Read CHAPTER V. of Among the Brigands , free online book, by James De Mille, on ReadCentral.com.

They discuss the Situation.-They prepare to foot it.-A toilsome Walk and a happy Discovery.-The Language of Signs once more.-The Mountain.  Cavalcade.-Bob’s Ambition.-Its Results-Bob vanishes.-Consternation of the Donkey Boy.-Consternation of the Cavalcade.-E Perduto!

The mention of brigands produced a startling and powerful effect upon the whole party, and after Uncle Moses’ wail of despair, and Frank’s rebuke, there was silence for a time.

“Well,” said David, “I don’t know.  I don’t believe in brigands altogether.  Millions of people come to Italy without seeing anything of the kind, and why should we?  For my part, I still think it very likely that the driver has driven back to some place on the road where he can get better entertainment for man and beast than is offered at Paestum.”

“Where could he go?” said Frank.  “There isn’t any inn for miles.”

“O you don’t know,” said David.  “There are some by-roads, I dare say, that lead to houses on the hills.  I dare say he’ll soon be back.  From what I’ve seen of the Italians, I think they’d stand a great deal before losing any money.  The driver would wait till he got his pay, and then try to take his revenge.”

“Well, it may be so,” said Frank; “burin any case, it will be best for us to start off at once.  There’s no use waiting here any longer.  We can foot it, after all.  And we may come to houses, or we may pick up a wagon, and get a lift.”

This was evidently the best thing that could be done, and so they all at once set off on foot, on their way back to Salerno.

Fortunately for them, they were quite fresh.  They had been driving all the morning; and for two hours they had been strolling up and down within a small circuit, looking at temples, or sprawling on the grass.  They had eaten a good lunch before leaving the carriage, and had not had time yet to feel hungry.  The weather was mild and pleasant.  The sun shone brightly, without being too hot, and everything was favorable to a walk.  More than all, the road was very good, and not being much travelled, it was grass-grown to a great extent, and this grass afforded an easy and agreeable path for their feet.

They set out in high spirits, walking pretty vigorously, yet not too rapidly, for they wished to husband their strength, chatting all the while, and debating the point as to the driver’s intentions.  Frank maintained that he had deserted them out of malice, and Bob coincided with this view.  David, on the other hand, believed that he had merely driven away to find refreshment, and would return, and Clive sided with him.  But, as mile after mile was traversed, and still no signs of the driver appeared, David’s theory grew weak, and Frank’s grew strong.  As for Uncle Moses, he said nothing, his feeling being chiefly one of intense anxiety to get the boys home before meeting with brigands.  The awful images of Italian banditti, which Frank’s words had called up in his mind, were not to be easily got rid of.

They walked on for about two hours, and by that time had succeeded in putting some seven or eight miles between themselves and Paestum.  The road now became wider, and quite free from grass, giving every indication of being a well-trodden thoroughfare, and exciting the hope that they would find some wine cart at least, or other mode of conveyance, by means of which they could complete their journey to Salerno.

Suddenly, on making a turn in the road, they saw before them some moving objects, the sight of which elicited a shout of joy from Bob.

“Donkeys!  Donkeys!” he cried.  “Hurrah, boys!”

“Why, what good are they?” said David.

“Good?” cried Bob; “every good in the world.  We can hire them, or buy them, and ride back to Salerno.”

“That’s a capital idea,” cried Frank, in great delight.  “I hoped to find wine carts, or ox carts; but donkeys are infinitely better.”

Hurrying forward, they soon overtook the donkeys.  There were six or eight of them, guided by an old man and a boy.  Frank instantly accosted them.  Of course he could not speak Italian, but by means of signs he succeeded in conveying to the old man’s mind the requisite idea.  On this occasion he felt most strongly the benefit which he had received from his intercourse with Paolo.  Frank thus pointed to his feet, and then backward, and then forward, and then pointing to the donkey nearest, he made a motion to mount, after which he showed the old man some money, and tapping it, and pointing to the donkey, he looked inquiringly at him, as if to ask, “How much?”

The old man made some signs which seemed to Frank to be a question, “How far?” so he roared out, in stentorian tones, “Salerno.”

Upon this the old man stood for a little while in silent thought.  Then he looked at Frank, and then, pointing with one hand at Frank’s money, with the other he touched the donkey which seemed to say that he would let the donkey go for that price.  As there was not quite a dollar in Frank’s hand, in loose change, the charge seemed to him to be very reasonable, and even, as he expressed it, dirt cheap.  So thought all the rest, and they all proceeded to bring forth their loose change, and pass it over to the old-man.  The hands of the latter closed over the silver, with a nervous and almost convulsive clutch, and after one long, hungry look at each lot that was given him, he would insert each very carefully in the remote corner of an old sheepskin poach that hung in front of him, suspended around his waist.

But now arose a difficulty.  The donkeys had no saddles.  That was a small matter, however, and was not the real difficulty.  The real difficulty lay in the fact that they had no bridles.  How could they guide them?

Frank tried by signs to express this difficulty to the old man, and the latter understood him, for he smiled, nodded, shrugged his shoulders, and then pointed to his boy, and waved his band in the direction they wished to go.  The boy also smiled and nodded, and made signs of his own, by which he plainly showed them that he intended to accompany them as guide, and lead the drove, while they might ride.

This being understood, the boys felt satisfied, and each one now proceeded to select the donkey which was most to his taste.  Bob had already made his selection, and was mounted on the back of the biggest donkey of the lot-an animal whose size, breadth of chest, and slender limbs gave him an air of actual elegance.  All the boys envied Bob his mount; but none of them complained.  Frank secured a solid animal, that had a matter-of-fact expression, and looked as though he had no nonsense in him.  Clive chose one that had a slight shade of melancholy in his face, as though he had known sorrow.  David’s donkey was a shaggy, hard-headed, dogged-looking animal, that seemed bent on having his own way.  Uncle Moses’ mount was rather eccentric.  He chose the smallest animal of the lot,-a donkey, in fact,-which was so small that its rider’s feet could only be kept from the ground with difficulty.  Uncle Moses, indeed, if he had chosen, might have taken steps on the ground, and accelerated the motion of his beast by propelling him with his own feet.

Great was the laughter that arose among the party as each one mounted his gallant steed, and turned to look upon his companion.  Jeers, and jokes, and light chaff arose, and the boys found no end of fun in this new adventure.  But Uncle Moses wasn’t able to see any fun in it at all.  He sat with an expression on his face that would have done honor to a martyr at the stake, and the boys respected him too much to include him in their good-natured raillery.

The Italian boy took David’s donkey by the ear, and started.  David’s donkey, in spite of his appearance of obstinacy, followed without resistance, and trotted nimbly off, the Italian boy running easily by his side.  The other donkeys followed.  As they had no bridles and no saddles, some of the party had a little difficulty in preserving their balance, but managed to do so by grabbing the coarse hair of the donkey’s mane.  The pace was a rapid one, and it was wonderful to see how well the Italian boy kept up with them without losing breath, or slackening it.  This he did for a long time.

Among those who cared nothing for saddle or bridle was Bob.  On the back of a donkey he felt as comfortable as though he was sitting in an easy-chair.  As they trotted along the road, Bob sat with his arms folded, and his legs now hanging loosely, now drawn up in front of him, and at other times pretending that he had a side-saddle.  At length he became discontented with the subordinate position that he was occupying, in merely following in the rear of a leader like David.  He was a far better rider than David, and his donkey a far better donkey than the leading one.  With the ambitions desire to obtain the post of honor for himself, he beat, pounded, and kicked at his donkey.  For a long time this had no effect whatever; the donkey not only was not stimulated by it, but he did not even seem to be conscious of it.  At last Bob determined to resort to other methods.  Drawing a pin from his shirt collar, where it was filling the place of a lost button, he stuck it two or three times in the donkey’s flanks.

This was too much.  The patience of Bob’s donkey had reached its farthest limit.  It could endure it no more.

With a wild bound the donkey sprang forward, and in three paces had cleared the way to the first.  Another leap, and he was beyond them.

The donkey ran like a race-horse.  His slender, sinewy limbs seemed as fitted for running and for speed as the limbs of an antelope.  His head was down, his neck arched, his tail in the air, and his long, rapid strides bore him with astonishing velocity far ahead and far away.

The Italian boy tittered a cry of dismay, and stopped short.  The donkey which he was holding stopped also, and the others did the same.  The Italian boy looked with a face of consternation after the runaway.  All the rest looked with vague fears in the same direction, and with a half hope that Bob might stop the animal, or turn him.

E perduto!” exclaimed the Italian boy; and though they did not understand Italian, yet there was something in his tone, and look, and gesture, which told them the meaning of those words-“He’s lost!”