Marsilio Vercelese, being enamoured of Thia, the wife of Cechato Rabboso, is taken by her into her house during her husband's absence. He having come back unexpected, is cozened by Thia, who feigns to work a spell, during which Marsilio silently takes to flight.
IN good sooth, what more would you have, my lady mistress and fair damsels all? Has not Messer Antonio acquitted himself well? Has he not told you an excellent story? But, by the blood of a dog, I will do my best to match him, and to gather the best credit I may.
We villagers have always heard tell, that amongst gentlemen of the world, one man will manage his affairs in this way, and another in that. But I, who am an ignorant loon, and who know nothing of letters, tell you what I have always heard said by our elders, namely, that he who dances badly raises the loudest laugh; so if you will have patience, I will do my best to amuse you. But do not think that I say these words because I wish to escape the trouble of telling you a tale, for I am not in the least fearful on this score. And, over and beyond this, I would have you under stand that the story which Messer Antonio has told you, with so good a grace that it would be hard to beat, has fired me with so much courage that now, when I see I am indeed launched on my task, it seems to me a thousand years until I shall be able to begin. Perhaps indeed this fable of mine will be no less pleasing and laughable than Messer Antonio's, especially as I purpose to tell you of the ingenuity of a peasant woman who played a trick upon her fool of a husband; wherefore, if you will listen to me and give me your kind attention, I will tell it to you as well as I can.
Above the domain of Piove de Sacco, which is, as I need hardly tell you, a territory of Padua, seeing that this must be well known to all of you, is situated a village called Salmazza, wherein there lived, a very long time since, a peasant called Cechato Rabboso, who, although he was a fellow with a big head and body, was nevertheless a poor fool and over-trustful of his own powers. This Cechato Rabboso had to wife the daughter of a farmer called Gagiardi, who lived in a village called Campelongo, and she was a wily, crafty, and mischievous young woman, called by the name of Thia. Besides being so shrewd, she was in her person a stout wench and handsome of face, so that it was commonly said there was not another peasant woman for miles round who could be compared with her. And because she was so sprightly and nimble at country dances, the young gallants who saw her would not seldom lose their hearts to her straightway. Now it happened that a certain young man, who was himself handsome and of a sturdy figure, a prosperous citizen of Padua, by name Marsilio Vercelese, became enamoured of this Thia, and so ardently was he consumed by the flame of his love that whenever she went to a village dance this youth would be sure to follow her thither, and for the greater part of the time he would dance with her, devoting himself entirely to her and never dancing with any other woman. But although this young gallant was so fiercely enamoured of her, he kept his love a secret as well as he could, so as not to let it be known to anybody, nor to become a matter of common gossip to all the neighbours round about.
Marsilio, knowing quite well that Cechato, Thia's husband, was a poor man, supporting his house by the work of his hands, and from the early morning till late at night labouring hard, now at this, now at that work, began to prowl about Thia's house, and, by constantly plying her with soft glances, he soon found an opportunity of addressing her. Now, although Marsilio had determined in his mind to disclose the love which he bore her, still he doubted whether she might not be angered and refuse to see him again in case he should declare his passion, for it did not seem to him that she looked upon him so kindly as he deserved, seeing how great was the love he had for her. And, besides this, he was afraid of being discovered by some malicious person who would caution Cechato her husband, who on this account might very likely do him some evil turn; for Cechato, although he was such a numskull, was sharp enough to be jealous.
Marsilio, therefore, spent his days in assiduously haunting the house where Thia lived, and he would gaze at her so long and so intently that at last she could not fail to be aware that he was enamoured of her. But, for certain reasons best known to herself, she forbore to look favourably upon him, or show that she was in any way inclined to re turn his passion, and although she was in her secret mind quite willing to meet his wishes, she feigned to be indifferent to him, and turned her back upon him.
One day it chanced that Thia was sitting all alone on a wooden bench placed near the outer door of the house, and holding under her arm the distaff on which some flax was wound- she was, indeed, busy doing some spinning for her landlady-when Marsilio, who had taken a little heart of grace, came for ward and said to her: 'God be with you, my friend Thia!' And Thia answered: 'Welcome, young gentleman!' 'How is it that you do not know,' said Marsilio, 'that I am consumed of love for you, and am like to die, and you on your part make no account of it, and care not in the least about my cruel sufferings?' To this Thia answered: 'How should I know whether you love me or not?' Said Marsilio: 'If you never knew it before, I will now let you know that such is my case, for I am consumed with all the grief and passion that a man can feel.' And Thia answered him: 'Well, of a surety you have let me know it now.' Then Marsilio said, 'And you? Ah, tell me the truth, by the faith you have! Do you love me too?' Thia, with a smile answered, 'Perhaps I love you a little.' Then said Marsilio, 'Heaven help you, tell me how much?' 'I love you very much,' answered Thia. Then Marsilio cried, 'Alas, Thia! if you really loved me as much as you say, you would show it to me by some sign, but I cannot believe that you love me at all.' Thia answered, 'Well, and what sign would you have me give you?' 'Oh, Thia!' said Marsilio, 'you know very well what is in my mind without my telling you.' 'No, I cannot possibly know it unless you tell me,' said Thia. Then Marsilio re plied, 'I will tell you if you will listen to me, and not be angered.' Thia then answered, 'Say on, sir, for I promise you on my soul that, if it is a good thing and not against my honour, I will not be angered with you.' Then Marsilio said, 'Then, my love, when will you give me the chance of holding you in my arms in lover's fashion?' 'I now see clearly enough,' said Thia, 'that you are only deceiving me, and making a mock of me. How can I be fitted for you, who are a gentleman and a citizen of Padua, whilst I am a peasant of the village? You are rich and I am poor; you are a signor, and I am a working woman; you can have fine ladies to your taste, and I am of low condition. You are wont to walk gaily your embroidered surcoat, and your bright-coloured hose, all worked with wool and silk, and I, as you see, have nought but a dimity petticoat, old, torn, and mended. I have nothing better when I go to dances than this old garment and this linen head-cloth. You eat wheaten loaves, and I rye-bread and beans and polenta, and even then I have often not enough to satisfy my hunger. I have no pelisse for the cold winter, poor wretch that I am! nor do I know which way to turn to get one, for I have neither money nor goods to sell that will enable me to buy the few necessaries that I want. We have not enough corn to eat to keep us alive till Easter, and I know not what we shall do during the great dearth. And besides all this, there are the forced dues that we have to pay to Padua every day. Oh, we poor peasants! what pleasure have we in life? We toil hard to till the earth and to sow our wheat, which you fine folk consume, whilst we poor people have to make the best shift we can with rye-bread. We tend the vines and make the wine, of which you drink the best, and we have to be satisfied with wine lees or water.'
In answer to Thia's speech Marsilio said: 'Do not distress yourself on ac count of this, for if you grant me the favour I desire I will see that you want for nothing that can give you delight.' Thia replied: 'Ah! this is what you cavaliers always say until we have done your pleasure; then you go away and we never see any more of you, and, fools as we are, are left in the lurch, deceived and duped and shamed in the world's esteem. You, meantime, go your ways, bragging of your good fortune and washing out your mouths, as far as concerns us, and all that belongs to us, treating us as if we were carrion only fit to be cast out on the dunghill. I know full well the tricks you worthy citizens of Padua can play.' Then said Marsilio: 'Enough, now let us have done with words for good and all. I ask you once more whether you will grant me the favour I desire?' 'Go away, for the love of God, I pray you,' cried Thia, 'before my husband comes back, for nightfall is drawing near and he will certainly be here in a few minutes. Come back some time to-morrow, and we will talk as long as you will, for in sooth I love you well.' But Marsilio, who was indeed passionately in love with her, was loath to leave off this pleasant conversation, and still remained by her side; so she said once more, 'Go away immediately, I beg you, and do not stay here any longer.' When Marsilio saw that Thia was thus strongly moved, he cried out, 'God be with you, Thia, my sweet soul! I recommend my heart to you, for it is surely in your keeping.' 'May God go with you, dearest hope of my life!' said Thia, 'I commend you to His care.' 'By His good help,' said Marsilio, 'we will meet again to-morrow.' 'Very well, let it be so,' said Thia; and with these words Marsilio took his leave.
When the morrow had come Marsilio, to whom
the time until he should once more repair to Thia's house seemed a thousand
years, went thither forthwith and found her busy in the garden digging
and mulching round about certain vines which grew therein, and as soon
as they saw one another they exchanged greetings and began to talk lovingly
together. And when this conversation had gone on for some time Thia
said to Marsilio: 'Dear heart of mine, to morrow morning early Cechato
my husband will have occasion to go to the mill, and he will not return
hither until the next day; wherefore, if it should be
As soon as Cechato had come home, the crafty Thia went up to him and said, 'Cechato, my good man, you must needs go to the mill straightway, for we have nothing more in the house to eat.' 'Very well, very well, I will see about it answered Cechato. 'I tell you that 'you must go to-morrow, whatever hap pens,' said Thia. 'Very well, then,' replied Cechato, 'to-morrow morning before I go I will borrow a cart with two oxen from the people for whom I work, then I will come back to load it, and go off to the mill at once.'
In the meantime Thia went to prepare the corn and to put it into sacks, so that on the morrow Cechato should have nothing to do but to load his cart there with, and to go on his way singing. On the following morning Cechato took the corn which his wife had put into sacks the night before, and loaded it on the cart and went on his way towards the mill. And seeing that it was now the season of short days and long nights, and that the roads were broken up and in bad condition, and that the weather was foul with rain and ice and intense cold, poor Cechato found himself obliged to remain that night at the mill, and this in sooth fell in most opportunely with the plans that Thia and Marsilio had devised for their own satisfaction.
As soon as the dark night had fallen, Marsilio, according to the agreement he had made with Thia, took a pair of fine well-cooked capons and some white bread and wine unspoilt by any drop of water therein, all of which he had carefully prepared before he left his home, and stole secretly across the fields to Thia's house. Then, having opened the door, he found her sitting by the fire side winding thread. After greeting one another they spread the table and both sat down to eat, and after they had made an excellent meal off Marsilio's good cheer, they went to lie down in the bed; thus, whilst that poor fool of a Cechato was having his corn ground at the mill, in his bed at home Marsilio was sifting flour.
When the time of sunrise was near, and the day was beginning to break, the two lovers awoke and rose from their bed, fearing lest Cechato might return and find them there together; but while they were still amorously talking, Cechato drew near to the house, whistling aloud the while, and calling upon Thia, saying: 'Oh, my Thia! make up a good fire, I pray you, for I am more than half dead with cold.' Thia, who was a clever, artful minx, was somewhat frightened when she heard her husband's voice, and feared amain lest some evil should befall Marsilio, and injury and shame be put upon herself; so she quickly opened the door, managing the while to allow Marsilio to hide himself behind it; then with a merry face she ran to meet her husband, and began to embrace him. And after Cechato had come into the court yard, he cried out once more to his wife: 'Make a fire at once, good Thia, for I am wellnigh frozen to death. By the blood of St. Quintin, I was almost starved to death by cold last night up at that mill; so cold was it, indeed, that I was not able to sleep a wink or even to close an eye.' Whereupon Thia went without delay to the wood-house, and having taken therefrom a good armful of billets she lighted a fire whereat Cechato might warm himself, herself occupying craftily that spot by the hearth from whence Marsilio might perchance be seen by Cechato.
Then Thia, chatting with her husband of
this and of that, said: 'Ah! Cechato, my good man, I have a fine bit
of news to give you.' 'What has happened?' inquired Cechato. To this
Thia replied, 'Whilst you were away at the mill a poor old man came
to the house begging alms of me for the love of God, and as a recompense
for some bread I gave him to eat and a small cup of wine, he taught
me an incantation wherewith to throw a spell over that greedy kite which
often comes hereabouts, and never in my life have I heard anything more
beautiful than his words, which I have learnt well by heart.' 'What
is this thing you are telling me?' said Cechato; 'is it really the truth?'
Thia replied, 'It is true, by my faith, and I can tell you that I set
great store by it.' 'Then tell it to me at once,' said Cechato, 'and
do not hold me long in suspense.' Whereupon Thia said to her husband,
'You must lie down flat on the ground stretched out your full length,
just as if you were dead (which thing may God avert!), and having done
this you must turn your head and your shoulders towards the door, and
your knees and feet towards the stove, and then I must spread a white
cloth over your face, and put our corn measure over your head.' 'But
I am quite sure,' said Cechato, 'that my head will never go into our
corn measure.' 'I am sure it will,' replied Thia; 'just look here!'
And with these words she took the measure, which happened to be close
at hand, and put it over his head, saying, 'Nothing in God's world could
be a better fit than this. And now you must keep yourself quite still,
neither moving a limb nor saying a word, otherwise we shall be able
to do nothing. Then I will take our tamis sieve in my hand, and will
begin to jump and dance around you, and whilst I am thus dancing I will
speak the incantation which the old man taught me. And in this fashion
the spell may be well and truly worked. But again I tell you that you
must on no account stir a linger until I shall have repeated the incantation
thrice, for it must be said three times over you in order that it may
have any effect. After this we shall see whether the kite gives us any
more trouble, or comes to steal our chicken.' To
'Let us begin quickly then,' said Thia, 'for in this fashion we shall be able to do ourselves a good turn. Now, Cechato, lie down quickly.' And Cechato straightway laid himself down on the floor. 'Now stretch yourself out well to your full length,' said Thia. And Cechato at once did his best to stretch himself out as far as ever he could.
'That is right,' said Thia, and here upon she took a cloth of thick white linen and shrouded his face therewith. Next she took the corn measure and rammed it down on his head, and then caught up the tamis sieve and began to dance and skip around him and to re peat in the following wise the incantation which she said had been taught her by the old beggar:
Thievish bird, I charge you well,
When Thia had come to the end of her mummery she still went on dancing round Cechato, keeping her eyes fixed upon the outer door the while, and making signs to Marsilio, who was there concealed, that he had better run away at once. But Marsilio, who was neither nimble-minded nor quick to catch her meaning, failed to comprehend what might be the purport of the gestures she was making or what she meant by going through these rites of exorcism; so he kept still in his hiding-place and did not budge an inch. Meantime Cechato, being now half stifled and mightily weary of lying stretched out on the floor, was anxious to get up, and spake thus to Thia: 'Well, is it all over now?' But Thia, who had not been able to induce Marsilio to move from his place behind the door, answered Cechato in these words: 'Stay where you are, for heaven's sake, and move not at your peril. Did I not tell you that I should have to repeat the incantation three times? I hope you may not have wrecked every thing, as it is, by wanting to get up.' 'No, no, surely not,' said Cechato. And Thia made him lie down stretched out as he was before, and began to chant her incantation anew.
Now by this time Marsilio had at last come to understand how matters really stood, and what was the meaning of Thia's mummery, so he seized the opportunity to slip out from his hiding- place, and to run away as fast as his legs could carry him. Thia, when she saw Marsilio take to his heels and run out of the courtyard, finished her form of exorcism against the kite, and when she had brought it to an end she suffered her cuckoldly fool of a husband to get up from the ground. Then with Thia's help he began forthwith to unload the flour which he had brought back from the mill. Now Thia when she went with Cechato outside into the courtyard to help unload the flour, saw Marsilio in the distance hurrying away at the top of Ms speed, whereupon she began to shout after him in a lusty voice: 'Ah, ah! What a wicked bird! Ah, ah! begone, get away! For, by my faith, I will send you packing with your tail between your legs if ever you show yourself here again. Away then, I tell you! Is not he a greedy wretch? Do you not see that the wicked beast was bent on coming back? Heaven give him a bad year!'
And in this fashion it happened, that every time the kite came and flew down into the courtyard to carry away a chick or two, he would first have a bout with the hen herself, who would afterwards set to work with her conjuration as be fore. Then he would take to flight with his tail down, but all the while the fowls belonging to Cechato and Thia suffered no damage at all from his harrying.
This fable, given by the Trevisan, was found to be so mirthful and amusing that the ladies, and the gentlemen as well, almost split their sides with laughter; so well did he mock the rustic speech that there was no one of the company who would not have judged him to be a peasant of Treviso. And when the merriment had abated somewhat, the Signora turned her fair face towards the Trevisan and spake to him thus: "In truth, Signor Benedetto, you have this evening diverted us in such featly wise that with one voice we declare your fable may deservedly be held to be the equal of Molino's in merit. But to fill up the measure of my content and that of this honourable company, I entreat you - an it displease you not-that you will set forth to us an enigma which shall be as graceful in form as amusing in matter." The Trevisan, when he saw how the Signora was inclined, was unwilling to disappoint her; so, standing up, with a clear voice and with no hesitation of any sort, he began his riddle in the following words:
Sir Yoke goes up and down the field,
When the Trevisan, with the true manner and bearing of a peasant, had finished his enigma, which was comprehended by few or none of the company, he thus gave the interpretation thereof in peasant dialect in order that its meaning might be made clear to them all: "I must not keep this gentle company waiting any longer. Tell me, do you understand the meaning of my enigma? If you do not know, I will tell you. Sir Yoke goes to and fro, that is to say, the yoke, to which the oxen are attached, goes up and down the fields and roads, and is dragged hither and thither by them. Those who fare, the one on this side and the other on that side of it, are the oxen. He who beats one who stands on four, means that the plough man who walks behind lashes the bull, who has four legs, with his leathern whip. And to end my explanation, I tell you once more that the answer to my riddle is the yoke, and I hope you will all understand it."
Everyone was greatly interested over this riddle dealing with country life, and, laughing heartily thereat, they praised it highly. But the Trevisan, remembering that only one more story remained to be told this night, to wit, that of the charming Cateruzza, turned with a smiling face towards the Signora and spake thus: " Signora, it is not for the reason that I wish to disturb the settled order of this our entertainment, or to dictate to your highness, my mistress and sovereign lady, but merely to satisfy the desire of this devoted company, that I beg your excellency to make us the sharers of some fair fancies of your own, by telling us, for our delight and recreation, a story with your wonted grace. And if I peradventure have been more pre sumptuous (which God forbid) in making this request than is suitable to my humble estate, I beg you will forgive me, seeing that the love I bear towards this gracious assembly has been the chief cause why I have been led to prefer it."
The Signora, when she heard the courteous petition of the Trevisan, at first cast her eyes down upon the ground; not, however, for any fear or shame that she felt, but because she deemed that, for divers reasons, it was more seemly for her to listen than to discourse. But after a time, with a gracious and smiling look, as if her humour were a merry one, she turned her bright face towards the Trevisan and said: "Signor Benedetto, what though your request is a pleasant and seemly one, it appears to me that you are somewhat too insistent a beggar, forasmuch as the duty of story-telling pertains rather to these young damsels round about than to me; therefore you must hold me excused if I decline to give way at once to your demand, and bid Cateruzza, who has been chosen by lot to tell the fifth story of this evening, to favour you with her discourse." The merry listeners, who were mightily eager to hear the Signora tell her story, forth with all rose to their feet and began to support the request of the Trevisan, begging her most earnestly that she would in this matter favour them with her courtesy and kindness, and not stand too severely by the exalted dignity of her position, for time and place will al low anyone, however high in rank, to speak freely whatever thing may be pleasing. The Signora, when she heard the gentle loving terms of this petition, in order that she might not seem ungracious in her bearing, smilingly replied: "Since this is the wish of all of you, and your pleasure withal, that I should conclude this evening with some little story of my own, I will gladly grant your wish." And without further demur she blithely began to tell her 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.