Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

Illustration for Facetious Nights by E. R. Hughes

The Facetious Nights

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Night the Sixth:
Fifth Fable:
Pre Zefiro and His Garden

Pre Zefiro works a spell on a youth whom he finds eating figs in his garden.

IT has often been said, dearest ladies, that there are mysterious virtues abiding in words, and in herbs, and in stones; but stones assuredly may be held to excel both herbs and words in persuasive powers, as you will clearly see by this little tale of mine.

There once lived in the city of Bergamo a miserly priest, called Pre Zefiro, who by common report was said to be possessed of great wealth. This man had a garden situated beyond the city walls, near the gate which is called Penta. This same garden was surrounded in such a manner by walls and ditches that neither man nor beast could enter there in, and it was well planted with fruit trees of every kind, and amongst others there was a great fig-tree with branches spreading on all sides, and laden every season with beautiful and excellent fruit, of which the priest was wont to partake every year with all the gentlemen and notables of the city. These figs were of a mixed colour, between white and purple, and they dropped tears of juice which were like honey. So precious were they, that they were always care fully guarded by watchmen. One night, when by chance the guardians were not on the watch, a youth clambered up into this fig-tree, and, having chosen the ripest figs, silently set to work to stow them away in their skins, just as they were, in the storehouse of his belly.

Pre Zefiro, having suddenly remembered that there were no watchmen in his garden, flew thither, and straightway saw the fellow sitting in the tree and eating figs at his leisure. Whereupon the priest began to beg him to come down, but as he took no heed of his words, Pre Zefiro threw himself on his knees and conjured him by heaven, by the earth, by the planets, by the stars, by the elements, and by all the sacred words which are written in the Scriptures, to come down from the tree; but still the youth ate steadily on. Pre Zefiro, seeing that he gained no advantage what ever by these adjurations, gathered certain herbs which grew round about in the garden, and once more conjured the fellow by the virtue which dwelt therein to come down, but he only clambered up higher so that he might fill himself with greater ease. Then the priest spake as follows: 'It is written that in words, and in herbs, and in stones, there are hidden virtues. I have conjured you by the first two, and they have availed nothing to bring you down out of the tree, now by virtue of the third I once more conjure you to come down to the ground.' So straightway he began to hurl stones at the thief with great rancour and fury, smiting him now on the arm, now on the leg, now on the spine; so that at last the youth, swollen and bethumped and bruised as he was on account of the frequent blows he had received, was obliged to come down from his perch. Then he took to flight, having first given back to Pre Zefiro all the figs which he had stowed away in his bosom. And thus stones proved themselves to be more potent as instruments of exorcism than either words or herbs.

Eritrea had no sooner come to the end of her brief story than the Signora bade her to follow it up with her enigma, so without further delay she spake as follows:

Gallant knights and ladies gay,
Tell me truthfully, I pray
Answer quick to my behest,
Which of three you like the best?
That which is bound close and tight,
Or that makes you writhe by night,
Or that which in the evening grey
Will drive you from your bed away.
If my speech you fathom well,
Tell me, gentles, quickly tell.

All the listeners were mightily perplexed over this cunningly-devised enigma propounded by Eritrea, and no one knew what answer to give. But the Signora pressed each one to give an opinion, and one gave preference to the narrow and well tied, another to the turn which comes early, and another that of the first watches of the night. Nevertheless not one of them understood the true signification of the riddle. Wherefore Eritrea, when she saw their want of agreement, said: 'It does not seem right that my gracious hearers should remain any longer in doubt, so I will say at once that the thing which is bound close and tight is the scurf on the skin, which, if one wants to be cured of it, must be doctored and tied up tightly with bandages. The thing which causes a man to leave his bed in the night is the flux, since one suffering therewith must needs find relief. The last named, which touches one in the evening hour, is the troublesome itch, which, when night is coming on, heats the blood, and causes such intolerable irritation that one with it upon him is fain to tear his flesh with his teeth, as did the widow's son in the learned and elegant story we have lately heard from Cateruzza.'

The ingenious explanation set forth by Eritrea to her very knotty riddle gave universal satisfaction, and when the listeners had all taken leave of the Signora, the hour being now late, they went their several ways, under promise to return the next evening to their wonted place of meeting.


Next: Night the Seventh: Proem

Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.

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