Carlo da Rimini vainly pursues Theodosia with his love, she having resolved to live a virgin. In striving to embrace her he meets with divers misadventures, and is well beaten by his own servants to boot.
DEAR ladies, the clever story just told to us by Molino has made me give up all thought of relating to you the one I had in my mind, and to offer in its place another which, if I am not mistaken, will be equally pleasing to you ladies as Molino's was to the gentlemen. Mine will certainly be shorter than his, and, I think I may say, more decent in the subject it treats.
I must tell you then that Carlo da Rimini-as I think many of you know-was a man whose trade was fighting, a despiser of God, a blasphemer of the saints, brutal and a cutthroat, and at the same time given over to all kinds of effeminate luxury. So great indeed was his malignity and the corruption of his nature, that his equal could not be found. Now in the days when he was a hand some, seemly young man, it chanced that he became hotly enamoured of a certain maiden, the daughter of a poor widow, who, though she was very poor and only contrived to find a living for herself and her child with much difficulty, would rather have died with hunger than have consented to live on the wages of her daughter's sin.
The maiden, whose name was Theodosia, was very fair and graceful in her person, and no less honest and discreet in her conduct; moreover, she was of a prudent, sober temper, and had already determined to devote herself to the religious life and to prayer, holding all worldly things to be of small account. Carlo, therefore, burning with lascivious passion, was in the habit of molesting her with his attentions every day, and on any day when he might not chance to see her he was like to die of vexation.
With flatteries and gifts and solicitations he made frequent trial to win the maiden's consent to his wishes, but all his importunities were in vain; for, like a wise and good girl, she would have none of his presents, and every day she prayed to God to turn away from his heart these dishonest wishes. At last there came a time when he could no longer hold within bounds his ardent lust and bestial desire, and, feeling gravely affronted at these continual re buffs by one whom he loved more dearly than his own life, he made up his mind to ravish her and satisfy his lecherous appetite, let the consequence be what it might. But he feared to stir up a com motion through any public scandal, lest the people, who held him in great hatred, should rise and slay him.
But at last, being overcome by his unbridled desire, with his mind distempered with rage as if he had been a mad dog, he made a plan with two of his underlings - desperate ruffians both of them - to carry her off and then to ravish her. Therefore one day, when the evening dusk had fallen, he armed him self and went with the two desperadoes to the young girl's dwelling-place, the door of which he found open; but be fore entering he charged his men to keep on the alert, and to take care, as they valued their own lives, that no other person should enter the house or come out therefrom until he himself should rejoin them. The two ruffians, who were full willing to obey their leader's behests, gave answer that whatever he might command should be carried out.
But Theodosia (by some means unknown to me) had got tidings of Carlo's intent, and had shut herself up in a small kitchen, and Carlo, when he had mounted the staircase of the poor little house, found there the old mother, who, suspecting nothing of any such surprise, had taken to her spinning. He demanded forthwith where was her daughter, for whom he had such great love and desire, and the poor old woman, as soon as she perceived that the young lecher was fully armed and manifestly more inclined to evil than to good, was greatly confounded in her mind, and her face became as white as the face of a corpse, and she was on the point of screaming aloud; but, perceiving that her outcries would be of no use, she determined to hold her peace, and put her honour in the keeping of God, whom she altogether trusted. So, plucking up her courage, she turned to Carlo and said: 'Carlo, I know not what humour or what insolent spirit may have brought you here to defile the soul of this girl, who desires to live honestly. If by chance you should be come with righteous intent, then may God grant you fulfilment of every just and honourable wish; but if it should be otherwise, which God forbid, you are guilty of a great wickedness in trying to attain by outrage that which can never be yours. There fore, cast away and have done with this unbridled lust, and no longer strive to ravish from my daughter that which you can never give back to her, to wit, the chastity of her body. And the more you lust after her, the more she will hate you, seeing that her mind is firm set to dedicate herself to virginity.'
Carlo, when he heard these moving words spoken by the poor old mother, instead of being awakened to pity or turned away from his evil intent, raged like a madman, and began to search for Theodosia in every corner of the house, without finding any trace of her, until he came to the little kitchen, where, seeing that the door was fast close, he thought (and thought rightly) that she must be concealed. Then, spying through a crack in the door, he perceived Theodosia, who was at her prayers, and with honeyed words he began to beseech her that she would open to him the door, addressing her in these terms: 'Theodosia, life of my life, be sure that I am not come here to sully your honour, which is more dear to me than my own self and my own good name, but to take you as my wife, provided that my offer be acceptable to you and to your good mother. And, beyond this, I swear I will have the life of anyone who may in any way affront your honour.'
Theodosia, who listened attentively to Carlo's speech, answered him straight- way in these terms: 'Carlo, I beseech you to give over this obstinate prosecution of your desire. I can never marry you, seeing that I have offered my virginal service to Him who sees and governs us all. And if cruel fortune should suffer you to defile violently this body of mine, at least you will have no power to blacken the purity of my soul, which from the hour of my birth I have dedicated to my Creator. God has given you freedom of will so that you may know the evil from the good, and may do that which seems best to you. Follow, therefore, after the good, and you will be of good report, and turn aside from evil.' Carlo, when he found that his flattery availed him nothing, and that the maiden refused to have aught to say to him, could no longer keep under the fire which was burning in his heart, and, more maddened than ever, trusted no longer to words, but resorted to violence, bursting open by force the door, which, being none of the strongest, soon gave way as he willed.
When Carlo entered the little kitchen and cast his eyes upon the maiden, so full of grace and fair beyond belief, his passion grew hotter than ever, and, thinking only of satisfying to the full his in ordinate lust, he threw himself upon her from behind, just as if he had been an eager famishing greyhound, and she a timid hare. And the ill-fated Theodosia, with her golden hair loose over her shoulders, and grasped tightly round the neck by Carlo, grew pale, and felt so deadly a languor coming over her that she could scarcely move. Then she commended her soul to heaven and demanded help of God above, and scarcely had she finished her mental prayer, when, in miraculous wise, her body seemed to melt away out of Carlo's grip; and at the same time God dazzled so completely his eyesight and understanding that he no longer knew rightly what were the things around him, and while he deemed he was holding the maid in his embrace and covering her with kisses and endearments, he was, in sooth, embracing nothing better than the pots and pans, spits and cauldrons, and other kitchen gear lying about the place.
Though his lust was in some measure satisfied, he soon felt his wounded heart stirring again, and again he flew to embrace a huge kettle, fancying all the while that he held in his arms the fair form of Theodosia. In thus handling the kettles and cauldrons his hands and face were so besmirched with soot that he looked less like Carlo da Rimini than the devil. in the end, feeling that his desire was for the nonce satisfied, and conscious that it was time to retreat, he made his way out by the staircase all blackened as he was, but the two ruffians, who were keeping guard near the door lest anyone should enter or leave the house, when they saw him thus transformed, with his face all disfigured, and looking more like a beast than a human being, imagined that he must be some ghost or evil spirit, and were fain to take to their heels and save them selves from this monster. But having taken heart to stand up to him, and to look closely into his face, which seemed to them mightily disfigured and ugly, they began to drub him with cudgels and with their fists, which were as hard as iron, so that they mangled cruelly his face and his shoulders with hearty good will, and left not a hair on his head. Not content with this, they threw him down on the ground, stripping off the clothes from his back, and dealing him as many kicks and cuffs as he could endure, and the blows fell so thick and fast that Carlo had no time allowed him to open his mouth and ask the reason of his cruel chastisement. Nevertheless, he made shift at last to break away from their hold, when he ran as for his life, always suspecting, however, that the ruffians were close behind him.
Thus Carlo, having been soundly beaten I by his servants, his eyes being so discoloured and swollen from their lusty pummelling that he could scarcely see, ran towards the piazza, clamouring and complaining loudly of the ill-handling he had got from his own men. The town-guard, when he heard these shouts and lamentations, went towards him, and, marking his disfigured state and his face all bedaubed with dirt, took him for a madman. And since no one recognized him, the whole crowd began to mock at him, and to cry: 'Give it to him, give it to him, for he is a lunatic.' Then some hustled him, others spat in his face, and others took dust and cast it in his eyes; and they kept on maltreating him thus for a good space of time, until the uproar came to the ears of the pr who, having risen from his bed and gone to the window which overlooked the piazza, demanded what had happened to cause so great a tumult. One of the guards thereupon answered that there was a madman who was turning the piazza topsy-turvy, and the pr gave order that he should be securely bound and brought before him, which command was forthwith carried out.
Now Carlo, who up to this time had been the terror of all, finding himself thus bound and ill-treated and insulted, without a notion as to the cause of it, was utterly confounded in his mind, and broke out into so violent a rage that he well nigh burst the bonds that held him. But as soon as he was brought before the pr the latter recognized him straightway as Carlo da Rimini, and at once set down the filthy condition of his prisoner as the work of Theodosia, for he was privy to the fact that Carlo was inflamed with passion for the girl. Therefore he at once began to use soft speech and to soothe Carlo, promising to make smart sharply those who had brought upon him such a shameful mischance. Carlo, who suspected not that his face was like that of a blackamoor, could not at first gather the purport of these words, but in the end, when it had been known to him how filthy his condition was, how that he resembled a brute beast rather than a man, he, like the pr attributed his discomfiture to Theodosia, and, letting his rage have free course, he swore an oath that unless the pr would punish her he would take revenge by his own hand. When the morning was come, the present for Theodosia, deeming that she had wrought this deed by magic arts. But she gave good heed to the plight in which she stood, and completely realized the great danger there of; so she betook herself to a convent of nuns of holy life, where she abode secretly, serving God for the rest of her days with a cheerful heart.
It happened after this that Carlo was sent to lay siege to a strong place, and, when in the assault he pressed on to a more desperate essay than he had power to accomplish, he found himself caught like a rat in a trap; for, as he mounted the walls of the citadel to plant thereon the banner of the Pope, he was smitten by a great stone, which crushed him and dashed him to pieces in such manner that no time was allowed to him to make his peace with heaven. Thus the wicked Carlo made a wretched end of his days, according to his deserts, without having plucked that fruit of love he desired so ardently.
Before Lionora had come to the end of her concisely-told fable, all her good companions began to laugh over the stupidity of Carlo in kissing and embracing the pots and kettles, thinking all the while that he was enjoying his be loved Theodosia; nor did they make less merry in the case of the cuffs and blows he got from the hands of his own men in the rough handling they gave him. And after a good spell of laughter Lionora, without waiting for further word from the Signora, set forth her enigma:
I am fine and pure and bright,
This cleverly-worded enigma won the praise of all the company, but since it seemed to be beyond the power of any one to solve it, Lionora was requested to divulge its meaning; whereupon she said with a smile: "It is scarcely be coming that one of parts so slender as mine should presume to teach you, ladies and gentlemen, who are so much better versed in knowledge. But since this is your will, and since your will to me is 'aw, I will tell you forthwith what I mean by my enigma. It means nothing else than linen cloth, fine and white, which is by ladies pierced by scissors and needles, and beaten. And it serves as a covering to us all, and comes from the mother of us all, the earth; more over, when it grows old we no longer send it to the fuller, but let in be torn up small and made into paper."
Everyone was pleased with the interpretation of this clever enigma and com mended it highly. The Signora having already remarked that Lodovica, who was chosen to tell the next story, was troubled with a bad headache, turned to the Trevisan and said, "Signor Benedetto, it is indeed the duty of us ladies to provide the stories to-night; but seeing that Lodovica is gravely troubled in her head, we beg you to take her place this evening, and grant you free field to ell whatever may please you best." To which speech the Trevisan thus replied:
"It happens, Signora, that I am little skilled in these matters; nevertheless (since your will commands my entire obedience) I will use my best effort to satisfy you all, begging you at the same time to hold me excused if I fail there in." And having made due salutation, he rose from his seat and began his story 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.