Xenofonte, a notary, makes his will, and leaves to Bertuccio, his son, three hundred ducats, of which the young man spends one hundred in the purchase of a dead body, and two hundred in the ransom of the daughter of Crisippo, King of Novarra, Tarquinia by name, whom he afterwards takes to wife.
THERE is a common proverb which teaches us that we shall never be losers by the performance of any kindly act, and that this proverb is a true one is clearly shown by what happened to the son of a certain notary, who, though on one occasion he was censured by his mother for spending (as she deemed) his money amiss, was in the end commended by her, and was enabled to bring the affair to an issue pleasing to both of them.
In Trino, a village of Piamonte, there lived in times now some years agone, a notary, a discreet and intelligent man, called by name Xenofonte, who had one son fifteen years of age named Bertuccio, a youth who was by nature more simpleton than sage. It happened that one day Xenofonte fell ill, and, seeing that the end of his life was now drawing near, he made his last will, according to which instrument he appointed Bertuccio his lawfully-born son his heir, as it was natural that he should do, making, how ever, this condition, that he should not be permitted to enjoy full and uncontrolled possession of his estate until he should have attained his thirtieth year. In mitigation of this, however, he ex pressed a wish that when Bertuccio should be twenty-five years of age there should be handed over to him three hundred ducats of his wealth wherewith to trade and barter.
After the testator's death, when Bertuccio's twenty-fifth birthday had come, the young man demanded of his mother, who was the executrix of his father's will, that she should hand over to him one hundred ducats out of the above-named sum. The mother, who could not deny his request, seeing that it was according to her husband's intention, at once gave him the money, begging him at the same time to employ it with prudence and judgment, and by the use of it make some gain for himself whereby they might be able to keep a better household. To this request of his mother Bertuccio replied that he would not fail to put it to a use which would satisfy her.
Having received his money, Bertuccio set out upon his travels, and as he journeyed he one day encountered a thief who had just slain a merchant on the public highway, and, although the poor man was quite dead, the robber still continued to strike and wound him afresh. When Bertuccio saw what the ruffian was doing, he was greatly moved to pity, and cried out, 'What is it you do, my good man? Do you not see that he is dead already?' Whereupon the highwayman, with his hands all stained with blood, cried out in an angry voice, 'Get you gone from here as quickly as you can, for your own good. If you do not, you will meet with something not to your taste.' Then said Bertuccio, 'Brother, are you willing to hand over to me the corpse of this dead man? If you will let me have it, I will pay you well for it.' The highwayman said, 'How much will you give me for it?' 'I will give you therefor fifty ducats,' replied Bertuccio. 'This is a very small sum of money compared with the value of the corpse,' said the highwayman. 'If you wish to have it, it shall be yours for eighty ducats.' Bertuccio, who was of a kindly, charitable nature, at once paid over to the highwayman eighty ducats, and having hoisted the dead body on his shoulders, he carried it off to a neighbouring church and there caused it to be honourably buried, leaving likewise the residue of the hundred ducats to be spent in sacred offices and in masses for the repose of the soul of the murdered man.
Bertuccio, being now stripped of all his money and having nothing in his purse wherewith to live, went back to his home, and when his mother saw him approaching she deemed that he must have made some money; so she went to meet him, inquiring of him how he had fared in his trafficking. He replied that he had prospered mightily; whereupon his mother rejoiced greatly, giving thanks to God that He had at last endowed her son with intelligence and good sense. Said Bertuccio: 'Yesterday, my mother, I traded so well that I saved your soul and mine own also; therefore, whenever our souls may take flight from these our mortal bodies, they will go direct to Paradise.' And then he told her everything that he had done from beginning to end. As soon as his mother heard what he had to say, she was overcome with grief, and reproached him bitterly for his folly.
Before many days had passed Bertuccio once more approached his mother, and asked her to give him the rest of the three hundred ducats which his father had bequeathed to him. The mother, who was not able to gainsay this request of his, cried out as one in despair, 'Here are your two hundred ducats; take them, and do your worst with them, and never come back to this house again!' To this speech Bertuccio answered: 'Good mother, do not be afraid, but be of good cheer, for this time I will assuredly act so that you will be fully satisfied with me.' Whereupon the son, having taken his money, departed, and after he had travelled a short distance he came into a certain wood, where he chanced to meet two soldiers who had just captured Tarquinia, the daughter of Crisippo, King of Novarra. Between her two captors there had arisen a very sharp dispute as to which of them had the strongest claim on the person of their captive, and Bertuccio, when he came up to them, thus addressed them, saying: 'Oh! my brothers, what is this thing you are doing? Would you cut one another's throats on account of this damsel? If you will only hand her over to me I will give you in return a guerdon which will assuredly satisfy both of you.' Hereupon the soldiers left off fighting the one with the other, and demanded of Bertuccio how much he would be inclined to give them if they would promise to leave the damsel at his disposal. To this he made answer that he would give them two hundred ducats.
The soldiers, knowing nothing of the fact that Tarquinia was the daughter of a king, and being, moreover, in fear of death on account of what they had done, took the two hundred ducats, which they shared in equal parts, and left the damsel in Bertuccio's keeping. The youth, greatly delighted that he had delivered the maiden, went back once more to his home and said to his mother: 'Oh! mother, you will have no cause this time to make complaint that I have not spent my money to a good purpose, forasmuch as I, bearing in mind how solitary is the life you lead here, have purchased this damsel with the two hundred ducats you gave me, and have brought her home to you in order that she may bear you company.' The mother, when she perceived what her son had done, felt that this last freak of his was in truth more than she could bear; so turning towards him she began to assault him with bitter words and grave reproofs, wishing the while that he was lying dead before her, for the reason that in her sight he was nought else than the ruin and disgrace of the house. But the son, who was by disposition very gentle, did not let his anger be kindled by these words of his mother; on the other hand, he tried with peaceful speech to comfort her, affirming that he had done this thing entirely for love of her, and so that she might no longer live such a lonely life.
The King of Novarra, when he discovered that his daughter was lost, sent out a great quantity of soldiers in divers directions to see whether they could gather any news of her, and after they had diligently searched all the country over and over again, the news was brought to them that in the house of one Bertuccio da Trino in Piamonte there was abiding a maiden whom the said Bertuccio had bought for the sum of two hundred ducats. Whereupon the soldiers of the king forthwith took their way towards Piamonte, and having come there they sought out Bertuccio, of whom they inquired whether a certain maiden had fallen into his hands. To this Bertuccio replied, 'It is true that some days ago I bought a young girl from certain robbers into whose hands she had fallen, but who she may be I know not.' 'Where is she now?' asked the soldiers. 'She is in the keeping of my mother,' answered Bertuccio, 'who loves her as dearly as if she were her own child.' When they had gone into Bertuccio's house the soldiers found the princess there, and for the reason that she was now meanly clad and thin and shrunken of visage through the many sufferings and hardships she had undergone, they scarcely knew her. But after they had gazed upon her for some time, and duly conned each feature, they were assured, from the description given of her, who she must be, and declared that in truth she was Tarquinia, the daughter of Crisippo, King of Novarra, rejoicing mightily the while that they had found her. Bertuccio, who was fully satisfied that what the soldiers said was the truth, cried out, 'Brethren, if the maiden be indeed the one ye seek, take her at once and conduct her home, for I am well content that it should be so.' But Tarquinia, before she took her departure, laid a command upon Bertuccio, that if at any time news should be brought to him how King Crisippo was about to give his daughter in marriage, he should straightway betake himself to Novarra, and when he should have come into the presence of the court, he should raise his right hand to his head to let her know that he was there, declaring in the end that she had resolved to have him for her husband, and no other man. Then, having bidden farewell to Bertuccio and his mother, she took her way back to Novarra.
The king, as soon as he beheld his daughter, who had been thus restored to him, wept plentifully for joy, and after many endearments and fatherly kisses he inquired of her how it was that she had been lost. Whereupon the damsel, weeping the while, told him all the circumstances as to how she had been captured by robbers, how these had sold her, and how, after all her perils, her virginity had been preserved. A short time after her return to her father's court Tarquinia recovered all her beauty, and became plump and fresh and lovely as a rose, whereupon King Crisippo let the report be spread abroad that he wished to find a husband for his daughter. As soon as this news came to the ears of Bertuccio, he immediately took his way towards Novarra, mounted upon an old mare who was so lean that it would have been easy to count all the bones in her body.
As the good Bertuccio was thus riding along, equipped in a very scurvy fashion, he encountered a noble cavalier richly accoutred, and accompanied by a great train of followers. The cavalier, with a merry face, thus addressed Bertuccio: 'Where are you going all alone, my brother?' And to this Bertuccio replied, 'To Novarra.' 'And on what business are you bound?' said the cavalier. 'If you will listen to me I will tell you why I am making this journey,' said Bertuccio. 'Three months ago I delivered the daughter of the King of Novarra, who by ill-luck had been captured by robbers, and I ransomed her from their hands with my own money. Before she parted with me she laid a command upon me, that as soon as I should hear the report that her father was about to give her in marriage, I should forthwith go to Novarra, and, having made my way to the royal palace, should lift my right hand to my head as a sign of my presence. She told me, likewise, that she would take no other man for her husband but me.' Then said the cavalier, 'But I, forsooth, will get there long before you, and will win the daughter of the king for my wife, for the reason that I am far better mounted than you, and clad in richer and more sumptuous apparel.' Then said the good Bertuccio, 'Go on your way, my lord, and good luck go with you! I shall rejoice at your good fortune as if it were my own.'
As soon as the cavalier saw how great was the urbanity, not to say the simplicity, of the young man, he said, 'Give me at once your clothes and the mare you are riding, and take in exchange this charger of mine and my rich clothes, and ride on to Novarra, and good luck go with you! But I make a condition, that when you return to me here you shall give me back my clothes and my horse, together with the half of whatever you may have won for yourself.' And Bertuccio made answer that he would agree to do all this.
Whereupon Bertuccio, mounted upon the noble horse and richly clad in the raiment of the cavalier, rode on to Novarra, and, having entered the city and reached the royal palace, he saw Crisippo the king standing on a balcony and looking down into the piazza. The king, when he remarked this handsome and well-favoured youth, so nobly mounted and accoutred, said within himself, 'Ah! would to God that Tarquinia, my daughter, might be disposed to take this young man for her husband! Then, indeed, I should be mightily well content.' After this he went down from the balcony into the audience chamber, where were gathered a great number of high nobility who had come to look upon the princess. Bertuccio, having by this time dismounted from his horse, went into the palace and stationed himself amongst the humbler folk therein congregated. The king Crisippo, seeing that a very large number of gentlemen and cavaliers had now come together into the hail, bade them summon his daughter into his presence, and when she was come he thus addressed her: 'Tarquinia, you must know that a great number of noble gentle men are here assembled to demand of me your hand in marriage. Now look round about you on every side, and consider well which one of all those you see here seems to please you best, and, when you have fixed on any certain one, he shall be your husband.' Tarquinia, as she walked through the hail, caught sight of Bertuccio, who held up his right hand to his head in the manner prescribed by her, and she knew him at once. Then, turning towards her father, she said, 'Sacred majesty, if it be your pleasure, I will take none other but this man for my husband.' Thereupon the king, who desired as much as Tarquinia that this thing should come to pass, answered, 'Be it as you will.' And before the company dispersed the king caused the nuptials to be celebrated in the most sumptuous and magnificent fashion, to the great contentment and delight of bride and bridegroom alike.
And when the time came for Bertuccio to conduct his new spouse to his home, he mounted his horse, and, having come to the spot where he had first met the cavalier, he found him still abiding there. The cavalier straightway accosted him, and said, 'My brother, take now this mare of yours and your clothing, and give me back my horse and my garments, together with half of whatever you may have gained since we parted.' Whereupon Bertuccio, with good grace, gave up the horse and the accoutrements which belonged to the cavalier, and besides these handed over to him the half of whatever gift the king had bestowed upon him. But the cavalier said, 'You have not yet given me the half of all that is my due, seeing that you have not divided with me your wife.' To this speech Bertuccio made answer, 'But in what manner will it he possible to divide her?' The cavalier said, 'Can we not cut her in half.' Then Bertuccio replied, 'Ah, my lord, it would be too great a sin and shame thus to slay such a woman! Rather than so wicked a deed should be done, and she be killed, take her all for your own, and lead her away, for I have al ready received benefits enough from your great courtesy.' The cavalier, when he perceived of what a simple and kindly nature Bertuccio was, said to him, 'Oh! my brother, take everything that I have, for all that you see here belongs to you, and I give you full possession of my horse, of all my raiment, of my treasure, and of my share in this fair lady. And now you must know that I myself am none other than the spirit of that man to whom you gave honourable sepulture after he had been slain by a highway robber and on whose behalf you caused to be said many masses and other divine offices for the welfare of his soul. Wherefore I, as a recompense for the great service done by you, hand over to you every thing I have, at the same time announcing to you that for you and for your good mother as well there are prepared habitations in Heaven above, where you will dwell in perpetual bliss.' And, having spoken these words, the spirit of the cavalier straightway disappeared.
After this Bertuccio returned to his home rejoicing, taking with him Tarquinia his bride, whom he presented to his mother, giving her at the same time a daughter-in-law and a daughter. The mother, having tenderly embraced Tarquinia, accepted her as her daughter, rendering thanks to the supreme Deity who had so beneficently worked on their behalf. And thus I declare at the end, as well as at the beginning of my story, that we shall never lose anything by doing a kindly action to another.
As soon as Lionora had brought her fable to an end, she turned to the Signora and spake thus: "Signora, by your leave I will conform to the rule which we have observed from the beginning." And the Signora with a gracious smile bade her give her enigma.
I tell of one who succour gave
There arose a great dispute concerning the real meaning of this skilfully-conceived enigma; however, there was no one who was keen-witted enough to hit the mark, so the prudent Lionora gave the interpretation thereof in this wise "By the brink of a clear gushing spring there stood a thick-leaved tree, in the high branches of which was a bird's nest, full of lovely nestlings, over which the parent bird kept careful guard. It chanced that a youth who was passing by below caught sight of a serpent which was about to climb up into the tree, and killed it with his sword. Then the youth was seized with desire to get him to drink some of the water from the fountain, whereupon the mother of the nestlings he had saved from death be fouled the water by casting down there- into the dirt from her nest, and this thing she did again and again. The youth was mightily astonished at what he saw, and, having drawn up some of the water of the fountain, he gave it to a little dog he had wit Ii him to drink, and straightway the beast died by reason of the poisonous water it took. Then the youth understood how his life had been preserved on account of what the bird had done." This excellent interpretation of Lionora's subtle enigma won high praise from all the company, and especially from Diana, who, without any persuasion from the others, began her fable in the following words.
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.