THE following stories were told to me by various peasants during a summer stay amid the Tuscan Apennines above Pistoia. I had gone there with a companion in search of quiet for the summer holidays. But I fell ill, and, there being no nurses and no doctors, was tended by an old peasant woman, who, living alone (for her sons had married and left her), was only too glad to spend the warmth of her heart in “keeping me company” and tending me to the best of her ability. Long were the hours which she spent by my bedside, or by my hammock in the woods, knitting and telling me stories. She would take no payment for her time, for was she not born a twin-sister? and everyone knows that a twin-sister, left alone, must needs attach herself to someone else in the emptiness of her heart. So old Clementina attached herself to me as long as I stopped in that village; and when I left it she would write me, by means of the scrivano, long letters full of village news, and expressions of affection in the sweet poetical Tuscan tongue.
Indelibly is the remembrance of the kind hospitality of those peasants impressed on my mind. For Clementina, although my dearest, was by no means my only friend. I had to leave her as soon as I could be moved, for a village which boasted at any rate a chemist’s and a butcher’s; and there, in the two months of my stay, wandering about among the little farms, either alone, or in the company of a woman whose husband had sent her back for the summer to her native place, I had continual opportunities of chatting with the people and enjoying their disinterested hospitality. Such records as I have preserved I give to the public, thinking that others, too, might like to penetrate into that quiet country world, see the workings of the peasant mind in one or two of their stories, and note the curiously altered versions of childhood acquaintances or of old legends which have found their way into those remote regions: note, too, the lack of imagination, and the shrewdness visible in the tales which are indigenous. As regards style, I have endeavoured to preserve as closely as possible the old woman’s diction.