We descend, skirting for some distance the monastery walls, over which patches of ivy hang like green shawls. There are flowers in profusion, scented violets, daisies, dandelions, and crocuses, large and of the richest variety, with orange pistils, and stamens purple and violet, the back of every alternate leaf exquisitely penciled.
We descend into a continuous settlement, past shrines, past brown, sturdy men and handsome girls working in the vineyards; we descend —but words express nothing—into a wonderful ravine, a sort of refined Swiss scene,—high, bare steps of rock butting over a chasm, ruins, old walls, vines, flowers. The very spirit of peace is here, and it is not disturbed by the sweet sound of bells echoed in the passes. On narrow ledges of precipices, aloft in the air where it would seem that a bird could scarcely light, we distinguish the forms of men and women; and their voices come down to us. They are peasants cutting grass, every spire of which is too precious to waste.
We descend, and pass by a house on a knoll, and a terrace of olives extending along the road in front. Half a dozen children come to the road to look at us as we approach, and then scamper back to the house in fear, tumbling over each other and shouting, the eldest girl making good her escape with the baby. My companion swings his hat, and cries, “Hullo, baby!” And when we have passed the gate, and are under the wall, the whole ragged, brown-skinned troop scurry out upon the terrace, and run along, calling after us, in perfect English, as long as we keep in sight, “Hullo, baby!” “Hullo, baby!” The next traveler who goes that way will no doubt be hailed by the quick-witted natives with this salutation; and, if he is of a philological turn, he will probably benefit his mind by running the phrase back to its ultimate Greek roots.
For three years, once upon a time, it did not rain in Sorrento. Not a drop out of the clouds for three years, an Italian lady here, born in Ireland, assures me. If there was an occasional shower on the Piano during all that drought, I have the confidence in her to think that she would not spoil the story by noticing it.
The conformation of the hills encircling the plain would be likely to lead any shower astray, and discharge it into the sea, with whatever good intentions it may have started down the promontory for Sorrento. I can see how these sharp hills would tear the clouds asunder, and let out all their water, while the people in the plain below watched them with longing eyes. But it can rain in Sorrento. Occasionally the northeast wind comes down with whirling, howling fury, as if it would scoop villages and orchards out of the little nook; and the rain, riding on the whirlwind, pours in drenching floods. At such times I hear the beat of the waves at the foot of the rock, and feel like a prisoner on an island. Eden would not be Eden in a rainstorm.