Italian Popular Tales
by Thomas Crane
Story of St. James of Galicia
THERE was once a king and queen who had no children, and who longed to have a son or daughter. The queen prayed to St. James of Galicia, and said: "O St. James! if you will grant me a son, he shall make a pilgrimage to your shrine when he is eighteen years old." After a time the queen had, through the favor of God and the saint, a beautiful boy who was as hand some as if God had made him. The child grew rapidly and became larger and fairer every day. When he was twelve years old, the king died, and the queen remained alone with this son, whom she loved as dearly as her eyes. Many years passed and the time drew near when the prince should be eighteen. When the queen thought that she must soon part from him to send him alone on the long pilgrimage, she became very sorrowful and wept and sighed the whole day.
One day the prince said to her: "Mother, why do you sigh all day?" "It is nothing, my son, only some cares of mine," she answered. "What are you concerned about?" asked he. "Are you afraid that your farms in the Plain (of Catania) are badly tilled? Let me go and look after them and bring you news of them." The queen consented and the prince rode to the Plain, to the property that belonged to them. He found everything in good order, and returned to his mother and said: "Dear mother, rejoice, and cease your care, for everything is going well on your property; the cattle are thriving; the fields are tilled, and the grain will soon be ripe." "Very well, my son," answered the queen, but she was not cheerful, and the next day began to sigh and weep again. Then the prince said to her: "Dear mother, if you do not tell me why you are so sad, I will depart, and wander out in the wide world." The queen answered: "Ah, my dear son, I am sad because you must now part from me. For before you were born, when I longed for you so much, I vowed to St. James of Galicia, that if he would grant you to me, you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine when you were eighteen years old. And now you will soon be eighteen, and I am sad because you must wander away alone, and be gone so many years; for to reach the saint, one must journey a whole year." "Is it nothing but that, dear mother?" asked her son. "Be not so sorrowful. Only the dead return not. If I live, I will soon come back to you."
So he comforted his mother, and when he was eighteen he took leave of the queen, and said: "Now farewell, dear mother, and, God willing, we shall meet again." The queen wept bitterly, and embraced him with many tears; then she gave him three apples, and said: "My son, take these three apples and give heed to my words. You shall not make the long journey alone. When, however, a youth joins you and wishes to accompany you, take him with you to the inn, and let him eat with you. After the meal cut an apple in two halves, one large and the other small, and offer them to the young man. If he takes the larger half, part from him, for he will be no true friend to you; but if he takes the smaller half, regard him as your brother, and share everything that you have with him." After these words she embraced her son and blessed him, and the prince departed.
He had already travelled a long time, and no one had met him. One day, however, he saw a youth coming along the road who joined him and asked: "Where are you going, handsome youth?" "I am making a pilgrimage to St. James of Galicia;" and he told him of his mother's vow. "I must go there, too," said the other, "for the same thing happened to my mother as to yours; if we have the same journey to make, we can make it together." They continued their journey together, but the prince was not confidential towards his companion, for he thought: "I must first make the trial with the apple."
As they were passing an inn, the prince said: "I am hungry: shall we not have something to eat?" The other was willing, so they went in and ate together. After they had eaten, the prince took out the apple, cut it in two unequal halves, and offered them to the other, who took the larger half. "You are no true friend," thought the prince; and to get rid of him, he pretended to be ill, and obliged to remain there. The other said: "I can not wait for you, for I have far to go yet; so farewell." "Farewell," said the prince, and was glad to be rid of him.
When he continued his journey again, he thought: "Ah, if God would only send me a true friend, so that I should not have to travel alone!"
Not long after, another youth joined him and asked: "Handsome young man, where are you going?" The prince answered him as he had done before, and everything happened the same as with the first young man. After the prince had got rid of him he resumed his journey and thought: "O God, let me find a true friend who shall be to me a brother on the long journey!" While he was uttering this prayer he saw a youth coming along the way, who was a handsome lad, and appeared so friendly that he liked him at once, and thought: "Ah, may this be the true friend!" The youth joined him, and everything passed as before, except that this time the youth took the smaller half of the apple, and the prince rejoiced that he had found a true friend. "Fair youth," said he to him, "we must consider ourselves as brothers now, what is mine shall be yours also, and what is yours, shall be mine. We will travel together, until we come to the shrine of the saint; and if one of us dies on the way, the other must carry his body there. We will both promise this." They did so, and regarded each other as brothers, and continued their journey together.
To reach the shrine of the saint requires a whole year; imagine, then, how long the two must travel. One day when they came, weary and exhausted, to a large, beautiful city, they said: "We will stay here and rest a few days, and afterwards continue our journey." So they took a small house, and dwelt in it. Now opposite it was the royal palace, and one morning as the king was standing on the balcony, he saw the two handsome youths, and thought: "Oh! How handsome these two youths are! one is, however, much handsomer than the other. I will give him my daughter in marriage." Now the prince was the handsomer of the two. In order to attain his aim, the king invited them both to dinner, and when they came to the palace received them in a very friendly manner and had his daughter called, who was more beautiful than the sun and moon. When they retired for the night, the king had a poisonous drink given to the prince's companion, who fell down dead; for the king thought: "If his friend dies, the other will remain here willingly, and think no more of his pilgrimage, but marry my daughter."
The next morning, when the prince awoke, he asked: "Where is my friend?" "He died suddenly last night, and is to be buried at once," answered the servants. The prince said: "If my friend is dead, I cannot remain here longer, but must depart this very hour." "Ah! Do remain here," begged the king. "I will give you my daughter for your wife." "No," said the prince, "I cannot stay here. If you will grant me a wish, give me a horse, and let me depart in peace; and when I have completed my pilgrimage, I will return and marry your daughter." The king then gave him a horse, which the prince mounted, and took his dead friend before him on the saddle, and thus completed his journey. The young man, however, was not dead, but lay only in a deep sleep.
When the prince reached the shrine of St. James of Galicia, he dismounted, took his friend in his arms like a child, and entered the church and laid the body on the steps of the altar before the saint, and prayed: "O St. James of Galicia! Behold, I have kept my vow. I have come to you and have brought you my friend, also. I confide him now to you; if you will restore him to life, we will laud your mercy; but if he is not to come to life again, he has at least kept his vow." And behold, while he was still praying, his dead friend rose, and became again alive and well. Both thanked the saint, and gave him costly presents, and then started on their journey home.
When they reached the city where the king lived, they occupied again the little house opposite the royal palace. The king was greatly rejoiced to see the handsome prince there again, and much handsomer than before; he arranged great festivities, and had a splendid marriage celebrated, and thus the prince married the fair princess. After the wedding they remained several months with her father, and then the prince said: "My mother is expecting me at home with great anxiety; therefore I cannot stay longer here, but will return to my mother with my wife and my friend." The king consented and they prepared for the journey.
Now the king had a deadly hatred against the poor, innocent youth, to whom he had before given the fatal drink, and who had nevertheless returned alive, and in order to cause him sorrow, he sent him in great haste on the morning of the departure into the country with an errand. "Hasten," he said. "Your friend will not start until you return." The youth hastened away, without taking leave, and performed the king's errand. The king, meanwhile, said to the prince: "Hasten your departure, otherwise you cannot reach your quarters for the night before evening." "I cannot depart without my friend," answered the prince. The king, however, said: "Set out on your journey; he will be here within an hour, and will soon overtake you on his swift horse." The prince allowed him self to be persuaded, took leave of his father-in-law, and departed with his wife. The poor friend could not fulfil the king's commission before several hours, and when he finally returned, the king said to him: "Your friend is already far from here; see how you can overtake him."
So the poor youth had to leave the palace, and did not even receive a horse, and began to run, and ran day and night until he overtook the prince. From his great exertions, however, he contracted leprosy, so that he looked ill, wretched, and dreadful. The prince, nevertheless, received him in a friendly manner and cared for him like a brother.
They finally reached home, where the queen had awaited her son with great anxiety, and now embraced him with perfect joy. The prince had a bed prepared at once for his sick friend and summoned all the physicians of the town and state, but no one could help him. When the poor youth grew no better the prince addressed himself to St. James of Galicia and said: "O St. James of Galicia! You raised my friend from the dead; help him now this time also, and let him recover from his leprosy." While he was praying, a servant entered and said: "A strange physician is without, who will make the poor youth well again." This physician was St. James of Galicia himself, who had heard the prayer of the prince and had come to help his friend. You must know now that the prince's wife had had a little girl who was a pretty, lovely child.
When the saint approached the bed of the sick youth, he first examined him, and then said to the prince: "Do you really wish to see your friend well again at any price?" "At any price," answered the prince; "only tell me what can help him." "This evening, take your child," said the saint, "open all her veins, and anoint with her blood your friend's wounds, and he will be healed at once."
The prince was horrified when he heard that he himself must kill his dear little daughter, but he answered: "I have promised my friend to treat him like my brother; and if there is no other remedy, I will sacrifice my child."
At evening he took the child and opened her veins and anointed with the blood the sores of the sick youth, who was at once cleansed from his foul leprosy. The child became pale and weak, and looked as if it were dead. Then they laid it in its cradle and the poor parents were deeply grieved, for they believed they had lost their child.
The next morning the physician came and asked after the patient. "He is well and sound," answered the prince. 'And where have you put your child?" asked the saint, "There it lies dead in its cradle," said the poor father, sadly. "Just look at her once and see how she is," said the saint; and when they hastened to the cradle, they saw the child in it alive and well again. Then the saint said: "I am St. James of Galicia, and have come to help you, because I have seen what true friendship you have displayed. Continue to love one another, and when you are in trouble turn to me and I will come to your aid." With these words he blessed them and disappeared from their sight. They lived piously and did much good to the poor, and were happy and contented.