A poor novice sets out from Cologne to travel to Ferrara, and having approached that city at nightfall, takes shelter by stealth in a certain place, where a terrifying adventure befalls him.
FEAR is sometimes begotten, most lovesome ladies, from too great confidence, and some times from the pusillanimity of our nature, which by rights ought to fear only those things which have real power in themselves to work evil to others, and to ignore all those which have nothing terrible about them. I wish, dear ladies, to relate to you an adventure-a real one, and nought of jest therein-which happened in this our day to a certain poor novice and brought to him no little misfortune. He, having set forth from Cologne to journey to Ferrara, passed by the abbey and by the high ground above the swamps of Rovigo, and by the time he had reached the confines of the Duke of Ferrara's territory night had fallen. And although the moon was shining brightly, nevertheless the solitude and the strangeness of everything around him worked very powerfully upon the poor fellow's fears - he was indeed little more than a youth - and he was, moreover, much adread lest he should meet his death at the hands of malefactors or by wild beasts. As the poor wight wandered along, not knowing whither he should betake himself and sensible that he had not a coin of any sort in his pocket, he saw before him a farmyard, somewhat removed from the other buildings of the homestead, and having made his way into this without being seen or heard by anyone, he climbed up into a strawloft by a ladder which was placed conveniently against a wall, and, when he had ascend ed thither, he bestowed himself to rest for the night as best he could.
But scarcely had he settled himself to sleep when there climbed also into the loft a brisk young man, carrying a sword in his right hand and a shield on his left arm. The newcomer began to whistle softly, and the poor monk in the straw, hearing this, thought he was discovered, and every hair on his head stood upright with terror, and, crouching down still deeper in the straw, he lay as still as a mouse. Now the armed newcomer, who was indeed a neighboring curate, was inflamed with love for the wife of the owner of the adjacent house. The novice waited for a little space in keen anxiety, and then there issued from the house near a lady in her night-dress, plump and very fair, and she also made her way into the loft. Directly the priest saw her he threw aside his sword and shield, and ran to embrace her and kissed her, and she on her part was not slow to return his endearments, and what followed I dare say you can guess.
As soon as the novice up in the straw perceived what was going on, his courage returned, for he now knew that the priest had not come there to do him any hurt, but to take pleasure with the frolicsome dame. Wherefore, being seized by curiosity and no longer afraid, he stretched his head out of the straw the better to observe how the lovers were occupying themselves, but leaning over too far forward he lost his balance, and there being nothing but straw to support him, he fell down right on the top of the lady and the priest, and gave his leg no little hurt by this accident.
The two lovers, being very ardently intent on the object for which they had foregathered, and still straining to pluck the ripe fruit of their desire, as soon as they espied the cloak and the head gear of the black brother were mightily confounded at what they saw, and deemed that it must be some horrid night-walking ghost. Wherefore they both took to flight, trembling and filled with fear, and leaving behind the sword and the shield. The novice, with his broken shin and likewise much terrified, slunk away as best he could into a corner of the loft, and having burrowed a large hole in the heap of straw, hid himself therein The priest, who began to be in some fear of discovery, seeing that his sword and shield were well known, returned to the loft, and espying nothing more of the ghost, he picked up his weapons, and, albeit somewhat disturbed in spirit, returned to his own house.
When the morrow was come, the priest, having a mind to say the mass in good time in order that lie might despatch certain private affairs of his own, stationed himself at the church door and waited for his clerk, who was to come and help him with the office. As he stood there watching, who should conic up but the poor novice, who, for fear lest he should be discovered in his lodgings and roughly handled, had got up before day. Now just as he came up to the church the priest asked him whither he was bound, whereupon he answered, 'I am going to Ferrara.' the priest further inquired of him whether he was in any haste, he replied that he was not, and that it would serve his purpose very well if he were to reach Ferrara by nightfall. Then the priest asked the young monk whether he would be willing to stop and help to say the mass, and to this proposition the novice readily assented.
The priest, noting that the young monk had on a black robe, and that his hood and gown had divers straws hanging thereto, at once began to suspect that he might be talking to last night's ghost, wherefore he said, My brother, where did you sleep last night 'To this the novice made answer, I slept mightily ill upon a straw stack not far from here, where about midnight I fell down and nigh broke my leg.' The priest, when he heard these words, was yet more confirmed in his belief that the novice was the man he suspected him to be, and he did not suffer him to go his way until he had fully disclosed to him the whole matter as it stood. And after the mass had been said the novice dined with the priest, and then went his way with his broken shin. But before he departed the host be sought him that, on his journey back, he would pay another visit to the place, forasmuch as he was taken with the fancy that the lady herself should hear the whole story from the lips of the young monk. But he did not return, for, having been warned in a dream, he travelled back to his monastery by a different road.
As soon as the fable told by the Trevisan had come to an end and had been duly praised, he, without allowing any further lapse of time, made a beginning of his enigma in the following words:
Its length and breadth shall I disclose?
"I would never wish, most gracious ladies, to suffer reproof from you on the score of impropriety for having brought forward in such an assembly as this anything which might seem offensive to your chaste hearing. But in truth this enigma of mine is in no way allied to aught that is unseemly, but on the other hand to something which de lights you much and from which you take no small pleasure. My enigma, in sooth, is meant to describe the lute, the handle of which is somewhat more than a span in width, while its body is wont to rest in the lap of the person who plays it, thus giving delight to all who listen."
Everyone praised loudly the subtle enigma propounded by the Trevisan, and especially the Signora, who listened to it with great pleasure. As soon as all were once more silent, the Signora gave the word to Isabella to let follow her fable, and she, who was neither deaf nor mute, spake in the following wise.
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.