One Diego, a Spaniard, purchases a great quantity of hens of a peas ant, and, being in debt therefor, puts a cheat upon the peasant and upon a Carmelite friar as well.
THE fable which the Signor Ambassador has just told to us was so fine and so delightful a piece of work that I cannot hope to follow it up by anything of my own which shall have one-thousandth part of its merit. But, so that I may not show myself in any way reluctant to conform to the proposition which I made at the beginning of this evening's entertainment, and before the Signor Ambassador began to tell his story, I will relate a fable which will show you that in spite and malice the Spaniards surpass even the roughest boors.
In Spain is situated a city called Cordova, close to which there runs a very pleasant stream, the river Bacco. In this town was born a certain Diego, a very crafty fellow, well-to-do in the world, and one altogether given over to fraud and deception. This man, having a desire one day to give a supper to certain of his companions, and not being provided with the wherewithal to carry out his desire, cast about in his mind how he might play a trick upon a neighbouring peasant, and thus, at the poor fellow's expense, make a feast for his friends, which thing he brought to pass exactly according to his own wishes.
Diego, having betaken himself to the piazza in order to buy some fowls, met there the peasant, who had for sale a great quantity of hens and capons and eggs, and for these Diego now began to chaffer, promising at last to pay for all the fowls which were there four forms, a sum with which the peasant professed to be well satisfied. Diego, having hired a porter, sent him at once to his house with the fowls, without, however, paying the cost of the same to the seller, though he was besought by the peasant to settle his debt forthwith. But Diego protested that he had not the money in his pocket; at the same time telling the peasant that, if he would go with him as far as the monastery of the Carmine, where his uncle one of the brothers, was living, the money for the price of the hens would at once be forthcoming. And with these words they went in one another's company to the aforesaid monastery. It chanced that in the church of the monastery certain ladies were assembled to make their confessions to one of the brothers. But Diego, contriving to get speech with the monk, whispered in his ear, Good father, this peasant who has come hither in my company is my gossip, a fellow who carries divers heretical notions in his head. And though he is well- to-do in the world, and comes of decent family, he is not over-strong in the brain, and is ofttimes afflicted with the falling sickness. It is now full three years since he went to confession He comes now and then into a saner mind, and on this account I, moved thereto by charity, and by fraternal love, and by friendship, and by the tie of spiritual brotherhood which exists between us, have given a promise to his wife so to manage that he should confess himself. And for the reason that the good name and fame of your saintly life is so well known in all the city and the country round about, we have come to your reverence, begging you that, of your supreme goodness and for the love of God, you will vouchsafe to listen to him patiently and to correct his faults.'
In reply to this, the brother said that at this present moment he was somewhat fully occupied, but that as soon as he should have attended to the needs of these ladies (pointing to them with his hand) he would be quite willing to hear the confession. Then, having called the peasant to him, he begged him to wait a little, promising the while that he would quickly do all he wanted. Whereupon the peasant, deeming that what the brother said had reference to the money which was owing to him, declared that he would willingly wait. And, having done this, the crafty Diego went off, leaving the poor swindled peasant waiting in the church. The brother, as soon as he had in truth finished his task of confessing the ladies, called to the peasant to come over and settle himself down on the stool. The fellow came quickly enough, and, having uncovered his head, forthwith demanded of the good brother his money. But the brother bade him to go down on his knees at once, and directed him, after having crossed himself, to say the paternoster. Then the peasant, finding that he had been tricked and defrauded, flew into a violent fit of rage and anger, and, looking up to heaven and blaspheming, he cried out, 'Ah, wretch that I am I what evil have I done that I should be thus cruelly tricked by this Spanish knave I do not want to confess or to receive absolution. I want the money he promised that you would give me.' The good brother, who knew nought of what these words might mean, said to the peasant by way of rebuke, They speak truly who say that you are possessed with a devil, and are not in your right mind;' and, having opened his missal, he began a form of conjuration, as if he had some evil spirit or other to deal with. The peasant, who was by this time in no condition to endure such words as these, demanded with a great uproar to be paid the money which had been promised him by Diego, declaring that he was in no wise possessed, nor a madman, but that he had been cozened out of what poor wares he had by this rascally Spaniard. Girding and lamenting in this fashion, he called upon the bystanders for assistance, and having seized the monk by his hood, he cried out, 'I will never leave hold of you until you shall have handed over to me my money.'
The good monk, when he saw how things stood and that he could no longer defend himself from the peasant, excused himself with soft and wheedling speech by saying that he himself had been tricked by the Spaniard. But on the other hand the peasant (holding him firmly the while by the hood) affirmed that the monk had duly made this promise on his own account, saying, 'Did you not promise me, in so many words, that you would quickly despatch this affair of mine?' 'I promised,' answered the brother, 'that I would hear your confession.' While they were thus wrangling together, there came up certain old men, who began to work upon the good monk's conscience, and in the ena con strained him to pay to the peasant what the Spaniard owed him. Thus the wily accursed and villainous Diego gave a sumptuous feast to his friends with the hens and capons before mentioned, showing clearly thereby that the malice of a Spaniard surpasses that of any other ruffian you can find in all the world.
The Signor Ambassador) who had lent the closest attention to the fable told in such marvellous wise by the gentle Signora, now gave it his warmest commendation, declaring that by the telling of it she had completely worsted himself as a story-teller. And this saying all the company loudly confirmed with one voice. Then the Signora, marking how high was the praise thus given to her, smiled merrily, and, having turned her sweet face towards the ambassador, spake thus:
To my sire, the subtle breath
Not one of the company succeeded in grasping the meaning of this enigma, al though long time was spent in making comments thereupon; wherefore the Signora, perceiving that no one was likely to hit the mark, said: "Ladies and gentle men, this enigma of mine means nothing more nor less than the wheat which is born from the grain of wheat, its father, and from the earth its mother. The earth destroys the corn, and in destroying it the wheat is born, which the earth nourishes until it grows to maturity. The wheat lives in close union with its brothers, that is, the grains in the ear, until the day when the miller crushes out its life by grinding it in his mill. And so great is its benevolence that it gives life to him who destroys it." The solution of the Signora's enigma won the praise of all, and, when she had concluded it, Signor Pietro Bembo began his 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.