Raphael Pumpelly.

Travels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer online

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covered the remnants of villas and baths. Ignorant of
all but the mere outlines of history, I would lie on the
high top of an arched wall dreamily basking in sunshine
among flowers and grass, delighting in the beauty with
which Nature clothed the decay of greatness.

With my mother and sister I visited all the galleries,
churches, catacombs ; but while they interested me, I was
too inexperienced really to appreciate pictures, statues, or

We found ourselves always coming back to the Colos-
seum. Plants still covered its outlines and grew out
from its walls enriching its grandeur with tangled ver-
dure. There had, as yet, been no excavation; the great
arena was still intact, except where time had left openings
into dark underground passages.

It was its grandeur that brought us there to sit in the


full light of the sun; but in moonlight it was the fas-
cination of its darkened arches above, and the sense of
mysteries and danger below our feet: for beneath were
supposed to be the lurking places of robbers.

One midnight I was there with my sister. Our way back
lay through the as yet unexcavated Forum and up the
long ascent north of the Capitol. We were talking, and
had not noticed a challenge when its repetition, and the
click of a gun-cock, made me shout ami in time to save
my life. Rome was then occupied by French troops, and
was under martial law. Only a short time before, a
young Englishman, climbing the steps from the Piazza
di Spagna at night, had been shot and killed by a sentinel
for not answering the challenge in ignorance of the lan-


ONE beautiful morning in Florence, whither we had
journeyed from Rome, I awoke with a longing to wander
forth for a whole day; and saying that I would not be
back till night, or the next day, I went off to go by train
till I should see some attractive region. Nothing tempted
me to get off before the end of the railway at Leghorn
on the sea. Here I thought to stay till there should be
an afternoon train to Florence. The sea attracted me,
and I wandered away from the city to get into the salt
water and to look for shells. On my way back I saw a
steamboat which they told me was about to start for
Bastia in Corsica a trip of only a few hours. This
decided me, and I went aboard, not realizing where this
decision was leading me. I thought merely to see Bastia,
and take the boat again on its return trip. But soon after
landing, seeing a door plate marked " Consulate of Great
Britain," I entered to get some information, and was
very pleasantly received by the Consul. He had lived
many years on the island, and was able to tell me much
about its history, its primitive people, and the wonder-
ful scenery of its mountains. The Consul excited my
interest so much that when he added that I ought not to
leave without going by early coach in the morning to see
the town of Corte in the mountains, I went directly and
engaged my passage thither, intending to come back on
the return trip and take the night boat to Leghorn. All



this seemed so easy and so delightful. When I told the
Consul that I should have to draw some money on my
letter of credit, he took me to a local banker, telling him
to let me have what I needed ; and, taking the money, I
left my letter with the banker for safety in the event
of a holdup of the stage. I slept in the inn, that is I
thought I was going to sleep sweetly after a good dinner,
but my dream was that I was burning in hell. I was;
and awoke throwing off the covering. There was a
broad, dense column marching from the footboard to
the head, all moving to disappear under the pillow.
Gathering the mass in the undersheet I rolled that army
up and but it isn't necessary to tell what I did. Then
I managed to get through the night on the floor. Evi-
dently the natives were immune, and I might as well
say here that my own experiences in Corsica and later
have made me immune as regards most of the insects
that claim intimate acquaintance.

The Consul had given me a letter to a Mr. Parodi
a merchant of Corte. When I arrived he was just sit-
ting down to breakfast and asked me to join him. From
him I got much more information about the island, and
when he ended by telling me that I ought not to turn
back without going on by a stage that was soon to start,
to where the road crossed the pass at the foot of Monte
d'Oro, and that he would give me a letter to the chief of
the Forest Service, who lived just there, I threw my
resolution to the winds, and went on, having written to
my mother saying that I might be away several days.

A drive of several hours brought me to the pass. The
road lay ascending through a pleasant cultivated country,
with villages perched on craggy hilltops, as I have since
then seen them in the Ligurian coast and in the Khabile
country of northern Africa. At first for a long time we


passed many groves of large chestnut trees; but as our
way neared the higher range, the scene changed; the
lofty Monte d'Oro and Monte Renoso towered in the
distance, and later we entered the superb forest of Viz-
zonova, of larches great in height and thickness. On
the pass I got out at the new wooden house of the Chief
Forester. That official was absent, but his wife read
the letter and welcomed me; her husband might not
return till the next day, but he would certainly wish to
have me wait for him, and she would try to make me
comfortable in the meantime. Indeed there was nothing
else to be done : for the stage was already out of sight.

I found in Monsieur S a very agreeable and

highly educated man. He gave me a frankly cordial
welcome, and suggested that we should climb Monte
d'Oro the next day. Then we sat down at his work
table and talked. With a map before us, he explained
his routine of work and the broad outlines of forestry.
After this, producing a large topographic map of Corsica,
he pointed out the important features of the island.
After an early supper we had a long talk about America,
the cole Poly technique, the French School of Forestry,

and tales of Corsican life ; then Madame S sang, and

I went off to dream of the romance of this wonderful

The next day, because the mountain was draped in
clouds, Monsieur S took me to see different interest-
ing points. We climbed up deep gorges, where torrents
foamed and roared, now jumping from rock to rock by
the edge of the stream, now climbing to walk among the
tall larches along the top of a cliff high above a roaring

The next day we climbed Monte d'Oro. For some
time our way lay among majestic larches and pines ; then


as it rose more rapidly the trees became smaller, and the
growth thinner, and we came out into the region of the
mctcchi or low bushes, and from this on to the bare rock
and a tough climb to the top, and to a view startling in
its grandeur. The whole structure of Corsica, in won-
derfully sculptured relief, lay spread out beneath us,
around us, and stretching in all directions to the sea.
Our outlook was from one of the five lofty peaks that
rise, massive monuments, on and far above the sinuous
backbone of the island; and that island an emerald set
in a sapphire sea.

Our peak, reaching upward into the clouds, was a
center of terrific thunderstorms, and on its rocks we
saw polished surfaces, which we thought must have been
glazed by the heat of lightning. Even while we stood
on the top, clouds gathered, shutting us out from the
world near and far; again there came a great downfall
of hailstones, about the size of peas, but large enough
to drive us to the shelter of a rock. After it was over,
and we were hurrying down, we found the hail gather-
ing like water in little rills to unite in larger dry water-
courses, as we had seen a day or two before from below.

When, at breakfast, I told my friends how much I
would rather explore the mountains than return at once

to Florence, Monsieur S said : " Really you ought

at least to see Monte Rotondo and its shepherds, perhaps
its bandits too ; it wouldn't take long, and I can arrange
your route and for guides."

Then he told me about Monte Rotondo, its primitive
shepherds, the flocks of wild sheep among its snows, and
its gorges cleft into dark depths down its sides. As he
told of these, I saw my resolutions to return gradually
fade away till they were lost to sight.

Monsieur S gave me a letter to a forest guard, on


the way to Monte Rotondo, telling him to get donkeys
and a guide for me. A man .with two donkeys was
brought up from the nearest village, and bidding good-
bye to the friends who had received me so warmly, I left
for new sights and sensations. Before leaving, however,
I wrote a letter to my mother, explaining my delay and
my plan for further absence ; this letter was to be handed
to the driver of the diligence.

For baggage, I had only a cloak, my hammer, and a
hairbrush, and tooth brush, both bought at Bastia. I
remember little of the journey, except that before eve-
ning we came to the modest house of the guard, who
was a Corsican. Fortunately he spoke French: for the
Corsican dialect differed much from Italian. He and
his wife were very hospitable, and prepared a very wel-
come supper.

When he heard that I wished not only to climb Monte
Rotondo, but also to spend several days in exploring it,
hesaid it would be well to go to a village on the way and
there get two men whom he knew, as guides, and some

That night bears a very red letter in the calendar of
my life. Being very tired, I slept a deep sleep till long
after midnight, when I awoke in agony. My groans
brought the guard to my side.

"What is it, signore?"

" I am burning, please bring a candle."

" I have one, signore."

" Light it quick!"

" It is lighted, signore."

I was blind ; not only was I burning from head to foot,
but my eyelids were so swollen that it was hours before
I could see. Then I swore an earnest oath that never
again would I sleep in a Corsican bed. It was a wise


vow, though it led to many discomforts. That bed, too,
had. seemed so attractive when I first saw it with its clean

Early in the morning I was at the village, and had en-
gaged two men indicated by the guard. The supplies
were a large quantity of hardtack biscuits, coffee, several
big gourds of wine, and some bowls and spoons. In my
inexperience, I left all the arrangements to the men.

In the meantime I observed my guides with a slight
feeling of uneasiness. They were alert and well built,
but their shaggy black hair sheltered dark, somber
visages and piercing eyes suggesting the savagery of the
primitive man. There surged up in my memory the
words of the fortune teller of Hanover : " The danger I
see is from those with you in strange lands; never let
them go behind you." Having heard much of the Corsi-
can bandits, and seen Calabrian criminals of appearance
similar to these men, it occurred to me that here, if ever,
such a warning might be fitting. But when I began to
talk with them about the road, they looked me straight in
the eye, and the frankness of their bearing disarmed any
suspicions ; I felt that they could be trusted. Fortunately
they knew a little French, and with this and Italian, we
managed to understand each other.

At first our way lay through the great forest of larches
and pines, whose trunks, three to six feet in diameter,
towered a hundred and twenty or thirty feet above us,
the larches in tall spires, the pines with spreading tops.
Mingled with these were superb oaks and beeches.

As the valley narrowed to become a deep-cleft gorge,
we climbed slowly to the highland by a path along the
edge of the precipice, and so narrow that my sensations
were divided between trust in the skill of the donkey, and


fear of the danger of a misstep. As our route brought
us to higher ground, we came at last out of the forest
into the open highland, where the mid-declivities of the
mountain were covered with a dense growth of low
bushes ; from some of these the air was filled with a spicy
fragrance. Continuing and ever ascending, we wound
our way among bare rocks, and suddenly saw in the near
distance what seemd to be groups of piled stones. The
guides halted and shouted. Some men, shaggy, wild-
looking beings, came out and, welcoming us, led the way
through a number of formidable dogs, to their home.
This was not to be our place for the night, and after
accepting a drink of milk we went on. The path be-
came steeper, the great bare mass of the mountain rose
before us, and the noise of a rushing -river came up from
the depths beside us. Before long we saw smoke and
again a group of cairns, and again the guides halted and
signaled, and we were welcomed.

The home of these shepherds consisted of several huts
with walls of loose stones, perhaps four feet high, and
nearly flat roofs of tree trunks.

There were no women or children, the men looked even
more shaggy than those at the first encampment, but
their welcome had the true ring of hospitality.

The afternoon was drawing to an end, and the sheep
were being milked. The shepherd who seemed to be my
host led me to a stone at which stood a wooden pail with
about two quarts of milk, and beside this some bread
freshly made from chestnut flour, and some cheese.
" Eat," he said, " it is the best we have ; to-morrow we
will give-you broccio." Being hungry, and fearing to of-
fend by eating from my own provisions, I obeyed, and
found the sheep's milk delicious, so too the tread and


cheese. After I had finished, there remained perhaps a
pint of milk, and I noticed that the pail was set before a
dog who soon emptied it.

The sun had set behind the high crest of the range, the
shepherds sat in a group, smoking pipes, some silent,
others talking with my guides questioning them, I
thought, about the stranger that had cared to climb these
rugged heights. When I joined the group, they made
a place for me. As I listened, trying to understand
something in the half-familiar language, it came to my
mind that I had dropped into a stage of society that had
come down unchanged from remotest time: for these
people were self-sufficient, needing absolutely nothing be-
yond what their own efforts produced cheese, milk, and
clothing from their goats and sheep, and bread from their
own chestnut trees in the valley. They looked quite
capable of taking whatever else they might want wherever
they found it. And yet their frankly offered hospitality
and air of straightforwardness inspired confidence.

In the twilight the group scattered, and the old shep-
herd who was my host led me into the hut. It contained
one room, ten or twelve feet square, with no visible fur-
niture a few gourds and some dried meat hanging
under the roof ; in the center a small fire on the earthen
floor. In vain my eyes searched the obscurity for bed-
ding, till the shepherd, pointing to the floor, said:

"This is our bed; siamo poveri (we are poor)/'
There were possibly eight of us all told, and the others
were already stretched out with their feet to the fire, with
no covering, and nothing under them but the thickness
of their ragged clothes. I did not tarry; the dense
smoke, that found no outlet except through the low door,
blinded my eyes with an intense irritation; so like the
others I threw myself outstretched upon the bare ground,


thanking my stars that I had at least a cloak. Once
down, I found the air tolerably free from smoke. Once
more the host spoke: " Dor mite bene (Sleep well),"
and all was silent. In spite of my fatigue I lay long
awake. The novelty of the life, the wild surroundings,
the hardness of the ground, brought varied sensations;
and I was conscious of trouble brewing within, which
soon developed into a severe pain. No one had warned
me of the chestnut bread which had seemed so innocent
and sweet. Then too the absence of a pillow was in-
tolerable, as well as what smoke remained near the
ground. At last there came the happy thought to get
my saddle for a head rest, and I went out into the night.
There was Nature, Nature sublime, awful, silent. The
still low-hanging moon cast a weird light over the far-
stretching scene, and bathed the giant pyramid of the
mountain with a silvery brilliance ; the towering mass of
rock seemed nearer than by day; its snowy top shone
white, and all the sculpturing of the varied surface stood
out in clear relief of light and shade.

After again getting my feet near the smoldering em-
bers, and the saddle arranged for a pillow, I slept till,
with the dawn, the life of the camp began.

Thus ended my first night with Nature and primitive
man. I looked eagerly forward to more.

My host had promised to give me broccio for breakfast ;
I wondered what it could be. When at last it came, I
saw a neat basket-bowl filled with a snowy-white sub-
stance lying on leaves. It looked something like our
cottage cheese, but it was a dish for the gods. It was
made in some way by curdling the fresh, sweet milk of
sheep. I had again a pail of milk, which with the un-
used remnant was handed to a dog, and I suspected
would be used again unwashed.


It was my ambition to climb to the mountain top, and
to be there before sunrise. The shepherds told me that
it was too early in the season, and moreover, it would
not be practicable to camp on the top : it would be better
to make an early start, and make the whole trip up and
back by day. After much discussion it appeared that
we might camp below the summit, near a little lake: so
after breakfast with my two men and one of the shep-
herds we started on foot. Each of the men had a bag
of food slung over his shoulders; I carried my cloak
and the hammer. The day was perfect, the sun brilliant
in a clear sky, and the mountain air invigorating in the
freshness of the morning. We had to climb for several
hours over foothills, till, coming around a corner, we
looked out upon a great amphitheater scooped out of the
whole side of the mountain. At its foot, far below us,
lay a little lake of sapphire blue ensconced in a green,
grassy meadow. A field of snow covered the rest of the
amphitheater, sweeping downward from below the sum-
mit, in ever-gentling curve, to spread out at the bottom
near the lake.

I did not know till later that such amphitheaters were
the gathering points of the high mountain snows out of
which are developed glaciers.

In the early morning the climb to the top was, as I re-
member, quite difficult. The light of the moon made it
possible for the shepherd to choose the best way, though
we often had to cut foothold in the hardened snow or
ice ; but we reached a spot a little below the top just be-
fore the break of day.

Here we waited till the first signals of dawn appeared
in the eastern sky. As I remember it, the sky was clear,
but from below was rising a mist which partly hid the
horizon as the sun rose after we stood on the summit.


What I remember of the first moments, is standing
against the jagged pinnacle that formed the very top and,
looking out to the west, seeing a gigantic reproduction of
myself my shadow cast by the sun upon the cloud of
mist. I had heard of the '* Spectre of the Brocken " in the
Hartz Mountains; here I was the ghost of Monte Ro-

On the way down we made a detour to visit the little
lake. I remember it as nestling in a grassy meadow, its
calm surface reflecting the field of snow descending be-
tween the rocky walls of the amphitheater. Best of all,
I remember the swarms of mountain trout that darted
out at every step along its edge. Of these we caught a
large supply which gave a welcome addition to the eve-
ning meal.

I don't remember how long I stayed in this part of the
island, but it must have been several weeks. On foot
with my men and a shepherd from this bergerie, I made
excursions in every direction along the main crest and
the summits of the spurs, and climbing high peaks or
descending into wild gorges. And I made at least one
more climb to the top of Monte Rotondo.

We usually made camp for two or three days, and, like
savages, got our fill and new strength for the rough
tramping. It was the life of the outlaw of the vendetta,
excepting only that we were not in hiding, and not on
the lookout for an avenging pursuit. It was, for me, a
new life, fascinating in its strangeness, in the wild beauty
of the mountains and the freedom from forethought as
to where we should lie down at night, or of care for
conditions of weather.

The chief, untiring pleasure was the adventure, but
with this was the interest in the mountain forms and in
the rocks. The impression that remains is that the whole


region was granitic. I remember that I was particularly
interested in the frequent occurrence in the granite of
veins of quartz and feldspar, and of larger dikes of dif-
ferent rocks which were quite new 'to my ignorant eye.
These I observed closely, making minute sketches of all
details of structure and composition, and collecting small



IN the course of these tramps I soon came to under-
stand the Corsican dialect, and to be able to talk in it with
my men, and with the shepherds of the bergerie.

I liked these people. Their rather somber faces, under
a dark mass of often curly hair, were somber only when
at rest, but lighted up in talking. As soon as they came
to know me better they gave vent to curiosity about my-
self, my belongings, my people, and my reasons for doing
this thing and that. They were not impulsively com-
municative about themselves personally, but talked freely
about the mountains and their life. While I liked them,
I felt that it would be bad to have them not like me, and
that they might be dangerous as enemies. However, dur-
ing my wide experience among these mountaineers, I
never had a disagreeable episode. There was this first
year, one point on which I soon became aware that they
maintained reserve, and that was the vendetta the sub-
ject that was so intimately ingrained in their passionate
nature. At first I thought that they feared I might be
a spy of the government, but later I knew that could not
be the reason.

In my excursions we often passed or slept at night in
caves under masses of enormous rocks. These were gen-
erally coated with smoke and creosote, and, because they
were not near pasturage, but always 'in very hidden



places, I was curious to learn their history. After a while
my men told me that they had been hiding retreats from
the vendetta and from the police.

I will mention here one benefit besides the shelter that
these caves gave me. Before I left Paris, Dr. Evans, the
dentist of the crowned heads of Europe, had filled two of
my molars, and had done it so carelessly, without pro-
tecting the nerve, that I had frequent toothaches for a
year. Before I came to Corsica the filling had come out
and decay was progressing with the pain. I had been
told that creosote relieved toothache, and when I found
this oil in drops on the roof of a cave I soaked it into a
little ball of paper, and found great relief by prying it into
my teeth. Later, while traveling in the island on horseback
or on donkeys, by making a cornucopia of brown paper,
lighting the open end, and blowing the smoke through a
little hole at the small end onto a stone, I got enough of
the much prized creosote oil collected to stop the pain. I
even managed to do this in the saddle while riding.

The time came when I felt I must leave my hospitable
shepherds if I wanted to see more of the island, and I
think that the regret at parting was mutual.

My wish was to climb Mount Baglia Orba. I don't
remember what made me choose this particular one of the
several peaks I had seen from Monte Rotondo. It may
have been the melody of its name, or the rugged outlines
that showed above the intervening mountain chain, or it
may have been what I had heard of the country I should
have to go through on the way.

The route lay due north till we reached the river Golo,
and then up this valley to the source of the main tribu-
tary of that stream.

We camped several days near the foot of the peak of
Baglia Orba, exploring the crests and valleys. Every-

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Online LibraryRaphael PumpellyTravels and adventures of Raphael Pumpelly : mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist and explorer → online text (page 3 of 23)