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- Europe Revised - 40/47 -
souvenir postal card; and I think we should all be very grateful for that mercy anyway.
As I was saying, we had left the Sistine Chapel a mile or so behind us and had dragged our exhausted frames as far as an arched upper portico in a wing of the great palace, overlooking a paved courtyard inclosed at its farther end by a side wall of Saint Peter's. We saw, in another portico similar to the one where we had halted and running parallel to it, long rows of peasants, all kneeling and all with their faces turned in the same direction.
"Wait here a minute," said our guide. "I think you will see something not included in the regular itinerary of the day."
So we waited. In a minute or two the long lines of kneeling peasants raised a hymn; the sound of it came to us in quavering snatches. Through the aisle formed by their bodies a procession passed the length of the long portico and back to the starting point. First came Swiss Guards in their gay piebald uniforms, carrying strange-looking pikes and halberds; and behind them were churchly dignitaries, all bared of head; and last of all came a very old and very feeble man, dressed in white, with a wide-brimmed white hat--and he had white hair and a white face, which seemed drawn and worn, but very gentle and kindly and beneficent.
He held his right arm aloft, with the first two fingers extended in the gesture of the apostolic benediction. He was so far away from us that in perspective his profile was reduced to the miniature proportions of a head on a postage stamp; but, all the same, the lines of it stood out clear and distinct. It was his Holiness, Pope Pius the Tenth, blessing a pilgrimage.
All the guides in Rome follow a regular routine with the tourist. First, of course, they steer you into certain shops in the hope that you will buy something and thereby enable them to earn commissions. Then, in turn, they carry you to an art gallery, to a church, and to a palace, with stops at other shops interspersed between; and invariably they wind up in the vicinity of some of the ruins. Ruins is a Roman guide's middle name; ruins are his one best bet. In Rome I saw ruins until I was one myself.
We devoted practically an entire day to ruins. That was the day we drove out the Appian Way, glorious in legend and tale, but not quite so all-fired glorious when you are reeling over its rough and rutted pavement in an elderly and indisposed open carriage, behind a pair of half-broken Roman-nosed horses which insist on walking on their hind legs whenever they tire of going on four. The Appian Way, as at present constituted, is a considerable disappointment. For long stretches it runs between high stone walls, broken at intervals by gate-ways, where votive lamps burn before small shrines, and by the tombs of such illustrious dead as Seneca and the Horatii and the Curiatii. At more frequent intervals are small wine groggeries. Being built mainly of Italian marble, which is the most enduring and the most unyielding substance to be found in all Italy--except a linen collar that has been starched in an Italian laundry--the tombs are in a pretty fair state of preservation; but the inns, without exception, stand most desperately in need of immediate repairing.
A cow in Italy is known by the company she keeps; she rambles about, in and out of the open parlor of the wayside inn, mingling freely with the patrons and the members of the proprietor's household. Along the Appian Way a cow never seems to care whom she runs with; and the same is true of the domestic fowls and the family donkey. A donkey will spend his day in the doorway of a wine shop when he might just as well be enjoying the more sanitary and less crowded surroundings of a stable. It only goes to show what an ass a donkey is.
Anon, as the fancy writers say, we skirted one of the many wrecked aqueducts that go looping across country to the distant hills, like great stone straddlebugs. In the vicinity of Rome you are rarely out of sight of one of these aqueducts. The ancient Roman rulers, you know, curried the favor of the populace by opening baths. A modern ruler could win undying popularity by closing up a few.
We slowed up at the Circus of Romulus and found it a very sad circus, as such things go--no elevated stage, no hippodrome track, no centerpole, no trapeze, and only one ring. P. T. Barnum would have been ashamed to own it. A broken wall, following the lines of an irregular oval; a cabbage patch where the arena had been; and various tumble-down farmsheds built into the shattered masonry --this was the Circus of Romulus. However, it was not the circus of the original Romulus, but of a degenerate successor of the same name who rose suddenly and fell abruptly after the Christian era was well begun. Old John J. Romulus would not have stood for that circus a minute.
No ride on the Appian Way is regarded as complete without half an hour's stop at the Catacombs of Saint Calixtus; so we stopped. Guided by a brown Trappist, and all of us bearing twisted tapers in our hands, we descended by stone steps deep under the skin of the earth and wandered through dim, dank underground passages, where thousands of early Christians had lived and hid, and held clandestine worship before rude stone altars, and had died and been buried--died in a highly unpleasant fashion, some of them.
The experience was impressive, but malarial. Coming away from there I had an argument with a fellow American. He said that if we had these Catacombs in America we should undoubtedly enlarge them and put in band stands and lunch places, and altogether make them more attractive for picnic parties and Sunday excursionists. I contended, on the other hand, that if they were in America the authorities would close them up and protect the moldered bones of those early Christians from the vulgar gaze and prying fingers of every impious relic hunter who might come along. The dispute rose higher and grew warmer until I offered to bet him fifty dollars that I was right and he was wrong. He took me up promptly--he had sporting instincts; I'll say that for him--and we shook hands on it then and there to bind the wager. I expect to win that bet.
We had turned off the Appian Way and were crossing a corner of that unutterably hideous stretch of tortured and distorted waste known as the Campagna, which goes tumbling away to the blue Alban Mountains, when we came on the scene of an accident. A two-wheeled mule cart, proceeding along a crossroad, with the driver asleep in his canopied seat, had been hit by a speeding automobile and knocked galley-west. The automobile had sped on--so we were excitedly informed by some other tourists who had witnessed the collision--leaving the wreckage bottom side up in the ditch. The mule was on her back, all entangled in the twisted ruination of her gaudy gear, kicking out in that restrained and genteel fashion in which a mule always kicks when she is desirous of protesting against existing conditions, but is wishful not to damage herself while so doing. The tourists, aided by half a dozen peasants, had dragged the driver out from beneath the heavy cart and had carried him to a pile of mucky straw beneath the eaves of a stable. He was stretched full length on his back, senseless and deathly pale under the smeared grime on his face. There was no blood; but inside his torn shirt his chest had a caved-in look, as though the ribs had been crushed flat, and he seemed not to breathe at all. Only his fingers moved. They kept twitching, as though his life was running out of him through his finger ends. One felt that if he would but grip his hands he might stay its flight and hold it in.
Just as we jumped out of our carriage a young peasant woman, who had been bending over the injured man, set up a shrill outcry, which was instantly answered from behind us; and looking round we saw, running through the bare fields, a great, bulksome old woman, with her arms outspread and her face set in a tragic shape, shrieking as she sped toward us in her ungainly wallowing course. She was the injured man's mother, we judged--or possibly his grandmother.
There was nothing we could do for the human victim. Our guides, having questioned the assembled natives, told us there was no hospital to which he might be taken and that a neighborhood physician had already been sent for. So, having no desire to look on the grief of his mother--if she was his mother--a young Austrian and I turned our attention to the neglected mule. We felt that we could at least render a little first aid there. We had our pocket-knives out and were slashing away at the twisted maze of ropes and straps that bound the brute down between the shafts, when a particularly shrill chorus of shrieks checked us. We stood up and faced about, figuring that the poor devil on the muck heap had died and that his people were bemoaning his death. That was not it at all. The entire group, including the fat old woman, were screaming at us and shaking their clenched fists at us, warning us not to damage that harness with our knives. Feeling ran high, and threatened to run higher.
So, having no desire to be mobbed on the spot, we desisted and put up our knives; and after a while we got back into our carriage and drove on, leaving the capsized mule still belly-up in the debris, lashing out carefully with her skinned legs at the trappings that bound her; and the driver was still prone on the dunghill, with his fingers twitching more feebly now, as though the life had almost entirely fled out of him--a grim little tragedy set in the edge of a wide and aching desolation! We never found out his name or learned how he fared--whether he lived or died, and if he died how long he lived before he died. It is a puzzle which will always lie unanswered at the back of my mind, and I know that in odd moments it will return to torment me. I will bet one thing, though--nobody else tried to cut that mule out of her harness.
In the chill late afternoon of a Roman day the guides brought us back to the city and took us down into the Roman Forum, which is in a hollow instead of being up on a hill as most folks imagine it to be until they go to Rome and see it; and we finished up the day at the Golden House of Nero, hard by the vast ruins of the Coliseum. We had already visited the Forum once; so this time we did not stay long; just long enough for some ambitious pickpocket to get a wallet out of my hip pocket while I was pushing forward with a flock of other human sheep for a better look at the ruined portico wherein Mark Antony stood when he delivered his justly popular funeral oration over the body of the murdered Caesar. I never did admire the character of Mark Antony with any degree of extravagance, and since this experience I have felt actually bitter toward him.
The guidebooks say that no visitor to Rome should miss seeing the Golden House of Nero. When a guidebook tries to be humorous it only succeeds in being foolish. Practical jokes are out of place in a guidebook anyway. Imagine a large, old-fashioned brick smokehouse, which has been struck by lightning, burned to the roots and buried in the wreckage, and the site used as a pasture land for goats for a great many years; imagine the debris as having been dug out subsequently until a few of the foundation lines are visible; surround the whole with distressingly homely buildings of a modern aspect, and stir in a miscellaneous seasoning of beggars
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