After all, it is a satisfaction to turn to the towering rock of St. Angelo; not a tree, not a shrub, not a spire of grass, on its perpendicular side. We try to analyze the satisfaction there is in such a bald, treeless, verdureless mass. We can grasp it intellectually, in its sharp solidity, which is undisturbed by any ornament: it is, to the mind, like some complete intellectual performance; the mind rests on it, like a demonstration in Euclid. And yet what a color of beauty it takes on in the distance!
When we return, the bandits have all gone to their road-making: the suspicious landlord is nowhere to be seen. We call the woman from the field, and give her money, which she seemed not to expect, and for which she shows no gratitude. Life appears to be indifferent to these people. But, if these be brigands, we prefer them to those of Naples, and even to the innkeepers of England. As we saunter home in the pleasant afternoon, the vesper-bells are calling to each other, making the sweetest echoes of peace everywhere in the hills, and all the piano is jubilant with them, as we come down the steeps at sunset.
“You see there was no danger,” said the giant to his wife that evening at the supper-table.
“You would have found there was danger, if you had gone,” returned the wife of the giant significantly.
THE MYTH OF THE SIRENS
I like to walk upon the encircling ridge behind Sorrento, which commands both bays. From there I can look down upon the Isles of the Sirens. The top is a broad, windy strip of pasture, which falls off abruptly to the Bay of Salerno on the south: a regular embankment of earth runs along the side of the precipitous steeps, towards Sorrento. It appears to be a line of defence for musketry, such as our armies used to throw up: whether the French, who conducted siege operations from this promontory on Capri, under Murat, had anything to do with it, does not appear.
Walking there yesterday, we met a woman shepherdess, cowherd, or siren—standing guard over three steers while they fed; a scantily-clad, brown woman, who had a distaff in her hand, and spun the flax as she watched the straying cattle, an example of double industry which the men who tend herds never imitate. Very likely her ancestors so spun and tended cattle on the plains of Thessaly. We gave the rigid woman good-morning, but she did not heed or reply; we made some inquiries as to paths, but she ignored us; we bade her good-day, and she scowled at us: she only spun. She was so out of tune with the people, and the gentle influences of this region, that we could only regard her as an anomaly,—the representative of some perversity and evil genius, which, no doubt, lurks here as it does elsewhere in the world. She could not have descended from either of the groups of the Sirens; for she was not fascinating enough to be fatal.