From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900; first published, c. 1824]; pp. 578-583.
Antonio had become deeply enamoured of the beauties of the lady Ginevra, and had persevered in his attachment for more than four years subsequent to 1396, against the express wishes of her father, who wished to bestow her hand upon one of the Agolanti family, named Francesco, as being of superior fortune to his rival, although not so agreeable in the eyes of the fair Ginevra. She may be said, therefore, to have been forced into the arms of Francesco, as she yielded a reluctant consent to her parents’ will; while unfortunately 580 the passion of Antonio seemed only to acquire fresh vigour from the bitter disappointment of all his hopes. In the wretchedness of his heart, he vowed never to bestow his hand upon another, and he still indulged himself in the sad consolation of gazing upon her at all public festivals, in churches, and private assemblies.
Now it chanced that in the great plague of 1400, which ravaged so many cities of Italy, and especially Florence, the fair Ginevra was taken sick, and owing either to the neglect of the physicians or the malignant natures of the disease, soon after fell an apparent victim to its rage. Strong hysterical affections, then little understood, had preceded her decease, and every one around her supposed that she had ceased to breathe. Immediate interment also taking place, as was usual in those periods of distress, she narrowly escaped the fate, most probably shared by many in such seasons of terror, of being inhumed alive. Borne by a body of priests, she was laid with little ceremony in the family vault belonging to the chapel of her ancestors, and to this day the place is pointed out to the curious stranger who visits the spot. She was greatly lamented by her husband, her friends, and indeed by all who knew her virtues; but the grief of none was equal to that of Antonio Rondinelli when he heard of her sudden decease.
Esteemed by all ranks, only a few months a bride, her supposed fate drew tears from many eyes; yet only a few hours of that fatal night had elapse, when, awaking out of her lethargic clumber, the poor young creature opened her eyes. The moon shone brightly, when, shivering with the cold damp air of the vault (it being the month of October), she attempted to raise herself up, and in a short time began to recognise the place in which she lay. Commending herself to the mercy of Heaven and all its guardian saints, she next strove to release herself from her unearthly garments, and perceiving a glimmer of light through a crevice in the door, she succeeded, though faint and exhausted, in reaching the entrance of the vault. Having mounted the steps, by degrees she removed a portion of the covering least secured, through which she had observed the light, and at length, with extreme difficulty, issued forth. Terror and despair had hitherto given her strength, while the cold air now braced her nerves, and, thinly clad as she was, she pursued her way (hence called Via della Morte) towards her husband’s house along the Corso degli Adimari, now named Via dei Calzajoli, and along some bye-streets, until she reached her own door. Her husband, who happened to be sitting sorrowfully over the fire just before retiring to rest, himself went to the door, and on beholding such a figure, and hearing a low and plaintive voice, he started back and made the sign of the cross, believing it was a spirit. Then invoking her to depart, he hastily shut the door in her face and went trembling to bed, vowing to have more masses and alms offered up the following day for the repose of her soul.
Ginevra wept. “Is this the love,” she cried, “he should have borne me? Alas! alas! what shall I do? Must I perish of cold and hunger in the streets?” Then recollecting her father’s house, she pursued her weary way thither; but he was from home, and her mother, from an upper storey, hearing a weak, plaintive voice, interrupted with sobs 581 and shiverings, exclaimed in a paroxysm of pious fear, “Get thee gone in peace, blessed spirit,” and shut down the window, in hopes that she had laid the ghost. The wretched girl then, wringing her hands, resumed her way, and attempted to reach the abode of one of her uncles, resting frequently as she went; yet, after all, she found her toil still unrecompensed, receiving the same reply wherever she went, “Get thee gone in peace;” after which polite reception the door was closed in her face. At length, weary with suffering, she laid herself down to sleep, or rather to die, under the little lodge of San Bartolommeo, when, just before closing her eyes, she bethought herself, as a last resource, of her former lover, from whom she was then at no great distance. “Yet what reception,” she mentally exclaimed, “ought I to expect after the slights and ill treatment that he has met with at the hands of me and my family, when I consider, too, how those who professed to love me have driven me from their doors!” It was with a misgiving heart then that she knocked at Antonio’s door. Whether or not we are to suppose that he possessed superior strength of courage or of love beyond all her natural relatives whom she had tried, certain it is that, instead of being terrified at her appearance, he advanced boldly and even eagerly towards her, giving upon her with fixed looks, and drawing his breath deeply; then apparently recognising her, he exclaimed in a kind and gentle tone, “Art thou indeed Ginevra, or her pure and sainted spirit?” and the next moment he felt her, a living and breathing woman, in his arms! Calling out loudly for assistance, his mother and servants came running to inquire what had happened, most of whom on beholding her ran away again faster than they had approached. But the happy Antonio, bearing her in his arms, had her speedily wrapped in warm linen, and place upon a couch between his mother and another female, in order to restore her to a natural warmth. Still he indulged fears that she would not revive, while he availed himself of everything that art or nature could furnish to cherish the vital flame. It would be difficult to decide whether, as he watched her gradually reviving, his feeling of unutterable joy was not greater than had been that of his overwhelming grief on first hearing tidings that her beloved spirit had fled. He lingered around her bed or was ever at her side, unwilling to trust her even to the most confidential servants of the household, and administering every cordial to her with his own hand. When she was at last enabled to sit up, she fell at her benefactor’s, at her lover’s feet, and while she poured forth her unutterable gratitude in floods of tears and passionate exclamations, she yet, with her characteristic purity and virtue, besought him to have pity on her, to respect her honour, and to add to all his generosity and tenderness the disinterestedness of a true friend. For he knew, she continued, that there was nothing she could, nothing she ought to deny him, after such unheard of kindness, and that she was henceforward his handmaid and his slave. Still she should prefer death to the loss of virtue or of reputation, and if he truly loved her, he would respect them; and that he did love her as none ever before loved was evident in the charity, courage, and true tenderness with which he had taken her to his arms when husband, father, mother, and all friends and relatives forsook her.582
Antonio, delighted to dwell upon her voice, hung enraptured over her as she spoke, and then falling before her upon his knees, he entreated her forgiveness if he had in the slightest instance forgotten himself, or transgressed the strictest bound prescribed by reverence and honour. She could only answer him with a fresh gush of tears, as she pressed his hands with tremulous emotion to her heart and lips; while, soothing her alarm, the kind Antonio assured her that she owed him nothing, that he was more sufficiently rewarded in beholding her restoration to health and beauty, and that he wished and would accept nothing from her gratitude alone.
“Did she,” he continued, with an expression of anguish and alarm, “insist upon being instantly restored to her husband’s arms? Then let her speak it. Hesitate not, spare me not,” he cried; “I will do it, though I die for it!” “Ah! never, never!” exclaimed the wretched girl; “wedded though I be, I will not see him, I will not dwell with him more. Let me rather fly to a nunnery, and again become buried alive for ever. Besides, death hath dissolved our union: I was dead to him; nay, he interred me, and but now drove me from his presence. Mention him no more,” she continued, “for were it requisite, I would appeal to our tribunal, to every tribunal upon earth! Have they not all, moreover, numbered me with the dead, and rejected me when I rose from the grave by little less than a miracle?” The delighted Antonio, on receiving these sweet assurances, could only fall at her feet and thank her with his tears; but they were tears of ecstatic pleasure, soon smiled and kissed away. For as if to promote the wishes which both in their secret hearts indulged, Agolanti, the former husband of the lady, being of a covetous disposition, disposed of the whole of her ornaments and dresses, which Antonio, who had his eye upon all the proceedings of her relations, very soon contrived to get into his hands. Agolanti shortly afterwards meeting with a lady of fortune, paid his addresses to her, upon which Antonio and his beautiful Ginevra, no longer hesitating what course to pursue, resolved to secure the blissful object they had in view, and to unit their fate everlastingly in one. The new marriage deeds being therefore drawn out according to the usual forms without the knowledge of even her nearest relatives, who had scarcely yet finished offering up masses for her soul, of which they imagined, from what they had seen, that she stood in the utmost need, she proceeded to church early one Sunday morning to confer her hand upon the happy Antonio. Her future mother-in-law, with a single servant, and Antonio following them, as if going to hear mass, formed the whole of the wedding-party. When just on the point of entering the church, they encountered another procession: it was that of her late husband Agolanti, her mother, and other friends, proceeding exactly on the same destination. What was here to be done, and which did it behove to yield precedence to the other? With the greatest presence of mind, Antonio’s bride accosted her mother, who in some surprise and terror, with the rest of the party, kept at a respectful distance. Yet it being daylight, and observing Ginevra so well dressed, and looking so beautiful and so happy, they felt somewhat reassured when she accosted them, and briefly 583 informed them that as her physicians had given her over, the priest administered extreme unction, and her friends and relatives performed her last obsequies, she had taken her final leave, and no longer belonged to them; that it was plain, moreover, that they wished it to be so, for that after she had been miraculously restored to them, no one had taken the least notice of her, but, on the other hand, had driven her from her own doors; that he alone from whom she expected least had received her like a good Samaritan, and opened his house and arms to her, restoring her to life and love; and that, by all the laws of heaven and earth, she would henceforth be his; for without his assistance she must assuredly have died; so that, having every claim to her gratitude, she had consented to become wholly his. Then taking a hasty farewell of her mother and her friends, the parties separated, not choosing to perform the respective ceremonies at the same time and in the same church. Upon their return, after the marriage-feast was concluded, a messenger arrived with an order from the bishop, and, in the presence of her former husband, summoned for the occasion, the prelate declared the ecclesiastical sentence, of which the tenor ran: that the fair Ginevra should remain the wife of Antonio, and that her former husband should restore the whole of her dower, since it was clear that the lady had been dead and buried, but, to the glory of the Church, had been miraculously restored.