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...