A buffoon by means of a pleasantry tricks a certain gentleman, and is cast into prison therefor, from whence, on account of another jest, he is liberated.
THERE is a saying which is with good reason held in wide esteem, that, though the antics of a jester may now and then divert us, it follows not that we must always take pleasure therein. On this account, seeing that I have been chosen to take the fourth place in the story-telling of the present evening, there has come into my mind the recollection of a fable which tells how a certain buffoon played a knavish trick upon a gentleman, who contrived to avenge himself and get full satisfaction, but in spite of this the fellow put yet another jest upon him, in such wise that he himself was thereby liberated from the prison into which he had been thrown.
Vicenza, as is well known to all of you, is a noble, rich, and splendid city, and the dwelling-place of many men of brilliant parts. Once upon a time there lived in this city Signor Hector, a member of the ancient and noble family of the Dreseni, who far surpassed all others of his age in the elegance of his discourse and the loftiness of his mind, thus giving and leaving behind him a noble name to those who might come after him. In sooth, so great were the gifts of mind and body enjoyed by this noble gentle man, that he well deserved to have had his effigy carved as a marvel of art and workmanship, and set up in the public ways and the piazzas and churches and theatres of the city, and to have had his name exalted with the most enthusiastic praise as high as the stars of heaven. So great indeed was his beneficence, that it appeared as if no quality at all worthy of remembrance was wanting in him. His patience in listening was inexhaustible; equally weighty were the answers he gave to any who might inquire of him. His fortitude in adversity, the splendour of his deeds, the justice and mercy of his decisions - in short, the whole range of his conduct allowed it to be said that the great-souled Signor Hector took the foremost place amongst the members of the family of the Dreseni.
It happened one day that a certain gentleman sent to this illustrious noble man a quarter of very choice veal. The servant who carried the meat, as soon as he came to the palace of the Signor Hector, chanced to meet there a sharp-sighted thief, and this latter, as soon as his eye fell upon the lackey with the quarter of veal, hastily went up to him and inquired of him who might have sent the meat he was carrying. Then, after having learnt from the servant who it was, the knave charged him to wait there awhile until he should have told the signor of the gift. Whereupon, having gone into the house, he began (after the manner of buffoons) to juggle somewhat and play the zany, tarrying some time in order to befool both the servant without and the master within, but letting fall no word concerning the present which had been sent. Then he went back to the door, and, in the name of the master of the house, he returned due thanks to the sender of the veal, in terms which were entirely well fitted for the occasion, ordering the servant at the same time to follow him, inasmuch as the Signor Hector desired to pass on the present to a certain friend of his. In this fashion he :cleverly led the servant away to his own house, where he found his brother, to whom he handed over the veal with the intention of having it cooked for his own eating. This done, they went their several ways, and the servant, when he re turned home, gave to his master the thanks which had been tendered to him in the name of Signor Hector.
One day, not long after this, the gentleman who had sent the quarter of veal met Signor Hector and put a question to him (as is the custom of some to do) whether he had found the veal good and well fattened. Whereupon Signor Hector, knowing nought of the matter concerning which the gentleman spoke, demanded of him what veal he might be talking of, affirming that he himself had received no quarter of veal or third part either. Then the donor who had sent it called his servant and inquired of him concerning the person to whom he had given the meat. The servant forthwith gave full description of the man, saying, 'The man who took the veal from me in the name of his master was a fellow fat in his body, with a merry eye and a big paunch, and with a mumbling trick of speech. He bade me take the veal to the house of another gentleman.' Signor Hector, by means of this description, immediately perceived in his mind who the rogue must be, for the reason that the fellow in question was wont often to play such tricks. Thus, when he had summoned the knave before him, he found that the matter stood exactly as he had suspected, and after having taken to task the culprit, he sent him quickly to prison, and commanded them to clap his legs in fetters, indignant that such a disgrace and shame should have been put upon him by a juggler who had thus rashly ventured to deceive him.
But, as it came to pass, the rascally hanger-on was not fated to undergo a whole day's incarceration, because in the palace of the judicature, where the buffoon was examined, there was by a curious accident a certain officer called by name Vitello [Vitello: veal, a calf.]. This man the prisoner begged to come to him, and, either to heap up one offence upon another, or to discover some way out of his misfortune, wrote a letter to Signor Hector in these terms, and gave the same to the officer to deliver: 'Gracious Signor, trusting in the generosity of your lordship I accepted the quarter of veal which was sent to you as a gift, and now in return for your kindness I send you, as a recompense for your quarter, a whole calf, and thus recommend myself to your favour.' Then he despatched the letter by the hand of the officer, who promised to see it safely delivered in his name. The officer went without tarrying to Signor Hector, and handed over to him the letter, which he read forthwith, and then gave command to his servants that they should lay hold of the calf which the buffoon had sent him as a present and slaughter it. The officer, as soon as he heard the order given to the servants that they should take him and butcher him, quickly unsheathed the sword which he carried by his side, and, brandishing it naked in his hand and winding his cloak round his left arm, began to cry out in a loud voice, 'It is written indeed that in the dwellings of the great wickedness rules supreme, but you shall never make veal of this calf except you first kill and dismember him. Stand back, you knaves, if you do not wish to be dead men all of you.' All those who were standing round were astonished at this strange speech and behaviour, but nevertheless they felt themselves constrained to break out into laughter. And on account of this jest the buffoon was set at liberty, showing thus that it was not without reason that the famous philosopher Diogenes declared how men should seek to avoid the envy of friends even more studiously than the snares of foes; forasmuch as the latter are evils plain to be seen, while the former, being secret and hidden, are far more potent for harm, because our fears are never aroused into watchfulness by their presence.
Isabella here brought her brief fable to an end, and won no small praise therefor from the honourable company. Then, to complete her task, she set to work and gave an enigma for solution in the following words:
Twofold are we in our name,
This enigma," she said," means no other thing than the scissors with which ladies are wont to cut thread; but amongst the poorer sort of people, such as tailors, shearers, barbers, and smiths, they are found of a size much greater than that of those used by ladies." Isabella's pretty riddle pleased greatly the listeners, who praised it loudly. Then Vicenza, who had been chosen to fill the last place of this present night, began to relate her fable in these 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.