[Cadenabbia—Tuesday, 7 September 1869]
Tuesday Sep. 7. Left at six o’clock for a day on the three Italian lakes hoping to arrive at Baveno in time to sleep at night. The rain had been falling in torrents all night and though that had ceased we looked out into a dark world of mist when we started away in a small row-boat. We had to bring some courage and hope to the rescue in order to make it seem a good thing to do and a thing possible to enjoy, but the rowers had scarcely pulled off from the shore when the mists retreated up the hill sides, the tops looked out in lovely forms from caps of cloud, towers and spires and bells and village sounds combined shapes and sounds of beauty to enchant us; by the time we touched the strand at a little village called Menaggio we were full of the spirit of our expedition and thankful enough for the sunshine. We had telegraphed there for a carriage which was to be quite ready that we might not lose the boat on Lake Lugano, but either the landlord wished us to breakfast at his most miserable dirty Inn or a general incapacity of ever being ready for anything frustrated their endeavor, however it may have been only our strenuous determination to have a carriage at once seemed to produce the least effect; four or five men (dirty and ragged beyond description) made a dash at an antique shed chiefly distinguished for centuries of dirt and dragged a ramshackle vehicle to the shore, into which, I proposed we should immediately place ourselves regardless of the fact that no situation could be more ludicrous, (considering there were no horses to be seen) until horses should arrive. I suppose these summary measures did produce some effect; certainly the most desperately thin animals in the shape of horses and the dirtiest of drivers soon produced themselves and we were soon on our way. How beautiful, how like the Italy of our imagination it was winding up away from the lake which was waking into color watching the hills with their lovely shapes peep out from the summer mists and the vines waving in the warm sunlight round about us. Surely nothing could have been more lovely than that ascent from Lake Como and the descent to the shores of Lake Lugano.
The steamboat not having yet struck Porlezza we concluded to row to Lugano. We were a little sorry, the way being so long and I fear I was a little tired and out of humor. I did my best to shake it off after a comfortable walk, a peep at the frescoes of Luini in the little church and a nice dinner. How ungrateful it was in me to let it make a memory come at all! Lugano is a delightful place, one to stay in far longer than we had done but the drive on to Maggiore was only a repetition of the beauty of the morning, with a still lovelier sun light over all. It was mid-afternoon before we came to Lucino, the little town where Luini was born, surely a fit birthplace for so fine a painter. Decay has settled down upon these old places. The fine houses & palaces are crumbling & dirt, sloth, & ignorance are left in them undisturbed. Time seems determined to preserve them as monuments of the past. Nowhere does the afternoon sleep more quietly, nowhere on earth could there be less hope of revolution in deed or thought. Garibaldi battered the poor town sadly in 1848 having pretty much his own way there for a time.
The steamboat soon bore us rapidly towards Baveno; but the connections had not been what our host at Cadennabbia hoped they would be; indeed he gave us the figures written down though where he got them, save from the depths of his imagination (which is not a particularly useful time-table to travelers however agreeable to the purpose) I cannot tell. We really could regret nothing for the sunset on Lake Maggiore lighted up all the snow mountains in the distance and gave us one of the most glorious scenes possible for the human mind to conceive.
We were landed just in its fading glories at the steamboat’s farthest point, our point Baveno being at least an hour further. Fortunately there were boatmen at hand glad of the opportunity so we jumped into a row-boat without delay & again pushed off. By this time the night winds blew over the lake and tossed the waves all wildly around us. The air was mild and the gleams of sunset still lingered on the hills and boats with strange rudders like well-sweeps (only heavier) with square sails and every kind of picturesque cargo were floating around us. Our men rowed steadily and the winds still rose making it hard work for them. Mabel covered up her face and then I knew she was ill, & Jamie said little so I knew he was uncomfortable but still the rowers with one step back and one step forward (three in a row on a plank laid for the purpose and quite worn by their footprints) rowed steadily on though the drops stood on their foreheads. Just then we turned round a point of land and there lay the beautiful islands of Isola Bella, Isola Madre & the others just before us. We could not look at them unmoved. They are story book islands and have haunted the brain of many a poet in his happiest day. We consoled ourselves for passing them with the thought that we should surely return the next day; then, we were very tired and had no more eyes to see with, nevertheless we did see those lovely islands in their lovely anchorage with the snow mountains gleaming in the sunset far away, then and there for the last time.
Before going to bed at Baveno we visited our vetturino who was to take us from here over the Simplon to give us an idea how long the journey was to be. He made it so clear to us in his rough way that it was two long days that we at once though reluctantly gave up all idea of staying at Baveno & seeing anything of the Borromeans as we had hoped.