16. Evening journey to Chiasso in the dark

Of course, I did not agree with this, but thought it best to saddle up at once and ride to Chiasso that same evening. After much reluctance, Henninger accepted this suggestion. The twenty francs were refunded to the head waiter, we saddled up and were ready to go around seven in the evening. In the stable a little Italian who was from Chiasso and was driving back there in the evening offered me a seat in his chaise. I would gladly have accepted the offer, although I would have had to give my last two francs for it, but my travel companion, who was close to despair, would not have admitted it to the world. This old, veteran Hessian warrior had a decided fear of the Italian highway robbers. He had probably once read about the daring robber captain Rinaldo Rinaldini, or about some other of his ilk; for otherwise I cannot explain how a man who was three times my age could display such fear.

So, after it was already dark, we set out, as usual, he on horseback and I on foot. We had hoped for moonlight, but the sky, which had smiled so happily during the day, was covered with black clouds from which not a single star shone through. The avenue was extremely narrow. Bounded on the right by a steep rock face, on the left by the waves of Lake Lugano. I had another unpleasant business to do. Because it was so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your eyes, and the horses are usually half asleep on such a night march, so I always had to walk along the side of the road and tell Henninger when it was too far to the left came. There are no railings or stone edging like on the Gotthard; On the contrary, pieces of the road often broke loose and fell into the saw, so that this could easily have happened to me.

Henninger in a panic

On top of all that, it suddenly started to rain heavily, so that Henninger declared that he was returning to Lugano. Of course, I tried to talk him out of it as much as possible. When we were about halfway across the bridge that spans the lake, I heard a small chaise roll behind me. I figured it was the Italian from Chiasso I mentioned, and decided to go with him; for it was enough if one of us got wet. The carriage came closer, the little Italian drove slowly past me and suggested I ride for a franc and a half. I offered him a franc and he was happy. And before Henninger, who hadn’t understood a word of the whole business, even knew it, I was sitting next to the little Italian, quite comfortable and dry, my legs covered with a warm carpet. But out of the mouth of the former Grand Ducal Hessian sergeant, a thunderstorm sounded! He called me perfidious and dishonourable, accused me of being in a plot with the Italian, otherwise we wouldn’t have spoken so softly together beforehand, and finally declared that if I didn’t get out, he would ride back to Lugano immediately. The Italian didn’t know what that meant, so he kept asking me: <<cos’ha dettó, Signore?, cos’ha dettó?>> (What did he say?). In the meantime, I tried to placate Henninger as best I could, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stop laughing, so the storm broke out again. Now, in order to load his anxiety onto another cart, he assured me by all that was sacred to him that the horses were dying, that he could kill himself, etc., but the little Italian with stoic indifference looking through the little window in the back of the chaise, exclaiming at any moment: <<O, vanno bene i cavalli, vanno bene>> (Oh, the horses are going well, going well).

Gradually Henninger, fearing his fate, trotted right behind us, although he always declared firmly that he wanted to ride back to Lugano. From time to time, he let out a “Thunderstorm” or “Heavenly Sacrament”, whereupon the Italian, who had soon learned it from him, echoed his “Immelsakrament” with loud laughter.

In Mendrisio, things reached their climax and splendour. There, in the middle of the city, the road turns in the opposite direction, so that you think you are back where you came from. This was too much for the good Henninger. With all the energy he had, he dashed in front of the chaise, grabbed the reins of the Italian’s horse, and began to curse, as if he had learned it from the sailors in Mannheim that night. In a state of extreme excitement, he asked me if I was so stupid and stupid that I couldn’t see how we were being fooled by the Italian, how the hands of a crook could have fallen who might have taken us to God knows where to a gang of thieves or to a den of murderers. The noise was so great that the old Philistines of Mendrisio, in their nightcaps and candlesticks in hand, stuck their noses out of the window, and if I had not expended all my eloquence that I had benefited from Cicero and Demosthenes, the poor thing would be Henninger may even have been sentenced to a few days in prison by the Mendrisians because of a night scandal. I will never forget this scene, or that whole night march from Lugano to Chiasso. But you have to have experienced something like this yourself, it can’t be described. Suffice it to say that I finally, with great effort and with the use of some persuasion, e.g., often said that Chiasso was only half an hour away, although it was much further, brought the terrified former sergeant to the destination we had in front of us.

His condition was indeed sad when he arrived there. The water ran down on him in torrents, for the rain had increased more and more, and it could only with difficulty when I knocked at the Albergo di San Michele (St. Michael’s Inn) and the porter, accompanied by a young, beautiful Italian woman, opened it for us had to get off his horse because his heavy wet clothes were sticking to his body. All this time not a word had been spoken; only when we had tied up the horses in the stable did such a storm break over me that the beautiful lady who was still there opened her eyes and mouth, and if she had understood German, she would have thought me the most despicable person. Henninger accused me of ruining him and both horses and that I now have to answer for everything. This was truly no small burden on a youthful conscience. Finally, the storm had raged, we went to the room, where a large Italian bed accommodated us. Henninger turned his back on me and soon began to let out that decided snoring; but this time more trouble than ever, since his anger had not yet entirely died out.

Chiasso: waiting at the border

For three days we lay in Chiasso, two hundred paces from the border. Our horses were healthy and lively; the nocturnal tour was also very good for my amiable traveling companion. But still, those three days were the saddest we experienced on our whole trip. Our passports had been sent to old General Singer in Como. We had permission to pass, but how could we make use of it until we had paid our bill? God knows how many letters I wrote during those fateful three days! However, I have to be more specific about one thing I wrote to the border commissioner. He had told me that he had been learning German for a few weeks, using Ollendorfs grammar. When I came back to his office, I saw the book lying on the desk. I picked it up to look at it. As I put it down again, I glanced at the scattered papers. But the inspector jumped at me with a furious face and declared that he would have me arrested if I did not leave immediately. At that moment Henninger took my arm and pulled me out of the office. In doing so he did me a great service. Because if he hadn’t done that, who knows whether I wouldn’t have defended myself vigorously in my terrible spirit of opposition, which would have cost me dearly. In our inn I wrote an extremely humble letter to the inspector, in which I begged his forgiveness. Henninger took him to the border office and the matter was settled amicably.

On the third day we thought we saw two hussars on the frontier from our inn. We went, asked and were not mistaken. They were from the 7th or Reuss Hussar Regiment, the same one my cousin was in. So, I asked them if they knew this one. “Why not? He is jo the captain of our squadron.” I asked where he was stationed and found out that he was not in Milan but in Lodi. The two hussars themselves, however, were in garrison with their lieutenant at Como, two hours from Chiasso. So, I asked for the name of the first lieutenant, wrote him a letter in a hurry, and gave it to the two hussars so that they could get it as soon as possible. This happened in the morning, and shortly after noon we saw two horsemen blasting the road along it. It was the lieutenant, a certain Gustav Baro, and his sergeant.