Malgherita Spolatina becomes enamoured of Teodoro, a hermit, and swims across the sea to meet him, but being discovered by her brothers and tricked by a false signal, she dies wretchedly by drowning.
I FIND that wise men have most aptly described love to be nothing but an irrational de sire cause by a passion which has entered the heart through wanton thoughts. And its ill effects are: the squandering of earthly riches, the wasting of bodily strength, the destruction of the mind, and the loss of liberty. It knows no order, no reason; neither is there aught of steadfastness therein. It is the father of vice, the enemy of youth, the murderer of old age, and rarely or ever is its issue happy or prosperous. This is shown by the fate which happened to a damsel of the Spolatina family, who, being subjugated by love, ended her days most miserably.
Ragusa, noble ladies, is a celebrated city of Dalmatia, situated upon the sea. Not far from it there is a little island, commonly called the centre island, whereon stands a strong and well-built hamlet, and between Ragusa and the above- named island there is a rock on which is built a very small church and a little hut half covered with planks. This spot is barren and unwholesome, therefore nobody lived there except a hermit called Teodoro, who for the wiping out of his sins served very devoutly at this shrine. This man, as he had no other means of support, went sometimes to Ragusa, sometimes to the centre island, to beg. It happened that Teodoro having one day gone to the centre island to seek for his bread according to his custom, found thereon what he never would have sought. For there appeared before him a lovely and gracious maiden called Malgherita, who, when she noted his hand some and seemly person, thought to herself that he was a man better fitted to enjoy human pleasures than to give himself over to solitude. Wherefore Malgherita took his image so ardently to her heart that day and night she thought of him and of nought besides. The hermit, who as yet recked nothing of the girl's passion, went on with his practice of begging, and often betook himself to Malgherita's house and craved alms of her. Malgherita, who was burning with love for him, always gave him alms, but she dared not disclose her love to him. But love, which is a shield for all who willingly serve under its rule, and never fails to point out a way by which each one may attain the desired end, gave at last somewhat of courage to Malgherita, and she accosted the hermit in the following manner: 'Teodoro, my brother, sole comfort of my heart, the passion which tortures me is so great, that if you will not have pity upon me you will forthwith see me lying dead before your eyes. I am consumed with such ardent love for you that I can no longer resist these amorous flames. Come to my aid at once, so that you may not be the cause of my death.' And having said these words, she began to weep passionately.
The hermit, who up to this time had never suspected that she loved him, stood as a man bemused; but after a time he collected his wits and began to discourse with her, and such was the effect of their mutual converse that, letting go all thought of celestial things, they fell a-talking of earthly delights, and nothing now remained to them but to find the means of foregathering in order that they might accomplish their longed-for wishes. The young girl, who was very shrewd, said: 'My love, do not be afraid, for I will show you what measures we must needs take. This seems to be the plan which will best serve us. You will this evening, at the fourth hour of the night, place a lighted torch in the window of your hut, and I, when I see it burning, will at once come over to you.' Teodoro replied: 'Alas, my daughter! how will you cross the sea? You know that neither you nor I have a boat to carry us over, and to place ourselves in the hands of others would be very dangerous for the honour and life of both of us.'
Then the young girl said: 'Let not any doubts trouble you, but leave the care of this matter to me, and I will find means of coming to you without fear of death or dishonour, for when I see the light burning I will swim over to you, and no one will know aught of what we do.' To this Teodoro made answer: 'There is surely great danger that you will be drowned in the sea, for you are very young and of no great strength, and the journey is long and your breath might easily fail you, and you be overwhelmed.' 'I have no fear,' said the maiden, 'that my strength will not carry me through, for I will swim as well as ever fish swam.' The hermit, seeing her firm determination, was satisfied, and when the dark night had come, according to the plan fixed upon, he lighted his torch, and, having prepared a white towel, he awaited the coming of the maiden he longed to see with the greatest joy. She, when she saw the light burning, was filled with delight, and, having stripped off all her clothes, went barefooted and clad only in her shift to the seashore. There, when she had pulled her shift off her back, she entwined it about her head, and then committed herself to the sea, and in swimming she made such dexterous play with her arms and her legs that in less than a quarter of an hour she had gained the hut where the hermit awaited her. When he saw the maiden he took her by the hand and led her into his ill-covered hut, and, having taken the towel, which was white as snow, with his own hands he dried her all over; then he led her into his little cell, and, having placed her on the small bed, he lay down beside her, and together with her he tasted the supreme enjoyment of love.
The lovers remained two full hours in sweet conversation and close embraces; then the young girl, quite satisfied and happy, departed from the hermit, giving him however a promise that she would return to him. Malgherita, who learned full soon to delight in the sweet entertainment provided for her by the hermit, swam over to him every time she saw the light burning.
But that evil and blind Fortune, she who
causes kingdoms to fall and upsets all human plans, she who is the enemy
of the happy, would not long suffer this young girl to enjoy the company
of her dear lover; this Fortune, as though she were envious of the happiness
of others, intervened and shattered all their schemes. For one night,
when the air was filled with baffling mists Malgherita, who had marked
that the light was burning, threw herself into the sea to cross over,
but as she swam it chanced that she was seen of certain fishermen who
were plying their trade in those parts. The fishermen, who took her
to be a fish that was swimming past, began to watch her intently, and
soon discovered her to be a woman, and furthermore observed that she
entered the hermit's hut. They were very much astonished at this thing,
and, having taken their oars in their hands, they rowed towards the
shore, where, lying in ambush, they waited until such time as the girl,
having come out of the hut, should swim back towards the centre island.
But the poor girl could not conceal herself closely enough to avoid
being seen by the fishermen, and they, having narrowly observed her,
discovered who she was. And ofttimes after this they watched her make
the perilous journey, and soon understood the signal of the lighted
torch, whereupon they took counsel whether they should or should not
keep the matter a secret. But then when they considered the disgrace
which might fall upon the honourable family, and the risk of death which
Malgherita ran, they changed their minds and deter mined to disclose
the whole matter to her kinsmen; so, having gone to the house of Malgherita's
brothers, they told them all the story from beginning to end. The brothers,
when they heard and understood this sad news, would not believe it unless
they should see it with their own eyes. But later on, when they were
fully assured of the fact, they made up their minds that she must die,
and after they had taken deliberate counsel together, they set to work
to carry out their full intent. Whereupon the younger brother, when
the darkness of night began to fall, got into his boat and went quietly
and alone to the hermit's hut, and begged him that he would not deny
him shelter for this one night, forasmuch as a certain thing had happened
to him, on account of which he stood in great danger of being taken
and put to death by justice. The hermit, who knew him to be a brother
of Malgherita, received him benignantly and embraced him, and all that
night he remained with the young man, talking over divers questions
and disclosing to him all the miseries of humankind, and the grave sins
which corrupt the soul and make it a servant of the devil.
Whilst the younger brother remained with
the hermit, the other two secretly issued from their house, and, having
taken a small sail-yard and a torch, they entered a boat and rowed in
the direction of the hermit's hut, and, when they had come near it,
they set the sail-yard upright, and tied the lighted torch to the top
of it, awaiting what might happen.
Malgherita, when she saw the burning light, swam out boldly into the sea, according to her wont, and struck out in the direction of the hut. The brothers, who kept quite quiet, no sooner heard the movement which Ma made in the water than they took their oars in hand and silently rowed away from the hut, bearing with them the torch still burning. They rowed so gently that she heard nothing, neither could she see them on account of the darkness. The poor young girl thus perceived nothing hut the lighted torch burning in the boat, and following this, she swam onward and onward. But the brothers put off so far from the land that they took her at last out into the high seas, and then, having taken down the sail-yard, they extinguished the light.
The unhappy girl, being no longer able to see the light, knowing nothing as to where she was, and already wearied with her long swimming, was quite bewildered, and finding herself beyond all human help, gave herself over for lost, and like a ship cast away she was soon Swallowed up by the sea. The brothers, who saw that there was now no more chance of her escape, left their unfortunate sister in the midst of the waves and returned to their home. The younger brother, when daylight had appeared, gave due thanks to the hermit for his kind welcome, and departed from the hut.
Already the sad news had spread throughout the village that Malgherita Spolatina had disappeared, and on this account the brothers feigned to feel the greatest grief, but in their secret hearts they rejoiced immeasurably. The third day had scarcely passed when the dead body of this unfortunate girl was washed ashore by the sea near the hermit's hut, and when he had cast his eyes upon it and recognized it, he would fain have made an end of himself. But having taken hold of the body by the arm (no body seeing him), he drew it out of the sea and carried it into his hut, and having thrown himself down by the corpse, for a long time he wept over it, and bathed her white bosom with abundant tears, and called upon her many times, but all in vain. And after he had wept his fill he determined to give her hon-. ourable sepulture, and to speed her soul with prayers and fastings, and with other good works. Thei having taken the spade with which he was wont to dig in his garden, he made a grave near his lit- tie church, and, weeping plentifully, he closed her eyes and her mouth. Next, he made a garland of roses and violets, and this he placed on her head; then he gave her a last benediction, and kissed her, and put her into the grave, which he filled up with earth. And in this wise the honour of the brothers and of the lady was preserved, nor was it ever known what had become of her.
Many times in the course of this sad story had the ladies been moved to tears, and had been obliged to wipe their eyes with their kerchiefs. But the Signora found herself altogether mastered by grief on account of the sad ending of Fiordiana's fable, so she gave order to Molino to give them some merry enigma in order that pleasure might somewhat temper their present pain, and he without demur spake as follows:
Nurtured in the kindly nest
Few or any of the listeners were able to fathom the meaning of Molino's learned riddle, and he, when he marked that they were all perplexed and at a loss, said: "The true interpretation of my enigma is this: in the month of May it is the custom of young maidens to place in their bosoms eggs of the silkworm, which there come to life, and in return for this boon the worms give the silk which they spin. Then the worm is shut up in the cocoon, and when it issues from this it is united with its mate, which lays more eggs, and then dies voluntarily." The solution of this intricate riddle appeared to the company to be no less clever than beautiful, and won unanimous praise. Then Lodovica, to whose lot it fell to relate the third story, stood up, and, having made a bow to the Signora told story which follows.
Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.