Not far distant from the inn they came to where there was a body of soldiers on the beach, encircling and guarding a number of galley slaves, who were permitted to refresh themselves in the evening breeze, and to sport and roll upon the sand.
“It was difficult,” the Frenchman observed, “to conceive a more frightful mass of crime than was here collected. The parricide, the fratricide, the infanticide, who had first fled from justice and turned mountain bandit, and then, by betraying his brother desperadoes, had bought a commutation of punishment, and the privilege of wallowing on the shore for an hour a day, with this wretched crew of miscreants!”
The remark of the Frenchman had a strong effect upon the company, particularly upon the Venetian lady, who shuddered as she cast a timid look at this horde of wretches at their evening relaxation. “They seemed,” she said, “like so many serpents, wreathing and twisting together.”
The Frenchman now adverted to the stories they had been listening to at the inn, adding, that if they had any further curiosity on the subject, he could recount an adventure which happened to himself among the robbers and which might give them some idea of the habits and manners of those beings. There was an air of modesty and frankness about the Frenchman which had gained the good-will of the whole party, not even excepting the Englishman. They all gladly accepted his proposition; and as they strolled slowly up and down the seashore, he related the following adventure.
I am an historical painter by profession, and resided for some time in the family of a foreign prince, at his villa, about fifteen miles from Rome, among some of the most interesting scenery of Italy. It is situated on the heights of ancient Tusculum. In its neighborhood are the ruins of the villas of Cicero, Sulla, Lucullus, Rufinus, and other illustrious Romans, who sought refuge here occasionally, from their toils, in the bosom of a soft and luxurious repose. From the midst of delightful bowers, refreshed by the pure mountain breeze, the eye looks over a romantic landscape full of poetical and historical associations. The Albanian mountains, Tivoli, once the favorite residence of Horace and Maecenas; the vast deserted Campagna with the Tiber running through it, and St. Peter’s dome swelling in the midst, the monument—as it were, over the grave of ancient Rome.
I assisted the prince in the researches he was making among the classic ruins of his vicinity. His exertions were highly successful. Many wrecks of admirable statues and fragments of exquisite sculpture were dug up; monuments of the taste and magnificence that reigned in the ancient Tusculan abodes. He had studded his villa and its grounds with statues, relievos, vases, and sarcophagi; thus retrieved from the bosom of the earth.