shepherd was killed, but who may baffle true
love? The dead boy melted away beneath the stones and was transformed to
the bright and racing river Acis (which they crossed just then), and the
river, flowing round the stones, runs still across the plain to fling
itself into the arms of the sea-nymph Galatea. So the two still meet as
of old, and play laughingly together in and out among the huge rocks,
which certainly might have been flung there by Ætna in one of her
volcanic furies, but which, if one may believe the Greek story, were
really the gigantic weapons of a cruel jealousy.

Jane and Peripatetica could put their heads out of the windows and study
history and legend at their ease, the train ambling amiably and not too
rapidly through the lovely land, where the near return of Persephone was
foreshadowed in the delicate rosy clouds of the Judas trees drifting
across the black green of dense carobs. It was foretold, too, by the
broad yellow mustard fields blooming under the shadow of silver-grey
olive orchards; Fields-of-the-Cloth-of-Gold they were, about which
Spring was pitching white tents of plum flowers in which to sign royal
alliance with Summer. They saw old Sicilian farm-steadings here and
there crowning the rising ground on either hand, freaked and lichened
with years, and showing among their spiring cypresses the square towers
to which the inhabitants had fled for safety in the old days of
Levantine piracy. Many of these houses were very old, six or eight
hundred years old, it was said. Orange and lemon groves on either side
the way still hung heavy with fruit, plainly feeling it a duty laid upon
them to look like the trees in Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes; like the
trees of all the Old Masters’ backgrounds. Invariably being round, close
clumps of green set thick with golden balls, quite unlike the orange
trees in America, which have never had proper decorative and artistic
models set for their copying, and therefore grow carelessly and less
beautifully.

As far as the eye could reach the whole land was furred with the tender
green of sprouting corn. For this was once Europe’s granary, and the
place of Rome’s bread; here Demeter first taught man to sow and reap,
and despite Ætna’s fires, despite the destruction and ravaging of a
thousand wars, and thousands of years of careless unrestorative use of
the soil, corn still grows on this plain, so hard, so perfect, and so
nourishing of grain that no Sicilian can afford to eat it, selling his
own crop to macaroni manufacturers, and contenting himself with a poorer
imported wheat for his dark daily bread.

In these rich meadows, too, replacing the frigid little
Evangelical-looking goat of Taormina, browsed fat flocks in snowy silken
fleeces, and with long wavy horns. Flocks that were tended by shepherds
draped in faded blue or brown hooded cloaks, wearing sheep’s wool bound
about their cross-gartered legs, their feet shod with hairy goat-skin
shoes. They leaned in contemplative attitudes on long staves—as every
right-minded shepherd should—so old a picture, so unchanged from
far-off, pastoral days! Just so had they shown themselves to Theocritus,
when that sweet young singer of the early time had wandered here among
the herdsmen, the fishers, and the delvers in the good brown earth, in
the days when the Greeks still lived and ruled here, so long and long
ago.

“I wish they would pipe,” said Peripatetica. “It only needs to complete
the picture that innocent sweet trilling of the shepherd’s reed that is
like the voices of the birds and of the cicalas.”

“Oh, they daren’t do it here in high noon,” remonstrated Jane. “For fear
of Pan, you know.” And she turned back the pages of her little book to
read aloud the sweetest and perfectest of the Idyls….

THYRSIS. Sweet, meseems, is the whispering sound of yonder pine tree,
goatherd, that murmureth by the wells of water; and sweet are thy
pipings. After Pan the second prize shalt thou bear away, and if he take
the horned goat, the she-goat shalt thou win; but if he choose the
she-goat for his meed, the kid falls to thee, and dainty is the flesh of
kids ere the age when thou milkest them.

THE GOATHERD. Sweeter, O shepherd, is thy song than the music of yonder
water that is poured from the high face of the rock! Yea, if the Muses
take the young ewe for their gift, a stall-fed lamb shalt thou receive
for thy meed; but if it please them to take the lamb, thou shalt lead
away the ewe for the second prize.

THYRSIS. Wilt thou, goatherd, in the nymphs’ name, wilt thou sit thee
down here, among the tamarisks, on this sloping knoll, and pipe while in
this place I watch thy flocks?

[Illustration: “PAN’S GOAT HERD”]

GOATHERD. Nay, shepherd, it may not be; we may not pipe in the noontide.
’Tis Pan we dread, who truly at this hour rests weary from the chase;
and bitter of mood is he, the keen wrath sitting ever at his nostrils.
But, Thyrsis, for that thou surely wert wont to sing _The Affliction of
Daphnis_, and hast most deeply meditated the pastoral muse, come hither,
and beneath yonder elm let us sit down, in face of Priapus and the
fountain fairies, where is that resting-place of the shepherds, and
where the oak trees are. Ah! if thou wilt but sing as on that day thou
sangest in thy match with Chromis out of Libya, I will let thee milk,
ay, three times, a goat that is the mother of twins, and even when she
has suckled her kids her milk doth fill two pails. A deep bowl of
ivy-wood, too, I will give thee, rubbed with sweet bees’-wax, a
two-eared bowl newly wrought, smacking still of the knife of the graver.
Round its upper edges goes the ivy winding, ivy besprent with golden
flowers; and about it is a tendril twisted that joys in its saffron
fruit. Within is designed a maiden, as fair a thing as the gods could
fashion, arrayed in a sweeping robe, and a snood on her head. Beside her
two youths with fair love-locks are contending from either side, with
alternate speech, but her heart thereby is all untouched. And now on one
she glances, smiling, and anon she lightly flings the other a thought,
while by reason of the long vigils of love their eyes are heavy, but
their labour is all in vain.

Beyond these an ancient fisherman and a rock are fashioned, a rugged
rock, whereon with might and main the old man drags a great net for his
cast, as one that labours stoutly. Thou wouldst say that he is fishing
with all the might of his limbs, so big the sinews swell all about his
neck, grey-haired though he be, but his strength is as the strength of
youth. Now divided but a little space from the sea-worn old man is a
vineyard laden well with fire-red clusters, and on the rough wall a
little lad watches the vineyard, sitting there. Round him two she-foxes
are skulking, and one goes along the vine-rows to devour the ripe
grapes, and the other brings all her cunning to bear against the scrip,
and vows she will never leave the lad, till she strand him bare and
breakfastless. But the boy is plaiting a pretty locust-cage with stalks
of asphodel, and fitting it with reeds, and less care of his scrip has
he, and of the vines, than delight in his plaiting.

All about the cup is spread the soft acanthus, a miracle of varied work,
a thing for thee to marvel on. For this bowl I paid to a Calydonian
ferryman a goat and a great white cream cheese. Never has its lip
touched mine, but it still lies maiden for me. Gladly with this cup
would I gain thee to my desire, if thou, my friend, wilt sing me that
delightful song. Nay, I grudge it thee not at all. Begin, my friend, for
be sure thou canst in no wise carry thy song with thee to Hades, that
puts all things out of mind!

_The Song of Thyrsis._

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_ Thyrsis of Ætna am I,
and this is the voice of Thyrsis. Where, ah! where were ye when Daphnis
was languishing; ye Nymphs, where were ye? By Peneus’ beautiful dells,
or by dells of Pindus? for surely ye dwelt not by the great stream of
the river Anapus, nor on the watch-tower of Ætna, nor by the sacred
water of Acis.

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

For him the jackals, for him the wolves did cry; for him did even the
lion out of the forest lament. Kine and bulls by his feet right many,
and heifers plenty, with the young calves bewailed him.

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

Came Hermes first from the hill, and said, “Daphnis, who is it that
torments thee; child, whom dost thou love with so great desire?” The
neatherds came, and the shepherds; the goatherds came; all they asked
what ailed him. Came also Priapus,—

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

And said: “Unhappy Daphnis, wherefore dost thou languish, while for thee
the maiden by all the fountains, through all the glades is fleeting, in
search of thee? Ah! thou art too laggard a lover, and thou nothing
availest! A neatherd wert thou named, and now thou art like the
goatherd.”

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

“For the goatherd, when he marks the young goats at their pastime, looks
on with yearning eyes, and fain would be even as they; and thou, when
thou beholdest the laughter of maidens, dost gaze with yearning eyes,
for that thou dost not join their dances.”

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

Yet these the herdsman answered not again, but he bare his bitter love
to the end, yea, to the fated end he bare it.

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

Ay, but she too came, the sweetly smiling Cypris, craftily smiling she
came, yet keeping her heavy anger; and she spake, saying: “Daphnis,
methinks thou didst boast that thou wouldst throw Love a fall, nay, is
it not thyself that hast been thrown by grievous Love?”

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

But to her Daphnis answered again: “Implacable Cypris, Cypris terrible,
Cypris of mortals detested, already dost thou deem that my latest sun
has set; nay, Daphnis even in Hades shall prove great sorrow to Love.

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

“Get thee to Ida, get thee to Anchises! There are oak trees—here only
galingale blows, here sweetly hum the bees about the hives!

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

“Thine Adonis, too, is in his bloom, for he heards the sheep and slays
the hares, and he chases all the wild beasts. Nay, go and confront
Diomedes again, and say, ‘The herdsman Daphnis I conquered, do thou join
battle with me.’”

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

“Ye wolves, ye jackals, and ye bears in the mountain caves, farewell!
The herdsman Daphnis ye never shall see again, no more in the dells, no
more in the groves, no more in the woodlands. Farewell Arethusa, ye
rivers good-night, that pour down Thymbris your beautiful waters.

_Begin, ye Muses dear, begin the pastoral song!_

“That Daphnis am I who here do herd the kine, Daphnis who water here the
bulls and calves.

“O Pan, Pan! whether thou art on the high hills of Lycæus, or rangest
mighty Mænalus, haste hither to the Sicilian isle! Leave the tomb of
Helice, leave that high cairn of the son of Lycæon, which seems wondrous
fair, even in the eyes of the blessed.

_Give o’er, ye Muses, come, give o’er the pastoral song!_

“Come hither, my prince, and take this fair pipe, honey-breathed with
wax-stopped joints; and well it fits thy lip; for verily I, even I, by
Love am now haled to Hades.

_Give o’er, ye Muses, come, give o’er the pastoral song!_

“Now violets bear, ye brambles, ye thorns bear violets and let fair
narcissus bloom on the boughs of juniper! Let all things with all be
confounded—from pines let men gather pears, for Daphnis is dying! Let
the stag drag down the hounds, let owls from the hills contend in song
with the nightingales.”

_Give o’er, ye Muses, come, give o’er the pastoral song!_

So Daphnis spake, and ended; but fain would Aphrodite have given him
back to life. Nay, spun was all the thread that the Fates assigned, and
Daphnis went down the stream. The whirling wave closed over the man the
Muses loved, the man not hated of the nymphs.

_Give o’er, ye Muses, come, give o’er the pastoral song!_

And thou, give me the bowl, and the she-goat, that I may milk her and
pour forth a libation to the Muses. Farewell, oh, farewells manifold, ye
Muses, and I, some future day, will sing you yet a sweeter song.

_The Goatherd._ Filled may thy fair mouth be with honey, Thyrsis, and
filled with the honeycomb; and the sweet dried fig mayest thou eat of
Ægilus, for thou vanquishest the cicala in song! Lo, here is thy cup,
see, my friend, of how pleasant a savour! Thou wilt think it has been
dipped in the well-spring of the Hours. Hither, hither, Cissætha: do
thou milk her, Thyrsis. And you young she-goats, wanton not so wildly
lest you bring up the he-goat against you.

* * * * *

“What a crowded place Sicily is!” cried Jane, heaving an oppressed
breath.

“Isn’t it?” sympathized Peripatetica. “Here we are on our way to the
very fountain, as it seems, of history—Syracuse, where nearly everything
happened that ever did happen, and yet one has to mentally push one’s
way through a swarming crowd of events to get there, because almost
everything that didn’t happen in Syracuse occurred in these Sicilian
plains. When you think of the layer on layer of human life, like
geologic strata, that lies all over this place, you realize that it
would take half a lifetime to come to some understanding of the
significance of it all, and that it’s foolish to go on until one can get
some hold upon the meaning of what lies right here.”

This “simple but first-class conversation” took place in the
eating-station at Catania which the two had all to themselves, most of
the Tedeschi tourists frugally remaining in the train and staying their
pangs from bottles, and with odds and ends out of paper parcels, from
which feasts they emerged later replete but crumby.

Poor Catania! sunk to a mere feeding-trough for passing tourists. She,
the great city sitting blandly among her temples and towers, wooed for
her money bags by all the warlike neighbours. For whenever her
neighbours squabbled with one another, which was pretty nearly all the
time—or whenever an outsider intervened—each strove to engage the aid of
this rich landholder, sending embassies and emissaries to bully or
cajole Catania. As rich folk will, she always tried to protect herself
by taking neither side completely, speaking fair to each, and, like all
Laodiceans, she made thereby two enemies instead of one, and was
considered fair prey by both.

That splendid, dangerous dandy, Alcibiades, was one of these
ambassadors. Almost under the feet of Jane and Peripatetica, as they sat
with their mouths full of crisp delectable little tarts, had the wily
Athenian spoken in the Catanian theatre. The older men enjoyed his
eloquent, graceful Greek, but they were quite determined not to be
persuaded by it to let his fleet enter their harbour, his army enter
their city, or to be used as a base from which to strike the
Syracusians. The Catanians didn’t like Syracuse, but they didn’t mean to
embroil themselves with her. They secretly hoped the Athenians would
reduce that dangerous neighbour to despair, but if either destroyed the
other—why, then it would be well to be able to show the victor their
clean hands.

Alcibiades was quite aware he was not convincing them, but he enjoyed
turning brilliant periods in public, and was meanwhile pleasantly
conscious of the young men in the audience admiring the chasing of his
buckles, the artful folds of his gold-embroidered chalmyde, the
exquisite angle at which he knotted his fillet, privately resolving to
readjust their own provincial toilets by the model of this famous glass
of fashion. And when they all poured out of the theatre after his
brilliantly preferred request had been politely refused, he could afford
to smile calmly, for, behold! there was the Athenian fleet in the
harbour, the Athenian army in the city. He had not been using those
well-turned phrases for mere idleness. They had availed to keep the
authorities occupied while his subordinates had executed his commands.

And their caution was of no avail whatever, for in due time, when
Alcibiades was in exile and the Athenians rotting in the Latomiæ,
Syracuse duly turned and “took it out of” Catania. Took it out good and
hard too.

There was no use stopping over a train to see the old theatre and
realize for themselves this curious bit of history; it only meant
crawling through black passages by the light of a smoky candle, for Ætna
in 1669—in a fit of ennui with poor Catania—had pitched down thousands
of tons of lava upon her and hid all the rich city’s ancient glories
from the sun.

It was from Catania that another interesting Greek had set out upon his
last journey. A journey to the crest of that volcano which has been
constantly taking a hand in the destinies of Sicily, with what—in its
careless malice, its malignant furies—seems almost like the personal
wickedness of some demon; that incalculable mountain whose soaring
outlines had been coming out at Jane and Peripatetica all day whenever
the train turned a corner, as if to reassure them that they couldn’t
lose her if they tried. Ætna was from the very beginning the pre-eminent
fact in this part of Sicily.

First Zeus—who always had a cheerful disregard of any rules of chivalry
in dealing with his enemies—tied down the unlucky Titan Enceladus upon
this very spot, and, gathering up enough of Sicily to make a mountain
the size of Ætna, heaped it on top of him, probably congratulating
himself the while that he had put a complete end to that particular
annoyance. But quite a number of rulers since Zeus have discovered that
in a rebellious temperament there reside resources of annoyingness which
even a god cannot entirely foresee or provide against, and the Titan
still heaves restlessly at his load from time to time, rocking the whole
island with his struggles, toppling towers, engulfing cities, tearing
the earth apart in his furies.

Some of the myths accuse Demeter herself of having set Ætna alight in
her frenzy, that all Sicily might thus be illumined to aid her in the
search for Persephone, and that never since that reckless day has she
been able to extinguish it, but must fight, with rain and dews and snows
to save her people’s bread from the flames forever threatening to
destroy it. The fire pours forth from time to time, spreading cruel
ruin, but ever, aided by her, man creeps up and up once more. Up to
Randazzo; up to Brontë, the “thunder town,” given to Lord Nelson by
Marie Antoinette’s sister, then Queen of the Two Sicilies, where the
Dukes of Brontë, Nelson’s descendants, still live part of each year in
their wild eyrie.

The vine and the olive climb and climb after each catastrophe. They
cover the old scars of the eruptions, perch in crevices where a goat can
scarce stand, and wring from the rich crumbs of soil “wine that maketh
glad the heart of man, and oil that causeth his countenance to shine.”

Up to the top of this Ætna—ten thousand feet up—on the last journey from
Catania climbed Empedocles, that strange figure who passes with ringing
brazen sandals through the history of Sicily. Empedocles, clothed in
purple, crowned with a wreath of golden leaves, followed by thousands to
whom he taught some strange, half Pythagorean worship, the form and
meaning of which have vanished with time, save for some hints of a sort
of mental healing practised upon his followers. Empedocles, composing
vast poems of thousands of lines, and vaunting himself as a Super-man,
saying:

“An immortal god, and no longer a mortal man, I wander among you;
honoured by all, adorned with priestly diadems and blooming wreaths.
Into whatever illustrious towns I enter men and women pay me reverence,
and I am accompanied by thousands who thirst for their advantage; some
being desirous to know the future, and others, tormented by long and
terrible disease, waiting to hear the spells that soothe suffering.”

Whether his following fell away; whether he became the victim of some
wild melancholy, some corroding _welt-schmerz_—unable to cure the ills
of his own soul with his own doctrines—no one knows, but the dramatic
manner of his exit printed his name indelibly upon the memory of the
world from which he fled.

Deserting late at night a feast in Catania, he mounted a mule, climbed
the rough steeps, threaded the dusky oak woods, dismissed his last
follower, and—after lingering a moment to listen to the boy-harper
Callicles singing in the dawn at the edge of the forest—he passed on
upward through the snows, and was seen no more by human eye. Only the
brazen sandal was found beside the crater, into whose unutterable
furnace—urged by some divine despair—he had flung himself: all that had
been that aspiring, passionate life vanishing in an instant in a hiss of
steam, a puff of gas, upon the most stupendous funeral pyre ever chosen
by man.

* * * * *

There was endless history waiting to be looked into at Catania;
frightful passagings and scufflings, massacres and exilings, murders,
conspiracies and poisonings, and every other uncomfortable exhibition of
“man’s inhumanity to man”—accompanied, of course, by heroisms, patriotic
self-sacrifice, and a thousand humble, unremembered kindnesses and
virtues, such as forever form warp and woof of the web of life and time.
But railway schedules, even in Sicily, are almost heartlessly
indifferent to tradition, and when the last tartlet was consumed the two
seekers for Persephone were dragged Syracuse-ward, along with the crumby
Tedeschi, divided during the long afternoon between increasing
drowsiness and reproachful Baedekers. At last came sea marshes, where
salt-pans evaporated in the sun, and toward sunset the train dumped them
all promiscuously into station omnibuses at the capital of history; too
grubby and fatigued to care whether the first class in historical
research was called or not.

The Tedeschi, after their frugal fashion, went in search of cheap
pensions in the city, and only Jane and Peripatetica entered the wheeled
tender of the Villa Politi, along with a young Italian pair, obviously
engaged upon a honeymoon. A pair who never ceased to look unutterable
things at each other out of fine eyes bistred with railway grime, nor
ceased to murmur soft nothings from lips surrounded with the shadows of
railway soot, undaunted by the frank interest of the hotel portier
hanging on to the step, nor by the joltings of the dusty white road that
led, through the noisy building of many ugly new villas, up to bare,
wind-swept heights.

Strong in the possession of a note from the proprietor promising
accommodation, with which, this time, the wayfarers had had the prudence
to arm themselves, Jane and Peripatetica swept languidly up the steps,
ordering that their luggage be placed in their rooms and tea served
immediately upon the terrace.

But there were no rooms. No rooms of any kind, single or double!

The note was produced. There it was, down in black and white!

The young Signor Antonio drew a similar weapon—more black and white
promises!

The Padrone raised eyes and hands in a gesture almost consoling in its
histrionic effectiveness.

Could he _make_ guests depart at the time they said they would depart?

Could he cast them out neck and crop when they found Syracuse so
attractive that they changed their minds about going away and vacating
rooms promised to others?

He left it to Jane. He left it to Peripatetica. He left it to Signor
Antonio. He left it to Signor Antonio’s beautiful bride, his “bellissima
sposa.” _Could_ he? He asked that!…

The two seekers were sternly sarcastic. Signor Antonio imitated the
histrionic attitude. The Bellissima Sposa simply smiled fatuously.
Beloved Antonio now held her destinies in his strong hand. Was it a
royal suite? Well and good. Was it a corner of a stone wall under an
umbrella? It was still well and good, for would she not still be with
her Antonio?

The honeyed submissiveness of this was too much for even the wicked
obduracy of the Padrone.

There _was_ a billiard room—for the night. To-morrow some one must keep
his promise and go. They could choose among themselves.

The bride was led away to the billiard room, still gazing upon her
Antonio with intoxicated content, and two cross females, shaking the
dust of the Villa Politi’s glowing garden and vine-wreathed terraces
from their feet, jolted back again indignantly along the bare, windy
heights fretted by the clamour of a sirocco-tortured sea. Past the
gritty precincts of the ugly building villas, to the gaunt precincts of
an hotel within the shrunken town. There to climb early into beds of the
sloping pitch and rugged surface of a couple of tiled roofs; to lay
their heads upon pillows undoubtedly stuffed with the obdurate skulls of
all Syracuse’s myriad dead, and to listen in the wakefulness thereby
induced to the dull sickening thuds about the floor which they knew, for
good and sufficient reasons, to be the nocturnal hopping of the mighty
Syracusan flea….

“Fancy anyone being tempted to remain over _here_!” sneered
Peripatetica.

This was in the morning. They had compared the bleatings of the goats;
the raucous early cries of the population; the effects of sirocco; the
devices by which, clinging with teeth and nails, they had succeeded in
maintaining their perch on the tile roofs; had boasted of their shikarry
among the hopping, devouring monsters of the dark.

“Talk of history!” mourned Jane. “Who could be the adequate Herodotus of
last night?”

They were on their way to the Temple of Minerva. The route led by a wide
sea-street, half of whose length gave upon that famous Inner Harbour so
often filled with hostile fleets, so often barred by great chains, so
often echoing with clanging battles, with the bubbling shrieks of the
drowning. Now the sparkling waters rolled untinged with blood, the clean
salt air swept unhindered across their path, for half of the huge
sea-wall had been recently demolished to let in wind and sun, though
part still towered grimly, darkening the way, shutting out the light
from the opposite dwellings.

The path turned at right angles and wound through narrow foot-pathless
cracks, between houses; cracks that served the older Syracuse in lieu of
streets, where swarmed in the dingy narrownesses the everlasting goat,
the ever pervasive child. Very different children these from those
cherub heads, with busy little legs growing out of them, who formed the
rising population of Taormina. Taormina, who has solved that whole
question of educating children; a question which still so puzzles the
unintelligent rest of mankind. For weeks they had walked the ancient
ways of that high-perched town, picking careful steps amid its infant
hordes, and never once had they heard a cry, or seen a discontented
child.

“Occupation was the secret of all that cherubic goodness, I think,” said
Peripatetica reflectively. “Don’t you remember that every single one of
them had a job?”

“Of course, I remember,” said Jane crossly. “You needn’t remind _me_. It
was only twenty-four hours ago we were there—though it seems ages since
we fell out of the tender protecting care of dear ‘Questo-qui.’ You can
put it all in the book if you feel you must talk about it.”

“Jane, your usually charming temper has been spoiled by a night on a
roof. It has made a cat of you,” persisted Peripatetica as she calmly
circled round a goat. When the fount of her eloquence was unsealed it
was not to be choked by the mere casting of a stony snub into it.

“I devoted some of the dark hours on my tiles to profound philosophic
reflection upon the Taorminian methods with children,” she continued. “I
have often thought the ennui suffered by children and pet animals was
the cause of much of their restless fretfulness. Even the most
undeveloped nature feels the difference between a real occupation and an
imitation one; feels the importance of being an economic factor. Now
those Taormina children from the age of two years are made to feel they
are really important and necessary members of the family. They knit as
soon as they can walk; they sew, they do drawn-work, at five. They sit
in the streets at little tables and help cobble shoes or mend
teakettles. They shop for busy parents; they fetch and carry. They pull
out of the gardens and orchards weeds as tall as themselves, and
everywhere are calm and self-respecting, and receive from their parents
and their grown-up neighbours that serious courtesy and consideration
due to useful and well-behaved citizens. One does not slap or jerk or
scold valuable and important members of the community, and no youthful
Taorminian would permit such an unjustifiable liberty from a parent.”

Borne on this flood of words they suddenly flowed out into a big
irregular square where stood one of the most curious buildings in the
world; the great temple of Pallas of the Syracusans. The enormous fluted
Doric columns were sunk into the walls of a Cathedral, for Zosimus,
bishop of Syracuse in the Seventh Century, had seized the columned frame
and had plastered his church upon it—but so great was the diameter of
the pillars that their sides and capitals protruded through the walls
inside and out like the prodigious stone ribs of some huge skeleton. The
Saracens had come later, and, after slaughtering the priests and women
who clung shrieking to the altars, had added battlements to the roof,
and the Eighteenth Century, being unable, of course, to keep its finger
out of even the most reverend pie, had gummed upon the portal a flaring
baroque façade of yellow stone. But through all disfigurements and
defacements the temple still showed its soaring majesty, and
Peripatetica, at sight of it, cried:

“One dead in the fields!”…

For suddenly was revealed to the two the meaning of what they had been
journeying to see—it was the dead body of a great civilization.

Here, nearly three thousand years since, had come Archias, the rich
Heraclid of Corinth. He had gathered sullenly into little ships his
wealth, his family, and his servants, and had fled far down the horizon,
an execrated fugitive because of the slaying of beautiful Actæon. And,
finding on the coast of the distant God’s-land a reproduction of the
bays and straits of the Corinth which had cast him out, he founded there
a city. A city that was to have a life like the life of some gifted,
powerful man, growing from timid infancy to a lusty youth full of dreams
and passions and vague towering ambitions; struggling with and
conquering his fellows; grasping at power and glory, heaping up riches
unbelievable, decking himself in purple and gold, living long and
gloriously and tumultuously; and who was to know rise and fall, defeats
and triumphs, and finally was to die on the battlefield, and be left
there by the victor to rot. So that all the flesh would drop from the
long frame, the muscles dry and fall apart, the eyes be sightless, and
the brain dark; and the little busy insects of the earth would carry
away the fragments bit by bit, and on the field where he lay would be
found at last only the hollow skull once so full of proud purpose; only
the slack white bones of the arm that had wielded the strong sword, the
vast arch of the gaunt ribs that once had sheltered the brave heart of
Syracuse. And among these dry bones little curious creatures would come
to peep and peer and build their homes; spiders spinning webs over the
empty eye sockets, mice weaving their nests among the wide-flung
knuckles….

One little spider, about ten minutes old, lay in wait for these two
tourist flies at the side door of the Cathedral with an offer to guide
them, and though they sternly endeavoured to brush the insect aside,
doubting his infantile capacity to direct their older intelligences, the
Spider was not of the to-be-brushed-aside variety and knew better than
they what they really needed. While they wandered through the vulgar
uglinesses of Zosimus’ shrine, trying to recall Cicero’s glowing picture
of the temple in its glory, he never took his claws off of them. While
they talked of the great doors inlaid with gold and ivory, of the brazen
spears, of the cella walls frescoed with the portraits and the battles
of the Sikel Kings, of the pedestals between each column bearing images
of the gods in ivory, silver, and bronze, the Spider was patient and
merely murmured “Greco” or “molto antico” by way of encouraging chorus.
He let them babble unchecked of the tall image of armed Pallas standing
behind the altar, with plumed helmet and robe of Tyrian purple, grasping
her great spear in her right hand and resting the left hand upon the
golden shield that bore a sculptured Medusa head. Upon her pedestal was
carved the cock, the dragon, and the serpent, and the altar before her
was heaped with fresh olive boughs about the smouldering spices sending
up wavering clouds of scented smoke that coiled among the ceiling’s
gilded plates. Without, upon the roof, stood another great shield of
gilded bronze, a beacon for sailors who, setting out upon long voyages,
carried a cup of burning ashes from her altar to sprinkle on the waves
as the glittering landmark faded down the sky.

But when these reminiscences of the “molto antico” finally exhausted
themselves, the Spider rose to his occasion. He was vague about Minerva,
but Santa Lucia was his trump card. He was eminently capable of guiding
any number of travellers to the chapel of that big swarthy idol adorned
with wire-and-cotton wreaths, and hung about with votive silver hands
and hearts, arms and legs, in grateful testimony of the limbs and organs
cured by her mercy and power. He could pour out in burning Sicilian,
illustrated by superb spidery gestures, a thrilling description of the
yearly _villegiatura_ of Syracuse’s patron saint. How twice in a
twelvemonth she feels the need of change of air, and all the town
attends her visit of a few days to the church beyond the bridge, she
being escorted by priests and censors, and blaring bands, and wearing
her finest jewels and toilet, as befits a lady on ceremonial travels. It
is a festa for all Syracuse, Spider explains, with much good eating and
“molto buono vino.”

Jane, always a molten mass of useful information, interjects sotto voce
into the flood of his narrative that precisely the same ceremony was
used for the image of Diana when she was the patron goddess of the
Syracusans, and the very same molto buono vino so overcame the populace
at one of Diana’s festas that Marcellus, the Roman, after a siege of
three years, captured the long and fiercely defended city that very
night.

The Spider took them later to see the handful of fragments alone
remaining of Diana’s fane—broken columns sunk in a fosse between two
houses—though once a temple as splendid as Minerva’s. A temple served by
many priestesses, and surrounded by a great grove sloping down to the
fountain of Arethusa. Among these trees the Oceanides herded the
sacrificial deer, and troops of just such silken-coated, wavy-horned
goats as feed to-day upon the Catanian plain. And to this grove came
young girls, offering up, to please the great Huntress, their abandoned
childish toys of baked clay. For oddly enough the wild, arrowy goddess
who loved to shed the blood of beasts, adored children, and was a
special patron of theirs, and would even listen favourably to the
petitions of barren wives.

There seemed some strange vagueness, some shadowy inexplicableness in
the worship of Diana. All the other gods typified some force of nature,
some resultant struggle and passion of man caught in nature’s web, but
of the moon they knew only that it influenced tides and the growing of
plants. What is one to make then of this fierce ivory-skinned Maid who
sweeps, crescent-crowned, through the moonlit glades of the deep
primitive forests, with bayings of lean questing hounds and echoing call
of silver horns, hard on the track of crashing boar, of leaping deer?
There is something as glimmeringly elusive, as magically haunting in the
personality and the worship of Diana as in the moon itself.

They offered the web of this conundrum to the Spider, but he wisely
refused to allow himself to be entangled in it. This, however, is
anticipating the real course of events.

Already, before leaving the Cathedral, another conundrum had been asked
and not answered.

High on opposite sides of the walls of the nave Jane and Peripatetica
had observed two ornate glass and gilt coffins. The one on the left
contained the half-mummy, half-skeleton of a man. A young, beardless
face it was, the still fair skin drawn tight over the features; the
still blond hair clustering about it in curls of dusty gold. The
fleshless visage was handsome, and though strange and ghostly, not
repulsive. The skeleton body was clothed in velvet and gold, and the
bony, gloved fingers clasped a splendid silver-scabbarded sword; an
empty dagger case was hanging from an embroidered baldrick across the
dead man’s breast. He lay on his side in an uneasy attitude, looking
through the transparent pane of his last home toward the opposite
crystal sarcophagus. This opposite coffin contained a half-mummied,
half-skeleton woman—a woman also young and fair-haired; artfully
coiffed, her tresses wrapped with pearls. Neither was _her_ face
repulsive; some strange process had preserved a dry whiteness in the
skin stretched smooth and unwrinkled upon the bones and integuments,
though all the flesh was gone. She too was clothed in gold and silk in a
fashion centuries old. Through the lace of the sleeves showed the white
polished bones of what must once have been warm rounded arms. She too
was gloved; she too crouched upon her side uneasily, but she did not
face her companion. Her head was thrown back as if in pain; and plunged
through the pointed silk corselet—just where there must once have beat a
young heart—was the gold-handled dagger from the empty dagger case hung
to the embroidered baldrick.

Who were they?

What tragedy was this? why did they lie here in their crystal
sepulchres—was it the record of some strange crime, preserved with
meticulous care for all the world to see?

The Spider could not tell. They had always been there. He did not know
their names or their story. He could not refer to anyone who did.
Baedeker was equally indifferent and uncommunicative; he made no mention
of them. Hare was silent. Sladen ignored them. No questioning of
guide-books or guides ever unravelled that mystery.

* * * * *

From the temple of Diana the Spider led Jane and Peripatetica through
more narrow, crooked streets thronged with rough, fierce Syracusan
children, to see the Sixteenth Century palace of the Montaltos, now
fallen on grimy days. The windows with their ogives and delicate twisted
columns were crumbling, and the noble court—through which silken guests
and mailed retainers had passed to mount the great stairs and throng the
long balconies—was now full of squalid, squalling populace, and flocks
of evil-savoured brown goats being milked for the evening meal.

For some unexplained reason the mere presence of the Spider was an
offence to the lowering boys who laired in this court. His grown-up air
of being capably in charge of two female forestieri stank in their
resentful nostrils, but Spider was an insect of his hands, landing those
hands resoundingly upon the cheeks of his buffeters and hustlers until
an enraged mother took the part of one of her discomfited offspring, and
under her fierce cuffings the Spider melted into outraged tears.

Peripatetica had already discovered that angry English had a
demoralizing effect upon the natives. Its crisp consonants seemed as
daunting as blows to the vowelled Sicilian; armed with which, and a
parasol, the Spider was rescued and borne half way to the fountain of
Arethusa before he could control his sniffles and his protesting
fingers, upon which he offered passionate illustration that even
Hercules could not overcome the odds of ten to one, and that tears under
the circumstances left no smirch upon nascent manhood.

Jane, with her usual large grasp of financial questions, applied a lire
to the wounded heart with the happiest results, and it was a once more
united and cheerful trio which leaned over Arethusa’s inadequate little
fount with its green scum and its frowzy papyrus plants. Poor Nymph! She
of the rainbow, and the “couch of snows”—she whose “footsteps were paved
with green.” Flying from the gross wooing of Alpheus she comes all the
way from Elis under the sea to take refuge with moon-crowned
Artemis—Artemis “the protectress”—and for safety is turned into a
sparkling pool which feeds all Syracuse with its sweet waters. Now
Artemis is dead. Her cool groves have given way to acres of arid stone
convents; earthquakes have cracked Arethusa’s basin, letting the sea in
and the sweet water out; modern bad taste has walled her vulgarly about,
and the poor old nymph can only gurgle reiterantly, “I was once a
beauty; long ago, long ago!” with not the smallest hope that any tourist
will believe it.

* * * * *

The Spider has retired to his web. _Pranzo_ has been discussed, and Jane
and Peripatetica, refreshed, are taking another nibble at the vast
mouthful of Syracuse’s past.

It was a thrilling _pranzo_. Not because of the food, nor of its
partakers. The food was the same old stereotyped menu. Gnocchi with
cheese. Vegetables, divorced from the meats—they cannot apparently
occupy the same course in any part of Italy. More cheese—a _jardinière_
of pomegranates, oranges, dates, and almonds. Wine under a new name, but
with the same delicate perfumed savour of all the other wines they have
drunk.

No more did the guests offer any startling variety. The same tall
condescending English woman; elderly, manacled with bracelets, clanking
with chains; domineering a plain, red cheek-boned, flat-chested daughter
obviously needing a lot of marrying off on Mamma’s part; dominating also
a nervous, impetuous husband—the travelling Englishman being much given
to nervous impetuosity. A few fat, greasy Italians with napkin corners
planted deeply into their collars, and scintillating the gross joys of
gluttony. Two dark-faced melancholy-eyed _foreigners_, not easily placed
as to nationality. All types of feminine Americans. If it were possible
to see only their eyes they would be recognizable as Americans from
their glance of bold, alert self-confidence and cheerfulness, very
noticeable by contrast with the European eye. Also if one could see only
that inevitable ready-made silk bodice the wearers would be recognizable
as fellow countrywomen. The man who manufactures that type of bodice at
home must be rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

No; the thrill of the _pranzo_ was due to invisible causes.

Behind the door from which the hopelessly estranged meat and vegetables
emerged there arose a clash and murmur as of some domestic storm, and
the waiters passed the spinach course with an air so tense and distrait
that the crunching horde felt their forks strain with curiosity in their
hands. Even the fat Italians paused in their gorging to stare. Even the
foreigners’ melancholy dark eyes grew interested.

After the spinach course ensued a long interval; the waiters lingering
about with empty platters and furtive pretences of occupation, plainly
not daring to enter that door, behind which ever waxed the loud rumour
of domestic war.

The interval increased in length. The clamour rose and rose, and someone
went in search of the Padrone.

Ours was a splendid Padrone; clothed upon with a _redingote_ and an
historic and romantic dignity. For had not Guy de Maupassant mentioned
him with respectful affection in “La Vie Errante”? The memory of which
artistic appreciation still surrounded him with an aura. The Padrone
entered that fateful door with calm, stern purpose, while the guests
crumbled their bread in patient hope.

The domestic storm drew breath for one terrible moment, then suddenly
rose to the fury of a cyclone, and the Padrone was shot convulsively
forth into our midst, the romantic aura hanging in tragic tatters about
him. Holding to the wall he swallowed hard several times, seeking
composure, then passed, with knees wabbling nervously beneath the
stately redingote, to the office, where could be witnessed his
passionately protesting gestures and whispers poured into the
sympathetic bosom of the concierge.

The cyclone had expended itself; the courses resumed their course, but
what had taken place behind that closed door was never known. It
remained another Syracusan mystery.

* * * * *

The Museo at Syracuse, though small, is the best in Europe, for here, as
on an open page, is written the whole history of the island of
Sicily—not a gap or a break in the story of more than three thousand
years; of perhaps five thousand years, for it antedates all the certain
dates of history. Here are cases full of the stone and obsidian tools
and weapons of the autochthonous Sikels; their crude pottery, their
rough burial urns, their bone ornaments, and feathery wisps of their
woven stuffs. These are all curiously like the relics of the
Mound-builders of America, now in the Smithsonian Institution.
Apparently the Stone Age was as deadeningly similar everywhere as is our
own Age of Steel.

Follows the rude metal working of the Siculians, who, having some
knowledge of the use of iron, can build boats, and come across the
narrow strait at Messina and drive out the Sikels. So long ago as that
the old process of “assimilation” begins. The Siculians begin to work in
colour, to ornament their pottery, to dye their stuffs, to mark their
silver and iron with rough chisel patterns—patterns and colours again
astonishingly like those of our own Pueblo Indians.

There are fragments of Phœnician work here and there—the traders from
Tyre and Sidon are beginning to cruise along the coast and barter their
superior wares with the inhabitants.

All at once the arts make a great spring upward. The Greeks have
appeared. Rude, archaic, Dorian, these arts at first, but strong, and
showing a new spirit. The potteries have a glaze, the patterns grow more
intricate, the reliefs show a plastic striving for grace and life, the
ornaments are of gold as well as silver and bronze, and steel has
appeared. Follows a splendid flowering; an apogee of beauty is reached.
Vases of exquisite contours covered with spirited paintings, pictures of
life and death, of war and love. Coins that are unrivaled in numismatic
beauty; struck frequently with the quadriga to celebrate the winning of
the chariot race at the Olympic games; a triumph valued as greatly by
the Greeks of Sicily as is the winning of the Derby by English horsemen.
Tools, jewels, arms, all adorned with infinite taste and skill. Statues
of such subtle grace and loveliness as this famous “Nymph,” the
long-buried marble now grown to tints of blond pearl. Figurines of baked
clay, reproducing the costumes, the ornaments, the physiology of the
passing generations—faces arch, lovely, full of gay humour. Splendid
sarcophagi, and burial urns still holding ashes and calcined bones, and
tiny clay reproductions of the death masks of the departed, full of
tender human individuality, or else heads of the gods, such as that
enchanting tinted and crowned Artemis, that still lies in one of the
great sarcophagi amid a handful of burned bones.

Punic and Roman remains begin to show themselves, recording that
tremendous struggle between Europe and Africa for dominion in the
midland sea, under the impact of which the Greek civilization is to be
crushed. Byzantine ornament appears. Africa makes another struggle and
is for a while triumphant, leaving record of the Moorish domination in
damascened arms, in deep-tinted tiles.

The Goths and Normans fuse with the Saracen arts at first, but soon
dominate the Eastern influence and shake it off, developing an art
inferior only to the Greek. The Spanish follow, baroque, sumptuous,
pseudo-classical. All the story of all the conquerors is here.

“Oh!” sighs Peripatetica. “What an illustrated history; I could go on
turning its pages for days.”

“Well, you’ll turn them alone!” snapped Jane, clutching frantically at
her side, and adding in a dreadful whisper: “There are _fleas_ hopping
all over these historical pages. Come away this instant.”

But they linger a moment on the way out to look again at the famous
headless Venus Landolina.

“There is only one real Venus,” commented Peripatetica contemptuously.
“The Melian. All the rest are only plump ladies about to step into their
baths. I detest these fat women with insufficient clothing who sprawl
all over Europe calling themselves the goddesses of love. Goddesses
indeed! They look more like soft white chestnut worms. That great
dominating, irresistible lady of the Louvre is a deity, if you like—Our
Lady of Beauty—besides, this little person’s calf is flat on the inner
side.”

“Iss it not righd dat her calve should be vlat on de inside?” queried an
elderly Swiss, also looking, and showing all her handsome porcelain
teeth in a smile of anxious uncertainty. “I dink dat must be righd,
because Baedeker marks her wid a ztar.”

“Don’t allow your opinions to be unsettled by this lady’s,” consoled
Jane sweetly. “She isn’t really an authority. It would be wiser perhaps
and more comfortable to be guided by Baedeker.”

“Bud she has no head,” grieved the Swiss. “How can Baedeker mark her wid
a ztar w’en she has no head?”

How indeed? But then, there is such a lot of body!…

It is some days later. They have “done” the river Amapus; have been
rowed among the towering feathery papyrus plants, the original roots of
which were sent to Heiro I. by Ptolemy, and which still flourish in
Sicily though all the parent plants have vanished out of Egypt.

They have looked down into the clear depths of La Pisma’s spring. Jane
says it is less beautiful than the Silver Spring in Florida out which
the Ocklawaha river rises, but that fountain of a tropical
forest—transparent as air, and held in a great argent bowl—has no
history, while La Pisma was the playmate of fair Persephone, and on
seeing her ravished away by fiery Pluto melted quite away into a flood
of bright tears. And it was she who, having caught up Persephone’s
dropped veil, floated it to the feet of Demeter, and told her where to
look for the lost daughter. La Pisma and Anapus her lover were, too, the
real guardians of Syracuse, for as one after another of the armies of
invading enemies camped on their oozy plain they sapped the invaders’
strength, and blighted their courage with fevers from the miasmatic
breaths exhaled upon the foes as they slept.

Jane and Peripatetica have found another mystery. Syracuse, it appears,
is full of mysteries. This last is known as the Castle of Euryalus, and
they must take horse and drive to it, six miles from the hotel, though
still within the walls of the original city, once twenty-two miles
about; shrunk in these later days to less than three. This six miles of
pilgrimage gives ample time to search the guide-books for information as
to this thing they have come out for to see. But the guide-books palter,
and shuffle and evade, as they are prone to do about anything really
interesting. Euryalus, solid enough to their eyes and to their sense of
touch, seems as illusive in history as the cloudy towers of the Fata
Morgana—now you see it, and now you don’t. It seems to come from
nowhere. No one can tell when or by whom it was built, but it always
turns up in the history of Syracuse in moments of stress—much like those
Christian patron-saints who used suddenly to descend in shining armour
to turn the tide of battle. One hears of Dionysius strengthening it when
news comes that the dread Himilcon is on his way from Carthage with two
hundred triremes accompanied by rafts, galleys, and transports
innumerable. Dionysius makes Euryalus the key of a surprise he prepares
for the Carthagenians, for when the latter come sailing into the
harbour—“A forest of black masts and dark sails, with transports filled
with elephants trumpeting at the smell of land,” and from the West
“comes trampling across the plain by the Helorian road and the banks of
the Anapus, the Punic army 300,000 strong, with 3,000 horse led by
Himilcon in person,”—there stands waiting for them one of the most
amazing works ever wrought by the will of a single man.

Dionysius in twenty days has built a wall three miles long barring
Himilcon’s ingress at the only weak point. Seventy thousand of the
inhabitants of Syracuse had worked at this building. Forty thousand
slaves had been in the Latomiæ cutting the blocks of easily hewn
sandstone, which six thousand oxen carried to the wall, while other
armies of men had been upon the slopes of Ætna ravaging the oak woods
for huge beams. When Himilcon comes the wall is complete.

Then there are more appearings and disappearings through the years, and
suddenly Euryalus fills the foreground again. Archimedes is helping
Hieronymus to fortify it against Marcellus—is designing veiled sally
ports, and oblique apertures from which his “scorpions” and other
curious war engines may hurl stones, is placing there the burning
glasses with which he will set the Roman galleys on fire by means of the
sun’s heat. But though the Carthagenians were terrible the Roman is more
terrible still, and in spite of Archimedes they get into Syracuse after
a three years’ siege. While the furies of final capture are raging
Archimedes sits calmly drawing figures upon the sand. A Roman soldier
rushing by carelessly smears them with his foot. Archimedes is angry,
and “uses language.” The soldier, angry in his turn—no doubt “language”
in Greek sounded especially insulting—shortens his sword and stabs “the
greatest man then living in the world.”

Marcellus sheds tears when he hears it, and buries the father of
mathematics with splendid honours, marking the tombstone—as Archimedes
had wished—with no name, with only a sphere and a cylinder. He spared
Syracuse too; left her temples and splendours intact, and forbid the
usual plundering and massacres. Marcellus was, it seems, in every way a
very decent person, and Peripatetica grieved that those frigid Romans
wouldn’t let him have a triumph when he went home, and Jane breathed a
hope that he used more language to that murderous soldier….

Later comes Cicero to Syracuse, hunting evidence against Verres, who
had, as pro-consul, robbed the city of all the treasures Marcellus had
spared, and the great lawyer takes time from his examination of
witnesses to look out Archimedes’ resting place. He finds it overgrown
with thistles and brambles, but recognizes it by the sphere and
cylinder, and sets it once more in order.

“So Tully paused, amid the wrecks of time,
On the rude stone to trace the truth sublime,
Where at his feet in honoured dust disclosed
The immortal Sage of Syracuse reposed.”

“You cribbed that from one of the guide-books,” jeered Jane.

“Of course I did,” admitted Peripatetica with calm unblushingness. “Do
you imagine I go around with samples of formal Eighteenth Century
Pope-ry concealed about my person?”

* * * * *

They are on their way to the theatre, passing by the ancient site of the
Forum, which site is now a mere dusty, down-at-heels field where goats
browse and donkeys graze, and where squads of awkward recruits are being
trained to take cover behind a couple of grass blades, to fire their
empty rifles with some pretence at unanimity.

The road winds between walled orange and lemon groves, in which
contadini are drying and packing miles of pungent golden peel for
transportation to French and English confectioners. The air is redolent
with it.

Themistocles—Jane doubts his sponsors in baptism having had any hand in
this, but the grubby card he presented with so pleasant a glance, so
fine a gesture at the time of striking a bargain for the day, bore it
printed as plain as plain—Themistocles, then, dismounts before a small
drinking shop lying at the foot of an elevation. With one broad sweep of
his hand he signifies that he is making them free of history, and yields
them to the care of a nobleman in gold and blue; a nobleman possessing a
pleasing manner and one of those plangent, golden-strung voices which
the lucky possessors always so enjoy using.

The two demand the Latomia Paradiso; the name having seduced their
sentimental imaginations. The peer intimates that the name is
misleading, but with gentle firmness they drop down the path which
descends into the quarries from which Dionysius hurriedly snatched the
material for his wall; material (almost as easy to cut as cheese, but
hardening in the air) which has been dug, scooped, and riven away as
fantastically as if sculptured by the capricious flow of water, leaving
caverns, towers, massy columns, arches, a thousand freaked shapes. Now
all this is draped with swaying curtains of ivy, with climbing roses
heavy with unblown buds, with trailing geraniums hanging from crannies,
with wild flowers innumerable. Lemon and fig trees grow upon the
quarries’ floor, mosses and ferns carpet the shady places, black-green
caroba trees huddle in neglected corners.

The nobleman, however, is impatient to show other wonders. He leads the
way into caverns through whose openings shafts of sunlight steal,
turning the dusk within to a blond gloom, caverns where rope-makers walk
to and fro twisting long strands, twirling wheels, with a cheerful
chatter that booms hollowly back to them from the vaulted darkness over
their heads; where the birds who flit in and out hear their twitterings
reflected enormously, with a curious effect; where even the sound of
dripping moisture is magnified into a large solemnity.

He has saved the best for the last. Here an arch soars a hundred feet,
giving entrance to a lofty narrow cave. Where the sides of the arch meet
is a small channel of chiselled smoothness, ending in an orifice through
which a glimpse of the sky shows like a tiny blue gem. It is the Ear of
Dionysius. In this cave, so the story runs, the Tyrant confined
suspected conspirators, for this is a natural whispering gallery, and
the lowest of confidential talk within it would mount the walls, each
lightest word would run along that smooth channel, as through the tube
of an ear, and reach the listener at the orifice. For the uneasy
Dictator knows that his turbulent Greek subjects, who cannot rule
themselves, are equally unable to bear placidly the rule of another, and
it would have been interesting, and at times exciting, to have been
permitted to watch that stern, bent face as the rebellious protests
climbed in whispers to the greedy ear a hundred feet above.

A wonderful echo lives in this cave. Now it is plain why the guide has
such large and vibrant tones—he was chosen because of that natural gift.

“Addio!” he cries gaily. “_Addio_,” calls the darkness, a little sadly
and wistfully. The guide sings a stave, and all the dusk is full of
melodious chorus. He intones a sonorous verse, and golden words roll
down to them through the gloom.

“Speak! speak!” the nobleman urges, and Jane and Peripatetica meekly
breathe a few banalities in level American tones. Not a sound returns;
their syllables are swallowed by the silence.

“Staccato! staccato!” remonstrates the guide, and when they comply,
light laughing voices vouchsafe answers.

“I think,” says Peripatetica reflectively, as they leave the Latomia,
“that one has to address life like that if one is to get a clear
reply—to address it crisply, definitely, with quick inflections. Level,
flat indefiniteness will awake no echoes.”

“‘How true’! as the ladies write on the margins of circulating library
books,” comments Jane with unveiled sarcasm.

The guide has lots more up his gold-braided sleeve. He opens a gate and
displays to them with a flourish the largest altar in the world. Six
hundred feet one way, sixty feet the other; cut partly from solid rock,
made in part of masonry. Hiero II. thought he knew a trick of governing
worth any amount of listening at doors. Those who are fed and amused are
slack conspirators. So this huge altar to Zeus is built, and here every
year he sacrifices 450 oxen to the ruler of heaven.

“It must have rather run into money for him,” says Jane thoughtfully,
“but he probably considered it cheaper to sacrifice oxen than be
sacrificed himself.”

“Yes,” says Peripatetica, who has just been consulting the guide-book.
“It must have been rather like the barbecues the American politicians
used to give to their constituents half a century ago, for only the
choicest bits were burnt before the gods, sprinkled with oil and wine
and sweet-smelling spices, and the populace, I suppose, carried home the
rest. No doubt Hiero found it a paying investment.”

The theatre, when reached, is found, of course, to have a beautiful
situation. All Greek theatres have. They were a people who liked to open
all the doors of enjoyment at once, and when they filled this enormous
semicircle (24,000 could sit there) cut from the living rock upon the
hillside, they could not only listen to the rolling, organ-like Greek of
the great poets, and have their souls shaken with the “pity and terror”
of tragedy, or laugh at the gay mockery of comedy, but by merely lifting
their eyes they could look out upon the blue Ionian sea, the smiling
flowered land, and in the distance the purple hills dappled with flying
shadows. In their time all the surrounding eminences were crowned with
great temples, and behind them—this was a contrast very Greek—lay the
Street of Tombs. For they had not a shuddering horror of death,
hastening their departed into remote isolation from their own daily
life. They liked to pass to their occupations and amusements among the
beautiful receptacles made for the ashes of those they had loved.

In this theatre Syracuse saw not only the great dramas, but the great
dramatists and poets. Æschylus, sitting beside Hiero I., saw all his
plays produced here; “The Ætnaiai” and “The Persians” were written for
this stage. Pindar was often here; so were Bacchylides and Simonides,
and a host of lesser playwrights. Indeed, no theatre has ever known such
famous auditors. Theocritus, Pythagoras, Sappho, Empedocles, Archimedes,
Plato, Cicero, have all sat here.

Plato was long in Syracuse; called by Dionysius to train his son Dion,
he labours with such poor success that Dion is driven from the power
inherited from his father, by the citizens outraged at the grossness of
his vices. Before this fall Plato has left him in disgust, Dion
remarking with careless insolence:

“I fear you will not speak kindly of me in Athens.”

To which the philosopher, with still more insolent sarcasm, replies:

“We are little likely to be so in want of a topic in Athens as to speak
of you at all.”

Yet it would seem as if no good effort was ever wholly lost, for when
Dion, earning his bread in exile as an obscure schoolmaster, is
sneeringly asked what he ever learned from Plato, his dignified answer
is, “He taught me to bear misfortune with resignation.”

* * * * *

Themistocles has conducted them, with much cracking of his whip, much
irrelevant conversation, quite to the other side of what once was
Syracuse, and has deposited them before a little low gate that pierces a
high wall. Inside this gate is a tiny garden cultivated by two monks who
do the work by means of short-handled double-ended hoes; a
laborious-looking Sicilian implement. The garden is full of pansies
growing between low hedges of sweet-smelling thyme and rosemary. At the
same moment there debarks a carriage load of touring Germans. Typical
touring Germans; solid, rosy, set four-square to the winds; all clinging
to Baedekers encased in covers of red and yellow cross stitch of Berlin
wool, all breathing a fixed intention of seeing everything worth seeing
in the thorough-going German fashion. The monks openly squabble as to
the division of the parties who have come to see the church and the
catacombs, and eventually the big, shaggy, red-haired one, who might be
some ancient savage Gaul come to life, sullenly carries off the Teutons.
It is somewhat of a shock to Jane and Peripatetica when their slim,
supple, handsome Sicilian explains to them that this contest has its
reason not in their personal charm, but is owing to a reluctance to
guide the hated Tedeschi.

There is something inexplicable in this universal unpopularity of the
Teuton in Italy. Germany has been dotingly sentimental about Italy for
generations.

“Kennst du das Land”

has hovered immanent on every lip from beyond the Rhine ever since the
days of Goethe. They passionately study her language, her literature,
her monuments, and her history. They make pilgrimages to worship at all
her shrines, pouring in reverent Pan-Germanic hordes across the Alps to
do it, and despite their extreme and skilful frugality they must
necessarily leave in the Peninsula hundreds of thousands of their
hard-earned, laboriously hoarded marks, which they have not grudged to
spend in the service of beauty. Yet Italy seems possessed of a sullen
repugnance to the entire race.

“Tedeschi!” hisses the monk. “Tutto ‘_Ja! Ja! Wunderschön!_’” with a
deliriously funny imitation of their accent and gestures, as he steers
swiftly around a corner to prevent the two parties fusing into one.

The church of San Giovanni is, of course, founded upon a Greek
temple—most Sicilian churches are, and—of all places!—this one stands
upon a ruin of a temple of Bacchus—the fragments of which poke up all
through the tiny garden. The church, equally, of course, has been
Eighteenth Centuried, but happily not wholly; remaining a great wheel
window, and beautiful bits here and there of Twelfth Century Gothic in
the outer walls, though the interior is in the usual dusty and neglected
gaunt desuetude. The whole place is in decay, even the attendant
monastery is crumbling, the number of monks shrunk to a mere handful,
despite the fact that this is a spot of special sanctity, for when they
descend into the massive chapel of the crypt there is pointed out to
them the little altar before which Saint Paul preached when he was in
Syracuse.

“Of course, St. Paul was here,” said Jane. “Everybody who was anybody
came to Syracuse sooner or later—including ourselves.”

The guide is firm as to the altar having stood in this very chapel when
that remarkable Hebrew poured out to the Syracusans his strange new
message of democracy, but this is clearly the usual fine monkish
superiority to cramping probabilities, for such rib-vaultings as these
were as yet undreamed of by the architects of Paul’s day.

The altar is Greek, and no doubt was standing in the fane of Bacchus
when the Jew spoke by it. The Greeks were interested and tolerant about
new religions, and the life and death which Paul described would hardly
have seemed strange to them, spoken in that place. That birth and death,
the blood turned to wine, the sacred flesh eaten in hope of
regeneration, having so many and such curious resemblances to the
legends, and to the worship of the Vine God celebrated on that very
spot. “At Thebes alone,” had said Sophocles, speaking of the birth of
Bacchus, “mortal women bear immortal gods.” The violent death, the
descent into hell, the resurrection, were all familiar to them, and what
a natural echo would be found in their hearts to the saying, “I am the
true Vine.”…

The monk only smiles bitterly when it is demanded of him to explain why
a spot of so reverent an association should be abandoned to dust and
decay, and to the interest of curious tourists, when the mere apocryphal
vision of an hysterical peasant girl should draw hordes of
miracle-seeking pilgrims to Lourdes.

Perhaps there was something typical in that anguished Christ painted
upon the great flat wooden crucifix that hung over the altar in the
crypt; a Christ fading slowly into a mere grey shadow; the dim, hardly
visible ghost of a once living agony….

The monk goes before, the flickering candle which he shades with his
fingers throwing a fan of yellow rays around his tonsured head. These
are the Catacombs of Syracuse.

“On every hand the roads begin.”

Roads underground, these, leading away endlessly into darkness. At long
intervals they widen into lofty domed chapels rudely hewn, as is all
this place, directly from the rock. Here and there a narrow shaft is cut
upward through the earth, letting in faint gleams of sunshine through a
fringe of grass and ferns, showing sometimes an oxalis drooping its pale
little golden face to peer over the shaft’s edge into the gloom below.
And in all these roads—miles and miles of roads, extending as far as
Catania it is said; roads under roads three tiers deep—and in all these
roads and chapels are only open graves. Graves in the floor beneath
one’s feet; graves in every inch of the walls; graves over graves,
graves behind graves. Great family graves cut ten feet back into the
rock, containing narrow niches for half a dozen bodies—graves where four
generations have slept side by side. Graves that are mere shallow
scoopings hardly more than three spans in length, where newborn babies
must have slept alone. Tombs innumerable beyond reckoning, all hewn from
the solid rock, and each and all vacant. An incredibly vast city of the
dead from which all the dead inhabitants have departed.

This is the crowning mystery of mysterious Syracuse. Who were this vast
army of the buried? And where have their dead bodies gone?…
Christians, everyone says.

“But why,” clamours Peripatetica, “should Christians have had these
peculiar mole-like habits?”

The monk merely shrugs.

“Oh, I know,” she goes on quickly before Jane can get her mouth open.
“Persecution is the explanation always given, but will you tell me how
you can successfully persecute a population of this size? There must be
half a million of graves, at least, in this place, and there would have
to be a good many living to bury the dead, and Syracuse in its best days
hadn’t a million inhabitants. Now, you can’t successfully martyrize
nine-tenths of the population, even if it is as meek and sheep-like as
the early Christians pretended to be.”

“They didn’t all die at once,” suggests Jane helpfully. “This took
years.”

“I should think it did! Years? It took generations, or else the
Christians died like flies, and proved that piety was dreadfully
undermining to the health. No wonder the pagans wouldn’t accept anything
so fatal. But populations as large as this one must have been to furnish
so many dead, don’t go on burrowing underground for generations. They
come out and impose their beliefs upon the rest. And, besides, how can
the stories of their worshipping and burying in secret be true when the
mass of material taken out of these excavations would have to be put
somewhere? And how could the presence or the removal of all that refuse
stone escape attention? The persecuted Christian theory doesn’t explain
the mystery.”

Even Peripatetica had to pause sometimes for breath, and then Jane got
her innings.

“Equally mysterious, in my opinion,” she said, “is the rifling of all
these graves. The monk tells me ‘the Saracens did it,’ but the Saracens
were in Syracuse less than two hundred years, and of all these myriad
graves only two or three have been found intact, and these two or three
were graves beneath graves. Every other one for sixty miles, from the
largest to the smallest, has been opened and entirely emptied. The
Saracen population in Syracuse was never very large. It consisted in
greater part of the ruling classes. The bulk of the people were natives
and Christians, who would regard this grave-rifling as the horridest
sacrilege, and if the Saracens undertook alone this enormous task they
would have had, even in two hundred years, time for nothing else. The
opening of the graves is as strange a puzzle as the making of them.”

“Perhaps some last trump was blown over Syracuse alone,” hazarded
Peripatetica, “and all the dead here rose and left their graves behind
them empty.”

“Come up into the air and sunlight,” said Jane. “Your mind shows the
need of it.”

At the little gate sat one of the monastery dependents, whose perquisite
was a permission to sell post-cards, and such coins and bits of pottery
as he could retrieve by grubbing in the rubbish of the empty graves. He
had a few tiny earthenware lamps, marked with a cross and still
smoke-blackened, some so-called tear jugs, and one or two small clay
masks which, from the closed eyelids and smooth sunken contours, must
have been modelled in miniature from real death masks. Among these they
found Arsinoë—or so they named her—whose face was touched with that
strange, secret archness, that sweet smiling scorn so often seen on
faces one day dead. The broad brow with its drooping hair, the full
tender lips so instinct with vivid personality, went with them, and
became to them like the record of some one seen long ago and dimly
remembered, though the lovely benignant original must have been mere
dust of dust for more than a thousand years.

* * * * *

A nun in a faded blue gown has been showing them the relics of Santa
Lucia. She has also been telling them how the Saint, when a young man
admired her eyes, snatched them out of her head with her own hands and
handed them to the young man on a plate.

“What a very rude and unpleasant thing to do!” comments Jane in English.
“But invariably saints seem so lamentably deficient in amiability and
social charm.”

The nun unlocks the gate of the Cappucini Latomia, and Jane and
Peripatetica descend the long stair cut in the rocks. They are seeking
the place where the remnant of that army Alcibiades so skilfully
introduced into Catania, finally perished.

They have been reading tales of the Athenians’ long siege of Syracuse,
of their final frightful despairing struggle, so full of anguish,
terror, and fierce courage—“when Greek met Greek”—and they have come to
look at the spot where those seven thousand unhappy prisoners finally
found an end. When they were driven into this quarry they were all that
remained of the tremendous expedition which Athens had drained her best
blood to send. Alcibiades had fled long ago, and was in exile. Nicias
and Demosthenes, who had surrendered them, were now dead; fallen on
their own swords. The harbour of Syracuse was strewn with the charred
wrecks of their fleet. The marshes of Anapus were rotting with their
comrades, the fountain of Cyane choked with them. They themselves were
wounded to a man, shuddering with fevers, starving, demoralised with
long fighting and the horrible final _débâcle_ when they were thrust all
together into this Latomia; not as now a glorious garden with thyme and
mint and rosemary beneath their feet, ivy-hung, full of groves and
orchards, but raw, glaring, shaled with chipped stone, the staring
yellow sides towering smoothly up for a hundred feet to the burning blue
of the Sicilian sky. There in that waterless furnace for seventy days
they died and died. Died of wounds, of thirst, of starvation; died of
the poisonings of those already dead.

And the populace of Syracuse came day by day, holding lemons to their
noses, to look down at them curiously, until there was not one movement,
not one sound from any one of the seven thousand.

There is but one human gleam in the whole demoniacal story—a touch
characteristically Greek. Some of the prisoners had beguiled the tedium
of dying by chanting the noble choruses of Euripides’ newest play, which
Syracuse had not yet heard, and these had been at once drawn up from
among their fellows and treated with every kindness. They were entreated
to repeat as much as they could remember of the poet’s lines again and
again, and were finally sent back to Athens with presents and much
honour.

Not a trace of the tragedy remains. The only record of death now in
those lovely wild, deep-sunken gardens is a banal monument to Mazzini,
and a tomb hollowed out of the wall in one of the caves. A tomb closed
with a marble slab, upon which was cut an epitaph telling, in the
pompous formal language of that day, of the young American naval
lieutenant who died here suddenly on his ship in the first decade of the
Nineteenth Century, and because he was a Protestant, and therefore could
not occupy any Catholic graveyard, was laid to rest alone in this place
of hideous memories.

Poor lad! Sleeping so far from his own people, and thrust away here by
himself, since he must, of course, not expect to lie near those who had
been baptised with a different motion of the fingers. Seeing which
isolation Peripatetica quoted that amused saying of an ironic old Pagan
world, “Behold, how these Christians love one another!”

* * * * *

It is the terrace of the Villa Politi. They have finally forgiven the
villa, and have climbed up here from the Latomia to sit on its lovely
terrace, to drink tea and eat the honey of Hybla, to look down on one
side into the blossom-hung depths of the Athenians’ prison, on the other
out to the mauve and silver of the twilight sea.

“Peripatetica,” says Jane with great firmness, “I am suffering from an
indigestion of history. I am going away somewhere. All these spirits of
the past block up the place so that I’ve no freedom of movement. It’s an
oppression to feel that every time one puts a foot down it’s in the
track of thousands and thousands of dead feet, and that one’s stirring
up the dust of bones with every step we take. Everything we look at is
covered so thick with layer on layer of passion and pain that I’ve got
an historic heartache. _I_ leave to-morrow.”

Peripatetica didn’t answer at first. She was looking out over the dusky
sea, from which breathed a soft slow wind.

The change had come while they were in the Latomia; had come suddenly.
That bleak unkindness in the atmosphere—of which they were always
conscious even in the sun—had all at once disappeared. Even though the
sun was gone a mild sweetness seemed to exhale from the earth, as from a
heart at last content.

“Jane,” said Peripatetica, turning shining eyes upon her, “Persephone
has returned. Let us go to Enna and meet her!”

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