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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 22
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    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
    there.

    "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."

    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 household?

    * * * * * * *

    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 Holy Sepulchre!

    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
    taste."

    "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."

    "And now?"

    "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 good-day."

    "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
    his hospitality.

    "'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
    ye crave."

    "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
    expense--"

    "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 suppliants!"

    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!"

    "NE-VER?"

    "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 father!"

    "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
    chin."

    "As how?"

    "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--
    "VENICE!"

    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
    sunset.
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