Ortodosio Simeoni, merchant and noble citizen of Florence, goes to Flanders, where he becomes enamoured of Argentina, a courtezan, and forgets his lawful wife; but the wife by magic working is conveyed to Flanders, and returns to Florence with child by her husband.
IT were long to tell how great is the love which a wife may bear to her husband, especially when she is mated with a man who is entirely to her liking. But, on the other hand, there is no hatred more fell than that of a woman who finds her self under the governance of a distaste ft husband, for, as wise men tell us, a woman either loves or hates all in all. And this thing you will easily understand if you will give kindly attention to the tale I have it in my mind to tell you.
There lived once upon a time, gracious ladies, a merchant called Ortodosio Simeoni, a man holding noble rank in the city of Florence, and having to wife a lady called Isabella, who was fair to see, of gentle manners, and holy and saintly in her life. Ortodosio, being strongly moved to embark in traffic, took leave of his kinsmen and of his wife, lamenting sore as he bade them farewell, and, having set forth from Florence, betook himself with his goods to Flanders. Having arrived in that country, it happened that Ortodosio, moved by fate, which seemed at first propitious, but proved evil in the end, hired a house opposite to that of a courtezan called Argentina, and he, being inflamed with an ardent passion for her, lost all thought of Isabella his wife and of his former life in guilty dalliance with her.
Five years had passed away since Isabella had received any news of her husband. She knew not whether he was alive or dead, or in what land he was abiding. For this reason she was smitten with the greatest sorrow that a woman could feel, and it seemed to her continually as if the very life were being torn from out her breast. The unhappy Isabella, who was very devout and exceedingly reverent of all the ordinances of religion, went to the Church of the Annunciata every day, and there falling on her knees would pray to God with scalding tears and piteous sighs that He would grant her the speedy return of her husband. But her humble prayers, her long fasts, and her many charities availed her nothing. Wherefore the poor lady, seeing that neither for her fastings, nor for her prayers, nor for her almsgivings, nor for the many acts that she did for the welfare of others, did she obtain a favourable hearing, resolved to change her manner of living and to fix upon some other course. So, in the same measure as she had formerly been devout and fervent in her orisons, she henceforth gave her self up entirely to the practice of incantations and witchcraft, hoping that by these means her affairs might be brought to a more prosperous issue. She went there fore one morning early in search of a certain witch, Gabrina Fureta, and entreated her kind offices. She forthwith laid bare all her troubles to the wise woman, who was very old, and had greater experience in the arts of magic than any other person in the city; indeed, she could bring to pass things which were quite out of the ordinary course of nature, so that it was an amazement to see and hear them.
Gabrina, when she heard of Isabella's troubles, was moved to pity on her account, and having spoken divers com forting words, promised to help her, telling her to be of good cheer, for she should soon see her husband and rejoice over her reunion with him. Isabella, who was mightily gratified at this favourable answer, opened her purse and gave Gabrina ten florins; these the witch joyfully took, and, after having murmured certain mysterious words, she bade Isabella return to her at nightfall. When the appointed hour for the meeting had come, the witch took her little book in hand and drew a small circle on the ground; then, having surrounded the same with certain magic signs and figures, she poured out some subtle liquor from a flask and drank a drop of it and gave as much to Isabella. And when the lady had drunk it, Gabrina spake thus to her: 'Isabella, you know that we have met here to work an incantation in order that we may discover the place of your husband's present abode, wherefore it is absolutely necessary that you should be firm and not flinch at anything you may see or feel, however terrible. And do not let it enter into your mind to invoke the assistance of God or of the saints, or to make the sign of the cross; for if you do this you will never be able to recall what you have done, and at the same time you will be in the greatest danger of death.'
To this Isabella answered: 'Do not doubt my constancy in any way, Gabrina, but be sure that if you were to conjure up before me all the demons which live in the centre of the earth, they would not affright me.' 'Undress yourself, then,' said the witch, 'and enter the circle.' Isabella, therefore, having stripped herself, stood naked as on the day when she was born, and boldly entered the circle, whereupon Gabrina opened her book and likewise entered the circle, and thus spake: 'Powers of hell, by the authority which I hold over you, I conjure that you instantly appear before me ! 'Astaroth, Fafarello, and the other demon princes, compelled by the conjurations of Gabrina, immediately presented themselves before her with loud shrieks, and cried, 'Command us to do thy will.' Gabrina then said, 'I conjure and command you that, without any delay, you truthfully disclose to me where Ortodosio Simeoni, the husband of Isabella, now abides, and whether he be living or dead.'
'Know, Gabrina,' said Astaroth, 'that Ortodosio lives, and is in Flanders, and that he is consumed by so fierce a passion for a certain woman called Argentina that he no longer remembers his own wife.' When the witch heard this she commanded Fafarello that he should change himself into a horse and transport Isabella to the spot where Ortodosio was abiding. The demon, who was straight way changed into a horse, caught up Isabella and flew with her into the air, she in the meantime feeling neither hurt nor fear, and when the sun appeared he set her down unscathed in Argentina's palace. This done, Fafarello put upon Isabella the form of Argentina, and so complete was the resemblance that she no longer seemed to be Isabella but Argentina herself, and at the same time he transformed Argentina into the shape of an old woman who was invisible, neither could she hear or see anybody herself.
When the hour for supper had come Isabella in her new guise supped with Ortodosio her husband, and then, having withdrawn together into a rich bed- chamber in which there was a bedstead with a downy bed thereon, she placed herself by Ortodosio's side, and he, while he thought he was in bed with Argentina, really lay with his own wife. And so ardent and impassioned were the tender caresses and kisses he be stowed upon her, and so close their embraces and kisses when they took their pleasure one with another, that in the course of that very night Isabella be came with child. Fafarello, in the mean time, contrived to steal from the chamber a rich gown, all embroidered with pearls, and a beautiful necklace which Ortodosio had formerly given to Argentina, and when the following night had come Fafarello made Isabella and Argentina resume their own natural shapes, and at daybreak, having once more transformed himself into a horse and taken Isabella on the saddle, he transported her back to Gabrina's house, at the same time handing over the gown and the necklace he had stolen to the old woman. The witch, when she had received the gown and the necklace from the hands of the demon, gave them to Isabella with these words: 'My daughter, guard these things with care, for at the right time and place they will be real proofs of your loyalty.' Isabella took the garment and the fair necklace, and, having thanked the witch, she returned to her home.
After four months had passed Isabella began to show signs of pregnancy, and her kinsfolk, when they remarked this, marvelled greatly, as they had always held her to be a virtuous and saintly dame. Wherefore they often asked her if she were with child, and by whom; to which question she, with a cheerful face, would always reply that she was with child by Ortodosio her husband. But her kinsfolk declared this to be false, for they knew well enough that her husband had been absent from her for a long time, and was at the present moment in a distant country, and that, with matters standing as they did, it was impossible she could be with child by him. For this reason her kindred were greatly grieved, and began to fear the shame which should befall them, often taking counsel together whether they should not kill her. But the fear of God, the dread of the loss of the child's soul and of the murmurs of the world, and their care for the husband's honour, restrained them from committing this crime, so they determined to await the birth of the little creature.
When the time of her lying-in had come, Isabella gave birth to a beautiful boy, but when they heard of it, her kinsfolk were overwhelmed with grief, and without hesitation wrote to Ortodosio in the following words: 'It is not with the design to give you annoyance, dearest brother, but in order to tell you the truth, that we write to inform you that Isabella, your wife and our kinswoman, has to our great shame and dishonour given birth to a son. Who his father may be we know not, but we would assuredly judge him to have been begotten by you had you not been away from her for so long a time. The child and his brazen faced mother would have been before now deprived of life by us, had not the reverence which we bear to God stayed our hands on their behalf, for it pleaseth not God that we should stain our hands with our own blood. Set therefore your own affairs in order, and save your honour, and do not suffer this crime to re main unpunished.
When Ortodosio had received these letters and the sad news therein written, he lamented greatly, and having summoned Argentina into his presence, he said to her: 'Argentina, it is absolutely necessary that I should return to Florence in order that I may despatch certain affairs of mine which are of no small weight. After a few days, when I shall have them set in order, I will come back to you forthwith. You, in the meantime, take good care of yourself and of my affairs, treating them in the same manner as if they were your own, and live merrily and always remember me.'
Ortodosio thereupon left Flanders, and with a prosperous wind sailed for Florence. Having come to his own house he was joyfully received by his wife; but as the days went on he was many a time seized with a diabolical inclination to kill her, and to leave Florence secretly, but when he considered the danger and the dishonour he would incur thereby, he determined to post pone his revenge to a more convenient season. So without delay he made known his return to her kinsmen, and after a while he sent out an invitation begging them to come and dine with him on the following day. When his wife's kinsmen, in response to the invitation given to them, arrived at Ortodosio's house, they were well received by him, and after their gracious welcome they all dined merrily together. When the dinner had come to an end, and the table cleared, Ortodosio began to speak as follows:
'Kind brothers and sisters, I think that the cause of our meeting here together must be plainly manifest to you all; wherefore it is not necessary that I should spend many words over the matter, but I will at once come to the subject which concerns all of us.' And raising his eyes towards his wife, who sat opposite to him, he said: 'Isabella, who is the father of the child which you keep in this house?' and Isabella answered, 'You are his father.' 'I? I, his father?' said Ortodosio; 'I have now been away these five years, and from the hour on which I departed you have not seen me, so how can you say that I am his father?' 'Still I declare that the child is your son,' replied Isabella, 'and that he was begotten by you in Flanders.' Then Ortodosio, waxing very wroth, cried out, 'Ah, woman, lying and brazen that you are! When were you ever in Flanders?' 'When I lay in bed with you,' answered Isabella. And then she told him everything from beginning to end-the place, the time, and the very words that had passed between them on that night. Ortodosio and her brothers, when they heard this thing, were filled with astonishment, but still they refused to believe her words. Wherefore Isabella, seeing the stubborn pertinacity of her husband, and knowing well that he did not believe what she said, rose from her seat, and having withdrawn into her chamber, she took the embroidered robe and the beautiful necklace and went back to the room where the company sat, and spake thus: 'My lord, do you know this robe which is so cunningly embroidered?'
Ortodosio, quite bewildered and al most beside himself at the sight, thus answered: 'It is true that I have missed a similar robe, and I could never discover what had become of it.' 'Know, then, said Isabella, 'that this is the self-same robe which you lost.' Then she put her hand into her bosom and drew forth the rich necklace, and said, 'Do you also know this necklace?' And her husband, who could not deny that he knew it, said that it also had been stolen from him at the same time as the robe. 'But, so that my fidelity may be made clearly manifest to you, I will show you that I am worthy of your trust,' said Isabella. And having spoken thus, she caused the nurse to bring the child, which she carried in her arms to her, and when she had stripped off its white garments she said, 'Ortodosio, do you know this child?' And with these words she showed him how one of its feet was faulty, for the little toe was missing, and this afforded a true indication and absolute proof of her wifely fidelity, since Ortodosio's foot was in like manner naturally wanting of a toe. When Ortodosio saw this he was so completely silenced that he could not say a word in contradiction; so he took the child in his arms and kissed him and acknowledged him as his son. Then Isabella took greater courage and said, 'You must know, Ortodosio, my beloved, that the fastings, the prayers, and the other good works that I performed in order that I might have news of you, brought me fulfilment of my wishes, as you will presently hear. For one morning, when I was kneeling in the holy Church of Annunciata, and praying that I might have news of you, my prayer was granted, and an angel carried me invisibly into Flanders and placed me by your side in bed, and so close and loving were the caresses which you bestowed on me that night that I then and there became with child. And on the following night I found myself in my own house in Florence again, together with the things I have just laid before your eyes.' When Ortodosio and his brothers had seen these trustworthy signs, and heard the words which Isabella spake with such great show of good faith, they all embraced and kissed one another, and in this wise, with all good feeling, they re stored their affectionate relationship one with another.
And after some days had passed Ortodosio returned to Flanders, where he procured honourable marriage for Argentina, and, having laden his goods on a great ship, he returned to Florence, in which city he lived a long time in tranquil peace and happiness with Isabella and his child.
When Vicenza had come to the end of this pathetic story all the company applauded her warmly, and the Signora, with tears of pity in her beautiful eyes, signed to her to go on with her enigma, and Vicenza, without hesitation, gave it in the following words:
I am shining big and round
Vicenza's subtle enigma won the praise of all who heard it, but there was not one of them, however sharp-witted, who was not baffled thereby. Wherefore Vicenza, perceiving that all were silent, and that her riddle was yet unsolved, stood up, and having obtained permission, thus explained it: "The subject of my enigma, ladies and gentlemen, is the warming- pan, which, after it is filled with burning cinders, is placed between the white sheets. It has eyes, that is to say, the holes pierced therein, and it is used when the weather is coldest." Fiordiana, whose turn it was to tell the next story, did not wait for the Signora's command, but with a smiling face began 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.