Two men who are close friends dupe one another and in the end have their wives in common.
MANY are the tricks and deceptions which men nowadays practise one upon another, but of the whole mass of these you will find none comparable in craft and knavery to those which one friend will use in imposing upon another. And since it has fallen to my lot to open the entertainment this evening with a story, it has come into my mind to give you an account of the subtlety and cunning and treachery which a certain man employed in the befooling of another who was a close friend of his own. And although the first one who tried this knavish game completely duped his friend by the amazing cunning he displayed, yet in the end he found himself tricked by a craft and ingenuity no whit inferior to his own. All of which shall be clearly set forth to you if you will of your kindness give a hearing to my story.
In the famous and ancient city of Genoa there lived in times past two friends, of whom one was called by name Messer Liberale Spinola, a man of great wealth, and at the same time one much addicted to the pleasures of the world, and the other Messer Arthilao Sara, one of the chief merchants of the city. The friendship between these two was very warm and close; so great, indeed, was their attachment the one for the other, that they could scarce endure to be apart. And if it should happen by any chance that either one of these had need of aught belonging to the other, he could claim it without delay or hindrance. And seeing that Messer Arthilao was engaged in numerous ventures in merchandise, and had in hand many affairs, both on his own account and on the account of others, he one day had to set out on a journey to Soria. Wherefore, having sought out his dear friend Messer Liberale, he thus addressed him in the same sincere and benevolent spirit he ever felt towards him: 'My friend, you know well, and it is manifest to all men, how great is the love and affection subsisting between us, how I always have relied and still rely upon you, both on account of the friendship we have had for each other for so many years past, and on account of the vow of brotherhood that there is between us. Wherefore, because I have settled in my mind to go to Soria, and because there is no other man in the world whom I trust as I trust you, I come with all boldness and confidence to you to entreat you to do me a favour, which thing, though it may cause no little disturbance to your own economy, I beg that you of your goodness, and for the sake of our mutual good feeling, will not deny me.' Messer Liberale, who was fully inclined to do his friend any kindness he might ask for, without further words concerning the matter, said: 'Arthilao, my dear friend, the love we have one for the other, and the bond of fellowship which our sincere affection has knitted between us, ought to render un necessary all such discourse as this. Tell me now, without keeping aught behind, what your wishes may be, and lay me under your orders, for I am ready to discharge whatever duty you may put upon me.' Then said Messer Arthilao to his friend: 'My desire and request of you is to beg you that, so long as I shall be away, you will take under your charge the government of my house, and in like manner of my wife, calling her attention to anything that may be wanted, and whatever sum of money you may disburse on her behalf I will pay you in full on my return.' Messer Liberale, when he understood what his friend wanted of him, first gave him hearty thanks for the high opinion he had of his probity, in that he held him in such good esteem, then he freely promised Messer Arthilao to discharge, to the best of his poor abilities, the task which had been put upon him.
When the time had come for Messer Arthilao to set out on his voyage, having first bestowed all his merchandise on board his ship, he recommended his wife Daria-who, as it happened, was three months gone with child-to the care of his friend, and then set forth, sailing out of Genoa with his sails spread to a favouring wind, and with good fortune to aid him. As soon as Messer Arthilao was embarked and well on his way outward Messer Liberale betook himself to the house of Madonna Daria, his well- beloved neighbour, and thus spake to her: 'Madonna, Messer Arthilao, your good husband and my very dearest friend, before he set forth on this voyage, besought me with the most pressing entreaties to take under my charge the care of all his affairs, and of you yourself, madonna, as well; and likewise to keep you mindful of all the things for your good of which you may stand in need. I, for the sake of the affection which always has existed and still exists between him and me, promised him that I would perform any duty he might lay upon me. Wherefore I have come to you at once in order that you may let me know your will, without hindrance, concerning any matter which may suggest itself to you.'
Now Madonna Daria, who was by nature very sweet and gentle, thanked Messer Liberale heartily for this speech, begging him at the same time to be as good as his word if at any time she should find herself in need of his good offices. To this Messer Liberale answered that he assuredly would not fail her, and, in discharge of his promise, he was very constant in his visits to his fair neighbour, and took good care that she wanted for nothing. In the course of time it came to his knowledge that she was with child, but feigning to be ignorant thereof, he said one day to her, Madonna, how are you feeling? doubtless somewhat estranged on account of the absence of your husband, Messer Arthilao.' And to this Madonna Daria answered, 'Of a surety, my good neighbour, I feel his absence for many reasons, but above all on account of my present condition.' 'And in what condition,' said Messer Liberale, 'may you find yourself?' 'I am three months gone with child,' Madonna Daria replied, 'and there is moreover something strange about this pregnancy of mine. I never felt myself so ill at ease before.' Messer Liberale when he heard this said, 'But, my good neighbour, are you really with child?' 'I would it were you instead, my friend,' said Madonna Daria, 'and that I were well quit of it.''
Now on account of what had passed it ensued that, in the course of inter views of this kind with his fair neighbour, Messer Liberale was so much charmed by her beauty and her soft plump figure, that he became hotly in flamed with amorous desire for her, and night and day could turn his thoughts to nothing else than how he might ob tam gratification of his dishonest wishes, but the love in which he held his friend Messer Arthilao kept him back for a time. But after a while, spurred on by the violence of his passion, which melted all his good resolutions, he went one day to Madonna Daria, and said, 'Alas my dear friend, how deeply grieved I am that Messer Arthilao should thus have gone away from you and left you pregnant; because, on account of his sudden departure, he may very well have forgotten to complete the child which he begat and which you now carry in your womb. On this account, perchance, it has come to pass that your pregnancy is such an uneasy one.' 'O! my friend,' cried Madonna Daria, 'do you really believe that the infant which I bear in my womb may be lacking in one or other of its limbs, and that I may be suffering therefor?' 'Of a truth,' replied Messer Liberale, 'that is my opinion; nay, I hold it for certain that my good friend Messer Arthilao failed to give it the due number of limbs. It often happens in cases of this sort that one child is born lame and another blind, one of this fashion and another of that.' 'Ah! my dear friend,' said Madonna Daria, 'this thing you tell me greatly troubles my mind. Where shall I look for a remedy, so that this misfortune may not befall me?' My dear neighbour,' Messer Liberale replied, 'be of good cheer and do not distress yourself in vain, for know that a remedy is to be found for everything except death.' 'I beg you, for the love you bear to your absent friend,' said Madonna Daria, 'that you will put me in the way of finding this remedy; and the sooner you can let me have it, the more I shall be bound to you; then there will be no danger lest the child should be born imperfect.'
When Messer Liberale found that he had brought Madonna Daria into a mood favourable for his purpose, he said to her: ' Dear lady, it would be great baseness and cowardice in a man if, when he saw his friend ready to perish, he did not stretch out his hand to aid him. Wherefore, seeing that I am able to supply the defects which your infant at present has, I should be a traitor to you and should be working you great wrong If I did not come to your assistance.' 'Then, my dear friend,' said the lady, 'do not make any longer delay, but set to work straightway, so that the child may be made perfect at once; for, besides the pity of it, it would be a most grievous sin.' 'Do not let any doubt on this score trouble you,' said Liberale; 'I will discharge my duty to the full; and now give orders to your waiting- woman that she get ready the table, and in the mean time we will make a beginning of the good work we have in hand.'
Thus, while the waiting-woman was getting
in order the table, Messer Liberale went with Madonna Daria into the
bedchamber and having made fast the door, he began to caress her and
kiss her, giving her the most loving embracements man ever gave to woman.
Then replied Messer Liberale, 'Pray tell me which is the greater sin, to lie with your friend, or to let this infant come into the world maimed and imperfect?' 'I judge that the greater sin would be,' replied Madonna Daria, 'to let a child be born, through the fault of its parents, in an imperfect state.' 'Then,' rejoined Messer Liberale, 'you would assuredly be guilty of a great offence were you to refuse to let rue bring to pass all that work your husband left undone in the formation of the child.' Now the lady, who desired greatly that her offspring should come into the world perfect in all its members, gave credence to these words of her neighbour, and, notwithstanding the close tie between him and her husband, she gave way to his desires, and many and many a time hereafter they took their pleasure together. Indeed, so pleasant to the lady seemed this method of restoring to her infant whatever might be wanting, that she was ever begging Messer Liberale to take good heed lest he should fail, as her husband had failed before. Liberale, who found he had fallen upon a very dainty morsel, did his best, both by day and night, to make up anything which might be wanting in the child, so that it might be born perfect in every way. And when Madonna Daria had gone her full time, she was brought to bed with a lusty boy, who proved to be the very counterpart of Messer Arthilao, and perfectly formed, lacking nothing whatsoever in any of his parts. On this score the lady was overjoyed, and full of gratitude to Messer Liberale as the cause of her good fortune.
After a short time had passed Messer Arthilao returned to Genoa and betook himself to his home, where he found his wife restored to health and fair as ever, and she, full of joy and merriment, ran to meet him with her baby in her arms, and they embraced and kissed one another heartily. And as soon as Messer Liberale got news of the return of his friend, he quickly went to see and greet him, congratulating him on his happy return and on his well-being. A few weeks later it happened that Messer Arthilao, as he sat at table one day with his wife and fondled the child, spake thus: 'O Daria, my wife, what a beautiful child this one of ours is! Did you ever see one better made? Look at its whole presence, and admire its pretty face and its bright eyes, which sparkle as if they were stars!' And thus, feature by feature, he went on praising the shapely boy. Then Madonna Daria answered: 'Of a truth there is nothing wanting in him, but that is not altogether owing to your fine performances, my good man; because, as you know well enough, I was three months gone with child when you went away, and the child which I had conceived was not yet fully furnished with his members, whereby I had like to have had grave mischance in my pregnancy. Wherefore we have great cause to thank our good neighbour Messer Liberale, who was most, eager and diligent to supply out of his own strength all that was lacking in the child, making good all those parts where your own work had failed.' Messer Arthilao listened to and fully understood this speech of his wife, and felt wellnigh beside himself with rage. 'It seemed as if he had a sharp knife in his heart, for he quickly comprehended that Messer Liberale had played the traitor to him and had debauched his wife but, like a sensible man, he feigned not to have understood the meaning of what he had heard, and held his peace, turning the discourse, when he spoke again, upon other matters.
But when he was risen from the table, Messer Arthilao began to cogitate over the strange and shameful conduct of his friend, whom he had loved and esteemed far above any other man in the world, and day and night he brooded and planned in what fashion, and by what method, he might best avenge himself for the great offence which had been wrought against his honour. The poor wight, thus engaged, harboured ever these projects, scarcely knowing what course he would take, but in the end he determined to do a certain thing which would let him bring to pass the issue he especially willed and desired. Wherefore one day he said to his wife, 'Daria, see that to morrow our table may be furnished a little more generously than is our wont, because I wish to invite Messer Liberale and Madonna Propertia his wife, our good neighbours, to dine with us; but take heed that, as you love your life, you speak not a word of any sort, and let pass anything you may see or hear without re- mark or notice.' And Madonna Daria agreed to do as he proposed. Then having left the house he betook himself to the piazza, where he met his neighbour, Messer Liberale, whom, together with his wife, Madonna Propertia, he bade come together on the following day. And Messer Liberale gladly accepted the invitation.
On the following day the two invited guests repaired to the house of Messer Arthilao, where they met a most friendly greeting and reception. And when they were all gathered together and were conversing on this thing and that, Messer Arthilao spake thus to Madonna Propertia: 'Dear neighbour, while they are getting ready the viands and setting the table, I would you took some trifle to sustain you.' And, having led her aside into a chamber, he handed to her a beaker of drugged wine with a toast thereto, both of which she took, and, without any fear whatever, ate the toast and emptied the beaker of wine. Then they returned, and, having placed themselves at the table, began merrily the dinner.
But long before the feast had come to an end, Madonna Propertia began to feel drowsiness stealing over her, so that she could scarce hold open her eyes, and Messer Arthilao when he perceived this said: ' Madonna, will it please you to go and rest yourself a little; peradventure last night your slumber was broken,' and with these words he conducted her into a chamber where, having thrown herself upon the bed, she fell asleep at once. Messer Arthilao, fearing lest the potency of his draught should pass off,' and that time might fail him for the carrying out of the project which he was secretly keeping in his mind, called Messer Liberale and said to him: 'Neighbour, let us go out for a little, and leave your good wife to sleep as long as she may need; peradventure she was astir somewhat too early this morning and is in want of sleep.' Then they both went out and betook themselves to the piazza, where Messer Arthilao made believe to be pressed in the despatch of certain matters of business, and having bidden fare well to his friend, returned privily to his own house, and, being come there, stole quietly into the chamber where Madonna Propertia was lying. When he went up to the bed he perceived that she was sleeping quietly, whereupon, without being espied by any one of the people in the house or rousing the notice of the lady herself, he took away from her, with the utmost lightness of hand, the rings she wore on her fingers and the pearls from about her neck, and withdrew from the chamber.
The effects of the medicated draught had entirely dissipated themselves by the time Madonna Propertia awoke, and, when she felt inclined to rise and leave the bed, she remarked that her pearls and her rings were missing; so, having got up, she searched here and there and everywhere, turning everything upside down without finding any trace of the thing she was seeking. Wherefore, mightily upset, she rushed out of the room and began to question Madonna Daria whether by chance she might not have taken her pearls and rings, but Madonna Daria assured her friend that she had seen nothing of them; where upon Madonna Propertia was wellnigh beside herself with agony. While the poor lady was thus distraught with grief and anxiety, without any notion as to where she should seek a remedy for her trouble, who should come in but Messer Arthilao, and he, when he saw his friend's wife so painfully agitated, said in a somewhat diffident tone: 'What has come to you, dear friend, that you are in such trouble?' In answer to this question Madonna Propertia told him the whole misfortune which had befallen her; whereupon Messer Arthilao, making as if he knew nought of the matter, thus spake to her: 'Make a close search, Madonna, and consider well whether you may not have put these your jewels in some place which you no longer remember. But in any case, supposing that you should not be able to find them, I promise you, on the faith of our old friendship, that I will make such an investigation of the matter that they who have taken away these things of yours will find they have played a bad turn for themselves; but first, before we put our hands to the business, I beg that you will once more make a diligent search in every corner.
Whereupon the ladies and the serving women as well searched and re-searched the house from top to bottom, turning everything upside down and finding nothing. Messer Arthilao remarking their ill success, began to make an up roar through the house, threatening now this one and now that with ill handling, but they all swore solemnly that they had no knowledge of the matter. Then Messer Arthilao, turning towards Madonna Propertia said: 'My dear neighbour, be not overcome by this trouble, but keep a light heart, for I am at your service to see this matter to an end. And you must know, my dear friend, that I am the possessor of a secret of so great virtue and efficiency that by its working I shall be able to lay my hand on the man, whoever he may be, who has taken your jewels.
When she heard these words Madonna Propertia said: 'Oh, Messer Arthilao! of your kindness I beg you to make this experiment, in order that there may be no cause for Messer Liberale to suspect me, or to think of me as an evil doer.' Whereupon Messer Arthilao, seeing that the time was now come when he might meetly work his vengeance for the injury which had been done him of late, called for his wife and for the serving-women, and strictly charged them that they should get them gone out of the chamber, and that no one of them should dare to come near to it under any pretence, except he should summon her thither. And when his wife and the women folk were gone, Messer Arthilao closed the door of the chamber, and having drawn with a bit of charcoal a circle on the floor and figured therein certain signs and characters of his own invention, said to Madonna Propertia: 'Now, my dear friend, lie down on that bed and take heed you move not, neither have any fear on account of anything you may feel, forasmuch as I will not go hence till I shall have found your jewels.' 'You need not have the smallest fear,' said Madonna Propertia, 'that I will budge an inch, nor indeed do the least thing of any sort, unless I have your commands thereanent.' Then Messer Arthilao, having turned himself towards the right, made certain signs upon the floor, then turning to the left made other signs and conjurations in the air, and pretending the while to be conversing with a multitude of spirits, uttered all sorts of strange noises in a fictitious voice in such a way that Madonna Propertia was not a little bewildered, but Messer Arthilao, who had foreseen this, reassured her, and speaking comforting words to her bade her not to be affrighted. And when he had been within the circle for about half a quarter of an hour, he began to speak certain words in a gurgling tone, which were as follows:
What I have not found, what I am seeking
Madonna Propertia was fully as much astonished as pleased as she listened to these words, and, when the incantation was finished, Messer Arthilao said: 'Dear friend, you have heard all that was said. The jewels which, as you believed, you have lost, are somewhere about you. There is no need for any further grief. Keep up your spirits, and we will find them all. But it is necessary that I should seek for them in the place where you understand they are.' The lady, who was very desirous to get back her jewels, answered eagerly: 'Good friend, I fully comprehend all this. Do not delay, I beg you, but begin your search with all despatch.' Whereupon Messer Arthilao came forth out of the circle, and, having made ready for his sport by lying down beside the lady on the bed, straightway began his fishing, and at the same moment when he made his first cast, he drew forth a ring from his bosom (without the lady seeing it), and this he handed to her, saying: 'See, Madonna, how successful, how good a fisherman I am, how at the first cast I have recovered your diamond!' Madonna Propertia, when she saw the diamond, was greatly pleased and said: 'Ah, my good, kind friend! I pray you not yet to cease your fishing; then perhaps you will get back all the other jewels I have lost.' Messer Arthilao kept on at his angling like a man, now bringing out one lost jewel, now another, working so well with his tackle that finally he recovered and handed back to the lady every article that had been lost.
For this service Madonna Propertia was highly grateful and quite satisfied with the issue of the affair, and, having got back all her precious jewels, she said to Messer Arthilao: 'Dear friend, see how many and valuable things you have recovered for me by your good faith and diligence; peradventure by another cast of your line in the same place you might win back for me a beautiful little kettle which was stolen from me some days ago and which I prized very highly." Then Messer Arthilao answered: 'Most willingly would I do this, were I not somewhat wearied just at present over what I have already done. Be assured that at some future time I shall be quite ready to make a trial to get back your kettle, and I have good hope that we may succeed.' Madonna Propertia was fully content with this proposition, and, having taken leave of Messer Arthilao and Donna Daria, she took her jewels and returned home with a light heart.
A short time after this it happened that one morning, when Madonna Propertia was lying in bed with her husband, and the two chatting pleasantly together, she said to him: 'Oh, husband! i'faith consider whether you might not, by taking a turn of fishing, find for me the little kettle which we lost a long time ago; because, forsooth, some days since I happened to miss certain of my jewels, and Messer Arthilao, our good neighbour, was kind enough to come to my aid, and, by fishing for them most skilfully, found every one of them and gave them back to me. And when I begged him that he would try another cast with the view of finding the kettle, he told me that he was unable to recover it just then, seeing that he had wearied himself some what by the fishing he had already done on my behalf. Wherefore, I beg you, let us two make a trial to see whether we may not be able to get it back.'
Messer Liberale, when he listened to this speech, understood well enough what manner of repayment his neighbour had made him for his own trick, and, holding his peace, was fain to pocket the affront patiently. On the following morning the two neighbours, when they met upon the piazza, looked narrowly one at the other, but neither of them had the courage to broach the subject, so nothing was said on one side or the other. Nor did they take their wives into their confidence, but the issue of the affair was that for the future a common right was established for either one to take his diversion with the wife of the other.
This story told by Alteria was so mightily to the taste of the company that it seemed as if they would have gone on for the rest of the evening making remarks thereanent, and discussing the craft and dexterity with which the one friend had duped the other. But the Signora, when she saw that the laughter and the frolicsome speeches promised to go on somewhat longer than was meet, gave the word that the merriment should stop, and that Alteria should follow the established rule by propounding her enigma. Whereupon she, without making any further delay, thus gave it:
A useful thing, firm, hard, and white,
This enigma given by Alteria awakened amongst her hearers fully as much pleasure as had her story. And, not withstanding the fact that certain traits thereof might seem somewhat to affront modesty, the ladies did not on this ac count forbear to discuss it, because they had on another occasion heard the same thing. But Lauretta, feigning to have no inkling of the meaning of the enigma, besought Alteria to explain it, and the latter, with a merry countenance, spake thus to her questioner: "It is superfluous labour to carry crocodiles to Egypt, or vases to Samos, or owls to Athens. However, to do your pleasure, I will unfold my riddle. I declare that the instrument, partly plumed and partly perforated, is simply a pen such as one employs in writing, which, before one dips it in the inkstand, is white and dry, but when it is withdrawn therefrom is black and moistened and ready to serve the writer who holds it in what ever way he will." As soon as Alteria had finished this explanation of her pretty riddle, Arianna, who was sitting beside her, stood up and began to tell her story.
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.