Giorgio, a servant, makes a covenant with Pandolfo his master, with respect to his service, and ends by summoning him before the tribunal.
THE illustrious gentlemen and the lovesome ladies whom I see around me have already narrated such a vast number of stories that meseems there is left little or no material to serve my needs. But so as not to mar in any way the fair process of our entertainment I will put forth the best power that is in me to tell you a fable which, though it may not shine with great wit, will at least give you somewhat of diversion and pleasure, as you will presently see.
Pandolfo Zabbarella, a gentleman of Padua, was in his day a brave and great-souled man, and one of much forethought. It happened, once upon a time, that he found himself in great need of a servant who should attend to his wants, and not being able to find one exactly to his taste, he engaged himself at last with a fellow who, although outwardly he gave fair promise, was in sooth both crafty and malicious. Ser Pandolfo asked him whether he would be willing to come and live with him and be his servant, whereupon the man, whose name was Giorgio, replied that he was, making, however, a condition that no other service should be required of him than to attend to Messer Pandolfo's horse and to accompany him wherever he might go, seeing that he was unwilling to involve himself in any other duties than these. Pandolfo having assented to these terms, they were reduced by a notary to the form of an agreement, under which each one bound himself by promise to observe his contract, pledging all his possessions as security therefor.
One day, when Pandolfo was riding along a muddy and villainous road, his horse by accident floundered into a ditch and was unable to extricate himself there from by reason of the mud. Where upon Pandolfo called upon his servant aloud to give assistance, fearing lest he should run into danger of losing his life. But the servant only stood still and stared at him, affirming that it was no business of his to give aid in such a case as this, seeing that no provision there anent was to be found in the contract between them. Then, having drawn forth from his pouch the agreement, he began to read most minutely all its different headings to see whether there was in them any clause which would meet such a case as the one now in question. Meantime his master called out to him: 'For God's sake, my brother, help me quickly!' Whereupon the servant made answer: 'In sooth I cannot help you, forasmuch as to do so would be contrary to the form of our agreement.' 'Then,' said Pandolfo, 'if you will not help me and deliver me from the danger I am in, I will not pay you your wages.' To these supplications Giorgio replied that he could not possibly do this because he would thus render himself liable to the penalties set down in the contract. And if by good fortune the master had not been helped out of his peril by the wayfarers who were passing along the road, he would assuredly have never been able to get free therefrom by his own efforts, On account of this adventure they entered into a fresh agreement, which they caused to be drawn up, by which the servant pledged himself, under certain penalties, to give assistance to his master whenever he might be called upon, and never to depart from him, or to leave his side.
It chanced one day that Pandolfo was walking with certain gentlemen of Venice in the church of St. Anthony,1 and the servant, obedient to the wish of his master expressed in the contract, walked there likewise, almost rubbing shoulders with him the while, and refusing to leave his side. Wherefore the gentlemen and all the others who were present laughed immoderately on account of this strange behaviour, and were diverted thereanent not a little. On this account the master, after he had returned to his house, took his servant sharply to task, telling him that he had behaved in an ill and sottish manner in walking in such fashion up and down the church, keeping himself so unduly close, and showing neither respect nor reverence to his master nor to the gentlemen who were then in his company. But the servant, shrugging his shoulders, affirmed that he had done nothing more than to obey the commands which were laid upon him, and forthwith cited the covenants of the agreement which were written in the deed lately made between them. On account of what had passed the master desired that they should enter into a new contract, by the terms of which the master required the servant to keep him self at a greater distance; whereupon Giorgio followed Ser Pandolfo about all day long a hundred feet in the rear, and however loudly the master might call, and whatever signs he might make to the servant to bid him come anear, the fellow refused to lessen the distance between them a whit, but continued to follow his master at exactly the distance he was required to keep between them by their agreement, fearing lest by coming any nearer he might incur the legal penalty prescribed in the contract. But Pandolfo, irritated by the stupidity and lack of sense in his servant, explained to him that the term 'distance' in the con tract should be held to signify a space of three feet.
The servant, who was now clearly en lightened as to the wishes of his master, forthwith took a stick three feet in length, and, placing one end thereof against his own chest, and the other against his master's shoulders, followed him about in this fashion. The towns folk and the craftsmen of the city, when they looked upon this strange sight, laughed long and loud at what they be held, deeming that this servant must of a surety be a madman. But the master, who as yet knew not that the servant was following him with a stick bestowed in this wise, was mightily astonished when he found that all the passers-by were thus gaping and laughing at him. As soon as he had discovered the reason of their merriment, he flew in a rage, and rated his servant soundly, and made as if he would give him a grievous beating; but the fellow, with loud weeping and lamentation, began to excuse himself, saying: 'O master! you do wrong in wishing to beat me. Have I not made a bargain with you? have I not in sooth observed your commands in every respect? when have I ever gone against the least of them? Here is the deed; read it, and then punish me if you can find that I have in any way been lacking in my duties.' And in this manner the servant, as before, got the better of his master.
It chanced that one day the master sent the servant to the butcher's shop to buy some meat, and - as it is the habit of masters sometimes - speaking ironically he said to Giorgio, 'Go on this errand, and see that you spend not more than a year over it.' Whereupon the servant, whose fault was that he obeyed too strictly his master's commands, went away to his own country, and there abode till the year had rolled away. On the first day of the succeeding twelvemonth he went back to his master, carrying with him the meat, whereupon Messer Pandolfo was greatly amazed, for the reason that he had long ago forgotten what he had ordered. He reproved the fellow on account of his flight, saying: 'You have come back a trifle too late, you thief who deserve hanging a thousand times! By God, I will make you pay as you deserve for all the trouble you have given me, you wretch, you rascal! Do not think to get any penny of wage from me!' To this Giorgio replied that he had duly carried out all the clauses of the contract between them, and had obeyed to the letter all the commands of his master contained therein. 'Remember, good master, that you bade me be gone on my errand not more than a year, and here I am, back to the very day; wherefore you must pay me the salary which is due to me.' And thus, when the cause was carried before the tribunal, the master was required by the sentence of the court to pay his servant the wages he had agreed to give him.
Although Signor Beltramo had borne himself somewhat bashfully in setting forth the beginning of his story, the listeners were in no way dissatisfied with the fable he told them ; nay rather, they with one voice gave it high praise, begging him at the same time that he would, with his wonted kindness, set them an enigma to guess. Then he, unwilling to run counter to the wishes of such a gracious audience, spake in the following words:
Far in the sultry distant east,
Signor Beltramo's graceful enigma was listened to by the assembly with some what of wonder, and no one grasped the meaning thereof. The explanation of it was that it was meant to describe a small animal called a catopleba,2 which goes always with its eyes fixed on the ground. This beast, though it is fair to look upon, should be regarded by men with great caution, because in truth it bears death in its glance. Qualities like these may well be attributed to the devil, who urges on and cajoles a man, and afterwards kills him by means of some deadly sin, and leads him to the death eternal. As soon as the solution of this scholarly enigma was finished, Lauretta, who sat next to Signor Beltramo, thus began to tell her fable.
1. In Padua St. Anthony
is always called II Santo.
2. Catopleba - a wild
beast, little of body, heavy and slow; his head so great that his body
can scarce bear it. Whosoever looketh upon his eyes falls presently
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.