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Saunterings - A Dry Time Post by :why97 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1165

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Saunterings - A Dry Time

For three years, once upon a time, it did not rain in Sorrento. Not a drop out of the clouds for three years, an Italian lady here, born in Ireland, assures me. If there was an occasional shower on the Piano during all that drought, I have the confidence in her to think that she would not spoil the story by noticing it.

The conformation of the hills encircling the plain would be likely to lead any shower astray, and discharge it into the sea, with whatever good intentions it may have started down the promontory for Sorrento. I can see how these sharp hills would tear the clouds asunder, and let out all their water, while the people in the plain below watched them with longing eyes. But it can rain in Sorrento. Occasionally the northeast wind comes down with whirling, howling fury, as if it would scoop villages and orchards out of the little nook; and the rain, riding on the whirlwind, pours in drenching floods. At such times I hear the beat of the waves at the foot of the rock, and feel like a prisoner on an island. Eden would not be Eden in a rainstorm.

The drought occurred just after the expulsion of the Bourbons from Naples, and many think on account of it. There is this to be said in favor of the Bourbons: that a dry time never had occurred while they reigned,--a statement in which all good Catholics in Sorrento will concur. As the drought went on, almost all the wells in the place dried up, except that of the Tramontano and the one in the suppressed convent of the Sacred Heart,--I think that is its name.

It is a rambling pile of old buildings, in the center of the town, with a courtyard in the middle, and in it a deep well, boring down I know not how far into the rock, and always full of cold sweet water. The nuns have all gone now; and I look in vain up at the narrow slits in the masonry, which served them for windows, for the glance of a worldly or a pious eye. The poor people of Sorrento, when the public wells and fountains had gone dry, used to come and draw at the Tramontano; but they were not allowed to go to the well of the convent, the gates were closed. Why the government shut them I cannot see: perhaps it knew nothing of it, and some stupid official took the pompous responsibility. The people grumbled, and cursed the government; and, in their simplicity, probably never took any steps to revoke the prohibitory law. No doubt, as the government had caused the drought, it was all of a piece, the good rustics thought.

For the government did indirectly occasion the dry spell. I have the information from the Italian lady of whom I have spoken. Among the first steps of the new government of Italy was the suppression of the useless convents and nunneries. This one at Sorrento early came under the ban. It always seemed to me almost a pity to rout out this asylum of praying and charitable women, whose occupation was the encouragement of beggary and idleness in others, but whose prayers were constant, and whose charities to the sick of the little city were many. If they never were of much good to the community, it was a pleasure to have such a sweet little hive in the center of it; and I doubt not that the simple people felt a genuine satisfaction, as they walked around the high walls, in believing that pure prayers within were put up for them night and day; and especially when they waked at night, and heard the bell of the convent, and knew that at that moment some faithful soul kept her vigils, and chanted prayers for them and all the world besides; and they slept the sounder for it thereafter. I confess that, if one is helped by vicarious prayer, I would rather trust a convent of devoted women (though many of them are ignorant, and some of them are worldly, and none are fair to see) to pray for me, than some of the houses of coarse monks which I have seen.

But the order came down from Naples to pack off all the nuns of the Sacred Heart on a day named, to close up the gates of the nunnery, and hang a flaming sword outside. The nuns were to be pulled up by the roots, so to say, on the day specified, and without postponement, and to be transferred to a house prepared for them at Massa, a few miles down the promontory, and several hundred feet nearer heaven. Sorrento was really in mourning: it went about in grief. It seemed as if something sacrilegious were about to be done. It was the intention of the whole town to show its sense of it in some way.

The day of removal came, and it rained! It poured: the water came down in sheets, in torrents, in deluges; it came down with the wildest tempest of many a year. I think, from accurate reports of those who witnessed it, that the beginning of the great Deluge was only a moisture compared to this. To turn the poor women out of doors such a day as this was unchristian, barbarous, impossible. Everybody who had a shelter was shivering indoors. But the officials were inexorable. In the order for removal, nothing was said about postponement on account of weather; and go the nuns must.

And go they did; the whole town shuddering at the impiety of it, but kept from any demonstration by the tempest. Carriages went round to the convent; and the women were loaded into them, packed into them, carried and put in, if they were too infirm to go themselves. They were driven away, cross and wet and bedraggled. They found their dwelling on the hill not half prepared for them, leaking and cold and cheerless. They experienced very rough treatment, if I can credit my informant, who says she hates the government, and would not even look out of her lattice that day to see the carriages drive past.

And when the Lady Superior was driven away from the gate, she said to the officials, and the few faithful attendants, prophesying in the midst of the rain that poured about her, "The day will come shortly, when you will want rain, and shall not have it; and you will pray for my return."

And it did not rain, from that day for three years.

And the simple people thought of the good Superior, whose departure had been in such a deluge, and who had taken away with her all the moisture of the land; and they did pray for her return, and believed that the gates of heaven would be again opened if only the nunnery were repeopled. But the government could not see the connection between convents and the theory of storms, and the remnant of pious women was permitted to remain in their lodgings at Massa. Perhaps the government thought they could, if they bore no malice, pray as effectually for rain there as anywhere.

I do not know, said my informant, that the curse of the Lady Superior had anything to do with the drought, but many think it had; and those are the facts.

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