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...