A certain fool, after having enjoyed the favours of a fair and gentle lady, is rewarded by the husband of the same.
I HAD settled in my mind to relate to you a fable of a character differing somewhat from this I am about to tell, but the story we have just heard from this my sister here has induced me to change my purpose, and made me anxious to point out to you how it happens, not seldom, that one may reap advantage from the mere fact of being a fool, and to add, as a warning, that it is always an unwise thing to make fools the sharers of our secrets.
In Pisa, one of the noblest cities of Tuscany, there resided in these our times a certain lady exceedingly fair and graceful, but over her name I think it more decent and seemly to pass in silence. This lady, who was joined in the bond of matrimony with a gentleman belonging to a house of high lineage, of great wealth, and wide-spreading influence, was hotly inflamed with amorous passion for a young man of the city, fully as well furnished with charms of manner and person as she herself, and this youth she was wont to receive in her own house every day about the hour of noon, when with the greatest ease of mind and confidence they would bring into play the weapons of Cupid, both of them taking the greatest pleasure and delight from this gentle converse.
It happened one day that a simple fellow, crying out at the top of his voice, ran past the house in pursuit of a dog which had stolen from him a piece of meat and was flying with the same in its mouth along the street. And a great crowd of people joined in the chase, hooting and crying and making a hideous hurlyburly thereanent; wherefore the dog, mindful of its own skin and bent on saving its life, having found the door of the lady's house standing somewhat open, rushed into the entrance and hid itself. The fool, who had espied the dog as it was running into the door of the house, began to cry out in a loud voice as soon as he came up, knocking violently at the door and shouting, 'Drive out the thief who is hidden within here at once, and do not give shelter to ribald rascals who richly deserve the gal lows.' It chanced that at this same time the lady had her paramour with her, and she, deeming that the great concourse of people she saw below could only have come thither in order to hale forth her lover, and thus to publish abroad the offence he had committed, was in great fear lest he should fall into the clutches of justice and suffer the penalty pre scribed by law for adulterers; so she opened gently the door of the house and allowed the fool to enter thereby. Then, as soon as she had once more closed the house, she threw herself on her knees before the simple fellow, and in the guise of a suppliant begged and entreated him that of his mercy he would keep silence, offering herself to him, just as she was, that he might take whatsoever pleasure of her he would, provided only that he should do nothing which might lead to the discovery of her lover. The fool (who forsooth showed himself to be shrewd enough in this matter) straightway put aside his former anger, and began to embrace her tenderly and to kiss her, and in a very short space of time they fell to playing the game which Venus loves. Scarcely were they disengaged from their task when the husband of the lady came home unexpectedly, and, knocking at the door, called out aloud that someone should come and open to him.
Hereupon the lady, with noteworthy and commendable presence of mind - albeit she felt herself sorely stricken by this unlooked-for ill, and uncertain what course she should adopt in such a calamity-took the young man her lover and carefully stowed him away under the bed, all bewildered with fear and half dead as he was, and next made the fool get up into the chimney and there hide himself. Then she opened the door straightway to her husband, and, after she had lavished upon him many amorous caresses, she adroitly begged him to come to bed with her and take his pleasure. And, seeing that it was now the season of winter, the husband gave order that a fire should be kindled forthwith, because he felt he had need of warmth. Where upon the lady caused them to bring wood for the making of the same, and she took good care that this wood should not be dry and prompt to burn quickly, but wood of the greenest that could be got ten. But the pungent smoke rising from the burning of wood of this sort made the eyes of the fool in the chimney smart acutely, and he found himself suffocated thereby in such a manner that he could hardly draw his breath, and, in spite of all his efforts to keep quiet, he could not help sneezing.
When the husband of the lady heard this noise he peered up the chimney and espied the fellow who was hidden there, and at once began to abuse and threaten him in good set terms, deeming him to be some lurking robber. But the simple ton cried out, and said: 'Aha, Signor! you have spied out me, but you have not spied out the gallant who is hidden under the bed there. I, in sooth, have once enjoyed your wife, and once only; but he has befouled your bed a thousand times.' When he heard these words of the fool, the husband became as it were beside himself with rage, and having looked under the bed, he found the lover there, and straightway slew him. Thereupon the fool, who had by this time come down from his hiding-place in the chimney, caught up a thick stick and began to cry out at the top of his voice, saying: 'You have slain this man, who was a debtor of mine. By God, if you do not pay me the sum he owes me, I will lay a charge against you be fore the judge, and accuse you of the death of this gallant here.'
The homicide stood for a time considering well these words spoken by the fool; but in the end, when he perceived that he had little chance of getting the better of the fellow, and that his own position was one of great peril, he closed his mouth with the gift of a bagful of money. And by this means the fool by reason of his folly gained something which wisdom might well have lost.
As soon as Lodovica had come to the end of her brief fable she took up the telling of her enigma at once, and, without waiting for farther word of command from the Signora, spake thus:
Gentle dames, I go to find
The ladies, as they listened to this enigma,
restrained themselves from laughing aloud as best they could; but, carried
away by the sweetness and wit thereof; they were compelled to give it
at least the approving tribute of a smile. Certain of them indeed were
disposed to censure the fair damsel who told it, and to speak injuriously
of her modesty in unhandsome terms; whereupon she, sensible of the wounds
which were being dealt to her honour, spake thus: "Those who are
full within of lewdness and malignity can only put forth what is unclean
and evil, and those of you who are in such case have judged my words
to mean something entirely foreign to my own conception of them; for
this enigma of mine is simply intended to describe the viol da gamba,
which instrument a lady, when she desires to play upon the same and
to give delight to her friends around, places between her knees, and
then, having taken in her right hand the bow, she moves this to and
fro in order that she may draw forth from her instrument those sweet
sounds which in sooth often make us faint and sick with love."
Having heard this solution of Lodovica's subtle enigma, all the listeners
were fully satisfied and content therewith and praised it highly; but,
in order that no more time should be lost, the Signora gave the word
to Fiordiana that she should forthwith begin to tell to them some pleasant
love-story, exhorting her at the same time that she should follow the
example of the others in the matter of brevity. Then Fiordiana, without
letting her voice be muffled by her teeth,
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.