Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

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Night the Thirteenth:
Eighth Fable:
Gasparo the Peasant

Gasparo, a peasant, having built a chapel, calls it after the name of Saint Honorato, and puts the rector in possession thereof. The rector and his deacon pay a visit to the peasant, in the course of which the deacon, without forethought, brings to pass a certain jest.

THE vice of gluttony is in sooth a heinous one, but it is nevertheless more tolerable than the vice of hypocrisy, forasmuch as the gluttonous man only puts a cheat upon himself, while the hypocrite, with his simulated actions, seeks to deceive other men in his desire to appear to be what he is not, and to do what he has no notion of doing. All this came to pass in the case of a certain village priest, who, by the means of his hypocrisy, put an offence both upon his soul and on his body, as I will in a few words let you understand.

Close to the city of Padua there stands a village called Noventa, in which once dwelt a certain peasant, a rich man and very devout. This man, out of his devotion to religion and for the unburdening of his own sins as well as those of his wife, built a chapel, and, having endowed the same with a sufficient sum of money and called it by the name of Saint Honorato, presented a priest to be the rector and governor thereof, a man well versed in the canon law. One day, which happened to be the vigil of a certain saint - but not one commanded to be kept by our sacred mother the Church - the rector aforesaid called for his deacon, and the two went together to pay a visit to Ser Gasparo, that is, to the peasant who had nominated him as governor of the chapel; whether for the furtherance of his own affairs, or for any other cause, I leave you to decide. When the two arrived, the good peasant, wishing to pay them due respect, caused to be got ready a sumptuous supper, with roast meats, tarts, and divers other good cheer, and was most pressing that they should remain for the night as guests under his roof. But the priest declared that he might on no account eat any meat that day, seeing that it was a sacred vigil; thus pretending to follow a habit which in sooth was entirely strange to him. He made a great show of fasting, and would not touch a morsel of the food for which his starving belly was crying. Upon this the peasant, being unwilling to divert him aught from the ways of devotion, gave demand to his wife that she should keep such dishes as were already well forward in preparation in a cupboard to serve for the following day.

When the supper was finished, and when they had come to an end of their converse thereafter, they all betook themselves to rest in the peasant's house - Ser Gasparo with his wife, and the rector with the deacon, the two chambers being situated side by side. When midnight had come, the priest roused the deacon from his sleep, and in a whisper inquired of him where the goodwife had bestowed the tart which had been prepared for supper, declaring at the same time that, unless he could give his famishing body something to eat, he must needs die of hunger. Whereupon the deacon, obedient to his command, rose from bed, and, little by little, softly picked his steps to the spot where had been put away the remains of the feast, and from these he took a good slice of the tart. But on his way back, while he imagined he was going into his rector's chamber, he went by accident into that of his host. Now, seeing that it was in the summer season, when the sun is high in Leo, the wife of the peasant lay stark naked and un covered on the bed by reason of the great heat, and was making noises like the puffing of a pair of bellows. The deacon, deeming all the while that he was in the rector's chamber, said, 'Here, good master, take the tart you told me to fetch, and eat it, if such be your pleasure.' Hearing the goodwife puffing as vigorously as ever, the deacon went on to say that there was no need to blow the tart thus, seeing that it was cold already, but no heed was taken of his words, and the puffing and blowing still went on; so the deacon, growing somewhat angry and wanting to be rid of the tart, began to feel about with his hands, and, having alighted upon some thing which he took to be the rector's face, he put down the tart thereupon, knowing not that it was really the ex posed hinder parts of the peasant's wife. She, as soon as she was sensible of some thing cold upon her buttocks, awoke from her sleep and began to cry out aloud, and thus aroused her husband by the noise she made, and began to tell him what manner of thing it was that had befallen her. The deacon, who by this time had discovered how he had got into the wrong chamber, gently stole away into the one adjoining, where lay the rector. Ser Gasparo, having got out of bed and lighted a candle, made a search through all the house, and, when he beheld in what strange place the tart was, he was mightily amazed, deeming that it could only have come there through the working of some evil spirit or other. Whereupon he called the priest, and told him what had happened; so the poor wight was forced to set about singing psalms and hymns with an empty belly, and to sanctify the house in every part with holy water. This done, they all went back to their beds.

And thus (as I declared at the opening of my story) hypocrisy brought an offence both to the soul and to the body of the priest, who, after planning to fill himself with the tart, had to go fasting against his will.

All the gentlemen laughed heartily when they heard tell how the peasant's wife had made a puffing and blowing as though she had been a pair of bellows, and how, as the tart was cold already, there was no need for her to cool it. But in order that an end might be made of the hearty laughter, the Signora gave the word to Lauretta to tell her enigma at once, and the damsel, still laughing, spake it in the following words:

Like lofty house I stand on high,
And yet no house in sooth am I.
Like mirror all around I shine,
And stand before the place divine
Where you repair to kneel and pray
That all your sins be washed away.
I live, but with my vital fire
I am consumed, and soon expire.
In every glorious fane I live,
And light to all who worship give.
But frail and brief my life withal,
I die if once to earth I fall.

The enigma thus set by the graceful Lauretta was accounted a very scholarly feat, and not a single one of the listeners failed to give high praise there to, begging her at the same time to let follow forthwith the interpretation thereof. And the damsel, who desired nothing better, expounded it in the following words: "This enigma of mine is intended to describe the lamp which, placed before the sacrament, sheds light over every part of the church. Day and night it consumes itself adorning the sanctuary the while, and its being is assuredly a frail one, seeing that it is made of glass." As soon as Lauretta had finished the explanation of her riddle, Signor Antonio Molino, whose turn in the story-telling came next, began to speak in these words.

Next: Night the Thirteenth: Ninth Fable

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.

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