Vilio Brigantello kills a robber who was set in ambush to murder him.
A VERY famous poet has said that the man who takes delight in beguiling others must not cry out and lament if by chance a cheat should be put upon him self. I have remarked that those who have an inclination to trick their fellows are very often, or I might say always, tricked themselves. This same fate befell a robber, who, having made up his mind to slay a certain craftsman, was killed by his intended victim.
In Pistoia, a city of Tuscany between Florence and Lucca, there dwelt an artisan, very rich, and possessed of great store of money, who was called by name Vilio Brigantello. But this man, on account of the fear of robbers which haunted him, feigned to be living in a state of great poverty, dwelling all by himself without either wife or servants in a small cottage, which however was well furnished, and full of all the things which men find necessary for their existence. And in order to make it yet more apparent to men how poor and beggarly was his estate, he clad himself always in the commonest, meanest, and dirtiest attire, and kept a strict guard over the coffer which held his coin. Vilio was very alert, and a most careful workman to boot, but in the spending of his money he was avaricious and a miser, allowing himself no better diet than bread and cheese with wine thereto, and the roots of plants.
Now it came to pass that certain cunning and crafty robbers, suspecting with good reason that Vilio was the possessor of a good sum of money, went one night to his cottage at the hour which seemed to them most suited to their purpose of robbing him. And for the reason that they were unable with their crowbars and other implements either to open the door or to break in the same, and growing at the same time somewhat fearful lest they should arouse the neighbours by the noise they made in their evil work, they settled upon a plan of tricking Vilio, and thus accomplishing their purpose in another way. It chanced that amongst these thieves there was one who was very familiar and well acquainted with this Vilio, and who had often made great show of his friendship; so much so, that now and again he had taken him home to his own house to dine. The thieves now tied up in a sack the one who was the leader of their band and their guide, and made believe that he was dead; then, having carried him just as he was to the artisan's cottage, the fellow who put himself forward as Vilio's friend advanced and begged him urgently to take the sack into his charge and guard it well until they should come back to fetch it, promising the while that they would return before long. Vilio who knew nothing of what was behind, let them bring into the house the body they had with them without hindrance, after listening to the importunity of his pretended friend. Meantime the robbers had arranged a plan amongst them selves that as soon as Vilio might be sound asleep their leader should get out of the sack, and, after having killed the artisan, should lay hands on all his money and whatever of his effects might seem best worth having.
Thus the sack with the robber inside was placed within the cottage while Vilio was busily working at his craft close to the candle. Now and then he cast a glance towards the sack in which the robber was hidden (as is the habit of those who are timid by nature and easily stricken with fear), and it seemed to him as if the body stirred somewhat within the sack. Thereupon, having risen from his seat, he quickly snatched up a stick of myrtle wood thickly studded with knots, and brought the cudgel to bear upon the skull of the robber with such good purpose that he straightway made a dead man of him, making him a real corpse in lieu of a pretended one. The fellows of the robber aforesaid, when they had awaited his return until the breaking of the day and saw no sign of their leader, imagined his absence was caused by the fact that he had fallen asleep. So, being more afeared on account of the daylight which was now fast approaching than for the safety of their friend, they took their way back to the cottage of the artisan and asked him for the sack which they had yesterday left in his charge. As soon as Vilio had closed the door and well barricaded the same, he handed the sack over to them, ad dressing them the while in a loud voice: 'Yesterday you brought me, instead of a corpse, a live man in this sack, with the view of frightening me. Now therefore I, to frighten you in turn, give back to you a corpse instead of a living man.' When the band of robbers heard these words they stood like men confounded, and, having opened the sack, they found in good sooth the dead body of their trusty mate therein. Then, in order to pay due honour to their daring leader, they cast his body with many sighs and tears into the sea, where it sank out of sight. Thus the man who had planned in his mind to trick and deceive the artisan, was himself tricked and deceived.
With these words the Signor Bernardo brought to an end his ingeniously-told fable, which amused greatly all those who listened to it. The Signora thereupon begged him to let follow his enigma at once, according to the rule, and he began it forthwith in the following words:
From sire alone I sprang and grew;
Many of the listeners believed that they had divined the meaning of this graceful and scholarly enigma, but it proved that the belief of all of them was ill founded, seeing that their understanding had in every case wandered far from the truth. Wherefore Capello, perceiving that the discussion threatened to be long, spake thus: "Ladies and gentle men, let us lose no more time, because the enigma I have set you to guess means nothing else than play, which springs from a father alone, and is sup ported and nourished by all men. In a very brief space of time it has spread over the entire world, and it is welcomed and made much of in such manner that, even though a man may lose on account of it, he does not on this score chase it away from him, but still gets pleasure from its existence." This explanation of the subtly-conceived enigma gratified all the listeners greatly, especially Signor Antonio Bembo, who was much addicted to play. But, seeing that the hours of the night were passing, or rather flying, the Signora gave direction to Signora Chiara to make a beginning of her fable, and the latter, having got up from her seat and placed herself on a higher chair -she being somewhat short of stature- at once began to speak as follows.
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.