VILLA MONTANTO. MONTE BENI.
The rest of the day we spent mostly in exploring the premises. The house itself is of almost bewildering extent, insomuch that we might each of us have a suite of rooms individually. I have established myself on the ground-floor, where I have a dressing-room, a large vaulted saloon, hung with yellow damask, and a square writing-study, the walls and ceilings of the two latter apartments being ornamented with angels and cherubs aloft in fresco, and with temples, statues, vases, broken columns, peacocks, parrots, vines, and sunflowers below. I know not how many more saloons, anterooms, and sleeping-chambers there are on this same basement story, besides an equal number over them, and a great subterranean establishment. I saw some immense jars there, which I suppose were intended to hold oil; and iron kettles, for what purpose I cannot tell. There is also a chapel in the house, but it is locked up, and we cannot yet with certainty find the door of it, nor even, in this great wilderness of a house, decide absolutely what space the holy precincts occupy. Adjoining U - - 's chamber, which is in the tower, there is a little oratory, hung round with sacred prints of very ancient date, and with crucifixes, holy-water vases, and other consecrated things; and here, within a glass case, there is the representation of an undraped little boy in wax, very prettily modelled, and holding up a heart that looks like a bit of red sealing-wax. If I had found him anywhere else I should have taken him for Cupid; but, being in an oratory, I presume him to have some religious signification. In the servants' room a crucifix hung on one side of the bed, and a little vase for holy water, now overgrown with a cobweb, on the other; and, no doubt, all the other sleeping-apartments would have been equally well provided, only that their occupants were to be heretics.
The lower floor of the house is tolerably furnished, and looks cheerful with its frescos, although the bare pavements in every room give an impression of discomfort. But carpets are universally taken up in Italy during summer-time. It must have been an immense family that could have ever filled such a house with life. We go on voyages of discovery, and when in quest of any particular point, are likely enough to fetch up at some other. This morning I had difficulty in finding my way again to the top of the tower. One of the most peculiar rooms is constructed close to the tower, under the roof of the main building, but with no external walls on two sides! It is thus left open to the air, I presume for the sake of coolness. A parapet runs round the exposed sides for the sake of security. Some of the palaces in Florence have such open loggias in their upper stories, and I saw others on our journey hither, after arriving in Tuscany.
The grounds immediately around the house are laid out in gravel-walks, and ornamented with shrubbery, and with what ought to be a grassy lawn; but the Italian sun is quite as little favorable to beauty of that kind as our own. I have enjoyed the luxury, however, almost for the first time since I left my hill-top at the Wayside, of flinging myself at full length on the ground without any fear of catching cold. Moist England would punish a man soundly for taking such liberties with her greensward. A podere, or cultivated tract, comprising several acres, belongs to the villa, and seems to be fertile, like all the surrounding country. The possessions of different proprietors are not separated by fences, but only marked out by ditches; and it seems possible to walk miles and miles, along the intersecting paths, without obstruction. The rural laborers, so far as I have observed, go about in their shirt-sleeves, and look very much like tanned and sunburnt Yankees.
Last night it was really a work of time and toil to go about making our defensive preparations for the night; first closing the iron gate, then the ponderous and complicated fastenings of the house door, then the separate barricadoes of each iron-barred window on the lower floor, with a somewhat slighter arrangement above. There are bolts and shutters, however, for every window in the house, and I suppose it would not be amiss to put them all in use. Our garrison is so small that we must depend more upon the strength of our fortifications than upon our own active efforts in case of an attack. In England, in an insulated country house, we should need all these bolts and bars, and Italy is not thought to be the safer country of the two.
It deserves to be recorded that the Count Montanto, a nobleman, and seemingly a man of property, should deem it worth while to let his country seat, and reside during the hot months in his palace in the city, for the consideration of a comparatively small sum a month. He seems to contemplate returning hither for the autumn and winter, when the situation must be very windy and bleak, and the cold death-like in these great halls; and then, it is to be supposed, he will let his palace in town. The Count, through the agency of his son, bargained very stiffly for, and finally obtained, three dollars in addition to the sum which we at first offered him. This indicates that even a little money is still a matter of great moment in Italy. Signor del Bello, who, I believe, is also a nobleman, haggled with us about some cracked crockery at our late residence, and finally demanded and received fifty cents in compensation. But this poor gentleman has been a spendthrift, and now acts as the agent of another.