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The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 18

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Dearest ladies, as well by words of wise men heard as by things many a time both seen and read of myself, I had conceived that the boisterous and burning blast of envy was apt to smite none but lofty towers or the highest summits of the trees; but I find myself mistaken in my conceit, for that, fleeing, as I have still studied to flee, from the cruel onslaught of that raging wind, I have striven to go, not only in the plains, but in the very deepest of the valleys, as many manifestly enough appear to whoso considereth these present stories, the which have been written by me, not only in vulgar Florentine and in prose and without [author's] name, but eke in as humble and sober a style as might be. Yet for all this have I not availed to escape being cruelly shaken, nay, well nigh uprooted, of the aforesaid wind and all torn of the fangs of envy; wherefore I can very manifestly understand that to be true which the wise use to say, to wit, that misery alone in things present is without envy.[212]

[Footnote 212: Sic (_senza invidia_); but the meaning is that misery alone is without _enviers_.]

There are then, discreet ladies, some who, reading these stories, have said that you please me overmuch and that it is not a seemly thing that I should take so much delight in pleasuring and solacing you; and some have said yet worse of commending you as I do. Others, making a show of wishing to speak more maturely, have said that it sorteth ill with mine age henceforth to follow after things of this kind, to wit, to discourse of women or to study to please them. And many, feigning themselves mighty tender of my repute, avouch that I should do more wisely to abide with the Muses on Parna.s.sus than to busy myself among you with these toys. Again, there be some who, speaking more despitefully than advisedly, have said that I should do more discreetly to consider whence I might get me bread than to go peddling after these baubles, feeding upon wind; and certain others, in disparagement of my pains, study to prove the things recounted by me to have been otherwise than as I present them to you.

With such, then, and so many bl.u.s.terings,[213] such atrocious backbitings, such needle-p.r.i.c.ks, n.o.ble ladies, am I, what while I battle in your service, baffled and buffeted and transfixed even to the quick. The which things, G.o.d knoweth, I hear and apprehend with an untroubled mind; and albeit my defence in this pertaineth altogether unto you, natheless, I purpose not to spare mine own pains; nay, without answering so much [at large] as it might behove, I mean to rid mine ears of them with some slight rejoinder, and that without delay; for that if even now, I being not yet come to[214] the third part of my travail, they[215] are many and presume amain, I opine that, ere I come to the end thereof, they may, having had no rebuff at the first, on such wise be multiplied that with whatsoever little pains of theirs they might overthrow me, nor might your powers, great though they be, avail to withstand this.

[Footnote 213: _i.e._ blasts of calumny.]



[Footnote 214: _i.e._ having not yet accomplished.]

[Footnote 215: _i.e._ my censors.]

But, ere I come to make answer to any of them, it pleaseth me, in mine own defence, to relate, not an entire story,--lest it should seem I would fain mingle mine own stories with those of so commendable a company as that which I have presented to you,--but a part of one,--that so its very default [of completeness] may attest that it is none of those,--and accordingly, speaking to my a.s.sailants, I say that in our city, a good while agone, there was a townsman, by name Filippo Balducci, a man of mean enough extraction, but rich and well addressed and versed in such matters as his condition comported. He had a wife, whom he loved with an exceeding love, as she him, and they lived a peaceful life together, studying nothing so much as wholly to please one another. In course of time it came to pa.s.s, as it cometh to pa.s.s of all, that the good lady departed this life and left Filippo nought of herself but one only son, begotten of him and maybe two years old.

Filippo for the death of his lady abode as disconsolate as ever man might, having lost a beloved one, and seeing himself left alone and forlorn of that company which most he loved, he resolved to be no more of the world, but to give himself altogether to the service of G.o.d and do the like with his little son. Wherefore, bestowing all his good for the love of G.o.d,[216] he repaired without delay to the top of Mount Asinajo, where he took up his abode with his son in a little hut and there living with him upon alms, in the practice of fasts and prayers, straitly guarded himself from discoursing whereas the boy was, of any temporal thing, neither suffered him see aught thereof, lest this should divert him from the service aforesaid, but still bespoke him of the glories of life eternal and of G.o.d and the saints, teaching him nought but pious orisons; and in this way of life he kept him many years, never suffering him go forth of the hermitage nor showing him aught other than himself.

[Footnote 216: _i.e._ in alms.]

Now the good man was used to come whiles into Florence, where being succoured, according to his occasions, of the friends of G.o.d, he returned to his hut, and it chanced one day that, his son being now eighteen years old and Filippo an old man, the lad asked him whither he went. Filippo told him and the boy said, "Father mine, you are now an old man and can ill endure fatigue; why do you not whiles carry me to Florence and bring me to know the friends and devotees of G.o.d and yourself, to the end that I, who am young and better able to toil than you, may after, whenas it pleaseth you, go to Florence for our occasions, whilst you abide here?" The worthy man, considering that his son was now grown to man's estate and thinking him so inured to the service of G.o.d that the things of this world might thenceforth uneath allure him to themselves, said in himself, "The lad saith well"; and accordingly, having occasion to go thither, he carried him with him. There the youth, seeing the palaces, the houses, the churches and all the other things whereof one seeth all the city full, began, as one who had never to his recollection beheld the like, to marvel amain and questioned his father of many things what they were and how they were called. Filippo told him and he, hearing him, abode content and questioned of somewhat else.

As they went thus, the son asking and the father answering, they encountered by chance a company of pretty and well-dressed young women, coming from a wedding, whom as soon as the young man saw, he asked his father what manner of things these were. "My son," answered Filippo, "cast your eyes on the ground and look not at them, for that they are an ill thing." Quoth the son, "And how are they called?" The father, not to awaken in the lad's mind a carnal appet.i.te less than useful, would not name them by the proper name, to wit, women, but said, "They are called green geese." Whereupon, marvellous to relate, he who have never seen a woman and who recked not of palaces nor oxen nor horses nor a.s.ses nor monies nor of aught else he had seen, said suddenly, "Father mine, I prithee get me one of these green geese."

"Alack, my son," replied the father, "hold they peace; I tell thee they are an ill thing." "How!" asked the youth. "Are ill things then made after this fashion?" and Filippo answered, "Ay." Then said the son, "I know not what you would say nor why these are an ill thing; for my part, meseemeth I never yet saw aught goodly or pleasing as are these. They are fairer than the painted angels you have shown me whiles. For G.o.d's sake, an you reck of me, contrive that we may carry one of yonder green geese back with us up yonder, and I will give it to eat." "Nay," answered the father, "I will not: thou knowest not whereon they feed." And he understood incontinent that nature was stronger than his wit and repented him of having brought the youth to Florence. But I will have it suffice me to have told this much of the present story and return to those for whose behoof I have related it.

Some, then, of my censurers say that I do ill, young ladies, in studying overmuch to please you and that you please me overmuch. Which things I do most openly confess, to wit, that you please me and that I study to please you, and I ask them if they marvel thereat,--considering (let be the having known the dulcet kisses and amorous embracements and delightsome couplings that are of you, most sweet ladies, often gotten) only my having seen and still seeing your dainty manners and lovesome beauty and sprightly grace and above all your womanly courtesy,--whenas he who had been reared and bred on a wild and solitary mountain and within the bounds of a little cell, without other company than his father, no sooner set eyes on you than you alone were desired of him, you alone sought, you alone followed with the eagerness of pa.s.sion. Will they, then, blame me, back bite me, rend me with their tongues if I, whose body Heaven created all apt to love you, I, who from my childhood vowed my soul to you, feeling the potency of the light of your eyes and the sweetness of your honeyed words and the flame enkindled by your piteous sighs,--if, I say, you please me or if I study to please you, seeing that you over all else pleased a hermitling, a lad without understanding, nay, rather, a wild animal? Certes, it is only those, who, having neither sense nor cognizance of the pleasures and potency of natural affection, love you not nor desire to be loved of you, that chide me thus; and of these I reck little.

As for those who go railing anent mine age, it would seem they know ill that, for all the leek hath a white head, the tail thereof is green. But to these, laying aside pleasantry, I answer that never, no, not to the extreme limit of my life, shall I repute it to myself for shame to seek to please those whom Guido Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri, when already stricken in years, and Messer Cino da Pistoja, when a very old man, held in honour and whose approof was dear to them. And were it not to depart from the wonted usance of discourse, I would cite history in support and show it to be all full of stories of ancient and n.o.ble men who in their ripest years have still above all studied to please the ladies, the which an they know not, let them go learn. That I should abide with the Muses on Parna.s.sus, I confess to be good counsel; but, since we can neither abide for ever with the Muses, nor they with us, it is nothing blameworthy if, whenas it chanceth a man is parted from them, he take delight in seeing that which is like unto them. The muses are women, and albeit women may not avail to match with them, yet at first sight they have a semblance of them; insomuch that, an they pleased me not for aught else, for this they should please me; more by token that women have aforetime been to me the occasion of composing a thousand verses, whereas the Muses never were to me the occasion of making any. They aided me, indeed, and showed me how to compose the verses in question; and peradventure, in the writing of these present things, all lowly though they be, they have come whiles to abide with me, in token maybe and honour of the likeness that women bear to them; wherefore, in inditing these toys, I stray not so far from Mount Parna.s.sus nor from the Muses as many belike conceive.

But what shall we say to those who have such compa.s.sion on my hunger that they counsel me provide myself bread? Certes, I know not, save that, whenas I seek to imagine in myself what would be their answer, an I should of necessity beseech them thereof, to wit, of bread, methinketh they would reply, "Go seek it among thy fables." Indeed, aforetime poets have found more thereof among their fables than many a rich man among his treasures, and many, following after their fables, have caused their age to flourish; whereas, on the contrary, many, in seeking to have more bread than they needed, have perished miserably.

What more [shall I say?] Let them drive me forth, whenas I ask it of them, not that, G.o.damercy, I have yet need thereof; and even should need betide, I know with the Apostle Paul both how to abound and suffer need;[217] wherefore let none be more careful of me than I am of myself. For those who say that these things have not been such as I have here set them down, I would fain have them produce the originals, and an these latter accord not with that of which I write, I will confess their objection for just and will study to amend myself; but till otherwhat than words appeareth, I will leave them to their opinion and follow mine own, saying of them that which they say of me.

[Footnote 217: "I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need."--_Philippians_ iv. 12.]

Wherefore, deeming that for the nonce I have answered enough, I say that, armed, as I hope to be, with G.o.d's aid and yours, gentlest ladies, and with fair patience, I will fare on with this that I have begun, turning my back to the wind aforesaid and letting it blow, for that I see not that aught can betide me other than that which betideth thin dust, the which a whirlwind, whenas it bloweth, either stirreth not from the earth, or, an it stir it, carrieth it aloft and leaveth it oftentimes upon the heads of men and upon the crowns of kings and emperors, nay, bytimes upon high palaces and lofty towers, whence an it fall, it cannot go lower than the place wherefrom it was uplifted.

And if ever with all my might I vowed myself to seek to please you in aught, now more than ever shall I address myself thereto; for that I know none can with reason say otherwhat than that I and others who love you do according to nature, whose laws to seek to gainstand demandeth overgreat strength, and oftentimes not only in vain, but to the exceeding hurt of whoso striveth to that end, is this strength employed. Such strength I confess I have not nor ever desired in this to have; and an I had it, I had liefer lend it to others than use it for myself. Wherefore, let the carpers be silent and an they avail not to warm themselves, let them live star-stricken[218] and abiding in their delights--or rather their corrupt appet.i.tes,--leave me to abide in mine for this brief life that is appointed me. But now, fair ladies, for that we have strayed enough, needs must we return whence we set out and ensue the ordinance commenced.

[Footnote 218: _i.e._ benumbed (_a.s.siderati_).]

The sun had already banished every star from the sky and had driven from the earth the humid vapours of the night, when Filostrato, arising, caused all his company arise and with them betook himself to the fair garden, where they all proceeded to disport themselves, and the eating-hour come, they dined whereas they had supped on the foregoing evening. Then, after having slept, what time the sun was at its highest, they seated themselves, after the wonted fashion, hard by the fair fountain, and Filostrato bade Fiammetta give beginning to the story-telling; whereupon, without awaiting further commandment, she began with womanly grace as follows:

THE FIRST STORY

[Day the Fourth]

TANCRED, PRINCE OF SALERNO, SLAYETH HIS DAUGHTER'S LOVER AND SENDETH HER HIS HEART IN A BOWL OF GOLD; WHEREUPON, POURING POISONED WATER OVER IT, SHE DRINKETH THEREOF AND DIETH

"Our king hath this day appointed us a woeful subject of discourse, considering that, whereas we came hither to make merry, needs must we tell of others' tears, the which may not be recounted without moving both those who tell and those who hearken to compa.s.sion thereof. He hath mayhap done this somedele to temper the mirth of the foregoing days; but, whatsoever may have moved him thereto, since it pertaineth not to me to change his pleasure, I will relate a piteous chance, nay, an ill-fortuned and a worthy of your tears.

Tancred, Lord of Salerno, was a humane prince and benign enough of nature, (had he not in his old age imbrued his hands in lover's blood,) who in all the course of his life had but one daughter, and happier had he been if he had none. She was of him as tenderly loved as ever daughter of father, and knowing not, by reason of this his tender love for her, how to part with her, he married her not till she had long overpa.s.sed the age when she should have had a husband. At last, he gave her to wife to a son of the Duke of Capua, with whom having abidden a little while, she was left a widow and returned to her father. Now she was most fair of form and favour, as ever was woman, and young and sprightly and learned perchance more than is required of a lady. Abiding, then, with her father in all ease and luxury, like a great lady as she was, and seeing that, for the love he bore her, he recked little of marrying her again, nor did it seem to her a seemly thing to require him thereof, she bethought herself to seek, an it might be, to get her privily a worthy lover. She saw men galore, gentle and simple, frequent her father's court, and considering the manners and fashions of many, a young serving-man of her father's, Guiscardo by name, a man of humble enough extraction, but n.o.bler of worth and manners than whatsoever other, pleased her over all and of him, seeing him often, she became in secret ardently enamoured, approving more and more his fashions every hour; whilst the young man, who was no dullard, perceiving her liking for him, received her into his heart, on such wise that his mind was thereby diverted from well nigh everything other than the love of her.

Each, then, thus secretly tendering the other, the young lady, who desired nothing so much as to foregather with him, but had no mind to make any one a confidant of her pa.s.sion, bethought herself of a rare device to apprize him of the means; to wit, she wrote him a letter, wherein she showed him how he should do to foregather with her on the ensuing day, and placing it in the hollow of a cane, gave the letter jestingly to Guiscardo, saying, 'Make thee a bellows thereof for thy serving-maid, wherewith she may blow up the fire to-night.' Guiscardo took the cane and bethinking himself that she would not have given it him nor spoken thus, without some cause, took his leave and returned therewith to his lodging. There he examined the cane and seeing it to be cleft, opened it and found therein the letter, which having read and well apprehended that which he had to do, he was the joyfullest man alive and set about taking order how he might go to her, according to the fashion appointed him of her.

There was, beside the prince's palace, a grotto hewn out of the rock and made in days long agone, and to this grotto some little light was given by a tunnel[219] by art wrought in the mountain, which latter, for that the grotto was abandoned, was well nigh blocked at its mouth with briers and weeds that had overgrown it. Into this grotto one might go by a privy stair which was in one of the ground floor rooms of the lady's apartment in the palace and which was shut in by a very strong door. This stair was so out of all folk's minds, for that it had been unused from time immemorial, that well nigh none remembered it to be there; but Love, to whose eyes there is nothing so secret but it winneth, had recalled it to the memory of the enamoured lady, who, that none should get wind of the matter, had laboured sore many days with such tools as she might command, ere she could make shift to open the door; then, going down alone thereby into the grotto and seeing the tunnel, she sent to bid Guiscardo study to come to her thereby and acquainted him with the height which herseemed should be from the mouth thereof to the ground.

[Footnote 219: Or airshaft (_spiraglio_).]

To this end Guiscardo promptly made ready a rope with certain knots and loops, whereby he might avail to descend and ascend, and donning a leathern suit, that might defend him from the briers, he on the ensuing night repaired, without letting any know aught of the matter, to the mouth of the tunnel. There making one end of the rope fast to a stout tree-stump that had grown up in the mouth, he let himself down thereby into the grotto and there awaited the lady, who, on the morrow, feigning a desire to sleep, dismissed her women and shut herself up alone in her chamber; then, opening the privy door, she descended into the grotto, where she found Guiscardo. They greeted one another with marvellous joy and betook themselves to her chamber, where they abode great part of the day in the utmost delight; and after they had taken order together for the discreet conduct of their loves, so they might abide secret, Guiscardo returned to the grotto, whilst she shut the privy door and went forth to her women. The night come, Guiscardo climbed up by his rope to the mouth of the tunnel and issuing forth whence he had entered in, returned to his lodging; and having learned this road, he in process of time returned many times thereafter.

But fortune, jealous of so long and so great a delight, with a woeful chance changed the gladness of the two lovers into mourning and sorrow; and it befell on this wise. Tancred was wont to come bytimes all alone into his daughter's chamber and there abide with her and converse awhile and after go away. Accordingly, one day, after dinner, he came thither, what time the lady (whose name was Ghismonda) was in a garden of hers with all her women, and willing not to take her from her diversion, he entered her chamber, without being seen or heard of any. Finding the windows closed and the curtains let down over the bed, he sat down in a corner on a ha.s.sock at the bedfoot and leant his head against the bed; then, drawing the curtain over himself, as if he had studied to hide himself there, he fell asleep. As he slept thus, Ghismonda, who, as ill chance would have it, had appointed her lover to come thither that day, softly entered the chamber, leaving her women in the garden, and having shut herself in, without perceiving that there was some one there, opened the secret door to Guiscardo, who awaited her. They straightway betook themselves to bed, as of their wont, and what while they sported and solaced themselves together, it befell that Tancred awoke and heard and saw that which Guiscardo and his daughter did; whereat beyond measure grieved, at first he would have cried out at them, but after bethought himself to keep silence and abide, an he might, hidden, so with more secrecy and less shame to himself he might avail to do that which had already occurred to his mind.

The two lovers abode a great while together, according to their usance, without observing Tancred, and coming down from the bed, whenas it seemed to them time, Guiscardo returned to the grotto and she departed the chamber; whereupon Tancred, for all he was an old man, let himself down into the garden by a window and returned, unseen of any, to his own chamber, sorrowful unto death. That same night, at the time of the first sleep, Guiscardo, by his orders, was seized by two men, as he came forth of the tunnel, and carried secretly, trussed as he was in his suit of leather, to Tancred, who, whenas he saw him, said, well nigh weeping, 'Guiscardo, my kindness to thee merited not the outrage and the shame thou hast done me in mine own flesh and blood, as I have this day seen with my very eyes.' Whereto Guiscardo answered nothing but this, 'Love can far more than either you or I.'

Tancred then commanded that he should be kept secretly under guard and in one of the chambers of the palace, and so was it done.

On the morrow, having meanwhile revolved in himself many and divers devices, he betook himself, after eating, as of his wont, to his daughter's chamber and sending for the lady, who as yet knew nothing of these things, shut himself up with her and proceeded, with tears in his eyes, to bespeak her thus: 'Ghismonda, meseemed I knew thy virtue and thine honesty, nor might it ever have occurred to my mind, though it were told me, had I not seen it with mine own eyes, that thou wouldst, even so much as in thought, have abandoned thyself to any man, except he were thy husband; wherefore in this scant remnant of life that my eld reserveth unto me, I shall still abide sorrowful, remembering me of this. Would G.o.d, an thou must needs stoop to such wantonness, thou hadst taken a man sortable to thy quality! But, amongst so many who frequent my court, thou hast chosen Guiscardo, a youth of the meanest condition, reared in our court, well nigh of charity, from a little child up to this day; wherefore thou hast put me in sore travail of mind, for that I know not what course to take with thee. With Guiscardo, whom I caused take yesternight, as he issued forth of the tunnel and have in ward, I am already resolved how to deal; but with thee G.o.d knoweth I know not what to do. On one side love draweth me, which I still borne thee more than father ever bore daughter, and on the other most just despite, conceived for thine exceeding folly; the one would have me pardon thee, the other would have me, against my nature, deal harshly by thee. But ere I come to a decision, I would fain hear what thou hast to say to this.' So saying, he bowed his head and wept sore as would a beaten child.

Ghismonda, hearing her father's words and seeing that not only was her secret love discovered, but Guiscardo taken, felt an inexpressible chagrin and came many a time near upon showing it with outcry and tears, as women mostly do; nevertheless, her haughty soul overmastering that weakness, with marvellous fort.i.tude she composed her countenance and rather than proffer any prayer for herself, determined inwardly to abide no more on life, doubting not but her Guiscardo was already dead. Wherefore, not as a woman rebuked and woeful for her default, but as one undaunted and valiant, with dry eyes and face open and nowise troubled, she thus bespoke her father: 'Tancred, I purpose neither to deny nor to entreat, for that the one would profit me nothing nor would I have the other avail me; more by token that I am nowise minded to seek to render thy mansuetude and thine affection favourable to me, but rather, confessing the truth, first with true arguments to vindicate mine honour and after with deeds right resolutely to ensue the greatness of my soul. True is it I have loved and love Guiscardo, and what while I live, which will be little, I shall love him, nor, if folk live after death, shall I ever leave loving him; but unto this it was not so much my feminine frailty that moved me as thy little solicitude to remarry me and his own worth.

It should have been manifest to thee, Tancred, being as thou art flesh and blood, that thou hadst begotten a daughter of flesh and blood and not of iron or stone; and thou shouldst have remembered and should still remember, for all thou art old, what and what like are the laws of youth and with what potency they work; nor, albeit thou, being a man, hast in thy best years exercised thyself in part in arms, shouldst thou the less know what ease and leisure and luxury can do in the old, to say nothing of the young. I am, then, as being of thee begotten, of flesh and blood and have lived so little that I am yet young and (for the one and the other reason) full of carnal desire, whereunto the having aforetime, by reason of marriage, known what pleasure it is to give accomplishment to such desire hath added marvellous strength. Unable, therefore, to withstand the strength of my desires, I addressed myself, being young and a woman, to ensue that whereto they prompted me and became enamoured. And certes in this I set my every faculty to the endeavouring that, so far as in me lay, no shame should ensue either to thee or to me through this to which natural frailty moved me. To this end compa.s.sionate Love and favouring Fortune found and showed me a very occult way, whereby, unknown of any, I won to my desire, and this, whoever it be discovered it to thee or howsoever thou knowest it, I nowise deny.

Guiscardo I took not at hazard, as many women do; nay, of deliberate counsel I chose him before every other and with advis.e.m.e.nt prepense drew him to me[220] and by dint of perseverance and discretion on my part and on his, I have long had enjoyment of my desire. Whereof it seemeth that thou, ensuing rather vulgar prejudice than truth, reproachest me with more bitterness than of having sinned by way of love, saying (as if thou shouldst not have been chagrined, had I chosen therefor a man of gentle birth,) that I have committed myself with a man of mean condition. Wherein thou seest not that thou blamest not my default, but that of fortune, which too often advanceth the unworthy to high estate, leaving the worthiest alow.

[Footnote 220: Lit. introduced him to me (_a me lo 'ntrodussi_); but Boccaccio here uses the word _introdurre_ in its rarer literal sense to lead, to draw, to bring in.]

But now let us leave this and look somewhat to the first principles of things, whereby thou wilt see that we all get our flesh from one same stock and that all souls were by one same Creator created with equal faculties, equal powers and equal virtues. Worth it was that first distinguished between us, who were all and still are born equal; wherefore those who had and used the greatest sum thereof were called n.o.ble and the rest abode not n.o.ble. And albeit contrary usance hath since obscured this primary law, yet is it nowise done away nor blotted out from nature and good manners; wherefore he who doth worthily manifestly showeth himself a gentleman, and if any call him otherwise, not he who is called, but he who calleth committeth default. Look among all thy gentlemen and examine into their worth, their usances and their manners, and on the other hand consider those of Guiscardo; if thou wilt consent to judge without animosity, thou wilt say that he is most n.o.ble and that these thy n.o.bles are all churls. With regard to his worth and virtue, I trusted not to the judgment of any other, but to that of thy words and of mine own eyes.

Who ever so commended him as thou didst in all those praiseworthy things wherefor a man of worth should be commended? And certes not without reason; for, if mine eyes deceived me not, there was no praise given him of thee which I saw him not justify by deeds, and that more admirably than thy words availed to express; and even had I suffered any deceit in this, it is by thyself I should have been deceived. An, then, thou say that I have committed myself with a man of mean condition, thou sayst not sooth; but shouldst thou say with a poor man, it might peradventure be conceded thee, to thy shame who hast so ill known to put a servant of thine and a man of worth in good case; yet poverty bereaveth not any of gentilesse; nay, rather, wealth it is that doth this. Many kings, many great princes were once poor and many who delve and tend sheep were once very rich.

The last doubt that thou broachest, to wit, what thou shouldst do with me, drive it away altogether; an thou in thine extreme old age be disposed to do that which thou usedst not, being young, namely, to deal cruelly, wreak thy cruelty upon me, who am minded to proffer no prayer unto thee, as being the prime cause of this sin, if sin it be; for of this I certify thee, that whatsoever thou hast done or shalt do with Guiscardo, an thou do not the like with me, mine own hands shall do it. Now begone; go shed tears with women and waxing cruel, slay him and me with one same blow, an it seem to thee we have deserved it.'

The prince knew the greatness of his daughter's soul, but notwithstanding believed her not altogether so firmly resolved as she said unto that which her words gave out. Wherefore, taking leave of her and having laid aside all intent of using rigour against her person, he thought to cool her fervent love with other's suffering and accordingly bade Guiscardo's two guardians strangle him without noise that same night and taking out his heart, bring it to him. They did even as it was commanded them, and on the morrow the prince let bring a great and goodly bowl of gold and setting therein Guiscardo's heart, despatched it to his daughter by the hands of a very privy servant of his, bidding him say, whenas he gave it her, 'Thy father sendeth thee this, to solace thee of the thing thou most lovest, even as thou hast solaced him of that which he loved most.'

Now Ghismonda, unmoved from her stern purpose, had, after her father's departure, let bring poisonous herbs and roots and distilled and reduced them in water, so she might have it at hand, an that she feared should come to pa.s.s. The serving-man coming to her with the prince's present and message, she took the cup with a steadfast countenance and uncovered it. Whenas she saw the heart and apprehended the words of the message, she was throughly certified that this was Guiscardo's heart and turning her eyes upon the messenger, said to him, 'No sepulchre less of worth than one of gold had beseemed a heart such as this; and in this my father hath done discreetly.' So saying, she set the heart to her lips and kissing it, said, 'Still in everything and even to this extreme limit of my life have I found my father's love most tender towards me; but now more than ever; wherefore do than render him on my part for so great a gift the last thanks I shall ever have to give him.'

Then, bending down over the cup, which she held fast, she said, looking upon the heart, 'Alack, sweetest harbourage of all my pleasures, accursed be his cruelty who maketh me now to see thee with the eyes of the body! Enough was it for me at all hours to behold thee with those of the mind. Thou hast finished thy course and hast acquitted thyself on such wise as was vouchsafed thee of fortune; thou art come to the end whereunto each runneth; thou hast left the toils and miseries of the world, and of thy very enemy thou hast that sepulchre which thy worth hath merited. There lacked nought to thee to make thy funeral rites complete save her tears whom in life thou so lovedst, the which that thou mightest have, G.o.d put it into the heart of my unnatural father to send thee to me and I will give them to thee, albeit I had purposed to die with dry eyes and visage undismayed of aught; and having given them to thee, I will without delay so do that my soul, thou working it,[221] shall rejoin that soul which thou erst so dearly guardedst. And in what company could I betake me more contentedly or with better a.s.surance to the regions unknown than with it?[222] Certain am I that it abideth yet herewithin[223] and vieweth the seats of its delights and mine and as that which I am a.s.sured still loveth me, awaiteth my soul, whereof it is over all beloved.'

[Footnote 221: _i.e._ thou being the means of bringing about the conjunction (_adoperandol tu_).]

[Footnote 222: _i.e._ Guiscardo's soul.]

[Footnote 223: _i.e._ in the heart.]

So saying, no otherwise than as she had a fountain of water in her head, bowing herself over the bowl, without making any womanly outcry, she began, lamenting, to shed so many and such tears that they were a marvel to behold, kissing the dead heart the while an infinite number of times. Her women, who stood about her, understood not what this heart was nor what her words meant, but, overcome with compa.s.sion, wept all and in vain questioned her affectionately of the cause of her lament and studied yet more, as best they knew and might, to comfort her. The lady, having wept as much as herseemed fit, raised her head and drying her eyes, said, 'O much-loved heart, I have accomplished mine every office towards thee, nor is there left me aught else to do save to come with my soul and bear thine company.' So saying, she called for the vial wherein was the water she had made the day before and poured the latter into the bowl where was the heart bathed with so many of her tears; then, setting her mouth thereto without any fear, she drank it all off and having drunken, mounted, with the cup in her hand, upon the bed, where composing her body as most decently she might, she pressed her dead lover's heart to her own and without saying aught, awaited death.

Her women, seeing and hearing all this, albeit they knew not what water this was she had drunken, had sent to tell Tancred everything, and he, fearing that which came to pa.s.s, came quickly down into his daughter's chamber, where he arrived what time she laid herself on her bed and addressed himself too late to comfort her with soft words; but, seeing the extremity wherein she was, he fell a-weeping grievously; whereupon quoth the lady to him, 'Tancred, keep these tears against a less desired fate than this of mine and give them not to me, who desire them not. Who ever saw any, other than thou, lament for that which he himself hath willed? Nevertheless, if aught yet live in thee of the love which once thou borest me, vouchsafe me for a last boon that, since it was not thy pleasure that I should privily and in secret live with Guiscardo, my body may openly abide with his, wherea.s.soever thou hast caused cast him dead.' The agony of his grief suffered not the prince to reply; whereupon the young lady, feeling herself come to her end, strained the dead heart to her breast and said, 'Abide ye with G.o.d, for I go hence.' Then, closing her eyes and losing every sense, she departed this life of woe. Such, then, as you have heard, was the sorrowful ending of the loves of Guiscardo and Ghismonda, whose bodies Tancred, after much lamentation, too late repenting him of his cruelty, caused honourably bury in one same sepulchre, amid the general mourning of all the people of Salerno."

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The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 18 summary

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