I will repeat to you a story which the fishermen tell in the evening, as they mend their nets, sitting in a circle on the shore.
The fair Narcissa surpassed in beauty all the young girls of her province. All along the shore from Catana to Syracuse, there was not one who could boast of so mild an eye, so graceful a form, so delicate a foot.
Put no confidence in the fair Narcissa.
Some are beautiful without begin conscious of it. Such it is safe to love.
Others are beautiful, and know it but too well. It is these whom you should avoid.
Narcissa the fair knew that she was handsome; and Louis loved her.
Louis was the son of the old soldier, Louis Naldi, and was regarded by all who knew him, as a brave fellow, a bold sailor, and a kind comrade; one who feared God and venerated the saints. But he was in love with the fair Narcissa.
He followed her everywhere. He thought of her perpetually. Had you seen Louis weep, as he pressed to his heart some flower which had fallen from Narcissa’s bosom, you would have some conception of the power which love can exert over a man.
Yes, Louis would weep like a child.
He, the fearless sailor, whose voice so often rose above the storm, trembled at the slightest word from Narcissa.
He owned a house built of stone, a substantial bark, and excellent nets. He offered the whole to Narcissa, whose only effects were a spinning-wheel and a looking-glass; a spinning-wheel which never turned, and a looking-glass in which she was always admiring herself.
It must be acknowledged that Narcissa thought of nothing but pleasure and fine dresses. Still she did not reject Louis.
The love of the handsome and brave Louis flattered Narcissa’s pride; but she felt no love for him in return.
What she loved was her own young, handsome face – her graceful shape – her smiling lips – and her sweet eyes. She loved herself, and nobody else.
After visiting the city, she would say to Louis on her return, – “I have seen the daughters of the citizens. They are not so handsome as I am; yet they wear velvet tunics, find ribands on their heads, and a gold cross at their necks.”
So Louis purchased for her a velvet tunic, handsome ribands, and a cross of gold to hang from her neck.
“Art thou happy,” said he to her, “now that thou art so fine?”
“I am happy,” she answered, “because I am beautiful.”
“When wilt thou marry me?”
“Wait till vintage has passed. I wish to dance once more in freedom among my companions.”
The vintage, as you well know, is the time of festival and sports; the time of tender offers. Gayety seems then to flow freely, with the new juice of the grape.
Then came other pretexts. In winter, she must wait for the time of tunny-fishing; in summer, for that of harvest. The marriage-day was always put off to a later period.
Meanwhile Louis, in order to buy dresses, and ribands, and jewels for Narcissa, had sold the house which his father left him, his bark, and his nets. He had nothing left.
He had not even the poor recompense of Narcissa’s love. She passed the day before her mirror, combing her long hair, and smiling at her own beauty. Scarcely could her lover get a word or a look.
Louis saw very plainly that the fair Narcissa had no love for him; but he was bewitched.
Some women are gifted with a fatal beauty.
Their eyes, instead of healing the wounds which they have made, seem but to irritate them more. Does some demon impel you to love them, and allure you to your fate? What but a demon could inhabit the heart of Narcissa?
“The man whom I marry,” said she, “must first give me some beautiful ear-drops, -- some fine linen frocks, -- diamond buckles for my shoes, and handsome rings for my fingers.”
Louis took his carbine – that very carbine which the old solder, his father, had carried in the wars – and set out for the mountains.
Soon, the fair Narcissa had the beautiful ear-drops, the fine linen frocks, the diamond buckles, the handsome rings, and many things beside.
Always handsome, always adorned, always gay, she frequented balls and festivals without thinking of the poor wretch who was risking his life, and his soul’s welfare, in order to gratify the vain wishes of her heart.
At length, the exploits of the brigand Louis became known at Palermo, and the viceroy sent a detachment of soldiers to seize him. Narcissa, the beautiful Narcissa, sat in her window to see them pass, and smiled upon the young corporal, their commander, who saluted her with his sabre.
This corporal was going to attack her lover.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The soldiers have returned victorious. Louis fell in the mountains, pierced by three bullets.
Who is it that runs first to meet these cavaliers? It is the fair Narcissa, more beautiful, more decorated than ever.
The corporal has shown great bravery. He expects now to be promoted, and returns with a rich booty.
Narcissa fastens on him her most winning looks – those looks which the demon has armed with irresistible power.
But the loyal soldier is not affected by them.
“Who art thou, fair one,” said he, “and what is thy wish?”
“I am Narcissa the fair, and I wish to marry thee.”
“Begone! Woman without a heart. The last word which the bandit Louis uttered, was thy name – Narcissa the fair; and it was I who shot Louis.”
From that time neither the young nor the old, neither matron nor maid, would have any thing to say to Narcissa.
She was compelled to leave the village, and to hide herself in a grotto of Monte-Negro, near which flows a deep stream, which long ago the powerful prayers of a holy hermit caused to issue from the rock.
Instead of weeping over her errors and repenting, she spent the long day in contemplating her image, as reflected in the watery mirror.
One day a monk, renowned for piety and benevolence, climbed the heights of Monte-Negro, with the design of exorcising Narcissa; for no one, he said, could act like her, unless she were possessed.
The holy man found the grotto deserted.
A boy, who was tending goats near by, told him that early in the day, he saw Narcissa sit for a long time on the bank of the stream, and then rise and throw herself into the water.
The monk came down and celebrated a mass for the repose of her soul.
Some may say that she drowned herself to escape from a reproaching conscience; but it is well known that the water-spirit had assumed her countenance, to entice her into the abyss, and to hand her over to Satan.