Fortunio, a servant, endeavouring to crush a fly, kills his master, and saves himself from the gallows by a pleasantry.
I WILL first tell this illustrious company that I have often heard it urged by men of weight that misdeeds which are wrought unwittingly do not carry the guilt of those done with intent; hence we look more lightly on the transgressions of fools and children, and of people of a like condition, than on those committed by graver folk. Forasmuch as it is now my turn to tell a story, I will tell of the adventure which befell one Fortunio, a varlet, who, desiring to kill a horse-fly which was annoying his master, killed inadvertently the master himself.
There lived in the city of Ferrara a rich grocer of good descent, who had in his service Fortunio, a fat good-tempered fellow of very slender wit. Now in the great heats the grocer was wont to lie down to sleep in the middle of the day, and at such times it was Fortunio's part to keep off the flies with a fan, lest they should disturb his master, One day it chanced that, amongst the others, was a very greedy meddlesome horse-fly, which took no heed of Fortunio's fanning, nor of his strokes, but alighted constantly on the grocer's bald pate and stung him grievously. And though the fly was chased away three or four times, it always came back to give fresh trouble. At last the servant, incensed at the boldness and persistency of the fly, rashly made trial to kill it when it was about to settle again on his master's temple and suck his blood. Simple fool that he was, he caught up a weighty bronze pestle, and, striking at the fly with all his might with the intent to kill it, he made an end of the grocer instead. As soon as Fortunio saw that he had slain his master and thereby made himself liable to death by the law, he took counsel with himself how he might best save his neck, and first resolved to seek safety in flight, but he afterwards fixed upon another scheme, which was to bury the corpse secretly. Therefore, having wrapped up the dead body of his master in a sack and carried it into a garden adjacent to the shop, he buried it there. This done he went to the sheepfold, and, having chosen a big old ram, he took it and threw it down the well.
As the master did not appear at his usual hour in the evening the wife's suspicion fell upon Fortunio, and she questioned him as to her husband's whereabouts, but the fellow declared stoutly that he knew nothing of it. Then the good wife, overcome with grief, began to weep and to call for her husband aloud, but she called in vain. She went to her kinsfolk and told them her grief; whereupon they sought the governor of the city, and laid the crime to Fortunio's charge, demanding that he should be imprisoned and put to the question, in order to make him tell what had become of his master. The governor, having put the servant in hold and tied him to the rope, gave him the strappado as prescribed by law, on account of the charges against him. Handling of this sort was not to his taste, and he forthwith promised to tell all he knew, if they would let him down. So they brought him before the judge, and this was the cunning tale he had prepared for their befooling: 'Yesterday, O judge! when I was asleep near the well, I was awakened by a great noise, as of some mighty rock being hurled down into the water below. In my amazement I ran to the well and looked into it, but the water was quite clear and I could see nothing amiss; so I turned to go back to the house, when the same noise again met my ears. I am now quite sure in my mind that my master, when trying to draw some water up out of the well, fell down into it. Now, that the truth of the matter may be laid bare, I make petition that all now present may go to the spot: then I will descend into the well and disclose what I may find there in.' The judge was favourable to Fortunio's prayer, holding that experiment is the surest proof, and that no evidence can equal what is brought before one's eyes, and betook himself to the well, bidding the whole assembly follow. There went not only the worshipful persons who were about the judge, but also a vast crowd of the common people, who were curious to learn what might be the issue of the affair.
Fortunio, obeying the commandment of the judge, went straightway down the well, and, when he had reached the bottom, made believe to be searching for his master's body in the water; but what he found was the carcass of the old ram which he himself had lately cast in. Feigning to be vastly amazed at this, the cunning fellow bawled up from the bottom of the well: 'O my mistress tell me whether your husband, my poor master, had horns or not; for I have alighted on somebody down here who has got an enormous pair, both long and large. Is it possible that he can be your husband?' And when the good wife heard Fortunio's question she was so much overcome with shame that she could not find a word to say for herself. Meanwhile the bystanders waited, open-mouthed with curiosity, to set eyes on this corpse with horns, and to see whether it really was the body of the missing grocer or not; and when they saw hauled up Fortunio's old ram, they all clapped their hands, and were shaken by loud laughter. The judge, when he saw the issue of Fortunio's search, deemed that the foolish fellow was acting in good faith, and that he verily believed what he brought out of the well to be the remains of his master. On this account the judge let him go free, as innocent, but the grocer was never seen more, and the good wife, to her dying day, bore the shame anent the horns which Fortunio's cunning trick had cast upon her.
The men and the ladies as well laughed heartily over the story of the old ram in the well, but chiefly they were diverted at the confusion brought upon the wife by Fortunio's trick. Forasmuch as the evening was now advanced, and divers gentlefolk had yet to tell their stories, the Signora Veronica without pause put her enigma, which ran as follows:
In the ground my head is buried,
This enigma of the Signora Veronica won praise from all the company, and although nearly everyone mastered its meaning, none was willing to take upon himself the honour of unfolding it, but left this task rather to the Signora her self. Noting the silence of the company, she said: "Although my wit is slender, I will, if it pleases you, set forth to best of my poor ability the solution of my riddle. It is the leek, which as you all know lives with its head underground, and has a green tail, and is favoured less by lords than by labourers on the table." When Veronica had spoken and unfolded her pretty enigma the Signora called upon Signor Bernardo Capello to narrate one of his fables, counselling him to be brief, as the night was far advanced, and he at once cleared his mind of serious thoughts and thus began.
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.