Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The ghost that my grandmother saw

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One lovely summer’s evening I was sitting with my grandmother on the terrace of one of those beautiful villas situated on the “riviera di Genova,” overlooking the blue Mediterranean. I had been reading Longfellow to her, for although an Italian she was well acquainted with English; she bade me read once more the “Footsteps of Angels,” and it was after these lines—

Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door;
The beloved, the true-hearted,
Come to visit me once more,

that I asked her—half in play, half in earnest—whether she had ever seen a ghost?

Altro! figlia mia,” answered she with a sigh, “but it’s a story more than fifty years’ old, and I would rather you did not ask me to tell it you.”

She seemed very reluctant to make me acquainted with it, but my curiosity being now fairly roused, I grew importunate with my entreaties; it was some time, however, before I could prevail upon her to satisfy my curiosity, and when she did so, her tale was so mixed up with matters, wholly uninteresting to the general reader, that I prefer giving it in my own words:

My grandmother was the daughter of the Count di L——; at sixteen the young Maddalena was counted among the fairest maidens of “Genova la superba;” her hand was sought by numberless youths amongst the nobility of Italy, but my grandmother, like many other damsels both of ancient and modern times, had a preference; she had met at church the young and handsome Count F——, and she had vowed in her little heart that she would marry none other. Letters were exchanged between the lovers, and each evening, when the clock of the church of San Lorenzo struck nine, the young Count might have been seen pacing up and down under the balcony of his youthful mistress. The Count di L—— was averse to the match; he did not deem the young noble worthy of his treasure. “She must,” he had said, “be the bride of a prince;” but Maddalena had an uncle, the Cardinal M——, whom she dearly loved, and he was all-powerful with her father; to him she intended to impart her little secret—she had long waited for his return from Rome, whither the benevolent prelate had gone, to be present at a “Concistorio.”

One morning she received a long letter from him, informing her of his approaching arrival; and on the evening of the same day the family were sitting at supper, for in those days the evening meal had not yet taken the name of “dinner.” They were all joyful in the expectation of the arrival of the kind-hearted Cardinal, and Maddalena especially so, when they were startled by the sudden entrance of an acquaintance, whose countenance showed he was the bearer of ill news. “Had they heard,” he asked, “what had happened?”—All answering in the negative, he replied that the young Count F—— had been murdered an hour ago; the assassin had fled; more no one knew.

My grandmother tells me she heard the news without a single cry or groan; she bore it all. Sick at heart she rose from the table, crossed the room to the door almost unnoticed, for all were eagerly discussing the fatal event; she even curtsied to the one guest who opened the door for her, but how she reached her room she cannot tell,—she remembered locking the door after her, and kneeling by her bedside, where she relieved her breaking heart by a flood of passionate tears. She was in that state of faintness which comes with exhaustion from extreme weeping, when the bell of San Lorenzo began the first peal of nine—a terrible sensation came over her, and yet she could scarcely realise the truth; could it be that that voice she was in the habit of hearing every evening, at that very hour, call her by name, had been stilled for ever!—that he whom she had seen only the evening before, full of life and hope, was now lying dead,—killed by the hand of an assassin. Slowly the church clock finished striking the hour, and the silence which it left behind brought an indescribable pain to the heart of poor Maddalena; she was too weak to pray, but slowly raised her weary eyes to the image of the “Madonna,” placed in the alcove opposite to where she knelt; when, suddenly, she heard a voice calling her, “Manin,” the same voice which called her every evening at that same hour. Oh! the idea was maddening! She rose, parted with both her hands the hair from her fevered brow, and listened, her heart beating and her feet nailed to the floor; her limbs stiff with horror. She listened, and again the voice called “Manin!” and a third time again, “Manin!” but she did not stir; she sat on her bed, listening for the sound of that voice, but in vain she waited, for the voice was not heard again that night.

Her nurse came soon after to the door, and the noise she made in her efforts to gain admittance roused my grandmother, who ran to the door and let her good foster-mother in. The old woman had heard of the sad event, and was full of sympathy for her young mistress, who, she saw at a glance, was nearly prostrate with sorrow. She entered into the particulars of the assassination of the young Count with all the garrulity of her kind, saying that never had fairer “cavaliere” fallen victim to jealousy, for, added she, it must have been the cause of so foul a crime—some one who loves you too well has ordered this deed.

Maddalena concealed from every one the knowledge of the voice she had heard. The following day passed slowly, and with impatience did she await the hour of nine, when she thought she would hear that voice which at least reminded her of the dear friend she had lost: it was a link, though a slight one, thought she, between her and the unseen world whither he had gone. Was it really his voice she had heard, or that of some one cruel enough to desire to keep up the delusion? She would judge with her own eyes. Again did she hear the clock on the following evening strike the hour of nine; but again the sound of that voice, which she heard once more call her by name, troubled her as it had done the evening before, so that she did not dare to go to the window: a cold shudder came over her,—she felt as if about to die.

“But, cara nonna,” said I to her, “why did you not go to the window and see who called?”

Figlia mia,” she replied, pressing my hands in hers, “non mi sentivo corraggio. For seven days following I heard that same voice, and I began to fear that I should be haunted all my life with the sound of that voice. I prayed fervently for strength, and on the seventh day I determined to judge by myself if indeed it were an apparition. I shall never, as long as I live, forget that evening. When the clock had completed the last stroke of nine, I heard, as I had done on the preceding days, myself called by name, ‘Manin!’ I took my rosary, and with a beating heart walked to the window. I looked down and saw him—the young Count F——, who had been assassinated seven days before, under my window. He raised his face to me, and though deadly white, I recognised him in an instant. I was afterwards told that I uttered a loud shriek, and was found stretched senseless on the floor of my balcony. I recollect nothing further of what passed until I found myself on my bed in my darkened room, with anxious faces around me, my hand resting in that of my beloved uncle. I saw on my uncle’s face how ill I had been. It was some days before I was allowed to ask any questions. I then learned that I had been long and dangerously ill. I recollected all about Count F——’s assassination; but when I told my uncle that I had seen him, he smiled, and gently told me it was the effect of fever—nothing more.”

“Was it so, do you think, grandmamma?” asked I.

“My daughter, were I to die this moment,” she answered, with energy, “I would swear that I saw the ghost of Count F——.”

I knew that my grandmother’s marriage had not been a happy one. I asked her if she had ever discovered the name of the perpetrator of this crime. She grew very pale, and, stooping down, left a cold kiss on my forehead, saying,

“I did, soon after your father’s birth; but never ask me to tell it you!

Bianca Bertoni.