ST. MARIA A CASTELLO
The Great St. Angelo and that region are supposed to be the haunts of brigands. From those heights they spy out the land, and from thence have, more than once, descended upon the sea-road between Castellamare and Sorrento, and caught up English and German travelers. This elevation commands, also, the Paestum way. We have no faith in brigands in these days; for in all our remote and lonely explorations of this promontory we have never met any but the most simple-hearted and good-natured people, who were quite as much afraid of us as we were of them. But there are not wanting stories, every day, to keep alive the imagination of tourists.
We are waiting in the garden this sunny, enticing morning-just the day for a tramp among the purple hills—for our friend, the long Englishman, who promised, over night, to go with us. This excellent, good-natured giant, whose head rubs the ceiling of any room in the house, has a wife who is fond of him, and in great dread of the brigands. He comes down with a sheepish air, at length, and informs us that his wife won’t let him go.
“Of course I can go, if I like,” he adds. “But the fact is, I have n’t slept much all night: she kept asking me if I was going!” On the whole, the giant don’t care to go. There are things more to be feared than brigands.
The expedition is, therefore, reduced to two unarmed persons. In the piazza we pick up a donkey and his driver for use in case of accident; and, mounting the driver on the donkey,—an arrangement that seems entirely satisfactory to him,—we set forward. If anything can bring back youth, it is a day of certain sunshine and a bit of unexplored country ahead, with a whole day in which to wander in it without a care or a responsibility. We walk briskly up the walled road of the piano, striking at the overhanging golden fruit with our staves; greeting the orange-girls who come down the side lanes; chaffing with the drivers, the beggars, the old women who sit in the sun; looking into the open doors of houses and shops upon women weaving, boys and girls slicing up heaps of oranges, upon the makers of macaroni, the sellers of sour wine, the merry shoemakers, whose little dens are centers of gossip here, as in all the East: the whole life of these people is open and social; to be on the street is to be at home.
We wind up the steep hill behind Meta, every foot of which is terraced for olive-trees, getting, at length, views over the wayside wall of the plain and bay and rising into the purer air and the scent of flowers and other signs of coming spring, to the little village of Arola, with its church and bell, its beggars and idlers,—just a little street of houses jammed in between the hills of Camaldoli and Pergola, both of which we know well.