Inn at Terracina, by Washington Irving
Tales of a
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
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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
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."
"There's more news of the English Milor and his family," said the host,
"An English lord.-What English lord?"
"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
"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 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
"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
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
The Neapolitan, however, took no notice of his chagrin, but related The