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

The Little Countess

There lived in Venice in the year 1288 a nobleman and his wife, who had one little daughter. They had only this one child, and they did not wish for any more. They thanked heaven for the precious little daughter, who was dearer to them than anything else in the world. She was fairer than any child in Venice, a little white lily with a heart of gold. Wherever she went people were gladdened by the sight of her fair face, but the sunshine she carried with her shone from her golden heart which was so kind and loving and true.

There was one thing that the little Countess loved above all others, and that was to go to the daily service in the church close by. At first she could only go when her mother took her on Sundays and saints' days, but when she grew a little older, she would often go by herself. Every one in Venice knew the little Countess, so she was quite safe, even when she went out alone.

Now the church which the child loved was on the other side of the canal, and there was no bridge across. So those who wished to go over were obliged to take a boat at the ferry. But the boatmen were always ready to row the little maiden across.

After a while the nobleman began to think that his daughter went too often to church. He was glad she was such a good child, but he did not want her to become a saint. He meant her to marry some rich, great lord, and live a gay life in the world. He was afraid that if she went to church so much she would think too much of heaven and too little of earth.

So one day he told her she must no longer go each morning to church.

The little Countess had always been as good and obedient as a child could be, but now she told her father that she could not obey him. God was her Father too, and she must try to please Him. The father did not wish to seem harsh, for he loved his little daughter dearly, so he said no more. But that very day he went to the boatmen at the ferry and told them they were on no account to row the little Countess across the water when she wanted to go to church. He slipped some gold pieces into their hands to help them to remember his command, and they promised faithfully they would do as he directed.

Early the next morning the child came to the ferry as usual, and was going to slip into the first boat when the boatman told her he could not take her across. She went to the next boat, but there, too, the boatman said the same. One by one they refused to take her across the canal.

The little Countess gazed at the men with her innocent, questioning eyes. She wondered what it could mean. But the men looked shamefacedly away.

For one moment her lips began to tremble and her eyes filled with tears, but then she wiped the tears quickly away and smiled as happily as ever.

Stepping down to the side of the canal, she took off her little blue apron and laid it upon the water. Then quite fearlessly she stepped down upon it. The boatmen started forward, but the child was in no danger. Not only did the apron float like a boat, but it began to be wafted gently across the canal, until it landed the little Countess safely on the other side. The boatmen stood looking on in amazement while the child quietly entered the church.

The story of that wonderful crossing on the frail little boat was soon told all over Venice, and the people talked in reverent tones of the child-saint who dwelt among them. The young nobles begged for her hand in marriage when she should be old enough, and her father found that he could choose from among the richest and noblest of the land to wed his little daughter.

But God had chosen something better than earthly honours for the little Countess. Before very long His messenger came to carry her across the dark river of death to the golden city of heaven. She was not at all afraid to go. Just as gladly and with as perfect a trust as she had stepped upon that frail little boat to be carried across to God's house, she now set out to go to the heavenly city.

All Venice mourned for the little Countess, and they buried her in the church she loved so well. In after years mothers, carrying their babies in their arms, would often go and pray by the tomb of the little saint and ask her to protect their little ones and save them from the perils of the water, just as the good God had protected and saved her, when she was a child.

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