Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/284

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he was a pigmy at his work compared to an English navvy. And the greatest works of Roman road-making, which excited the wonder and admiration of the world for successive centuries, sink into absolute insignificance in comparison with the triumphs of modern science in preparing a way for the iron horse.

And the Furlo, celebrated for so many hundred years, is but a small and common-place tunnel after all. Nevertheless, the position and surroundings of it are picturesque and striking. The walls of rock, through which a road-maker yet more puissant than even the English navvy, has riven a passage for the waters of the Cardigliano, are of a very respectable height, and of a good colour. The channel of the river is narrow, and yet the volume of water that rushes through it is at times very great; and the road, for some time before entering and after quitting the tunnel, is carried along a ledge of rock at a considerable height above it.

At the spot at which the road enters the tunnel on its way down the stream,—in the direction, therefore, in which Beppo was travelling,—there is a narrow ledge of rock on the face of the wall-like precipice, at nearly the same altitude as the road, and accessible from it. To a traveller coming from that side it seems as if this ledge of rock might have been made available for carrying the road, and the necessity for boring the tunnel avoided. But the traveller coming in the other direction, from the lower ground and the Adriatic side, sees no such ledge when he enters the tunnel at his end. It comes, in fact, to a sudden stop between the two extremities of the tunnel, and offered, therefore, to the first engineers, when they were seeking a passage for their road, merely a baulk and deception.

A subsequent generation, however, has utilised this fraudulent ledge as far as it goes, by building on it a little chapel, and what seems, by the remains of it, to have been a dwelling for an officiating priest. I do not know, by-the-by, that there is any good reason for attributing the happy idea of turning this queerly-placed fragment of soil to such a purpose, to the men of a subsequent generation to that of the original makers of the road, though the ruined buildings now visible are assuredly the work of mediaeval and not of Roman architects. But the former were as fond of chapels as the latter,—as firmly persuaded of the desirability of erecting them on certain spots, and in certain localities; had the same ideas respecting the nature of the advantages to be derived from building them in such positions, and piety of a precisely similar calibre to prompt them to erect such buildings. There is every probability, therefore, that a fane dedicated to some Pagan deity existed on this ledge of rock, before the now crumbling walls of the lodging for a Christian saint and his officiating priest had appropriated the spot.

As the ruins now stand, entirely filling the narrow space, and hiding all beyond them from the eye of one approaching them from up the stream, it looks on that side as if a way might be found by entering them without passing through the tunnel;—a mere delusion; as at the back of the ruins is the sheer precipice, with the torrent seething and roaring far down beneath them.

Beppo had walked on sturdily all night, had passed through the village of Aqualagna a little before the dawn, and was approaching the entrance of the Furlo tunnel just as the sun was peeping over the tops of the hills, sufficiently to shed a grey cold light down in the ravine of the Cardigliano. He had been carrying his loaded gun carelessly over his shoulder all night, but he now brought it in front of him, ready for use if need were; for the nature of the place, and the observations which the priest had made to him respecting the desirability of avoiding it, and the probability that soldiers would be on the look-out there for deserters if anywhere, occurred to him.

With ear and eye on the alert, therefore, he was on the point of entering the darkness of the tunnel, when he heard a voice that made him start, saluting the dawn by chanting the morning Ave Maria, as it was coming through the gallery in the opposite direction.

He started violently, held his breath, and bent his ear to listen. But though the voice as it came on could be heard plainly enough, the strange re-echoing of the vaulted arch, and the tricks played with the sounds by the unusual acoustic conditions of the tunnel, made it difficult to recognise it. Beppo sprang to the top of the low parapet wall which borders the road, and from that stepped on to the little space in front of the ruins of the chapel. As he so stood facing the ruins, the precipice and the river were on his right hand, and the road with the entrance to the tunnel on his left. And there, with his musket on his arm, he awaited till the owner of the voice should emerge from the darkness. The voice came on, plaintively chanting its morning song to the Virgin, and it became certain that it was the voice of a woman. But, although some note had, when he first heard it, thrilled him with a recognition, which his ear seemed to have made without the participation of his mind, it was still so changed by the tunnel that he could not with any certainty recognise it.

Presently it came near, still continuing its