ONE of those violent, though shortlived storms, which occasionally rage in southern climates, had blown all night in the neighborhood of the little town of San Cipriano, situated in a wild valley of the Apennines opening towards the sea. Under the olive-woods that cover those steep hills lay the olive-berries strewed thick and wide; here and there a branch heavy-laden with half-ripe fruit, torn by the blast from its parent tree, stretched its prostrate length upon the ground. An abundant premature harvest had fallen, but at present there were no means of collecting it; for the deluging rains of the night had soaked the ground, the grass, the dead leaves, the fruit itself, and the rain was still falling heavily. If gathered in that state, the olives are sure to rot.
“ Pazienza ! ” in such disasters exclaim the inhabitants of the Riviera, with a melancholy shrug of the shoulders. And they needs must have patience until the weather clears and the ground dries, before they can secure such of the olives as may happily be uninjured.
On the day we speak of, the 21st of December, 1852, the proprietors of olivegrounds in San Cipriano wore very blank faces; they talked sadly of the falling prices of the fruit and oil, and the olivepickers crossed their hands and looked vacantly at the gray sky.
In the spacious kitchen of Doctor Morani were assembled a body of young rosy lasses in laced bodices, and short, bright-colored petticoats, come down from the neighboring mountains for the olivegathering, much as Irish laborers cross over to England for the hay-making season. , These girls arrive in troops from their native villages among the hills, carrying on their heads a sackful of the flour of dried beans and a lesser quantity of dried chestnuts. They offer their services to the inhabitants of the valley at the rate of four pence English a day; about three pence less than the sum demanded by the women of the place. But the pretty mountaineers ask, in addition to their modest wages, a shelter for the night, a little straw or hay for their beds, and a small daily portion of oil and salt to season the bean-flour and chestnuts, which constitute their sole food. They are then perfectly contented.
The old Doctor had hired several of these damsels to assist in getting in his olive crop, with the customary additional compact to spin some of the unwrought flax of the household when bad weather prevented their out-of-door work, as well as regularly in the evening between early dusk and bed-time. Happy those to whose lot it fell to he employed by Dr. Morani! Besides not beating down their wages to the utmost, it was the Doctor’s wont, out of the exuberance of a warm-hearted, joyous nature, unchilled even by his sixty winters, to give to his serving men and maidens not only kind words and encouraging looks, but also what made him perhaps still more popular, humorous jokes and droll stories.
The Doctor, indeed, concealed something of the philosopher under the garb of a wag. His quaint sayings and doings were frequently quoted with great relish among this rural population. He had a way of his own of shooting facts and truths into the uncultivated understandings of these laborers,-facts and truths that never otherwise could have penetrated so far; he feathered his philosophical or moral arrows with a jest, and they stuck fast.
Signora Martina, his wife, was a good soul, and, though a strict housewife, was yet not so thrifty but that she could allow a little of her abundance to overflow on those in her service; and these crumbs from her table added many delicious bits to the bean-flour repasts. So, as we have said, happy the mountain girls taken into Dr. Morani’s service ! But specially blest among the blest this year were two sisters, to whom was allotted a bed, a real bed, to sleep upon ! How came they to be furnished with such a luxury ? Why, this season the Doctor had hired more than the usual number of pickers. The outbuilding given them to sleep in was thus too small to accommodate all, so two were taken into the house, and a diminutive closet, generally used by the family as a bath-room, was turned into a bed-room for the lucky couple. Now for a description of the bed. Over the bath was placed an ironing-board, and upon this a mattress quite as narrow, almost as hard, and far less smooth than the narrow plank on which it lay. The width of the bed was just sufficient to admit the two sisters, packed close, each lying on her side. As to turning, that was simply out of the question ; but “ poor labor in sweet slumber lock’d ” lay from night till morning without once dreaming of change of position.
Signora Martina, the first day or two, expressed some fear lest they might not rest well; but both girls averred they never in their lives had known so luxurious a bed,-and never should again, unless their good fortune brought them back another year to enjoy this sybarite couch at Dr. Morani’s.
Though irrelevant to our story, this short digression may serve to illustrate the Arcadian simplicity of habits prevailing in these mountainous districts, and affords one more illustration of the axiom, not more trite than true, that human enjoyment and luxury are all comparative.
Well! the wet afternoon was wearing on, beguiled by the young girls as best it might be, with the spindle and distaff, and incessant chatter and laugh, save when they joined their voices in some popular chant. Signora Martina was delivering fresh flax to the spinners; Marietta, the maid, was busy about the fire, in provident forethought for supper; and Beppo, a barefooted, weather-beaten individual, was bringing in the wood he had been sawing this rainy day, which interfered with his more usual business at that season. For Beppo was one of the men whose task it was to climb the olive-trees and shake down the olives for the women gathering below. He was distinguished among many as a skilful and valiant climber; nor had his laurels been earned without perils and wounds. Occasionally he fell, and occasionally broke a bone or two,-episodes that had their compensations. Beppo, then, on this particular rainy afternoon, came in with a flat basket full of newly cut wood on his head, respectfully saluted the Padrona, and, after throwing down his load in a corner of the kitchen, leisurely turned his basket topsy-turvy, seated himself upon it, and prepared to take his part in the general conversation.
At this moment the Doctor himself entered, his cloak and hat dripping.
“ Heugh ! heugh! ” he exclaimed, in a voice of disgust, as his wife helped him out of his covering; “what weather!” He went towards the fire, and spread out his hands to catch the heat of the glowing embers, on which sat a saucepan. “ Horrid weather ! The wind played the very mischief with us last night! ”
“ Many branches broken, Padrone ? ” asked Beppo, eagerly.
“ Branches, eh ? Aye, aye ; saw away; burn away; don’t be afraid of a supply failing,” said the Doctor, dryly.
“ Oh, Santa Maria! ” sighed Signora Martina, in sad presentiment.
“ Plenty of firewood, my dear soul, for two years,” went on the Doctor. “ The big tree near the pigeon-house is head down, root up, torn, smashed, prostrate, while good-for-nothing saplings are standing.”
“ Oh Lord ! such a tree ! that never failed, bad year or good year, to give us a sack of olives, and often more ! ” cried Signora Martina, piteously. “ More than three generations old it was ! ” And she began actually to weep. “ Oil selling for nothing, and the tree, the best of trees, to be blown down ! ”
“ Take care,” said the Doctor, “ take care of repining! Little misfortunes are like a rash, which carries off bad humors from a too robust body. Suppose the storm had laid my head low, and turned up my toes; what then, eh, little girls ? ” turning to the group of young creatures standing with their eyes very wide open at the recital of the misdeeds of the turbulent wind, and now as suddenly off into a laugh at the image of the Doctor’s decease so represented. “ Ah! you giggling set! Happy you that have no branches to be broken, and no olivepickers to pay! Per Bacco! you are well off, if you only knew it! ”
He walked over to where his weeping wife sat, laid his hand on her head, and stooping, kissed her brow. The girls laughed again.
“ Be quiet, all of you ! Do you think that only smooth brows and bright cheeks ought to be kissed ? Be good loving wives, and I promise you your husbands will be blind to your wrinkles. I could not be happy without the sight of this well-known face; it Is the record of happiness for me. I wish you all our luck, my dears !”
All simpered or laughed, and Martina’s brow smoothed.
“ Now I see that I can still make you smile at misfortune,” continued the Doctor, “I will tell you something comforting. As I came along, I met Paolo, the olive-merchant, who offered me a franc more a sack than he did to any one else, because he knows our olives are of a superior quality.”
Signora Martina smiled rather a grim smile at this compliment to her olives.
“ But I told him,” went on Doctor Morani, with a certain look of pride, “that we were not going to sell; we intended to make oil for ourselves. And so we will, Martina, with the olives that have been blown down, hoping the best for those still on the trees. Now let us talk of something more pleasant. Pasqualina, suppose you tell us a, story; you are our best hand, I believe.”
“ I am sure, Signor Dottore, I have nothing worth your listening to,” answered Pasqualina, blushing.
“ Tell us about the ghost your uncle saw,” suggested another of the girls.
“ A ghost! ” cried the Doctor. “ Any one here seen a ghost ? 1 wish I could
have such a chance! What was it like?”
I did not see it myself; I do but believe what my uncle told me,” said Pasqualina, with a gravity that had a shade of resentment.
“ If one is only to speak of what one has seen,” urged the prompter of the uncle’s ghost-story, “ tell the Padrone of the witch that bewitched your sister.”
“ Ah ! and so we have witches too ? ” groaned the Doctor.
“ As to that,” resumed Pasqualina, with a dignified look, “ I can’t help believing my own eyes, and those of all the people of our village.”
“ Well,” exclaimed Doctor Morani, “let us hear all about the witch.”
“ You know, all of you,” said Pasqualina, “ what bad fits my sister had, and how she was cured by the miraculous Madonna del Laghetto. So my sister had no more fits, till Madalena, a spiteful old woman, and whom everybody in the village knows to be a witch, mumbled some of her spells and -----”
“ Hallo ! ” cried the Doctor, “ do you mean that witches have more power than the Madonna ? ”
“ Oh ! Signor Dottore, you put things so strangely! just listen to the truth. So this old woman came and mumbled some of her spells, and then my poor sister fell down again, and has since had fits as bad as ever. But my father and brother were not going to take it so easily, and they beat the bad old witch till she couldn’t move, and had to be carried to the hospital. I hope she may die, with all my heart I do ! ”
“You had better hope she will get well,” observed the Doctor, coolly; “for if she should happen to die, my good Pasqualina, it would be very possible that your father and brother might be sent to the galleys.”
Here Pasqualina set up a howl.
“ Do not afflict yourself just now,” resumed Doctor Morani; “ for, with all their good-will, they have not quite killed the woman. I saw her myself at the hospital ; she is getting better, and when cured, I shall take care that she does not return among such a set of savages as flourish in your village, Signorina Pasqualina. Excuse my boldness,”- and the Doctor took off his skull-cap, in playful obeisance to the young girl,- “ only advise your family another time to be less ready with their hands and their belief in every species of absurdity. Did not Father Tommaso tell you but yesterday, that it was not right to believe in ghosts or witches, save and except the peculiar one or two it is his business to know about, and who lived some thousand years ago ? There have been none since, believe me.”
“ Strange things do happen, however,” observed Signora Martina, thoughtfully,-“things that neither priest nor lawyer can explain. What was that thing which appeared, twenty years ago, on the tower of San Ciprano ? ” The Signora's voice sent a shudder through all the women present.
“ A trick, and a stupid trick,” persisted her husband.
“ Not at all a trick, Doctor,” said Martina, shaking her head.
“ Did you see it yourself, Martina ? ”
“No; but I saw those who did with their own two blessed eyes.”
“ The Padrona is quite right,” said Beppo, without leaving his basket. “ I, for one, saw it.”
This assertion produced such a hubbub as sent the Doctor growling from the room, and left Signora Martina at liberty to comply with the general petition for the story.
“ It was twenty-five years last Easter since Hans Reuter came to San Cipriano with Carlo Boschi, the son of old Pietro, of our town. Carlo had gone away three years before to seek his fortune. He went to Switzerland, it seems, a distant country beyond the mountains, where the language is different from ours, and where it is said ”- (here Martina lowered her voice)-“ the people do not follow our holy religion, and are called, therefore, Protestants and heretics. They are industrious, notwithstanding, and clever in certain arts and manufactures, and it was from some of them that Carlo learned the watchmaking trade. After staying away three years, one fine day he came back, bringing with him one of these Swiss, Hans Reuter ; and the two, being great friends, set up a shop together, where they made and sold watches and jewelry. There was not business enough in San Cipriano to maintain them, but they made it out by selling at wholesale in the neighboring towns.
“ For years all went smoothly with the partners, and their good luck began to be wondered at, when one morning their shop was not open at the usual hour. What was the matter ? what had happened? there was Carlo Boschi knocking and shouting to Hans, and all in vain. I must tell you that Carlo lived elsewhere, and Hans had the care of the premises at night, sleeping in a little room at the back of the shop. The neighbors went out and advised Carlo to force the door. Very well. When they got in, they found Hans bound hand and foot, and so closely gagged that he was almost stifled. As soon as he could speak, he said that just after he had shut up, the previous evening, there was a knock at the door. He had scarcely opened it, when he was seized by two ruffians with blackened faces, who threw him down, gagged and tied him, and then coolly proceeded to ransack every place, packed up every bit of jewelry, every watch, and every piece of money, and then decamped with their booty, looking the door on the outside. The robbery took place on the third and last day of the Easter Fair, exactly when there was the greatest noise and bustle from the breaking up of booths, such an uproar of singing, brawling, and rolling of carts, and such a stream of people going in every direction, as made it easy for the thieves to escape detection. The police took a great many depositions, and made a great fuss; but there the matter ended.
“ To say the truth, it was like looking for a bird in a forest, considering the number of strangers who had attended the fair; besides, the police, you know, at that time, were too busy dogging and hunting down Liberals to care for tracking only thieves. That, however, is no business of mine or yours; and perhaps it would have done no good to poor Hans, even if the criminals had been discovered. He had got a great shock; he could not recover his spirits. Every one felt for him, because he was a kind, sociable man, as well as industrious; the only fault he had was being a Protestant. What that was no one exactly knew; but it was a great sin and a great pity, it seems. Sure it is that Hans never went to confession, or to the communion. However, as time passed and brought no tidings of the robbers, the poor man grew more thin and careworn every day. He would talk for hours about Switzerland, about his own village, his father’s house, his parents and relations. He had left them so thoughtlessly, he said, he had scarcely felt a regret; yet now a yearning grew within him to look once more upon those dear faces, and the verdant mountains of his country,-upon its cool, rushing streams, wide, green pastures, and the cows that grazed on them. He used to tell us, that, when he was alone, he heard their bells in the distance, and they seemed to call him home. My husband did not like all this, and said Hans ought to go at once, or it would be too late. But Hans delayed and delayed, in the hope of recovering some of his stolen property, till one day he was taken very ill and had to be carried to the hospital. The Doctor attended him two or three times every day, and on the third was summoned in a great hurry. Morani went and had a long conversation with the poor dying fellow, and then Padre Michele of the Capuchin Convent was sent for. Tt was some time before the good monk could be found, and then it took still longer, he being old and very infirm, before he could get to the hospital. When he did, it was too late; poor Hans was dead.
“ This was a sad business; for, if the Padre had come in time, at all events Hans’s soul would have been safe, and his body buried in consecrated ground. My husband went to the Rector and told his Reverence that Hans had renounced his errors, and had made a full profession of the Catholic faith to him; but his Reverence shook his head, and said that was not the same thing as if Padre Michele had received Hans into the true fold. Then my husband said it was a pity Hans should suffer because the Padre had been out of the way; but his Reverence always answered, ‘ No,’ and so ‘No’ it was. The clergy were not to attend, and the body was to be put into the ground just as you might bury a dog. What could my husband do more ? So he went his way to his patients. It happened that he had to see several, far in the country, and so did not come home till late at night.
“ You all know the tower which stands upon the green knoll high above the town. It is a relic of very old times, when San Cipriano had fortifications. It has been a ruin for more than a century,-a mere shell, open to the sky, encircling a wide space of ground. A few days before Hans’s death, the Doctor had taken it into his head lie would like to hire this tower of the municipality, to which it belongs, to make a garden within its walls. He had been to examine the place a week previous, and had brought home the key of the gate, being determined to take it. Now this very day after Hans died, and while my husband was away on his round of country visits, the Syndic sent to ask for the key, and I, thinking no harm, gave it. And now what do you think the Syndic wanted the key for ? Just to dig a hole for poor Hans. Yes, the body was carried up there, and buried out of sight as quickly as possible.
“ When the Doctor came home he was in a mighty passion with everybody ;- with the Rector, for refusing Hans a place in the burial-ground; with the Syndic, for allowing the tower to be used for such a purpose; and most of all with me, for giving the key without asking why or wherefore.
“ However, what was done could not be undone, and so no more was said about the matter. It might have been a week after, when some girls who had set out before daylight to go to the wood for leaves, came back much terrified, declaring they had seen an apparition on the tower wall. Not one had dared to go on to the wood, but all ran back to the town and spread the alarm. A dozen persons, at least, came to our house to tell us about it, and I promise you my husband did not call it a stupid trick, as he did today. He looked very grave, and exclaimed, 'I don’t wonder at it. No doubt it is poor Hans, who does not like to lie in unconsecrated ground. Don’t come to me,-it’s none of my business,- I have only to do with the living,-the dead belong to the clergy,-this is the Rector's affair. If ever a ghost had a right to walk, it is in such a case as this, when a poor, honest fellow is denied Christian burial because an old monk’s legs refuse to carry him fast enough. Had Padre Michele been a younger man, all would have been right.’
"There was quite a general commotion in the town, and at last, after a day or two, some of the young men determined they would go and watch the next night, to see if the thing appeared, or if it was mere women’s nonsense, and they went accordingly.”
"I was one of the party,” interrupted Beppo, taking the narrative out of his Padrona’s mouth, stirred by the highwrought excitement of his recollections.
“ I went with ten others, and 1 had a good loaded gun with me. We hid ourselves behind some bushes, and watched and watched. Nothing appeared, until the girls, who had agreed to come at their usual hour for going to the wood, passed by ; then, just at that moment, I swear I saw it. I felt all,-I can’t tell how,-a sort of hot cold, and as if my legs were water. I don’t know how I managed to raise my gun,-I did it quite dreaming like; it went off with the biggest noise ever a gun made, and the bullet must have gone through the very head of the ghost, for it waved its thin arms fearfully. All the rest ran away, but I could not move a peg. Then a terrible voice roared out, 'I shall not forget thee, my friend ! I will visit thee again before thy last hour ! Now begone ! ’ ”
Beppo ceased speaking, and a shuddering silence fell on the listeners. Alartin a alone ventured on the awe-struck whisper of "What was it like, Beppo V”
"A tall, white figure; its arms spread out like a cross,-so,” replied Beppo, rising from his basket, the better to personate the ghost. "Jesu Maria ! ” he shrieked, "there it is! O Lord, have mercy on us ! ”
And sure enough, standing against the door was a tall, white figure, its arms spread out like the limbs of a cross. Screams, both shrill and discordant, filled the room,-Martini, Beppo, Marietta, and the girls tumbling and rushing about distraught with terror. Such a mad-like scene ! There was a trembling and a shaking of the white figure for a moment, then down it went in a heap to the floor, and out came the substantial proportions of Doctor Morani, looming formidable in the dusky light of the expiring embers. The sound of his well-known vigorous laugh resounded through the kitchen, as he flung a bunch of pine branches on the fire. The next moment a bright flame shot up, and the light as by magic brought the scared group to their senses. Each looked into the faces of the others with an expression of rising merriment struggling with ghastly fear, and first a long-drawn breath of relief, and then a burst of laughter broke from all.
"What a fright you have given us, Padrone ! ” Beppo was the first to say.
“I hope so,” replied the Doctor,-"it has only paid you off for the one you gave me twenty years ago.”
“ I!-you !-but how, caro Padrone ? ”
“ Ah! you haven’t yet, I assure you, recognized your old acquaintance, the identical ghost which you favored with a bullet. Would you like to see it once more ? ”
“ Pazienza ! ” exclaimed Beppo, “ for once,-twice;-but three times,-no, that is more than enough. I am satisfied with what I have seen.”
“ Do you know what you have seen ?” resumed the Doctor. “ Very well, listen to me. When the Rector refused to let poor Hans lie in the same ground with many of our townspeople who (God rest their souls!) had lived scarcely so honest a life as he had done, I was far from imagining that he was to be thrust into the tower, of all places in the world, and just when it was well known I had bargained for it. ‘ That’s the way I am to be used, is it?’ thought I. ‘I'll play you a trick, my friends, worth two of yours,-one that will make yon glad to give honest Hans hospitality in your churchyard.’
“I waited a few days, till the moon should rise late, so as to be shining about one or two in the morning, the time when the girls set off for the woods. I provided myself with a sheet, and took care to be in the tower before midnight I tied two long sticks together in the shape of a cross, stuck my hat on the top, and threw the linen over the whole; and a capital ghost it was. Then I got under the drapery, pushing up the stick, so as to give the idea of a gigantic human figure with extended arms. I had no fear of being discovered, for the Syndic had the key still in his possession, and I had made good my entrance through a gap in the wall sufficiently well concealed by brambles. I suppose I need not toll you, young women, how brave your mothers were. My ghostship heard of the young men’s project, and encouraged them, never thinking there was one among them so stupid as to carry a gun to fight a ghost with; for how can you shoot a ghost, when it has neither flesh nor blood ? It was impossible to suspect any one of being such a monstrous blockhead ; so I was rather disagreeably startled at hearing the crack of a gun, and feeling the tingling of a bullet whizzing past my ear. You nearly made me into a real ghost, friend Beppo; for I assure you, you are a capital shot, liver since that memorable aim, I have entertained the deepest respect for you as a marksman ; it was not your fault that I am here now to make this confession. I ducked my head below the wall in case a volley was to follow the signal gun. When I peeped again, there remained one solitary figure before the tower, immovable as a stone pillar. O noble Beppo, it was thou!
“ ‘ I must get rid of this fellow one way or other,’ thought I, 'but not by shaking my stick-covered sheet, or I shall have another bullet.’ So I raised myself breasthigh above the wall, made a trumpet of my hands, and roared out the fearful promise I have kept this evening. As soon as I saw my enemy’s back, I left my station, and never played the ghost again.”
“ A pretty folly for a man of forty! ” cried Signora Martina, still smarting under her late fright. Why, a boy would be well whipped for such a trick. There’s no knowing what to believe in a man like you,-no saying when you are in earnest or in fun.”
After a moment’s silence, the lady asked in a softer tone, “ Now do tell me, Morani, is it true that poor Hans recanted before he died ? ”
“My dear, if Padre Michele had been in time, we should have been sure of the fact. You see the Rector did not think I knew enough of theology to decide. I am a submissive child of the Church,” replied the husband. “ As for the ghost, I took care to provide against forgetting my folly. On the top shelf of the laboratory I hung up the bullet-pierced hat; and the bullet itself I ticketed with the date and kept in my desk. Who wants to see the ghost’s hat?”-and the Doctor drew a hat from under the sheet still lying on the door, and exhibited it to the curious eyes of all present, making them admire the neat hole in it. The bullet itself he took out of his waistcoat pocket, and holding it towards Beppo, asked, “ Hadn’t it a mark ? ”
“Yes, sir, I cut a cross on it,” replied the abashed climber of olive-trees; “ and by all the Saints, there it is still! Pasqualina, my girl,” turning to her, “your uncle’s ghost will turn out to be somebody.”
“ Bravo! Beppo,” cried the Doctor. “ Knowing what you know by experience, suppose you hint to any one inclined to spectre-shooting, that he runs the risk of killing a live man, and having two ghosts on his hands,-the ghost of the poor devil shot, and one of himself hanged for murder. As for you, young girls, remember that when you go forth to meet the perils of dark mornings, you are more likely to encounter dangers from flesh and blood than from spirits.”