We left Milan by rail. The Cathedral six or seven miles behind us; vast,
dreamy, bluish, snow-clad mountains twenty miles in front of us,—these
were the accented points in the scenery. The more immediate scenery
consisted of fields and farm-houses outside the car and a monster-headed
dwarf and a moustached woman inside it. These latter were not show-people.
Alas, deformity and female beards are too common in Italy to attract
We passed through a range of wild, picturesque hills, steep, wooded,
cone-shaped, with rugged crags projecting here and there, and with
dwellings and ruinous castles perched away up toward the drifting clouds.
We lunched at the curious old town of Como, at the foot of the lake, and
then took the small steamer and had an afternoon's pleasure excursion to
When we walked ashore, a party of policemen (people whose cocked hats and
showy uniforms would shame the finest uniform in the military service of
the United States,) put us into a little stone cell and locked us in. We
had the whole passenger list for company, but their room would have been
preferable, for there was no light, there were no windows, no ventilation.
It was close and hot. We were much crowded. It was the Black Hole of
Calcutta on a small scale. Presently a smoke rose about our feet—a
smoke that smelled of all the dead things of earth, of all the
putrefaction and corruption imaginable.
We were there five minutes, and when we got out it was hard to tell which
of us carried the vilest fragrance.
These miserable outcasts called that "fumigating" us, and the term was a
tame one indeed. They fumigated us to guard themselves against the
cholera, though we hailed from no infected port. We had left the cholera
far behind us all the time. However, they must keep epidemics away somehow
or other, and fumigation is cheaper than soap. They must either wash
themselves or fumigate other people. Some of the lower classes had rather
die than wash, but the fumigation of strangers causes them no pangs. They
need no fumigation themselves. Their habits make it unnecessary. They
carry their preventive with them; they sweat and fumigate all the day
long. I trust I am a humble and a consistent Christian. I try to do what
is right. I know it is my duty to "pray for them that despitefully use
me;" and therefore, hard as it is, I shall still try to pray for these
fumigating, maccaroni-stuffing organ-grinders.
Our hotel sits at the water's edge—at least its front garden does—and
we walk among the shrubbery and smoke at twilight; we look afar off at
Switzerland and the Alps, and feel an indolent willingness to look no
closer; we go down the steps and swim in the lake; we take a shapely
little boat and sail abroad among the reflections of the stars; lie on the
thwarts and listen to the distant laughter, the singing, the soft melody
of flutes and guitars that comes floating across the water from pleasuring
gondolas; we close the evening with exasperating billiards on one of those
same old execrable tables. A midnight luncheon in our ample bed-chamber; a
final smoke in its contracted veranda facing the water, the gardens, and
the mountains; a summing up of the day's events. Then to bed, with drowsy
brains harassed with a mad panorama that mixes up pictures of France, of
Italy, of the ship, of the ocean, of home, in grotesque and bewildering
disorder. Then a melting away of familiar faces, of cities, and of tossing
waves, into a great calm of forgetfulness and peace.
After which, the nightmare.
Breakfast in the morning, and then the lake.
I did not like it yesterday. I thought Lake Tahoe was much finer. I have
to confess now, however, that my judgment erred somewhat, though not
extravagantly. I always had an idea that Como was a vast basin of water,
like Tahoe, shut in by great mountains. Well, the border of huge mountains
is here, but the lake itself is not a basin. It is as crooked as any
brook, and only from one-quarter to two-thirds as wide as the Mississippi.
There is not a yard of low ground on either side of it—nothing but
endless chains of mountains that spring abruptly from the water's edge and
tower to altitudes varying from a thousand to two thousand feet. Their
craggy sides are clothed with vegetation, and white specks of houses peep
out from the luxuriant foliage everywhere; they are even perched upon
jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above your head.
Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats, surrounded by
gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes in nooks carved by
Nature out of the vine-hung precipices, and with no ingress or egress save
by boats. Some have great broad stone staircases leading down to the
water, with heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and
fancifully adorned with creeping vines and bright-colored flowers—for
all the world like a drop curtain in a theatre, and lacking nothing but
long-waisted, high-heeled women and plumed gallants in silken tights
coming down to go serenading in the splendid gondola in waiting.
A great feature of Como's attractiveness is the multitude of pretty houses
and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on its mountain sides. They
look so snug and so homelike, and at eventide when every thing seems to
slumber, and the music of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water,
one almost believes that nowhere else than on the lake of Como can there
be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.
From my window here in Bellaggio, I have a view of the other side of the
lake now, which is as beautiful as a picture. A scarred and wrinkled
precipice rises to a height of eighteen hundred feet; on a tiny bench half
way up its vast wall, sits a little snowflake of a church, no bigger than
a martin-box, apparently; skirting the base of the cliff are a hundred
orange groves and gardens, flecked with glimpses of the white dwellings
that are buried in them; in front, three or four gondolas lie idle upon
the water—and in the burnished mirror of the lake, mountain, chapel,
houses, groves and boats are counterfeited so brightly and so clearly that
one scarce knows where the reality leaves off and the reflection begins!
The surroundings of this picture are fine. A mile away, a grove-plumed
promontory juts far into the lake and glasses its palace in the blue
depths; in midstream a boat is cutting the shining surface and leaving a
long track behind, like a ray of light; the mountains beyond are veiled in
a dreamy purple haze; far in the opposite direction a tumbled mass of
domes and verdant slopes and valleys bars the lake, and here indeed does
distance lend enchantment to the view—for on this broad canvas, sun
and clouds and the richest of atmospheres have blended a thousand tints
together, and over its surface the filmy lights and shadows drift, hour
after hour, and glorify it with a beauty that seems reflected out of
Heaven itself. Beyond all question, this is the most voluptuous scene we
have yet looked upon.
Last night the scenery was striking and picturesque. On the other side
crags and trees and snowy houses were reflected in the lake with a
wonderful distinctness, and streams of light from many a distant window
shot far abroad over the still waters. On this side, near at hand, great
mansions, white with moonlight, glared out from the midst of masses of
foliage that lay black and shapeless in the shadows that fell from the
cliff above—and down in the margin of the lake every feature of the
weird vision was faithfully repeated.
Today we have idled through a wonder of a garden attached to a ducal
estate—but enough of description is enough, I judge.
I suspect that this was the same place the gardener's son deceived the
Lady of Lyons with, but I do not know. You may have heard of the passage
"A deep vale, Shut out by Alpine hills from the rude world,
Near a clear lake margined by fruits of gold And whispering
myrtles: Glassing softest skies, cloudless, Save with rare
and roseate shadows; A palace, lifting to eternal heaven its
marbled walls, From out a glossy bower of coolest foliage musical
That is all very well, except the "clear" part of the lake. It certainly
is clearer than a great many lakes, but how dull its waters are compared
with the wonderful transparence of Lake Tahoe! I speak of the north shore
of Tahoe, where one can count the scales on a trout at a depth of a
hundred and eighty feet. I have tried to get this statement off at par
here, but with no success; so I have been obliged to negotiate it at fifty
percent discount. At this rate I find some takers; perhaps the reader will
receive it on the same terms—ninety feet instead of one hundred and
eighty. But let it be remembered that those are forced terms—Sheriff's
sale prices. As far as I am privately concerned, I abate not a jot of the
original assertion that in those strangely magnifying waters one may count
the scales on a trout (a trout of the large kind,) at a depth of a hundred
and eighty feet—may see every pebble on the bottom—might even
count a paper of dray-pins. People talk of the transparent waters of the
Mexican Bay of Acapulco, but in my own experience I know they cannot
compare with those I am speaking of. I have fished for trout, in Tahoe,
and at a measured depth of eighty-four feet I have seen them put their
noses to the bait and I could see their gills open and shut. I could
hardly have seen the trout themselves at that distance in the open air.
As I go back in spirit and recall that noble sea, reposing among the
snow-peaks six thousand feet above the ocean, the conviction comes strong
upon me again that Como would only seem a bedizened little courtier in
that august presence.
Sorrow and misfortune overtake the legislature that still from year to
year permits Tahoe to retain its unmusical cognomen! Tahoe! It suggests no
crystal waters, no picturesque shores, no sublimity. Tahoe for a sea in
the clouds: a sea that has character and asserts it in solemn calms at
times, at times in savage storms; a sea whose royal seclusion is guarded
by a cordon of sentinel peaks that lift their frosty fronts nine thousand
feet above the level world; a sea whose every aspect is impressive, whose
belongings are all beautiful, whose lonely majesty types the Deity!
Tahoe means grasshoppers. It means grasshopper soup. It is Indian, and
suggestive of Indians. They say it is Pi-ute—possibly it is Digger.
I am satisfied it was named by the Diggers—those degraded savages
who roast their dead relatives, then mix the human grease and ashes of
bones with tar, and "gaum" it thick all over their heads and foreheads and
ears, and go caterwauling about the hills and call it mourning. These are
the gentry that named the Lake.
People say that Tahoe means "Silver Lake"—"Limpid Water"—"Falling
Leaf." Bosh. It means grasshopper soup, the favorite dish of the Digger
tribe,—and of the Pi-utes as well. It isn't worth while, in these
practical times, for people to talk about Indian poetry—there never
was any in them—except in the Fenimore Cooper Indians. But they are
an extinct tribe that never existed. I know the Noble Red Man. I have
camped with the Indians; I have been on the warpath with them, taken part
in the chase with them—for grasshoppers; helped them steal cattle; I
have roamed with them, scalped them, had them for breakfast. I would
gladly eat the whole race if I had a chance.
But I am growing unreliable. I will return to my comparison of the lakes.
Como is a little deeper than Tahoe, if people here tell the truth. They
say it is eighteen hundred feet deep at this point, but it does not look a
dead enough blue for that. Tahoe is one thousand five hundred and
twenty-five feet deep in the centre, by the state geologist's measurement.
They say the great peak opposite this town is five thousand feet high: but
I feel sure that three thousand feet of that statement is a good honest
lie. The lake is a mile wide, here, and maintains about that width from
this point to its northern extremity—which is distant sixteen miles:
from here to its southern extremity—say fifteen miles—it is
not over half a mile wide in any place, I should think. Its snow-clad
mountains one hears so much about are only seen occasionally, and then in
the distance, the Alps. Tahoe is from ten to eighteen miles wide, and its
mountains shut it in like a wall. Their summits are never free from snow
the year round. One thing about it is very strange: it never has even a
skim of ice upon its surface, although lakes in the same range of
mountains, lying in a lower and warmer temperature, freeze over in winter.
It is cheerful to meet a shipmate in these out-of-the-way places and
compare notes with him. We have found one of ours here—an old
soldier of the war, who is seeking bloodless adventures and rest from his
campaigns in these sunny lands. [Colonel J. HERON FOSTER, editor of a
Pittsburgh journal, and a most estimable gentleman. As these sheets are
being prepared for the press I am pained to learn of his decease shortly
after his return home—M.T.]
We voyaged by steamer down the Lago di Lecco, through wild mountain
scenery, and by hamlets and villas, and disembarked at the town of Lecco.
They said it was two hours, by carriage to the ancient city of Bergamo,
and that we would arrive there in good season for the railway train. We
got an open barouche and a wild, boisterous driver, and set out. It was
delightful. We had a fast team and a perfectly smooth road. There were
towering cliffs on our left, and the pretty Lago di Lecco on our right,
and every now and then it rained on us. Just before starting, the driver
picked up, in the street, a stump of a cigar an inch long, and put it in
his mouth. When he had carried it thus about an hour, I thought it would
be only Christian charity to give him a light. I handed him my cigar,
which I had just lit, and he put it in his mouth and returned his stump to
his pocket! I never saw a more sociable man. At least I never saw a man
who was more sociable on a short acquaintance.
We saw interior Italy, now. The houses were of solid stone, and not often
in good repair. The peasants and their children were idle, as a general
thing, and the donkeys and chickens made themselves at home in
drawing-room and bed-chamber and were not molested. The drivers of each
and every one of the slow-moving market-carts we met were stretched in the
sun upon their merchandise, sound a sleep. Every three or four hundred
yards, it seemed to me, we came upon the shrine of some saint or other--a
rude picture of him built into a huge cross or a stone pillar by the
road-side.--Some of the pictures of the Saviour were curiosities in their
way. They represented him stretched upon the cross, his countenance
distorted with agony. From the wounds of the crown of thorns; from the
pierced side; from the mutilated hands and feet; from the scourged
body--from every hand-breadth of his person streams of blood were flowing!
Such a gory, ghastly spectacle would frighten the children out of their
senses, I should think. There were some unique auxiliaries to the painting
which added to its spirited effect. These were genuine wooden and iron
implements, and were prominently disposed round about the figure: a bundle
of nails; the hammer to drive them; the sponge; the reed that supported
it; the cup of vinegar; the ladder for the ascent of the cross; the spear
that pierced the Saviour's side. The crown of thorns was made of real
thorns, and was nailed to the sacred head. In some Italian
church-paintings, even by the old masters, the Saviour and the Virgin wear
silver or gilded crowns that are fastened to the pictured head with nails.
The effect is as grotesque as it is incongruous.
Here and there, on the fronts of roadside inns, we found huge, coarse
frescoes of suffering martyrs like those in the shrines. It could not have
diminished their sufferings any to be so uncouthly represented. We were in
the heart and home of priest craft--of a happy, cheerful, contented
ignorance, superstition, degradation, poverty, indolence, and everlasting
unaspiring worthlessness. And we said fervently: it suits these people
precisely; let them enjoy it, along with the other animals, and Heaven
forbid that they be molested. We feel no malice toward these fumigators.
We passed through the strangest, funniest, undreampt-of old towns, wedded
to the customs and steeped in the dreams of the elder ages, and perfectly
unaware that the world turns round! And perfectly indifferent, too, as to
whether it turns around or stands still. They have nothing to do but eat
and sleep and sleep and eat, and toil a little when they can get a friend
to stand by and keep them awake. They are not paid for thinking--they are
not paid to fret about the world's concerns. They were not respectable
people--they were not worthy people--they were not learned and wise and
brilliant people--but in their breasts, all their stupid lives long,
resteth a peace that passeth understanding! How can men, calling
themselves men, consent to be so degraded and happy.
We whisked by many a gray old medieval castle, clad thick with ivy that
swung its green banners down from towers and turrets where once some old
Crusader's flag had floated. The driver pointed to one of these ancient
fortresses, and said, (I translate):
"Do you see that great iron hook that projects from the wall just under
the highest window in the ruined tower?"
We said we could not see it at such a distance, but had no doubt it was
"Well," he said; "there is a legend connected with that iron hook. Nearly
seven hundred years ago, that castle was the property of the noble Count
Luigi Gennaro Guido Alphonso di Genova----"
"What was his other name?" said Dan.
"He had no other name. The name I have spoken was all the name he had. He
was the son of----"
"Poor but honest parents--that is all right--never mind the
particulars--go on with the legend."
Well, then, all the world, at that time, was in a wild excitement about
the Holy Sepulchre. All the great feudal lords in Europe were pledging
their lands and pawning their plate to fit out men-at-arms so that they
might join the grand armies of Christendom and win renown in the Holy
Wars. The Count Luigi raised money, like the rest, and one mild September
morning, armed with battle-ax, portcullis and thundering culverin, he rode
through the greaves and bucklers of his donjon-keep with as gallant a
troop of Christian bandits as ever stepped in Italy. He had his sword,
Excalibur, with him. His beautiful countess and her young daughter waved
him a tearful adieu from the battering-rams and buttresses of the
fortress, and he galloped away with a happy heart.
He made a raid on a neighboring baron and completed his outfit with the
booty secured. He then razed the castle to the ground, massacred the
family and moved on. They were hardy fellows in the grand old days of
chivalry. Alas! Those days will never come again.
Count Luigi grew high in fame in Holy Land. He plunged into the carnage of
a hundred battles, but his good Excalibur always brought him out alive,
albeit often sorely wounded. His face became browned by exposure to the
Syrian sun in long marches; he suffered hunger and thirst; he pined in
prisons, he languished in loathsome plague-hospitals. And many and many a
time he thought of his loved ones at home, and wondered if all was well
with them. But his heart said, Peace, is not thy brother watching over thy
* * * * * * *
Forty-two years waxed and waned; the good fight was won; Godfrey reigned
in Jerusalem--the Christian hosts reared the banner of the cross above the
Twilight was approaching. Fifty harlequins, in flowing robes, approached
this castle wearily, for they were on foot, and the dust upon their
garments betokened that they had traveled far. They overtook a peasant,
and asked him if it were likely they could get food and a hospitable bed
there, for love of Christian charity, and if perchance, a moral parlor
entertainment might meet with generous countenance--"for," said they,
"this exhibition hath no feature that could offend the most fastidious
"Marry," quoth the peasant, "an' it please your worships, ye had better
journey many a good rood hence with your juggling circus than trust your
bones in yonder castle."
"How now, sirrah!" exclaimed the chief monk, "explain thy ribald speech,
or by'r Lady it shall go hard with thee."
"Peace, good mountebank, I did but utter the truth that was in my heart.
San Paolo be my witness that did ye but find the stout Count Leonardo in
his cups, sheer from the castle's topmost battlements would he hurl ye
all! Alack-a-day, the good Lord Luigi reigns not here in these sad times."
"The good Lord Luigi?"
"Aye, none other, please your worship. In his day, the poor rejoiced in
plenty and the rich he did oppress; taxes were not known, the fathers of
the church waxed fat upon his bounty; travelers went and came, with none
to interfere; and whosoever would, might tarry in his halls in cordial
welcome, and eat his bread and drink his wine, withal. But woe is me! some
two and forty years agone the good count rode hence to fight for Holy
Cross, and many a year hath flown since word or token have we had of him.
Men say his bones lie bleaching in the fields of Palestine."
"Now! God 'a mercy, the cruel Leonardo lords it in the castle. He wrings
taxes from the poor; he robs all travelers that journey by his gates; he
spends his days in feuds and murders, and his nights in revel and debauch;
he roasts the fathers of the church upon his kitchen spits, and enjoyeth
the same, calling it pastime. These thirty years Luigi's countess hath not
been seen by any in all this land, and many whisper that she pines in the
dungeons of the castle for that she will not wed with Leonardo, saying her
dear lord still liveth and that she will die ere she prove false to him.
They whisper likewise that her daughter is a prisoner as well. Nay, good
jugglers, seek ye refreshment other wheres. 'Twere better that ye perished
in a Christian way than that ye plunged from off yon dizzy tower. Give ye
"God keep ye, gentle knave--farewell."
But heedless of the peasant's warning, the players moved straightway
toward the castle.
Word was brought to Count Leonardo that a company of mountebanks besought
"'Tis well. Dispose of them in the customary manner. Yet stay! I have need
of them. Let them come hither. Later, cast them from the
battlements--or--how many priests have ye on hand?"
"The day's results are meagre, good my lord. An abbot and a dozen beggarly
friars is all we have."
"Hell and furies! Is the estate going to seed? Send hither the
mountebanks. Afterward, broil them with the priests."
The robed and close-cowled harlequins entered. The grim Leonardo sate in
state at the head of his council board. Ranged up and down the hall on
either hand stood near a hundred men-at-arms.
"Ha, villains!" quoth the count, "What can ye do to earn the hospitality
"Dread lord and mighty, crowded audiences have greeted our humble efforts
with rapturous applause. Among our body count we the versatile and
talented Ugolino; the justly celebrated Rodolpho; the gifted and
accomplished Roderigo; the management have spared neither pains nor
"S'death! What can ye do? Curb thy prating tongue."
"Good my lord, in acrobatic feats, in practice with the dumb-bells, in
balancing and ground and lofty tumbling are we versed--and sith your
highness asketh me, I venture here to publish that in the truly marvelous
and entertaining Zampillaerostation--"
"Gag him! throttle him! Body of Bacchus! am I a dog that I am to be
assailed with polysyllabled blasphemy like to this? But hold! Lucretia,
Isabel, stand forth! Sirrah, behold this dame, this weeping wench. The
first I marry, within the hour; the other shall dry her tears or feed the
vultures. Thou and thy vagabonds shall crown the wedding with thy
merry-makings. Fetch hither the priest!"
The dame sprang toward the chief player.
"O, save me!" she cried; "save me from a fate far worse than death! Behold
these sad eyes, these sunken cheeks, this withered frame! See thou the
wreck this fiend hath made, and let thy heart be moved with pity! Look
upon this damosel; note her wasted form, her halting step, her bloomless
cheeks where youth should blush and happiness exult in smiles! Hear us and
have compassion. This monster was my husband's brother. He who should have
been our shield against all harm, hath kept us shut within the noisome
caverns of his donjon-keep for lo these thirty years. And for what crime?
None other than that I would not belie my troth, root out my strong love
for him who marches with the legions of the cross in Holy Land, (for O, he
is not dead!) and wed with him! Save us, O, save thy persecuted
She flung herself at his feet and clasped his knees.
"Ha!-ha!-ha!" shouted the brutal Leonardo. "Priest, to thy work!" and he
dragged the weeping dame from her refuge. "Say, once for all, will you be
mine?--for by my halidome, that breath that uttereth thy refusal shall be
thy last on earth!"
"Then die!" and the sword leaped from its scabbard.
Quicker than thought, quicker than the lightning's flash, fifty monkish
habits disappeared, and fifty knights in splendid armor stood revealed!
fifty falchions gleamed in air above the men-at-arms, and brighter,
fiercer than them all, flamed Excalibur aloft, and cleaving downward
struck the brutal Leonardo's weapon from his grasp!
"A Luigi to the rescue! Whoop!"
"A Leonardo! 'tare an ouns!'"
"Oh, God, Oh, God, my husband!"
"Oh, God, Oh, God, my wife!"
"My precious!" [Tableau.]
Count Luigi bound his usurping brother hand and foot. The practiced
knights from Palestine made holyday sport of carving the awkward
men-at-arms into chops and steaks. The victory was complete. Happiness
reigned. The knights all married the daughter. Joy! wassail! finis!
"But what did they do with the wicked brother?"
"Oh nothing--only hanged him on that iron hook I was speaking of. By the
"Passed it up through his gills into his mouth."
"Leave him there?"
"Couple of years."
"Ah--is--is he dead?"
"Six hundred and fifty years ago, or such a matter."
"Splendid legend--splendid lie--drive on."
We reached the quaint old fortified city of Bergamo, the renowned in
history, some three-quarters of an hour before the train was ready to
start. The place has thirty or forty thousand inhabitants and is
remarkable for being the birthplace of harlequin. When we discovered that,
that legend of our driver took to itself a new interest in our eyes.
Rested and refreshed, we took the rail happy and contented. I shall not
tarry to speak of the handsome Lago di Gardi; its stately castle that
holds in its stony bosom the secrets of an age so remote that even
tradition goeth not back to it; the imposing mountain scenery that
ennobles the landscape thereabouts; nor yet of ancient Padua or haughty
Verona; nor of their Montagues and Capulets, their famous balconies and
tombs of Juliet and Romeo et al., but hurry straight to the ancient city
of the sea, the widowed bride of the Adriatic. It was a long, long ride.
But toward evening, as we sat silent and hardly conscious of where we
were--subdued into that meditative calm that comes so surely after a
conversational storm--some one shouted--
And sure enough, afloat on the placid sea a league away, lay a great city,
with its towers and domes and steeples drowsing in a golden mist of