From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 135-139.135
AFTER the death of Leo X., the Holy See long remained vacant, owing to the want of unanimity of opinion among the cardinals, who were unwilling to advance to the papal dignity any one of those sitting in the conclave, such were their clashing interests. This division afterwards let to the promotion of Adriano, who had most probably never dreamed of such an honor during the whole course of his life.
During the interim there arose many serious tumults and disturbances in Rome, and more especially in the immediate vicinity, where the woods and roads were on all sides infested with banditti, so that no travelers could pass with safety from place to place. Although the government exercised the utmost vigilance in repressing these disorders, their authors still found an asylum in the caves and mountains, whence they only issued to fall like wild beasts upon their prey, and woful was the fate of those who fell into their hands.
It was during this period that Adriano arrived at Rome to assume the pontifical chair, and having arranged the internal affairs of the city, he attended to the complaints of the increasing disorders in the vicinity, resolving to take measures to extirpate the whole race of banditti within his dominions. Summoning the head of the police to his presence, to him he committed the charge, as the most courageous and prudent officer he knew, of, penetrating into the hidden retreats and fastnesses occupied by these ferocious men.
After receiving his commission, the officer immediately provided himself with a select company, both of horse and 136 foot, ready furnished with all kinds of arms and equipments, and attended by a vast number of the fiercest dogs, as if he had been about to make an expedition to clear the woods and mountains of the beasts of prey. On arriving pretty near their haunts, his first object was to draw a line of circumvallation around the strong places which he had ascertained to be the chief rendezvous of the banditti; and then gradually drawing into a narrower circle, with strong nets so spread as to prevent escape, he advanced to the sound of horns and bugles, mingled with the shouts of men and baying of the dogs, to rouse these human monsters from their lairs. The better to discover them, they now urged on the bloodhounds to the track, which soon obliged the robbers to show themselves and assume an attitude of defense. The officer commenced a vigorous assault, and after a sharp contest, in which several were killed, the robbers, intimidated by superior numbers and the shouts of men and the baying of dogs, took to flight, each attempting to save himself in the best way he could.
Upon this a strange scene presented itself, for the dogs, encouraged by their flight, pursued them with the utmost fury, running by their side, and seizing them by the legs or throat, which compelled the men to wheel round and engage them with their sabers. Whichever way they fled, they still found themselves surrounded at all points by dogs, and nets, and swords, from which they vainly endeavored to extricate themselves. In this manner they continued to be gradually enclosed within a still narrower space, and their whole number being thus brought together, they again resolved to make a desperate stand. Though they fought with the strength of despairing men, it was still of no avail; and having no further place of refuge, they were all either killed or taken upon the spot. The survivors were hanged upon the nearest trees, without the least trial or any investigation into their crimes, whilst their bodies were left a prey to the wolves and vultures of the mountains.
Out of the whole number there were only about twenty who contrived to elude the vigilance of the wary and valiant officer 137 and his men. These were some who, on hearing their first approach from a neighboring wood, and alarmed by the sound of bugles and the clamor of the battle, concluding their comrades had fallen, fled as far as possible from their accustomed haunts. They at length drew up at an inn several miles distant, with the intention of there awaiting tidings of the result, having previously arrayed themselves in the rich dresses which had formerly belonged to more honorable personages.
To give a greater air of probability to their new characters, a few of them had remained in their usual attire, the better to personate servants who were attending upon their masters. Their leader appeared as one of the servants, perfectly aware of the magnitude of the danger and quite on the alert. The gentlemen entered first, with a rolling and idle motion of their limbs, calling for rooms and whatever the house could afford of the best, while their servants waited humbly at a distance.
In the meanwhile the officer, having despatched his sanguinary business in the wood, gathered up his nets and the spoils of victory, proposing to proceed in the same manner and enclose the adjacent thicket. In his progress, however, he encountered a shepherd, who informed him that he would only lose his labor by repeating the same operation, as he had just met a party of the banditti, dressed like gentlemen, coming out of the wood on their way to Naples. The officer, being resolved to ascertain the truth of this account, sent forward one of his spies to obtain information, following him at an easy pace.
The man proceeded until he arrived at the very inn where the gentlemen had put up, and introducing himself as a stranger, he ordered dinner to be prepared. The gentlemen, however, wishing to be thought courteous, invited him to dine with them, and entering into conversation, when they found he was going on to Naples, inquired if he had lately heard anything new.
“Nothing very new, signor,” replied the stranger, “except that as I came out of Rome, I happened to meet the 138 brave head of the police returning, and he told me that he had just made such complete havoc amongst the banditti that he believed there was not one left alive.”
Overjoyed on hearing this, the villains began to think themselves quite secure; for the officer, they believed, had now returned home, supposing they had all fallen into his hands.
After dinner the stranger got up, saying that he must proceed to Naples; but returning instantly to his employer, he informed him that he had found the robbers enjoying themselves at the inn. In a very short space of time the brave officer was also there; but just as he was about to enter, the leader of the robbers, standing behind his pretended master’s chair near the window, observed the concourse of people at hand, among whom he marked also the identical stranger who had just left them. He was on the point of acquainting his companions, when he reflected that all means of escape being cut off, he should only implicate himself in their fate in the tumult which would ensue. As a last effort to save himself, he therefore only observed to his master:
“I tasted an excellent wine just now in the cellar, and I think, signor, it would suit your taste: I will step out and see that the host plays you fair about it.”
Saying which, and carrying a huge dish before him, he somewhat promptly left the apartment. As he went downstairs he met the officer and his myrmidons coming up, who supposing him to be one of the servants of the house, inquired in what manner the strange gentlemen above were then employed.
“They are still at table,” he answered, in a pert tone, “and I am just going to bring them some more wine.”
“Well, go, you rogue,” returned the other, “and we will drink it.”
“As you please for that, gentlemen,” answered the waiter, and hastened as quickly as possible into the vault, thence exploring his way out by a secret passage, until he found himself in a place of safety.139
The officer had by this time seized and secured the party of gentlemen at table, and taking possession of their seats, ordered a fresh dinner, every moment expecting the excellent wine which the rogue of a waiter had promised to bring. At length, turning to the host, he desired to know what that waiter of his, whom they had met on the stairs, was so very long about.
“No waiter of mine is gone for wine, signor; he belonged to the party of gentlemen who you have just seized.”
“Ah! can that be true?” cried the officer
“It is, it is!” cried the whole band, as if displeased that he was not to share the same fate.
“He was our servant; that is, he was our captain, we mean. In that disguise he has imposed both upon you and upon us. For, seeing you at hand, as we have reason to believe, he pretended to go for wine, and left us, without saying a word, to fall into your hands, escaping from the fate which he saw prepared for his companions, and thus showing himself as prudent as we have been vain and foolish.”
Enraged at the idea of having been thus outwitted by the chief of the gang, whom he was in particular desirous of securing, the officer everywhere sought to discover his retreat, but in vain. He was at length compelled to return with his other prisoners to Rome, where the unfortunate gentlemen immediately shared the fate of their companions.
The sole survivor of the gang, who by his coolness and penetration had saved himself, succeeded in secretly leaving the papal dominions, and retired beyond the jurisdiction of the church into the Florentine territories. He had there time to repent, and abandoning the wicked career upon which he had first entered, he became a very honest citizen, and an example of sobriety, industry, and charity to all his neighbors.
* Elf.Ed. — Thomas Roscoe is not credited as the translator, but this story is included in his book, The Italian Novelists, also here on Elfinspell. In this series, the spelling is Americanized and there are minor changes in punctuation and format, mostly more paragraphs than in Roscoe’s translation. To see the original version go [here].