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The Good Grace of the Hunchback

The Good Grace of the Hunchback.1

A mother and daughter lived alone in a cottage. The mother was old and came to die; the daughter was turned out of house and home.2  An ugly hunchback, who was a tailor, came by and said—

‘What is your name, my pretty girl?'

‘They call me la Buona Grazia,'3  answered the girl.

‘Well, la Buona Grazia, I've got twenty scudi a month, will you come with me and be my wife?'

The girl was starving, and didn't know where to set her foot, so she thought she could not afford to refuse; but she went along with a very bad grace, for she did not feel at all happy at the idea of marrying the ugly old hunchback.

When the hunchback saw how unhappy she was, he thought, ‘This will never do. She's too young and too pretty to care for me. I must keep her locked up, and then when she sees no one else at all, she will at last be glad even of my company.' So he went all the errands himself, and never let her go out except to Mass, and then he took her to the church, and watched her all the time, and brought her back himself. The windows he whitened all over, so that she couldn't see out into the street, and there he kept her with the door locked on her, and she was very miserable.

So it went on for three years. But there was a dirty little window of a lumber room which, as it only gave a look out on to the court,4  he had not whitened. As she happened to look out here one day a stranger stood leaning on the balcony of the court, for part of the house was an inn, and he had just arrived.

‘What are you looking for, my pretty girl?' said the stranger.

‘O! nothing particular; only I'm locked up here, and I just looked out for a change.'

‘Locked up! who has locked you up?' asked the stranger.

‘An old hunchback, who's going to marry me,' said the girl, almost crying.

‘You don't seem much pleased at the idea of being married,' answered the stranger.

‘It is not likely that I should, to such a husband!' returned the girl.

‘Would you like to get away from him?' asked the stranger.

‘Shouldn't I!' heartily exclaimed the girl; ‘but it's impossible to manage that, as I'm locked in,' she added sorrowfully.

‘It's not so difficult as you think,' rejoined the stranger. ‘Most likely there's some picture or other on your wall.'

‘Oh, yes! a great big one with the fair Giuditta just ready with her pouch 5  to put Lofferno's head in,' answered the girl.

‘All right. You make a big hole behind the picture on your side, and when I hear by the sound where you are, I'll make one on mine. And when our two holes meet, you can come through.'

‘Yes, that's a capital plan; but the hunchback will soon come after me.'

‘Never mind, I will see to that; let's make the hole first?'

‘Very well, I rely upon you, and will set to work immediately.'

‘Tell me first how I am to call you?'

‘They always call me Buona Grazia.'

‘A very nice name. Good-bye, and we'll set to work.'

La Buona Grazia ran and unhooked the picture, and set to work to make a hole with all the available tools she could find; and the stranger, as soon as he had ascertained by the noise where she was at work, set to also. It turned out to be only a partition,6  and not a regular wall, and the hole was soon cut.

‘What fun!' said the girl, as she jumped through. ‘Oh, how nice to be free! But,' she added, ‘I can't travel with you in these poor clothes.'

‘No,' said the stranger. ‘I'll have a travelling dress made for you, by the hunchback himself.'

‘Oh, take care!' cried the girl, earnestly.

‘Don't be afraid,' answered the stranger; ‘and above all don't look frightened.'

Then he sent his servant to call the hunchback, and when he came he said—

‘I want a travelling dress made directly for my wife here, so please take her measure.'

The hunchback started when he saw who it was he had to measure.

‘Why, she's exactly like my Buona Grazia!' exclaimed he.

‘Very likely. I have always observed there was a sort of likeness between the inhabitants of a town. She too is a Roman, though I am a stranger. But make haste and take the measure, I didn't call you here to make remarks.'

The hunchback got frightened at the stranger's authoritative tone, and took the measure without saying any more; and the stranger then gave him something to go and have a breakfast at the caffé to give the girl time to get back and set the picture in its place again.

When he came up into the room all looked right, and nothing seemed to have been moved.

‘I've got to work hard to-day,' said the hunchback, ‘to get a travelling dress ready for the wife of a gentleman staying in the inn, who is exactly like you.'

‘Are they going to travel, then?' asked la Buona Grazia.

‘Yes, the gentleman said they should start as soon as the dress is done.'

‘Oh, do let me see them drive off!' said la Buona Grazia, coaxingly. ‘I should so like to see a lady who looked like me wearing a dress you had made.'

‘Nonsense, nonsense!' said the hunchback; ‘get on with your work.'

And she did get on with her work, and stitched away, for she was anxious enough to help him to get the dress done; but she went on teazing him all the while to let her go to the window to see the gentleman and the lady, ‘who looked so like her,' drive off, that at last the hunchback consented for that only day to take the whiting off the windows and let her look out.

The travelling dress was finished and taken home; and while the hunchback was taking it up by the stairs, la Bella Grazia was getting in by the hole behind the picture; but she had first made a great doll,7  and dressed it just like herself, and stuck it in the window. The gobbo, who stood down below to see the gentry drive off, looked up and saw her, as he thought, at the window, and made signs for her not to stay there too long.

Presently the stranger and his lady came down; the hunchback was standing before the carriage door, as I have said, and two stablemen were standing by also.

‘You give me your good grace?'8  asked the stranger.

‘Yes, yes!' readily responded the hunchback, delighted to find a rich gentleman so civil to him.

‘You say it sincerely, with all your heart?' again asked the stranger.

‘Yes, yes, yes! with all my heart,' answered the hunchback.

‘Then give me your hand upon it.'

And the hunchback, more and more delighted, put out his hand, the two stablemen standing by looking on attentively all the time.

As soon as the carriage had driven away, the hunchback's first care was to look up at the window to see if the girl had gone in; but the doll was still there.

‘Go in! go in!' he cried, waving his hand. But the figure remained unmoved. Indignant, he took a stick and ran up to punish the girl for her disobedience, and when the blows fell thick and fast and no cries came, he discovered the trick that had been played.

Without loss of time he ran off to the Court and laid a complaint before the judge, demanding that soldiers should be called out and sent after the fugitives; but the stablemen had their orders, and were there before him, and deposed that they were witnesses to his having given ‘his Good Grace' up to the gentleman ‘with all his heart,' and given him his hand upon the bargain.

‘You see you have given her up of your own accord; there is nothing to be done!' said the judge. So he got no redress.

1 ‘La Buona Grazia del Gobbo.' 

2 ‘In mezzo alla strada.' 

3 ‘Good Grace,' also the ‘good favour,' the ‘good graces.' 

4 ‘Cortile,' inner court of palaces and houses that are built in a quadrangle. 

5 ‘Saccoccia di polenta.' ‘Polenta' is a porridge made of Indian corn meal, which makes a staple article of food of the Italian peasantry. It is, however, used for the meal of which the porridge is going to be made, though that is more usually called ‘formentone,' or ‘grano turco.' ‘Saccroccia di polenta' would be a large pouch in which poor country labourers carry a provision of meal, when going out to work in the Campagna. The girl takes Giuditta's bag in the picture for such a ‘saccoccia' as she had been used to see. 

6 ‘Tramezzo.' 

7 ‘Pupazza,' a doll, a stuffed figure. 

8 ‘Mi date la vostra buona grazia,' a common expression of no particular meaning; a compliment, equivalent to, ‘We part good friends,' ‘Give me your good favour.'