Gossip Pietro, whose wit was somewhat blunt, believed that 'twas as she said, approved her counsel, and began adjuring Dom Gianni, as persuasively as he might, to teach him the incantation. Dom Gianni did his best to wean him of his folly; but as all was in vain:—"Lo, now," quoth he, "as you are both bent on it, we will be up, as is our wont, before the sun to-morrow morning, and I will shew you how 'tis done. The truth is that 'tis in the attachment of the tail that the great difficulty lies, as thou wilt see." Scarce a wink of sleep had either Gossip Pietro or Gossip Gemmata that night, so great was their anxiety; and towards daybreak up they got, and called Dom Gianni; who, being risen, came in his shirt into Gossip Pietro's little bedroom, and:—"I know not," quoth he, "that there is another soul in the world for whom I would do this, save you, my gossips; however, as you will have it so, I will do it, but it behoves you to do exactly as I bid you, if you would have the enchantment work." They promised obedience, and Dom Gianni thereupon took a light, which he handed to Gossip Pietro, saying:—"Let nought that I shall do or say escape thee; and have a care, so thou wouldst not ruin all, to say never a word, whatever thou mayst see or hear; and pray God that the tail may be securely attached." So Gossip Pietro took the light, and again promised obedience; Dom Gianni caused Gossip Gemmata to strip herself stark naked, and stand on all fours like a mare, at the same time strictly charging her that, whatever might happen, she must utter no word. Then, touching her head and face:—"Be this a fine head of a mare," quoth he; in like manner touching her hair, he said:—"Be this a fine mane of a mare;" touching her arms:—"Be these fine legs and fine hooves of a mare;" then, as he touched her breast and felt its firm roundness, and there awoke and arose one that was not called:—"And be this a fine breast of a mare," quoth he; and in like manner he dealt with her back, belly, croup, thighs, and legs. Last of all, the work being complete save for the tail, he lifted his shirt and took in his hand the tool with which he was used to plant men, and forthwith thrust it into the furrow made for it, saying:—"And be this a fine tail of a mare." Whereat Gossip Pietro, who had followed everything very heedfully to that point, disapproving that last particular, exclaimed:—"No! Dom Gianni, I'll have no tail, I'll have no tail." The essential juice, by which all plants are propagated, was already discharged, when Dom Gianni withdrew the tool, saying:—"Alas! Gossip Pietro, what hast thou done? Did I not tell thee to say never a word, no matter what thou mightst see? The mare was all but made; but by speaking thou hast spoiled all; and 'tis not possible to repeat the enchantment." "Well and good," replied Gossip Pietro, "I would have none of that tail. Why saidst thou not to me:—'Make it thou'? And besides, thou wast attaching it too low." "'Twas because," returned Dom Gianni, "thou wouldst not have known, on the first essay, how to attach it so well as I." Whereupon the young woman stood up, and in all good faith said to her husband:—"Fool that thou art, wherefore hast thou brought to nought what had been for the good of us both? When didst thou ever see mare without a tail? So help me God, poor as thou art, thou deservest to be poorer still." So, after Gossip Pietro's ill-timed speech, there being no way left of turning the young woman into a mare, downcast and melancholy she resumed her clothes; and Gossip Pietro plied his old trade with his ass, and went with Dom Gianni to the fair of Bitonto, and never asked him so to serve him again.
What laughter this story drew from the ladies, who understood it better than Dioneo had wished, may be left to the imagination of the fair one that now laughs thereat. However, as the stories were ended, and the sun now shone with a tempered radiance, the queen, witting that the end of her sovereignty was come, stood up and took off the crown, and set it on the head of Pamfilo, whom alone it now remained thus to honour; and said with a smile:—"My lord, 'tis a great burden that falls upon thee, seeing that thou, coming last, art bound to make good my shortcomings and those of my predecessors; which God give thee grace to accomplish, even as He has given me grace to make thee king." With gladsome acknowledgment of the honour:—"I doubt not," replied Pamfilo, "that, thanks to your noble qualities and those of my other subjects, I shall win even such praise as those that have borne sway before me." Then, following the example of his predecessors, he made all meet arrangements in concert with the seneschal: after which, he turned to the expectant ladies, and thus spoke:—"Enamoured my ladies, Emilia, our queen of to-day, deeming it proper to allow you an interval of rest to recruit your powers, gave you license to discourse of such matters as should most commend themselves to each in turn; and as thereby you are now rested, I judge that 'tis meet to revert to our accustomed rule. Wherefore I ordain that for to-morrow you do each of you take thought how you may discourse of the ensuing theme: to wit, of such as in matters of love, or otherwise, have done something with liberality or magnificence. By the telling, and (still more) by the doing of such things, your spirits will assuredly be duly attuned and animated to emprise high and noble; whereby our life, which cannot but be brief, seeing that 'tis enshrined in a mortal body, fame shall perpetuate in glory; which whoso serves not the belly, as do the beasts, must not only covet, but with all zeal seek after and labour to attain."
The gay company having, one and all, approved the theme, rose at a word from their new king, and betook them to their wonted pastimes, and so, according as they severally had most lief, diverted them, until they blithely reunited for supper, which being served with all due care and despatched, they rose up to dance, as they were wont, and when they had sung, perhaps, a thousand ditties, fitter to please by their words than by any excellence of musical art, the king bade Neifile sing one on her own account. And promptly and graciously, with voice clear and blithe, thus Neifile sang:—
In prime of maidenhood, and fair and feat 'Mid spring's fresh foison chant I merrily: Thanks be to Love and to my fancies sweet.
As o'er the grassy mead I, glancing, fare, I mark it white and yellow and vermeil dight With flowers, the thorny rose, the lily white: And all alike to his face I compare, Who, loving, hath me ta'en, and me shall e'er Hold bounden to his will, sith I am she That in his will findeth her joy complete.
Whereof if so it be that I do find Any that I most like to him approve, That pluck I straight and kiss with words of love, Discovering all, as, best I may, my mind; Yea, all my heart's desire; and then entwined I set it in the chaplet daintily, And with my yellow tresses bind and pleat.
And as mine eyes do drink in the delight Which the flower yields them, even so my mind, Fired with his sweet love, doth such solace find, As he himself were present to the sight: But never word of mine discover might That which the flower's sweet smell awakes in me: Witness the true tale that my sighs repeat.
For from my bosom gentle and hot they fly, Not like the gusty sighs that others heave, Whenas they languish and do sorely grieve; And to my love incontinent they hie: Whereof when he is ware, he, by and by, To meward hasting, cometh suddenly, When:—"Lest I faint," I cry, "come, I entreat."
The king and all the ladies did not a little commend Neifile's song; after which, as the night was far spent, the king bade all go to rest until the morrow.
— Endeth here the ninth day of the Decameron, and beginneth the tenth, in which, under the rule of Pamfilo, discourse is had of such as in matters of love, or otherwise, have done something with liberality or magnificence. —
Some cloudlets in the West still shewed a vermeil flush, albeit those of the eastern sky, as the sun's rays smote them anear, were already fringed as with most lucent gold, when uprose Pamfilo, and roused the ladies and his comrades. And all the company being assembled, and choice made of the place whither they should betake them for their diversion, he, accompanied by Filomena and Fiammetta, led the way at a slow pace, followed by all the rest. So fared they no little space, beguiling the time with talk of their future way of life, whereof there was much to tell and much to answer, until, as the sun gained strength, they returned, having made quite a long round, to the palace; and being gathered about the fountain, such as were so minded drank somewhat from beakers rinsed in its pure waters; and then in the delicious shade of the garden they hied them hither and thither, taking their pleasure until breakfast-time. Their meal taken, they slept as they were wont; and then, at a spot chosen by the king, they reassembled, where Neifile, having received his command to lead the way, blithely thus began.
— A knight in the service of the King of Spain deems himself ill requited. Wherefore the King, by most cogent proof, shews him that the blame rests not with him, but with the knight's own evil fortune; after which, he bestows upon him a noble gift. —
Highly graced, indeed, do I deem myself, honourable my ladies, that our king should have given to me the precedence in a matter so arduous to tell of as magnificence: for, as the sun irradiates all the heaven with his glory and beauty, even so does magnificence enhance the purity and the splendour of every other virtue. I shall therefore tell you a story, which, to my thinking, is not a little pretty; and which, assuredly, it must be profitable to call to mind.
You are to know, then, that, among other honourable knights that from days of old even until now have dwelt in our city, one, and perchance the worthiest of all, was Messer Ruggieri de' Figiovanni. Who, being wealthy and magnanimous, reflecting on the customs and manner of life of Tuscany, perceived that by tarrying there he was like to find little or no occasion of shewing his mettle, and accordingly resolved to pass some time at the court of Alfonso, King of Spain, who for the fame of his high qualities was without a peer among the potentates of his age. So, being well provided with arms and horses and retinue suitable to his rank, he hied him to Spain, where he was graciously received by the King. There tarrying accordingly, Messer Ruggieri very soon, as well by the splendid style in which he lived as by the prodigious feats of arms that he did, gave folk to know his high desert.
Now, having tarried there some while, and observed the King's ways with much care, and how he would grant castles, cities, or baronies, to this, that, or the other of his subjects, he deemed that the King shewed therein but little judgment, seeing that he would give them to men that merited them not. And for that nought was given to him, he, knowing his merit, deemed himself gravely injured in reputation; wherefore he made up his mind to depart the realm, and to that end craved license of the King; which the King granted him, and therewith gave him one of the best and finest mules that was ever ridden, a gift which Messer Ruggieri, as he had a long journey to make, did not a little appreciate. The King then bade one of his discreet domestics contrive, as best he might, to ride with Messer Ruggieri on such wise that it might not appear that he did so by the King's command, and charge his memory with whatever Messer Ruggieri might say of him, so that he might be able to repeat it; which done, he was on the very next morning to bid Ruggieri return to the King forthwith. The King's agent was on the alert, and no sooner was Ruggieri out of the city, than without any manner of difficulty he joined his company, giving out that he was going towards Italy. As thus they rode, talking of divers matters, Messer Ruggieri being mounted on the mule given him by the King:—"Methinks," quoth the other, it being then hard upon tierce, "that 'twere well to give the beasts a voidance;" and by and by, being come to a convenient place, they voided all the beasts save the mule. Then, as they continued their journey, the squire hearkening attentively to the knight's words, they came to a river, and while there they watered the beasts, the mule made a voidance in the stream. Whereat:—"Ah, foul fall thee, beast," quoth Messer Ruggieri, "that art even as thy master, that gave thee to me!" Which remark, as also many another that fell from Ruggieri as they rode together throughout the day, the squire stored in his memory; but never another word did he hear Ruggieri say touching the King, that was not laudatory to the last degree.
On the morrow, when they were gotten to horse, and had set their faces towards Tuscany, the squire apprised Ruggieri of the King's command, and thereupon Ruggieri turned back. On his arrival the King, having already heard what he had said touching the mule, gave him gladsome greeting, and asked him wherefore he had likened him to the mule, or rather the mule to him. Whereto Messer Ruggieri answered frankly:—"My lord, I likened you to the mule, for that, as you bestow your gifts where 'tis not meet, and where meet it were, bestow them not, so the mule where 'twas meet, voided not, and where 'twas not meet, voided." "Messer Ruggieri," replied the King, "'tis not because I have not discerned in you a knight most good and true, for whose desert no gift were too great, that I have not bestowed on you such gifts as I have bestowed upon many others, who in comparison of you are nothing worth: the fault is none of mine but solely of your fortune, which would not suffer me; and that this which I say is true, I will make abundantly plain to you." "My lord," returned Messer Ruggieri, "mortified am I, not that you gave me no gift, for thereof I had no desire, being too rich, but that you made no sign of recognition of my desert; however, I deem your explanation sound and honourable, and whatever you shall be pleased that I should see, that gladly will I, albeit I believe you without attestation."
The King then led him into one of the great halls, in which, by his preordinance, were two chests closed under lock and key, and, not a few others being present, said to him:—"Messer Ruggieri, one these chests contains my crown, sceptre and orb, with many a fine girdle, buckle, ring, and whatever else of jewellery I possess; the other is full of earth: choose then, and whichever you shall choose, be it yours; thereby you will discover whether 'tis due to me or to your fortune that your deserts have lacked requital." Such being the King's pleasure, Messer Ruggieri chose one of the chests, which at the King's command being opened and found to be that which contained the earth:—"Now, Messer Ruggieri," quoth the King with a laugh, "your own eyes may warrant you of the truth of what I say touching Fortune; but verily your merit demands that I take arms against her in your cause. I know that you are not minded to become a Spaniard, and therefore I shall give you neither castle nor city; but that chest, which Fortune denied you, I bestow on you in her despite, that you may take it with you to your own country, and there with your neighbours justly vaunt yourself of your deserts, attested by my gifts." Messer Ruggieri took the chest, and having thanked the King in a manner befitting such a gift, returned therewith, well pleased, to Tuscany.
— Ghino di Tacco captures the Abbot of Cluny, cures him of a disorder of the stomach, and releases him. The abbot, on his return to the court of Rome, reconciles Ghino with Pope Boniface, and makes him prior of the Hospital. —
When an end was made of extolling the magnificence shewn by King Alfonso towards the Florentine knight, the king, who had listened to the story with no small pleasure, bade Elisa follow suit; and forthwith Elisa began:—Dainty my ladies, undeniable it is that for a king to be magnificent, and to entreat magnificently one that has done him service, is a great matter, and meet for commendation. What then shall we say when the tale is of a dignitary of the Church that shewed wondrous magnificence towards one whom he might well have entreated as an enemy, and not have been blamed by a soul? Assuredly nought else than that what in the king was virtue was in the prelate nothing less than a miracle, seeing that for superlative greed the clergy, one and all, outdo us women, and wage war to the knife upon every form of liberality. And albeit all men are by nature prone to avenge their wrongs, 'tis notorious that the clergy, however they may preach longsuffering, and commend of all things the forgiving of trespasses, are more quick and hot to be avenged than the rest of mankind. Now this, to wit, after what manner a prelate shewed magnificence, will be made manifest to you in my story.
Ghino di Tacco, a man redoubtable by reason of his truculence and his high-handed deeds, being banished from Siena, and at enmity with the Counts of Santa Fiore, raised Radicofani in revolt against the Church of Rome, and there abiding, harried all the surrounding country with his soldiers, plundering all wayfarers. Now Pope Boniface VIII. being at Rome, there came to court the Abbot of Cluny, who is reputed one of the wealthiest prelates in the world; and having there gotten a disorder of the stomach, he was advised by the physicians to go to the baths of Siena, where (they averred) he would certainly be cured. So, having obtained the Pope's leave, reckless of the bruit of Ghino's exploits, he took the road, being attended by a great and well-equipped train of sumpter-horses and servants. Ghino di Tacco, getting wind of his approach, spread his nets to such purpose as without the loss of so much as a boy to surround the abbot, with all his servants and effects, in a strait pass, from which there was no exit. Which done, he sent one of his men, the cunningest of them all, with a sufficient retinue to the abbot, who most lovingly on Ghino's part besought the abbot to come and visit Ghino at the castle. Whereto the abbot, very wroth, made answer that he would none of it, for that nought had he to do with Ghino; but that he purposed to continue his journey, and would fain see who would hinder him. "Sir," returned the envoy, assuming a humble tone, "you are come to a part of the country where we have no fear of aught save the might of God, and where excommunications and interdicts are one and all under the ban; wherefore you were best be pleased to shew yourself agreeable to Ghino in this particular." As they thus spoke, Ghino's soldiers shewed themselves on every side, and it being thus manifest to the abbot that he and his company were taken prisoners, he, albeit mightily incensed, suffered himself with all his train and effects to be conducted by the envoy to the castle; where the abbot, being alighted, was lodged in a small and very dark and discomfortable room, while his retinue, according to their several conditions, were provided with comfortable quarters in divers parts of the castle, the horses well stabled and all the effects secured, none being in any wise tampered with. Which done, Ghino hied him to the abbot, and:—"Sir," quoth he, "Ghino, whose guest you are, sends me to entreat you to be pleased to inform him of your destination, and the purpose of your journey." The abbot, vailing his pride like a wise man, told whither he was bound and for what purpose. Whereupon Ghino left him, casting about how he might cure him without a bath. To which end he kept a great fire ever burning in the little chamber, and had it closely guarded, and returned not to the abbot until the ensuing morning, when he brought him in a spotless napkin two slices of toast and a great beaker of vernaccia of Corniglia, being of the abbot's own vintage; and:—"Sir," quoth he to the abbot, "Ghino, as a young man, made his studies in medicine, and avers that he then learned that there is no better treatment for disorder of the stomach than that which he will afford you, whereof the matters that I bring you are the beginning; wherefore take them and be of good cheer."
The abbot, being far too hungry to make many words about the matter, ate (albeit in high dudgeon) the toast, and drank the vernaccia; which done, he enlarged on his wrongs in a high tone, with much questioning and perpending; and above all he demanded to see Ghino. Part of what the abbot said Ghino disregarded as of no substance, to other part he replied courteously enough; and having assured him that Ghino would visit him as soon as might be, he took his leave of him; nor did he return until the morrow, when he brought him toast and vernaccia in the same quantity as before; and so he kept him several days: then, having marked that the abbot had eaten some dried beans that he had secretly brought and left there of set purpose, he asked him in Ghino's name how he felt in the stomach. "Were I but out of Ghino's hands," replied the abbot, "I should feel myself well, indeed: next to which, I desire most of all a good breakfast, so excellent a cure have his medicines wrought on me." Whereupon Ghino caused the abbot's servants to furnish a goodly chamber with the abbot's own effects, and there on the morrow make ready a grand banquet, at which all the abbot's suite and not a few of the garrison being assembled, he hied him to the abbot, and:—"Sir," quoth he, "'tis time you left the infirmary, seeing that you now feel yourself well;" and so saying, he took him by the hand, and led him into the chamber made ready for him, and having left him there with his own people, made it his chief concern that the banquet should be magnificent. The abbot's spirits revived as he found himself again among his men, with whom he talked a while, telling them how he had been entreated, wherewith they contrasted the signal honour which they, on the other hand, had, one and all, received from Ghino.
Breakfast-time came, and with order meet the abbot and the rest were regaled with good viands and good wines, Ghino still suffering not the abbot to know who he was. But when the abbot had thus passed several days, Ghino, having first had all his effects collected in a saloon, and all his horses, to the poorest jade, in the courtyard below, hied him to the abbot and asked him how he felt, and if he deemed himself strong enough to ride. The abbot replied that he was quite strong enough, and that 'twould be well indeed with him, were he once out of Ghino's hands. Ghino then led him into the saloon in which were his effects and all his retinue, and having brought him to a window, whence he might see all his horses:—"Sir Abbot," quoth he, "you must know that 'tis not for that he has an evil heart, but because, being a gentleman, he is banished from his home, and reduced to poverty, and has not a few powerful enemies, that in defence of his life and honour, Ghino di Tacco, whom you see before you, has become a robber of highways and an enemy to the court of Rome. But such as I am, I have cured you of your malady of the stomach, and taking you to be a worthy lord, I purpose not to treat you as I would another, from whom, were he in my hands, as you are, I should take such part of his goods as I should think fit; but I shall leave it to you, upon consideration of my need, to assign to me such portion of your goods as you yourself shall determine. Here are they before you undiminished and unimpaired, and from this window you may see your horses below in the courtyard; wherefore take the part or take the whole, as you may see fit, and be it at your option to tarry here, or go hence, from this hour forth."
The abbot marvelled to hear a highway robber speak thus liberally, and such was his gratification that his wrath and fierce resentment departed from him, nay, were transformed into kindness, insomuch that in all cordial amity he hasted to embrace Ghino, saying:—"By God I swear, that to gain the friendship of a man such I now deem thee to be, I would be content to suffer much greater wrong than that which until now, meseemed, thou hadst done me. Cursed be Fortune that constrains thee to ply so censurable a trade." Which said, he selected a very few things, and none superfluous, from his ample store, and having done likewise with the horses, ceded all else to Ghino, and hied him back to Rome; where, seeing him, the Pope, who to his great grief had heard of his capture, asked him what benefit he had gotten from the baths. Whereto the abbot made answer with a smile:—"Holy Father, I found nearer here than the baths a worthy physician who has wrought a most excellent cure on me:" he then recounted all the circumstances, whereat the Pope laughed. Afterwards, still pursuing the topic, the abbot, yielding to the promptings of magnificence, asked a favour of the Pope; who, expecting that he would ask somewhat else than he did, liberally promised to give him whatever he should demand. Whereupon:—"Holy Father," quoth the abbot, "that which I would crave of you is that you restore Ghino di Tacco, my physician, to your favour; seeing that among the good men and true and meritorious that I have known, he is by no means of the least account. And for the evil life that he leads, I impute it to Fortune rather than to him: change then his fortune, by giving him the means whereby he may live in manner befitting his rank, and I doubt not that in a little while your judgment of him will jump with mine." Whereto the Pope, being magnanimous, and an admirer of good men and true, made answer that so he would gladly do, if Ghino should prove to be such as the abbot said; and that he would have him brought under safe conduct to Rome. Thither accordingly under safe conduct came Ghino, to the abbot's great delight; nor had he been long at court before the Pope approved his worth, and restored him to his favour, granting him a great office, to wit, that of prior of the Hospital, whereof he made him knight. Which office he held for the rest of his life, being ever a friend and vassal of Holy Church and the Abbot of Cluny.
— Mitridanes, holding Nathan in despite by reason of his courtesy, journeys with intent to kill him, and falling in with him unawares, is advised by him how to compass his end. Following his advice, he finds him in a copse, and recognizing him, is shame-stricken, and becomes his friend. —
Verily like to a miracle seemed it to all to hear that a prelate had done aught with magnificence; but when the ladies had made an end of their remarks, the king bade Filostrato follow suit; and forthwith Filostrato began:—Noble ladies, great was the magnificence of the King of Spain, and perchance a thing unheard-of the magnificence of the Abbot of Cluny; but peradventure 'twill seem not a whit less marvellous to you to hear of one who, to shew liberality towards another, did resolve artfully to yield to him his blood, nay, his very life, for which the other thirsted, and had so done, had the other chosen to take them, as I shall shew you in a little story.
Beyond all question, if we may believe the report of certain Genoese, and other folk that have been in those regions, there dwelt of yore in the parts of Cathay one Nathan, a man of noble lineage and incomparable wealth. Who, having a seat hard by a road, by which whoso would travel from the West eastward, or from the East westward, must needs pass, and being magnanimous and liberal, and zealous to approve himself such in act, did set on work cunning artificers not a few, and cause one of the finest and largest and most luxurious palaces that ever were seen, to be there builded and furnished in the goodliest manner with all things meet for the reception and honourable entertainment of gentlemen. And so, keeping a great array of excellent servants, he courteously and hospitably did the honours of his house to whoso came and went: in which laudable way of life he persevered, until not only the East, but well-nigh all the West had heard his fame; which thus, what time he was well-stricken in years, albeit not for that cause grown weary of shewing courtesy, reached the ears of one Mitridanes, a young man of a country not far distant. Who, knowing himself to be no less wealthy than Nathan, grew envious of the renown that he had of his good deeds, and resolved to obliterate, or at least to obscure it, by a yet greater liberality. So he had built for himself a palace like that of Nathan, of which he did the honours with a lavish courtesy that none had ever equalled, to whoso came or went that way; and verily in a short while he became famous enough.
Now it so befell that on a day when the young man was all alone in the courtyard of the palace, there came in by one of the gates a poor woman, who asked of him an alms, and had it; but, not content therewith, came again to him by the second gate, and asked another alms, and had it, and after the like sort did even unto the twelfth time; but, she returning for the thirteenth time:—"My good woman," quoth Mitridanes, "thou art not a little pertinacious in thy begging:" howbeit he gave her an alms. Whereupon:—"Ah! the wondrous liberality of Nathan!" quoth the beldam:—"thirty-two gates are there to his palace, by every one of which I have entered, and asking alms of him, was never—for aught he shewed—recognized, or refused, and here, though I have entered as yet by but thirteen gates, I am recognized and reprimanded." And therewith she departed, and returned no more. Mitridanes, who accounted the mention of Nathan's fame an abatement of his own, was kindled by her words with a frenzy of wrath, and began thus to commune with himself:—Alas! when shall I attain to the grandeur of Nathan's liberality, to say nought of transcending it, as I would fain, seeing that in the veriest trifles I cannot approach him? Of a surety my labour is in vain, if I rid not the earth of him: which, since old age relieves me not of him, I must forthwith do with mine own hands. And in the flush of his despite up he started, and giving none to know of his purpose, got to horse with a small company, and after three days arrived at the place where Nathan abode; and having enjoined his comrades to make as if they were none of his, and knew him not, and to go quarter themselves as best they might until they had his further orders, he, being thus alone, towards evening came upon Nathan, also alone, at no great distance from his splendid palace. Nathan was recreating himself by a walk, and was very simply clad; so that Mitridanes, knowing him not, asked him if he could shew him where Nathan dwelt. "My son," replied Nathan gladsomely, "that can none in these parts better than I; wherefore, so it please thee, I will bring thee thither." The young man replied that 'twould be mighty agreeable to him, but that, if so it might be, he had a mind to be neither known nor seen by Nathan. "And herein also," returned Nathan, "since 'tis thy pleasure, I will gratify thee." Whereupon Mitridanes dismounted, and with Nathan, who soon engaged him in delightsome discourse, walked to the goodly palace. Arrived there Nathan caused one of his servants take the young man's horse, and drawing close to him, bade him in a whisper to see to it without delay that none in the house should tell the young man that he was Nathan: and so 'twas done.
Being come into the palace, Nathan quartered Mitridanes in a most goodly chamber, where none saw him but those whom he had appointed to wait upon him; and he himself kept him company, doing him all possible honour. Of whom Mitridanes, albeit he reverenced him as a father, yet, being thus with him, forbore not to ask who he was. Whereto Nathan made answer:—"I am a petty servant of Nathan: old as I am, I have been with him since my childhood, and never has he advanced me to higher office than this wherein thou seest me: wherefore, howsoever other folk may praise him, little cause have I to do so." Which words afforded Mitridanes some hope of carrying his wicked purpose into effect with more of plan and less of risk than had otherwise been possible. By and by Nathan very courteously asked him who he was, and what business brought him thither; offering him such counsel and aid as he might be able to afford him. Mitridanes hesitated a while to reply: but at last he resolved to trust him, and when with no little circumlocution he had demanded of him fidelity, counsel and aid, he fully discovered to him who he was, and the purpose and motive of his coming thither. Now, albeit to hear Mitridanes thus unfold his horrid design caused Nathan no small inward commotion, yet 'twas not long before courageously and composedly he thus made answer:—"Noble was thy father, Mitridanes, and thou art minded to shew thyself not unworthy of him by this lofty emprise of thine, to wit, of being liberal to all comers: and for that thou art envious of Nathan's merit I greatly commend thee; for were many envious for a like cause, the world, from being a most wretched, would soon become a happy place. Doubt not that I shall keep secret the design which thou hast confided to me, for the furtherance whereof 'tis good advice rather than substantial aid that I have to offer thee. Which advice is this. Hence, perhaps half a mile off, thou mayst see a copse, in which almost every morning Nathan is wont to walk, taking his pleasure, for quite a long while: 'twill be an easy matter for thee to find him there, and deal with him as thou mayst be minded. Now, shouldst thou slay him, thou wilt get thee home with less risk of let, if thou take not the path by which thou camest hither, but that which thou seest issue from the copse on the left, for, though 'tis somewhat more rough, it leads more directly to thy house, and will be safer for thee."
Possessed of this information, Mitridanes, when Nathan had left him, privily apprised his comrades, who were likewise lodged in the palace, of the place where they were to await him on the ensuing day; which being come, Nathan, inflexibly determined to act in all respects according to the advice which he had given Mitridanes, hied him forth to the copse unattended, to meet his death. Mitridanes, being risen, took his bow and sword, for other arms he had none with him, mounted his horse, and rode to the copse, through which, while he was yet some way off, he saw Nathan passing, quite alone. And being minded, before he fell upon him, to see his face and hear the sound of his voice, as, riding at a smart pace, he came up with him, he laid hold of him by his head-gear, exclaiming:—"Greybeard, thou art a dead man." Whereto Nathan answered nought but:—"Then 'tis but my desert." But Mitridanes, hearing the voice, and scanning the face, forthwith knew him for the same man that had welcomed him heartily, consorted with him familiarly, and counselled him faithfully; whereby his wrath presently subsided, and gave place to shame. Wherefore, casting away the sword that he held drawn in act to strike, he sprang from his horse, and weeping, threw himself at Nathan's feet, saying:—"Your liberality, dearest father, I acknowledge to be beyond all question, seeing with what craft you did plot your coming hither to yield me your life, for which, by mine own avowal, you knew that I, albeit cause I had none, did thirst. But God, more regardful of my duty than I myself, has now, in this moment of supreme stress, opened the eyes of my mind, that wretched envy had fast sealed. The prompter was your compliance, the greater is the debt of penitence that I owe you for my fault; wherefore wreak even such vengeance upon me as you may deem answerable to my transgression." But Nathan raised Mitridanes to his feet, and tenderly embraced him, saying:—"My son, thy enterprise, howsoever thou mayst denote it, whether evil or otherwise, was not such that thou shouldst crave, or I give, pardon thereof; for 'twas not in malice but in that thou wouldst fain have been reputed better than I that thou ensuedst it. Doubt then no more of me; nay, rest assured that none that lives bears thee such love as I, who know the loftiness of thy spirit, bent not to heap up wealth, as do the caitiffs, but to dispense in bounty thine accumulated store. Think it no shame that to enhance thy reputation thou wouldst have slain me; nor deem that I marvel thereat. To slay not one man, as thou wast minded, but countless multitudes, to waste whole countries with fire, and to raze cities to the ground has been well-nigh the sole art, by which the mightiest emperors and the greatest kings have extended their dominions, and by consequence their fame. Wherefore, if thou, to increase thy fame, wouldst fain have slain me, 'twas nothing marvellous or strange, but wonted."
Whereto Mitridanes made answer, not to excuse his wicked design, but to commend the seemly excuse found for it by Nathan, whom at length he told how beyond measure he marvelled that Nathan had not only been consenting to the enterprise, but had aided him therein by his counsel. But Nathan answered:—"Liefer had I, Mitridanes, that thou didst not marvel either at my consent or at my counsel, for that, since I was my own master and of a mind to that emprise whereon thou art also bent, never a soul came to my house, but, so far as in me lay, I gave him all that he asked of me. Thou camest, lusting for my life; and so, when I heard thee crave it of me, I forthwith, that thou mightst not be the only guest to depart hence ill content, resolved to give it thee; and to that end I gave thee such counsel as I deemed would serve thee both to the taking of my life and the preservation of thine own. Wherefore yet again I bid thee, nay, I entreat thee, if so thou art minded, to take it for thy satisfaction: I know not how I could better bestow it. I have had the use of it now for some eighty years, and pleasure and solace thereof; and I know that, by the course of Nature and the common lot of man and all things mundane, it can continue to be mine for but a little while; and so I deem that 'twere much better to bestow it, as I have ever bestowed and dispensed my wealth, than to keep it, until, against my will, it be reft from me by Nature. 'Twere but a trifle, though 'twere a hundred years: how insignificant, then, the six or eight years that are all I have to give! Take it, then, if thou hadst lief, take it, I pray thee; for, long as I have lived here, none have I found but thee to desire it; nor know I when I may find another, if thou take it not, to demand it of me. And if, peradventure, I should find one such, yet I know that the longer I keep it, the less its worth will be; wherefore, ere it be thus cheapened, take it, I implore thee."
Sore shame-stricken, Mitridanes made answer:—"Now God forefend that I should so much as harbour, as but now I did, such a thought, not to say do such a deed, as to wrest from you a thing so precious as your life, the years whereof, so far from abridging, I would gladly supplement with mine own." "So then," rejoined Nathan promptly, "thou wouldst, if thou couldst, add thy years to mine, and cause me to serve thee as I never yet served any man, to wit, to take from thee that which is thine, I that never took aught from a soul!" "Ay, that would I," returned Mitridanes. "Then," quoth Nathan, "do as I shall bid thee. Thou art young: tarry here in my house, and call thyself Nathan; and I will get me to thy house, and ever call myself Mitridanes." Whereto Mitridanes made answer:—"Were I but able to discharge this trust, as you have been and are, scarce would I hesitate to accept your offer; but, as too sure am I that aught that I might do would but serve to lower Nathan's fame, and I am not minded to mar that in another which I cannot mend in myself, accept it I will not."
After which and the like interchange of delectable discourse, Nathan and Mitridanes, by Nathan's desire, returned to the palace; where Nathan for some days honourably entreated Mitridanes, and by his sage counsel confirmed and encouraged him in his high and noble resolve; after which, Mitridanes, being minded to return home with his company, took his leave of Nathan, fully persuaded that 'twas not possible to surpass him in liberality.
— Messer Gentile de' Carisendi, being come from Modena, disinters a lady that he loves, who has been buried for dead. She, being reanimated, gives birth to a male child; and Messer Gentile restores her, with her son, to Niccoluccio Caccianimico, her husband. —
A thing marvellous seemed it to all that for liberality a man should be ready to sacrifice his own life; and herein they averred that Nathan had without doubt left the King of Spain and the Abbot of Cluny behind. However, when they had discussed the matter diversely and at large, the king, bending his regard on Lauretta, signified to her his will that she should tell; and forthwith, accordingly, Lauretta began:—Goodly matters are they and magnificent that have been recounted to you, young ladies; nay, so much of our field of discourse is already filled by their grandeur, that for us that are yet to tell, there is, methinks, no room left, unless we seek our topic there where matter of discourse germane to every theme does most richly abound, to wit, in the affairs of love. For which cause, as also for that our time of life cannot but make us especially inclinable thereto, I am minded that my story shall be of a feat of magnificence done by a lover: which, all things considered, will, peradventure, seem to you inferior to none that have been shewn you; so it be true that to possess the beloved one, men will part with their treasures, forget their enmities, and jeopardize their own lives, their honour and their reputation, in a thousand ways.
Know, then, that at Bologna, that most famous city of Lombardy, there dwelt a knight, Messer Gentile Carisendi by name, worshipful alike for his noble lineage and his native worth: who in his youth, being enamoured of a young gentlewoman named Madonna Catalina, wife of one Niccoluccio Caccianimico, and well-nigh despairing, for that the lady gave him but a sorry requital of his love, betook him to Modena, being called thither as Podesta. Now what time he was there, Niccoluccio being also away from Bologna, and his lady gone, for that she was with child, to lie in at a house she had some three miles or so from the city, it befell that she was suddenly smitten with a sore malady of such and so virulent a quality that it left no sign of life in her, so that the very physicians pronounced her dead. And for that the women that were nearest of kin to her professed to have been told by her, that she was not so far gone in pregnancy that the child could be perfectly formed, they, without more ado, laid her in a tomb in a neighbouring church, and after long lamentation closed it upon her.
Whereof Messer Gentile being forthwith apprised by one of his friends, did, for all she had been most niggardly to him of her favour, grieve not a little, and at length fell a communing with himself on this wise:—So, Madonna Catalina, thou art dead! While thou livedst, never a glance of thine might I have; wherefore, now that thou art dead, 'tis but right that I go take a kiss from thee. 'Twas night while he thus mused; and forthwith, observing strict secrecy in his departure, he got him to horse with a single servant, and halted not until he was come to the place where the lady was interred; and having opened the tomb he cautiously entered it. Then, having lain down beside her, he set his face against hers; and again and again, weeping profusely the while, he kissed it. But as 'tis matter of common knowledge that the desires of men, and more especially of lovers, know no bounds, but crave ever an ampler satisfaction; even so Messer Gentile, albeit he had been minded to tarry there no longer, now said to himself:—Wherefore touch I not her bosom a while? I have never yet touched it, nor shall I ever touch it again. Obeying which impulse, he laid his hand on her bosom, and keeping it there some time, felt, as he thought, her heart faintly beating. Whereupon, banishing all fear, and examining the body with closer attention, he discovered that life was not extinct, though he judged it but scant and flickering: and so, aided by his servant, he bore her, as gently as he might, out of the tomb; and set her before him upon his horse, and brought her privily to his house at Bologna, where dwelt his wise and worthy mother, who, being fully apprised by him of the circumstances, took pity on the lady, and had a huge fire kindled, and a bath made ready, whereby she restored her to life. Whereof the first sign she gave was to heave a great sigh, and murmur:—"Alas! where am I?" To which the worthy lady made answer:—"Be of good cheer; thou art well lodged." By and by the lady, coming to herself, looked about her; and finding herself she knew not where, and seeing Messer Gentile before her, was filled with wonder, and besought his mother to tell her how she came to be there.
Messer Gentile thereupon told her all. Sore distressed thereat, the lady, after a while, thanked him as best she might; after which she besought him by the love that he had borne her, and of his courtesy, that she might, while she tarried in his house, be spared aught that could impair her honour and her husband's; and that at daybreak he would suffer her to return home. "Madam," replied Messer Gentile, "however I did affect you in time past, since God in His goodness has, by means of the love I bore you, restored you to me alive, I mean not now, or at any time hereafter, to entreat you either here or elsewhere, save as a dear sister; but yet the service I have to-night rendered you merits some guerdon, and therefore lief had I that you deny me not a favour which I shall ask of you." Whereto the lady graciously made answer that she would be prompt to grant it, so only it were in her power, and consonant with her honour. Said then Messer Gentile:—"Your kinsfolk, Madam, one and all, nay, all the folk in Bologna are fully persuaded that you are dead: there is therefore none to expect you at home: wherefore the favour I crave of you is this, that you will be pleased to tarry privily here with my mother, until such time—which will be speedily—as I return from Modena. And 'tis for that I purpose to make solemn and joyous donation of you to your husband in presence of the most honourable folk of this city that I ask of you this grace." Mindful of what she owed the knight, and witting that what he craved was seemly, the lady, albeit she yearned not a little to gladden her kinsfolk with the sight of her in the flesh, consented to do as Messer Gentile besought her, and thereto pledged him her faith. And scarce had she done so, when she felt that the hour of her travail was come; and so, tenderly succoured by Messer Gentile's mother, she not long after gave birth to a fine boy. Which event did mightily enhance her own and Messer Gentile's happiness. Then, having made all meet provision for her, and left word that she was to be tended as if she were his own wife, Messer Gentile, observing strict secrecy, returned to Modena.
His time of office there ended, in anticipation of his return to Bologna, he appointed for the morning of his arrival in the city a great and goodly banquet at his house, whereto were bidden not a few of the gentlemen of Bologna, and among them Niccoluccio Caccianimico. Whom, when he was returned and dismounted, he found awaiting him, as also the lady, fairer and more healthful than ever, and her little son doing well; and so with a gladness beyond compare he ranged his guests at table, and regaled them with many a course magnificently served. And towards the close of the feast, having premonished the lady of his intention, and concerted with her how she should behave, thus he spoke:—"Gentlemen, I mind me to have once heard tell of (as I deem it) a delightsome custom which they have in Persia; to wit, that, when one would do his friend especial honour, he bids him to his house, and there shews him that treasure, be it wife, or mistress, or daughter, or what not, that he holds most dear; assuring him that yet more gladly, were it possible, he would shew him his heart. Which custom I am minded to observe here in Bologna. You, of your courtesy, have honoured my feast with your presence, and I propose to do you honour in the Persian fashion, by shewing you that which in all the world I do, and must ever, hold most dear. But before I do so, tell me, I pray you, how you conceive of a nice question that I shall lay before you. Suppose that one has in his house a good and most faithful servant, who falls sick of a grievous disorder; and that the master tarries not for the death of the servant, but has him borne out into the open street, and concerns himself no more with him: that then a stranger comes by, is moved to pity of the sick man, and takes him to his house, and by careful tendance and at no small cost restores him to his wonted health. Now I would fain know whether the first master has in equity any just cause to complain of or be aggrieved with the second master, if he retain the servant in his employ, and refuse to restore him, when so required."
The gentlemen discussed the matter after divers fashions, and all agreed in one sentence, which they committed to Niccoluccio Caccianimico, for that he was an eloquent and accomplished speaker, to deliver on the part of them all. Niccoluccio began by commending the Persian custom: after which he said that he and the others were all of the same opinion, to wit, that the first master had no longer any right in his servant, since he had not only abandoned but cast him forth; and that by virtue of the second master's kind usage of him he must be deemed to have become his servant; wherefore, by keeping him, he did the first master no mischief, no violence, no wrong. Whereupon the rest that were at the table said, one and all, being worthy men, that their judgment jumped with Niccoluccio's answer. The knight, well pleased with the answer, and that 'twas Niccoluccio that gave it, affirmed that he was of the same opinion; adding:—"'Tis now time that I shew you that honour which I promised you." He then called two of his servants, and sent them to the lady, whom he had caused to be apparelled and adorned with splendour, charging them to pray her to be pleased to come and gladden the gentlemen with her presence. So she, bearing in her arms her most lovely little son, came, attended by the two servants, into the saloon, and by the knight's direction, took a seat beside a worthy gentleman: whereupon:—"Gentlemen," quoth the knight, "this is the treasure that I hold, and mean ever to hold, more dear than aught else. Behold, and judge whether I have good cause."
The gentlemen said not a little in her honour and praise, averring that the knight ought indeed to hold her dear: then, as they regarded her more attentively, there were not a few that would have pronounced her to be the very woman that she was, had they not believed that woman to be dead. But none scanned her so closely as Niccoluccio, who, the knight being withdrawn a little space, could no longer refrain his eager desire to know who she might be, but asked her whether she were of Bologna, or from other parts. The lady, hearing her husband's voice, could scarce forbear to answer; but yet, not to disconcert the knight's plan, she kept silence. Another asked her if that was her little boy; and yet another, if she were Messer Gentile's wife, or in any other wise his connection. To none of whom she vouchsafed an answer. Then, Messer Gentile coming up:—"Sir," quoth one of the guests, "this treasure of yours is goodly indeed; but she seems to be dumb: is she so?" "Gentlemen," quoth Messer Gentile, "that she has not as yet spoken is no small evidence of her virtue." "Then tell us, you, who she is," returned the other. "That," quoth the knight, "will I right gladly, so you but promise me, that, no matter what I may say, none of you will stir from his place, until I have ended my story." All gave the required promise, and when the tables had been cleared, Messer Gentile, being seated beside the lady, thus spoke:—"Gentlemen, this lady is that loyal and faithful servant, touching whom a brief while ago I propounded to you my question, whom her own folk held none too dear, but cast out into the open street as a thing vile and no longer good for aught, but I took thence, and by my careful tendance wrested from the clutch of death; whom God, regardful of my good will, has changed from the appalling aspect of a corpse to the thing of beauty that you see before you. But for your fuller understanding of this occurrence, I will briefly explain it to you." He then recounted to them in detail all that had happened from his first becoming enamoured of the lady to that very hour whereto they hearkened with no small wonder; after which:—"And so," he added, "unless you, and more especially Niccoluccio, are now of another opinion than you were a brief while ago, the lady rightly belongs to me, nor can any man lawfully reclaim her of me."
None answered, for all were intent to hear what more he would say. But, while Niccoluccio, and some others that were there, wept for sympathy, Messer Gentile stood up, and took the little boy in his arms and the lady by the hand, and approached Niccoluccio, saying:—"Rise, my gossip: I do not, indeed, restore thee thy wife, whom thy kinsfolk and hers cast forth; but I am minded to give thee this lady, my gossip, with this her little boy, whom I know well to be thy son, and whom I held at the font, and named Gentile: and I pray thee that she be not the less dear to thee for that she has tarried three months in my house; for I swear to thee by that God, who, peradventure, ordained that I should be enamoured of her, to the end that my love might be, as it has been, the occasion of her restoration to life, that never with her father, or her mother, or with thee, did she live more virtuously than with my mother in my house." Which said, he turned to the lady, saying:—"Madam, I now release you from all promises made to me, and so deliver you to Niccoluccio." Then, leaving the lady and the child in Niccoluccio's embrace, he returned to his seat.
Thus to receive his wife and son was to Niccoluccio a delight great in the measure of its remoteness from his hope. Wherefore in the most honourable terms at his command he thanked the knight, whom all the rest, weeping for sympathy, greatly commended for what he had done, as did also all that heard thereof. The lady, welcomed home with wondrous cheer, was long a portent to the Bolognese, who gazed on her as on one raised from the dead. Messer Gentile lived ever after as the friend of Niccoluccio, and his and the lady's kinsfolk.
Now what shall be your verdict, gracious ladies? A king's largess, though it was of his sceptre and crown, an abbot's reconciliation, at no cost to himself, of a malefactor with the Pope, or an old man's submission of his throat to the knife of his enemy—will you adjudge that such acts as these are comparable to the deed of Messer Gentile? Who, though young, and burning with passion, and deeming himself justly entitled to that which the heedlessness of another had discarded, and he by good fortune had recovered, not only tempered his ardour with honour, but having that which with his whole soul he had long been bent on wresting from another, did with liberality restore it. Assuredly none of the feats aforesaid seem to me like unto this.
— Madonna Dianora craves of Messer Ansaldo a garden that shall be as fair in January as in May. Messer Ansaldo binds himself to a necromancer, and thereby gives her the garden. Her husband gives her leave to do Messer Ansaldo's pleasure: he, being apprised of her husband's liberality, releases her from her promise; and the necromancer releases Messer Ansaldo from his bond, and will take nought of his. —
Each of the gay company had with superlative commendation extolled Messer Gentile to the skies, when the king bade Emilia follow suit; and with a good courage, as burning to speak, thus Emilia began:—Delicate my ladies, none can justly say that 'twas not magnificently done of Messer Gentile; but if it be alleged that 'twas the last degree of magnificence, 'twill perchance not be difficult to shew that more was possible, as is my purpose in the little story that I shall tell you.
In Friuli, a country which, though its air is shrewd, is pleasantly diversified by fine mountains and not a few rivers and clear fountains, is a city called Udine, where dwelt of yore a fair and noble lady, Madonna Dianora by name, wife of a wealthy grandee named Giliberto, a very pleasant gentleman, and debonair. Now this lady, for her high qualities, was in the last degree beloved by a great and noble baron, Messer Ansaldo Gradense by name, a man of no little consequence, and whose fame for feats of arms and courtesy was spread far and wide. But, though with all a lover's ardour he left nought undone that he might do to win her love, and to that end frequently plied her with his ambassages, 'twas all in vain. And the lady being distressed by his importunity, and that, refuse as she might all that he asked of her, he none the less continued to love her and press his suit upon her, bethought her how she might rid herself of him by requiring of him an extraordinary and, as she deemed, impossible feat. So one day, a woman that came oftentimes from him to her being with her:—"Good woman," quoth she, "thou hast many a time affirmed that Messer Ansaldo loves me above all else; and thou hast made proffer to me on his part of wondrous rich gifts which I am minded he keep to himself, for that I could never bring myself to love him or pleasure him for their sake; but, if I might be certified that he loves me as much as thou sayst, then without a doubt I should not fail to love him, and do his pleasure; wherefore, so he give me the assurance that I shall require, I shall be at his command." "What is it, Madam," returned the good woman, "that you would have him do?" "This," replied the lady; "I would have this next ensuing January, hard by this city, a garden full of green grass and flowers and flowering trees, just as if it were May; and if he cannot provide me with this garden, bid him never again send either thee or any other to me, for that, should he harass me any further, I shall no longer keep silence, as I have hitherto done, but shall make my complaint to my husband and all my kinsmen, and it shall go hard but I will be quit of him."
The gentleman being apprised of his lady's stipulation and promise, notwithstanding that he deemed it no easy matter, nay, a thing almost impossible, to satisfy her, and knew besides that 'twas but to deprive him of all hope that she made the demand, did nevertheless resolve to do his endeavour to comply with it, and causing search to be made in divers parts of the world, if any he might find to afford him counsel or aid, he lit upon one, who for a substantial reward offered to do the thing by necromancy. So Messer Ansaldo, having struck the bargain with him for an exceeding great sum of money, gleefully expected the appointed time. Which being come with extreme cold, insomuch that there was nought but snow and ice, the adept on the night before the calends of January wrought with his spells to such purpose that on the morrow, as was averred by eye-witnesses, there appeared in a meadow hard by the city one of the most beautiful gardens that was ever seen, with no lack of grass and trees and fruits of all sorts. At sight whereof Messer Ansaldo was overjoyed, and caused some of the finest fruits and flowers that it contained to be gathered, and privily presented to his lady, whom he bade come and see the garden that she had craved, that thereby she might have assurance of his love, and mind her of the promise that she had given him and confirmed with an oath, and, as a loyal lady, take thought for its performance. When she saw the flowers and fruits, the lady, who had already heard not a few folk speak of the wondrous garden, began to repent her of her promise. But for all that, being fond of strange sights, she hied her with many other ladies of the city to see the garden, and having gazed on it with wonderment, and commended it not a little, she went home the saddest woman alive, bethinking her to what it bound her: and so great was her distress that she might not well conceal it; but, being written on her face, 'twas marked by her husband, who was minded by all means to know the cause thereof.
The lady long time kept silence: but at last she yielded to his urgency, and discovered to him the whole matter from first to last. Whereat Giliberto was at first very wroth; but on second thoughts, considering the purity of the lady's purpose, he was better advised, and dismissing his anger:—"Dianora," quoth he, "'tis not the act of a discreet or virtuous lady to give ear to messages of such a sort, nor to enter into any compact touching her chastity with any man on any terms. Words that the ears convey to the heart have a potency greater than is commonly supposed, and there is scarce aught that lovers will not find possible. 'Twas then ill done of thee in the first instance to hearken, as afterwards to make the compact; but, for that I know the purity of thy soul, that thou mayst be quit of thy promise, I will grant thee that which, perchance, no other man would grant, being also swayed thereto by fear of the necromancer, whom Messer Ansaldo, shouldst thou play him false, might, peradventure, cause to do us a mischief. I am minded, then, that thou go to him, and contrive, if on any wise thou canst, to get thee quit of this promise without loss of virtue; but if otherwise it may not be, then for the nonce thou mayst yield him thy body, but not thy soul." Whereat the lady, weeping, would none of such a favour at her husband's hands. But Giliberto, for all the lady's protestations, was minded that so it should be.
Accordingly, on the morrow about dawn, apparelled none too ornately, preceded by two servants and followed by a chambermaid, the lady hied her to Messer Ansaldo's house. Apprised that his lady was come to see him, Messer Ansaldo, marvelling not a little, rose, and having called the necromancer:—"I am minded," quoth he, "that thou see what goodly gain I have gotten by thine art." And the twain having met the lady, Ansaldo gave way to no unruly appetite, but received her with a seemly obeisance; and then the three repaired to a goodly chamber, where there was a great fire, and having caused the lady to be seated, thus spoke Ansaldo:—"Madam, if the love that I have so long borne you merit any guerdon, I pray you that it be not grievous to you to discover to me the true occasion of your coming to me at this hour, and thus accompanied." Shamefast, and the tears all but standing in her eyes, the lady made answer:—"Sir 'tis neither love that I bear you, nor pledged you, that brings me hither, but the command of my husband, who, regarding rather the pains you have had of your unbridled passion than his own or my honour, has sent me hither; and for that he commands it, I, for the nonce, am entirely at your pleasure."
If Messer Ansaldo had marvelled to hear of the lady's coming, he now marvelled much more, and touched by Giliberto's liberality, and passing from passion to compassion:—"Now, God forbid, Madam," quoth he, "that, it being as you say, I should wound the honour of him that has compassion on my love; wherefore, no otherwise than as if you were my sister shall you abide here, while you are so minded, and be free to depart at your pleasure; nor crave I aught of you but that you shall convey from me to your husband such thanks as you shall deem meet for courtesy such as his has been, and entreat me ever henceforth as your brother and servant." Whereat overjoyed in the last degree:—"Nought," quoth the lady, "by what I noted of your behaviour, could ever have caused me to anticipate other sequel of my coming hither than this which I see is your will, and for which I shall ever be your debtor." She then took her leave, and, attended by a guard of honour, returned to Giliberto, and told him what had passed; between whom and Messer Ansaldo there was thenceforth a most close and loyal friendship.
Now the liberality shewn by Giliberto towards Messer Ansaldo, and by Messer Ansaldo towards the lady, having been marked by the necromancer, when Messer Ansaldo made ready to give him the promised reward:—"Now God forbid," quoth he, "that, as I have seen Giliberto liberal in regard of his honour, and you liberal in regard of your love, I be not in like manner liberal in regard of my reward, which accordingly, witting that 'tis in good hands, I am minded that you keep." The knight was abashed, and strove hard to induce him to take, if not the whole, at least a part of the money; but finding that his labour was in vain, and that the necromancer, having caused his garden to vanish after the third day, was minded to depart, he bade him adieu. And the carnal love he had borne the lady being spent, he burned for her thereafter with a flame of honourable affection. Now what shall be our verdict in this case, lovesome ladies? A lady, as it were dead, and a love grown lukewarm for utter hopelessness! Shall we set a liberality shewn in such a case above this liberality of Messer Ansaldo, loving yet as ardently, and hoping, perchance, yet more ardently than ever, and holding in his hands the prize that he had so long pursued? Folly indeed should I deem it to compare that liberality with this.
— King Charles the Old, being conqueror, falls in love with a young maiden, and afterward growing ashamed of his folly bestows her and her sister honourably in marriage. —
Who might fully recount with what diversity of argument the ladies debated which of the three, Giliberto, or Messer Ansaldo, or the necromancer, behaved with the most liberality in the affair of Madonna Dianora? Too long were it to tell. However, when the king had allowed them to dispute a while, he, with a glance at Fiammetta, bade her rescue them from their wrangling by telling her story. Fiammetta made no demur, but thus began:—Illustrious my ladies, I have ever been of opinion that in companies like ours one should speak so explicitly that the import of what is said should never by excessive circumscription afford matter for disputation; which is much more in place among students in the schools, than among us, whose powers are scarce adequate to the management of the distaff and the spindle. Wherefore I, that had in mind a matter of, perchance, some nicety, now that I see you all at variance touching the matters last mooted, am minded to lay it aside, and tell you somewhat else, which concerns a man by no means of slight account, but a valiant king, being a chivalrous action that he did, albeit in no wise thereto actuated by his honour.
There is none of you but may not seldom have heard tell of King Charles the Old, or the First, by whose magnificent emprise, and the ensuing victory gained over King Manfred, the Ghibellines were driven forth of Florence, and the Guelfs returned thither. For which cause a knight, Messer Neri degli Uberti by name, departing Florence with his household and not a little money, resolved to fix his abode under no other sway than that of King Charles. And being fain of a lonely place in which to end his days in peace, he betook him to Castello da Mare di Stabia; and there, perchance a cross-bow-shot from the other houses of the place, amid the olives and hazels and chestnuts that abound in those parts, he bought an estate, on which he built a goodly house and commodious, with a pleasant garden beside it, in the midst of which, having no lack of running water, he set, after our Florentine fashion, a pond fair and clear, and speedily filled it with fish. And while thus he lived, daily occupying himself with nought else but how to make his garden more fair, it befell that King Charles in the hot season betook him to Castello da Mare to refresh himself a while, and hearing of the beauty of Messer Neri's garden, was desirous to view it. And having learned to whom it belonged, he bethought him that, as the knight was an adherent of the party opposed to him, he would use more familiarity towards him than he would otherwise have done; and so he sent him word that he and four comrades would sup privily with him in his garden on the ensuing evening. Messer Neri felt himself much honoured; and having made his preparations with magnificence, and arranged the order of the ceremonies with his household, did all he could and knew to make the King cordially welcome to his fair garden.
When the King had viewed the garden throughout, as also Messer Neri's house, and commended them, he washed, and seated himself at one of the tables, which were set beside the pond, and bade Count Guy de Montfort, who was one of his companions, sit on one side of him, and Messer Neri on the other, and the other three to serve, as they should be directed by Messer Neri. The dishes that were set before them were dainty, the wines excellent and rare, the order of the repast very fair and commendable, without the least noise or aught else that might distress; whereon the King bestowed no stinted praise. As thus he gaily supped, well-pleased with the lovely spot, there came into the garden two young maidens, each perhaps fifteen years old, blonde both, their golden tresses falling all in ringlets about them, and crowned with a dainty garland of periwinkle-flowers; and so delicate and fair of face were they that they shewed liker to angels than aught else, each clad in a robe of finest linen, white as snow upon their flesh, close-fitting as might be from the waist up, but below the waist ample, like a pavilion to the feet. She that was foremost bore on her shoulders a pair of nets, which she held with her left hand, carrying in her right a long pole. Her companion followed, bearing on her left shoulder a frying-pan, under her left arm a bundle of faggots, and in her left hand a tripod, while in the other hand she carried a cruse of oil and a lighted taper. At sight of whom the King marvelled, and gazed intent to learn what it might import. The two young maidens came forward with becoming modesty, and did obeisance to the King; which done they hied them to the place of ingress to the pond, and she that had the frying-pan having set it down, and afterward the other things, took the pole that the other carried, and so they both went down into the pond, being covered by its waters to their breasts. Whereupon one of Messer Neri's servants, having forthwith lit a fire, and set the tripod on the faggots and oil therein, addressed himself to wait, until some fish should be thrown to him by the girls. Who, the one searching with the pole in those parts where she knew the fish lay hid, while the other made ready the nets, did in a brief space of time, to the exceeding great delight of the King, who watched them attentively, catch fish not a few, which they tossed to the servant, who set them, before the life was well out of them, in the frying-pan. After which, the maidens, as pre-arranged, addressed them to catch some of the finest fish, and cast them on to the table before the King, and Count Guy, and their father. The fish wriggled about the table to the prodigious delight of the King, who in like manner took some of them, and courteously returned them to the girls; with which sport they diverted them, until the servant had cooked the fish that had been given him: which, by Messer Neri's command, were set before the King rather as a side-dish than as aught very rare or delicious.
When the girls saw that all the fish were cooked, and that there was no occasion for them to catch any more, they came forth of the pond, their fine white garments cleaving everywhere close to their flesh so as to hide scarce any part of their delicate persons, took up again the things that they had brought, and passing modestly before the King, returned to the house. The King, and the Count, and the other gentlemen that waited, had regarded the maidens with no little attention, and had, one and all, inly bestowed on them no little praise, as being fair and shapely, and therewithal sweet and debonair; but 'twas in the King's eyes that they especially found favour. Indeed, as they came forth of the water, the King had scanned each part of their bodies so intently that, had one then pricked him, he would not have felt it, and his thoughts afterwards dwelling upon them, though he knew not who they were, nor how they came to be there, he felt stir within his heart a most ardent desire to pleasure them, whereby he knew very well that, if he took not care, he would grow enamoured; howbeit he knew not whether of the twain pleased him the more, so like was each to the other. Having thus brooded a while, he turned to Messer Neri, and asked who the two damsels were. Whereto:—"Sire," replied Messer Neri, "they are my twin daughters, and they are called, the one, Ginevra the Fair, and the other, Isotta the Blonde." Whereupon the King was loud in praise of them, and exhorted Messer Neri to bestow them in marriage. To which Messer Neri demurred, for that he no longer had the means. And nought of the supper now remaining to serve, save the fruit, in came the two young damsels in gowns of taffeta very fine, bearing in their hands two vast silver salvers full of divers fruits, such as the season yielded, and set them on the table before the King. Which done, they withdrew a little space and fell a singing to music a ditty, of which the opening words were as follows:—
Love, many words would not suffice There where I am come to tell.
And so dulcet and delightsome was the strain that to the King, his eyes and ears alike charmed, it seemed as if all the nine orders of angels were descended there to sing. The song ended, they knelt and respectfully craved the King's leave to depart; which, though sorely against his will, he gave them with a forced gaiety.
Supper ended, the King and his companions, having remounted their horses, took leave of Messer Neri, and conversing of divers matters, returned to the royal quarters; where the King, still harbouring his secret passion, nor, despite affairs of state that supervened, being able to forget the beauty and sweetness of Ginevra the Fair, for whose sake he likewise loved her twin sister, was so limed by Love that he could scarce think of aught else. So, feigning other reasons, he consorted familiarly with Messer Neri, and did much frequent his garden, that he might see Ginevra. And at length, being unable to endure his suffering any longer, and being minded, for that he could devise no other expedient, to despoil their father not only of the one but of the other damsel also, he discovered both his love and his project to Count Guy; who, being a good man and true, thus made answer:—"Sire, your tale causes me not a little astonishment, and that more especially because of your conversation from your childhood to this very day, I have, methinks, known more than any other man. And as no such passion did I ever mark in you, even in your youth, when Love should more readily have fixed you with his fangs, as now I discern, when you are already on the verge of old age, 'tis to me so strange, so surprising that you should veritably love, that I deem it little short of a miracle. And were it meet for me to reprove you, well wot I the language I should hold to you, considering that you are yet in arms in a realm but lately won, among a people as yet unknown to you, and wily and treacherous in the extreme, and that the gravest anxieties and matters of high policy engross your mind, so that you are not as yet able to sit you down, and nevertheless amid all these weighty concerns you have given harbourage to false, flattering Love. This is not the wisdom of a great king, but the folly of a feather-pated boy. And moreover, what is far worse, you say that you are resolved to despoil this poor knight of his two daughters, whom, entertaining you in his house, and honouring you to the best of his power, he brought into your presence all but naked, testifying thereby, how great is his faith in you, and how assured he is that you are a king, and not a devouring wolf. Have you so soon forgotten that 'twas Manfred's outrageous usage of his subjects that opened you the way into this realm? What treachery was he ever guilty of that better merited eternal torment, than 'twould be in you to wrest from one that honourably entreats you at once his hope and his consolation? What would be said of you if so you should do? Perchance you deem that 'twould suffice to say:—'I did it because he is a Ghibelline.' Is it then consistent with the justice of a king that those, be they who they may, who seek his protection, as this man has sought yours, should be entreated after this sort? King, I bid you remember that exceeding great as is your glory to have vanquished Manfred, yet to conquer oneself is a still greater glory: wherefore you, to whom belongs the correction of others, see to it that you conquer yourself, and refrain this unruly passion; and let not such a blot mar the splendour of your achievements."
Sore stricken at heart by the Count's words, and the more mortified that he acknowledged their truth, the King heaved a fervent sigh or two, and then:—"Count," quoth he, "that enemy there is none, however mighty, but to the practised warrior is weak enough and easy to conquer in comparison of his own appetite, I make no doubt, but, great though the struggle will be and immeasurable the force that it demands, so shrewdly galled am I by your words, that not many days will have gone by before I shall without fail have done enough to shew you that I, that am the conqueror of others, am no less able to gain the victory over myself." And indeed but a few days thereafter, the King, on his return to Naples, being minded at once to leave himself no excuse for dishonourable conduct, and to recompense the knight for his honourable entreatment of him, did, albeit 'twas hard for him to endow another with that which he had most ardently desired for himself, none the less resolve to bestow the two damsels in marriage, and that not as Messer Neri's daughters, but as his own. Wherefore, Messer Neri consenting, he provided both with magnificent dowries, and gave Ginevra the Fair to Messer Maffeo da Palizzi, and Isotta the Blonde to Messer Guglielmo della Magna, noble knights and great barons both; which done, sad at heart beyond measure, he betook him to Apulia, and by incessant travail did so mortify his vehement appetite that he snapped and broke in pieces the fetters of Love, and for the rest of his days was no more vexed by such passion.
Perchance there will be those who say that 'tis but a trifle for a king to bestow two girls in marriage; nor shall I dispute it: but say we that a king in love bestowed in marriage her whom he loved, neither having taken nor taking, of his love, leaf or flower or fruit; then this I say was a feat great indeed, nay, as great as might be.
After such a sort then did this magnificent King, at once generously rewarding the noble knight, commendably honouring the damsels that he loved, and stoutly subduing himself.
— King Pedro, being apprised of the fervent love borne him by Lisa, who thereof is sick, comforts her, and forthwith gives her in marriage to a young gentleman, and having kissed her on the brow, ever after professes himself her knight. —
When Fiammetta was come to the end of her story, and not a little praise had been accorded to the virile magnificence of King Charles, albeit one there was of the ladies, who, being a Ghibelline, joined not therein, Pampinea, having received the king's command, thus began:—None is there of discernment, worshipful my ladies, that would say otherwise than you have said touching good King Charles, unless for some other cause she bear him a grudge; however, for that there comes to my mind the, perchance no less honourable, entreatment of one of our Florentine girls by one of his adversaries, I am minded to recount the same to you.
What time the French were driven forth of Sicily there dwelt at Palermo one of our Florentines, that was an apothecary, Bernardo Puccini by name, a man of great wealth, that by his lady had an only and exceeding fair daughter, then of marriageable age. Now King Pedro of Arragon, being instated in the sovereignty of the island, did at Palermo make with his barons marvellous celebration thereof; during which, as he tilted after the Catalan fashion, it befell that Bernardo's daughter, Lisa by name, being with other ladies at a window, did thence espy him in the course, whereat being prodigiously delighted, she regarded him again and again, and grew fervently enamoured of him; nor yet, when the festivities were ended, and she was at home with her father, was there aught she could think of but this her exalted and aspiring love. In regard whereof that which most irked her was her sense of her low rank, which scarce permitted her any hope of a happy issue; but, for all that, give over her love for the King she would not; nor yet, for fear of worse to come, dared she discover it. The King, meanwhile, recking, witting nothing of the matter, her suffering waxed immeasurable, intolerable; and her love ever growing with ever fresh accessions of melancholy, the fair maiden, overborne at last, fell sick, and visibly day by day wasted like snow in sunlight. Distraught with grief thereat, her father and mother afforded her such succour as they might with words of good cheer, and counsel of physicians, and physic; but all to no purpose; for that she in despair of her love was resolved no more to live.
Now her father assuring her that there was no whim of hers but should be gratified, the fancy took her that, if she might find apt means, she would, before she died, make her love and her resolve known to the King: wherefore one day she besought her father to cause Minuccio d'Arezzo, to come to her; which Minuccio, was a singer and musician of those days, reputed most skilful, and well seen of King Pedro. Bernardo, deeming that Lisa desired but to hear him play and sing a while, conveyed her message to him; and he, being an agreeable fellow, came to her forthwith, and after giving her some words of loving cheer, sweetly discoursed some airs upon his viol, and then sang her some songs; whereby, while he thought to comfort her, he did but add fire and flame to her love. Presently the girl said that she would fain say a few words to him in private, and when all else were withdrawn from the chamber:—"Minuccio," quoth she, "thee have I chosen, deeming thee most trusty, to be the keeper of my secret, relying upon thee in the first place never to betray it to a soul, and next to lend me in regard thereof such aid as thou mayst be able; and so I pray thee to do. Thou must know, then, Minuccio mine, that on the day when our lord King Pedro held the great festival in celebration of his triumph, I, seeing him tilt, was so smitten with love of him that thereof was kindled within my soul the fire which has brought me, as thou seest, to this pass; and knowing how ill it beseems me to love a king, and being unable, I say not to banish it from my heart, but so much as to bring it within bounds, and finding it exceeding grievous to bear, I have made choice of death as the lesser pain; and die I shall. But should he wot not of my love before I die, sore disconsolate should I depart; and knowing not by whom more aptly than by thee I might give him to know this my frame, I am minded to entrust the communication thereof to thee; which office I entreat thee not to refuse, and having discharged it, to let me know, that dying thus consoled, I may depart this pain." Which said, she silently wept.
Marvelling at the loftiness of the girl's spirit and her desperate determination, Minuccio commiserated her not a little; and presently it occurred to him that there was a way in which he might honourably serve her: wherefore:—"Lisa," quoth he, "my faith I plight thee, wherein thou mayst place sure confidence that I shall never play thee false, and lauding thy high emprise, to wit, the setting thine affections upon so great a king, I proffer thee mine aid, whereby, so thou wilt be of good cheer, I hope, and believe, that, before thou shalt see the third day from now go by, I shall have brought thee tidings which will be to thee for an exceeding great joy; and, not to lose time, I will set to work at once." And so Lisa, assuring him that she would be of good cheer, and plying him afresh with instant obsecrations, bade him Godspeed; and Minuccio, having taken leave of her, hied him to one Mico da Siena, a very expert rhymester of those days, who at his instant request made the ensuing song:—
Hence hie thee, Love; and hasting to my King, Give him to know what torment dire I bear, How that to death I fare, Still close, for fear, my passion harbouring.
Lo, Love, to thee with clasped hands I turn, And pray thee seek him where he tarrieth, And tell him how I oft for him do yearn, So sweetly he my heart enamoureth; And of the fire, wherewith I throughly burn, I think to die, but may the hour uneath Say, when my grievous pain shall with my breath Surcease; till when, neither may fear nor shame The least abate the flame. Ah! to his ears my woeful story bring.
Since of him I was first enamoured, Never hast thou, O Love, my fearful heart With any such fond hope encouraged, As e'er its message to him to impart, To him, my lord, that me so sore bested Holds: dying thus, 'twere grievous to depart: Perchance, were he to know my cruel smart, 'Twould not displease him; might I but make bold My soul to him to unfold, And shew him all my woeful languishing.
Love, since 'twas not thy will me to accord Such boldness as that e'er unto my King I may discover my sad heart's full hoard, Or any word or sign thereof him bring: This all my prayer to thee, O sweet my Lord: Hie thee to him, and so him whispering Mind of the day I saw him tourneying With all his paladins environed, And grew enamoured Ev'n to my very heart's disrupturing.
Which words Minuccio forthwith set to music after a soft and plaintive fashion befitting their sense; and on the third day thereafter hied him to court, while King Pedro was yet at breakfast. And being bidden by the King to sing something to the accompaniment of his viol, he gave them this song with such sweet concord of words and music that all the folk that were in the King's hall seemed, as it were, entranced, so intent and absorbed stood they to listen, and the King rather more than the rest. And when Minuccio had done singing, the King asked whence the song came, that, as far as he knew, he had never heard it before. "Sire," replied Minuccio, "'tis not yet three days since 'twas made, words and music alike." And being asked by the King in regard of whom 'twas made:—"I dare not," quoth he, "discover such a secret save to you alone." Bent on hearing the story, the King, when the tables were cleared, took Minuccio into his privy chamber; and there Minuccio told him everything exactly as he had heard it from Lisa's lips. Whereby the King was much gratified, and lauded the maiden not a little, and said that a girl of such high spirit merited considerate treatment, and bade Minuccio be his envoy to her, and comfort her, and tell her that without fail that very day at vespers he would come to visit her. Overjoyed to bear the girl such gladsome tidings, Minuccio tarried not, but hied him back to the girl with his viol, and being closeted with her, told her all that had passed, and then sang the song to the accompaniment of his viol. Whereby the girl was so cheered and delighted that forthwith there appeared most marked and manifest signs of the amendment of her health, while with passionate longing (albeit none in the house knew or divined it) she awaited the vesper hour, when she was to see her lord.
Knowing the girl very well, and how fair she was, and pondering divers times on what Minuccio had told him, the King, being a prince of a liberal and kindly disposition, grew ever more compassionate. So, about vespers, he mounted his horse, and rode forth, as if for mere pleasure, and being come to the apothecary's house, demanded access to a very goodly garden that the apothecary had, and having dismounted, after a while enquired of Bernardo touching his daughter, and whether he had yet bestowed her in marriage. "Sire," replied Bernardo, "she is not yet married; and indeed she has been and still is very ill howbeit since none she is wonderfully amended." The significance of which amendment being forthwith apprehended by the King:—"In good faith," quoth he, "'twere a pity so fair a creature were reft from the world so early; we would go in and visit her." And presently, attended only by two of his lords and Bernardo, he betook him to her chamber, where being entered, he drew nigh the bed, whereon the girl half reclined, half sate in eager expectation of his coming; and taking her by the hand:—"Madonna," quoth he, "what means this? A maiden like you should be the comfort of others, and you suffer yourself to languish. We would entreat you that for love of us you be of good cheer, so as speedily to recover your health." To feel the touch of his hand whom she loved above all else, the girl, albeit somewhat shamefast, was so enraptured that 'twas as if she was in Paradise; and as soon as she was able:—"My lord," she said, "'twas the endeavour, weak as I am, to sustain a most grievous burden that brought this sickness upon me; but 'twill not be long ere you will see me quit thereof, thanks to your courtesy." The hidden meaning of which words was apprehended only by the King, who momently made more account of the girl, and again and again inly cursed Fortune, that had decreed that she should be the daughter of such a man. And yet a while he tarried with her, and comforted her, and so took his leave. Which gracious behaviour of the King was not a little commended, and accounted a signal honour to the apothecary and his daughter.