The Fatal Mistake by Anonymous

There lived at Salerno a nobleman of the name of Marino, who had by his lady, named Placida, one only son, who was scarcely two years old when his father became dangerously ill, so much so that all the doctor's skill could not avail. Finding that it was impossible for him to recover, he called his wife, and requested her to bring his boy to him. When his wife came near, he raised himself in the bed as well as he could, gave one hand to his wife, and held the boy's in the other, and said to her, "Placida, I am come unto my last hour, therefore am aware I shall not be able to take care of our boy; bring him up, and train him to virtuous pursuits, in which thing I had placed all my future happiness, and in doing for him all that which his tender age required of me; seeing that I must leave him so young, I should feel my approaching dissolution with real dismay, were I not convinced that your principles and prudence will amply make up for the loss of his father. I, therefore, consign unto thy care and power this dear son, in whom I still hope to live again; and I entreat thee, by the dear remembrance of the extraordinary blessings and happiness we have enjoyed hitherto, that as thou hast ever been the ten-derest parent, thou wilt now be both father and mother to him; and since it does not please heaven that we should be continued together in this happy state, I do entreat that thou bestow on him all that tender love and affection that thou wouldst have bestowed on me had I lived to old age; do but this, and I shall depart happy!" Thus saying, he embraced his wife, kissed the boy, and placed him on her bosom. "Marino," said the afflicted wife, "thou earnest away with thee the better part of me; would it had pleased heaven to have taken us both at the same time; but since it has otherwise decreed, and perhaps in order that our child might not remain entirely bereft of protection, I will be to him the tenderest of mothers. True it is, he would have needed thy assistance more than mine in educating him, and in directing his mind and heart, but nothing shall be wanting in me to justify the reliance and good opinion thou placest in me, or to induce the dear boy, in whom I see thy beloved image impressed, to imitate thy many virtues. Oh! that I could, by the sacrifice of my life, lengthen thine! Rest assured that I will preserve my faith in the care of the charge thou hast given me, while I live, as truly as I have to thee during this life."

Much did he praise and commend her, and would have said more, but to the great grief of Placida, he expired soon after in her arms.

After the funeral was over, Placida took great care to do every thing that could be conducive to the child's future welfare. The boy was naturally of a good temper, clever, fond of his mother, and very obedient to her, the which made him improve so much in learning and manners, that every one was astonished, and gave great credit to his mother for the care she had taken of him.

When the boy entered his twelfth year, he was seized with a fever, which by changing its symptoms, induced the medical men to fear it would turn to a consumption, and cause his dissolution. The poor mother, meanwhile, did not omit any one thing that could tend to his recovery, but was wasting away with grief as much as her son was by the fever. The physicians used every means to prevent the disorder from increasing, and the mother took care to give him every morning the medicines that had been ordered in certain portions of endive water, nor would she suffer any of the servants to do it for her. She, therefore, got up every morning, mixed the draught with her own hands, and gave it to him; but, by the sequel, it will be perceived how unavailing is prudence when ill-fortune pursues us. Placida, although yet young, for she was scarcely more than thirty, and though beautiful, and truly virtuous, was most anxious to preserve that beauty which nature had so liberally bestowed on her; for which purpose she was in the habit of using a cosmetic to clear the skin, and prevent the wrinkles which age naturally brings on. It unfortunately happened that after using this wash, she gave it to her maid to put in its proper place. As the latter was going out of the room with the bottle, one of the servants came in, and gave her the bottle of endive water intended for the patient's mixture; having both hands full, she placed one bottle, as she thought, in the place where the wash used to be deposited, and the other she gave to her mistress, who laid it where she usually put her son's mixture.

The next morning Placida went to her son, and gave him the medicine which she had prepared as usual, but he had not taken it more than an hour when he began to feel the most excruciating pain, and was tortured almost to death. The mother, in the greatest alarm, sent for the physicians, and related to them the strange effect produced that day on the patient by the draught which had before appeared so serviceable to him. The medical men were at a loss how to account for this extraordinary circumstance, but on examining the effect produced on the patient, they concluded there were signs of poison having been taken. "Good lady," said they, "your son has not taken his usual medicine; but poison has been given to him; it is that which has brought him to such a state."

"What! poison!" cried she, "wretch that I am!—Gentlemen, you must be mistaken, for none but I ever administer the draughts."

"It may be," said they, "that the person that fetched it may have deceived you, and put poison in the draught." The servant, upon this, was immediately called up; he said that he had brought that which the apothecary had given him, without looking into what it might be, and that he would rather die than have done such a thing; being extremely fond of the youth, and besides a very worthy servant, he was easily credited. The apothecary was next sent for, but he positively asserted he had sent the same draught as usual. No one could imagine how this could have happened; the physicians, however, determined to come to the bottom of it, desired the bottles to be brought to them, and dipping in the finger, and tasting the dregs, they immediately perceived the sublimate of the cosmetic. "Good lady," said they, "you have been deceived, this is not the endive decoction, but real poison." The lady, examining the bottle more minutely, immediately suspected it was that wherein the wash used to be; terror seized her; she called the maid, and it was discovered that she had given her mistress the wrong bottle. The physicians instantly used every means in their power, but the poison had had too much time to work on the vital parts, and nothing could save him. The disconsolate mother threw herself on her lifeless child, and remained there till they really thought she had expired; the doctors, however, used their skill, and soon recovered her, but the poor creature, instead of feeling thankful for their kind offices, reproached them for not allowing her to die; but, said she, that which grief will not do, my hand shall accomplish. Thus saying, she caught a knife that lay on the table, and was in the act of destroying herself, when they all interposed. She called them most cruel in wishing her to endure life; cursed her hard fate, and her ill fortune; accused heaven; raved; insisted that her maid should be brought to her, that she might strangle her with her own hands, since her carelessness had brought her beloved son to the grave. Those present endeavoured to remind her that it was not any ill intention, but a mistake; and that, therefore, the girl did not deserve so severe a punishment. She insisted, however, that she should be taken up, and examined; but the judge, finding her more silly than guilty, absolved her. This did not satisfy dame Placida, and they were obliged to remove the young woman from her service, who was sorely grieved at her careless conduct, having been the cause of so fatal an accident. After this delirium and rage against the poor girl had subsided, she began to reflect on herself, and considering that her pride, in wishing to preserve her beauty, had been the sole cause, she tore her hair, scratched her face, and totally disfigured herself, and talked of nothing but killing herself; "No!" said she, "I, who have murdered my child, do not deserve to live!" She constantly entreated those who had the care of her to kill her. Finding this would not avail, she determined to starve herself, and would neither eat nor drink, and they were obliged to force some nourishing liquid down her throat. She at last went downright mad, and, in her madness, was ever calling upon her beloved son. She continued so a few years, and was at last happily released; happily, it must be allowed, since she would have suffered the most agonizing pain and anguish of heart had she lived.