May 29th. - We left Perugia at about three o'clock to-day, and went down a pretty steep descent; but I have no particular recollection of the road till it again began to descend, before reaching the village of Magione. We all, except my wife, walked up the long hill, while the vettura was dragged after us with the aid of a yoke of oxen. Arriving first at the village, I leaned over the wall to admire the beautiful paese ("le bel piano," as a peasant called it, who made acquaintance with me) that lay at the foot of the hill, so level, so bounded within moderate limits by a frame of hills and ridges, that it looked like a green lake. In fact, I think it was once a real lake, which made its escape from its bed, as I have known some lakes to have done in America.
Passing through and beyond the village, I saw, on a height above the road, a half-ruinous tower, with great cracks running down its walls, half-way from top to bottom. Some little children had mounted the hill with us, begging all the way; they were recruited with additional members in the village; and here, beneath the ruinous tower, a madman, as it seemed, assaulted us, and ran almost under the carriage-wheels, in his earnestness to get a baioccho. Ridding ourselves of these annoyances, we drove on, and, between five and six o'clock, came in sight of the Lake of Thrasymene, obtaining our first view of it, I think, in its longest extent. There were high hills, and one mountain with its head in the clouds, visible on the farther shore, and on the horizon beyond it; but the nearer banks were long ridges, and hills of only moderate height. The declining sun threw a broad sheen of brightness over the surface of the lake, so that we could not well see it for excess of light; but had a vision of headlands and islands floating about in a flood of gold, and blue, airy heights bounding it afar. When we first drew near the lake, there was but a narrow tract, covered with vines and olives, between it and the hill that rose on the other side. As we advanced, the tract grew wider, and was very fertile, as was the hillside, with wheat-fields, and vines, and olives, especially the latter, which, symbol of peace as it is, seemed to find something congenial to it in the soil stained long ago with blood. Farther onward, the space between the lake and hill grew still narrower, the road skirting along almost close to the water-side; and when we reached the town of Passignano there was but room enough for its dirty and ugly street to stretch along the shore. I have seldom beheld a lovelier scene than that of the lake and the landscape around it; never an uglier one than that of this idle and decaying village, where we were immediately surrounded by beggars of all ages, and by men vociferously proposing to row us out upon the lake. We declined their offers of a boat, for the evening was very fresh and cool, insomuch that I should have liked an outside garment, - a temperature that I had not anticipated, so near the beginning of June, in sunny Italy. Instead of a row, we took a walk through the village, hoping to come upon the shore of the lake, in some secluded spot; but an incredible number of beggar-children, both boys and girls, but more of the latter, rushed out of every door, and went along with us, all howling their miserable petitions at the same moment.
The village street is long, and our escort waxed more numerous at every step, till Miss Shepard actually counted forty of these little reprobates, and more were doubtless added afterwards. At first, no doubt, they begged in earnest hope of getting some baiocchi; but, by and by, perceiving that we had determined not to give them anything, they made a joke of the matter, and began to laugh and to babble, and turn heels over head, still keeping about us, like a swarm of flies, and now and then begging again with all their might. There were as few pretty faces as I ever saw among the same number of children; and they were as ragged and dirty little imps as any in the world, and, moreover, tainted the air with a very disagreeable odor from their rags and dirt; rugged and healthy enough, nevertheless, and sufficiently intelligent; certainly bold and persevering too; so that it is hard to say what they needed to fit them for success in life. Yet they begin as beggars, and no doubt will end so, as all their parents and grandparents do; for in our walk through the village, every old woman and many younger ones held out their hands for alms, as if they had all been famished. Yet these people kept their houses over their heads; had firesides in winter, I suppose, and food out of their little gardens every day; pigs to kill, chickens, olives, wine, and a great many things to make life comfortable. The children, desperately as they begged, looked in good bodily ease, and happy enough; but, certainly, there was a look of earnest misery in the faces of some of the old women, either genuine or exceedingly well acted.
I could not bear the persecution, and went into our hotel, determining not to venture out again till our departure; at least not in the daylight. My wife and the rest of the family, however, continued their walk, and at length were relieved from their little pests by three policemen (the very images of those in Rome, in their blue, long-skirted coats, cocked chapeaux-bras, white shoulder-belts, and swords), who boxed their ears, and dispersed them. Meanwhile, they had quite driven away all sentimental effusion (of which I felt more, really, than I expected) about the Lake of Thrasymene.