Monday, 29 December 2008

vi

I sincerely hoped he would remember the falsehood when he next went to confession, and would receive a severe penance for it, which he richly deserved. I thanked him, however, for the compliment, which I attributed to a kind wish on his part to encourage me.

“Have you been long in Italy?” he inquired.

“A very short time,” I replied; “and with the exception of the cities of Turin and Milan, and the neighbourhood of Lake Como, I have seen nothing of the country.”

“Do you not greatly admire the lake and the scenery around it?” he asked.

“Immensely,” I replied. “I had no idea that so lovely a spot existed on the face of the globe.”

“I am delighted to hear you say so, though I am by no means surprised. I have lived here for more than twenty-five years, and of course am so well accustomed to the scenery; yet I can assure you it appears to me, at the present time, as beautiful as it was on the first day of my arrival. Turn which way you will, some fresh attraction seems to spring up before you.”

“But lovely as it is by day,” I remarked, “it is occasionally equally lovely by night. I never saw anything more exquisite than the sunset yesterday evening, and the rising of the moon afterwards. I was completely enchanted by it, and quite forgot how late it was, and the distance I was from home.”

“To watch the full moon rising over the Res├ęgone is always a great treat to me,” said my companion. “Had you a good view of it yesterday evening?”

“Admirable!” I replied. “I was standing at the time by an old castle, so there was nothing to interfere with my view.”

“You could not have been in a better position. At the same time you showed yourself to be either a very bold man or a stranger to the locality,” said the priest, adopting a certain mock gravity in the concluding sentence.

“How so?” I asked.

“Because that spot has a very bad reputation. I can assure you that you would have had great difficulty in persuading any of the peasantry in the vicinity to have kept you company.”

“I did not know there were robbers in these parts,” I remarked. “I have frequently heard my friend say, that the peasantry in the neighbourhood were remarkable for their integrity.”

“Nor did he in any way exceed the truth when he said so,” my companion replied. “A more honest community than our peasantry it would be impossible to find in any part of Europe; but I did not allude to robbers when I spoke. There are various indistinct traditionary rumours respecting the old ruins being haunted by the ghost of a certain necromancer...

Sunday, 28 December 2008

v

I told the priest that I should accept with pleasure the courteous offer of his company on the road the next day, and requested him to bid the landlord prepare the bed for me at once, as I was too much fatigued that evening to think of supper. After a little more conversation – which I carried on with some difficulty, for though I understand Italian perfectly, I am but little in the habit of conversing in the language – I bade him goodnight, and, seeking my bed, was soon fast asleep.

It was late before I awoke the next day, and when I left my chamber I found my breakfast ready for me, spread on a little table under the verandah. My landlord obsequiously attended on me during the meal, and persisted in conversing with me, somewhat to my annoyance, as I did not understand one word in ten that he uttered. Possibly if I had asked him to desist it would have been useless, as I should have had great difficulty in explaining myself in his patois, so I submitted to his chattering with the best grace I could.

Breakfast over, I paid the reckoning, and after bidding the landlord adieu, strolled about in the immediate vicinity of the inn. I also visited the water-mill, from which I obtained a good view of the ruined castle. The longer I gazed at it, the greater became my curiosity to know something of its history; and I resolved, on our road to Ponte, to question the priest on the subject. I had hardly formed this resolution when someone touched me on the shoulder, and on turning round I found his reverence standing beside me; for so absorbed had I been in my meditations that I had not heard his approach. He was evidently prepared for his walk, for he had a staff in one hand and a bundle in the other.

“My successor has arrived,” he said, “and I have made over to him the duties of the cure; so when you are ready we will start for Ponte, unless there are any other spots in this neighbourhood you wish to visit, and in that case I shall have much pleasure in accompanying you, if you will allow me.”

“ I am quite ready,” I said, turning from the spot. “Perhaps some other day I may again visit this locality, but at present I ought to return home, as I am afraid my friend will be getting anxious about me.”

We now started on our journey. I found my companion extremely intelligent and courteous; but I experienced considerable difficulty in conversing with him, for though I understood him perfectly, I could not from want of practice, explain my meaning very easily. At last I asked if he understood French, as I could speak more fluently in that language than in Italian.

“I understand it, I admit,” he said. “By all means let us converse in French” (which he spoke well); “but why should we not talk in Italian? You speak the language admirably.”I sincerely hoped he...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

iv

I now had to pick my way with great caution, and my pace was in consequence much slower. At last the valley had so narrowed,that I was in almost impenetrable darkness, which continued for more than a mile, when suddenly my spirits were raised by the sight of a glimmering light in the windows of a cottage beside the water-mill I had passed in ascending the mountain. I now began to remember the locality with tolerable distinctness, and I knew that the village inn was only a short distance further on; so I resisted the temptation to ask for assistance at the cottage, and continued on my way. Very soon I was able to distinguish other houses, and amongst the them the inn, with strong lights shining through the doorway and windows on the ground-floor, proving that the inmates had not yet retired to bed. In a moment I forgot my fatigue, and hurrying onward entered the house, and found the host, his wife, and the same priest I had seen before, seated round a table engaged in conversation. My appearance seemed to cause them both surprise and pleasure.

“Welcome back,” said the priest to me, “welcome back. To tell the truth, we began to be uneasy about you, fearing you had lost your way, or had met with some accident.”

I thanked them for the interest they had taken in my welfare, and then inquired if I could obtain a guide to Ponte, as I was not well acquainted with the road. The priest explained my request to the landlord, in the patois of the district, which had but little similarity in it to the Italian language. His answer I did not understand.

“The landlord,” said the priest, “tells me that it would be impossible at this time of night to find a guide for you. Besides, you would not be able to arrive before daylight, even if you started at once, as it is fully ten miles distant, and you already appear much fatigued. Take my advice, and remain here for the night. I know my friend Giacomo, our landlord, has an excellent bed, and he is also a capital cook. You can start as early as you please to-morrow morning. I am sure your friend Signor R------, will not expect you to-night.”

“Do you know me then?” I said, greatly surprised.

“I saw you the day of your arrival at Ponte,” he replied. “I am curate of an adjoining parish, but I left it the day after that to do duty here for a few weeks; the late priest died suddenly, and being an intimate friend of mine, he named me as his executor. In advising you to remain here the night,” he continued, “I am perhaps actuated by a selfish motive. To-morrow the priest who is appointed to this village will arrive, and I shall then return to my own cure; so if you remain, and will honour me, I may have the pleasure of your company on the road.”

I told the priest that...

Sunday, 30 November 2008

iii

There was no longer any doubt as to the cause of the magnificent phenomenon I was witnessing, for the beams of the rising moon began distinctly to spread themselves over one-half of the heavens, the stars – with the exception of some few of the magnitude which still held their place, though with enfeebled light – disappearing as she came. And now she gradually rose from her mountain bed in indescribable purity and grandeur. The change her presence wrought over the whole scene was miraculous. All was now in a pure calm light, or intense black shadow. The lake itself seemed one large mirror of silver, encircled by a framework of mountains. There was an unearthly, or rather perhaps heavenly, quiet shed over the whole prospect, which for some time completely overcame me; and I remained for more than an hour on the spot, as if under some powerful enchantment.

But the realities of life again came before my mind and once more I prepared to depart. My eye, however, was attracted by the ruin near me, and I resolved, if but for a moment, to enter within the walls. I had some difficulty in carrying out my purpose, for the castle gateway was in the shadow. At last, however, I succeeded; but my curiosity was but little gratified, for more than three parts of the interior were in a darkness too deep to distinguish one object from another with any certainty. With the exception that the ruins were extensive, and that a considerable portion of them was covered with wild shrubs, and that the place had been (for mediaeval architecture) of considerable military strength, I could ascertain nothing, and I left the spot determining, as before, to visit it again at a future time.

I now began to descend the mountain, and, thanks to the light of the moon, progressed for some time in my path without much difficulty, though I suffered dreadfully from fatigue. I began for the first time to calculate the distance between me and Ponte, and I confess I felt somewhat alarmed lest my strength should fail me before I could reach the house of my friend. Having no alternative, however, I walked boldly onwards. Presently I began to meet with difficulties I had not calculated on when I ascended the mountain. As I approached the valley, the space between the hills became narrower, and the shadows thrown across it made it profoundly dark. To the right of the narrow path ran a deep fissure, at the bottom of which rushed a stream of some magnitude; while, to the left, enormous rocks rose almost perpendicularly.

I had now to...

Saturday, 29 November 2008

ii

Presently I came upon a somewhat large village, and in it I particularly noticed a picturesque-looking inn, whose appearance seemed to promise a far greater amount of comfort to the traveller than is generally found in similar localities. Outside the door and under a veranda, over which was trained a vine, were placed some rough tables, at which several persons were seated. The appearance of a stranger seemed to excite in them no little surprise. They evidently regarded me with great curiosity, and a gentlemanly-looking priest, who was conversing with the landlord, whispered something in his ear which induced him to raise his cap as I passed, and the same courtesy was then repeated by almost all present, his reverse among the number.

I returned their salutation, and without further notice continued on my way. Presently the valley somewhat opened out, and to my great satisfaction I found that the pathway I had chosen rose towards the ruins, which now stood out plainly before me. The road, however, was longer than I had anticipated, for, owing to the clearness of the atmosphere, the ruins appeared to me less distant than they really were; and before I had reached them, evening had already begun to set in.

A more glorious sunset than I watched that evening, I think, I never beheld. The sun, as he sank behind the mountains, seemed to cast over the whole of the western Alps one immense mantle of the richest purple, which, becoming darker and darker, would have subsided into the deepest black had it not been for the myriads of stars which gradually shone out as the light of day faded away. So completely was I absorbed in the scene before me that for some time I totally forgot the ruins which had tempted me to the spot, and at whose base I was seated.

Before I had fully recollected the object of my visit, I turned round, and glancing casually at the heavy masses of masonry which frowned in the dark above me, I resolved on visiting them another day, and, rising from my seat, prepared to retrace my steps homewards. Another attraction, however, chained me to the spot. Although, a short time before, the whole space of the heavens had been equally covered with stars, it now appeared to me that towards the east many of them had faded, or rather melted away, in a brighter hue of the sky, which was evidently spreading itself above the mountains on the Lecco side of the lake. Brighter and clearer became the heavens and a silver hue gradually developed itself, and lighted up the mountains on the eastern side of the lake, bringing into strong relief the rugged fantastic tops of the Res├ęgone – that mountain so graphically described by Manzoni at the commencement of his admirable tale of the “Promessi Sposi.”

There was now no longer any doubt...

Friday, 28 November 2008

i

In the spring of 184--, I had occasion to visit an intimate friend, who had established some extensive silk mills at the village of Ponte, near Pian D'Erba, in the Brianza. As this beautiful portion of the garden of Europe is but little known to English travellers generally, -- who, with rare exceptions, on arriving in Italy, hurry southward, -- I may state that it is situated in the centre of the base of the triangle which is formed by the high road running from Como to Lecco in the south; while the sides stretching upwards, terminate at the apex formed at Bellagio in the north. It would be difficult to imagine scenery more lovely than is there to be found.

It varies from the soft undulating hills covered with the mulberry plant and the vine, which form the southern slopes of the Alps, to the wildest mountain scenery. To see it in perfection the traveller should start on foot, and, passing through Ponte, follow the course of the impetuous river Lambro, till it dwindles into a little mountain rill. During the six weeks of my visit, I was never tired of strolling among the beautiful scenes which at every turn meet the eye.

Although to me, as a stranger to Italy, it might have possessed a charm greater than to others, still it would be difficult indeed for even the most experienced traveller, who had been familiarized with nature in all her loveliness, not to be charmed with the beautiful prospects which are to be found in such abundance in the Comasque districts. Frequently in my rambles I remained so late that my friend would become uneasy, and request me to return for the future before nightfall, as the evenings in those mountain districts shut in so rapidly that it was by no means safe for a stranger to lose himself in the dark; the pathways being frequently narrow, and the precipices very dangerous. Accidents of a serious nature, he assured me, had occurred; and he begged me on all occasions when I was likely to remain out after dark, to provide myself with a guide. Although his advice was sound, I confess I did not act upon it; the luxury of being alone in such a beautiful locality would have been considerably marred by the loquacity of an ignorant peasant, not one-tenth part of whose patois I could have understood. Yet it was out of no disrespect to my friend's advice that I did not follow it, for I could not fail to see that it was most judicious; but sunset, above all other times of the day, had an especial attraction for me. It was my great delight to gain some elevated position, and watch the magnificent effects of light and shade which were produced by the struggle between the fading day and coming night.

One evening when I had strolled much further than usual, I came to a spot which I had not yet visited. I can hardly describe its position better than by saying that it was in a deep valley at the base of a singular-looking mountain, to the eastward of Lecco, and that it overlooked the whole of the peninsula, bounded by the two arms of the lake. I do not remember its name, but it has two singular-looking protuberances on its summit, something in shape of two stunted horns, which form a remarkable feature of the landscape, and are seen at distance of many miles. On looking around me to determine which pathway I should take, I perceived at some distance, and at a considerable elevation on the mountain,what appeared to be some extensive castellated ruins; and a strong desire to inspect them came over me. Although already greatly fatigued by my ramble, I immediately set out with renewed vigour to reach them. As I proceeded, the valley narrowed, and I lost sight of the ruins; but as I knew I must be in the right path, I continued onwards.

Presently I came upon...