An Italian fairy

系统文章 类别:英文 时间:2010-07-01 00:00:00
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It is a great mistake to think that there are no fairies in Italy, and one of
the nicest is called La Befana, and she belongs to Christmas just like the
holly and mistletoe and snowmen. She comes only once a year as the Three Kings
do, and she is not young and beautiful, but old and bent and more like a witch
than a fairy. In fact, before people realized how kind she was, they thought
of her as a wicked witch and rang bells made of earthenware and blew glass
trumpets to frighten her away. But all this has been forgotten now, and
anyhow, the Befana never deserved it as her story will show.
The first thing to notice about her is that she is very ancient, and when Our
Lord was born the Befana was already a little bent and her hair was white.
She had a tiny cottage outside Bethlehem and after her husband died she lived
there alone, and she was always rather sad because she had no children to
keep her company. Well it happened that the winter two thousand years ago
was extremely cold and all the poor people suffered very much, and the Befana
got so stiff in the knees that she couldn't hurry for anyone, but still, when
her firewood got low, she had to struggle out into the woods on the opposite
hill to where her cottage stood; but on that particular night the moonlight
was so wonderful that the Befana could hardly tear herself away from the
window, and if she had known how to read she could easily have done so
without a candle. Somehow the whole world seemed alive; "How strange,"
thought the Befana, "the sky looks as though it were quivering. I'm sure I
see things moving, and what a frost there must be, I can hear the ground
singing." And though she was not at all an imaginative person, she stayed at
the window a long time, and it was past midnight when she went to bed. She
woke up late and the sun was shining and the air was very crisp and brilliant,
and the Befana felt elated and hardly groaned at all about her old bones
though she was stiffer than ever and there wasn't much for dinner. Still,
she felt so happy that she began to sing even while she lit the fire and
cooked. A few days passed and then one afternoon she went out to gather some
sticks and it took her rather longer than usual, so by the time she had brought
down one bundle the sun was beginning to set and an unusually bright star shone
in the sky. She was just starting to go and fetch the other two bundles she
had left behind when a party of riders drew up at her gate. There were quite a
lot of them and they had evidently come a long journey for there were camels
and mules laden with baggage and a number of servants dressed in a strange
fashion, not at all like one saw around Bethlehem. The Befana stared at them
and she heard them chattering in an unknown tongue.