“And mine, nothing but good-will and peace.”
CAPTAIN FLANAGAN MEETS A DUKE
The isle of Corsica, for all its fame in romance and history, is yet singularly isolated and unknown. It is an island whose people have stood still for a century, indolent, unobserving, thriftless. No smoke, that ensign of progress, hangs over her towns, which are squalid and unpicturesque, save they lie back among the mountains. But the country itself is wildly and magnificently beautiful: great mountains of granite as varied in colors as the palette of a painter, emerald streams that plunge over porphyry and marble, splendid forests of pine and birch and chestnut.
The password was, is, and ever will be, Napoleon. Speak that name and the native’s eye will fire and his patois will rattle forth and tingle the ear like a snare-drum. Though he pays his tithe to France, he is Italian; but unlike the Italian of Italy, his predilection is neither for gardening, nor agriculture, nor horticulture. Nature gave him a few chestnuts, and he considers that sufficient. For the most part he subsists upon chestnut-bread, stringy mutton, sinister cheeses, and a horrid sour wine. As a variety he will shoot small birds and in the winter a wild pig or two; his toil extends no further, for his wife is the day-laborer. Viewing him as he is to-day, it does not seem possible that his ancestors came from Genoa la Superba.
Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, but the blood in his veins was Tuscan, and his mind Florentine.
These days the world takes little or no interest in the island, save for its wool, lumber and an inferior cork. Great ships pass it on the north and south, on the east and west, but only cranky packets and dismal freighters drop anchor in her ports.
The Gulf of Ajaccio lies at the southwest of the island and is half-moon in shape, with reaches of white sands, red crags, and brush covered dunes, and immediately back of these, an embracing range of bald mountains.
A little before sunrise the yacht Laura swam into the gulf. The mountains, their bulks in shadowy gray, their undulating crests threaded with yellow fire, cast their images upon the smooth tideless silver-dulled waters. Forward a blur of white and red marked the town.
“Isn’t it glorious?” said Laura, rubbing the dew from the teak rail. “And oh! what a time we people waste in not getting up in the mornings with the sun.”
“I don’t know,” replied Fitzgerald. “Scenery and sleep; of the two I prefer the latter. I have always been routed out at dawn and never allowed to turn in till midnight. You can always find scenery, but sleep is a coy thing.”
“There’s a drop of commercial blood in your veins somewhere, the blood of the unromantic. But this morning?”
“Oh, sleep doesn’t count at all this morning. The scenery is everything.”