Chapter XXX. The Festival of St. Agatha.

  Departure from Malta - The Speronara - Our Fellow-Passengers - The First 
  Night on Board - Sicily - Scarcity of Provisions - Beating in the Calabrian 
  Channel - The Fourth Morning - The Gulf of Catania - A Sicilian 
  Landscape - The Anchorage - The Suspected List - The Streets of 
  Catania - Biography of St. Agatha - The Illuminations - The Procession of 
  the Veil - The Biscari Palace - The Antiquities of Catania - The Convent of 
  St. Nicola.

  "The morn is full of holiday, loud bells 
  With rival clamors ring from every spire; 
  Cunningly-stationed music dies and swells 
  In echoing places; when the winds respire, 
  Light flags stream out like gauzy tongues of fire." - Keats.

Catania, Sicily, Friday, August 20, 1852.

I went on board the speronara in the harbor of La Valetta at the appointed hour (5 P.M.), and found the remaining sixteen passengers already embarked. The captain made his appearance an hour later, with our bill of health and passports, and as the sun went down behind the brown hills of the island, we passed the wave-worn rocks of the promontory, dividing the two harbors, and slowly moved off towards Sicily.

The Maltese speronara resembles the ancient Roman galley more than any modern craft. It has the same high, curved poop and stern, the same short masts and broad, square sails. The hull is too broad for speed, but this adds to the security of the vessel in a gale. With a fair wind, it rarely makes more than eight knots an hour, and in a calm, the sailors (if not too lazy) propel it forward with six long oars. The hull is painted in a fanciful style, generally blue, red, green and white, with bright red masts. The bulwarks are low, and the deck of such a convexity that it is quite impossible to walk it in a heavy sea. Such was the vessel to which I found myself consigned. It was not more than fifty feet long, and of less capacity than a Nile dahabiyeh. There was a sort of deck cabin, or crib, with two berths, but most of the passengers slept in the hold. For a passage to Catania I was obliged to pay forty francs, the owner swearing that this was the regular price; but, as I afterwards discovered, the Maltese only paid thirty-six francs for the whole trip. However, the Captain tried to make up the money's worth in civilities, and was incessant in his attentions to "your Lordships," as he styled myself and my companion, Caesar di Cagnola, a young Milanese.

The Maltese were tailors and clerks, who were taking a holiday trip to witness the great festival of St. Agatha. With two exceptions, they were a wild and senseless, though good-natured set, and in spite of sea-sickness, which exercised them terribly for the first two days, kept up a constant jabber in their bastard Arabic from morning till night. As is usual in such a company, one of them was obliged to serve as a butt for the rest, and "Maestro Paolo," as they termed him, wore such a profoundly serious face all the while, from his sea-sickness, that the fun never came to an end. As they were going to a religious festival, some of them had brought their breviaries along with them; but I am obliged to testify that, after the first day, prayers were totally forgotten. The sailors, however, wore linen bags, printed with a figure of the Madonna, around their necks.

The sea was rather rough, but Caesar and I fortified our stomachs with a bottle of English ale, and as it was dark by this time, sought our resting-places for the night. As we had paid double, places were assured us in the coop on deck, but beds were not included in the bargain. The Maltese, who had brought mattresses and spread a large Phalansteriau bed in the hold, fared much better. I took one of my carpet bags for a pillow and lay down on the planks, where I succeeded in getting a little sleep between the groans of the helpless land-lubbers. We had the ponente, or west-wind, all night, but the speronara moved sluggishly, and in the morning it changed to the greco-levante, or north-east. No land was in sight; but towards noon, the sky became clearer, and we saw the southern coast of Sicily - a bold mountain-shore, looming phantom-like in the distance. Cape Passaro was to the east, and the rest of the day was spent in beating up to it. At sunset, we were near enough to see the villages and olive-groves of the beautiful shore, and, far behind the nearer mountains, ninety miles distant, the solitary cone of Etna.