The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 12

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Each of the honourable company highly commended for goodly the story told by their queen, especially Dioneo, with whom alone for that present day it now rested to tell, and who, after many praises bestowed upon the preceding tale, said, "Fair ladies, one part of the queen's story hath caused me change counsel of telling you one that was in my mind, and determine to tell you another,--and that is the stupidity of Bernabo (albeit good betided him thereof) and of all others who give themselves to believe that which he made a show of believing and who, to wit, whilst going about the world, diverting themselves now with this woman and now with that, imagine that the ladies left at home abide with their hands in their girdles, as if we knew not, we who are born and reared among the latter, unto what they are fain. In telling you this story, I shall at once show you how great is the folly of these folk and how greater yet is that of those who, deeming themselves more potent than nature herself, think by dint of sophistical inventions[140] to avail unto that which is beyond their power and study to bring others to that which they themselves are, whenas the complexion of those on whom they practise brooketh it not.

[Footnote 140: Lit. fabulous demonstrations (_dimostrazioni favolose_), casuistical arguments, founded upon premises of their own invention.]

There was, then, in Pisa a judge, by name Messer Ricciardo di Chinzica, more gifted with wit than with bodily strength, who, thinking belike to satisfy a wife by the same means which served him to despatch his studies and being very rich, sought with no little diligence to have a fair and young lady to wife; whereas, had he but known to counsel himself as he counselled others, he should have shunned both the one and the other. The thing came to pa.s.s according to his wish, for Messer Lotto Gualandi gave him to wife a daughter of his, Bartolomea by name, one of the fairest and handsomest young ladies of Pisa, albeit there be few there that are not very lizards to look upon. The judge accordingly brought her home with the utmost pomp and having held a magnificent wedding, made shift the first night to hand her one venue for the consummation of the marriage, but came within an ace of making a stalemate of it, whereafter, lean and dry and scant of wind as he was, it behoved him on the morrow bring himself back to life with malmsey and restorative confections and other remedies. Thenceforward, being now a better judge of his own powers than he was, he fell to teaching his wife a calendar fit for children learning to read and belike made aforetime at Ravenna,[141]

for that, according to what he feigned to her, there was no day in the year but was sacred not to one saint only, but to many, in reverence of whom he showed by divers reasons that man and wife should abstain from carnal conversation; and to these be added, to boot, fast days and Emberdays and the vigils of the Apostles and of a thousand other saints and Fridays and Sat.u.r.days and Lord's Day and all Lent and certain seasons of the moon and store of other exceptions, conceiving belike that it behoved to keep holiday with women in bed like as he did bytimes whilst pleading in the courts of civil law. This fashion (to the no small chagrin of the lady, whom he handled maybe once a month, and hardly that) he followed a great while, still keeping strait watch over her, lest peradventure some other should teach her to know working-days, even as he had taught her holidays. Things standing thus, it chanced that, the heat being great and Messer Ricciardo having a mind to go a-pleasuring to a very fair country-seat he had, near Monte Nero, and there abide some days to take the air, he betook himself thither, carrying with him his fair lady. There sojourning, to give her some diversion, he caused one day fish and they went out to sea in two boats, he in one with the fishermen, and she in another with other ladies. The sport luring them on, they drifted some miles out to sea, well nigh without perceiving it, and whilst they were intent upon their diversion, there came up of a sudden a galliot belonging to Paganino da Mare, a famous corsair of those days. The latter, espying the boats, made for them, nor could they flee so fast but he overtook that in which were the women and seeing therein the judge's fair lady, he carried her aboard the galliot, in full sight of Messer Ricciardo, who was now come to land, and made off without recking of aught else. When my lord judge, who was so jealous that he mis...o...b..ed of the very air, saw this, it booteth not to ask if he was chagrined; and in vain, both at Pisa and otherwhere, did he complain of the villainy of the corsairs, for that he knew not who had taken his wife from him nor whither he had carried her. As for Paganino, finding her so fair, he deemed himself in luck and having no wife, resolved to keep her for himself. Accordingly, seeing her weeping sore, he studied to comfort her with soft words till nightfall, when, his calendar having dropped from his girdle and saints' days and holidays gone clean out of his head, he fell to comforting her with deeds, himseeming that words had availed little by day; and after such a fashion did he console her that, ere they came to Monaco, the judge and his ordinances had altogether escaped her mind and she began to lead the merriest of lives with Paganino. The latter carried her to Monaco and there, over and above the consolations with which he plied her night and day, he entreated her honourably as his wife. After awhile it came to Messer Ricciardo's ears where his wife was and he, being possessed with the most ardent desire to have her again and bethinking himself that none other might thoroughly suffice to do what was needful to that end, resolved to go thither himself, determined to spend any quant.i.ty of money for her ransom. Accordingly he set out by sea and coming to Monaco, there both saw and was seen of the lady, who told it to Paganino that same evening and acquainted him with her intent. Next morning Messer Ricciardo, seeing Paganino, accosted him and quickly clapped up a great familiarity and friendship with him, whilst the other feigned not to know him and waited to see at what he aimed. Accordingly, whenas it seemed to him time, Messer Ricciardo discovered to him, as best and most civilly he knew, the occasion of his coming and prayed him take what he pleased and restore him the lady. To which Paganino made answer with a cheerful countenance, 'Sir, you are welcome, and to answer you briefly, I say thus; it is true I have a young lady in my house, if she be your wife or another's I know not, for that I know you not nor indeed her, save in so much as she hath abidden awhile with me. If you be, as you say, her husband, I will, since you seem to me a civil gentleman, carry you to her and I am a.s.sured that she will know you right well. If she say it is as you avouch and be willing to go with you, you shall, for the sake of your civility, give me what you yourself will to her ransom; but, an it be not so, you would do ill to seek to take her from me, for that I am a young man and can entertain a woman as well as another, and especially such an one as she, who is the most pleasing I ever saw.' Quoth Messer Ricciardo, 'For certain she is my wife, an thou bring me where she is, thou shalt soon see it; for she will incontinent throw herself on my neck; wherefore I ask no better than that it be as thou proposest.' 'Then,'

said Paganino, 'let us be going.' Accordingly they betook themselves to the corsair's house, where he brought the judge into a saloon of his and let call the lady, who issued forth of a chamber, all dressed and tired, and came whereas they were, but accosted Messer Ricciardo no otherwise than as she would any other stranger who might have come home with Paganino. The judge, who looked to have been received by her with the utmost joy, marvelled sore at this and fell a-saying in himself, 'Belike the chagrin and long grief I have suffered, since I lost her, have so changed me that she knoweth me not.' Wherefore he said to her, 'Wife, it hath cost me dear to carry thee a-fishing, for that never was grief felt like that which I have suffered since I lost thee, and now meseemeth thou knowest me not, so distantly dost thou greet me. Seest thou not that I am thine own Messer Ricciardo, come hither to pay that which this gentleman, in whose house we are, shall require to thy ransom and to carry thee away? And he, of his favour, restoreth thee to me for what I will.' The lady turned to him and said, smiling somewhat, 'Speak you to me, sir? Look you mistake me not, for, for my part, I mind me not ever to have seen you.' Quoth Ricciardo, 'Look what thou sayest; consider me well; an thou wilt but recollect thyself, thou wilt see that I am thine own Ricciardo di Chinzica.' 'Sir,' answered the lady, 'you will pardon me; belike it is not so seemly a thing as you imagine for me to look much on you.

Nevertheless I have seen enough of you to know that I never before set eyes on you.' Ricciardo, concluding that she did this for fear of Paganino and chose not to confess to knowing him in the latter's presence, besought him of his favour that he might speak with her in a room alone. Paganino replied that he would well, so but he would not kiss her against her will, and bade the lady go with him into a chamber and there hear what he had to say and answer him as it should please her. Accordingly the lady and Messer Ricciardo went into a room apart and as soon as they were seated, the latter began to say, 'Alack, heart of my body, sweet my soul and my hope, knowest thou not thy Ricciardo, who loveth thee more than himself? How can this be? Am I so changed? Prithee, fair mine eye, do but look on me a little.' The lady began to laugh and without letting him say more, replied, 'You may be a.s.sured that I am not so scatterbrained but that I know well enough you are Messer Ricciardo di Chinzica, my husband; but, what time I was with you, you showed that you knew me very ill, for that you should have had the sense to see that I was young and l.u.s.ty and gamesome and should consequently have known that which behoveth unto young ladies, over and above clothes and meat, albeit for shamefastness they name it not; the which how you performed, you know.

If the study of the laws was more agreeable to you than your wife, you should not have taken her, albeit it never appeared to me that you were a judge; nay, you seemed to me rather a common crier of saints'

days and sacraments and fasts and vigils, so well you knew them. And I tell you this, that, had you suffered the husbandmen who till your lands keep as many holidays as you allowed him who had the tilling of my poor little field, you would never have reaped the least grain of corn. However, as G.o.d, having compa.s.sion on my youth, hath willed it, I have happened on yonder man, with whom I abide in this chamber, wherein it is unknown what manner of thing is a holiday (I speak of those holidays which you, more a.s.siduous in the service of G.o.d than in that of the ladies, did so diligently celebrate) nor ever yet entered in at this door Sat.u.r.day nor Friday nor vigil nor Emberday nor Lent, that is so long; nay, here swink we day and night and thump our wool; and this very night after matinsong, I know right well how the thing went, once he was up. Wherefore I mean to abide with him and work; whilst I am young, and leave saints' days and jubilees and fasts for my keeping when I am old; so get you gone about your business as quickliest you may, good luck go with you, and keep as many holidays as you please, without me.' Messer Ricciardo, hearing these words, was distressed beyond endurance and said, whenas he saw she had made an end of speaking. 'Alack, sweet my soul, what is this thou sayest? Hast thou no regard for thy kinsfolk's honour and thine own? Wilt thou rather abide here for this man's wh.o.r.e and in mortal sin than at Pisa as my wife? He, when he is weary of thee, will turn thee away to thine own exceeding reproach, whilst I will still hold thee dear and still (e'en though I willed it not) thou shalt be mistress of my house. Wilt thou for the sake of a lewd and disorderly appet.i.te, forsake thine honour and me, who love thee more than my life? For G.o.d's sake, dear my hope, speak no more thus, but consent to come with me; henceforth, since I know thy desire, I will enforce myself [to content it;]

wherefore, sweet my treasure, change counsel and come away with me, who have never known weal since thou wast taken from me.' Whereto answered the lady, 'I have no mind that any, now that it availeth not, should be more tender of my honour than I myself; would my kinsfolk had had regard thereto, whenas they gave me to you! But, as they had then no care for my honour, I am under no present concern to be careful of theirs; and if I am herein _mortar_[142] sin, I shall abide though it be in pestle[142] sin. And let me tell you that here meseemeth I am Paganino's wife, whereas at Pisa meseemed I was your wh.o.r.e, seeing that there, by season of the moon and quadratures of geometry, needs must be planets concur to couple betwixt you and me, whereas here Paganino holdeth me all night in his arms and straineth me and biteth me, and how he serveth me, let G.o.d tell you for me. You say forsooth you will enforce yourself; to what? To do it in three casts and cause it stand by dint of cudgelling? I warrant me you are grown a doughty cavalier since I saw you last! Begone and enforce yourself to live, for methinketh indeed you do but sojourn here below upon sufferance, so peaked and scant o' wind you show to me. And yet more I tell you, that, should he leave me (albeit meseemeth he is nowise inclined thereto, so I choose to stay,) I purpose not therefor ever to return to you, of whom squeeze you as I might, there were no making a porringer of sauce; for that I abode with you once to my grievous hurt and loss, wherefore in such a case I should seek my vantage elsewhere. Nay, once again I tell you, here be neither saints'

days nor vigils; wherefore here I mean to abide; so get you gone in G.o.d's name as quickliest you may, or I will cry out that you would fain force me.' Messer Ricciardo, seeing himself in ill case and now recognizing his folly in taking a young wife, whenas he was himself forspent, went forth the chamber tristful and woebegone, and bespoke Paganino with many words, that skilled not a jot. Ultimately, leaving the lady, he returned to Pisa, without having accomplished aught, and there for chagrin fell into such dotage that, as he went about Pisa, to whoso greeted him or asked him of anywhat, he answered nought but 'The ill hole[143] will have no holidays;'[144] and there, no great while after, he died. Paganino, hearing this and knowing the love the lady bore himself, espoused her to his lawful wife and thereafter, without ever observing saints' day or vigil or keeping Lent, they wrought what while their legs would carry them and led a jolly life of it. Wherefore, dear my ladies, meseemeth Bernabo, in his dispute with Ambrogiuolo, rode the she-goat down the steep."[145]

[Footnote 141: According to one of the commentators of the Decameron, there are as many churches at Ravenna as days in the year and each day is there celebrated as that of some saint or other.]

[Footnote 142: A trifling jingle upon the similarity in sound of the words _mortale_ (mortal), _mortaio_ (mortar), _pestello_ (pestle), and _pestilente_ (pestilential). The same word-play occurs at least once more in the Decameron.]

[Footnote 143: _Il mal foro_, a woman's commodity (Florio).]

[Footnote 144: _i.e._ _Cunnus nonvult feriari._ Some commentators propose to read _il mal furo_, the ill thief, supposing Ricciardo to allude to Paganino, but this seems far-fetched.]

[Footnote 145: _i.e. semble_ ran headlong to destruction. The commentators explain this proverbial expression by saying that a she-goat is in any case a hazardous mount, and _a fortiori_ when ridden down a precipice; but this seems a somewhat "sporting" kind of interpretation.]

This story gave such occasion for laughter to all the company that there was none whose jaws ached not therefor, and all the ladies avouched with one accord that Dioneo spoke sooth and that Bernabo had been an a.s.s. But, after the story was ended and the laughter abated, the queen, observing that the hour was now late and that all had told and seeing that the end of her seignory was come, according to the ordinance commenced, took the wreath from her own head and set it on that of Neifile, saying, with a blithe aspect, "Henceforth, companion dear, be thine the governance of this little people"; and reseated herself. Neifile blushed a little at the honour received and became in countenance like as showeth a new-blown rose of April or of May in the breaking of the day, with lovesome eyes some little downcast, sparkling no otherwise than the morning-star. But, after the courteous murmur of the bystanders, whereby they gladsomely approved their goodwill towards the new-made queen, had abated and she had taken heart again, she seated herself somewhat higher than of wont and said, "Since I am to be your queen, I will, departing not from the manner holden of those who have foregone me and whose governance you have by your obedience commended, make manifest to you in few words my opinion, which, an it be approved by your counsel, we will ensue.

To-morrow, as you know, is Friday and the next day is Sat.u.r.day, days which, by reason of the viands that are used therein,[146] are somewhat irksome to most folk, more by token that Friday, considering that He who died for our life on that day suffered pa.s.sion, is worthy of reverence; wherefore I hold it a just thing and a seemly that, in honour of the Divinity, we apply ourselves rather to orisons than to story-telling. As for Sat.u.r.day, it is the usance of ladies on that day to wash their heads and do away all dust and all uncleanliness befallen them for the labours of the past week; and many, likewise, use, in reverence of the Virgin Mother of the Son of G.o.d, to fast and rest from all manner of work in honour of the ensuing Sunday.

Wherefore, we being unable fully to ensue the order of living taken by us, on like wise methinketh we were well to rest from story-telling on that day also; after which, for that we shall then have sojourned here four days, I hold it opportune, an we would give no occasion for newcomers to intrude upon us, that we remove hence and get us gone elsewhither; where I have already considered and provided. There when we shall be a.s.sembled together on Sunday, after sleeping,--we having to-day had leisure enough for discoursing at large,[147]--I have bethought myself,--at once that you may have more time to consider and because it will be yet goodlier that the license of our story-telling be somewhat straitened and that we devise of one of the many fashions of fortune,--that our discourse shall be OF SUCH AS HAVE, BY DINT OF DILIGENCE,[148] ACQUIRED SOME MUCH DESIRED THING OR RECOVERED SOME LOST GOOD. Whereupon let each think to tell somewhat that may be useful or at least entertaining to the company, saving always Dioneo his privilege." All commended the speech and disposition of the queen and ordained that it should be as she had said. Then, calling for her seneschal, she particularly instructed him where he should set the tables that evening and after of what he should do during all the time of her seignory; and this done, rising to her feet, she gave the company leave to do that which was most pleasing unto each.

Accordingly, ladies and men betook themselves to a little garden and there, after they had disported themselves awhile, the hour of supper being come, they supped with mirth and pleasance; then, all arising thence and Emilia, by the queen's commandment, leading the round, the ditty following was sung by Pampinea, whilst the other ladies responded:

What lady aye should sing, and if not I, Who'm blest with all for which a maid can sigh?

Come then, O Love, thou source of all my weal, All hope and every issue glad and bright Sing ye awhile yfere Of sighs nor bitter pains I erst did feel, That now but sweeten to me thy delight, Nay, but of that fire clear, Wherein I, burning, live in joy and cheer, And as my G.o.d, thy name do magnify.

Thou settest, Love, before these eyes of mine Whenas thy fire I entered the first day, A youngling so beseen With valour, worth and loveliness divine, That never might one find a goodlier, nay, Nor yet his match, I ween.

So sore I burnt for him I still must e'en Sing, blithe, of him with thee, my lord most high.

And that in him which crowneth my liesse Is that I please him, as he pleaseth me, Thanks to Love debonair; Thus in this world my wish I do possess And in the next I trust at peace to be, Through that fast faith I bear To him; sure G.o.d, who seeth this, will ne'er The kingdom of His bliss to us deny.

[Footnote 146: _i.e._ Friday being a fast day and Sat.u.r.day a _jour maigre_.]

[Footnote 147: _i.e._ generally upon the vicissitudes of Fortune and not upon any particular feature.]

[Footnote 148: _Industria_, syn. address, skilful contrivance.]

After this they sang sundry other songs and danced sundry dances and played upon divers instruments of music. Then, the queen deeming it time to go to rest, each betook himself, with torches before him, to his chamber, and all on the two following days, whilst applying themselves to those things whereof the queen had spoken, looked longingly for Sunday.


_Day the Third_


The dawn from vermeil began to grow orange-tawny, at the approach of the sun, when on the Sunday the queen arose and caused all her company rise also. The seneschal had a great while before despatched to the place whither they were to go store of things needful and folk who should there make ready that which behoved, and seeing the queen now on the way, straightway let load everything else, as if the camp were raised thence, and with the household stuff and such of the servants as remained set out in rear of the ladies and gentlemen. The queen, then, with slow step, accompanied and followed by her ladies and the three young men and guided by the song of some score nightingales and other birds, took her way westward, by a little-used footpath, full of green herbs and flowers, which latter now all began to open for the coming sun, and chatting, jesting and laughing with her company, brought them a while before half tierce,[149] without having gone over two thousand paces, to a very fair and rich palace, somewhat upraised above the plain upon a little knoll. Here they entered and having gone all about and viewed the great saloons and the quaint and elegant chambers all throughly furnished with that which pertaineth thereunto, they mightily commended the place and accounted its lord magnificent.

Then, going below and seeing the very s.p.a.cious and cheerful court thereof, the cellars full of choicest wines and the very cool water that welled there in great abundance, they praised it yet more.

Thence, as if desirous of repose, they betook themselves to sit in a gallery which commanded all the courtyard and was all full of flowers, such as the season afforded, and leaf.a.ge, whereupon there came the careful seneschal and entertained and refreshed them with costliest confections and wines of choice. Thereafter, letting open to them a garden, all walled about, which coasted the palace, they entered therein and it seeming to them, at their entering, altogether[150]

wonder-goodly, they addressed themselves more intently to view the particulars thereof. It had about it and athwart the middle very s.p.a.cious alleys, all straight as arrows and embowered with trellises of vines, which made great show of bearing abundance of grapes that year and being then all in blossom, yielded so rare a savour about the garden, that, as it blent with the fragrance of many another sweet-smelling plant that there gave scent, themseemed they were among all the spiceries that ever grew in the Orient. The sides of these alleys were all in a manner walled about with roses, red and white, and jessamine, wherefore not only of a morning, but what while the sun was highest, one might go all about, untouched thereby, neath odoriferous and delightsome shade. What and how many and how orderly disposed were the plants that grew in that place, it were tedious to recount; suffice it that there is none goodly of those which may brook our air but was there in abundance. Amiddleward the garden (what was not less, but yet more commendable than aught else there) was a plat of very fine gra.s.s, so green that it seemed well nigh black, enamelled all with belike a thousand kinds of flowers and closed about with the greenest and l.u.s.tiest of orange and citron trees, the which, bearing at once old fruits and new and flowers, not only afforded the eyes a pleasant shade, but were no less grateful to the smell. Midmost the gra.s.s-plat was a fountain of the whitest marble, enchased with wonder-goodly sculptures, and thence,--whether I know not from a natural or an artificial source,--there sprang, by a figure that stood on a column in its midst, so great a jet of water and so high towards the sky, whence not without a delectable sound it fell back into the wonder-limpid fount, that a mill might have wrought with less; the which after (I mean the water which overflowed the full basin) issued forth of the lawn by a hidden way, and coming to light therewithout, encompa.s.sed it all about by very goodly and curiously wroughten channels. Thence by like channels it ran through well nigh every part of the pleasance and was gathered again at the last in a place whereby it had issue from the fair garden and whence it descended, in the clearest of streams, towards the plain; but, ere it won thither, it turned two mills with exceeding power and to the no small vantage of the lord. The sight of this garden and its fair ordinance and the plants and the fountain, with the rivulets proceeding therefrom, so pleased the ladies and the three young men that they all of one accord avouched that, an Paradise might be created upon earth, they could not avail to conceive what form, other than that of this garden, might be given it nor what farther beauty might possibly be added thereunto.

However, as they went most gladsomely thereabout, weaving them the goodliest garlands of the various leaf.a.ge of the trees and hearkening the while to the carols of belike a score of different kinds of birds, that sang as if in rivalry one of other, they became aware of a delectable beauty, which, wonderstricken as they were with the other charms of the place, they had not yet noted; to wit, they found the garden full of maybe an hundred kinds of goodly creatures, and one showing them to other, they saw on one side rabbits issue, on another hares run; here lay kids and there fawns went grazing, and there was many another kind of harmless animal, each going about his pastime at his pleasure, as if tame; the which added unto them a yet greater pleasure than the others. After they had gone about their fill, viewing now this thing and now that, the queen let set the tables around the fair fountain and at her commandment, having first sung half a dozen canzonets and danced sundry dances, they sat down to meat. There, being right well and orderly served, after a very fair and sumptuous and tranquil fashion, with goodly and delicate viands, they waxed yet blither and arising thence, gave themselves anew to music-making and singing and dancing till it seemed good to the queen that those whom it pleased should betake themselves to sleep.

Accordingly some went thither, whilst others, overcome with the beauty of the place, willed not to leave it, but, abiding there, addressed themselves, some to reading romances and some to playing chess or tables, whilst the others slept. But presently, the hour of none being past and the sleepers having arisen and refreshed their faces with cold water, they came all, at the queen's commandment, to the lawn hard by the fountain and there seating themselves, after the wonted fashion, waited to fall to story-telling upon the subject proposed by her. The first upon whom she laid this charge was Filostrato, who began on this wise:

[Footnote 149: _i.e._ half _before_ (not half _after_) tierce or 7.30 a.m. _Cf._ the equivalent German idiom, _halb acht_, 7.30 (not 8.30) a.m.]

[Footnote 150: _i.e._ as a whole (_tutto insieme_).]


[Day the Third]


"Fairest ladies, there be many men and women foolish enough to believe that, whenas the white fillet is bound about a girl's head and the black cowl clapped upon her back, she is no longer a woman and is no longer sensible of feminine appet.i.tes, as if the making her a nun had changed her to stone; and if perchance they hear aught contrary to this their belief, they are as much incensed as if a very great and heinous misdeed had been committed against nature, considering not neither having regard to themselves, whom full license to do that which they will availeth not to sate, nor yet to the much potency of idlesse and thought-taking.[151] On like wise there are but too many who believe that spade and mattock and coa.r.s.e victuals and hard living do altogether purge away carnal appet.i.tes from the tillers of the earth and render them exceeding dull of wit and judgment. But how much all who believe thus are deluded, I purpose, since the queen hath commanded it to me, to make plain to you in a little story, without departing from the theme by her appointed.

[Footnote 151: _Sollecitudine._ The commentators will have it that this is an error for _solitudine_, solitude, but I see no necessity for the subst.i.tution, the text being perfectly acceptable as it stands.]

There was (and is yet) in these our parts a convent of women, very famous for sanct.i.ty (the which, that I may not anywise abate its repute, I will not name), wherein no great while agone, there being then no more than eight nuns and an abbess, all young, in the nunnery, a poor silly dolt of a fellow was gardener of a very goodly garden of theirs, who, being miscontent with his wage, settled his accounts with the ladies' bailiff and returned to Lamporecchio, whence he came.

There, amongst others who welcomed him home, was a young labouring man, stout and robust and (for a countryman) a well-favoured fellow, by name of Masetto, who asked him where he had been so long. The good man, whose name was Nuto, told him, whereupon Masetto asked him in what he had served the convent, and he, 'I tended a great and goodly garden of theirs, and moreover I went while to the coppice for f.a.ggots and drew water and did other such small matters of service; but the nuns gave me so little wage that I could scare find me in shoon withal. Besides, they are all young and methinketh they are possessed of the devil, for there was no doing anything to their liking; nay, when I was at work whiles in the hortyard,[152] quoth one, "Set this here," and another, "Set that here," and a third s.n.a.t.c.hed the spade from my hand, saying, "That is naught"; brief, they gave me so much vexation that I would leave work be and begone out of the hortyard; insomuch that, what with one thing and what with another, I would abide there no longer and took myself off. When I came away, their bailiff besought me, an I could lay my hand on any one apt unto that service, to send the man to him, and I promised it him; but may G.o.d make him sound of the loins as he whom I shall get him, else will I send him none at all!' Masetto, hearing this, was taken with so great a desire to be with these nuns that he was all consumed therewith, judging from Nuto's words that he might avail to compa.s.s somewhat of that which he desired. However, foreseeing that he would fail of his purpose, if he discovered aught thereof to Nuto, he said to the latter, 'Egad, thou didst well to come away. How is a man to live with women? He were better abide with devils. Six times out of seven they know not what they would have themselves.' But, after they had made an end of their talk, Masetto began to cast about what means he should take to be with them and feeling himself well able to do the offices of which Nuto had spoken, he had no fear of being refused on that head, but mis...o...b..ed him he might not be received, for that he was young and well-looked. Wherefore, after pondering many things in himself, he bethought himself thus: 'The place is far hence and none knoweth me there, an I can but make a show of being dumb, I shall for certain be received there.' Having fixed upon this device, he set out with an axe he had about his neck, without telling any whither he was bound, and betook himself, in the guise of a beggarman, to the convent, where being come, he entered in and as luck would have it, found the bailiff in the courtyard. Him he accosted with signs such as dumb folk use and made a show of asking food of him for the love of G.o.d and that in return he would, an it were needed, cleave wood for him. The bailiff willingly gave him to eat and after set before him divers logs that Nuto had not availed to cleave, but of all which Masetto, who was very strong, made a speedy despatch. By and by, the bailiff, having occasion to go to the coppice, carried him thither and put him to cutting f.a.ggots; after which, setting the a.s.s before him, he gave him to understand by signs that he was to bring them home.

This he did very well; wherefore the bailiff kept him there some days, so he might have him do certain things for which he had occasion. One day it chanced that the abbess saw him and asked the bailiff who he was. 'Madam,' answered he, 'this is a poor deaf and dumb man, who came hither the other day to ask an alms; so I took him in out of charity and have made him do sundry things of which we had need. If he knew how to till the hortyard and chose to abide with us, I believe we should get good service of him; for that we lack such an one and he is strong and we could make what we would of him; more by token that you would have no occasion to fear his playing the fool with yonder la.s.ses of yours.' 'I' faith,' rejoined the abbess, 'thou sayst sooth. Learn if he knoweth how to till and study to keep him here; give him a pair of shoes and some old hood or other and make much of him, caress him, give him plenty to eat.' Which the bailiff promised to do. Masetto was not so far distant but he heard all this, making a show the while of sweeping the courtyard, and said merrily in himself, 'An you put me therein, I will till you your hortyard as it was never tilled yet.'

Accordingly, the bailiff, seeing that he knew right well how to work, asked him by signs if he had a mind to abide there and he replied on like wise that he would do whatsoever he wished; whereupon the bailiff engaged him and charged him till the hortyard, showing him what he was to do; after which he went about other business of the convent and left him. Presently, as Masetto went working one day after another, the nuns fell to plaguing him and making mock of him, as ofttimes it betideth that folk do with mutes, and bespoke him the naughtiest words in the world, thinking he understood them not; whereof the abbess, mayhap supposing him to be tailless as well as tongueless, recked little or nothing. It chanced one day, however, that, as he rested himself after a hard morning's work, two young nuns, who went about the garden,[153] drew near the place where he lay and fell to looking upon him, whilst he made a show of sleeping. Presently quoth one who was somewhat the bolder of the twain to the other, 'If I thought thou wouldst keep my counsel, I would tell thee a thought which I have once and again had and which might perchance profit thee also.' 'Speak in all a.s.surance,' answered the other, 'for certes I will never tell it to any.' Then said the forward wench, 'I know not if thou have ever considered how straitly we are kept and how no man dare ever enter here, save the bailiff, who is old, and yonder dumb fellow; and I have again and again heard ladies, who come to visit us, say that all other delights in the world are but toys in comparison with that which a woman enjoyeth, whenas she hath to do with a man. Wherefore I have often had it in mind to make trial with this mute, since with others I may not, if it be so. And indeed he is the best in the world to that end, for that, e'en if he would, he could not nor might tell it again. Thou seest he is a poor silly lout of a lad, who hath overgrown his wit, and I would fain hear how thou deemest of the thing.'

'Alack!' rejoined the other, 'what is this thou sayest? Knowest thou not that we have promised our virginity to G.o.d?' 'Oh, as for that,'

answered the first, 'how many things are promised Him all day long, whereof not one is fulfilled unto Him! An we have promised it Him, let Him find Himself another or others to perform it to Him.' 'Or if,'

went on her fellow, 'we should prove with child, how would it go then?' Quoth the other, 'Thou beginnest to take thought unto ill ere it cometh; when that betideth, then will we look to it; there will be a thousand ways for us of doing so that it shall never be known, provided we ourselves tell it not.' The other, hearing this and having now a greater itch than her companion to prove what manner beast a man was, said, 'Well, then, how shall we do?' Quoth the first, 'Thou seest it is nigh upon none and methinketh the sisters are all asleep, save only ourselves; let us look about the hortyard if there be any there, and if there be none, what have we to do but to take him by the hand and carry him into yonder hut, whereas he harboureth against the rain, and there let one of us abide with him, whilst the other keepeth watch? He is so simple that he will do whatever we will.' Masetto heard all this talk and disposed to compliance, waited but to be taken by one of the nuns. The latter having looked well all about and satisfied themselves that they could be seen from nowhere, she who had broached the matter came up to Masetto and aroused him, whereupon he rose incontinent to his feet. The nun took him coaxingly by the hand and led him, grinning like an idiot, to the hut, where, without overmuch pressing, he did what she would. Then, like a loyal comrade, having had her will, she gave place to her fellow, and Masetto, still feigning himself a simpleton, did their pleasure. Before they departed thence, each of the girls must needs once more prove how the mute could horse it, and after devising with each other, they agreed that the thing was as delectable as they had heard, nay, more so.

Accordingly, watching their opportunity, they went oftentimes at fitting seasons to divert themselves with the mute, till one day it chanced that one of their sisters, espying them in the act from the lattice of her cell, showed it to other twain. At first they talked of denouncing the culprits to the abbess, but, after, changing counsel and coming to an accord with the first two, they became sharers with them in Masetto's services, and to them the other three nuns were at divers times and by divers chances added as a.s.sociates. Ultimately, the abbess, who had not yet gotten wind of these doings, walking one day alone in the garden, the heat being great, found Masetto (who had enough of a little fatigue by day, because of overmuch posting it by night) stretched out asleep under the shade of an almond-tree, and the wind lifting the forepart of his clothes, all abode discovered. The lady, beholding this and seeing herself alone, fell into that same appet.i.te which had gotten hold of her nuns, and arousing Masetto, carried him to her chamber, where, to the no small miscontent of the others, who complained loudly that the gardener came not to till the hortyard, she kept him several days, proving and reproving that delight which she had erst been wont to blame in others. At last she sent him back to his own lodging, but was fain to have him often again and as, moreover, she required of him more than her share, Masetto, unable to satisfy so many, bethought himself that his playing the mute might, an it endured longer, result in his exceeding great hurt.

Wherefore, being one night with the abbess, he gave loose to[154] his tongue and bespoke her thus: 'Madam, I have heard say that one c.o.c.k sufficeth unto half a score hens, but that half a score men can ill or hardly satisfy one woman; whereas needs must I serve nine, and to this I can no wise endure; nay, for that which I have done up to now, I am come to such a pa.s.s that I can do neither little nor much; wherefore do ye either let me go in G.o.d's name or find a remedy for the matter.'

The abbess, hearing him speak whom she held dumb, was all amazed and said, 'What is this? Methought thou wast dumb.' 'Madam,' answered Masetto, 'I was indeed dumb, not by nature, but by reason of a malady which bereft me of speech, and only this very night for the first time do I feel it restored to me, wherefore I praise G.o.d as most I may.'

The lady believed this and asked him what he meant by saying that he had to serve nine. Masetto told her how the case stood, whereby she perceived that she had no nun but was far wiser than herself; but, like a discreet woman as she was, she resolved to take counsel with her nuns to find some means of arranging the matter, without letting Masetto go, so the convent might not be defamed by him. Accordingly, having openly confessed to one another that which had been secretly done of each, they all of one accord, with Masetto's consent, so ordered it that the people round about believed speech to have been restored to him, after he had long been mute, through their prayers and by the merits of the saint in whose name the convent was int.i.tuled, and their bailiff being lately dead, they made Masetto bailiff in his stead and apportioned his toils on such wise that he could endure them. Thereafter, albeit he began upon them monikins galore, the thing was so discreetly ordered that nothing took vent thereof till after the death of the abbess, when Masetto began to grow old and had a mind to return home rich. The thing becoming known, enabled him lightly to accomplish his desire, and thus Masetto, having by his foresight contrived to employ his youth to good purpose, returned in his old age, rich and a father, without being at the pains or expense of rearing children, to the place whence he had set out with an axe about his neck, avouching that thus did Christ entreat whoso set horns to his cap."

[Footnote 152: Hortyard (_orto_) is the old form of orchard, properly an enclosed tract of land in which fruit, vegetables and potherbs are cultivated for use, _i.e._ the modern kitchen garden and orchard in one, as distinguished from the pleasaunce or flower garden (_giardino_).]

[Footnote 153: _Giardino_, _i.e._ flower-garden.]

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The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 12 summary

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