The devil and the wine

In the 19th century, the nunnery building of St Catherine of Sienna housed a gymnasium school. Just underneath the school, there was and still is, to this day, a little alley called Tmušasta Street which would be translated from Dubrovnik's dialect as dark or obscure street. In about that time, in one of the houses in that Tmušasta alley lived a boatman Miše K. with his eight cats and eleven little kittens, all of which were left to him by his late wife File, “Mamma dei gatti”*, how she used to be called.


Tmušasta street

However, the only consolation that poor Miše had after his better half passed away to the other world was the wine. It happened so often in the late hours of the evening that Miše struggled to unlock the door of his humble home. This Saturday too, after much torment and trouble of fumbling with the key and the lock, as he opened the door, he happily threw himself down on the bed and fell asleep.


Suddenly, around midnight, at bewitching hour, a great tremble woke Miše. He opened his eyes, afflicted by the noise, and right there in front of him, by the bed, stands a little fiend, black as coal, each horn as long as an oar and each eye as big as a cabbage head, with hoofs for feet and bristly tail on the back. Even the cats were terrified by this infernal presence! They were hissing and jumping, growling and meowing deeply, with furs standing on end, and Miše's room was as good as the living hell!


Poor Miše tried to pray but he couldn't speak. He wished to cross himself, but he couldn't lift his arms. He wanted to get up and yell for help, but his legs were as heavy as lead, somewhat out of fear and more because of the wine. He was utterly petrified. What could he do?


Then he remembered that on his nightstand he had some blessed water, pardon, a blessed wine. Somehow, he barely grasped the bottle, then he handed it to the devil and spoke: “Certainly, it’s better that you came to me than if I came to you because if I came to you, I would have gone to hell. Since you came to me, the only thing I can offer you is this wine. Would you like a drink?”


The devil frowned but remained silent as a stone. Miše, on the other hand, got enough guts up to continue: “Well, since you don’t want to drink, I will!” Then he swigged his wine in big gulps, as much as he could, and spoke again: “You know what, while I have this in my hand, I’m not afraid of you!” Just as he said it, the devil started jumping all around the house. In a while, Miše got bored, so he got up and started chasing the devil with a broom. The devil runs, Miše runs after him, the cats are bouncing around, one cannot make head nor tail in this chaos. At some time, the devil hid in the chimney, so Miše poked him with the broomstick.


At last, the devil was convinced that he could not fight the one who held on to the wine, so he gathered himself and disappeared, overturning a plate full of cooked cod which Miše had made for dinner.


And that is how Miše got rid of the devil. It was about to dawn, so Miše went to the fishmarket where he, still shaking from fear, told what had happened to him in the night. He added: “And they still say that there are no monsters! Well, there are, and nobody can take that out of my head!” “Could it be that it was your File who visited you?” his friend Runto asked. “No, it was not her, because it was a male. It could very well be that it was Stijepo or Morgjin who had also lived in the same house, so maybe he missed the door. Luckily for me, I had blessed wine, so I didn’t perish. Wine is a sacred thing without which not even a holy mass can happen!”

* Italian: Mommy of cats


Source for the story: Vrag i vino, Prava Crvena Hrvatska 88, 1906. Thanks to the courtesy of Mr. Damir Račić who has kindly sent me the transcript.

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