We lunched well at a small albergo. There were four good-looking daughters of the house, who came and sat with us in turn and watched us eat. They had the naturalness and simple charm of dwellers in remote places. “Four good cows,” said the Garibaldino, with the frank realism of the South, “but all the local proprietors are too old.” After lunch my companion remained in the village, and I climbed the ridge from which the French drove the Austrians, a very strong natural position even now. I went up La Rocca, at its south-eastern extremity, on which stands an old square tower, also converted into a battle memorial. Here again there are no steps within, but an ascending spiral plane. The slopes at this end of the ridge are thickly planted with young cypresses, and the place will grow in beauty year by year. Even now it is well wooded, with larger trees just below the tower. The village lies at the foot of the slope. Just outside it, off the road on slightly rising ground at the end of an avenue, is another and larger Ossario, containing twenty thousand skulls and sets of bones, French and Austrian. The building is full of banners and wreaths and memorial tablets, including one lately sent by the French troops now fighting on the Italian Front.
“Ceux de la grande guerre
A ses glorieux anciens.
A few skeletons have been preserved intact, including one said to have been an Austrian bandmaster, a giant eight feet tall. The nationality of some of the skulls can be determined by bullets, French or Austrian, found in the head and now attached by a string.
I stepped forth from this well-ordered tomb into the outer sunshine with a sense of personal oppression and of human ineffectiveness. How slowly and how clumsily do the feet of History slouch along! And yet, if Napoleon III. had kept faith with Cavour, the fighting here might have liberated Venetia without the necessity for another war a few years later. How quiet and silent lie these battlefields of yesterday! Even so, one day, will lie the pine woods round Asiago, shell-torn and tormented now, and populous with the soldiers of many nations, yet of a wondrous beauty in the full moonlight and the fresh night air. I shall be back up there in three days’ time!
* * * * *
We drove back in the warm evening, by the road through Pozzolengo toward Peschiera, along which many of the defeated Austrians fled in 1859. The roadside was dusty, but along all the hedges the acacias still showed a most delicate and tender green.
THE ASIAGO PLATEAU ONCE MORE