Page images

of its splendid forests and kept the fires going for seven years.

Zargo's devastation began about five hundred years ago, and the island has required all those centuries for recovery. It may be added that he believed Madeira to be the lost Atlantis, though a point of land thirty miles long and fifteen miles wide could hardly be more than a splinter of that vanished continent. More likely Madeira and the fragmentary islets about it formed that mythical Ultima Thule referred to by Ulysses, when, according to Tennyson, he said:

"My purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles whom we knew."

Perhaps Madeira was indeed a home of gods and favored spirits in the olden days. It would have been a suitable place. When we drew near enough to see its terraced hills—lofty hills they are, some of them in the interior rising to a point six thousand feet above the sea—and to make out the tiny houses nestling like white and tinted shells against the green, we changed our minds about being willing to sail past without stopping, and. when at last we swung slowly into the Harbor of Funchal we felt somehow that

" By referring again to the German guide-book I find that the first gentleman's name was not Taxicab, but as that is nearer to what it looks like than anything that can be made out of the real name I will let it stand.

we had come upon an island enchantment in the middle of the sea.

For everything was so marvellous in its beauty: the green hills, terraced almost to the very top; the gorges between, the little fairy city just where the hills flow into the sea. With glasses one could make out flowering vines on many of the walls. Even with the naked eye, somebody presently discovered a great purple mass, part way up the hillside. The glass showed it to be a house almost covered with bougainvillea-our first vision of this lavish and splendid flower of the Mediterranean.

As we drew in and came to anchor, we saw descending upon us a fleet of small, curious boats, filled with half-naked men. We prepared for the worst, but they merely wanted us to throw coins over in the liquid azure which they call water in this country, whereupon their divers would try to intercept the said coins somewhere between the top and bottom of the sea. We didn't believe they could do it, which was poor judgment on our part.

If those amphibians did not always get the coins, they generally did. They could see them perfectly in that amazing water, and they could dive like seals. Some of the divers were mere children-poor, lean creatures who stood up in their boats and shouted and implored and swung their arms in a wild invitation to us to Aling our money overboard. They did not want small money—at least, not very small moneythey declined to dive for pennies. Perhaps they could only distinguish the gleam of the white metal. Let a nickel or a dime be tossed over and two or three

[graphic][merged small]

were after it in a flash, while a vehement outbreak of Portuguese from all the rest entreated still further largess. It was really a good show, and being the first of its kind, we enjoyed it.

We had to go ashore in boats, and the water was not smooth. It was not entirely easy to get into the landing-boats, and it was still less easy to get out at the stairs which ascended to the stone piers. Every billow would throw the little boats six or eight feet into the air, and one had to be pretty careful to step just at the right instant or he would leave one foot on a high step and the other in the boat, far below. Several of our best passengers were dismembered in that way.

Once on shore, the enchantment took hold of us again. It was so sunny and bright and the streets were so attractive—all paved with small black cobbles, set in the neatest and most careful fashion. Our conveyances were waiting just at the end of the pier, and they were, I believe, the most curious conveyances in the world. They were not carriages or carts or wheeled vehicles of any sort, but sleds—here in a land of eternal summer-sleds with enclosed tops, and drawn by oxen.

Their drivers were grave, whiskered men who motioned us to get in; after which we started, and they began greasing the runners as we went along. They did this by putting a grease-soaked rag in front of a runner now and then and driving over it.

I don't think an American would do it that way. He would take a barrel of soft soap and a broom and lubricate the whole street. Their way is neater, and about as effective, I suppose ; besides, when they have been doing it another three hundred years or so, they will have some grease on these streets, too. Already one may see indications of it here and there.

Our course was uphill, and we ascended along a panorama of sunny life and tinted flower-hung walls to the outskirts of that neatest and most charming of cities-continuously expressing our delight in the general attractiveness of everything: the wonderfully laid streets; the really beautiful sidewalks of very tiny vari-colored cobbles all set in perfect mosaic patterns; the glow and bloom of summer everywhere. We admired even the persistent little beggars who ran along on both sides of the sleds, throwing camellias into our laps, crying out, “Penny! Penny!” their one English word–hopping, dancing, beseeching, and refusing to be comforted.

We gave to the first of these tormentors, but it was not a good way to get rid of them. It was like putting out molasses to satisfy a few flies. A dozen more were around us, going on in a most disturbing manner. Our driver finally dispersed them by making some terrific motions with his whip-handle.

We were at the outskirts at last, but only at the beginning of the real climb. A funicular railway takes one up farther, and presently we are ascending straight to Paradise, it seemed to us, by a way that led through a perfect wilderness of beauty-flower, foliage, and waving green, with tiny stucco houses set in tangled gardens and slopes of cane—while below and beyond lay the city and the harbor and our ship at anchor on the violet sea.

Would we be so enchanted with the magic of this Happy Isle if it were not our first landing after a long winter voyage, which if not stormy was at all events not entirely smooth? Perhaps not, yet I think there are certain essentials of beauty and charm that are fundamental. The things we dream of and do not believe exist; the things that an artist will paint now and then when he forgets that the world is just a place to live and toil and die in, and not really to be happy in at all. But those things are all here in Madeira, and when we learned that nobody ever gets sick here, and that everybody gets well of everything he happens to have when he comes, we said: “Never mind going

« PreviousContinue »