Bertholdo of Valsabbia has three sons, all of them hunchbacks and much alike in seeming. One of them, called Zambo, goes out into the world to seek his fortune, and arrives at Rome, where he is killed and thrown into the Tiber, together with his two brothers.
IT is indeed hard, sweet ladies and gracious Signora! hard, indeed, I say it is, to kick against the pricks, for the kick of an ass is a cruel thing; but still more cruel is the kick of a horse, and for this reason, since fortune has willed it that I should undertake to tell a tale, I had best obey; for patience beatifies us, but obstinacy damns us, and, should we prove obstinate, we go straight to the devil. So if it should chance that I tell you something which may prove in no wise to your taste, do not give the blame to me, but to the Signora over yonder who has thus willed it.
It often happens that a man goes a- seeking that which he had better leave alone, and in consequence not seldom lights upon certain things which he never looked to find, and in the end will be left with his hand full of flies. Thus, indeed, it happened some time ago to Zambo, the son of Bertholdo of Valsabbia, who sought to dupe two of his brothers, but by his brothers was himself duped.
True it is that in the end they all three died miserably, as you will hear if you will lend me your ears, and with your minds and your understandings listen to the story which I am now about to relate.
I must tell you, therefore, that Bertholdo of Valsabbia, in the province of Bergamo, had three sons, all three hunch backs, and all resembling each other so closely that it was impossible to tell the one from the other; they might, indeed, have been likened to three shrivelled pumpkins. One of these Sons was called Zambo, another Bertaz, and the third Santi; and Zambo, who was the eldest, had not yet attained his sixteenth year. It came one day to Zambo's ears that Bertholdo his father, by reason of the great dearth there was in the parts round about and in all the rest of the land besides, wished to sell for the sake of his family the small property which was his patrimony (in sooth, there were few or none to be found in that country who had any belongings of their own); where fore Zambo, addressing himself to Bertaz and Santi, his younger brothers, spoke to them as an elder brother in the following words: 'It would surely be a wiser plan, my dear brothers, that our father should retain the little bit of property which we happen to have, so that after his death we may have something where by to gain a sustenance, and that you should go out into the world and try to earn something upon which we may keep up our house. I, in the meantime, will remain at home with the old man, taking good care of him, and thus we shall have no need to waste our substance, and by such management may be able to tide over the season of scarcity.'
Bertaz and Santi the younger brothers, "who were no less crafty and cunning than Zambo, at once made answer to their brother: 'Zambo, dear brother that you are, you spring a surprise upon us some what suddenly, and question us in such wise that we scarcely know how to answer you. Give us thinking time for this one night; then we will consider the matter, and to-morrow will let you have our reply.
The two brothers, Bertaz and Santi, ad been brought forth at one birth, and between these two there was a greater sympathy than between either of them and Zambo. And if Zambo were to be reckoned a rascal of twenty-two carats, Bertaz and Santi were rascals of twenty-mix; for it not seldom happens that, where nature fails, ingenuity and malice supply the want.
When the following morning had come, Bertaz, by agreement with Santi his brother, went to find Zambo, and opened discourse with him in these words: Zambo, my dear brother, we have well thought over and considered the case in which we stand, and, seeing that you are (as you will not deny) the elder brother, we think it would be more seemly for you to go first into the world, and that we who are younger should stop here to look after our father. And we would counsel you that if, in the meantime, you should come across any good fortune for yourself and for us, you should write to us here, and we would come at once to join you.' Zambo, who had hoped to get the better of Bertaz and Santi, was greatly disconcerted when he heard this answer, and, muttering to himself, he said: 'These two are more cunning and malicious loons than I had imagined.' For he had hoped to be rid of his two brothers, and himself be left master of all their property, trusting that they might both of them die of hunger by reason of the dearth prevailing in the land; moreover, their father was not long for this world, and had already one foot in the grave. But the issue of this affair proved to be vastly different than any thing Zambo had expected. When, therefore, Zambo heard the answer given to him by Bertaz and Santi, he made a small bundle of the few rags he possessed, and, having filled a pouch with me bread and cheese and a small flask of wine, he put on his feet a pair of shoes of red pigskin, and departed thence and went towards Brescia. But not finding anything to suit him there, he went on to Verona, where he came across a master cap-maker, who asked him whether he knew how to make caps, to which question he answered no; and, seeing that there was nothing for him to do there, he left Verona, and, having passed through Vicenza, he came to Padua, where certain doctors saw him and asked him whether he knew how to take care of mules, and he answered them no, but that he could till the land and tend vines; but, as he could not come to any under standing with them, he went on his way to Venice.
Zambo had wandered about the city for a long time without lighting on any employ to his taste, and, seeing that he had about him neither a coin, nor any thing to eat, he felt that he was indeed in evil case. But after he had walked a long distance, he was brought by God's pleasure to the port, but because he was penniless no one would assist him. Wherefore the poor fellow knew not which way he should turn, but having remarked that the ragged wastrels who turned the machines for drawing boats ashore gained a few pence by this labour, he took up this calling himself. But Fortune, who always persecutes the poor, the slothful, and the wretched, willed that one day when he was working one of these machines the leather strap should break. This in untwining caught a spar, which hit him in the chest and felled him to the ground, where for a time he lay as one lifeless. Indeed, had it not been for the timely aid given to him by some kind-hearted fellows, who haled him into their boat by his legs and arms and rowed him back to Venice, he assuredly would have died.
When Zambo had recovered from the ill effects of this mischance he went in search of someone who might give him employment, and as he passed by a grocer's shop he was remarked by the master thereof who was pounding in a mortar almonds wherewith to make marzapan. Whereupon the grocer asked him whether he was minded to come and serve in the shop, and Zambo re plied that he was; so, having entered, he was at once set to work by the grocer at dressing certain comfits, and instructed how to separate the black from the white, working the while beside another apprentice. This fellow and Zambo (greedy gluttons, forsooth), in the course of their task of comfit dressing, set to work in such a manner that they stripped off and used the outer rind of the sweet almonds and ate the kernels themselves. The grocer, when he saw what was going on, took a stick in his hand and gave each of them a sound beating, saying; 'If you are set on plunder, you thievish knaves, I would that you pilfered your own stores and not mine,' and having thus spoken he be laboured them still more and bade them go to the devil.
Zambo, smarting from the blows dealt him by the grocer, took his departure and went to St. Mark's Place, and as he passed by the spot where herbs and vegetables are set out for sale, he met by good luck a herbalist from Chiozza, Vivia Vianel by name, who straightway demanded of him whether he would be willing to enter his service, where he would get good food and good treatment as well. Zambo, who at this time wore the armorial bearings of Siena on his back, and was longing for a good meal, replied that he was; so, when Vianel had sold his few last bunches of herbs, they took a boat and returned to Chiozza, where Zambo was at once set to work in the garden and bidden to tend the vines.
Now Zambo, after he had gone up and down in Chiozza for a certain time, became acquainted with divers of his master's friends, and when the season for the first ripe figs had come, Vivia took the three finest he could pluck from his garden, and, having put them on a platter, sent them as a present to a friend of his in Chiozza whose name was Peder. He called Zambo and gave him the three figs, and said to him: 'Zambo, take these three figs and carry them to my friend Ser Peder, and ask him to accept them for love of me.' Zambo in obedience to Vivia's command replied: 'With pleasure, my master,' and taking the figs he merrily went his way. But it chanced by ill luck that as Zambo was going along the street a greedy humour took possession of him, and having looked at the figs over and over again he thus addressed gluttony: 'What shall I do? shall I eat or shall I refrain?' To this gluttony replied: 'A starving man observes no law; wherefore eat.' And for the reason that Zambo was greedy by nature and very hungry to boot, he listened to these counsels of gluttony, and having taken in his hands one of the figs, he began to rend the skin from the neck thereof. Then he took a bite here and a bite there, saying the while, 'It is good; it is not good;' and so he went on till he had consumed it all in tasting, and nought but the skin remained.
When Zambo had eaten the fig he began to wonder whether, perchance, he might not have transgressed somewhat, but for the reason that gluttony still urged him on, he did not stand long in balancing chances, but took the second fig in his hand and treated it as he had treated the first. After the greedy fellow had made an end of the second fig he was again assailed by fears, and hardly knew whether, on account of his fault, he should go on or turn back; but after a short term of indecision he took courage and determined to go on. As soon as he had come to Ser Peder's door he knocked thereat, and as he was well known there the door was quickly 'opened. Having entered he went to find Ser Peder, who was walking up and down, and when he saw him the good man thus addressed him: 'What has Zambo come to tell me? What good news does he bring?' 'Good morrow, good morrow,' answered Zambo; 'my master gave me three figs to bring to you, but of these three I have eaten two.' 'But how could you do such a thing as this?' said Ser Peder. 'I did it in this fashion,' said Zambo, and with these words he took the last fig and ate it deliberately, and so it fell out that all three of the figs found their way into Zambo's belly. When Ser Peder saw this saucy jest he said to Zambo: ' My son, tell your master that I thank him, but that in future he need not trouble himself to send me presents of this sort.' Zambo answered, 'No, no, Messer Peder, say not so, for I shall never weary of such errands,' and with these words he left Messer Peder and went home.
When the report of Zambo's smart trick came to Vivia's ears, and when he learned furthermore how finely lazy he was and a glutton as well, guzzling when he was hungry till he was ready to burst, and how he would never work save when he was driven thereto, the good man chased the hunchback out of his house. So Zambo, poor devil, when he found himself driven out of his employ, knew not whither to turn ; thus after a little he determined to go to Rome in the hope that he might there find better for tune than he had hitherto come across, and this plan of his he duly carried out.
Zambo, when he had arrived in Rome, went about seeking here and there a master, and at last met a certain merchant who was called Messer Ambros dal Mul, who kept a great shop full of cloth goods. With him Zambo took service, and was set to mind the shop, and seeing that he had suffered much in the past, he made up his mind to learn the trade and to live a decent life for the future. Though he was deformed and ugly, he was nevertheless very shrewd, and in a short time he made himself so useful in the shop that his master seemed to take no more trouble himself about buying or selling, but trusted everything to him and made use of him for service of all kinds. Now it chanced that one day Messer Ambros had occasion to go to the fair of Recanati with a stock of cloth, but perceiving that Zambo had made himself so competent in the business and had proved himself worthy of trust, he determined to send Zambo to the fair, and bide at home himself and mind his shop.
After Zambo's departure it happened by ill fortune that Messer Ambros was seized with so grave and insidious an illness that after the lapse of a few days he died. W his wife, who was called Madonna Felicetta, found that she was a widow, she wellnigh died herself, of grief for the loss of her husband, and of anxiety on account of the breaking up of her business. As soon as Zambo heard of the sad news of his master's death, he returned straightway and bore himself as a godly youth should, and diligently went about the affairs of the shop. Madonna Felicetta, as time went on, re marked that Zambo behaved himself well and uprightly, and was diligent over the business. She considered, likewise, that a year had now rolled away since the death of Messer Ambros her husband, and, as she feared to lose Zambo some day together with divers of the customers of her shop, she took counsel with some of her gossips whether she should marry or not, and in case she should re solve to marry, whether it would be well for her to take for a husband Zambo the f of her business, who had been for a long time in the service of her first husband, and had gathered much experience in the conduct of her affairs. These worthy gossips deeming her proposition a wise one, counselled her to marry Zambo; and between the word and the deed but little time intervened, for the nuptials were celebrated at once, and Madonna Felicetta became the wife of Ser Zambo and Ser Zambo the husband of Madonna Felicetta.
When Ser Zambo perceived himself raised to this high estate, how he had a wife of his own and a fine shop well stocked with all manner of cloth goods, he wrote to his father, telling him he was now in Rome, and of the great stroke of luck which had befallen him. The father, who since the day of Zambo's departure had heard no tidings of his son, nor had ever received a written word from him, now gave up the ghost from sheer joy, but Bertaz and Santi were mightily pleased and consoled with the news.
One day it chanced that Madonna Felicetta found herself in need of a new pair of stockings, because the ones she wore were rent and torn, wherefore she said to Ser Zambo her husband that he must have made for her another pair. To this Zambo replied that he had other business to do, and that if her stockings were torn, she had better go and mend them and patch them and put new heels thereto. Madonna Felicetta, who had been greatly pampered by her late husband, replied that it had never been her wont to go shod in hose which had been mended and heeled, and that she must have a new pair. Then answered Ser Zambo that in his country customs were different, and that she must do without. Thus the bout of wrangling began, and, flying from one angry word to another, it came to pass in the end that Ser Zambo lifted his hand and cuffed her over the head so heavily that she fell to the ground. Madonna Felicetta, planning the while how she might give back these blows of Ser Zambo, was little disposed to come to terms with him or to pacify him in any way, so she began to hurl foul words at him. Ser Zambo, feeling that his honour was impugned thereby, belaboured her so soundly with his fists that the poor woman was constrained to hold her peace.
When the summer had passed, and the cold weather had set in, Madonna Felicetta asked Ser Zambo to let her have a silken lining wherewith to repair her pelisse, which was in very bad condition, and in order that he might be assured that she spoke the truth she brought it to him to see; but Ser Zambo did not trouble to cast his eye over it, but simply said that she must mend it and wear it as it was, for that in his country people were not used to so much pomp. Madonna Felicetta, when she heard these words, was mightily wroth, and affirmed that she must have granted to her what she asked at any cost. Ser Zambo, however, answered that she must hold her peace and be careful not to arouse his anger, otherwise it would be the worse for her. But Madonna Felicetta went on insisting that she must have it, and they one and the other worked themselves up into such a fury that they were well nigh blinded with rage. Whereupon Ser Zambo, according to his wont, began to thump her with his stick, and gave her as shrewd a jacketting of blows as she could bear, and she lay half dead. When Madonna Felicetta saw how hugely Zambo's humour towards her had changed, she began to blaspheme and to curse the day and the hour when she had first spoken to him, nor did she forget those who had advised her to take him for a husband. 'Is this the way you treat me,' she cried, 'you poltroon, you ungrateful rascal, hangman, Goth, and villainous scoundrel? Is this the reward you return to me for the many benefits you have received? for, from the base hireling you formerly were, have I not made you the master not only of my wealth but of my person as well? And yet you deal with me in this wise. Hold your peace, traitor, for I will make you pay smartly for this.' Ser Zambo, hearing how his wife waxed more and more wroth, and poured out her abuse of him more copiously than ever, made farther shrewd play upon her back with his cudgel to give her a finishing touch, whereupon Madonna Felicetta was reduced to such a state of fear, that when she heard the sound of Zambo's voice or footstep, she trembled like a leaf in the wind, and became all wet with terror.
When the winter had passed and the summer was coming on, it chanced that Ser Zambo had need to go to Bologna on account of business, and to collect certain sums of money due to him. As this journey would occupy some days, he said to Madonna Felicetta: 'Wife, I would have you know that I have two brothers, who are both hunchbacks as I am myself, and so closely do we all resemble one another that if anyone should see us all three together he would never know which was which. Now I bid you watch well lest they come here and attempt to lodge with us. See that you do not let them come over the threshold on any account, for they are wicked, deceitful, and crafty knaves, and would assuredly play you some evil trick. Then they would go to the devil and leave you with your hands full of flies. If I should learn that you have harboured them in this house I will make you the most wretched woman in the world.' And having said these words he departed.
A few days after Zambo's departure the brothers Bertaz and Santi arrived, and went about asking for Ser Zambo's shop, which was pointed out to them. When the two rascals saw the fine shop, furnished richly with all manner of cloth goods, they were astounded, and marvelled amain how it was that he could have gathered together all this wealth in so short a time. And, lost in wonderment, they went to the shop and said they de sired to have speech with Ser Zambo, but were told that he was gone into the country; if however, they had need of aught they could ask for it. Whereupon Bertaz said they much wished to speak with him, but as he was not at home they would speak with his wife, so they bade the servant call Madonna Felicetta, and when she came into the shop she knew at once that the men before her were her brothers-in-law. Bertaz, when he saw her, straightway inquired of her, 'Madonna, are you the wife of Zambo?' And she made answer that she was. Then said Bertaz: 'Madonna, shake hands, for we are the brothers of your husband, and therefore your brothers-in- law.' Madonna Felicetta, who well remembered the words of Ser Zambo as well as the belabouring he had given her, refused to touch their hands, but they went on plying her with so many affectionate words and gestures that in the end she shook hands with them. As soon as she had thus greeted them, Bertaz cried out: 'Oh, my dear sister-in--law! give us somewhat to eat, for we are half famished.' But this she refused to do. The rogues, however, knew so well how to use the trick of flattery, and begged so persistently, that Madonna Felicetta was moved to pity, and took them into the house and gave them food and drink in plenty, and even allowed them to sleep in a certain corner. Scarcely had three days passed since Bertaz and Santi had come to Madonna Felicetta's house when Ser Zambo returned. His wife, as soon as she heard of this, was almost beside her- self with terror, and she hardly knew what to do so as to keep the brothers out of Ser Zambo's sight, and as she could hit upon no better plan she made them go into the kitchen, where was a trough in which they were accustomed to scald pigs, and in this she bade them conceal themselves.
When Ser Zambo entered the house and marked how dishevelled and worried his wife seemed to be, he was mightily up set in his mind and said: 'Why do you look so frightened? What ails you? I suppose there is no gallant hidden any where in the house?' But she replied in a faint voice that there was nought the matter with her. Ser Zambo, who was regarding her sharply the while, said: 'Certes, there is something the matter with you. Are those brothers of mine by any chance in the house?' But she answered boldly that they were not; whereupon he began to give her a taste of the stick, according to his custom. Bertaz and Santi, who were under the pig-trough, could hear all the hurlyburly, and, so terrified were they, that they wet their breeches like children in a fright and did not venture to move. Ser Zambo, when he at last put down his stick, began to search the house in every corner to see whether he could find anyone hidden, but finding nought he calmed himself somewhat and went about the ordering of certain of his affairs, and so long was he occupied thereanent (thus keeping his luckless brothers in their hiding-. place) that Bertaz and Santi, either through fear, or through the great heat, or on account of the foul stench of the pig-trough, straightway gave up the ghost.
When the hour had come at which Ser Zambo was wont to repair to the piazza, there to transact business with the other merchants, he went out of the house, and as soon as he had taken his departure Madonna Felicetta went to the pig-trough to devise some scheme for getting rid of her brothers-in-law, so that Ser Zambo might have no suspicion that she had given them shelter. But when she uncovered the trough she found them lying there both stark dead, and looking exactly like two pigs. The poor woman, when she saw what had happened, fell into a terrible taking of grief and despair, and, in order that her husband might be kept altogether in ignorance of what had occurred, she spent all her force in trying to throw them out of the house, so that the mishap might be hidden from Ser Zambo, and from all the rest of the city as well.
I have heard people say that in Rome there is a certain custom according to which, should the dead body of any stranger or pilgrim be found in the public streets or in any man's house, it is straightway taken up by certain scavengers appointed for this purpose and carried by them outside the walls of the city and then cast into the Tiber, so that of such unfortunates nothing more is ever heard or seen. Now Madonna Felicetta, having gone to look out of the window to see whether by chance any friends of hers might be passing by who would lend aid in getting rid of the two dead bodies, by good luck espied one of these corpse. bearers, and called to him to come in, telling him that she had a corpse in the house, and that she wanted him to take it away at once and cast it into the Tiber, according to the custom of the place. Already Madonna Felicetta had pulled out one of the corpses from under the cover of the trough, and had left it lying on the floor near thereto; so, when the corpse-bearer had come upstairs, she helped him to load the dead body on his shoulders, and bade him come back to the house after he had thrown it into the river, when she would pay him for his services. Whereupon the corpse- bearer went outside the city wall and threw the body into the Tiber, and, hay mg done his work, he returned to Madonna Felicetta and asked her to give him a form, which was the customary guerdon. But while the corpse-bearer was engaged in carrying off the first body, Madonna Felicetta, who was a crafty dame, drew out from the trough the other body and disposed it at the foot of the trough in exactly the same place where the first had lain, and when the corpse-bearer came back to Madonna Felicetta for his payment, she said to him: 'Did you indeed carry the corpse I gave you to the Tiber?' And to this the fellow replied, 'I did, madonna.' 'Did you throw it into the river?' said the dame; and he answered: 'Did I throw it in? indeed I did, and in my best manner.' At this speech Madonna Felicetta said: 'How could you have thrown it in, as you say you have? Just look and see whether it be not still here.' And when the corpse-bearer saw the second dead body, he really thought it must be the one he had carried away, and was covered with dismay and confusion; and, cursing and swearing the while, he hoisted it upon his shoulders, and, having carried it off, he cast it into the Tiber, and stood for awhile to watch it as it floated down the stream. And whilst he was once more returning to Madonna Felicetta's house to receive his payment, it chanced that he met Ser Zambo, who was on his way home, and when the corpse-bearer espied the man who bore so strong a likeness to the two other hunchbacks whom he had carried to the Tiber, he flew into such a violent fit of rage that he seemed, as it were, to spit forth fire and flames on all sides and gave a free rein to his passion. For in truth he deemed the fellow before him to be no other than the one whom he had already twice cast into the river, and that he must be some evil spirit who was re turning to his own place; so he stole softly behind Ser Zambo and dealt him a grievous blow on the head with an iron winch which he carried in his hand, saying: 'Ah! you cowardly, villainous loon, do you think that I want to spend the rest of my days in haling you to the river?' and as he thus railed he mishandled him so violently that poor Zambo, on account of the cudgelling he got, was soon a dead man and went to talk to Pilate.
When the corpse-bearer had got upon his shoulders the third corpse, which was still warm, he bore it away and threw it into the Tiber after the two others, and thus Zambo and Bertaz and Santi miserably ended their lives. Madonna Felicetta, when she heard the news of this, was greatly delighted thereat, and felt no small content that she was freed from all her hardships and might again enjoy her former liberty.
Molino's fable here came to an end. It had pleased the ladies so mightily that they could not forbear from laughing thereat and talking it over. And although the Signora more than once bade them be silent, she found it no easy matter to put an end to their merry laughter. At last, in order to bring the company once more into a sedater mood, she commanded Molino to set them to guess an enigma in the same dialect, and he, ever ready to obey her, gave his riddle in the following words:
Out of their prison grave so dark
Though Molino's fable forsooth pleased the company much, this ingenious but somewhat gruesome enigma diverted them yet more; but forasmuch as no one had gathered any inkling of its meaning, the ladies with one voice begged him earnestly that he should give the solution thereof in the same dialect he had used in his narration. Molino, when he perceived that this was the general wish of the company, in order that he might not appear to be niggard of his gifts, solved the enigma in the following terms: "My enigma, dear ladies, signifies the game of hazard, and the bones of the dead which leave their graves are the dice which fall out of the dice-box, and when they mark tray, deuce, and ace, these are the points which show good luck, and will not such points as these put spirit into the play and money into the purse of the man who often wins the throw thereby? Does the loser ever like to go away a loser, and does not all this come by the change and variations of fortune? The avaricious player who always seeks to win will now and again curse and swear so fiercely that I cannot think why the earth does not open and swallow him up. And, at such times as the game goes on all through the night, the cock, who has a beard of flesh and a beak of bone, will get up and crow 'Cock-a-doodle--do,' thus letting the gamesters know that it is past midnight and they ought to repair to their beds of goose down. When they lie in these is it not like sinking into a deep grave? Are you all content with this my explanation?"
The explanation of this subtle enigma was received by the whole company with great laughter; so hearty was it in sooth that they could scarce forbear from rolling about on their seats. And after the Signora had commanded everyone to keep silent, she turned towards Molino and said: "Signor Antonio, as the fair orb of Dian outshines all other stars, so the fable just told to us by you, together with your enigma, bears off the palm from all others which we have hitherto heard." Molino answered: "The praise you give me, Signora, cannot surely be due on account of my skill; it comes rather from the great courtesy which always abides in you. But if it should happen that the Trevisan were willing to tell you a story in the dialect of his country, I am sure you would listen to this with still greater pleasure." The Signora, who desired greatly to hear a story told in this fashion, said: "Signor Benedetto, do you hear what our Molino says? Certainly you would do him a great wrong were you to make false these words of his. Put, therefore, your hand in your pouch and draw therefrom some peasant story to enliven us all." The Trevisan, to whom it appeared unseemly that he should occupy the place of Arianna, whose turn came next, at first excused himself, but seeing that he could not weather this point, began his fable 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.