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A Ghost Story of the Lagoons
Continued from page 1
There were six men fishing once in this "Valle" of the Seven Dead. They had with them a little boy, the son of one of their number. The boy did not go fishing with his father, but stayed behind to take care of the hut, and to cook the food for the men when they returned. He spent the nights alone in the cabin, for most of the fishing was done between sunset and sunrise. One day as the dawn was beginning across the water, the men stopped their fishing and began to row home with their load, as usual. As they rowed along they met the body of a drowned man going out to sea with the tide. They picked the body up and laid it on the prow, the head resting upon the arm, and rowed on slowly to the hut. The little boy was watching for them, and went down to the edge of the canal to meet them. He saw the body of the seventh man lying on the prow, but thought that he was asleep. So, when the boat came near, he cried to his father, "Breakfast is ready; come along!" and with that he turned and went back to the hut. The men followed the boy, and left the dead man lying-on the prow. When they had sat down the boy looked round and said, "Where is the other man? Why don t you bring him in to breakfast too?" "Oh! isn't he here?" cried one; and then added, with a laugh, "You had better go and call him; he must be asleep." The boy went down to the canal, and shouted, "Why don t you come to breakfast? it is all ready for you." But the man on the prow never moved nor answered a word. So the boy returned to the hut, and said, "What is the matter with the man? he won't answer." "Oh!" said they, "he is a deaf old fool. You must shout and swear at him." The boy went back again, and cried, "Come along, you fool; the others are waiting for you." But the man on the prow never moved nor answered a word. Then the boy ran back to the hut, and said, "Come, one of you; for I can't wake him up." But they laughed and answered, "Go out again and shake him by the leg; tell him we can't wait till doomsday for him." The boy went down to the water once more. He got into the boat and shook the man by the leg. Then the man turned and sat up on the prow, and said to the boy, "What do you want?" "Why on earth don't you come? Are they all to wait till doomsday for you?" "Go back and tell them that I am coming." So the boy went back to the hut and found the men laughing and joking. "Well! what did he say?" they cried. "It is all right," answered the boy; "he says he is coming." The men turned pale and looked at one another, and sat quite still and laughed no more. Then outside they heard footsteps coming slowly up the path. The door was pushed open, and the dead man came in and sat down in the boy's place, the seventh at the table. But the eyes of the other six were fixed upon the seventh, their guest. They could not move nor speak. Their gaze was fastened on the dead man's face. The blood flowed chiller and chiller in their veins till, as the sun arose, there were seven dead men sitting round the table in the room.
Such was the story Antonio told one night rowing home from Chioggia. It has evidently taken a deep root in the imagination of the people. Nor can we wonder at this, nor at the weirdness of the tale, when we remember the solitary lives these fishermen lead, the limitless spaces around them, vast enough to fling the spirit back upon itself and set it creating. The only matter for astonishment is that there are not more such stories. In the north, out of similar surroundings, we should have a whole group of legends, wild, fantastic, or terrible as the tales which live among the fishers of the Hebrides or the wreckers and smugglers of the Devon and Cornish coasts. But a ghost story is rare in Venice; and this one would be difficult to match, even elsewhere in Italy. Possibly the external surroundings, the aspect of nature, may have something to do with this. The terrible is rarely found in Italian landscape, and seldom expressed in Italian art. The scenery of the lagoons is ample, soft, and caressing, but terrible, as possessing the austerer and more vengeful qualities of nature, it is not. These are the essential elements of the supernatural and therefore it is that a genuine Italian ghost story is a rarity.
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Brown, Horatio F. In and Around Venice. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905. 165-170
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