Susan Coolidge



Ginevra Degli Amieri

by Susan Coolidge

A Story Of Old Florence.

So it is come! The doctor's glossy smile
Deceives me not. I saw him shake his head,
Whispering, and heard poor Giulia sob without,
As, slowly creaking, he went down the stair.
Were they afraid that I should be afraid?
I, who had died once and been laid in tomb?
They need not.

Little one, look not so pale.
I am not raving. Ah! you never heard
The story. Climb up there upon the bed:
Sit close, and listen. After this one day
I shall not tell you stories any more.

How old are you, my rose? What! almost twelve?
Almost a woman? Scarcely more than that

Was your fair mother when she bore her bud;
And scarcely more was I when, long years since,
I left my father's house, a bride in May.
You know the house, beside St. Andrea's church,
Gloomy and rich, which stands, and seems to frown
On the Mercato, humming at its base;
And hold on high, out of the common reach,
The lilies and carved shields above its door;
And, higher yet, to catch and woo the sun,
A little loggia set against the sky?
That was my play-place ever as a child;
And with me used to play a kinsman's son,
Antonio Rondinelli. Ah, dear days!
Two happy things we were, with none to chide
Or hint that life was anything but play.

Sudden the play-time ended. All at once
You must be wed, they told me. What is wed?
I asked; but with the word I bent my brow,
Let them put on the garland, smiled to see
The glancing jewels tied about my neck;
And so, half-pleased, half-puzzled, was led forth
By my grave husband, older than my sire.

O the long years that followed! It would seem
That the sun never shone in all those years,
Or only with a sudden, troubled glint
Flashed on Antonio's curls, as he went by
Doffing his cap, with eyes of wistful love
Raised to my face, -- my conscious, woful face.
Were we so much to blame? Our lives had twined
Together, none forbidding, for so long.
They let our childish fingers drop the seed,
Unhindered, which should ripen to tall grain;
They let the firm, small roots tangle and grow,
Then rent them, careless that it hurt the plant.
I loved Antonio, and he loved me.

Life was all shadow, but it was not sin!
I loved Antonio; but I kept me pure,
Not for my husband's sake, but for the sake
Of him, my first-born child, my little child,
Mine for a few short weeks, whose touch, whose look
Thrilled all my soul and thrills it to this day.
I loved; but, hear me swear, I kept me pure!
(Remember that, Madonna, when I come
Before thy throne to-morrow. Be not stern,
Or gaze upon me with reproachful look,
Making my little angel hide his face
And weep, while all the others turn glad eyes
Rejoicing on their mothers.)

It was hard
To sit in darkness while the rest had light,
To move to discords when the rest had song,
To be so young and never to have lived.
I bore, as women bear, until one day
Soul said to flesh, This I endure no more,
And with the word uprose, tore clay apart,
And what was blank before grew blanker still.

It was a fever, so the leeches said.
I had been dead so long, I did not know
The differaence, or heed. Oil on my breast,
The garments of the grave about me wrapped,
They bore me forth, and laid me in the tomb.
The rich and beautiful and dreadful tomb,
Where all the buried Amieris lie,
Beneath the Duomo's black and towering shade.

Open the curtain, child. Yes, it is night.
It was night then, when I awoke to feel
That deadly chill, and see by ghostly gleams
Of moonlight, creeping through the grated door,
The coffins of my fathers all about.
Strange, hollow clamors rang and echoed back,
As, struggling out of mine, I dropped and fell.
With frantic strength I beat upon the grate.
It yielded to my touch. Some careless hand
Had left the bolt half-slipped. My father swore
Afterward, with a curse, he would make sure
Next time. Next time. That hurts me even now!

Dead or alive I issued, scarce sure which.
High overhead Giotto's tower soared;
Behind, the Duomo rose all white and black;
Then pealed a sudden jargoning of bells,
And down the darkling street I wildly fled,
Led by a little, cold, and wandering moon,
Which seemed as lonely and as lost as I.
I had no aim, save to reach warmth and light
And human touch; but still my witless steps
Led to my husband's door, and there I stopped,
By instinct, knocked, and called.

A window oped.
A voice -- 't was his -- demanded: Who is there?
'T is I, Ginevra. Then I heard the tone
Change into horror, and he prayed aloud
And called upon the saints, the while I urged,
O, let me in, Francesco; let me in!
I am so cold, so frightened, let me in!

Then, with a crash, the window was shut fast;
And, though I cried and beat upon the door
And wailed aloud, no other answer came.

Weeping, I turned away, and feebly strove
Down the hard distance towards my father's house.
They will have pity and will let me in,
I thought. They loved me and will let me in.
Cowards! At the high window overhead
They stool and trembled, while I plead and prayed:
I am your child, Ginevra. Let me in!
I am not dead. In mercy, let me in!

The holy saints forbid! declared my sire.
My mother sobbed and vowed whole pounds of wax
To St. Eustachio, would he but remove
This fearful presence from her door. Then sharp
Came click of lock, and a long tube was thrust
From out the window, and my brother cried,
Spirit or devil, go! or else I fire!

Where should I go? Back to the ghastly tomb
And the cold coffined ones? Up the long street,
Wringing my hands and sobbing low, I went.
My feet were bare and bleeding from the stones;
My hands were bleeding too; my hair hung loose
Over my shroud. So wild and strange a shape
Saw never Florence since. The people call
That street through which I walked and wrung my hands
Street of the Dead One, even to this day.
The sleeping houses stood in midnight black,
And not a soul was in the streets but I.

At last I saw a flickering point of light
High overhead, in a dim window set.
I had lain down to die; but at the sight
I rose, crawled on, and with expiring strength
Knocked, sank again, and knew not even then
It was Antonio's door by which I lay.
A window opened, and a voice called out:
Qui è? I am Ginevra. And I thought,
Now he will fall to trembling, like the rest,
And bid me hence.
But, lo! a moment more
The bolts were drawn, and arms whose very touch

Was life, lifted and clasped and bore me in.
O ghost or angel of my buried love,
I know not, care not which, be welcome here!
Welcome, thrice welcome, to this heart of mine!

I heard him say, and then I heard no more.

It was high noontide when I woke again,
To hear fierce voices wrangling by my bed, --
My father's and my husband's; for, with dawn,
Gathering up valor, they had sought the tomb,
Had found me gone, and tracked my bleeding feet
Over the pavement to Antonio's door.
Dead, they cared nothing; living, I was theirs.
Hot raged the quarrel; then came Justice in,
And to the court we swept -- I in my shroud --
To try the cause.

This was the verdict given:
A woman who has been to burial borne,
Made fast and left and locked in with the dead;
Who at her husband's door has stood and plead
For entrance, and has heard her prayer denied;
Who from her father's house is urged and chased,
Must be adjudged as dead in law and fact.

The Court pronounces the defendant -- dead!
She can resume her former ties at will,
Or may renounce them, if such be her will.
She is no more a daughter, or a spouse,
Unless she choose, and is set free to form
New ties, if so she choose.

O, blessed words!
That very day we knelt before the priest,
My love and I, were wed, and life began.

Child of my child, child of Antonio's child,
Bend down and let me kiss your wondering face.
'T is a strange tale to tell a rose like you.
But time is brief, and, had I told you not,
Haply the story would have met your ears
From them, the Amieri, my own blood,
Now turned to gall, whose foul and bitter lips
Will wag with lies when once my lips are dumb.
(Pardon me, Virgin. I was gentle once,
And thou hast seen my wrongs. Thou wilt forgive.)
Now go, my dearest. When they wake thee up,
To tell thee I am dead, be not too sad.
I, who have died once, do not fear to die.

Sweet was that waking, sweeter will be this.
Close to Heaven's gate my own Antonio sits
Waiting, and, spite of all the Frati say,
I know I shall not stand long at that gate,
Or knock and be refused an entrance there,
For he will start up when he hears my voice,
The saints will smile, and he will open quick.
Only a night to part me from that joy.
Jesu Maria! let the dawning come.


Copyright 1880
Roberts Brothers, Boston