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PAGE 2

The Rider In The Dawn
by [?]

Do you know it? If not–that is to say, if you have never visited Corsica–I despair of giving you any conception of it. But if chance has ever carried you near its coast, you will have wondered–as I did when an innocent-looking felucca from Barcelona brought me off the Gulf of Porto– at an extraordinary verdure spreading up the mountains and cut short only by the snows on their summits. You ask what this verdure may be, of which you have never seen the like. It is the macchia.

I declare that the scent of it–or rather, its thousand scents–came wafted down on the night air and met me on the shore as I landed at moonrise below the ruined tower, planted by the Genoese of old, at the mouth of the vale which winds up from Porto to the mountains. We had pushed in under cover of the darkness, for fear of cruisers: and as I took leave of my comrades (who were mostly Neapolitan fishermen), their skipper, a Corsican from Bastia, gave me my route. A good road would lead me up the valley to the village of Otta, where a mule might be hired to carry me on past Evvisa, through the great forest of Aitone, and so across the pass over Monte Artica, whence below me I should see the plain of the Niolo stretching towards Corte and my goal: for at Corte, his capital, I was sure either to find Paoli or to get news of him, and if he had gone northward to rest himself (as his custom was) at his favourite Convent of Morosaglia, why the best road in Corsica would take me after him.

In the wash of the waves under the old tower I bade the skipper farewell, sprang ashore, and made my way up the valley by the light of the rising moon. Of the wonders of the island, which had shone with such promise of wonders against yesterday’s sunset, it showed me little–only a white road climbing beside a deepening gorge with dark masses of foliage on either hand, and, above these, grey points and needles of granite glimmering against the night. But at every stride I drank in the odours of the macchia, my very skin seeming to absorb them, as my clothes undoubtedly did before my journey’s end; for years later I had only to open the coffer in which they reposed, and all Corsica saluted my nostrils.

Day broke as I climbed; and soon this marvellous brushwood was holding me at gaze for minutes at a time, my eyes feasting upon it as the sun began to open its flowers and subdue the scents of night with others yet more aromatic. In Spain we know montebaxos, or coppice shrubs (as you might call them), and we know tomillares, or undergrowth; but in Corsica nature heaps these together with both hands, and the Corsican, in despair of separating them, calls them all macchia. Cistus, myrtle and cactus; cytisus, lentisk, arbutus; daphne, heath, broom, juniper and ilex–these few I recognised, but there was no end to their varieties and none to their tangle of colours. The slopes flamed with heather bells red as blood, or were snowed white with myrtle blossom: wild roses trailed everywhere, and blue vetches: on the rock ledges the cistus kept its late flowers, white, yellow, or crimson: while from shrub to shrub away to the rock pinnacles high over my left shoulder honeysuckles and clematis looped themselves in festoons as thick as a man’s waist, or flung themselves over the chasm on my right, smothering the ilex saplings which clung to its sides, and hiding the water which roared three hundred feet below. I think that my month in prison must have sharpened my appetite for wild and natural beauty, for I skipped as I went, and whistled in sheer lightness of heart. “O Corsicans!” I exclaimed, “O favoured race of mortals, who spend your pastoral days in scenes so romantic, far from the noise of cities, the restless ambition of courts!”