The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 13

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[Footnote 154: Lit. broke the string of.]


[Day the Third]


The end of Filostrato's story, whereat whiles the ladies had some little blushed and other whiles laughed, being come, it pleased the queen that Pampinea should follow on with a story, and she accordingly, beginning with a smiling countenance, said, "Some are so little discreet in seeking at all hazards to show that they know and apprehend that which it concerneth them not to know, that whiles, rebuking to this end unperceived defects in others, they think to lessen their own shame, whereas they do infinitely augment it; and that this is so I purpose, lovesome ladies, to prove to you by the contrary thereof, showing you the astuteness of one who, in the judgment of a king of worth and valour, was held belike of less account than Masetto himself.

Agilulf, King of the Lombards, as his predecessors had done, fixed the seat of his kingship at Pavia, a city of Lombardy, and took to wife Theodolinda[155] the widow of Autari, likewise King of the Lombards, a very fair lady and exceeding discreet and virtuous, but ill fortuned in a lover.[156] The affairs of the Lombards having, thanks to the valour and judgment of King Agilulf, been for some time prosperous and in quiet, it befell that one of the said queen's horse-keepers, a man of very low condition, in respect of birth, but otherwise of worth far above so mean a station, and comely of person and tall as he were the king, became beyond measure enamoured of his mistress. His mean estate hindered him not from being sensible that this love of his was out of all reason, wherefore, like a discreet man as he was, he discovered it unto none, nor dared he make it known to her even with his eyes. But, albeit he lived without any hope of ever winning her favour, yet inwardly he gloried in that he had bestowed his thoughts in such high place, and being all aflame with amorous fire, he studied, beyond every other of his fellows, to do whatsoever he deemed might pleasure the queen; whereby it befell that, whenas she had occasion to ride abroad, she liefer mounted the palfrey of which he had charge than any other; and when this happened, he reckoned it a pa.s.sing great favour to himself nor ever stirred from her stirrup, accounting himself happy what time he might but touch her clothes. But, as often enough we see it happen that, even as hope groweth less, so love waxeth greater, so did it betide this poor groom, insomuch that sore uneath it was to him to avail to brook his great desire, keeping it, as he did, hidden and being upheld by no hope; and many a time, unable to rid himself of that his love, he determined in himself to die. And considering inwardly of the manner, he resolved to seek his death on such wise that it should be manifest he died for the love he bore the queen, to which end he bethought himself to try his fortune in an enterprise of such a sort as should afford him a chance of having or all or part of his desire. He set not himself to seek to say aught to the queen nor to make her sensible of his love by letters, knowing he should speak and write in vain, but chose rather to essay an he might by practice avail to lie with her; nor was there any other shift for it but to find a means how he might, in the person of the king, who, he knew, lay not with her continually, contrive to make his way to her and enter her bedchamber. Accordingly, that he might see on what wise and in what habit the king went, whenas he visited her, he hid himself several times by night in a great saloon of the palace, which lay between the king's bedchamber and that of the queen, and one night, amongst others, he saw the king come forth of his chamber, wrapped in a great mantle, with a lighted taper in one hand and a little wand in the other, and making for the queen's chamber, strike once or twice upon the door with the wand, without saying aught, whereupon it was incontinent opened to him and the taper taken from his hand. Noting this and having seen the king return after the same fashion, he bethought himself to do likewise. Accordingly, finding means to have a cloak like that which he had seen the king wear, together with a taper and a wand, and having first well washed himself in a bagnio, lest haply the smell of the muck should offend the queen or cause her smoke the cheat, he hid himself in the great saloon, as of wont. Whenas he knew that all were asleep and it seemed to him time either to give effect to his desire or to make his way by high emprise[157] to the wished-for death, he struck a light with a flint and steel he had brought with him and kindling the taper, wrapped himself fast in the mantle, then, going up to the chamber-door, smote twice upon it with the wand. The door was opened by a bedchamber-woman, all sleepy-eyed, who took the light and covered it; whereupon, without saying aught, he pa.s.sed within the curtain, put off his mantle and entered the bed where the queen slept. Then, taking her desirefully in his arms and feigning himself troubled (for that he knew the king's wont to be that, whenas he was troubled, he cared not to hear aught), without speaking or being spoken to, he several times carnally knew the queen; after which, grievous as it seemed to him to depart, yet, fearing lest his too long stay should be the occasion of turning the gotten delight into dolour, he arose and taking up the mantle and the light, withdrew, without word said, and returned, as quickliest he might, to his own bed. He could scarce yet have been therein when the king arose and repaired to the queen's chamber, whereat she marvelled exceedingly; and as he entered the bed and greeted her blithely, she took courage by his cheerfulness and said, 'O my lord, what new fashion is this of to-night? You left me but now, after having taken pleasure of me beyond your wont, and do you return so soon? Have a care what you do.' The king, hearing these words, at once concluded that the queen had been deceived by likeness of manners and person, but, like a wise man, bethought himself forthright, seeing that neither she nor any else had perceived the cheat, not to make her aware thereof; which many simpletons would not have done, but would have said, 'I have not been here, I. Who is it hath been here? How did it happen? Who came hither?' Whence many things might have arisen, whereby he would needlessly have afflicted the lady and given her ground for desiring another time that which she had already tasted; more by token that, an he kept silence of the matter, no shame might revert to him, whereas, by speaking, he would have brought dishonour upon himself. The king, then, more troubled at heart than in looks or speech, answered, saying, 'Wife, seem I not to you man enough to have been here a first time and to come yet again after that?' 'Ay, my lord,' answered she. 'Nevertheless, I beseech you have regard to your health.' Quoth Agilulf, 'And it pleaseth me to follow your counsel, wherefore for the nonce I will get me gone again, without giving you more annoy.' This said, taking up his mantle, he departed the chamber, with a heart full of wrath and despite for the affront that he saw had been done him, and bethought himself quietly to seek to discover the culprit, concluding that he must be of the household and could not, whoever he might be, have issued forth of the palace. Accordingly, taking a very small light in a little lantern, he betook himself to a very long gallery that was over the stables of his palace and where all his household slept in different beds, and judging that, whoever he might be that had done what the queen said, his pulse and the beating of his heart for the swink endured could not yet have had time to abate, he silently, beginning at one end of the gallery, fell to feeling each one's breast, to know if his heart beat high. Although every other slept fast, he who had been with the queen was not yet asleep, but, seeing the king come and guessing what he went seeking, fell into such a fright that to the beating of the heart caused by the late-had fatigue, fear added yet a greater and he doubted not but the king, if he became aware of this, would put him to death without delay, and many things pa.s.sed through his thought that he should do.

However, seeing him all unarmed, he resolved to feign sleep and await what he should do. Agilulf, then, having examined many and found none whom he judged to be he of whom he was in quest, came presently to the horsekeeper and feeling his heart beat high, said in himself, 'This is the man.' Nevertheless, an he would have nought be known of that which he purposed to do, he did nought to him but poll, with a pair of scissors he had brought with him, somewhat on one side of his hair, which they then wore very long, so by that token he might know him again on the morrow; and this done, he withdrew and returned to his own chamber. The culprit, who had felt all this, like a shrewd fellow as he was, understood plainly enough why he had been thus marked; wherefore he arose without delay and finding a pair of shears, whereof it chanced there were several about the stables for the service of the horses, went softly up to all who lay in the gallery and clipped each one's hair on like wise over the ear; which having done without being observed, he returned to sleep. When the king arose in the morning, he commanded that all his household should present themselves before him, or ever the palace-doors were opened; and it was done as he said.

Then, as they all stood before him with uncovered heads, he began to look that he might know him whom he had polled; but, seeing the most part of them with their hair clipped after one and the same fashion, he marvelled and said in himself, 'He whom I seek, for all he may be of mean estate, showeth right well he is of no mean wit.' Then, seeing that he could not, without making a stir, avail to have him whom he sought, and having no mind to incur a great shame for the sake of a paltry revenge, it pleased him with one sole word to admonish the culprit and show him that he was ware of the matter; wherefore, turning to all who were present, he said, 'Let him who did it do it no more and get you gone in peace.' Another would have been for giving them the strappado, for torturing, examining and questioning, and doing this, would have published that which every one should go about to conceal; and having thus discovered himself, though he should have taken entire revenge for the affront suffered, his shame had not been minished, nay, were rather much enhanced therefor and his lady's honour sullied. Those who heard the king's words marvelled and long debated amongst themselves what he meant by this speech; but none understood it, save he whom it concerned, and he, like a wise man, never, during Agilulf's lifetime, discovered the matter nor ever again committed his life to the hazard of such a venture."

[Footnote 155: Boccaccio calls her _Teudelinga_; but I know of no authority for this form of the name of the famous Longobardian queen.]

[Footnote 156: Referring apparently to the adventure related in the present story.]

[Footnote 157: Lit. with high (_i.e._ worthy) cause (_con alta cagione_).]


[Day the Third]


Pampinea being now silent and the daring and subtlety of the horsekeeper having been extolled by several of the company, as also the king's good sense, the queen, turning to Filomena, charged her follow on; whereupon she blithely began to speak thus, "I purpose to recount to you a cheat which was in very deed put by a fair lady upon a grave friar and which should be so much the more pleasing to every layman as these [--friars, to wit--], albeit for the most part very dull fools and men of strange manners and usances, hold themselves to be in everything both better worth and wiser than others, whereas they are of far less account than the rest of mankind, being men who, lacking, of the meanness of their spirit, the ability to provide themselves, take refuge, like swine, whereas they may have what to eat. And this story, charming ladies, I shall tell you, not only for the ensuing of the order imposed, but to give you to know withal that even the clergy, to whom we women, beyond measure credulous as we are, yield overmuch faith, can be and are whiles adroitly befooled, and that not by men only, but even by certain of our own s.e.x.

In our city, the which is fuller of cozenage than of love or faith, there was, not many years agone, a gentlewoman adorned with beauty and charms and as richly endowed by nature as any of her s.e.x with engaging manners and loftiness of spirit and subtle wit, whose name albeit I know, I purpose not to discover it, no, nor any other that pertaineth unto the present story, for that there be folk yet alive who would take it in despite, whereas it should be pa.s.sed over with a laugh.

This lady, then, seeing herself, though of high lineage, married to a wool-monger and unable, for that he was a craftsman, to put off the haughtiness of her spirit, whereby she deemed no man of mean condition, how rich soever he might be, worthy of a gentlewoman and seeing him moreover, for all his wealth, to be apt unto nothing of more moment than to lay a warp for a piece of motley or let weave a cloth or chaffer with a spinster anent her yarn, resolved on no wise to admit of his embraces, save in so far as she might not deny him, but to seek, for her own satisfaction, to find some one who should be worthier of her favours than the wool-monger appeared to her to be, and accordingly fell so fervently in love with a man of very good quality and middle age, that, whenas she saw him not by day, she could not pa.s.s the ensuing night without unease. The gentleman, perceiving not how the case stood, took no heed of her, and she, being very circ.u.mspect, dared not make the matter known to him by sending of women nor by letter, fearing the possible perils that might betide.

However, observing that he companied much with a churchman, who, albeit a dull lump of a fellow, was nevertheless, for that he was a man of very devout life, reputed of well nigh all a most worthy friar, she bethought herself that this latter would make an excellent go-between herself and her lover and having considered what means she should use, she repaired, at a fitting season, to the church where he abode, and letting call him to her, told him that, an he pleased, she would fain confess herself to him. The friar seeing her and judging her to be a woman of condition, willingly gave ear to her, and she, after confession, said to him, 'Father mine, it behoveth me have recourse to you for aid and counsel anent that which you shall hear. I know, as having myself told you, that you know my kinsfolk and my husband, who loveth me more than his life, nor is there aught I desire but I have it of him incontinent, he being a very rich man and one who can well afford it; wherefore I love him more than mine own self and should I but think, let alone do, aught that might be contrary to his honour and pleasure, there were no woman more wicked or more deserving of the fire than I. Now one, whose name in truth I know not, but who is, meseemeth, a man of condition, and is, if I mistake not, much in your company,--a well-favoured man and tall of his person and clad in very decent sad-coloured raiment,--unaware belike of the constancy of my purpose, appeareth to have laid siege to me, nor can I show myself at door or window nor go without the house, but he incontinent presenteth himself before me, and I marvel that he is not here now; whereat I am sore concerned, for that such fashions as these often bring virtuous women into reproach, without their fault. I have whiles had it in mind to have him told of this by my brothers; but then I have bethought me that men oftentimes do messages on such wise that ill answers ensue, which give rise to words and from words they come to deeds; wherefore, lest mischief spring therefrom and scandal, I have kept silence of the matter and have determined to discover it to yourself rather than to another, at once because meseemeth you are his friend and for that it beseemeth you to rebuke not only friends, but strangers, of such things. I beseech you, therefore, for the one G.o.d's sake, that you rebuke him of this and pray him leave these his fashions. There be women enough, who incline belike to these toys and would take pleasure in being dogged and courted by him, whereas to me, who have no manner of mind to such matters, it is a very grievous annoy.' So saying, she bowed her head as she would weep. The holy friar understood incontinent of whom she spoke and firmly believing what she said to be true, greatly commended her righteous intent and promised her to do on such wise that she should have no farther annoy from the person in question; and knowing her to be very rich, he commended to her works of charity and almsdeeds, recounting to her his own need. Quoth the lady, 'I beseech you thereof for G.o.d's sake, and should he deny, prithee scruple not to tell him that it was I who told you this and complained to you thereof.' Then, having made her confession and gotten her penance, recalling the friar's exhortations to works of almsgiving, she stealthily filled his hand with money, praying him to say ma.s.ses for the souls of her dead kinsfolk; after which she rose from his feet and taking leave of him, returned home.

Not long after up came the gentleman, according to his wont, and after they had talked awhile of one thing and another, the friar, drawing his friend aside, very civilly rebuked him of the manner in which, as he believed, he pursued and spied upon the lady aforesaid, according to that which she had given him to understand. The other marvelled, as well he might, having never set eyes upon her and being used very rarely to pa.s.s before her house, and would have excused himself; but the friar suffered him not to speak, saying, 'Now make no show of wonderment nor waste words in denying it, for it will avail thee nothing; I learnt not these matters from the neighbours; nay, she herself told them to me, complaining sore of thee. And besides that such toys beseem not a man of thine age, I may tell thee this much of her, that if ever I saw a woman averse to these follies, it is she; wherefore, for thine own credit and her comfort, I prithee desist therefrom and let her be in peace.' The gentleman, quicker of wit than the friar, was not slow to apprehend the lady's device and feigning to be somewhat abashed, promised to meddle no more with her thenceforward; then, taking leave of the friar, he betook himself to the house of the lady, who still abode await at a little window, so she might see him, should he pa.s.s that way. When she saw him come, she showed herself so rejoiced and so gracious to him, that he might very well understand that he had gathered the truth from the friar's words, and thenceforward, under colour of other business, he began with the utmost precaution to pa.s.s continually through the street, to his own pleasure and to the exceeding delight and solace of the lady. After awhile, perceiving that she pleased him even as he pleased her and wishful to inflame him yet more and to certify him of the love she bore him, she betook herself again, choosing her time and place, to the holy friar and seating herself at his feet in the church, fell a-weeping. The friar, seeing this, asked her affectionately what was to do with her anew. 'Alack, father mine,' answered she, 'that which aileth me is none other than yonder G.o.d-accursed friend of yours, of whom I complained to you the other day, for that methinketh he was born for my especial torment and to make me do a thing, such that I should never be glad again nor ever after dare to seat myself at your feet.' 'How?' cried the friar. 'Hath he not given over annoying thee?'

'No, indeed,' answered she; 'nay, since I complained to you of him, as if of despite, maybe taking it ill that I should have done so, for every once he used to pa.s.s before my house, I verily believe he hath pa.s.sed seven times. And would to G.o.d he were content with pa.s.sing and spying upon me! Nay, he is grown so bold and so malapert that but yesterday he despatched a woman to me at home with his idle tales and toys and sent me a purse and a girdle, as if I had not purses and girdles galore; the which I took and take so ill that I believe, but for my having regard to the sin of it and after for the love of you, I had played the devil. However, I contained myself and would not do or say aught whereof I should not first have let you know. Nay, I had already returned the purse and the girdle to the baggage who brought them, that she might carry them back to him, and had given her a rough dismissal, but after, fearing she might keep them for herself and tell him that I had accepted them, as I hear women of her fashion do whiles, I called her back and took them, full of despite, from her hands and have brought them to you, so you may return them to him and tell him I want none of his trash, for that, thanks to G.o.d and my husband, I have purses and girdles enough to smother him withal.

Moreover, if hereafter he desist not from this, I tell you, as a father, you must excuse me, but I will tell it, come what may, to my husband and my brothers; for I had far liefer he should brook an affront, if needs he must, than that I should suffer blame for him; wherefore let him look to himself.' So saying, still weeping sore, she pulled out from under her surcoat a very handsome and rich purse and a quaint and costly girdle and threw them into the lap of the friar, who, fully crediting that which she told him and incensed beyond measure, took them and said to her, 'Daughter, I marvel not that thou art provoked at these doings, nor can I blame thee therefor; but I much commend thee for following my counsel in the matter. I rebuked him the other day and he hath ill performed that which he promised me; wherefore, as well for that as for this that he hath newly done, I mean to warm his ears[158] for him after such a fashion that methinketh he will give thee no farther concern; but do thou, G.o.d's benison on thee, suffer not thyself to be so overcome with anger that thou tell it to any of thy folk, for that overmuch harm might ensue thereof unto him. Neither fear thou lest this blame anywise ensue to thee, for I shall still, before both G.o.d and men, be a most constant witness to thy virtue.' The lady made believe to be somewhat comforted and leaving that talk, said, as one who knew his greed and that of his fellow-churchmen, 'Sir, these some nights past there have appeared to me sundry of my kinsfolk, who ask nought but almsdeeds, and meseemeth they are indeed in exceeding great torment, especially my mother, who appeareth to me in such ill case and affliction that it is pity to behold. Methinketh she suffereth exceeding distress to see me in this tribulation with yonder enemy of G.o.d; wherefore I would have you say me forty ma.s.ses of Saint Gregory for her and their souls, together with certain of your own prayers, so G.o.d may deliver them from that penitential fire.' So saying, she put a florin into his hand, which the holy father blithely received and confirming her devoutness with fair words and store of pious instances, gave her his benison and let her go. The lady being gone, the friar, never thinking how he was gulled, sent for his friend, who, coming and finding him troubled, at once divined that he was to have news of the lady and awaited what the friar should say. The latter repeated that which he had before said to him and bespeaking him anew angrily and reproachfully, rebuked him severely of that which, according to the lady's report, he had done.

The gentleman, not yet perceiving the friar's drift, faintly enough denied having sent her the purse and the girdle, so as not to undeceive the friar, in case the lady should have given him to believe that he had done this; whereat the good man was sore incensed and said, 'How canst thou deny it, wicked man that thou art? See, here they are, for she herself brought them to me, weeping; look if thou knowest them.' The gentleman feigned to be sore abashed and answered, 'Yes, I do indeed know them and I confess to you that I did ill; but I swear to you, since I see her thus disposed, that you shall never more hear a word of this.' Brief, after many words, the numskull of a friar gave his friend the purse and the girdle and dismissed him, after rating him amain and beseeching him occupy himself no more with these follies, the which he promised him. The gentleman, overjoyed both at the a.s.surance that himseemed he had of the lady's love and at the goodly gift, was no sooner quit of the friar than he betook himself to a place where he made shift to let his mistress see that he had the one and the other thing; whereat she was mightily rejoiced, more by token that herseemed her device went from good to better. She now awaited nought but her husband's going abroad to give completion to the work, and it befell not long after that it behoved him repair to Genoa on some occasion or other. No sooner had he mounted to horse in the morning and gone his way, than the lady betook herself to the holy man and after many lamentations, said to him, weeping, 'Father mine, I tell you now plainly that I can brook no more; but, for that I promised you the other day to do nought, without first telling you, I am come to excuse myself to you; and that you may believe I have good reason both to weep and to complain, I will tell you what your friend, or rather devil incarnate, did to me this very morning, a little before matins. I know not what ill chance gave him to know that my husband was to go to Genoa yestermorn; algates, this morning, at the time I tell you, he came into a garden of mine and climbing up by a tree to the window of my bedchamber, which giveth upon the garden, had already opened the lattice and was for entering, when I of a sudden awoke and starting up, offered to cry out, nay, would a.s.suredly have cried out, but that he, who was not yet within, besought me of mercy in G.o.d's name and yours, telling me who he was; which when I heard, I held my peace for the love of you and naked as I was born, ran and shut the window in his face; whereupon I suppose he took himself off (ill-luck go with him!), for I heard no more of him. Look you now if this be a goodly thing and to be endured. For my part I mean to bear with him no more; nay, I have already forborne him overmuch for the love of you.' The friar, hearing this, was the wrathfullest man alive and knew not what to say, except to ask again and again if she had well certified herself that it was indeed he and not another; to which she answered, 'Praised be G.o.d! As if I did not yet know him from another! I tell you it was himself, and although he should deny it, credit him not.' Then said the friar, 'Daughter, there is nothing to be said for it but that this was exceeding effrontery and a thing exceeding ill done, and in sending him off, as thou didst, thou didst that which it behoved thee to do. But I beseech thee, since G.o.d hath preserved thee from shame, that, like as thou hast twice followed my counsel, even so do thou yet this once; to wit, without complaining to any kinsman of thine, leave it to me to see an I can bridle yonder devil broke loose, whom I believed a saint. If I can make shift to turn him from this lewdness, well and good; if not, I give thee leave henceforth to do with him that which thy soul shall judge best, and my benison go with thee.' 'Well, then,' answered the lady, 'for this once I will well not to vex or disobey you; but look you do on such wise that he be ware of annoying me again, for I promise you I will never again return to you for this cause.' Thereupon, without saying more, she took leave of the friar and went away, as if in anger. Hardly was she out of the church when up came the gentleman and was called by the friar, who, taking him apart, gave him the soundest rating ever man had, calling him disloyal and forsworn and traitor. The other, who had already twice had occasion to know to what the monk's reprimands amounted, abode expectant and studied with embarra.s.sed answers to make him speak out, saying, at the first, 'Why all this pa.s.sion, Sir? Have I crucified Christ?' Whereupon, 'Mark this shameless fellow!' cried the friar. 'Hear what he saith! He speaketh as if a year or two were pa.s.sed and he had for lapse of time forgotten his misdeeds and his lewdness! Hath it then escaped thy mind between this and matinsong that thou hast outraged some one this very morning? Where wast thou this morning a little before day?' 'I know not,' answered the gentleman; 'but wherever it was, the news thereof hath reached you mighty early.' Quoth the friar, 'Certes, the news hath reached me.

Doubtless thou supposedst because her husband was abroad, that needs must the gentlewoman receive thee incontinent in her arms. A fine thing, indeed! Here's a pretty fellow! Here's an honourable man! He's grown a nighthawk, a garden-breaker, a tree-climber! Thinkest thou by importunity to overcome this lady's chast.i.ty, that thou climbest up to her windows anights by the trees? There is nought in the world so displeasing to her as thou; yet must thou e'en go essaying it again and again. Truly, thou hast profited finely by my admonitions, let alone that she hath shown thee her aversion in many ways. But this I have to say to thee; she hath up to now, not for any love she beareth thee, but at my instant entreaty, kept silence of that which thou hast done; but she will do so no more; I have given her leave to do what seemeth good to her, an thou annoy her again in aught. What wilt thou do, an she tell her brothers?' The gentleman having now gathered enough of that which it concerned him to know, appeased the friar, as best he knew and might, with many and ample promises, and taking leave of him, waited till matinsong[159] of the ensuing night, when he made his way into the garden and climbed up by the tree to the window. He found the lattice open and entering the chamber as quickliest he might, threw himself into the arms of his fair mistress, who, having awaited him with the utmost impatience, received him joyfully, saying, 'Gramercy to my lord the friar for that he so well taught thee the way hither!' Then, taking their pleasure one of the other, they solaced themselves together with great delight, devising and laughing amain anent the simplicity of the dolt of a friar and gibing at wool-hanks and teasels and carding-combs. Moreover, having taken order for their future converse, they did on such wise that, without having to resort anew to my lord the friar, they foregathered in equal joyance many another night, to the like whereof I pray G.o.d, of His holy mercy, speedily to conduct me and all Christian souls who have a mind thereto."

[Footnote 158: Lit. (_riscaldare gli orecchi_).]

[Footnote 159: _i.e._ three a.m. next morning.]


[Day the Third]


Filomena, having made an end of her story, was silent and Dioneo having with dulcet speech mightily commended the lady's shrewdness and eke the prayer with which Filomena had concluded, the queen turned with a smile to Pamfilo and said, "Come, Pamfilo, continue our diversion with some pleasant trifle." Pamfilo promptly answered that he would well and began thus: "Madam, there are many persons who, what while they study to enter Paradise, unwittingly send others thither; the which happened, no great while since, to a neighbour of ours, as you shall hear.

According to that which I have heard tell, there abode near San Pancrazio an honest man and a rich, called Puccio di Rinieri, who, devoting himself in his latter days altogether to religious practices, became a tertiary[160] of the order of St. Francis, whence he was styled Fra Puccio, and ensuing this his devout life, much frequented the church, for that he had no family other than a wife and one maid and consequently, it behoved him not apply himself to any craft. Being an ignorant, clod-pated fellow, he said his paternosters, went to preachments and attended ma.s.s, nor ever failed to be at the Lauds chanted by the seculars,[161] and fasted and mortified himself; nay, it was buzzed about that he was of the Flagellants.[162] His wife, whose name was Mistress Isabetta,[163] a woman, yet young, of eight-and-twenty to thirty years of age, fresh and fair and plump as a lady-apple, kept, by reason of the piety and belike of the age of her husband, much longer and more frequent fasts than she could have wished, and when she would have slept or maybe frolicked with him, he recounted to her the life of Christ and the preachments of Fra Nastagio or the Complaint of Mary Magdalene or the like. Meantime there returned home from Paris a monk hight Dom[164] Felice, Conventual[165] of San Pancrazio, who was young and comely enough of person, keen of wit and a profound scholar, and with him Fra Puccio contracted a strait friendship. And for that this Dom Felice right well resolved him his every doubt and knowing his pious turn of mind, made him a show of exceeding devoutness, Fra Puccio fell to carrying him home bytimes and giving him to dine and sup, as the occasion offered; and the lady also, for her husband's sake, became familiar with him and willingly did him honour. The monk, then, continuing to frequent Fra Puccio's house and seeing the latter's wife so fresh and plump, guessed what should be the thing whereof she suffered the most default and bethought himself, an he might, to go about to furnish her withal himself, and so spare Fra Puccio fatigue. Accordingly, craftily casting his eyes on her, at one time and another, he made shift to kindle in her breast that same desire which he had himself, which when he saw, he bespoke her of his wishes as first occasion betided him.

But, albeit he found her well disposed to give effect to the work, he could find no means thereunto, for that she would on nowise trust herself to be with him in any place in the world save her own house, and there it might not be, seeing that Fra Puccio never went without the town. At this the monk was sore chagrined; but, after much consideration, he hit upon a device whereby he might avail to foregather with the lady in her own house, without suspect, for all Fra Puccio should be at home. Accordingly, the latter coming one day to visit him, he bespoke him thus, 'I have many a time understood, Fra Puccio, that all thy desire is to become a saint and to this end meseemeth thou goest about by a long road, whereas there is another and a very short one, which the Pope and the other great prelates, who know and practise it, will not have made known, for that the clergy, who for the most part live by alms, would incontinent be undone, inasmuch as the laity would no longer trouble themselves to propitiate them with alms or otherwhat. But, for that thou art my friend and hast very honourably entertained me, I would teach it thee, so I were a.s.sured thou wouldst practise it and wouldst not discover it to any living soul.' Fra Puccio, eager to know the thing, began straightway to entreat him with the utmost instancy that he would teach it him and then to swear that never, save in so far as it should please him, would he tell it to any, engaging, an if it were such as he might avail to follow, to address himself thereunto. Whereupon quoth the monk, 'Since thou promisest me this, I will e'en discover it to thee.

Thou must know that the doctors of the church hold that it behoveth whoso would become blessed to perform the penance which thou shalt hear; but understand me aright; I do not say that, after the penance, thou wilt not be a sinner like as thou presently art; but this will betide, that the sins which thou hast committed up to the time of the penance will all by virtue thereof be purged and pardoned unto thee, and those which thou shalt commit thereafterward will not be written to thy prejudice, but will pa.s.s away with the holy water, as venial sins do now. It behoveth a man, then, in the first place, whenas he cometh to begin the penance, to confess himself with the utmost diligence of his sins, and after this he must keep a fast and a very strict abstinence for the s.p.a.ce of forty days, during which time thou[166] must abstain from touching, not to say other women, but even thine own wife. Moreover, thou must have in thine own house some place whence thou mayst see the sky by night, whither thou must betake thyself towards the hour of complines,[167] and there thou must have a wide plank set up, on such wise that, standing upright, thou mayst lean thy loins against it and keeping thy feet on the ground, stretch out thine arms, crucifix fashion. An thou wouldst rest them upon some peg or other, thou mayst do it, and on this wise thou must abide gazing upon the sky, without budging a jot, till matins. Wert thou a scholar, thou wouldst do well to repeat certain orisons I would give thee; but, as thou art it not, thou must say three hundred Paternosters and as many Ave Marys, in honour of the Trinity, and looking upon heaven, still have in remembrance that G.o.d is the Creator of heaven and earth and the pa.s.sion of Christ, abiding on such wise as He abode on the cross. When the bell ringeth to matins, thou mayst, an thou wilt, go and cast thyself, clad as thou art, on thy bed and sleep, and after, in the forenoon, betake thyself to church and there hear at least three ma.s.ses and repeat fifty Paternosters and as many Aves; after which thou shalt with a single heart do all and sundry thine occasions, if thou have any to do, and dine and at evensong be in church again and there say certain orisons which I will give thee by writ and without which it cannot be done. Then, towards complines, do thou return to the fashion aforesaid, and thus doing, even as I have myself done aforetime, I doubt not but, ere thou come to the end of the penance, thou wilt, (provided thou shalt have performed it with devoutness and compunction,) feel somewhat marvellous of eternal beat.i.tude.' Quoth Fra Puccio, 'This is no very burdensome matter, nor yet overlong, and may very well be done; wherefore I purpose in G.o.d's name to begin on Sunday.' Then, taking leave of him and returning home, he related everything in due order to his wife, having the other's permission therefor. The lady understood very well what the monk meant by bidding him stand fast without stirring till matins; wherefore, the device seeming to her excellent, she replied that she was well pleased therewith and with every other good work that he did for the health of his soul and that, so G.o.d might make the penance profitable to him, she would e'en fast with him, but do no more. They being thus of accord and Sunday come, Fra Puccio began his penance and my lord monk, having agreed with the lady, came most evenings to sup with her, bringing with him store of good things to eat and drink, and after lay with her till matinsong, when he arose and took himself off, whilst Fra Puccio returned to bed. Now the place which Fra Puccio had chosen for his penance adjoined the chamber where the lady lay and was parted therefrom but by a very slight wall, wherefore, Master Monk wantoning it one night overfreely with the lady and she with him, it seemed to Fra Puccio that he felt a shaking of the floor of the house.

Accordingly, having by this said an hundred of his Paternosters, he made a stop there and without moving, called to his wife to know what she did. The lady, who was of a waggish turn and was then belike astride of San Benedetto his beast or that of San Giovanni Gualberto, answered, 'I' faith, husband mine, I toss as most I may.' 'How?'

quoth Fra Puccio. 'Thou tossest? What meaneth this tossing?' The lady, laughing, for that she was a frolicsome dame and doubtless had cause to laugh, answered merrily; 'How? You know not what it meaneth? Why, I have heard you say a thousand times, "Who suppeth not by night must toss till morning light."' Fra Puccio doubted not but that the fasting was the cause of her unableness to sleep and it was for this she tossed thus about the bed; wherefore, in the simplicity of his heart, 'Wife,' said he, 'I told thee not to fast; but, since thou wouldst e'en do it, think not of that, but address thyself to rest; thou givest such vaults about the bed that thou makest all in the place shake.' 'Have no care for that,' answered the lady; 'I know what I am about; do you but well, you, and I will do as well as I may.' Fra Puccio, accordingly, held his peace and betook himself anew to his Paternosters; and after that night my lord monk and the lady let make a bed in another part of the house, wherein they abode in the utmost joyance what while Fra Puccio's penance lasted. At one and the same hour the monk took himself off and the lady returned to her own bed, whereto a little after came Fra Puccio from his penance; and on this wise the latter continued to do penance, whilst his wife did her delight with the monk, to whom quoth she merrily, now and again, 'Thou hast put Fra Puccio upon performing a penance, whereby we have gotten Paradise.' Indeed, the lady, finding herself in good case, took such a liking to the monk's fare, having been long kept on low diet by her husband, that, whenas Fra Puccio's penance was accomplished, she still found means to feed her fill with him elsewhere and using discretion, long took her pleasure thereof. Thus, then, that my last words may not be out of accord with my first, it came to pa.s.s that, whereas Fra Puccio, by doing penance, thought to win Paradise for himself, he put therein the monk, who had shown him the speedy way thither, and his wife, who lived with him in great lack of that whereof Dom Felice, like a charitable man as he was, vouchsafed her great plenty."

[Footnote 160: _i.e._ a lay brother or affiliate.]

[Footnote 161: _i.e._ the canticles of praise chanted by certain lay confraternities, established for that purpose and answering to our prae-Reformation Laudsingers.]

[Footnote 162: An order of lay penitents, who were wont at certain times to go masked about the streets, scourging themselves in expiation of the sins of the people. This expiatory practice was particularly prevalent in Italy in the middle of the thirteenth century.]

[Footnote 163: Contraction of Elisabetta.]

[Footnote 164: _Dom_, contraction of Dominus (lord), the t.i.tle commonly given to the beneficed clergy in the middle ages, answering to our _Sir_ as used by Shakespeare (_e.g._ Sir Hugh Evans the Welsh Parson, Sir Topas the Curate, etc.). The expression survives in the t.i.tle _Dominie_ (_i.e._ Domine, voc. of Dominus) still familiarly applied to schoolmasters, who were of course originally invariably clergymen.]

[Footnote 165: A Conventual is a member of some monastic order attached to the regular service of a church, or (as would nowadays be said) a "beneficed" monk.]

[Footnote 166: _Sic._ This confusion of persons constantly occurs in Boccaccio, especially in the conversational parts of the Decameron, in which he makes the freest use of the various forms of enallage and of other rhetorical figures, such as hyperbaton, synecdoche, etc., to the no small detriment of his style in the matter of clearness.]

[Footnote 167: _i.e._ nine o'clock p.m.]


[Day the Third]


Pamfilo having made an end, not without laughter on the part of the ladies, of the story of Fra Puccio, the queen with a commanding air bade Elisa follow on. She, rather tartly than otherwise, not out of malice, but of old habit, began to speak thus, "Many folk, knowing much, imagine that others know nothing, and so ofttimes, what while they think to overreach others, find, after the event, that they themselves have been outwitted of them; wherefore I hold his folly great who setteth himself without occasion to test the strength of another's wit. But, for that maybe all are not of my opinion, it pleaseth me, whilst following on the given order of the discourse, to relate to you that which befell a Pistolese gentleman[168] by reason thereof.

[Footnote 168: _i.e._ a gentleman of Pistoia.]

There was in Pistoia a gentleman of the Vergellesi family, by name Messer Francesco, a man of great wealth and understanding and well advised in all else, but covetous beyond measure. Being made provost of Milan, he had furnished himself with everything necessary for his honourable going thither, except only with a palfrey handsome enough for him, and finding none to his liking, he abode in concern thereof.

Now there was then in the same town a young man called Ricciardo, of little family, but very rich, who still went so quaintly clad and so brave of his person that he was commonly known as Il Zima,[169] and he had long in vain loved and courted Messer Francesco's wife, who was exceeding fair and very virtuous. Now he had one of the handsomest palfreys in all Tuscany and set great store by it for its beauty and it being public to every one that he was enamoured of Messer Francesco's wife, there were those who told the latter that, should he ask it, he might have the horse for the love Il Zima bore his lady.

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The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 13 summary

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