(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The apparent impetus for telling this strange history is the sight of a castle ruin as it might be noticed by a traveler descending into northern Italy from the St. Gotthard Pass. As if in reply to such a traveler’s question of how the castle has fallen into disuse and ruin, the narrator tells the story of the beggarwoman of Locarno, in which an old woman comes begging at the castle gate, is taken in at the Marquise’s orders, and is given a place to sleep for the night in one of the castle’s unused rooms. When the Marquis returns from the day’s hunting, however, he peevishly orders the beggarwoman from her place in one corner of the unused room to a spot behind the stove at the opposite side. In her effort to get up, her crutch slips on the polished floor, and she falls, injuring her spine. Laboriously and painfully, she finally stands and hobbles to the corner as bidden, but on reaching the spot, she collapses and dies of her injury.

The incident is evidently forgotten for some years, during which the Marquis’s fortunes decline to the point that he begins to think of selling his domain, and the chance arrival of a Florentine nobleman seems to offer such an opportunity. Without further thought, the master and mistress of the house give their prospective buyer lodging in the same unused chamber for the amount of time that he may require to consider the purchase. However, in the middle of the night, the man comes downstairs, pale with fright, to report that his room is haunted by a spirit. He describes the ghostly presence as some invisible thing that arose from a corner of the chamber with a sound as if from a bed of straw, walked with slow, feeble steps across the room, and collapsed with moans and gasps behind the stove. The Marquis tries to reassure...

(The entire section is 725 words.)