From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 244-247.244
A CERTAIN Brancazio Malespini, a young Florentine happened, like most youths of his age, to be deeply enamored of a beautiful girl, residing near the gate of San Niccolo at Ricorboli. She was the daughter of a gentleman whose property consisted in lime and brick kilns, the superintendence of which occupied so much of his attention as to leave the lovers a great deal of time to themselves.
The father being often engaged at his works until very late in the night, the young Malespini on these occasions was accustomed to set out on the approach of twilight, passing eagerly through the little wicket near the gate of San Niccolo to avoid observation, and joining his fair young mistress about the same time that her father took his leave; the latter having no less confidence in the honor and integrity of his young friend than in the prudence of his daughter. On his return home the lover was accustomed to pass along the banks of the Arno, and proceeding through the great gate and along the walls of the mansion of justice, approached the gate of Santa Croce, where he again passed the little wicket and entered into Florence; and then dwelling upon the agreeable incidents of the day, he there sought repose.
Having in this way taken leave one evening of his beloved, and musing upon her perfections by moonlight as he followed the windings of the river, his reverie was somewhat disagreeably disturbed by a voice which seemed to proceed from the place of public execution, just opposite to him. “Ora pro eo! ora pro eo!” was repeated pretty audibly several times; and on turning his eye towards the 245 gallows, he beheld three or four figures apparently dancing in the air, and it being now the “witching hour of night,” our lover testified no sort of pleasure at the view. He was quite at a loss to discover whether the forms were fanciful or real; when just as the moon went behind a cloud he again heard the “Ora pro eo”.
While in some doubt how he should proceed, the light of the moon again broke from behind the clouds, and he imagined he saw another figure dancing upon the scaffold far above the rest. But our lover being possessed of great courage, and holding the theory of demons and apparitions in supreme contempt, on hearing for the third time the “Ora pro eo,”, exclaimed, in a tone of self-accusation:
“What then! shall I be such a coward as to go away without ascertaining the meaning of this, and ever afterwards indulge doubt and fear upon the subject?”
He had no sooner uttered this valiant speech, than he advanced boldly towards the gallows and began to mount the latter. Now, unluckily for our hero, it so happened that about that time there was a poor maniac girl in Florence, who was in the habit of wandering towards evening beyond the confines of the city, and on this occasion she had directed her steps to this seat of final justice. It being now harvest-time, she had gathered several large pumpkins in the surrounding fields, and performed the office of executioner upon them, suspending them by the heads, with the huge sprouts hanging down in the shape of legs; and having duly turned them off like an executioner, she left them thus quivering to the breeze.
She had been amusing herself with observing their motions just as Malespini made his approach, and was preparing to turn off another of her pumpkins, when, suddenly stopping, she cried out in a horrid voice to our poor hero, who had ascended about half way up, “Stop, stop! and I will hang you too”; and the next moment, running down the ladder like a cat, our hero was seized with such a sudden fit of terror at the sight that, believing it must at least be some demon in disguise, he relinquished his hold, 246 and losing his presence of mind, fell down to the ground. The maniac was not long in descending after him, and desirous of adding him to the number of her victims, she endeavored to lift him up with the intention of immediately hanging him by the neck. Finding him somewhat too heavy, she unlaced her apron-strings, and binding them round his throat, she dragged him in this manner towards the foot of the ladder, where, fastening him very securely, she left him to his fate, pursuing fresh adventures wherever Fortune might choose to lead.
Daylight at length appeared, when some peasants proceeding to the city perceived the strange exhibition which the whimsical lady had left behind her, and on approaching nearer they descried the gibbet adorned with flowers, and at its foot our poor hero tied by the neck and heels, and still in a deep swoon. Tidings of this affair having reached the city, numbers of people assembled, and the lover, to all appearance dead, was released from his very disagreeable situation. No one, however, could give any account of the strange apparition of the mock culprits which were observed swinging by their heads, nor was enabled to throw any light on the catastrophe of the unfortunate lover. His father and friends were in a short time upon the spot, and amidst tears and lamentations caused the body to be transported into the adjoining church, and placed in the cell of one of the priests, where an examination took place.
The physician, finding some degree of warmth still lingering about the heart, declared there was a chance that he might still survive, and ordering a litter, caused him to be conveyed into one of the warmest apartments in his father’s house. There, after making use of the strongest applications, and bathing the body in Malmsey wine and vinegar to restore suspended animation, his friends had at length the pleasure of observing him gradually recover. But more than an hour elapsed before he could utter a word, and he then began to talk at random, and was unable to recollect where he was. His physician then bled him very 247 copiously, which, though it restored him to his senses, left him in a lingering state for several weeks.
The sudden alarm, however, had not only changed the color of his hair and skin, but he actually lost them, nor did he ever afterwards assume the same appearance, or entirely recover from the effects of the mad lady’s unceremonious attack. His case gave rise to a good deal of disputation amongst the faculty and his own friends; for such was the wild and unsettled expression of his countenance that many of the latter were at a loss to recognize him. The same appearance is known by physicians to occur in certain stages of various diseases, and they attributed it entirely to the sudden impulse of fear when the maniac girl proposed, in so unexpected a manner, to cut short his thread of existence, and had so nearly executed her threat.
Yet the cause would have remained a mystery to this day, had not the same lady returned about sunset to take down the bodies she had suspended when she was discovered in the act, and very properly put upon her trial in order to ascertain the real facts. Malespini, however, could scarcely be persuaded that he had not really seen something more than mortal, and that some horrid necromancer had not suspended those fearful forms by the neck for some diabolical purpose.
* Elf.Ed. — Thomas Roscoe is not credited as the translator, but this story is included in his book, The Italian Novelists, also here on Elfinspell. In this series, the spelling is Americanized and there are minor changes in punctuation and format, mostly more paragraphs than in Roscoe’s translation. To see the original version go [here].