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better away. The ladies of the party went into a bedroom to prepare their dresses for the saddle, and reported the chamber and the plenishing of it to be scrupulously clean. Hung up against the whitewashed wall above the bed-head, they had seen a large sprig of olive, which had been blessed last Palm Sunday; the olive taking the place of palm for that purpose in Tuscany. By the bedside there was of course a little receptacle for holy water, with a portrait of the Madonna above it. The bed was at least seven feet wide and five feet higli, though it was supported on tressels not above a foot high. All the intervening space was occupied by huge palliasses and mattress upon mattress. There was nothing whatever at the bed-head save the bare wall, nor any hangings or drapery of any kind. But it was, as has been said, scrupulously clean. In a sort of small antechamber, between the eating-rooom and the bedroom, to which the ladies were shown, there was hung against the wall the portrait of a young priest, or rather seminarist-for he had not yet taken orders-one of those portraits which, though below tea-board painting in point of art, may be sworn to be screaming" likenesses. The writer, who was pratico, as the Italians say--an old hand, that is—at all these things, had given the ladies of the party a hint to admire this portrait and make inquiries about it, knowing that thereby lay the direct road to Mrs. Antonio's heart of hearts. The portrait was that of her only son, the apple of her eye, the pride of the family, who was in the seminary at Fiesole, and who was shortly about to conser on his family that distinction which is held to result from having one of the members of a family in the priesthood. Our young friends profited by the hint, and all the inmost heart of the hard-featured old dame was forth with poured forth for their observation. She was a very good specimen of her class—active, healthy, busy, cleanly, thrifty, but as fond of chattering as no human being is save a born Florentine. Her tongue once loosened she would have talked all day, occasionally interrupting her discourse to answer through the open window the demands of her husband—who was busy in the street below arranging the baggage and the saddles and bridles-for straps, bits of string, and the like, had he not at last summoned the party by an authoritative call to the effect that all was ready.
And then came the mounting, in the midst of a respectful but curious and observant assemblage of the male and female aristocracy of Pelago, each man and each woman of the party on the steed assigned to him or her by the fateful fiat of Antonio. Besides himself, there was his brother—a second-chop copy of his elder brother, with a limp, and only one serviceable eye—and two young hobbledehoy lads, to accompany the party. Thus there was one care-taker to walk at the bridle-rein of each lady's palfrey, and one to superintend the cavalcade generally.
Our route commenced by a very steep descent over the ill-paved main street of the town, down to the little torrent, called the Vicano, on the opposite bank of which we were to begin the ascent to Vallombrosa. Under these circumstances English ideas of equitation prompted the feeling your beast's mouth with the bridle.
“Hollo! Halt! stop! stop! Why ... I believe this brute has not got the bit in his mouth at all!” cried one of the party, whose equestrian experiences were not, probably, extensive.
“ What is it? what's the matter? Is the signore taken ill ?" inquired Antonio, bringing the caravan to a halt. And the nature of the difficulty was explained by those of the party who understood Italian.
“ Santa Maria! What do you want with a bit ?" returned Antonio. "The beast will go much better without. He is too young to have a bit in his mouth. We have never bitted him yet; let him take his own way. Non dubiti ! Don't be alarmed! E-e-e-e! Euch !” And so we all began to move forward again in Indian file. And it turned out to be quite true that the colt, with a halter round his nose instead of a bit in his mouth, did his work just as well as his seniors. After that first sharp descent, indeed, all the morning's work was climbing.
Presently Antonio showed us the spot where, some years ago, an English lady had received a terrible fright and had a severe shaking, very narrowly escaping a much worse accident. For those who cannot walk and will not ride, there is no means of reaching Vallombrosa save by sitting in a sort of basket placed on a rough sledge, to be dragged over the craggy path by the main force of a couple of bullocks. For the most part nothing can be more quiet and patient than these huge dove-coloured beasts, who have gone on drawing Italian ploughs from Virgil's days to ours without the smallest manifestation of any Darwinian development. But occasionally—rarely, and nobody can guess why—they will take a sudden flight, and become altogether ungovernable. And one of these rare cases happened to the pair of bullocks that were dragging the lady in question up to Vallombrosa. Without the slightest warning, tossing their heads and horns into the air, and lashing their flanks with their long tails, the frantic beasts turned suddenly out of the narrow path and dashed up the almost precipitous side of the hill. Up, fortunately. Had they turned on the other side, and rushed down the side of the mountain, that lady would never have seen Vallombrosa. As it was, after a few paces among the chestnut-trees, which cover the hill sides, they dashed themselves against the trunk of a tree, fell down much injured, and the lady, frightened out of her wits but not otherwise hurt, seized the moment for getting herself clear of her low carriage.
Presently those of our cavalcade who were in the front heard a violent explosion of laughter from that member of the party who brought up the rear. His merriment was occasioned by a discovery
which a certain peculiarity in the step and mode of action of the horse he rode had led him to make. This was occasioned by the fact that the animal was “contrived,” or rather, compelled, "a double debt to pay.” He was not only carrying his rider up the side of a hill over a path which sometimes required almost cat-like climbing, but was towing his proprietor by his tail! Our friend Antonio, grasping the extremity of the beast's long tail, with the strong and abundant hair well twisted round his hand, was comfortably leaning back, and leaving to the poor nag the whole labour of drawing him up the hill! The present writer has tried the plan himself since that day, and can testify to the perfect success of the experiment.
“Oh! he goes all the better for it! That keeps him steady, don't you see, signore ?” explained Antonio, when it had been made clear to him what the horse's rider was laughing at.
After about an hour and a half of riding at a foot's pace rough woodland scenery continually increasing in beauty, we left the chestnuts behind us, and entered the fir forests which, mixed in certain parts with beech woods, surround the convent. The last quarter of a mile consists of a straight paved way through the wood, leading in a direct line to the entrance in the centre of the principal façade of the building. We follow this with our horses feet clattering over the at a great rate towards the great gateway; but not quite up to it. When we were about a hundred paces off from it, Antonio, now at the head of the foremost horse, turns the cavalcade aside towards the foresteria, i.e., the building outside the main building of the convent, appointed for the reception of strangers. A party consisting of men alone might be received in the convent, where there are whole suites of rooms for the accommodation of guests. But of course no female can enter the walls; so we humbly turn aside to the neat little nonsacred building provided for us.
Antonio, who seems to be as well known to every body on the mountain as the sound of the convent bell, tells a lad who is apparently keeping some cows in the green space between the convent wall and the enclosing edge of the wood, to announce our arrival to the padre forestieraio—the monk appointed to receive strangers. A lay brother makes his appearance first, who fraternises with Antonio on the terms of familiar acquaintanceship. Then with slower steps comes wheezing across the green from the convent the monk whose duty it is to make us welcome at Vallombrosa, with his keys in his hand. He opens the foresteria, is assisted by Antonio and the lay brother to unbar the windows, and then, telling us that the latter would take our orders about our dinner, walks off. It may be mentioned here that we found, and the writer on many other occasions always found very much less of genial welcome and of pleasant manners among the Vallombrosa community than among the Cistercians of Camaldoli. Probably the cause of this is to be found mainly in the fact that Vallombrosa being nearer to and much easier of access from Florence than Camaldoli, receives many more visitors, and has thus come to look upon the work of receiving them in a more worldly and businesslike spirit. All our needs were readily supplied in the Vallombrosan foresteria ; but it was done very much in the same manner as it would have been done in an inn.
Antonio, as we found out afterwards, supped with the community in the monastery; not in solitary state in the guests' apartment, but with the monks, in their refectory. And no doubt he was an honoured guest. As has been mentioned, our friend professed somewhat Codino principles. Of course be did ! Things had gone well with him under the rule of Leopoldo Secondo, Tuscany's last grand duke. Was there any prospect of their going better under the new government of a united Italy? It did not seem like it! Why, there was a talk already of turning the good fathers out of their convents! Vallombrosa, Camaldoli, and Lavernia without their respective monastic communities! A pretty state of things! Why, the next thing would be that the Signori Forestieri would no longer think of making excursions to visit those famous sanctuaries. And then what was to become of the horses and all the valuable plant of saddles, side-saddles, and the profits thence accruing? Antonio, however, felt pretty sure that things would last his time; and no doubt comforted the monks that night with predictions to that effect, and assurances that the country would never tolerate the expulsion of the fathers from their time-honoured homes.
But things did not last Antonio's time. He lived to see the monks harried out of their old rookeries and the convents which had been their homes for so many hundred years put up for sale by an unbelieving and godless government; ... and (pending such sale) to hire of the said godless government a portion of the conventual buildings, for the purposes of an ion, to be kept open during the summer months, in the hope that the delicious air of Vallombrosa, and the beauty of the scenery might tempt people passing the summer in Italy to use the place as a sort of sanatorium.
The scheme, it is to be feared, had not the success it deserved. People did not care to visit a convent where there were no monks ; more than half the fun lay in that. The inn did not succeed. Antonio abivit ad plures; followed the majority to a world where, it is to be hoped, there are no revolutions; and the fine' old convent is to be turned, they say, into a school of forestry.
· Victorian-Say, can you prove this to me?
0, pluck out
Let me know all! all! all!”—LONGFELLOW. We left Constance at Mrs. Brown's, and set off homewards after the purchase of the piano was concluded. As we walked along, a carriage drew up by the pavement close beside us, and Lady Dunsmore's head appeared at the window.
“How do you do, Philip ? how do you do, Mr. Linton? You are the very persons I wanted to see. Can
you come with me and dine ? I am alone to-night.”
“We cannot do that, Lady Dunsmore; but if you will take us as far as you are going in our direction "--
“Get in,” she said ; and we did so. “I was not going anywhere in your direction, but I will take you home because I want to talk to. you,” she said with her usual directnees. “ Where is Constance ?"
"She is at Mrs. Brown's,” said Philip; and he went on quickly, “We are to be married in a fortnight's time, Lady Dunsmore, and I have left Somerset House, and mean to live at Hatherleigh.”
“Good gracious!” said Lady Dunsmore; "give me time to breathe.”
“ You had my telegram?" asked Philip.
“ About Constance's being safe? Yes, of course I had, and have heard nothing since. You know why she left Excombe ? I nerer was so vexed. And you are going to marry her yourself ?”
“ Yes; she has told me why she left Excombe.”
Lady Dunsmore looked puzzled. "I had an idea that you were fond of her last autumn, but she always seemed to say I was mistaken,” she said, looking keenly at Philip.
He did not betray Constance, and only said, “I always was fond of * her.”
“ You know what I mean,” said Lady Dunsmore tartly; "but now go on, tell me all about it.”
Philip told all his arrangements. When she heard of his intending to leave next day for Hatherleigh, she said:
“I suppose I ought to be very angry with Constance; I am sure