Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, Volume 2/Chapter 5
"SLEEP as deep, dreamless, and refreshing as if the beneficent spirit of Carlo Borromeo still haunted the enchanted lake, prepared the three for a day of calm delights. The morning was spent floating over the lake in a luxuriously cushioned boat with a gay awning and a picturesque rower, to visit Isola Bella. Every one knows what a little Paradise has been made to blossom on that rock; so raptures over the flowers, the marbles, the panniers of lovely fruit, and the dirty, pretty children who offered them, are unnecessary.
In the afternoon, having despatched the luggage to Florence, our travellers sailed away to Luini, catching last glimpses of Monte Rosa, and enjoying the glories of an Italian sunset on an Italian lake. At Luini the girls caused much excitement by insisting on sitting up with the driver instead of sharing the coupé with their decorous duenna. "We must see the lovely views and the moonlight," said Amanda, and up she went.
"To sit aloft with a brigandish driver dressed in a scarlet and black uniform, with a curly horn slung over his shoulder, and to go tearing up hill and down with four frisky horses is irresistible," and up skipped Matilda.
"You will both catch your death of cold, if you don't break your necks, so it will be well to have some one to nurse or bury you," and Lavinia, finding commands and entreaties vain, entered the coupé with mournful dignity.
With a toot of the horn, and cheers from the crowd, which the girls gracefully acknowledged, away rumbled the diligence, with at least two very happy occupants. How lovely it was! First, the soft twilight wrapping every thing in mysterious shadow, and then the slow uprising of a glorious full moon, touching the commonest object with its magical light. Cries of rapture from the girls atop were answered by exclamations from Livy, hanging half out of the coupé regardless of night air, or raps on the head from overhanging boughs, as they went climbing up woody hills, or dashing down steep roads that wound so sharply round corners, it was a wonder the airy passengers did not fly off at every lurch. Rattling into quiet little towns with a grand "tootle-te-too" of the horn was an especial delight, and to see the people gather so quickly that they seemed to spring from the ground. A moment's chatter, a drink for the horses, a soft "Felice notte," another toot, and away thundered the diligence for miles more of moonlight, summer air, and the ecstasy of rapid motion.
What that dear, brown driver with the red vest, the bobtailed, buttony coat, and the big yellow tassels dancing from his hat brim, thought of those two American damsels we shall never know. But it may be imagined that, after his first bewilderment, he enjoyed himself; for Amanda aired her Italian and asked many questions. Matilda invited him to perform national airs on all occasions, and both admired him as openly as if he had been a pretty child.
Lavinia always cherished a dark suspicion that she narrowly escaped destruction on that eventful night; for, judging from the frequent melody, and the speed of the horses, she was sure that either Amanda tooted and Matilda drove, or that both so bewildered the brigand that he lost his head. However, it was all so delightful that even Granny felt the charm, and was sure that if they did upset in some romantic spot, a Doctor Antonio would spring up as quickly as a mushroom, and mend their bones, marry one of her giddy charges, and end the affair in the most appropriate manner.
Nothing happened, fortunately, and by nine o'clock they were safely at Lugano, and, tearing themselves from the dear brigand, were taken possession of by a shadowy being, who fed them in a marble hall with statues ten feet high glaring at them as they ate, then led them to a bower which had pale green doors, a red carpet, blue walls, and yellow bed covers,—all so gay it was like sleeping in a rainbow.
As if another lovely lake under the windows, and moonlight ad libitum, was not enough, they had music also. Lavinia scorned the idea of sleep, and went prowling about the rooms, hanging over the balconies, and doing the romantic in a style that was a disgrace to her years. She it was who made the superb discovery that the music they heard came from across the way, and that by opening a closet window they could look into a theatre and see the stage.
All rushed at once and beheld an opera in full blast, heartily enjoying the unusual advantages of their position; for not only could they hear the warblers, but see them when the curtain was down. What a thing it was to see Donna Anna do up her back hair, Don Giovanni dance a jig, the stately Ottavio imbibe refreshment out of a black bottle, and the ghostly Commander prance like a Punchinello as they got him into position.
The others soon succumbed to sleep; but, till long after midnight, old Livy wandered like a ghost from the front balcony, with the lovely lake, to the closet window and its dramatic joys, feeling that no moment of that memorable night should be lost, for what other traveller could boast that she ever went to the opera wrapped in a yellow bedquilt?
On the morrow a few pictures of Luini before breakfast, and then more sailing over lakes, and more driving in festive diligences to Menaggio, where a boat like a market wagon without wheels bore them genteelly to Cadenabbia, and a week of repose on the banks of Lago Como.
Their palace did not "lift its marble walls to eternal summer" by any means; for it rained much, and was so cold that some took to their beds for warmth, stone floors looking like castile-soap not being just the thing for rheumatism. Hand-organs, dancing-bears, two hotels, one villa, no road but the lake, and an insinuating boatman with one eye who lay in wait among the willows, and popped out to grab a passenger when any one ventured forth, are all that remains in the memory regarding Cadenabbia.
A few extracts from Lavinia's note-book may be found useful at this point, both as a speedy way of getting our travellers to Rome, and for the bold criticisms on famous places and pictures which they contain:—
"Milan.—Cathedral like a big wedding-cake. 'Last Supper' in the barracks—did not 'thrill;' tried to, but couldn't, as the picture is so dim it can hardly be seen. Ambrosian Library.—Lock of L. Borgia's hair; tea-colored and coarse. Don't believe in it a bit. Jolly old books, but couldn't touch 'em. Fine window to Dante. Saw cathedral illuminated; very theatrical, and much howling of people over the deputies from Rome. Don't know why they illuminated or why they howled; didn't ask. Men here handsome, but rude. Women wear veils and no bonnets,—fat and ugly. Gloves very good. Arch of Peace.—More peace and less arch would be better for Italy.
"Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin.—Stiff and stupid. Can't like Raphael. Dear, pious, simple, old Fra Angelico suits me better.
"To the Public Garden with A.; saw a black ostrich with long pink legs, who pranced and looked so like an opera dancer that we sat on the fence and shrieked with laughter.
"Pavia.—To the Certosa to see the old Carthusian Convent founded in 1396; cloisters, gardens, and twenty-four little dwellings, with chapel, bedroom, parlor, and yard for each monk, who is never to speak, and comes out but once a week. A nice way for lazy men to spend their lives when there is so much work to be done for the Lord and his poor! Wanted to shake them all round, though they did look well in their gowns and cowls gliding about the dim cloisters and church. Perhaps they are kept for that purpose.
"Parma.—Dome of church frescoed by Correggio. All heaven upsidedown; fat angels turning somersaults, saints like butchers, and martyrs simpering feebly. Like C.'s babies much better. Heaven can't be painted, and they'd better not try. Madonna, by Girolamo, was lovely. Room of the Abbess, with rosy children peeping through the lattice, very charming. Madonna della Scodella—the boy Christ very beautiful. The old Farnese Theatre most interesting; got a scrap of canvas from a mouldy scene. Dead old place is Parma.
"Bologna.—Drove in a pelting rain to the Academy, and saw many pictures. A Pieta, by Guido, was very striking. The desolate mother, with her dead son on her knees, haunted me long afterward. St. Jerome and the infant Christ, by Elisabeth Sirani, I liked. Raphael won't suit yet. Sad for me, but I cannot admire Madonnas with faces like fashion-plates, or dropsical babies with no baby sweetness about them.
"Florence.—Bought furs. Nice climate to bring invalids into. Always did think Italy a humbug, and I begin to see I was right. Acres of pictures. Like about six out of the lot. Can't bear the Venus, or Titian's famous hussy hanging over it. Like his portraits much. Busts of Roman emperors great fun. Such bad heads! The Julias, Faustinas, and Agrippinas, with hair dressed like a big sponge on the brow, were so comical I was never tired of looking at them. I see now where the present bedlamite style of coiffure comes from.
"The philosophers, &c, were very interesting. Cicero so like Wendell Phillips that I could hardly help clapping my hands and saying, 'Hear! hear!'
"Gave A. a sad blow by saying the Campanile looked like an inlaid work-box. Did not admire it half so much as I did a magnificent stone pine. Best of all, saw in the old Monastery of St. Marco many works of Fra Angelico. I love his pictures, for he put his pious heart into them, and one sees and feels it, and I don't care if his saints do have six joints to their fingers and impossible noses. A very dear picture of 'Providenza,'—poor monks at an empty table and angels bringing bread.
"Angelico's picture of heaven was more to my mind than any I have seen. No stern, avenging God, no silly Madonna, but happy souls playing like children, or singing and piping with devout energy.
"Relics of Savonarola,—his cell, bust, beads, haircloth shirt, and a bit of wood from the pile on which they burnt him. I like relics of one man who really lived, worked, and suffered, better than armies of angels, or acres of gods and goddesses.
"Pleasant drives. Saw artists, Casa Guidi windows, and a model baby house with dolly's name on the door, and steps modelled by hands that have made famous statues. 'Papa's baby house' was best of all his works to me. A nice little earthquake and a trifle of snow to enhance the charms of this sweet spot.
"Visited Parker's grave, and was afflicted to find it in such an unlovely, crowded cemetery. It does not matter after all: his best monument is in the hearts that love him and the souls he fed. As I stood there a little brown bird hopped among the vines that covered the grave, pecked its breakfast from a dry seed-pod, perched on the head-stone with a grateful twitter, as grace after meat, and flew away, leaving me comforted by the little sermon it had preached."
"I don't wish to hurt your feelings, dear, but if this is Rome I must say it is a very nasty place," began Lavinia, as they went stumbling through the mud and confusion of a big, unfinished station on their arrival at the eternal city.
"People of sense don't judge a place at ten o'clock of a pitch-dark, rainy night, especially if they are hungry, tired, and, excuse me, love, rather cross," returned Amanda, severely, as they piled into a carriage and drove to Piazza di Spagna.
"I see a divine fountain! A splendid palace! Now it's a statue of some sort! I do believe that dark figure was a monk! I know I shall like it in spite of every thing," cried Matilda excitedly, flattening her nose against the window.
She had been much disappointed at not being able to enter Rome by daylight, so that she might clasp her hands and cry aloud, half stifled with the overpowering emotions of the moment, "Roma! Roma! the eternal city bursts upon my view!"
That was the proper thing to do, and it was a blow to make so commonplace and ignoble an entry into the city of her dreams.
Early next morning, Livy was roused from slumber by cries of delight, and, starting up, beheld her artist sister wrapped in a dressing-gown, with dishevelled hair, staring out of the window, and murmuring incoherently,—
"Spanish Steps, that's where the models sit. Propaganda, famous Jesuit school. Hope I shall see the little students in their funny hats and gowns. That's the great monument thing put up to settle the Immaculate Conception fuss. Very fine, but the apostles look desperately tired of holding it up. Dear old houses! Heavens I there's a trattoria man with somebody's breakfast on his head! Don't see any costumes. Where are the sheepskin suits? the red skirts and white head-cloths? Girl with flowers. Oh, how lovely! Mercy on us, there's an officer staring up here, and I never saw him!"
In came the blond head, and the blue dressing-gown vanished from the eyes of the handsome soldier who had been attitudinizing with his high boots, gray and scarlet cloak, jingling sword, and becoming barrette cap, for the especial benefit of the enraptured stranger.
"Livy, it is just superb! Get up and come out at once. It is clouding up, and I must have one look or lose my mind," said Matilda, flying about with unusual energy.
"You will have to get used to rain if you stay here long, my child," returned the Raven.
And she was right. It poured steadily for two months, with occasional flurries of snow, also thunder, likewise hurricanes, the tramontana, the sirocco, and all the other charming features of an Italian winter. That nothing might be wanting, a nice little inundation was got up for their benefit, December 28th.
Sitting peacefully at breakfast on the morning of that day, in their cosey apartment, with a fire of cones and olive-wood cheerily burning on the hearth, Jokerella, the big cat, purring on the rug, the little coffee-pot proudly perched among bread and butter, eggs and fruit, while the ladies, in dressing-gowns and slippers, lounged luxuriously in arm-chairs, one red, one blue, one yellow; they (the ladies, not the chairs) were startled by Agrippina, the maid, who burst into the room like a bomb-shell, announcing, all in one breath, that the Tiber had risen, inundated the whole city, and instant death was to be the doom of all.
Rushing to the window to see if the flood had quite covered the steps, and cut off all retreat, the friends were comforted to observe no signs of water, except that half frozen in the basin of the fountain above which leaned their favorite old Triton, with an icicle on the end of his nose.
"I must go and attend to this. The poor will suffer; we may be able to help," said Livy, forgetting her bones, and beginning to scramble on her fur boots, as if the safety of the city depended on her.
The others followed suit, and leaving Jokerella to ravage the table, they hurried forth to see what Father Tiber was up to. A most reprehensible prank, apparently, for the lower parts of the city were under water, and many of the great streets already as full of boats as Venice.
The Corso was a deep and rapid stream, and the shopkeepers were disconsolately paddling about, trying to rescue their property.
"Our dresses, our beautiful new dresses, where are they now!" wailed the girls, surveying Mazzoni's grand store, with water Up to the balcony, where many milliners wrung their hands, lamenting.
The Piazza del Popolo was a lake, with the four stone lions just visible, and still spouting water, though it was a drug in the market. In at the open gate rolled a muddy stream, bearing hay-stacks, brushwood, and drowned animals along the Corso. People stood on their balconies wondering what they should do, many breakfastless; for how could the trattoria boys safely waft their coffee-pots across such canals of water. Carriages splashed about in shallower parts with agitated loads, hurrying to drier quarters; many were coming down ladders into boats, and crowds stood waiting their turn with bundles of valuables in their hands.
The soldiers were out in full force, working gallantly to save life and property; making rafts, carrying people on their backs, and going through the inundated streets with boat-loads of food for the hungry, shut up in their ill-provided houses. Usually at such times the priests did this work; but now they stood idly looking on, and saying it was a judgment on the people for their treatment of the Pope. The people were troubled because the priests refused to pray for them: but otherwise they snapped their fingers at the sullen old gentlemen in the Vatican; and the brisk, brave troops worked for the city quite as well (the heretics thought better) than the snuffy priests.
In the Ghetto the disaster was truly terrible, for the flood came so suddenly that the whole quarter was under water in an hour. The scene was pitiful; for here the Jews live, packed like sardines in a box, and, being washed out with no warning, were utterly destitute. In one street a man and woman were seen wading up to their waists in water, pushing an old mattress before them, on which were three little children, all they bad saved.
Later in the day, as boats of provisions came along, women and children swarmed at the windows, crying, "Bread! bread!" and their wants could not be supplied in spite of the care of the city authorities. One old woman who had lost every thing besought the rescuers to bring her a little snuff for the love of heaven; which was very characteristic of the race. One poor man, in trying to save a sick wife and his little ones in a cart, upset them, and the babies were drowned at their own door. Comedy and tragedy side by side.
Outside the city, houses were carried off, people lost, and bridges swept away, so sudden and violent was the flood. The heavy rains and warm winds melted the snow on the mountains, and swelled the river till it rose higher than at anytime since 1805.
Many strangers who came to Rome for the Christmas holidays sat in their fine apartments, without food, fire, light, or company till taken off in boats or supplied by hoisting stores in at the windows.
"We can hold out some time as we live on a hill, and Pina has laid in provisions for several days. But if the flood lasts we shall come to want; for the wood-yards are under water, the railroads down, and the peasants can't get into the city to bring supplies, unless the donkeys swim," said Amanda, reviewing the situation.
"Never mind; it's so exciting; only we must not forget that we engaged to go and see the Roastpig Aurora to-day," answered Matilda, who insisted on pronouncing Rospigliosi in that improper manner.
"I like this infinitely better than any of your picturesque refrigerators, and it thrills me more to watch one of those dear, dirty soldiers save women and babies than to see a dozen 'Dying Gladiators' gasping for centuries in immortal marble," added Lavinia, who had shocked her artistic friends by sniffing at the famous statue, and wishing the man would die and done with it, and not lie squirming there.
"Come away, Mat: she has no soul for art, and it is all in vain to try and breathe one into her," said Amanda, with the calm pity of one who had read up every great picture, studied up every famous statue, and knew what to admire, when to thrill, and just where the various emotions should come in.
So they left the outcast perched on a wall, waving her muff at them, and calling out, "Nater for ever!" to the great horror of an English lady, who would have seen all Rome upset without any unseemly excitement.
That night the gas gave out, and mysterious orders were left at houses for lamps to be kept burning till morning. Thieves abounded, and the ladies prepared their arms, one pistol, one dagger, and a large umbrella, then slept peacefully, undisturbed by the commotion in the kitchen, where cats, live chickens, and Pina's five grandmothers, all lived together, rent free.
Amanda's last prediction was, that they would find themselves gently floating out at the Porta Pia about midnight. Mat wailed for a submerged gallery in which she had hoped to ice herself on the morrow, and Livy indulged the sinful hope that the Pope would get his pontifical petticoats very wet, be a little drowned, and terribly scared by the flood, because he spoilt the Christmas festivities, and shut up all the cardinals' red coaches.
Next day the water began to abate, and people made up their minds that the end of the world was not yet. Gentlemen paid visits on the backs of stout soldiers, ladies went shopping in boats, and family dinners were handed in at two-story windows without causing any remark, so quickly do people adapt themselves to the inevitable.
Hardly had the watery excitement subsided when a new event set the city in an uproar.
The king was not expected till the tenth of January; but the kind soul could not wait, and, as soon as the road was passable, he came with 300,000 francs in his hands to see what he could do for his poor Romans. He arrived at 4 a.m., and though unexpected the news flew through the city, and a crowd turned out with torches to escort him to the Quirinal.
Again did the explosive Pina burst in upon her mistresses with the news, this time in tears of joy, for the people began to think the King would never come, and therefore were especially touched by this prompt visit in the midst of their trouble. The handsome damsel was a spectacle herself, so dramatic was she as she shook her fist at the Pope, and cheered for the King, with a ladle in one hand, an artichoke in the other, her fine eyes flashing, and her mellow voice trembling, while she talked regardless of the polenta going to destruction in the frying-pan.
On went the bonnets, out flew the ladies, and rushed up to the Quirinal where stood a great crowd waiting eagerly for a sight of the King.
There was a great bustle among the officials, and splendid creatures in new uniforms, ran about in all directions. Grand carriages arrived, bringing the high and mighty, gaping but loyal, to greet their lord. General Marmora, a thin, shabby, energetic man, was everywhere; for the new order of things seemed a little hitchy. Dorias and Collonnas gladdened plebeian eyes, and the people cheered every thing, from the Commander-in-Chief to somebody's breakfast, borne through the crowd by a stately "Jeames" in livery, who graciously acknowledged the homage.
For one mortal hour our ladies stood in a pelting rain, and then retired, feeling that the sacrifice of their best hats was all that could reasonably be expected of free-born Americans. They consoled themselves by putting out Pina's fine Italian banner (made in secret, and kept ready for her King, for the padrona was papalino), and supporting it by two little American flags, the stars and stripes of which much perplexed the boys and donkeys, disporting themselves in the Piazza Barberini.
But the excitement was so infectious that the girls could not resist another run after royalty; so, while Livy consoled herself with the fire and the cat, they took a carriage and chased the King till they caught him at the Capitol. They had a fine view of him as he came down the long steps, almost alone, and at the peril of his life, through a mass of people cheering frantically, and whitening the streets with waving handkerchiefs.
The enthusiastic damsels mounted up beside the driver, and hurrahed with all their hearts and voices, as well they might, for it certainly was a sight to see. The courage of the King, in trusting himself in a city full of enemies, touched the people quite as much as the kindly motive that brought him there, and kept him sacred in their eyes.
The girls had a second view of him on the balcony of the Quirinal; for the populace clamored so for another sight of "II Rè" that the Pope's best velvet hangings were hastily spread, and Victor Emmanuel came out and bowed to his people, "who stood on their heads with joy," as Amanda expressed it.
He was in citizen's dress, and looked like a stout, brown, soldierly man, not so ugly as the pictures of him, but not an Apollo by any means.
Hating ceremony and splendor, he would not have the fine apartments prepared for him, but chose a plain room, saying, "Keep the finery for my son if you like: I prefer this."
He drove through the Ghetto, and all the desolated parts of the city, to see with his own eyes the ruin made; and then desired the city fathers to give to the poor the money they had set apart to make a splendid welcome for him.
He only spent one day, and returned to Florence at night. All Rome was at the station to see him off: ladies with carriages full of flowers, troops of soldiers, and throngs of poor people blessing him like a saint; for this kingly sympathy of his had won all hearts.
"When he does make his grand entry, we will decorate our balcony, and have our six windows packed with loyal Yankees who will hurrah their best for 'the honest man,' as they call Victor Emmanuel, and that is high praise for a king."
So said the three, and while waiting for the event (which did not occur in their day, however), they indulged in all the pastimes modern Rome afforded. They shivered through endless galleries, getting "cricks" in their necks staring at frescos, and injuring their optic nerves poring over pictures so old that often nothing was visible but a mahogany-colored leg, an oily face, or the dim outline of a green saint in a whirlwind of pink angels.
They grubbed in catacombs and came up mouldy. They picnicked in the tomb of Cæcelia Metella, flirted in the palace of the Cæsars,—not in the classical manner, however,—got cold by moonlight in the Colosseum, and went sketching in the Baths of Caracalla, which last amusement generally ended in the gentlemen and ladies drawing each other, and returning delighted with the study of art in "dear Rome."
They went to fancy parties where artists got themselves up like their own statues and pictures, and set mediæval fashions which it was a pity the rest of the world did not follow. They drank much social tea with titled beings, as thick as blackberries, and, better still, men and women who had earned nobler names for themselves with pencil, pen, or chisel. They paid visits in palaces where the horses lived in the basement, rich foreigners on the first floor, artists next, and princes in the attic.
They went to the hunt and saw scarlet coats, fine horses, bad riding, many hounds, and no foxes.
As a change they got up game-parties à la Little Athens in their own small salon, introduced the Potato Pantomime, had charades, and enacted the immortal Jarley's waxworks on one of the Seven Hills.
A true Yankee breakfast of fishballs, johnny-cake, and dip toast, was given in their honor, and its delights much enhanced by its being eaten in a lovely room with reeds and rushes on the pale-green walls, shell-shaped chairs, and coral mirror-frames. What a thing it was to consume those familiar viands in a famous palace, with Guido's Cenci downstairs, a great sculptor next door, three lovely boys as waiters, and "Titian T." to head the feast, and follow it up with dates from the Nile, and Egyptian sketches that caused the company to vote a speedy adjournment to the land "of corkendills" and pyramids.
These and many other joys they tasted, and when all else palled upon them they drove on the Campagna and were happy.
It is sad to be obliged to record that these quiet drives were the especial delight of the unsocial Lavinia, whose ill-regulated mind soon wearied of swell society, classical remains, and artistic revelry. Ancient Rome would have suited her excellently, she thought; but modern Rome was such a chaos of frivolity and fanaticism, poverty and splendor, dirt and deviltry, dead grandeur and living ignorance, that she felt as if shut up in a magnificent tomb, the bad air of which was poisoning both body and soul.
Her only consolation was the new freedom that seemed to blow over Rome like a wholesome wind. Old residents lamented the loss of the priestly pageants, fêtes, and ceremonies; but this republican spinster preferred to see Rome guarded by her own troops, and governed by her own King, who ordered streets to be cleaned, fountains filled, schools opened, and all good institutions made possible, rather than any amount of Papal purple covering poverty, ignorance, and superstition. Better than the sight of all the red coaches that ever rumbled was the spectacle of many boys quitting the Jesuit college and demanding admittance into the free schools; and sweeter than the music of all the silver trumpets that ever blew were the voices of happy men and women singing once forbidden songs of liberty in the streets of Rome.
These sentiments, and others equally unfashionable, were only breathed into the ear of sister Matilda when the two retired to the Campagna to confide to one another the secrets of their souls; a process necessary about once a week; for, after visiting studios, going to parties, and telling polite fibs about every thing they saw, it was impossible to exist without finding a vent of some sort. Once out among the aqueducts, Matilda could freely own that she thought genius a rare article in the studios where she expected to learn so much; and Lavinia could make the awful avowal that parties at which the order of performance was, gossip, tea, music; then music, tea, and gossip, all together,—were not her idea of intellectual society. Their criticisms on pictures and statues cannot be recorded without covering their humble names with infamy, and why the sky did not fall upon or the stones rise up and smite these Vandals is a mystery to this day.
They did enjoy much in their own improper manner, but poor Amanda's sufferings can better be imagined than described. So when Lavinia, early in March proposed to flee to the mountains before they became quite demoralized, and learned to steal and stab, as well as lie and lounge, she readily assented, and they retired to Albano.
"The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was nothing to this, and never have I seen such unappreciative women as you two," sighed Amanda, as they rolled away from Numero Due Piazza Barberini, leaving Agrippina sobbing at the top of the stairs and the padrona bobbing little curtsies at the bottom.
"I am sure the Cenci will haunt me all my days, and so will many other famous things," said Matilda while her eye roved fondly from a very brown Capuchin monk to a squad of Bersaglieri trotting by with jaunty cock's feathers dancing in the wind, muskets gleaming, and trim boots skipping through the mud with martial regularity.
" When I get the contents of my head sorted out, I shall doubtless rejoice that I have seen Rome; but just now all that I can clearly recall are the three facts that the Pope had a fit, our dear man Romeo got very tipsy one night, and that we went to see the Sistine Chapel the day the eclipse made it as dark as a pocket. Yes," continued Lavinia, with an air of decision, "I am glad to have seen this classical cesspool, and still more glad to have got out of it alive," she added, sniffing the air from the mountains, as if the odor of sanctity which pervaded the holy city did not suit her.
It blew great guns up at Albano, and the society consisted chiefly of donkeys. But the ladies enjoyed themselves nevertheless, and felt better and better every day; for early hours, much exercise, and no aesthetic tea, soon set them up after the dissipation of the winter.
Three pleasing events diversified their stay. The first happened the day after they arrived. The girls went forth early to look about them, and to see if they could find a little apartment where all could be more comfortable than in the breezy rooms at the hotel. Following the grassy road that winds down the valley below the viaduct, they came to a lovely garden, and, finding the gate open, went in. A queer old villa was perched on the hill above, and a manly form was observed to be leaning from a balcony as if enjoying the fine view from the height.
"I fancied that house was empty, or we wouldn't have come in. Never mind: we won't go back now, and if any one comes after us we will apologize and say we lost our way going to Ajaccio," said Amanda as they went calmly forward among the posy-beds that lay blooming on the hill-side.
It was well they prepared themselves, for the manly form suddenly disappeared from the balcony, and a moment afterward came swiftly toward them through the shrubs.
A comely young gentleman, who greeted them with Italian grace, accepted their apology smiling, and begged them to walk in his garden whenever they liked. It was always open, he said, and the peasants often used that path, admiring but never hurting a leaf. Hearing that they were in search of an apartment, he instantly begged them to come up and look at some rooms in the villa. His father was a refugee from France, and desired to let a part of his house. Come and behold these delightful rooms.
So charming was the interest he took in the errant damsels that they could not resist, and after rolling up their eyes at one another to express their enjoyment of the adventure, they graciously followed the handsome youth into the villa.
With confiding hospitality he took them everywhere,—into his mother's room, the kitchen, and nursery. In the latter place they found two small boys who bore such a striking resemblance to Napoleon First that the girls spoke of it, and were enraptured at the reply they received.
"Truly yes: we belong to the family. My mother is a Buonaparte, my father Count———"
"Here's richness and romance!" "What will Livy say?" whispered the girls to one another, as their guide left them in the salon and went to find his father.
"She will scold us for coming here," said Amanda, remembering her own lectures on the proprieties.
"Yes; but she will forgive us the minute we say Napoleon, for that bad little man is one of her heroes," added Mat, pretending to be admiring the view, while she privately examined a lady in a bower below. A stout, dark lady with all the family traits so strongly marked that there could be no doubt of the young man's assertion.
Presently he came back with an affable old gentleman who evidently had an eye to the main chance; for, in spite of his elegance and affability, he asked a great price for his rooms, and felt that any untitled stranger should be glad to pay well for the honor of living under the roof of a Buonaparte.
Amanda left the decision to her invisible duenna, and with a profusion of compliments and thanks, they got away, being gallantly escorted to the gate by the young count, who filled their hands with flowers, and gazed pensively after them, as if he found the society of two bright American girls very agreeable after that of his lofty parents, or the peasants of the town.
Home they ran and bounced in upon Livy, blooming and breathless, to pour out their tale, and suggest an immediate departure to the blissful spot where oounts and crocuses flourished with Italian luxuriance.
But after the first excitement had subsided, Lavinia put a wet blanket on the entire plan by declaring that she would never board with any grasping old patrician, who would charge for every bow, and fall back on his ancestors if he was found cheating. She would go and look at the place, but not enter it, nor be beholden to the resident Apollo for so much as a dandelion.
So the mourning damsels led the griffin over the viaduct, through the dirty little town, by the villa on its least attractive side. Up at the window were the two little Napoleonic heads with big, black eyes, strong chins, and dark hair streaked across wide, olive-colored foreheads. A vision of Papa was visible in the garden pruning a vine with gloves on his aristocratic hands, and a shabby velvet coat on his highly connected back. Also, afar off on the balcony,—oh, sight to touch a maiden's heart!—was the young count gazing wistfully toward Albano. He did not see the charmers as they crept down the rough road close to the garden wall, and went sadly home, along the blooming path to the "Tomb of the Four Thimbles," as Livy irreverently called the ruin, which has an ornament at each of its corners like a gigantic thimble of stone.
A note in Amanda's most elegant French, declining the apartment in the name of Madame Duenna, closed the door of this Eden upon the wandering peris, who entered never more. Now and then as they went clattering by on their donkeys to Lake Nemi, or some other picturesque spot,
They saw again the crocus bloom,
And, leaning from that lofty room,
Sir Launcelot with face of gloom
Look down to Camelot.
Up flew their veils and floated wide,
But Livy pinned them to her side,
"The curse has come upon us!" cried
The ladies of Shalott.
The second adventure befell Amanda alone, and in this wise.
Going one day to Rome, on business, she found herself shut up in a car with a gorgeous officer and a meek young man, who read papers all the way. The tall soldier in his gray and silver uniform, with a furred, frogged, and braided jacket, not to mention the high boots and spurs, or the becoming cap, was so very polite to the lone lady that she could not remain dumb without positive rudeness. So Amanda conversed in her most charming manner, finding inspiration, doubtless, in the dark eyes and musical voice of her handsome vis-à-vis, for the officers from Turin are things of beauty and joys for ever to those who love to look on manly men.
Among other things, the two had a little joke about the Baron Rothschild, who rode about Albano on a tiny donkey with two servants behind him, also the Baroness, a painfully plain woman with an ugly clog, the image of herself.
When they arrived at Rome, however, their joke was turned against them, by the discovery that the meek man was the Baron's secretary, who would doubtless repeat their chat at head-quarters. To see the handsome man slap his brow, and then laugh like a boy at the fun, was worth a longer journey, Amanda thought, as he put her into a carriage, gave her his best martial salute, and went clanking away about his own affairs.
Amanda returned at 4 p.m., and her emotions may be imagined when the dark face of her officer peered in at the car window, and the melodious voice asked if he might be permitted to enter. Of course he might; and, as no secretary now spoilt the tête-à-tête, Mars became delightfully confidential, and poured his woes into the sympathizing bosom of Amanda.
It had been a great affliction to him that his regiment was quartered at Albano for some months. Mio Dio! so dull was it life had already become a burden; but now, if the Signorina was to be there, if she permitted him to make himself known to her party, what joys were in store for him. The Signorina loved to ride. Behold he had superb horses languishing in the stables, that henceforth were dedicated to her use. His fellow officers were gentlemen of good family, brave as lions, and dying of ennui: if they might be presented to the ladies, life would be worth having, and Albano a Paradise, &c.
To all this devotion the prudent Amanda listened with pleasure, but promised nothing till Signore Mars had made the acquaintance of certain American gentlemen and married ladies, then it would be possible to enjoy the delights of which he spoke. The Colonel vowed he would instantly devote himself to this task, and thus they came to the lonely little station at Albano.
Amanda had ordered the carriage to meet her; but it was not there, and she was forced to wait till all her fellow passengers were gone. All but the gallant officer, who decorously remained outside, marching to and fro as if on guard, till his servant came with his horse. Then he begged to be allowed to see why the carriage did not come, and Amanda consented, for night was falling, and two miles of mud lay between her and home.
Away dashed the servant, but his master did not follow: standing in the doorway he declared that he must remain as the Signorina's protector, for no trains were due for hours, the depot man was gone, and it was too late for any lady to stay there alone. Again, Amanda gratefully consented, wondering what would be the end of her adventure. And again, the stately Colonel resumed his march outside, singing as he tramped, and evidently enjoying the escort duty that gave him so good an opportunity of displaying not only his gallantry, but his fine voice and handsome figure.
Down rattled the carriage at last, accompanied, to Amanda's dismay, by three of the Colonel's friends, who had evidently received a hint of the affair, and had come to have a hand in it.
With much bowing of the gentlemen, and much prancing of their fine horses, Amanda was handed to her seat, and went lumbering back to the hotel with her splendid escort careering about her, to the great edification of the town.
When the rescued damsel told the tale to her mates, Matilda tore her hair and lamented that she had not been there. Even the stern Livy had no lecture for the erring lamb, but was as full of interest as either of the girls, for any thing in the shape of a soldier was dear to her heart.
When the ladies rode forth next day three elegant St. Georges in full rig saluted as these modern Unas ambled by on their meek donkeys,—a performance punctually executed ever afterward whenever the three blue veils appeared. Much curvetting went on before the hotel door; much clanking of spurs and sabres was heard in the little lane on to which the apartment of the ladies looked, and splendid officers seemed to spring up like violets in secluded spots where maidens love to stroll.
It was all very nice; and the girls were beginning to feel that the charms of Albano rivalled those of Rome, when a sad blow upset their castles in the air, and desolated the knights over the way.
The highly respectable Americans who were to serve as the link between the soldiers and the ladies, decidedly declined the office, objecting to the martial gentlemen as being altogether too dangerous to bring into the dove-cot. So the poor dears sighed in vain, and the longing damsels never rode the fine horses that were temptingly paraded before them on all occasions.
They did their best; but it was soon evident to Lavinia that in some unguarded moment the impetuous Mat would yield to the spell and go gambading away for a ride sans duenna, sans habit, sans propriety, sans every thing. Amanda likewise seemed losing her head, and permitted the dark-eyed Colonel to talk to her when they met; only a moment,—but what a perilous moment it was!—when this six-foot Mars leaned over a green hedge and talked about the weather in the softest Italian that ever melted a woman's heart.
"I'm going to Venice next week; so you may as well make up your minds to it, girls. I cannot bear this awful responsibility any longer; for I am very sure you will both be off to Turin with those handsome rascals if we stay much longer. My mind is made up, and I won't hear a word."
Thus Lavinia, with a stern countenance; for the romantic old lady felt the charm as much as the girls did, and decided that discretion was the better part of valor for the whole party.
"I should never dare to go home and tell my honored parents that Mat had run away with a man as handsome as Jove, and as poor as Job. Amanda's indignant relatives would rise up and stone me if I let her canter into matrimony with the fascinating Colonel, who may have a wife and ten children in Turin, for all we know. They must be torn away at once, or my character as duenna is lost for ever."
Having made up her mind, Livy steeled her heart to all appeals, and wrote letters, packed trunks, and watched her little flock like a vigilant sheep dog.
How she would ever have got them through that last week is very uncertain, if a providential picnic had not helped her.
A fair was held in the town, and a delightful surprise-party was got up among the artists of Rome. Twenty-five came driving over in a big carriage, with four gaily decorated horses, postilions, hampers of lunch, flutes and horns, and much jollity bottled up for the occasion.
A very festive spectacle they made as they drove through the narrow streets with flowers and streamers in their hats, singing and joking in true artistic style.
They meant to have lunched in the open air; but, as it was cloudy, decided to spread the feast at the hotel. Such a delightful revel as followed! A scene from the "Decameron," modernized, would give some idea of it; for after the banquet all adjourned to the gardens of the Doria Villa, and there disported themselves as merrily as if all the plagues of life were quite forgotten, and death itself among the lost arts. Flirting and dancing, charades and singing, stories and statues, poems and pictures, gossip and gambols, absorbed the hours as pleasantly as in the olden time. And if the costumes were not as picturesque as those in Vedder's fine picture, the ladies were as lovely, the gentlemen as gallant, and all much better behaved than those of Boccaccio's party.
A few drops of rain quenched the fun at its height, and sent the revellers home as fast as four horses could take them, leaving the town gaping after them, and our ladies much enlivened by the delights of the day.
This third and last event pleasantly ended their sojourn at Albano; for a day or two later they vanished, leaving the dear officers disconsolate till the next batch of travelling ladies came to comfort their despair.
A week was spent in Venice, floating about all day from one delightful old church to another, or paying visits to Titians and Tintorettos; buying little turtles, photographs, or Venetian glass; eating candied fruit and seeing the doves fed in the square of San Marco; visiting shops full of dusty antiquities, or searching the stalls on the Rialto for Moor's-head rings; being rowed to the Lido by Giacomo in a red sash; and lulled to sleep at night by the songs of a chorus that floated under the windows in the moonlight.
Lavinia never could get used to seeing the butcher, the baker, and the postman go their rounds in boats. Matilda was in bliss, with a gondola all to herself, where she sat surrounded with watercolours, trying to paint every thing she saw; for here the energy she had lost at Rome seemed to return to her. Amanda haunted a certain shop, trying to make the man take a reasonable sum for a very ancient and ugly bit of jewelry, which she called "a sprigalario," for want of a better name; and after each failure she went off to compose herself with a visit to the Doges.
Of course they all saw the Bridge of Sighs and the dungeons below, with their many horrors; likewise a Mass at St. Mark's, where the Patriarch was a fat old soul in red silk, even to his shoes and holy pocket-handkerchief; and the sendee appeared to consist in six purple priests dressing and undressing him like an old doll, while a dozen white-gowned boys droned up in a gold cock-loft, and many beggars whined on the dirty floor below.
Do other travellers eat locusts, I wonder, as ours did one sunny day, sitting on church steps, and discover that the food of the Apostle was not the insect whose "zeeing" foretells hot weather; but the long, dry pods of the locust-tree, sweet to the taste, but rather "dry fodder," as the impious Livy remarked after choking herself with a quarter of a yard of it.
When the week was up Mat implored to be left behind with Angela, the maid, and Brio, a big poodle possessed of the devil. But she was torn away, and only consoled by the promise of many new gloves, with as many buttons as she pleased, when they got to Munich.
"The lakes are the proper entrance to Italy, and Venice a lovely exit. One soon tires of it, and is ready to leave, which is an excellent arrangement, though I should prefer to depart in some more cheerful vehicle than a hearse," observed Lavinia, as they left the long, black gondola at the steps of the station.
"Haven't you a sigh for those lovely lakes, a tear for Albano, a pang of regret for Rome?" asked Amanda, hoping to wring one moan for Italy from the old lady.
"Not a sigh, not a tear, not a regret. I find I like them all better the farther I get from them, and by the time I am at home I may be able to say 'I adore them, but I doubt it," returned the incorrigible Livy, and from that moment Amanda regarded her granny as one dead to all the dear delusions of antiquity.