If ever a man were suited to his place of residence, and his place of residence to him, the lean Apothecary and Mantua came together in a perfect fitness of things. It may have been more stirring then, perhaps. If so, the Apothecary was a man in advance of his time, and knew what Mantua would be, in eighteen hundred and forty- four. He fasted much, and that assisted him in his foreknowledge.
I put up at the Hotel of the Golden Lion, and was in my own room arranging plans with the brave Courier, when there came a modest little tap at the door, which opened on an outer gallery surrounding a court-yard; and an intensely shabby little man looked in, to inquire if the gentleman would have a Cicerone to show the town. His face was so very wistful and anxious, in the half-opened doorway, and there was so much poverty expressed in his faded suit and little pinched hat, and in the thread-bare worsted glove with which he held it--not expressed the less, because these were evidently his genteel clothes, hastily slipped on--that I would as soon have trodden on him as dismissed him. I engaged him on the instant, and he stepped in directly.
While I finished the discussion in which I was engaged, he stood, beaming by himself in a corner, making a feint of brushing my hat with his arm. If his fee had been as many napoleons as it was francs, there could not have shot over the twilight of his shabbiness such a gleam of sun, as lighted up the whole man, now that he was hired.
'Well!' said I, when I was ready, 'shall we go out now?'
'If the gentleman pleases. It is a beautiful day. A little fresh, but charming; altogether charming. The gentleman will allow me to open the door. This is the Inn Yard. The court-yard of the Golden Lion! The gentleman will please to mind his footing on the stairs.'
We were now in the street.
'This is the street of the Golden Lion. This, the outside of the Golden Lion. The interesting window up there, on the first Piano, where the pane of glass is broken, is the window of the gentleman's chamber!'
Having viewed all these remarkable objects, I inquired if there were much to see in Mantua.
'Well! Truly, no. Not much! So, so,' he said, shrugging his shoulders apologetically.
'No. Nearly all suppressed by the French.'
'Monasteries or convents?'
'No. The French again! Nearly all suppressed by Napoleon.'
'Very little business.'
I thought he would have fainted.
'Then, when we have seen the two large churches yonder, what shall we do next?' said I.
He looked up the street, and down the street, and rubbed his chin timidly; and then said, glancing in my face as if a light had broken on his mind, yet with a humble appeal to my forbearance that was perfectly irresistible:
'We can take a little turn about the town, Signore!' (Si puo far 'un piccolo giro della citta).
It was impossible to be anything but delighted with the proposal, so we set off together in great good-humour. In the relief of his mind, he opened his heart, and gave up as much of Mantua as a Cicerone could.
'One must eat,' he said; 'but, bah! it was a dull place, without doubt!'
He made as much as possible of the Basilica of Santa Andrea--a noble church--and of an inclosed portion of the pavement, about which tapers were burning, and a few people kneeling, and under which is said to be preserved the Sangreal of the old Romances. This church disposed of, and another after it (the cathedral of San Pietro), we went to the Museum, which was shut up. 'It was all the same,' he said. 'Bah! There was not much inside!' Then, we went to see the Piazza del Diavolo, built by the Devil (for no particular purpose) in a single night; then, the Piazza Virgiliana; then, the statue of Virgil--OUR Poet, my little friend said, plucking up a spirit, for the moment, and putting his hat a little on one side. Then, we went to a dismal sort of farm-yard, by which a picture-gallery was approached.