Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

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Night the Tenth:
Fourth Fable:
Andrigetto di Val Sabbia and His Will

Andrigetto di Val Sabbia, a citizen of Como, being in articulo mortis, makes his will, and leaves his soul, together with that of his notary, and that of his confessor, to the devil, and then dies doomed to hell.

THERE is a well-used proverb that a bad end waits upon every bad life, and for this reason it is far wiser to live piously, as a good man should, than to give a loose rein to one's conscience, and, without forethought, to work one's will unrestrained, as did a certain noble citizen who, when nearing his latter end, bequeathed his soul to the enemy of mankind, and then in despair (as was the will of divine justice) made an evil end.

In Como, one of the lesser cities of Lombardy, not far distant from Milan, there once dwelt a citizen called Andrigetto di Val Sabbia, who, though he was rich beyond any other man in Como in goods and heritages and land and cattle, paid so little heed to his conscience that he was ever prompt to rise early in the morning to undertake some fresh wicked ness. His granaries were filled with all sorts of corn, the product of his farms, and it was his custom to peddle this away to the neighbouring peasants, in lieu of selling it to the merchants or to those who came with money in their hands; not being urged to this course by any compassion towards the poor, but rather designing thereby to snatch away from them any little bit of land which yet remained to them, and add it to his own, seeking always to gain his end in order that he might, little by little, get all the land round about into his own possession.

One certain year it happened that the country was afflicted by a grievous famine, so that in many places men and women and children died of hunger, and for this reason peasants from all the neighbouring parts, both from the mountains and the plains, betook themselves to Andrigetto, this one offering to let him have a meadow, that one a ploughed field, and the other a track of woodland, in exchange for corn and other provisions to serve their present need. And the crowd of people about Andrigetto's house, coming from all parts, was so great that one might well have believed the year of Jubilee1 was come.

There was living at that time in Como a notary, Tonisto Raspante by name, a man highly skilled in his calling, and one who far out-distanced all others of his craft in the address he showed in wringing the last coin out of the peasant's purse. Now one of the laws of Como forbade a notary to draw up any instrument of sale unless the money for the same should first have been counted over in his presence and in the presence of divers witnesses, and for this reason Tonisto Raspante, who had no mind to bring himself within reach of legal penalty, had more than once remonstrated with Andrigetto when the old usurer had required him to draw up contracts of sale which were contrary to the form of the statute of Como; but Andrigetto would heap foul abuse upon him, and even threaten his life if he persisted in his refusal. And because the usurer was a man of weight, a leading citizen, and one moreover who frequented assiduously the shrine of San Bocca d'oro,2 the notary dared not run counter to his will, but drew up the illegal contracts as he was commanded.

Just before the advent of a certain season when Andrigetto was wont always to go to confession, he sent to his confessor enough good cheer to give him self a sumptuous feast, and fine cloth enough to make hose for himself and for his servant as well, bidding him at the same time to keep himself in readiness on the morrow at the confessional. The priest, for the reason that Andrigetto was a man of wealth and of great weight in the city, took due heed of these words, and when he saw his penitent approaching made him dutiful obeisance, and prepared to receive his confession; whereupon Andrigetto, kneeling down and charging himself narrowly with divers transgressions, at last stumbled upon the sin of avarice, and laid bare in detail the history of all those illegal contracts he had made. The priest, who had read enough to know that these contracts were unlawful and usurious, began respectfully to take Andrigetto to task, pointing out to him that it was his duty to make restitution; but Andrigetto, who took this interference in very ill part, replied that the priest knew not what he was talking about, and that it behoved him to go and learn his duty. Now it was Andrigetto's habit often to send presents to the priest, who, fearing he might lose custom should the usurer resort to some other confessor, forthwith granted him absolution, with a light penance therewith, and Andrigetto, having thrust a crown into his hand, took his leave and departed with a light heart.

It chanced that soon after this Andrigetto was smitten with a malady so severe that he was given up by all the physicians. His relations and friends, perceiving by the report of the doctors that his disease was incurable, urged him to make his will, to regulate his affairs, and to confess himself according to the ways of all good Catholics and Christians; but he, who was altogether given up to avarice, and was accustomed night and day to think of nought else than how he might pile up more riches, took no thought of death, and put far away from him all those who would talk of such matter, causing rather to be brought to him now this and now that of his prized possessions, and taking delight in the handling thereof. But his friends were very pressing on his account; so to con tent them he let them summon Tonisto Raspante, his notary, and Messer Pre Neofito, his worthy confessor, in order that he might confess and settle his worldly affairs. When these two had come into his presence they saluted him, and asked him how he was, and prayed to God to give him back his health, exhorting him at the same time to take courage, for with God's help he might soon be himself again; but the sick man replied that he felt much worse, for which reason he desired now to make his will and to confess. Then the priest, turning his discourse to matters of faith, admonished him that he should be mindful of God and bow to His holy will, by which means there would be granted to him the restoration of his bodily health. This done, Andrigetto directed them to bring in seven men to be wit- nesses of his will. When these were come he said to the notary, 'Tonisto, how much do you charge for every will you draw?' 'The law allows us a form,' Tonisto answered; 'but we receive some times more, sometimes less, according to the wish of the testator.' Then Andrigetto went on: 'See, here are two for- ins, which I give you on condition that you set down everything I direct you to write.' The notary agreed to these terms, and, having invoked the name of God, and inscribed the year, and the month, and the day, according to the manner of his calling, began to write in these terms: 'I, Andrigetto di Val Sabbia, being of sound mind though infirm of body, bequeath and recommend my soul to God my creator, whom I thank with all my heart for the many benefits which He has showered upon me during this life.' But Andrigetto, interrupting him, said: 'What is it you have written there?' whereupon the notary replied, 'I have written this and that,' and told him word for word what he had set down. Then Andrigetto, in a passion of rage, cried out, 'And who told you to write in such terms? Why do you not keep the promise you made me? Now write down what I tell you - I, Andrigetto di Val Sabbia, infirm of body but sound in mind, bequeath and recommend my soul to the devil of hell.' The notary and the witnesses, when they heard these words, stood aghast, and, turning to the testator, said to him: 'Alas! Signor Andrigetto, what has be come of your good sense and your ordinary prudence? Surely these are the words of a madman. Have done with such folly, for the love of God, as well as with such sins against your good name, which must bring scandal and disgrace upon all your family. Remember also that all those who up to this time have rated you as a wise and prudent man will set you down as the most wicked and mischievous traitor nature ever brought forth, if you thus cast behind you all your well-being and salvation; and, indeed, if you thus despise your own welfare and profit, how much more will you despise the welfare and profit of others!' In answer to this Andrigetto, whose rage was now as hot as a burning brazier, replied, 'How? Have I
not commanded you to write exactly what I shall tell you, and have I not paid you beyond your due to do this?' To this question the notary replied affirmatively. 'Then put down,' said the testator, 'the things I tell you, and not those I have no mind for.' The poor notary would fain have been quit of the whole business, seeing how say- age was the old man's humour; nevertheless, fearing lest he might die in a fit brought on by his anger, he wrote all that was dictated to him. Then said Andrigetto to the notary, 'Write this - Item, I leave to the devil also the soul of Tonisto Raspante, my notary, in order that I may have company when I depart from this world.' 'Ah, Messer Andrigetto,' cried the notary, 'you are doing me a great injury, and putting an affront on my honour and good name.' Go on with your writing, rascal,' cried the testator, 'nor trouble me more than I am troubled already. I have given you double fee to write according to my wish ; so write as I shall direct you - For if he had not so readily endorsed my knavish suggestions, and drawn up so many unlawful and usurious contracts, but had driven me from his presence forthwith, I should not now find myself taken in this snare. And because in time past he set more store on my payments to him than on my soul, or his own, I once more give and commend him to Lucifer.'

The poor notary, fearing that yet worse might befall him, wrote down all the foregoing words, and then Andrigetto went on: 'Write now - Item, I bequeath now the soul of Pre Neofito, my confessor, to be tormented by sixty thousand devils.' 'What is this you say, Signor Andrigetto?' interrupted the priest. 'Are these the words of a sober man such as you have always been held to be? Good God, recall what you have said. Know you not that our Lord Jesus Christ is merciful, with arms of pity always open, provided that the sinner be convinced of his offences, and repents and acknowledges his transgressions. Acknowledge, therefore, the grave and enormous sins you have com mitted, and pray God for His mercy, and He will plentifully pardon you. The means are at hand, and you have yet time to restore what you have of other men's goods; and, if due restitution be made, God, who is all merciful and willeth not the death of a sinner, will pardon you, and receive you into paradise.'

Then Andrigetto answered, 'Wicked apostate priest, destroyer of my soul and of your own as well, man full of greed and simony! Fine counsel this, to give at such a time! Write, notary -I consign his soul to the centre of the pit; because, had he not been such a pestilential avaricious knave, he would not have been ever ready to absolve me from my sin, and then I should not have committed so many offences, nor should I find myself brought to my present state. 'What? does it seem honest and fitting that I should now strip myself of my wealth, ill-acquired though it be, and leave my children vagabonds and poor? No! keep counsel such as this for those whom it may profit. I will have nought to say to it. And, notary, write this also-Item, I leave to Felicita, my mistress, my farm in the village of Comachio, in order that she may be furnished with sustenance and raiment, and be able, from time to time, to take pleasure with her lovers as she has always done hitherto, and, when her life shall be finished, to come to me in the pit of hell and be tormented eternally with us three. And as to all my other goods, personal or otherwise, present or to come, I give them to my two legitimate sons, Comodo and Torquato, exhorting them to waste nothing of my estate in paying for masses, or matins, or vigils, or de profundis on my behalf, but rather to pass their time in gambling, wenching, drinking, brawling, fighting, and in all other nefarious and detestable courses, so that my goods, having been badly gotten, may in brief time be spent in like manner, and that my sons, when they shall be left bare, may hang themselves in despair. And this I declare to be my last will, and I call upon you all to wit ness it.'

When the will was written and executed, Andrigetto turned his face to the wall, and, with a roar like that of a bull, gave up his soul to Pluto, who had long been waiting for it. Thus the wretched sinful man, unconfessed and impenitent, made an end to his foul and wicked life.

When the gentle Eritrea had brought her story to a close, the whole company stood amazed at the folly, or rather the malice, of the wretched Andrigetto, who held it better to be the slave of the devil and the foe of the human race than to repent of his sin. And because the night was already somewhat advanced, Eritrea, without tarrying for the Signora's order, propounded her enigma:

I am supple, round, and white,
A good span's length will gauge me right;
If ladies to their service bind me,
Searching and alert they'll find me.
Give me but place, and lend a hand,
I'll enter and I'll take my stand.
But touch me not, on mischief bent,
Or dirty fingers you'll lament.

"It seems to me, Signora Eritrea, that your enigma can mean nothing else than the consigning of a soul to the devil," said Bembo, with a sly look; "but take care the devil get not into a certain warm place I know of, for then there may chance to ensue a conflagration." "I have no fear of that," said Eritrea. "Besides, my enigma has in no way the meaning you give to it." "Then expound to us the meaning at once," quoth Bembo, "and put an end to our perplexity." "Willingly," said Eritrea. "It signifies simply a tallow candle, which is white, and round, and not very hard, and if it be set up in the lantern, which is feminine in gender, there is plenty of room for it to stand. Moreover, no one ever yet handled a tallow candle without getting dirty fingers."

Now the crowing of the cocks pro claimed that midnight was already long past, so the Signora made sign to Cateruzza to complete this night, the tenth of their pleasant entertainment, by the telling of some graceful story and witty enigma; and she, who was ever more ready to speak than to keep silent, began her story in these terms.

1. An illusion to the vast crowds of people who flocked to Rome at the times of Jubilee in quest of plenary indulgence. Giovanni Villan, who went on one of these pilgrimages from Florence, declares there were never less than two hundred thousand strangers in Rome at these seasons; and Guglielmo Ventura estimates the total number of pilgrims in a Jubilee year at two millions. Dante (Inferno, xviii.) also refers to the enormous throng of Jubilee pilgrims in Rome:

"Comme i Roman, per l'esercito molto,
L'anno del Giubbileo, su per lo ponte
Hanno a passar la gente modo tolto;
Che dall' un lato tutti hanno la fronte
Verso 'l castello, e vanno a Santo Pietro,
Dali' altra sponda vanno verso 'l monte."

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2. Orig., et correva continuamente San Boccci d'oro. Bocca d'oro, a greedy lover of money. San Giovanni Bocca d'oro, coin or money given for a bribe, also a lewd manner of living. See the legend of the saint in Busk's "Folk-lore of Rome," p. 196, and Masuccio, 11 Noveilino," i. 6.
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Next: Night the Tenth: Fifth Fable

Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.

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