Gateway to the Classics: Legends and Stories of Italy by Amy Steedman
Legends and Stories of Italy by  Amy Steedman

The Angel and the Diavolo

"Where shall we go to-day?" asked the Saint.

"Oh, take me to some place that has a story," said the child. "I want a new story to-day."

It was early morning in Venice, and the Saint and the child came hand in hand out of the dim old church into the pearly light of the great square. Every morning they wandered together through the narrow byways, before the bustle and business of the day began. Sometimes they went to watch the sunrise over the lagunes, sometimes they found their way to the old mercato, where the heavily laden boats brought in their heaped-up treasures of yellow pumpkins, purple artichokes, pale-green salads, shining piles of crimson cherries, and little, long-shaped baskets with strawberries peeping out of the narrow necks. But wherever they went they would find some curious tale, or legend, which the Saint would tell to the listening child.

Slowly now they turned their steps out of the great square, underneath the dim archway of the Clock Tower, into the narrow street beyond. They always walked slowly, there was so much to see, and those who hurry, miss much in Venice. Then at last, after many bewildering turns leading over as many little bridges, they came out opposite an old palace, which stood at the corner of the two broad waterways. Every window, every niche was reflected clear below as if in a mirror, and the white marble of the sculptured figure which was let into the house above had its twin in the green water below.

"Here is our story," said the Saint. "Tell me, child, what do you see carved above that window?"

"It is a beautiful angel," said the child, looking across at the marble figure with its clasped hands and peacefully folded wings. Then she looked up into the sweet face of the Saint and waited eagerly for the story.

The Saint smiled down on the listening child. "It is only a strange old legend," she said, "which most people have forgotten. But I will tell you why the angel is there.

"Many, many years ago, a clever lawyer of Venice lived in that house. He was known all over the city as the wisest and most learned of men, and was very rich and powerful. But although men praised him for his wisdom, they would always end by shaking their heads and lowering their voices when they spoke of him. For it was said there was no man as wicked as he in all the countryside. Strange tales were told of wild and wicked deeds done in the old house, and gradually one by one his servants left him, frightened by his evil ways. At last the lawyer was left all alone in the great house, and never a friend came nigh him.

" 'He has sold his soul to the Evil One,' said the citizens in whispers one to another. And even as they spoke they started and looked round swiftly over their shoulders, half afraid lest the clever lawyer or the Diavolo might be standing there listening to their words.

"Now it was very uncomfortable to live in a great house all alone, and the lawyer did not like it. There was no one to wait on him or prepare his meals, and he began to think it would be better to mend his ways, and persuade some of the old servants to come back.

"Just as this thought entered his head one evening, the door of the room where he was sitting was pushed open. With a bound there sprang into the room a large furry animal, which stood grinning and chattering before him in the most friendly manner. It was a very large black monkey, as tall as a child and as strong as a man, and as it gambolled about and uttered its queer chattering cries, the lawyer laughed more heartily than he had done for years.

" 'Come,' he said, 'here is a merry companion arrived just when he is most needed.'

"The monkey grinned as if he understood his welcome and began to make himself quite at home. In a short time he learned to do anything which the lawyer taught him. His hands were so deft and his head so intelligent that there seemed no end to his usefulness. He could sweep the rooms, light the fires, cook the food, and indeed do more than all the trained servants had ever done. Wherever the lawyer went he boasted of his wonderful monkey, and was never tired of telling stories of its clever and amusing ways.

"But the fact was that this monkey was none other than the Diavolo himself. He had made up his mind to come and live with the lawyer that he might be quite sure of securing his soul. For there was still some good in the lawyer, and the Evil One thought it wiser to be always near him, ready to stamp it out.

"Now, although the lawyer had often and often grieved his good angel and driven him away, still the angel watched over him from afar, and longed to help and protect him. Time after time he had tried and failed, until it seemed quite hopeless. But now when he saw with sad, grieved eyes how the Evil One, in the form of the monkey, was always present, he made up his mind to try once more.

"So one evening the good angel took the form of one of the lawyer's friends, and went to call at the old lonely house.

"The lawyer was somewhat surprised when the visitor came in. It was many a long day since any friend had cared to cross his door. Strangely enough, since the monkey had come, people seemed to avoid him more than ever.

" 'I hear you have a wonderful servant,' said the angel visitor, after they had talked together for a little. 'I would like to hear all about him.'

"Nothing pleased the lawyer more than to talk of his strange pet, and he began at once to tell of his clever ways.

" 'He would seem to be a most wonderful animal,' said the visitor. 'I would greatly like to see him.'

" 'There is nothing easier,' said the lawyer in high good-humour. 'I will call him at once.'

"And going to the door he shouted, 'Babbuino, Babbuino, come hither, thou rascal, and show thyself.'

"But the Diavolo knew all too well who it was who had come in the guise of a friend to sup with his master. Instead of running as usual at the lawyer's call, he had fled away with all haste, and hidden himself in the furthest corner of the old house.

" 'Babbuino, Babbuino!' called the lawyer again. Then he began to grow angry, and stamped his foot in a great rage.

" 'Let us go and look for him,' said the angel quietly.

"So together the lawyer and his guest went and searched each room carefully, but no signs of the missing monkey could they find. At last, however, in a little dark cupboard they saw a crouching form, and the angel went forward to touch it.

"But as soon as the Diavolo caught sight of the angel he gave a great cry and sprang headlong against the outer wall of the room. At his touch the wall gave way, stones rattled down, and a great hole was made. Then, in the midst of a cloud of smoke and dust, the Evil One disappeared.

"The lawyer looked on in terror and amazement, and then turned to his visitor. But the visitor too was gone, and instead there stood an angel looking at him with sad, pleading eyes.

" 'I have returned once more to try to save thee,' he said; 'see that this last time be not in vain.'

"Then he spread his great white wings, and he too flew out into the starry night.

"The lawyer trembled from head to foot, and fell upon his knees, thanking heaven for his deliverance from the wiles of the Evil One. And as he grew calmer he prayed earnestly that his good angel might never leave him, but evermore might guard and bless him.

"So happy times returned to the old corner palace. Servants and friends came back to the lawyer, and evil whisperings ceased.

"The hole in the wall was built up with new stones, but lest it should be forgotten the lawyer caused the figure of an angel to be carved in white marble and placed over the spot.

"There through all the years the figure of the angel has stood with folded hands and peaceful, happy face. There it still stands to-day, silently teaching the old lesson that good shall triumph in the end, telling the happy tale 'of evil conquered and wrong made right.' "

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