A widow, feeble, old and lonely,
Whose flock once numbered many a score,
Had now remaining to her only
One little lamb, and nothing more.
And every morning forced to
To scanty pastures far away,
With prayers and tears did she commend it
To the good saint that named the day.
Nor so in vain; each kindly
George, Agnes, Nicolas, Genevieve,
Still mindful of the helpless matron,
Brought home her lambkin safe at eve.
All-Saints’ day dawned;
with faith yet stronger,
On the whole hallowed choir the dame
Doth call—to one she prays no longer,—
That day the wolf devoured the lamb!
BY GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS.
When I was in Venice I knew the Marchesa Negropontini. Many strangers knew her twenty and thirty years ago. In my time she was old and somewhat withdrawn from society; but as I had been a fellow-student and friend of her grand-nephew in Vienna, I was admitted into her house familiarly, until the old lady felt as kindly toward me, as if I, too, had been a nephew.
Italian life and character are different enough from ours. They are traditionally romantic. But we are apt to disbelieve in the romance which we hear from those concerned. I cannot disbelieve, since I knew this sad, stern Italian woman. Can you disbelieve, who have seen Titian’s, and Tintoretto’s, and Paolo Veronese’s portraits of Venetian women? You, who have floated about the canals of Venice?
I was an American boy; and my very utter strangeness probably made it easier for the Marchesa Negropontini to tell me the story, which I now relate. She told it to me as we sat one evening in the balcony of her house, the palazzo Orfeo, on the Grand Canal.
The Marchesa sat for a long time silent, and we watched the phantom life of the city around us. Presently she sighed deeply and said:
“Ah, me! it is the eve of the Purification. My son, seventy years ago to-day the woman was born whose connection with the house of Negropontini has shrouded it in gloom, like the portrait you have seen in the saloon. Seventy years ago to-day my father’s neighbor, the Count Balbo, saw for the first time the face of the first daughter his wife had given him. The countess lay motionless—the flame of existence flickered between life and death.
“‘Adorable Mother of God!’ said the count, as he knelt by her bedside, ’if thou restorest my wife, my daughter shall be consecrated to thy service.’
“The slow hours dragged heavily by. The mother lived.
“My brother Camillo and I were but two and four years older than our little neighbor. We were children together, and each other’s playmates. When the little neighbor, Sulpizia Balbo, was fourteen, Camillo was eighteen. My son, the sky of Venice never shone on a more beautiful girl, on a youth more grave and tender. He loved her with his whole soul. Gran’ Dio! ’tis the old, old story!