Inn at Terracina, by Washington Irving

Tales of a Traveller

Crack! crack! crack! crack! crack!

"Here comes the estafette from Naples," said mine host of the inn at
Terracina, "bring out the relay."

The estafette came as usual galloping up the road, brandishing over his head a short-handled whip, with a long knotted lash; every smack of which made a report like a pistol. He was a tight square-set young fellow, in the customary uniform—a smart blue coat, ornamented with facings and gold lace, but so short behind as to reach scarcely below his waistband, and cocked up not unlike the tail of a wren. A cocked hat, edged with gold lace; a pair of stiff riding boots; but instead of the usual leathern breeches he had a fragment of a pair of drawers that scarcely furnished an apology for modesty to hide behind.

The estafette galloped up to the door and jumped from his horse.

"A glass of rosolio, a fresh horse, and a pair of breeches," said he, "and quickly—I am behind my time, and must be off."

"San Genaro!" replied the host, "why, where hast thou left thy garment?"

"Among the robbers between this and Fondi."

"What! rob an estafette! I never heard of such folly. What could they hope to get from thee?"

"My leather breeches!" replied the estafette. "They were bran new, and shone like gold, and hit the fancy of the captain."

"Well, these fellows grow worse and worse. To meddle with an estafette!
And that merely for the sake of a pair of leather breeches!"

The robbing of a government messenger seemed to strike the host with More astonishment than any other enormity that had taken place on the road; and indeed it was the first time so wanton an outrage had been committed; the robbers generally taking care not to meddle with any thing belonging to government.

The estafette was by this time equipped; for he had not lost an instant in making his preparations while talking. The relay was ready: the rosolio tossed off. He grasped the reins and the stirrup.

"Were there many robbers in the band?" said a handsome, dark young man, stepping forward from the door of the inn.

"As formidable a band as ever I saw," said the estafette, springing into the saddle.

"Are they cruel to travellers?" said a beautiful young Venetian lady, who had been hanging on the gentleman's arm.

"Cruel, signora!" echoed the estafette, giving a glance at the lady as he put spurs to his horse. "Corpo del Bacco! they stiletto all the men, and as to the women—"

Crack! crack! crack! crack! crack!—the last words were drowned in the smacking of the whip, and away galloped the estafette along the road to the Pontine marshes.

"Holy Virgin!" ejaculated the fair Venetian, "what will become of us!"

The inn of Terracina stands just outside of the walls of the old town of that name, on the frontiers of the Roman territory. A little, lazy, Italian town, the inhabitants of which, apparently heedless and listless, are said to be little better than the brigands which surround them, and indeed are half of them supposed to be in some way or other connected with the robbers. A vast, rocky height rises perpendicularly above it, with the ruins of the castle of Theodoric the Goth, crowning its summit; before it spreads the wide bosom of the Mediterranean, that sea without flux or reflux. There seems an idle pause in every thing about this place. The port is without a sail, excepting that once in a while a solitary felucca may be seen, disgorging its holy cargo of baccala, the meagre provision for the Quaresima or Lent. The naked watch towers, rising here and there along the coast, speak of pirates and corsairs which hover about these shores: while the low huts, as stations for soldiers, which dot the distant road, as it winds through an olive grove, intimate that in the ascent there is danger for the traveller and facility for the bandit.

Indeed, it is between this town and Fondi that the road to Naples is Mostly infested by banditti. It winds among rocky and solitary places, where the robbers are enabled to see the traveller from a distance from the brows of hills or impending precipices, and to lie in wait for him, at the lonely and difficult passes.

At the time that the estafette made this sudden appearance, almost in cuerpo, the audacity of the robbers had risen to an unparalleled height. They had their spies and emissaries in every town, village, and osteria, to give them notice of the quality and movements of travellers. They did not scruple to send messages into the country towns and villas, demanding certain sums of money, or articles of dress and luxury; with menaces of vengeance in case of refusal. They had plundered carriages; carried people of rank and fortune into the mountains and obliged them to write for heavy ransoms; and had committed outrages on females who had fallen in their power.

The police exerted its rigor in vain. The brigands were too numerous And powerful for a weak police. They were countenanced and cherished by several of the villages; and though now and then the limbs of malefactors hung blackening in the trees near which they had committed some atrocity; or their heads stuck upon posts in iron cages made some dreary part of the road still more dreary, still they seemed to strike dismay into no bosom but that of the traveller.

The dark, handsome young man; and the Venetian lady, whom I have mentioned, had arrived early that afternoon in a private carriage, drawn by mules and attended by a single servant. They had been recently married, were spending the honeymoon in travelling through these delicious countries, and were on their way to visit a rich aunt of the young lady's at Naples.

The lady was young, and tender and timid. The stories she had heard along the road had filled her with apprehension, not more for herself than for her husband; for though she had been married almost a month, she still loved him almost to idolatry. When she reached Terracina the rumors of the road had increased to an alarming magnitude; and the sight of two robbers' skulls grinning in iron cages on each side of the old gateway of the town brought her to a pause. Her husband had tried in vain to reassure her. They had lingered all the afternoon at the inn, until it was too late to think of starting that evening, and the parting words of the estafette completed her affright.

"Let us return to Rome," said she, putting her arm within her husband's, and drawing towards him as if for protection—"let us return to Rome and give up this visit to Naples."

"And give up the visit to your aunt, too," said the husband.

"Nay—what is my aunt in comparison with your safety," said she, looking up tenderly in his face.

There was something in her tone and manner that showed she really was Thinking more of her husband's safety at that moment than of her own; and being recently married, and a match of pure affection, too, it is very possible that she was. At least her husband thought so. Indeed, any one who has heard the sweet, musical tone of a Venetian voice, and the melting tenderness of a Venetian phrase, and felt the soft witchery of a Venetian eye, would not wonder at the husband's believing whatever they professed.

He clasped the white hand that had been laid within his, put his arm round her slender waist, and drawing her fondly to his bosom—"This night at least," said he, "we'll pass at Terracina."

Crack! crack! crack! crack! crack!

Another apparition of the road attracted the attention of mine host and his guests. From the road across the Pontine marshes, a carriage drawn by half a dozen horses, came driving at a furious pace—the postillions smacking their whips like mad, as is the case when conscious of the greatness or the munificence of their fare. It was a landaulet, with a servant mounted on the dickey. The compact, highly finished, yet proudly simple construction of the carriage; the quantity of neat, well-arranged trunks and conveniences; the loads of box coats and upper benjamins on the dickey—and the fresh, burly, gruff-looking face at the window, proclaimed at once that it was the equipage of an Englishman.

"Fresh horses to Fondi," said the Englishman, as the landlord came bowing to the carriage door.

"Would not his Excellenza alight and take some refreshment?"

"No—he did not mean to eat until he got to Fondi!"

"But the horses will be some time in getting ready—"

"Ah.—that's always the case—nothing but delay in this cursed country."

"If his Excellenza would only walk into the house—"

"No, no, no!—I tell you no!—I want nothing but horses, and as quick as possible. John! see that the horses are got ready, and don't let us be kept here an hour or two. Tell him if we're delayed over the time, I'll lodge a complaint with the postmaster."

John touched his hat, and set off to obey his master's orders, with the taciturn obedience of an English servant. He was a ruddy, round-faced fellow, with hair cropped close; a short coat, drab breeches, and long gaiters; and appeared to have almost as much contempt as his master for everything around him.

In the mean time the Englishman got out of the carriage and walked up and down before the inn, with his hands in his pockets: taking no notice of the crowd of idlers who were gazing at him and his equipage. He was tall, stout, and well made; dressed with neatness and precision, wore a travelling-cap of the color of gingerbread, and had rather an unhappy expression about the corners of his mouth; partly from not having yet made his dinner, and partly from not having been able to get on at a greater rate than seven miles an hour. Not that he had any other cause for haste than an Englishman's usual hurry to get to the end of a journey; or, to use the regular phrase, "to get on."

After some time the servant returned from the stable with as sour a look as his master.

"Are the horses ready, John?"

"No, sir—I never saw such a place. There's no getting anything done. I think your honor had better step into the house and get something to eat; it will be a long while before we get to Fundy."

"D—n the house—it's a mere trick—I'll not eat anything, just to spite them," said the Englishman, still more crusty at the prospect of being so long without his dinner.

"They say your honor's very wrong," said John, "to set off at this late hour. The road's full of highwaymen."

"Mere tales to get custom."

"The estafette which passed us was stopped by a whole gang," said John, increasing his emphasis with each additional piece of information.

"I don't believe a word of it."

"They robbed him of his breeches," said John, giving at the same time a hitch to his own waist-band.

"All humbug!"

Here the dark, handsome young man stepped forward and addressing the Englishman very politely in broken English, invited him to partake of a repast he was about to make. "Thank'ee," said the Englishman, thrusting his hands deeper into his pockets, and casting a slight side glance of suspicion at the young man, as if he thought from his civility he must have a design upon his purse.

"We shall be most happy if you will do us that favor," said the lady, in her soft Venetian dialect. There was a sweetness in her accents that was most persuasive. The Englishman cast a look upon her countenance; her beauty was still more eloquent. His features instantly relaxed. He made an attempt at a civil bow. "With great pleasure, signora," said he.

In short, the eagerness to "get on" was suddenly slackened; the determination to famish himself as far as Fondi by way of punishing the landlord was abandoned; John chose the best apartment in the inn for his master's reception, and preparations were made to remain there until morning.

The carriage was unpacked of such of its contents as were indispensable for the night. There was the usual parade of trunks and writing-desks, and portfolios, and dressing-boxes, and those other oppressive conveniences which burden a comfortable man. The observant loiterers about the inn door, wrapped up in great dirt-colored cloaks, with only a hawk's eye uncovered, made many remarks to each other on this quantity of luggage that seemed enough for an army. And the domestics of the inn talked with wonder of the splendid dressing-case, with its gold and silver furniture that was spread out on the toilette table, and the bag of gold that chinked as it was taken out of the trunk. The strange "Milor's" wealth, and the treasures he carried about him, were the talk, that evening, over all Terracina.

The Englishman took some time to make his ablutions and arrange his dress for table, and after considerable labor and effort in putting himself at his ease, made his appearance, with stiff white cravat, his clothes free from the least speck of dust, and adjusted with precision. He made a formal bow on entering, which no doubt he meant to be cordial, but which any one else would have considered cool, and took his seat.

The supper, as it was termed by the Italian, or dinner, as the Englishman called it, was now served. Heaven and earth, and the waters under the earth, had been moved to furnish it, for there were birds of the air and beasts of the earth and fish of the sea. The Englishman's servant, too, had turned the kitchen topsy-turvy in his zeal to cook his master a beefsteak; and made his appearance loaded with ketchup, and soy, and Cayenne pepper, and Harvey sauce, and a bottle of port wine, from that warehouse, the carriage, in which his master seemed desirous of carrying England about the world with him. Every thing, however, according to the Englishman, was execrable. The tureen of soup was a black sea, with livers and limbs and fragments of all kinds of birds and beasts, floating like wrecks about it. A meagre winged animal, which my host called a delicate chicken, was too delicate for his stomach, for it had evidently died of a consumption. The macaroni was smoked. The beefsteak was tough buffalo's flesh, and the countenance of mine host confirmed the assertion. Nothing seemed to hit his palate but a dish of stewed eels, of which he ate with great relish, but had nearly refunded them when told that they were vipers, caught among the rocks of Terracina, and esteemed a great delicacy.

In short, the Englishman ate and growled, and ate and growled, like a cat eating in company, pronouncing himself poisoned by every dish, yet eating on in defiance of death and the doctor. The Venetian lady, not accustomed to English travellers, almost repented having persuaded him to the meal; for though very gracious to her, he was so crusty to all the world beside, that she stood in awe of him. There is nothing, however, that conquers John Bull's crustiness sooner than eating, whatever may be the cookery; and nothing brings him into good humor with his company sooner than eating together; the Englishman, therefore, had not half finished his repast and his bottle, before he began to think the Venetian a very tolerable fellow for a foreigner, and his wife almost handsome enough to be an Englishwoman.

In the course of the repast the tales of robbers which harassed the mind of the fair Venetian, were brought into discussion. The landlord and the waiter served up such a number of them as they served up the dishes, that they almost frightened away the poor lady's appetite. Among these was the story of the school of Terracina, still fresh in every mind, where the students were carried up the mountains by the banditti, in hopes of ransom, and one of them massacred, to bring the parents to terms for the others. There was a story also of a gentleman of Rome, who delayed remitting the ransom demanded for his son, detained by the banditti, and received one of his son's ears in a letter with information that the other would be remitted to him soon, if the money were not forthcoming, and that in this way he would receive the boy by instalments until he came to terms.

The fair Venetian shuddered as she heard these tales. The landlord, like a true story-teller, doubled the dose when he saw how it operated. He was just proceeding to relate the misfortunes of a great English lord and his family, when the Englishman, tired of his volubility, testily interrupted him, and pronounced these accounts mere traveller's tales, or the exaggerations of peasants and innkeepers. The landlord was indignant at the doubt levelled at his stories, and the innuendo levelled at his cloth; he cited half a dozen stories still more terrible, to corroborate those he had already told.

"I don't believe a word of them," said the Englishman.

"But the robbers had been tried and executed."

"All a farce!"

"But their heads were stuck up along the road."

"Old skulls accumulated during a century."

The landlord muttered to himself as he went out at the door, "San
Genaro, come sono singolari questi Inglesi."

A fresh hubbub outside of the inn announced the arrival of more travellers; and from the variety of voices, or rather clamors, the clattering of horses' hoofs, the rattling of wheels, and the general uproar both within and without, the arrival seemed to be numerous. It was, in fact, the procaccio, and its convoy—a kind of caravan of merchandise, that sets out on stated days, under an escort of soldiery to protect it from the robbers. Travellers avail themselves of the occasion, and many carriages accompany the procaccio. It was a long time before either landlord or waiter returned, being hurried away by the tempest of new custom. When mine host appeared, there was a smile of triumph on his countenance.—"Perhaps," said he, as he cleared away the table, "perhaps the signor has not heard of what has happened."

"What?" said the Englishman, drily.

"Oh, the procaccio has arrived, and has brought accounts of fresh exploits of the robbers, signor."

"Pish!"

"There's more news of the English Milor and his family," said the host, emphatically.

"An English lord.-What English lord?"

"Milor Popkin."

"Lord Popkin? I never heard of such a title!"

"O Sicuro—a great nobleman that passed through here lately with his Milady and daughters—a magnifico—one of the grand councillors of London—un almanno."

"Almanno—almanno?—tut! he means alderman."

"Sicuro, aldermanno Popkin, and the principezza Popkin, and the signorina Popkin!" said mine host, triumphantly. He would now have entered into a full detail, but was thwarted by the Englishman, who seemed determined not to credit or indulge him in his stories. An Italian tongue, however, is not easily checked: that of mine host continued to run on with increasing volubility as he conveyed the fragments of the repast out of the room, and the last that could be distinguished of his voice, as it died away along the corridor, was the constant recurrence of the favorite word Popkin—Popkin—Popkin—pop—pop—pop.

The arrival of the procaccio had indeed filled the house with stories as it had with guests. The Englishman and his companions walked out after supper into the great hall, or common room of the inn, which runs through the centre building; a gloomy, dirty-looking apartment, with tables placed in various parts of it, at which some of the travellers were seated in groups, while others strolled about in famished impatience for their evening's meal. As the procaccio was a kind of caravan of travellers, there were people of every class and country, who had come in all kinds of vehicles; and though they kept in some measure in separate parties, yet the being united under one common escort had jumbled them into companionship on the road. Their formidable number and the formidable guard that accompanied them, had prevented any molestation from the banditti; but every carriage had its tale of wonder, and one vied with another in the recital. Not one but had seen groups of robbers peering over the rocks; or their guns peeping out from among the bushes, or had been reconnoitred by some suspicious-looking fellow with scowling eye, who disappeared on seeing the guard.

The fair Venetian listened to all these stories with that eager curiosity with which we seek to pamper any feeling of alarm. Even the Englishman began to feel interested in the subject, and desirous of gaining more correct information than these mere flying reports.

He mingled in one of the groups which appeared to be the most respectable, and which was assembled round a tall, thin person, with long Roman nose, a high forehead, and lively prominent eye, beaming from under a green velvet travelling-cap with gold tassel. He was holding forth with all the fluency of a man who talks well and likes to exert his talent. He was of Rome; a surgeon by profession, a poet by choice, and one who was something of an improvvisatore. He soon gave the Englishman abundance of information respecting the banditti.

"The fact is," said he, "that many of the people in the villages among the mountains are robbers, or rather the robbers find perfect asylum among them. They range over a vast extent of wild impracticable country, along the chain of Apennines, bordering on different states; they know all the difficult passes, the short cuts and strong-holds. They are secure of the good-will of the poor and peaceful inhabitants of those regions, whom they never disturb, and whom they often enrich. Indeed, they are looked upon as a sort of illegitimate heroes among the mountain villages, and some of the frontier towns, where they dispose of their plunder. From these mountains they keep a look-out upon the plains and valleys, and meditate their descents."

"The road to Fondi, which you are about to travel, is one of the places most noted for their exploits. It is overlooked from some distance by little hamlets, perched upon heights. From hence, the brigands, like hawks in their nests, keep on the watch for such travellers as are likely to afford either booty or ransom. The windings of the road enable them to see carriages long before they pass, so that they have time to get to some advantageous lurking-place from whence to pounce upon their prey."

"But why does not the police interfere and root them out?" said the
Englishman.

"The police is too weak and the banditti are too strong," replied the improvvisatore. "To root them out would be a more difficult task than you imagine. They are connected and identified with the people of the villages and the peasantry generally; the numerous bands have an understanding with each other, and with people of various conditions in all parts of the country. They know all that is going on; a gens d'armes cannot stir without their being aware of it. They have their spies and emissaries in every direction; they lurk about towns, villages, inns,—mingle in every crowd, pervade every place of resort. I should not be surprised," said he, "if some one should be supervising us at this moment."

The fair Venetian looked round fearfully and turned pale.

"One peculiarity of the Italian banditti" continued the improvvisatore, "is that they wear a kind of uniform, or rather costume, which designates their profession. This is probably done to take away from its skulking lawless character, and to give it something of a military air in the eyes of the common people; or perhaps to catch by outward dash and show the fancies of the young men of the villages. These dresses or costumes are often rich and fanciful. Some wear jackets and breeches of bright colors, richly embroidered; broad belts of cloth; or sashes of silk net; broad, high-crowned hats, decorated with feathers of variously-colored ribbands, and silk nets for the hair.

"Many of the robbers are peasants who follow ordinary occupations in the villages for a part of the year, and take to the mountains for the rest. Some only go out for a season, as it were, on a hunting expedition, and then resume the dress and habits of common life. Many of the young men of the villages take to this kind of life occasionally from a mere love of adventure, the wild wandering spirit of youth and the contagion of bad example; but it is remarked that they can never after brook a long continuance in settled life. They get fond of the unbounded freedom and rude license they enjoy; and there is something in this wild mountain life checquered by adventure and peril, that is wonderfully fascinating, independent of the gratification of cupidity by the plunder of the wealthy traveller."

Here the improvvisatore was interrupted by a lively Neapolitan lawyer. "Your mention of the younger robbers," said he, "puts me in mind of an adventure of a learned doctor, a friend of mine, which happened in this very neighborhood."

A wish was of course expressed to hear the adventure of the doctor by all except the improvvisatore, who, being fond of talking and of hearing himself talk, and accustomed moreover to harangue without interruption, looked rather annoyed at being checked when in full career.

The Neapolitan, however, took no notice of his chagrin, but related The following anecdote.