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 Seventh:
Fifth Fable:
The Three Brothers

Three brothers, poor men, go out into the world and acquire great riches.

I HAVE often heard it said that wit is ever the master of force, and that there is no undertaking in the whole world, however difficult and arduous it may appear, which man may not carry out by means of his ingenuity. This truth I will prove to you in a very brief fable, if you will lend me your attention.

There once lived in this excellent city of ours a poor man to whom were born three sons, but by reason of his great poverty he could find no means of feeding and rearing them. On this account the three youths, pressed by need and seeing clearly the cruel poverty of their father and his decaying strength, took counsel amongst themselves and resolved to lighten the burden which lay upon their father's shoulders by going out into the world and wandering from place to place with a staff and a wallet, seeking in this wise to win certain trifles by the aid of which they might be able to keep themselves alive. Wherefore, having knelt humbly before their father, they begged him to give them leave to go forth into the world in search of their sustenance, promising at the same time that they would come back to the city when ten years should have gone by. The father gave them the desired licence, and with this purpose in their minds they set forth and travelled until they came to a certain place, where it seemed to them all they would do well to part one from another.

Now the eldest of the brothers by chance found his way into a camp of soldiers, who were on the march to the wars, and straightway agreed to take ser vice with the chief of a band. In a very short space of time he became highly expert in the art of war and a powerful man-at-arms and a doughty fighter, so much so that he took a leading place amongst his fellows. So nimble and so dexterous was he, that with a dagger in each hand he would scale the wall of every lofty fortress they assaulted.

The second brother arrived at last at a certain seaport, where many ships were built, and, having betaken himself to one of the master shipwrights, a man who was greatly skilled in handicraft, he worked so well and with such diligence that in a little time there was no other of the workmen equal to him in his calling, and the good report of him was spread through all the country.

The youngest brother, as it chanced, came one day to a certain spot where a nightingale was singing most sweetly, and so mightily was he charmed and fascinated thereby that he ever went on his way following the traces and the song of the bird through shadowy valleys and thick woods, through lakes, through solitary places, through echoing forests, and through regions desert and unpeopled. So strongly did the sweetness of the bird's song take hold on him that, forgetful of the way which led back to the world of men, he continued to dwell in these wild woods; wherefore, having lived ten whole years in this solitary state apart from a dwelling of any kind, he became as it were a wild man of the woods. By the long lapse of time, and by unvarying and constant usance of the place in which he tarried, he became skilled in the tongue of all the birds to whom he listened with the keenest pleasure, understanding all they had to tell him, and being known by them as if he had been the god Pan among the fauns.

When the day appointed for the brethren to return to their home had come, the first and the second betook them selves to the place of meeting, and there awaited the third brother. When they saw him approaching, all covered with hair and naked of raiment, they ran to meet him, and, out of the tender love they had for him, broke out into pitiful tears, and embraced and kissed him, and went about to put clothes upon him. Next they betook themselves to an inn to get some food, and, while they sat there, behold! a bird flew up on to a tree and spake thus as it sang: Be it known to you, 0 men who sit and eat, that by the corner-stone of this inn is hidden a mighty treasure, which through many long years has been there reserved for you. Go and take it!' and having thus spoken, the bird flew away.

Then the brother who had last come to the place of meeting set forth plainly to the other two what was the meaning of the words which the bird had spoken, and straightway they digged in the place which had been described, and took out the treasure which they found therein. In this manner they all of them became men of great wealth, and went back to their father.

After they had tenderly greeted and embraced their father and given rich and sumptuous feastings, it chanced that one day the youngest brother heard the song of another bird, which spake as follows: 'In the Aegean sea, within the range of about ten miles, is an island, known by the name of Chios, upon which the daughter of Apollo has built a massy castle of marble. At the entrance of this there lies a serpent, as the guardian thereof, spitting out fire and venom from its mouth, and upon the threshold is chained a basilisk. There Aglea, one of the fairest ladies in all the world, is kept a prisoner with all the treasure which she has heaped up and collected, together with a vast store of coin. Who ever shall go to this place and scale the tower shall be the master of the treasure and of Aglea as well.' And when the bird had thus spoken it flew away. As soon as the meaning of its words had been made known, the three brothers determined to go to the place it had de scribed -the first brother having promised to scale the tower by the aid of two daggers, and the second to build a swift- sailing ship. This having been accomplished in a very short space of time, they set forth, and, after crossing the sea with good fortune, wafted along by a favourable breeze, they found them selves close to the isle of Chios one morning just before the break of day. Then the man-at-arms by the aid of his two daggers climbed the tower, and, having seized Aglea and bound her with a cord, handed her over to his brothers. Next, after he had taken from their hiding-places all the rubies and precious stones, and a heap of gold which was also there, he descended, rejoicing greatly, and the three adventurers, leaving naked the land which they had plundered, returned to their homes safe and sound. But with regard to the lady, seeing it was not possible to divide her into three parts, there arose a sharp dispute between the brothers as to which one of them should retain her, and the wrangling over this point, to decide who had the strongest claim to her, was very long. Indeed, up to this present day it is still before the court; wherefore we will each settle the cause as we think right, while the judge keeps us waiting for his decision.

When Isabella had brought her short story to an end, she put her hand into her pocket and drew therefrom the scroll on which her enigma was written and gave it thus:

A proud black steed, with wings of whites
The earth ne'er touches in its flight;
Behind it bears the rein which guides,
And wearies oft the wight who rides.
Great store of wealth within it brings.
Now flaps its plumes and now its wings;
Now midst the strife of battle lies;
Now peaceful fares; has two great eyes,
But nought can see; runs to and fro,
And bears man where he would not go.

This enigma set forth by Isabella with such great wit was in a certain sense understood by all the company, for it could be held to describe no other thing except a proud and stately ship, which is coloured black with pitch and has white sails; it ploughs the sea, and flees the shore so as not to be shattered on the rocks. It has its rudder behind, which directs its course, and rows of oars on either side in the similitude of wings. In time of peace it is taken up with traffic, and in time of war it goes to battle. In front it has two great eyes, and sometimes by hazard carries men into strange regions where they have no desire to go.

And now because the hour was late the Signora bade them to light the torches, and gave leave to all the ladies and gentlemen to return to their homes, at the same time charging them strictly that on the following evening they should all return to the accustomed spot ready to continue the entertainment, and to this command they with one voice promised obedience.


Next: Night the Eighth: 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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