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"Pray, do !" exclaimed Magdalene. “Well then, it is said that one of a race of mighty spirits was for some slight offence banished from his beautiful home, and condemned to wander upon its banks until he shall find a daughter of earth who shali love him well enough to be the willing sacrifice of his errors, and the cause of his restoration to happiness.”
“ And did the poor spirit never meet with one who would do this ?" asked Magdalene, anxiously.
“I suppose not, as he is still occasionally to be seen in the neighbourhood of the lake, as if lamenting over his doom.”
The young officer laughingly rejoined his companions as he ceased speaking, while Magdalene turned to the window with increased interest.
The sun was just setting over the lake of Perugia, and as she gazed a dark form came between her and its radiance, and shading her dazzled eyes with her hands, she distinctly saw a figure resembling that of a human being flying slowly over its waters, and uttering a wild cry, she sank lifeless on the ground.
It is far easier to believe in the ideal than see it actually realized before our very eyes.
The young officer was sorry to think he had made her his jest, although this would in no way account for this sudden illness, and her companions wisely judged that it would be best to take her home immediately on her recovery. When Magdalene opened her eyes at length, she turned them wildly towards the lake.
Is he still there?" asked she, in a whisper.
"Nay, it was but an idle tale,” said he, soothingly, “ made on the spur of the moment: there was no truth in what I told you."
Magdalene shook her head and smiled incredulously, but soon recovered sufficiently to walk home, where she found her mother somewhat better, and glad to hear that her child had taken advantage of the fineness of the day to escape from a confinement that was rapidly undermining her health and spirits.
“ You must go out every day," said the invalid holding back the curtain so that the light might fall upon Magdalene's pale face,“ or we shall have you very ill, nurse says.
"I will do any thing you wish, mamma,” said the girl, meekly, as she pressed her lips to the thin, wasted brow of the sufferer, and then retiring to her own apartment, she lay pondering on all that had passed until dawn.
The following evening, Magdalene mechanically bent her steps in the direction of the lake, nor had she been long there before the same figure she had observed on the previous night appeared in the distance, rapidly approaching the spot on which she stood. The girl shrieked and covered her face with her hands.
“I fear I have frightened you, signora,” said the intruder, in a voice no way remarkable for its sweetness, although frank and cheerful.
Magdalene could not reply; but she trembled so violently that the stranger could not do less than support her slight form in his powerful arms, while he gently strove to reassure her. Until the girl venturing at length to steal a look at him through her long eyelashes, saw that excepting his wings, there was nothing very supernatural in his appearance, and certainly nothing that need alarm her, so that at last they fell into conversation quite naturaliy.
“You must find this place very different from your own bright land," said Magdalene.
Her companion started, in wonder she thought at her knowing so much of his history, and murmured something about his having resided at Perugia ever since he could remember, while the girl sighed to think that she was deemed unworthy of the confidence of this mysterious and yet interesting being.
“Do you often walk here ?" asked he, as it grew late, and she moved at length to go.
- Not very
“But you will come to-morrow night, will you not ?"
Magdalene smiled assent, for she was not a bit frightened now, but only filled with a strange kind of happiness.
"Do you live in the city ?" asked her companion.
name?'' “ Magdalene." " I shall be sure and remember it.”
The girl longed to ask him his in return, but he saved her the trouble.
“ Mine is John."
She thought John a strange name for a spirit, but forbore to say so, and they parted mutually pleased with each other. The dreary void in her lonely and romantic heart was filled up at length.
After that night the old nurse had no need to insist upon her taking exercise, but was content with remonstrating with her occasionally at the lateness of the hour to which her rambles were extended. And yet, as time flew on, and every succeeding meeting with her strange lover endeared him more and more to the heart of Magdalene, she began to grow sad and pensive, and full of a thousand wild and undefined thoughts. How happy they might be on earth, he had said so a hundred times; and yet would he not be far more so in that bright land, which it rested with her to restore him to, along with his forfeited immortality; and woman like, although she wept, she shrank not from the doom before her, but was content to lay down even her very life for his sake.
But for his wings, there was certainly nothing very supernatural in the appearance of this mysterious being. His dress was that usually worn by the middle class in Italy; his eyes bright and intelligent; and his manner singularly winning and cheerful, but enthusiastic, and full of hope. It is no wonder that he was struck by the beauty of Magdalene-by the wild, half-worship with which she hung upon his words, and that timid reverence so delightful to receive from a young and lovely woman.
Magdalene was surprised by his never alluding, directly or indirectly to the past, attributing it to the fear of losing her, or his unwillingness to put her love for him, which she was so careless about concealing, to so severe a test, and one day endeavoured to turn the conversation to that subject by praising and examining the delicate texture of his wings.
The spirit laughed joyously.
“ You will be still inore astonished,” said he, “ when I tell you that I can put them off and on at pleasure.”
" Is it possible? And could you really fly away from me now like a bird, if you felt inclined ?”
“Alas ! no, I wish I could,” replied her lover. Magdalene echoed his sigh.
“Nay, dearest! I did not mean that I wished to leave you, but only to have the power."
“I understand you perfectly,” said the girl, in a low voice, “it may be yours yet.”
"I hope and trust so !” exclaimed the spirit, with a triumphant smile, while Magdalene shrunk away from the strange meaning of his words, and the wild exultation of his look.
“ Does he make so sure of his victim ?" thought she; “the saints protect me !"
“What ails you, my beloved ?" asked her lover tenderly, and Magdalene, at the sound of his voice, ceased to struggle against her fate, but came and sat down meekly at his feet.
“John," said she, lifting her soft eyes to his with the calm serenity of despair, “you know I love you."
"I have hoped so, Magdalene."
“Be sure of it then, and trust me with your fatal secret, for I am ready to lay down my life for you.”
"Now, the saints forbid !” exclaimed her lorer, earnestly, “ rather live for me."
“Oh! how gladly I would have done this, but it must not be ; even now you cannot conceal from me that you are pining for your banished home.”
The spirit gazed upon her with a bewildered air, while Magdalene went on with increased vehemence.
“ From my childhood I was not as other girls, and the supernatural had always more charms for me than the realities of life, of which I indeed knew little. Many a time have I stolen away to some traditionhaunted spot, and there lay for hours, with a strange longing to behold that which few are said to see and live: but nothing more terrible the silence of the place ever visited me, and I would steal home trembling and unsatisfied. At last, one bright night, they told me thy history.
" Mine!” exclaimed the spirit.
“ Yes, even from the very beginning; how you were banished to earth for some slight crime, and condemned to wander on the borders of the beautiful lake of Perugia, until you should meet one who would willingly sacrifice herself to procure your restoration to immortality. Knowing all this, I met and shunned you not. I even dared to love a being so much above me, and am now ready after the fashion of the children of earth, to seal that affection with iny death."
There were tears in the eyes of the spirit when she ceased speaking, real human tears, and they fell upon her uplifted brow like rain.
" Magdalene," murmured he, my own devoted Magdalene; I understand all now, but am unworthy of such a heart as thine."
“And you will suffer me to be the means of restoring you to so much happiness?" said the girl, forgetting all fear in her deep love.
“ There is no happiness for me henceforth where you are not !" murmured the spirit, “but we will talk of this another time, you are weary now, and must suffer me to see you safely home.'
Magdalene glanced at his wings, and thought how strange they should look walking into the town together.
“True," said he, laughingly interpreting her glance, “I had forgotten that,” and removing them with what appeared to his companion magical.quickness, he hid them carefully among the long grass, and was ready to accompany her.
“Oh! if some one should chance to come by that way and take them, how happy we might be!" thought Magdalene, although the next moment her heart reproached her for its selfishness.
“And could you not really be content with a mortal for your husband ?" asked he as they separated at length.
“Not after I have been loved by a spirit," replied the girl in a low voice.
“Not if I were to become human like yourself?”.
Magdalene placed her little hands in his without answering, for her heart was full.
“ Farewell then, dearest, for the present. I shall not be able to meet you as usual to-morrow night, but if you will come at noon to the great square in front of the cathedral, you will witness a sight you little dream of. Only promise, Magdalene, that whatever happens you will love me still."
“ I swear it!" said the girl solemnly, and they parted thus
Her mother was now so much better, that Magdalene, who feared to go by herself, thought she might venture to request permission for her nurse to accompany her, which was cheerfully granted, and they set out together. The streets were densely thronged, and all seemed crowding in the same direction they were themselves taking, talking eagerly as they walked.
“I wonder what's going on," said the old woman, who was almost as simple and ignorant of the world as her young mistress, “shall I inquire ?"
“I think not,” replied Magdalene, trembling with the fear of she knew not what, “ we shall know soon enough, perhaps too soon!" and mingling with the living mass, which rapidly increased in density, they were borne on towards the great square, in the centre of which stands a beautiful fountain, exquisitely adorned with sculpture by Giovanni de Pisa.
“ Does the crowd frighten you, my child ?" asked the old woman, observing how pale she looked.
" Oh no, dear nurse, it is not that, but I cannot bear this fearful suspense. Let us ask some one what is going forward."
“ Hush! they are all looking towards the top of the cathedral, where there is surely a human figure."
“ It is he !” exclaimed Magdalene, clasping her hands wildly together. “Why do they not fall down and worship him!”
“For what, signora ?" asked a man, laughing harshly. “ For daring to vie with the angels, and risk in his mad ambition a life given him for better things."
The girl listened breathlessly. “It is John Baptist Dante, a famous mathematician of Perugia, who because he has managed to construct a pair of wings which have borne him safely across its lake, is rash enough to undertake, before the eyes of his fellow-citizens, to fly from yonder cathedral over the great square."
“The saints have mercy upon him !" murmured the terror-stricken Magdalene, falling upon her knees.
At that instant there arose a wild shout, followed by a death-like stillness, the bold adventurer had commenced his perilous undertaking, Magdalene bowed down her head, and prayed with white lips," until another cry, more loud and terrible, and followed by piercing shrieks, told the fate of the presumptuous Dante!
It was evening, and an eager crowd yet lingered around the gloomy, dwelling of the signora and her daughter, whither the sufferer had been conveyed. Presently the old nurse appeared at the entrance, with a gleam of hope upon her pale face.
"He will not die!” said she, “ but his thigh is terribly fractured; and his recovery must needs be long and tedious.”
How little did she know of the future, it was the happiest period of his life.
The people dispersed to their homes, and the old nurse returned to share the midnight watch of her darling child, and whisper of hope and comfort. That night Magdalene confessed every thing to her mother, who although she could not forbear smiling, had no heart to chide her, and from that hour, until his recovery, which was long protracted, Dante continued a cherished guest in her house.
It would be too long a story to tell how Magdalene watched over the sick couch of her lover, how she wept and prayed for him, and made so sweet and gentle a nurse that it was almost worth while being ill to have her to wait upon one; or how, when he got a little better, they talked together over the past.
“To think of my taking you for a spirit, John," said she; “but it all came of that unfortunate visit to the citadel, and my silly love of the marvellous.”
“Nay, you must not not call it unfortunate, since it led to our meeting ; but for that I had never known the extent of your
affection. And so you would really have died for me, my Magdalene?"
“A thousand, thousand times !" exclaimed the girl; “ but, after all, as you said, it is better to live for you.”
Years after this we find John Baptist Dante completely recovered, and established at Venice as Professor of Mathematics, in which city he was held in high repute. But doubtless the thoughts of both himself and his young and beautiful bride often wandered back to their birthplace, and the lake of Perugia with its wide expanse; its bright waters and verdant and picturesque banks, with the towns and villages scattered at intervals along the shore, remained unforgotten. Certain it is that they were often heard laughing merrily together, as they recalled to mind the above legend of the Spirit of the Lake.