Italian Popular Tales
by Thomas Crane
YOU must know that we Venetians have a saying that the groomsman is the godfather of the first child. Well, in the parish of the Angel Raphael it happened that there was a young man and woman who were in love with each other. So they agreed to be married, and the bridegroom looked out for his best man. According to custom, directly he had chosen his best man, he took him to the bride's house, and said to her: "Look here, this is your groomsman." Directly the groomsman saw the bride he fell so much in love with her that he consented more than willingly to be the best man. Well, the wedding day came, and this man went into the church with evil thoughts in his heart. When they came out of the church they had a collation, according to custom, and then in the after noon they had a gondola to go to the tavern, as people used to do on such days. First the bride got into the gondola, with the best man, and then the bridegroom and the relations. When they were getting into the boat the groomsman took the bride's hand to help her in, and he squeezed it, and squeezed it so hard that he hurt her severely.
As time went on he saw that the bride thought nothing about him, and he began not to care for her, either. But by and by he began to have a sort of scruple of conscience about what he had done to his comare on the wedding day. And the more he thought of it, the more he felt this scruple. So he made up his mind to go to confession, and to tell his confessor what he had done, and with what evil intention. "You have committed a great sin, my son," said the priest; "I shall give you a penance,-a heavy penance. Will you do it?" "Yes, father said he; "tell me what it is." The priest answered: "Listen. You must make a journey in the night-time to a place that I shall tell you of. But mind; whatever voices you hear, you must never turn back for an instant! And take three apples with you, and you will meet three noblemen, and you must give one apple to each of them." Then the priest told him the place he was to go to, and the groomsman left him. Well, he waited until night-fall, and then he took his three apples and set out. He walked and walked and walked, until at last he came to the place the priest had told him of, and he heard such a talking and murmuring, you can't think! One voice said one thing, and one another. These were all folks who had committed great sins against St. John; but he knew nothing about that. He heard them calling out: "Turn back! turn back!" But not he! No; he went straight on, without ever looking round, let them call ever so much. After he had gone on a while he saw the three noblemen, and he saluted them and gave them an apple apiece. The last of the three had his arm hidden under his cloak, and the compare saw that the gentleman had great difficulty in stretching his arm out to take the apple. At length he pulled his arm from under his cloak, and showed a hand swelled up to such a huge size that the compare was frightened to look at it. But he gave him the apple, the same as to the others, and they all three thanked him and went away. The compare returned home again, and went to his confessor and told him all that had happened. Then the priest said: "See, now, my son, you are saved. For the first of the three noblemen was the Lord, the second was St. Peter, and the third was St. John. You saw what a hand he had. Well, that was the hand you squeezed on the wedding day and so, instead of squeezing the bride's hand, you really hurt St. John!"
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THE THIRD legend is entitled: "Of two compari of St. John who swore by the name of St. John." Two compari who had not seen each other for some time met one day, and one invited the other to lunch and paid the bill. The other declared that he would do the same a week hence. When he said this they happened to be standing where two streets crossed. "Then we meet a week from to-day at this spot and at this hour!" "Yes." "By St. John, I will not fail!" "I swear by St. John that I will be here awaiting you!" During the week, however, the compare who had paid for the lunch died. The other did not know he was dead, and at the appointed time he went to the place to meet him. While there a friend passed, who asked: "What are you doing here?" "I am waiting for my compare Tony." "You are waiting for your compare Tony! Why, he has been dead three days! You will wait a long time!" "You say he is dead? There he is coming!" And, indeed, he saw him, but his friend did not. The dead man stopped before his compare and said: "You are right in being here at this spot, and you can thank God; otherwise, I would teach you to swear in the name of St. John!" Then he suddenly disappeared and his compare saw him no more, for his oath was only to be at that spot.
The sanctity of an ordinary oath is shown in the fourth story: "Of two lovers who swore fidelity in life and death." Two young persons made love, unknown to the girl's parents. The youth made her swear that she would love him in life and death. Some time after, he was killed in a brawl. The girl did not know it, and the young man's ghost continued to visit her as usual, and she began to grow pale and thin. The father discovered the state of the case, and consulted the priest, who learned from the girl, in confession, how matters stood, and came with a black cat, a stole, and book, to conjure the spirit and save the girl.
The fifth legend is entitled: "The Night of the Dead"; i.e. the eve of All Saints' Day. A servant girl, rising early one morning as she supposed (it was really midnight), witnesses a weird procession, which she unwittingly disturbs by lowering her candle and asking the last passer-by to light it. This he does; but when she pulls up her basket she finds in it, besides the lighted candle, a human arm. Her confessor tells her to wait a year, until the procession passes again, then hold a black cat tightly in her arms, and restore the arm to its owner. This she does, with the words: "Here, master, take your arm; I am much obliged to you." He took the arm angrily, and said: "You may thank God you have that cat in your arms, otherwise, what I am, that you would be also."
The sixth legend is of an incredulous priest, who believes that where the dead are, there they stay. It is as follows: