Concerning certain sons who were unwilling to carry out the testament of their father.
THE greatest folly men or women can commit is to indulge in the dream of doing some good or other after they shall have gone to another world, forasmuch as in this our day obedience to the behests of the dead is treated as a thing of little account, or, rather, of no account at all. This is a matter which I have tested again and again, seeing that, of all the money which has been left to me, I have only been able to obtain possession of a very small portion. This, indeed, has come to pass through the fault of the executors, who, in their desire to make more wealthy the rich, have only succeeded in impoverishing the poor-a contention you will be able to understand clearly from the arguments I mean to set before you.
I must tell you that in Pesaro, a town of the Romagna, there once resided a certain citizen, a man held in high repute, and very wealthy, but at the same time loth to part with his money. This man, deeming that he had come to the end of his days, made his last will and testament; by which instrument, after appointing his sons (of whom he had many) the general heirs of his estate, laid upon them the burden of first paying out of his wealth a very large number of legacies and gifts in trust. After the testator was dead and buried, and duly mourned according to the custom of the country, the sons assembled themselves together and took counsel as to what course they should follow in the course of the legacies which their father had bequeathed for the good of his soul. These they found to be very great and excessive, forasmuch as that, if they should set themselves to carry out the will in its entirety, these bequests would assuredly swallow up the entire estate. In such case this property of theirs would prove to be for them an absolute loss, rather than a benefit of any sort or kind.
When, therefore, they had fully debated the business, the youngest of the brothers rose in the meeting and spake the following words: 'You must know, my brethren, that there is one thing which (if such form of speech be permitted) is even truer than truth itself; and by this I mean, that if the soul of our father is engulfed in the abyss of hell, and condemned to remain there, it will be altogether vain and unprofitable for us to pay the legacies he has left for the repose of his soul, seeing that there is no redemption found for a spirit in hell, and that for those who enter there in there is no hope of ever coming forth again. And if he should now be in the flowery fields of Elysium, where reigns perpetual and eternal repose, he stands assuredly in no need either of legacies or of bequests in trust. Again, if he should have been sent to purgatory, there to be cleansed of his sins for a certain season, it is plain and clear to all, that when the purifying fires shall have done their work, his offences will disappear, and he will be entirely freed therefrom; and again, in this case, legacies will profit him nought. For these reasons, therefore, I would advise that - leaving the soul of our father to be cared for by divine providence - we should forthwith divide our father's estate, and enjoy the same as long as we shall live, in like manner as he enjoyed it during his lifetime, in order that the dead may not profit more thereby than the living."
I say once more, at the conclusion of this brief fable of mine, that it behoves us to do our good works while we live, and not after we are dead, forasmuch as in these days (as I have already remarked at the beginning of my fable) men keep little or no faith with the dead. The subtle reasoning of the younger brother's speech won the approval of all the company, save only Vicenza herself, to whom the case applied. But so as not to stand before the assembly as one grief-stricken, she ended her fable by setting for the others to guess an amusing and sprightly enigma, which was as follows:
I come with gladsome voice and face,
"This enigma of mine is intended to describe the maid-servant who early in the morning and again in the evening is wont to repair to the well to draw water. While she goes thither the buckets make a noise, and as soon as she arrives near the well she leans over it, and having taken the rope in her hand, she lets it down into the well with the bucket attached thereto, and rejoices in her task. The deeper down she sends the bucket in order to reach the cool fresh water, the more she is heated in drawing it up again. Moreover, she puts the bucket into the well dry and clattering, and draws it forth silent and dripping."
The company judged this enigma to be a very pretty pleasant jest, and laughed long and loud over the same. And now that it was finished, Isabella at once began to tell 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.