THE HUT OF THE FORGET-ME-NOTS.
(La tambra de seljéttes.)
Once upon a time there was a poor shepherd who was obliged to go up to the Trawenyòl-valley with his sheep. This is the name of a side-valley in the Dolomites of the Fiemme-valley, and it is practically covered by dark, silent forests, except that along the brook, in the midst of a gloomy wilderness of pine trees, there are some meadows and pastures. And high up, above the fountain lands of the valley, stands the great Cimòn de la Pala glowing, every clear evening, in the setting sun. The way to this lonely valley leads from Pardàtsch (as Predazzo was called in those days) over the Pont de la Syorbyàtscha, a bridge under which the Trawenyòl brook rushes noisily down into a dark ravine. The poor shepherd was obliged to pass this bridge with his sheep, and he always felt very glad when he had crossed it, for people said that the bridge was not quite safe. Farther on towards the valley, under the alpine pastures of Bellamonte, the shepherd had a little "Tambra" (hut) where he lived during the summer with his sheep. The first year, one of his sheep lost it's way upon a rock, and the shepherd had to climb up there to bring it down. In doing so he was struck by a stone which hurt his left foot, and since then he could only walk in a slow and clumsy manner. He was therefore, called Zompo (cripple). He was an orphan boy, and had no one to care for him. In addition, the other boys and girls did not like him much, because he was taciturn, and could neither sing nor play the accordion.
One evening he came up to the Bellamonte, just when the "Segadori" and the "Resteladori", (the mowers and the girls who save the hay) were amusing themselves by playing and dancing. He wondered at seeing this, but one of the men said quickly:
"What do you want here, Zompo? This is no place for you; go down to your Tambra."
And he obeyed, and went down again to the forest. He was always alone with his sheep alone at the roaring Trawenyòl brook, alone on the sunny, flower-covered meadows, alone under the silent firtrees. Always he was alone, and when, at evening, the great Cimòn de la Pala stood there, fieryred, above the dark forests, he stared at it as if it were an unfathomable riddle, not knowing what to think about. But he did not feel this loss, for he had never been accustomed to anything else. He entered his Tambra without thinking of anything, and slept, in that condition, till the next morning.
Thus did he live for seven years.
In the seventh year, it came about that he lived to see something wonderful, and a light was beginning to flood his soul. The poor Zompo had made the acquaintance of a strange girl, who came every morning to gather "Seljéttes" (forget-me-nots) and by the time the last snow had vanished from the Lagorày-peaks she had become his fiancée She called herself Jendsàna, was dressed unlike the other women of the district, and always wore a bouquet of Seljéttes on her breast. Early each morning she appeared on the meadows, and remained there all day with her fiancé, but when the Cimòn was bathed in alp-glow she went into the forest and would not be seen again. The shepherd, however, saw her during the night in his dreams, when she walked along the shore in the midst of the flowers, in sunshine and beauty.
One morning Jendsàna appeared upon the meadows with her left arm in a sling. The shepherd anxiously asked if she had hurt herself, but she answered:
"You must never ask me where I come from, where I go at night, or what I have on my left arm."
On hearing this, he suddenly realised that he really knew nothing about her except her name. He also remembered that not far away there was a dark thicket where people said that the "Anguànes" were living. These were mysterious forest-women who sometimes married men and then suddenly disappeared, and never returned again. And the shepherd thought that his fiancée might be an Anguàna. He thought of this for a long time, for he was afraid of losing her, and one day he spoke to her about it. She smiled, saying she had nothing in common with the Anguànes. For the rest, she begged of him not to question her any more, as otherwise they would both become very unhappy.
From that day forward he knew no peace. No matter how troubled his fiancée was, or how earnestly she entreated him not to ask her any further question; he always returned to the matter. Finally he declared that she would have to tell him her secret, as he could think of nothing else, night and day.
For a while she refused, but one afternoon, when the forests lay warm and silent in the sun, the girl became thoughtful and began to speak. Then she told the following story, some of which she knew herself, and the rest she had heard from her foster-mother.
On a dark, stormy evening, when thunder resounded from the high Lagorày-mountains, and shadows were falling on the valleys, a woman came hurrying on to the Pont de la Syorbyàtscha, and threw a little baby into the river. The baby was uninjured, an the waves brought it to the shore at a point where a female otter happened to be sitting with her young. As soon as the old otter saw the child she wanted to teat it and feed her young with it, but the young otters liked the child, and they asked their mother to let it live so that they could play with it. She did so, but later when the male otter came along and saw the child, he said indignantly:
"What brat have you here? This creature belongs to a wicked race which wants to rule and to destroy all the other inhabitants of the earth. Kill it, or else we shall all be ruined by this little monster."
Thus spoke the father-otter, but the young ones begged for so long that he also yielded and let them keep the child as a play thing. Now the child was a girl, and she grew up quite wild and learned to swim and dive exactly like the otters, but, on going ashore one day she saw the flowers growing there, and liked them very much, especially the forget-me-nots. From then on, the girl always came ashore, and she used to remain as a human child on the land, but at evening she went back to the river to spend the night in the water as an otter. One evening when the girl rejoined her foster parents, they were sitting with their young under a rock, and she told them that she had become engaged to a man on the land. The eldest son of the otters became furious on hearing this, and he jumped at the girl and bit her in the arm. The girl fled ashore, and as the wound was a deep one, she was obliged to carry her arm in a sling.
Thus did the shepherd learn the story of his fiancée's life, it made him feel confused and astonished. When it grew dark he accompanied the girl to the river. Jendsàna. dived into the waves and vanished so quickly that her fiancé could only see a streak beneath the water.
Early the next morning he stood near the river and waited. But it became noon, and then evening, the firs threw long shadows and Jendsàna did not come. Restlessly poor Zompo watched until morning, and when the peaks were shining in the sun, he walked along by the river, thinking that she would surely come now, but Jendsàna did not come, and so on the third and fourth day she was not to be seen, and she never came again. The poor shepherd became terribly sad. Ever and always he would run through the f orest, up to the Trawenyòl as far as Rolle and Colbricòn, but he always came back with a desolate soul to his Tambra. He felt as though he were being tortured by iron bands. Nights became eternities, and grief was consuming his inmost being. At times he would start up and run through the forests, down to the river, where he would begin to talk, and unburden his poor heart of all that was oppressing it: longing, remembrance, reproach, regret. But the water roars, the firs stand motionless, and high up above the tree tops, in that wide space, full of moonlight and night, like a gigantic ghost looms the violet outline of the Cimòn de la Pala.
Time passed, and if only the deserted man could have known what had happened to Jendsàna, his hurrying and searching would have changed to silent grief, but the uncertainty gave him no rest. He did not and could not believe that he had lost her, and he was always hoping to hear her light step or to see her dress appear in the darkness of the forest.
When he brought out his sheep in the early mornings he sat down on the meadow, facing the direction from which Jendsàna always used to come, and he closed his eyes, conjuring up her image, and pretending that he was seeing her again, walking before him in sunshine and beauty.
Sometimes in wandering through the forests he came to places which reminded him of Jendsàna. There he would stand still and say to himself: in those days I was still happy. And he counted the days that had passed since then, wishing that he could go back their number. Then he would have known how to avoid the trouble, and everything would have been different. But the days he counted became more and more, and the time when he used to be happy was receding farther in the distance. Since then everything had been a night of sorrow, an abyss of desolation, a sea of longing. And he sat there for hours, thinking - thinking all day long, until the Pala-peaks were glowing in the evening sun. Autumn came and the sheep had to be brought out of the valley. Poor Zompo, however, could not remain down in the village any longer. He delivered the sheep, and afterwards wandered back to Bellamonte. Many young men and girls were together there. Zompo looked at the young girls and thought how much more beautiful was Jendsàna than any he saw there. And once again he went out to the edge of the meadow, where the whole mountainchain can be seen, along with the pale Cimòn de la Pala and the dark peaks of Lagorày. There he lay down in the sun and fell asleep, at the foot of a large spruce tree. The young men passed by, on their way to the dancing, and they laughed when they saw him asleep. Later on an old "Cavedolèr" (Alpine herdsman) came along and he awakened him, saying:
"Get up, Zompo, it is getting cold. The sun has set, and the Cimòn is standing in the "Enrosaduera". (Alp-glow).
Zompo arose. From the forest covered plain of the Trawenyòl-valley a cool air was blowing, as if the forest was exhaling its shadows. But there was still light and warmth over there, and the Cimòn was shining in that glowing colour, which is seen only in autumn, and then but once in the year.
"L'è na vöya del destin" (it is an evening of destiny) the old man said," from the caves of the high valleys the "Comèlles" are ascending to the Plan Yatschà de la Fradùsta (to the big field of the Fradùsta) and they are playing with men's minds. Some of those who are now talking quite sensibly, tomorrow will be in eternal darkness."
They took leave of each other. The old man wanted to take Zompo into an alpine dairy, but he refused as he had to go down the forest to the Trawenyòl. There he sat in the darkness upon a tree trunk and began to talk aloud, as he had often done before. But never until now had things become so real to him, never had he remembered everything so clearly from the beginning. He repeated a hundred things that had once been said by himself and Jendsàna, always coming back to the day when she told him her story. Then he struck his forehead with his hands, reproaching himself again and again. All at once he felt that he could not live any longer.
He jumped to his feet, and walked up and down upon the shore. No matter how much he reflected, he could find no consolation for the grief in his heart. He was just beginning to speak to himself once again, when, as quick as lightning, the strange thought occurred to him: am I already mad, or shall I become so? He became stupefied, and held fast to the trunk.
At the same time he seemed to hear calls coming from the water, and to see figures emerging from it.
The fate of poor Zompo was settled: down from the high Fradùsta the Comèlles had come to fetch his mind.
It was a winter's evening, and a few men sat together in an inn at Pardatsch and spoke about
Zompo. Then it was discovered that no one knew what had happened to him. They inquired here and there as to who had last seen him, and finally they decided to go and see if he were still living in his Tambra. On the following Sunday they wandered up to the snow-covered Trawenyòl-valley, and after long searching up and down they came to the place where the Tambra stood. But judge of their astonishment when they found the place perfectly clear of snow, and completely covered with blooming Seliéttes. The door of the Tambra was half open; they went in and saw Zompo lying calmly upon a high bench near the window. His hands were clasped upon his breast, and they were holding a bouquet of Forget-me-nots. Zompo looked quite changed, and the men thought he was asleep. They therefore called his name, seizing him by the shoulders and shaking him. But it was all in vain. Then the men were filled with terror, and ran away.
Down in the village, however, no one would believe what they had seen. After some time, therefore, other men went up to the Trawenyòl-valley in order to see what was really there. They found the Tambra, and they saw the Seliéttes growing upon the snowfree meadows and right into the Tambra. They also saw the sleeping man with the bouquet in his hands, and they all declared that it must be witchcraft. To clear up the matter, they hid themselves in the garret and waited there. During that night and the following night nothing happened, but about daybreak a strange girl came with a bouquet of Siliéttes on her breast. She took away the bouquet from the sleeping man and put the new one into his hands, caressing his face and saying: "Seven more years must I wait until I shall have you again."
After a while she went away. The men in the garret watched her, and they saw that outside in the snow she changed herself into an otter, and jumped down into the water.
All the onlookers were now certain that an evil sorceress had bewitched the poor Zompo, and they went down to the village, telling what had happened and cursing the supposed witch. Others however, became curious, and they went up to the forget-me-not-meadow to see the sleeper and to watch the spell. The strange girl came again, but as soon as she looked at the sleeper she was obviously frightened, and she cried aloud:
"Now I must wait thirteen years until I shall have you again."
Then she looked around the hut saying: "It seems to me that someone is watching us. I must really look about."
On hearing these words the men in the garret grew terribly afraid. They jumped out on to the meadow, and ran from the valley as if all the horrors of hell were after them, f or they did not like witchcraft.
Nobody came there again until spring, but as soon as the snow had melted away some people who had heard about the otter spell went there. They looked for the Tambra, wishing to examine it. After searching for a long time in the forest they finally found the meadow covered with forget-me-nots, but the Tambra had vanished. It was not even possible to trace where it had been. The whole place was covered with Seliéttes, and the ground was flat and even.
The people went on their way, and came to that locality which today is called Paneveggio but at that time was named Plan del Wye (the field of the old people) and even now the people of the Fassa-valley call it Panevèye. Here lived a wicked old man, who had been obliged to flee from one village of the Fiemme-valley because of arson. He was also said to be a sorcerer.
The men who were looking for the Tambra de Seliéttes came to this old man and told him about the poor Zompo and his mysterious disappearance, and the old man said:
"The offers have done all this. The whole Trawenyòl is full of otters. They are wicked creatures, and can lure people into the water and make them disappear. That is what the offersorceress has done with Zompo. She first bewitched him and then dragged him down to her waterkingdom. If you don't root out the otters you will see worse things happen."
This speech made an impression on the people and later on they repeated what the old man had said to the people in Pardàtsch, and it was decided to do away with the otters. As soon as the summer came they went up along the river with nets, throwing burning logs into the caves on the shore, and driving the otters together, so that they were all killed without any exception. Thus did the words of the old male otter come true: the little child whose life they had spared would bring about their own destruction.
The shepherds and foresters who go through the richly-wooded Trawenyòl-valley, over which the pale Cimòn de la Pala is towering, sometimes come upon a meadow all blue with forget-me-nots. Then one of them is sure to say:
"Look, once upon a time the "Tambra de Seliéttes"