Tarquinia is only about three miles from the sea. The omnibus soon runs one up, charges through the widened gateway, swirls round in the empty space inside the gateway, and is finished. We descend in the bare place, which seems to expect nothing. On the left is a beautiful stone palazzo–on the right is a café, upon the low ramparts above the gate. The man of the Dazio, the town customs, looks to see if anybody has brought food-stuffs into the town–but it is a mere glance. I ask him for the hotel. He says: ‘Do you mean to sleep?’ I say I do. Then he tells a small boy to carry my bag and takes us to Gentile’s.
Nowhere is far off, in these small wall-girdled cities. In the warm April morning the stony little town seems half asleep. As a matter of fact, most of the inhabitants are out in the fields, and won’t come in through the gates again till evening. The slight sense of desertedness is everywhere–even in the inn, when we have climbed up the stairs to it, for the ground floor does not belong. A little lad in long trousers, who would seem to be only twelve years old but who has the air of a mature man, confronts us with his chest out. We ask for rooms. He eyes us, darts away for the key, and leads us off upstairs another flight, shouting to a young girl, who acts as chambermaid, to follow on. He shows us two small rooms, opening off a big, desert sort of general assembly room common in this kind of inn. ‘And you won’t be lonely,’ he said briskly, ‘because you can talk to one another through the wall. Toh! Lina!’ He lifts his finger and listens. ‘Eh!’ comes through the wall, like an echo, with startling nearness and clearness. ‘Fai presto!’ says Albertino. ‘E pronto!’ comes the voice of Lina. ‘Ecco!’ says Albertino to us. ‘You hear!’ We certainly did. The partition wall must have been butter-muslin. And Albertino was delighted, having reassured us we should not feel lonely nor frightened in the night.
He was, in fact, the most manly and fatherly little hotel manager I have ever known, and he ran the whole place. He was in reality fourteen years old, but stunted. From five in the morning till ten at night he was on the go, never ceasing, and with a queer, abrupt, sideways-darting alacrity that must have wasted a great deal of energy. The father and mother were in the background–quite young and pleasant. But they didn’t seem to exert themselves. Albertino did it all. How Dickens would have loved him! But Dickens would not have seen the queer wistfulness, and trustfulness, and courage in the boy. He was absolutely unsuspicious of us strangers. People must be rather human and decent in Tarquinia, even the commercial travellers: who, presumably, are chiefly buyers of agricultural produce, and sellers of agricultural implements and so forth.Share It