Text - "A Rough Shaking" George MacDonald

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I need not give more of their talk. It was better than most talk, yet
not worth recording. Their guide, perceiving that they knew no more of
Italian than he did of English, had withdrawn to the rear, and stumped
along behind them all the way, holding much converse with his donkeys
however, admonishing now this one, now that one, and seeming not a
little hurt with their behaviour, to judge from the expostulations
that accompanied his occasionally more potent arguments. Assuredly the
speed they made was small; but it was a festa, and hot.

They were on the way to a small town some distance from the shore, on
the crest of the hill they were now ascending. It would, from the
number of its inhabitants, have been in England a village, but there
are no villages in the Riviera. However insignificant a place may be,
it is none the less a town, possibly a walled town. Somebody had told
Mr. and Mrs. Person they ought to visit Graffiacane, and to
Graffiacane they were therefore bound: why they ought to visit it, and
what was to be seen there, they took the readiest way to know.

The place was indeed a curious one, high among the hills, and on the
top of its own hill, with approaches to it like the trenches of a
siege. All the old towns in that region seem to have climbed up to
look over the heads of other things. Graffiacane saw over hills and
valleys and many another town-each with its church standing highest,
the guardian of the flock of houses beneath it; saw over many a
water-course, mostly dry, with lovely oleanders growing in the middle
of it; saw over multitudinous oliveyards and vineyards; saw over mills
with great wheels, and little ribbons of water to drive them-running
sometimes along the tops of walls to get at their work; saw over
rugged pines, and ugly, verdureless, raw hillsides-away to the sea,
lying in the heat like a heavenly vat in which all the tails of all
the peacocks God was making, lay steeped in their proper dye. Numerous
were the sharp turns the donkeys made in their ascent; and at this
corner and that, the sweetest life-giving wind would leap out upon the
travellers, as if it had been lying there in wait to surprise them
with the heavenliest the old earth, young for all her years, could
give them. But they were getting too tired to enjoy anything, and were
both indeed not far from asleep on the backs of their humble beasts,
when a sudden, more determined yet more cheerful assault of their
guide upon his donkeys, roused both them and their riders; and looking
sleepily up, with his loud heeoop ringing in their ears, and a sense
of the insidious approach of two headaches, they saw before them the
little town, its houses gathered close for protection, like a brood of
chickens, and the white steeple of the church rising above them, like
the neck of the love-valiant hen.

Passing through the narrow arch of the low-browed gateway, hot as was
the hour, a sudden cold struck to their bones. For not a ray of light
shone into the narrow street. The houses were lofty as those of a
city, and parted so little by the width of the street that friends on
opposite sides might almost from their windows have shaken
hands. Narrow, rough, steep old stone-stairs ran up between and inside
the houses, all the doors of which were open to the air-here,
however, none of the sweetest. Everywhere was shadow; everywhere one
or another evil odour; everywhere a look of abject and dirty
poverty-to an English eye, that is. Everywhere were pretty children,
young, slatternly mothers, withered-up grandmothers, the gleam of
glowing reds and yellows, and the coolness of subdued greens and fine
blues. Such at least was the composite first impression made on Mr.
and Mrs. Porson. As it was a festa, more men than usual were looking
out of cavern-like doorways or over hand-wrought iron balconies, were
leaning their backs against door-posts, and smoking as if too lazy to
stop. Many of the women were at prayers in the church. All was
orderly, and quieter than usual for a festa. None could have told the
reason; the townsfolk were hardly aware that an undefinable oppression
was upon them-an oppression that lay also upon their visitors, and
the donkeys that had toiled with them up the hills and slow-climbing

It added to the gloom and consequent humidity of the town that the
sides of the streets were connected, at the height of two or perhaps
three stories, by thin arches-mere jets of stone from the one house
to the other, with but in rare instance the smallest superstructure to
keep down the key of the arch. Whatever the intention of them, they
might seem to serve it, for the time they had straddled there
undisturbed had sufficed for moss and even grass to grow upon those
which Mr. Porson now regarded with curious speculation. A bit of an
architect, and foiled, he summoned at last what Italian he could,
supplemented it with Latin and a terminational o or a tacked to
any French or English word that offered help, and succeeded, as he
believed, in gathering from a by-stander, that the arches were there
because of the earthquakes.

He had not language enough of any sort to pursue the matter, else he
would have asked his informant how the arch they were looking at could
be of any service, seeing it had no weight on the top, and but a
slight endlong pressure must burst it up. Turning away to tell his
wife what he had learned, he was checked by a low rumbling, like
distant thunder, which he took for the firing of festa guns, having
discovered that Italians were fond of all kinds of noises. The next
instant they felt the ground under their feet move up and down and
from side to side with confused motion. A sudden great cry arose. One
moment and down every stair, out of every door, like animals from
their holes, came men, women, and children, with a rush. The
earthquake was upon them.

But in such narrow streets, the danger could hardly be less than
inside the houses, some of which, the older especially, were ill
constructed-mostly with boulder-stones that had neither angles nor
edges, hence little grasp on each other beyond what the friction of
their weight, and the adhesion of their poor old friable cement, gave
them; for the Italians, with a genius for building, are careless of
certain constructive essentials. After about twenty seconds of
shaking, the lonely pair began to hear, through the noise of the cries
of the people, some such houses as these rumbling to the earth.

They were far more bewildered than frightened. They were both of good
nerve, and did not know the degree of danger they were in, while the
strangeness of the thing contributed to an excitement that helped
their courage. I cannot say how they might have behaved in an hotel
full of their countrymen and countrywomen, running and shrieking, and
altogether comporting themselves as if they knew there was no God. The
fear on all sides might there have infected them; but the terror of
the inhabitants who knew better than they what the thing meant, did
not much shake them. For one moment many of the people stood in the
street motionless, pale, and staring; the next they all began to run,
some for the gateway, but the greater part up the street, staggering
as they ran. The movement of the ground was indeed small-not more,
perhaps, than half an inch in any direction-but fear and imagination
weakened all their limbs. They had not run far, however, before the
terrible unrest ceased as suddenly as it had begun.