From Padua To Ferrara
( Originally Published 1893 )
As far as to Ferrara there was no sign of deviation from the direct line in our road, and the company was well enough. We had a Swiss family in the car with us to Padua, and they told us how they were going home to their mountains from Russia, where they had spent nineteen years of their lives. They were mother and father and only daughter and the last, without ever having seen her ancestral country, was so Swiss in her yet childish beauty, that she filled the morning twilight with vague images of glacial height, blue lake, snug chalet, and whatever else of picturesque there is in paint and print about Switzerland. Of course, as the light grew brighter these images melted away, and left only a little frost upon the window-pane.
The mother was restively anxious at nearing her country, and told us every thing of its loveliness and happiness. Nineteen years of absence had not robbed it of the poorest charm, and I hope that seeing it again took nothing from it. We said how glad we should be if we were as near America as she was to Switzerland. America ! " she screamed ; " you come from America ! Dear God, the world is wide — the world is wide ! " The thought was so paralyzing that it silenced the fat little lady for a moment, and gave her husband time to express his sympathy with us in our war, which he understood perfectly well. He trusted that the revolution to perpetuate slavery must fail, and he hoped that the war would soon end, for it made cotton very dear.
Europe is material: I doubt if, after Victor Hugo and Garibaldi, there were many upon that continent whose enthusiasm for American unity (which is European freedom) was not somewhat chilled by the expensiveness of cotton. The fabrics were all doubled in price, and every man in Europe paid tribute in hard money to the devotion with which we prosecuted the war, and, incidentally, interrupted the cultivation of cotton.
We shook hands with our friends, and dismounted at Padua, where we were to take the diligence for the Po. In the diligence their loss was more than made good by the company of the only honest man in Italy. Of course this honest man had been a great sufferer from his own countrymen, and I wish that all English and American tourists, who think themselves the sole victims of publican rapacity and deceit in Italy, could have heard our honest man's talk. The truth is, these ingenious people prey upon their own kind with an avidity quite as keen as that with which they devour strangers; and I am half-persuaded that a ready-witted foreigner fares better among them than a traveller of their own nation. Italians will always pretend, on any occasion, that you have been plundered much worse than they but the reverse often happens. They give little in fees ; but their landlord, their porter, their driver, and their boatman pillage them with the same impunity that they rob an Inglese. As for this honest man in the diligence, he had suffered such enormities at the hands of the Paduans, from which we had just escaped, and at the hands of the Farrarese, into which we were rushing (at the rate of five miles scant an hour), that I was almost minded to stop between the nests of those brigands and pass the rest of my days at Rovigo, where the honest man lived. His talk was amusingly instructive, and went to illustrate the strong municipal spirit which still dominates all Italy, and which is more inimical to an effectual unity among Italians than Pope or Kaiser has ever been. Our honest man of Rovigo was a foreigner at Padua, twenty-five miles north, and a foreigner at Ferrara, twenty-five miles south ; and throughout Italy the native of one city is an alien in another, and is as lawful prey as a Russian or al% American with people who consider every stranger as sent them by the bounty of Providence to be eaten alive. Heaven knows what our honest man had paid at his hotel in Padua, but in Ferrara the other week he had been made to give five francs apiece for two small roast chickens, besides a fee to the waiter; and he pathetically warned us to beware how we dealt with Italians. Indeed, I never met a man so thoroughly persuaded of the rascality of his nation and of his own exceptional virtue. He took snuff with his whole person ; and he volunteered, at sight of a flock of geese, a recipe which I give the reader : Stuff a goose with sausage ; let it hang in the weather during the winter; and in the spring cut it up and stew it, and you have an excellent and delicate soup.
But after all our friend's talk, though constant, became dispiriting, and we were willing when he left us. His integrity had, indeed, been so oppressive that I was glad to be swindled in the charge for our dinner at the Iron Crown, in Rovigo, and rode more cheerfully on to Ferrara.