The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 20

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Folco and Ughetto (and from them their ladies) had privy notice from the duke why Ninetta had been taken, the which was exceeding grievous to them and they used their every endeavour to save her from the fire, whereto they doubted not she would be condemned, as indeed she richly deserved; but all seemed vain, for that the duke abode firm in willing to do justice upon her. However, Maddalena, who was a beautiful young woman and had long been courted by the duke, but had never yet consented to do aught that might pleasure him, thinking that, by complying with his wishes, she might avail to save her sister from the fire, signified to him by a trusty messenger that she was at his commandment in everything, provided two things should ensue thereof, to wit, that she should have her sister again safe and sound and that the thing should be secret. Her message pleased the duke, and after long debate with himself if he should do as she proposed, he ultimately agreed thereto and said that he was ready. Accordingly, one night, having, with the lady's consent, caused detain Folco and Ughetto, as he would fain examine them of the matter, he went secretly to couch with Maddalena and having first made a show of putting Ninetta in a sack and of purposing to let sink her that night in the sea, he carried her with him to her sister, to whom on the morrow he delivered her at parting, in payment of the night he had pa.s.sed with her, praying her that this,[236] which had been the first of their loves, might not be the last and charging her send the guilty lady away, lest blame betide himself and it behove him anew proceed against her with rigour.

[Footnote 236: _i.e._ that night.]

Next morning, Folco and Ughetto, having heard that Ninetta had been sacked overnight and believing it, were released and returned home to comfort their mistresses for the death of their sister. However, for all Maddalena could do to hide her, Folco soon became aware of Ninetta's presence in the palace, whereat he marvelled exceedingly and suddenly waxing suspicious,--for that he had heard of the duke's pa.s.sion for Maddalena,--asked the latter how her sister came to be there. Maddalena began a long story, which she had devised to account to him therefor, but was little believed of her lover, who was shrewd and constrained her to confess the truth, which, after long parley, she told him. Folco, overcome with chagrin and inflamed with rage, pulled out a sword and slew her, whilst she in vain besought mercy; then, fearing the wrath and justice of the duke, he left her dead in the chamber and repairing whereas Ninetta was, said to her, with a feigned air of cheerfulness, 'Quick, let us begone whither it hath been appointed of thy sister that I shall carry thee, so thou mayst not fall again into the hands of the duke.' Ninetta, believing this and eager, in her fearfulness, to begone, set out with Folco, it being now night, without seeking to take leave of her sister; whereupon he and she, with such monies (which were but few) as he could lay hands on, betook themselves to the sea-sh.o.r.e and embarked on board a vessel; nor was it ever known whither they went.

On the morrow, Maddalena being found murdered, there were some who, of the envy and hatred they bore to Ughetto, forthright gave notice thereof to the duke, whereupon the latter, who loved Maddalena exceedingly, ran furiously to the house and seizing Ughetto and his lady, who as yet knew nothing of the matter,--to wit, of the departure of Folco and Ninetta,--constrained them to confess themselves guilty, together with Folco, of his mistress's death. They, apprehending with reason death in consequence of this confession, with great pains corrupted those who had them in keeping, giving them a certain sum of money, which they kept hidden in their house against urgent occasions, and embarking with their guards, without having leisure to take any of their goods, fled by night to Rhodes, where they lived no great while after in poverty and distress. To such a pa.s.s, then, did Restagnone's mad love and Ninetta's rage bring themselves and others."


[Day the Fourth]


Lauretta, having made an end of her story, was silent, whilst the company bewailed the illhap of the lovers, some blaming Ninetta's anger and one saying one thing and another another, till presently the king, raising his head, as if aroused from deep thought, signed to Elisa to follow on; whereupon she began modestly, "Charming ladies, there are many who believe that Love launcheth his shafts only when enkindled of the eyes and make mock of those who hold that one may fall in love by hearsay; but that these are mistaken will very manifestly appear in a story that I purpose to relate, wherein you will see that report not only wrought this, without the lovers having ever set eyes on each other, but it will be made manifest to you that it brought both the one and the other to a miserable death.

Guglielmo, the Second, King of Sicily, had (as the Sicilians pretend) two children, a son called Ruggieri and a daughter called Costanza.

The former, dying before his father, left a son named Gerbino, who was diligently reared by his grandfather and became a very goodly youth and a renowned for prowess and courtesy. Nor did his fame abide confined within the limits of Sicily, but, resounding in various parts of the world, was nowhere more glorious than in Barbary, which in those days was tributary to the King of Sicily. Amongst the rest to whose ears came the magnificent fame of Gerbino's valour and courtesy was a daughter of the King of Tunis, who, according to the report of all who had seen her, was one of the fairest creatures ever fashioned by nature and the best bred and of a n.o.ble and great soul. She, delighting to hear tell of men of valour, with such goodwill received the tales recounted by one and another of the deeds valiantly done of Gerbino and they so pleased her that, picturing to herself the prince's fashion, she became ardently enamoured of him and discoursed more willingly of him than of any other and hearkened to whoso spoke of him.

On the other hand, the great renown of her beauty and worth had won to Sicily, as elsewhither, and not without great delight nor in vain had it reached the ears of Gerbino; nay, it had inflamed him with love of her, no less than that which she herself had conceived for him.

Wherefore, desiring beyond measure to see her, against he should find a colourable occasion of having his grandfather's leave to go to Tunis, he charged his every friend who went thither to make known to her, as best he might, his secret and great love and bring him news of her. This was very dexterously done by one of them, who, under pretence of carrying her women's trinkets to view, as do merchants, throughly discovered Gerbino's pa.s.sion to her and avouched the prince and all that was his to be at her commandment. The princess received the messenger and the message with a glad flavour and answering that she burnt with like love for the prince, sent him one of her most precious jewels in token thereof. This Gerbino received with the utmost joy wherewith one can receive whatsoever precious thing and wrote to her once and again by the same messenger, sending her the most costly gifts and holding certain treaties[237] with her, whereby they should have seen and touched one another, had fortune but allowed it.

[Footnote 237: Or, in modern parlance, "laying certain plans."]

But, things going thus and somewhat farther than was expedient, the young lady on the one hand and Gerbino on the other burning with desire, it befell that the King of Tunis gave her in marriage to the King of Granada, whereat she was beyond measure chagrined, bethinking herself that not only should she be separated from her lover by long distance, but was like to be altogether parted from him; and had she seen a means thereto, she would gladly, so this might not betide, have fled from her father and betaken herself to Gerbino. Gerbino, in like manner, hearing of this marriage, was beyond measure sorrowful therefor and often bethought himself to take her by force, if it should chance that she went to her husband by sea. The King of Tunis, getting some inkling of Gerbino's love and purpose and fearing his valour and prowess, sent to King Guglielmo, whenas the time came for despatching her to Granada, advising him of that which he was minded to do and that, having a.s.surance from him that he should not be hindered therein by Gerbino or others, he purposed to do it. The King of Sicily, who was an old man and had heard nothing of Gerbino's pa.s.sion and consequently suspected not that it was for this that such an a.s.surance was demanded, freely granted it and in token thereof, sent the King of Tunis a glove of his. The latter, having gotten the desired a.s.surance, caused equip a very great and goodly ship in the port of Carthage and furnish it with what was needful for those who were to sail therein and having fitted and adorned it for the sending of his daughter into Granada, awaited nought but weather.

The young lady, who saw and knew all this, despatched one of her servants secretly to Palermo, bidding him salute the gallant Gerbino on her part and tell him that she was to sail in a few days for Granada, wherefore it would now appear if he were as valiant a man as was said and if he loved her as much as he had sundry times declared to her. Her messenger did his errand excellent well and returned to Tunis, whilst Gerbino, hearing this and knowing that his grandfather had given the King of Tunis a.s.surance, knew not what to do. However, urged by love and that he might not appear a craven, he betook himself to Messina, where he hastily armed two light galleys and manning them with men of approved valour, set sail with them for the coast of Sardinia, looking for the lady's ship to pa.s.s there. Nor was he far out in his reckoning, for he had been there but a few days when the ship hove in sight with a light wind not far from the place where he lay expecting it.

Gerbino, seeing this, said to his companions, 'Gentlemen, an you be the men of mettle I take you for, methinketh there is none of you but hath either felt or feeleth love, without which, as I take it, no mortal can have aught of valour or worth in himself; and if you have been or are enamoured, it will be an easy thing to you to understand my desire. I love and love hath moved me to give you this present pains; and she whom I love is in the ship which you see becalmed yonder and which, beside that thing which I most desire, is full of very great riches. These latter, an ye be men of valour, we may with little difficulty acquire, fighting manfully; of which victory I desire nothing to my share save one sole lady, for whose love I have taken up arms; everything else shall freely be yours. Come, then, and let us right boldly a.s.sail the ship; G.o.d is favourable to our emprise and holdeth it here fast, without vouchsafing it a breeze.'

The gallant Gerbino had no need of many words, for that the Messinese, who were with him being eager for plunder, were already disposed to do that unto which he exhorted them. Wherefore, making a great outcry, at the end of his speech, that it should be so, they sounded the trumpets and catching up their arms, thrust the oars into the water and made for the Tunis ship. They who were aboard this latter, seeing the galleys coming afar off and being unable to flee,[238] made ready for defence. The gallant Gerbino accosting the ship, let command that the masters thereof should be sent on board the galleys, an they had no mind to fight; but the Saracens, having certified themselves who they were and what they sought, declared themselves attacked of them against the faith plighted them by King Guglielmo; in token whereof they showed the latter's glove, and altogether refused to surrender themselves, save for stress of battle, or to give them aught that was in the ship.

[Footnote 238: _i.e._ for lack of wind.]

Gerbino, who saw the lady upon the p.o.o.p, far fairer than he had pictured her to himself, and was more inflamed than ever, replied to the showing of the glove that there were no falcons there at that present and consequently there needed no gloves; wherefore, an they chose not to give up the lady, they must prepare to receive battle.

Accordingly, without further parley, they fell to casting shafts and stones at one another, and on this wise they fought a great while, with loss on either side. At last, Gerbino, seeing that he did little to the purpose, took a little vessel he had brought with him out of Sardinia and setting fire therein, thrust it with both the galleys aboard the ship. The Saracens, seeing this and knowing that they must of necessity surrender or die, fetched the king's daughter, who wept below, on deck and brought her to the ship's prow; then, calling Gerbino, they butchered her before his eyes, what while she called for mercy and succour, and cast her into the sea, saying, 'Take her; we give her to thee, such as we may and such as thine unfaith hath merited.'

Gerbino, seeing their barbarous deed, caused lay himself alongside the ship and recking not of shaft or stone, boarded it, as if courting death, in spite of those who were therein; then,--even as a hungry lion, coming among a herd of oxen, slaughtereth now this, now that, and with teeth and claws sateth rather his fury than his hunger,--sword in hand, hewing now at one, now at another, he cruelly slew many of the Saracens; after which, the fire now waxing in the enkindled ship, he caused the sailors fetch thereout what they might, in payment of their pains, and descended thence, having gotten but a sorry victory over his adversaries. Then, letting take up the fair lady's body from the sea, long and with many tears he bewept it and steering for Sicily, buried it honourably in Ustica, a little island over against Trapani; after which he returned home, the woefullest man alive.

The King of Tunis, hearing the heavy news, sent his amba.s.sadors, clad all in black, to King Guglielmo, complaining of the ill observance of the faith which he had plighted him. They recounted to him how the thing had pa.s.sed, whereat King Guglielmo was sore incensed and seeing no way to deny them the justice they sought, caused take Gerbino; then himself,--albeit there was none of his barons but strove with prayers to move him from his purpose,--condemned him to death and let strike off his head in his presence, choosing rather to abide without posterity than to be held a faithless king. Thus, then, as I have told you, did these two lovers within a few days[239] die miserably a violent death, without having tasted any fruit of their loves."

[Footnote 239: _i.e._ of each other.]


[Day the Fourth]


[Footnote 240: This is the proper name of the heroine of the story immortalized by Keats as "Isabella or the Pot of Basil," and is one of the many forms of the and name _Elisabetta_ (Elizabeth), _Isabetta_ and _Isabella_ being others. Some texts of the Decameron call the heroine _Isabetta_, but in the heading only, all with which I am acquainted agreeing in the use of the form _Lisabetta_ in the body of the story.]

Elisa's tale being ended and somedele commended of the king, Filomena was bidden to discourse, who, full of compa.s.sion for the wretched Gerbino and his mistress, after a piteous sigh, began thus: "My story, gracious ladies, will not treat of folk of so high condition as were those of whom Elisa hath told, yet peradventure it will be no less pitiful; and what brought me in mind of it was the mention, a little before, of Messina, where the case befell.

There were then in Messina three young brothers, merchants and left very rich by their father, who was a man of San Gimignano, and they had an only sister, Lisabetta by name, a right fair and well-mannered maiden, whom, whatever might have been the reason thereof, they had not yet married. Now these brothers had in one of their warehouses a youth of Pisa, called Lorenzo, who did and ordered all their affairs and was very comely and agreeable of person; wherefore, Lisabetta looking sundry times upon him, it befell that he began strangely to please her; of which Lorenzo taking note at one time and another, he in like manner, leaving his other loves, began to turn his thoughts to her; and so went the affair, that, each being alike pleasing to the other, it was no great while before, taking a.s.surance, they did that which each of them most desired.

Continuing on this wise and enjoying great pleasure and delight one of the other, they knew not how to do so secretly but that, one night, Lisabetta, going whereas Lorenzo lay, was, unknown to herself, seen of the eldest of her brothers, who, being a prudent youth, for all the annoy it gave him to know this thing, being yet moved by more honourable counsel, abode without sign or word till the morning, revolving in himself various things anent the matter. The day being come, he recounted to his brothers that which he had seen the past night of Lisabetta and Lorenzo, and after long advis.e.m.e.nt with them, determined (so that neither to them nor to their sister should any reproach ensue thereof) to pa.s.s the thing over in silence and feign to have seen and known nothing thereof till such time as, without hurt or unease to themselves, they might avail to do away this shame from their sight, ere it should go farther. In this mind abiding and devising and laughing with Lorenzo as was their wont, it befell that one day, feigning to go forth the city, all three, a-pleasuring, they carried him with them to a very lonely and remote place; and there, the occasion offering, they slew him, whilst he was off his guard, and buried him on such wise that none had knowledge of it; then, returning to Messina, they gave out that they had despatched him somewhither for their occasions, the which was the lightlier credited that they were often used to send him abroad about their business.

Lorenzo returning not and Lisabetta often and instantly questioning her brothers of him, as one to whom the long delay was grievous, it befell one day, as she very urgently enquired of him, that one of them said to her, 'What meaneth this? What hast thou to do often of him? An thou question of him with Lorenzo, that thou askest thus more, we will make thee such answer as thou deservest.' Wherefore the girl, sad and grieving and fearful she knew not of what, abode without more asking; yet many a time anights she piteously called him and prayed him come to her, and whiles with many tears she complained of his long tarrying; and thus, without a moment's gladness, she abode expecting him alway, till one night, having sore lamented Lorenzo for that he returned not and being at last fallen asleep, weeping, he appeared to her in a dream, pale and all disordered, with clothes all rent and mouldered, and herseemed he bespoke her thus: 'Harkye, Lisabetta; thou dost nought but call upon me, grieving for my long delay and cruelly impeaching me with thy tears. Know, therefore, that I may never more return to thee, for that, the last day thou sawest me, thy brothers slew me.' Then, having discovered to her the place where they had buried him, he charged her no more call him nor expect him and disappeared; whereupon she awoke and giving faith to the vision, wept bitterly.

In the morning, being risen and daring not say aught to her brothers, she determined to go to the place appointed and see if the thing were true, as it had appeared to her in the dream. Accordingly, having leave to go somedele without the city for her disport, she betook herself thither,[241] as quickliest she might, in company of one who had been with them[242] otherwhiles and knew all her affairs; and there, clearing away the dead leaves from the place, she dug whereas herseemed the earth was less hard. She had not dug long before she found the body of her unhappy lover, yet nothing changed nor rotted, and thence knew manifestly that her vision was true, wherefore she was the most distressful of women; yet, knowing that this was no place for lament, she would fain, an she but might, have borne away the whole body, to give it fitter burial; but, seeing that this might not be, she with a knife did off[243] the head from the body, as best she could, and wrapping it in a napkin, laid it in her maid's lap. Then, casting back the earth over the trunk, she departed thence, without being seen of any, and returned home, where, shutting herself in her chamber with her lover's head, she bewept it long and bitterly, insomuch that she bathed it all with her tears, and kissed it a thousand times in every part. Then, taking a great and goodly pot, of those wherein they plant marjoram or sweet basil, she set the head therein, folded in a fair linen cloth, and covered it with earth, in which she planted sundry heads of right fair basil of Salerno; nor did she ever water these with other water than that of her tears or rose or orange-flower water. Moreover she took wont to sit still near the pot and to gaze amorously upon it with all her desire, as upon that which held her Lorenzo hid; and after she had a great while looked thereon, she would bend over it and fall to weeping so sore and so long that her tears bathed all the basil, which, by dint of long and a.s.siduous tending, as well as by reason of the fatness of the earth, proceeding from the rotting head that was therein, waxed pa.s.sing fair and very sweet of savour.

[Footnote 241: _i.e._ to the place shown her in the dream.]

[Footnote 242: _i.e._ in their service.]

[Footnote 243: Lit. unhung (_spicc_).]

The damsel, doing without cease after this wise, was sundry times seen of her neighbours, who to her brothers, marvelling at her waste beauty and that her eyes seemed to have fled forth her head [for weeping], related this, saying, 'We have noted that she doth every day after such a fashion.' The brothers, hearing and seeing this and having once and again reproved her therefor, but without avail, let secretly carry away from her the pot, which she, missing, with the utmost instance many a time required, and for that it was not restored to her, stinted not to weep and lament till she fell sick; nor in her sickness did she ask aught other than the pot of basil. The young men marvelled greatly at this continual asking and bethought them therefor to see what was in this pot. Accordingly, turning out the earth, they found the cloth and therein the head, not yet so rotted but they might know it, by the curled hair, to be that of Lorenzo. At this they were mightily amazed and feared lest the thing should get wind; wherefore, burying the head, without word said, they privily departed Messina, having taken order how they should withdraw thence, and betook themselves to Naples. The damsel, ceasing never from lamenting and still demanding her pot, died, weeping; and so her ill-fortuned love had end. But, after a while the thing being grown manifest unto many, there was one who made thereon the song that is yet sung, to wit:

Alack! ah, who can the ill Christian be, That stole my pot away?" etc.[244]

[Footnote 244: The following is a translation of the whole of the song in question, as printed, from a MS. in the Medicean Library, in Fanfani's edition of the Decameron.

Alack! ah, who can the ill Christian be, That stole my pot away, My pot of basil of Salern, from me?

'Twas thriv'n with many a spray And I with mine own hand did plant the tree, Even on the festal[A] day.

'Tis felony to waste another's ware.

'Tis felony to waste another's ware; Yea, and right grievous sin.

And I, poor la.s.s, that sowed myself whilere A pot with flowers therein, Slept in its shade, so great it was and fair; But folk, that envious bin, Stole it away even from my very door.

'Twas stolen away even from my very door.

Full heavy was my cheer, (Ah, luckless maid, would I had died tofore!) Who brought[B] it pa.s.sing dear, Yet kept ill ward thereon one day of fear.

For him I loved so sore, I planted it with marjoram about.

I planted it with marjoram about, When May was blithe and new; Yea, thrice I watered it, week in, week out, And watched how well it grew: But now, for sure, away from me 'tis ta'en.

Ay, now, for sure, away from me 'tis ta'en; I may 't no longer hide.

Had I but known (alas, regret is vain!) That which should me betide, Before my door on guard I would have lain To sleep, my flowers beside.

Yet might the Great G.o.d ease me at His will.

Yea, G.o.d Most High might ease me, at His will, If but it liked Him well, Of him who wrought me such unright and ill; He into pangs of h.e.l.l Cast me who stole my basil-pot, that still Was full of such sweet smell, Its savour did all dole from me away.

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The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio Part 20 summary

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