Three rogues journey together to Rome, and on the way thither pick up a ring, over which they come to high words as to who shall get it. Meeting a certain gentleman, they ask his arbitrament and he decides that it shall go to the idlest loon of the three, but no settlement of the cause is made.
I HAVE carefully considered, most excellent ladies, the exceeding great variety of conditions under which unfortunate mortals at present live, and of these I find none more wretched and unhappy than the condition of a lazy rogue, be cause men of this sort, on account of their mean estate, are ill spoken of by all and pointed at by every finger. Again, more often than not, they prefer to go on living in their rags and poverty than to give up their disgraceful calling. This contention I will prove, in the course of my story, concerning the adventures of three lazy rascals, after a fashion easily to be understood.
You must know, then, that (about two years agone from this present time) there lived in the territory of Siena three fellows, young in years, but as old and finished in all the arts of roguery and laziness as anyone could tell of or imagine. Of these one was called Gordino, seeing that he was more addicted to gluttony than the other two; the second, because he was a poor weakling and of no good for aught, was called Fentuzzo by all who knew him; and the third, because his brainpan was very scantily furnished, went by the name of Sennuccio. Now one day it chanced that these three, finding themselves upon the high road, began to talk together, and Fentuzzo said: 'Whither are you bound, brothers?' To him Gordino replied: 'I am on the way to Rome.' 'And what are you bent on doing there?' Fentuzzo inquired. 'I am bent on finding out,' replied Gordino, 'some good adventure which will serve me well enough so as to allow me to live for the future without troubling myself about anything.' 'Ah, then, we will fare with you!' cried the two rogues. Then said Sennuccio 'If it should fall in with your pleasure I will willingly join you in the enterprise.' Whereupon the two others gladly accepted his fellowship, and made a vow one with another that they would on no account part company until such time as they should be come within the city of Rome. And as they went along the road, talking together of this thing and of that, it chanced that Gordino cast his eyes down upon the ground and there espied a fine gem set in a gold ring, which shone so brilliantly that it wellnigh dazzled his sight. But, before this, Fentuzzo had pointed out the jewel to his two companions, and the matter came to an issue by Sennuccio picking it up and putting it upon his finger. As soon as he had done this there sprang up between the three a very violent dispute as to which of them had the best claim to the jewel.
Gordino maintained stoutly that it ought to belong to him, because he had first espied it. Said Fentuzzo, 'It surely ought rather to be mine, because I pointed it out to you.' 'It ought to belong to me rather than to either of you,' said Sennuccio, 'because I picked it up from the ground and put it on my finger.' And thus the knavish rascals kept up their wrangling, neither one being willing to give up his claim in favour of the others, till at last they went on from words to blows, and spent divers shrewd bouts of fisticuffs over each other's heads and faces till the blood ran down on all sides like rain. It happened that just at this hour a certain Messer Gavardo Colonna, a Roman noble and a man of high office, was on the road back to the city from visiting a farm he owned, and, having caught sight of the three ruffians from afar, and heard the sound of the uproar they were making, stopped short, and was sore stricken with confusion, and assailed with a pressing fear that they would most likely fall upon him and take his life. More than once he felt moved to curb his horse and turn back in the way he had come, but at last he plucked up his courage and took heart, and continued his journey till he came up to the three companions, whom he addressed in these words: 'Ho, fellow- travellers! what is the meaning of this hurly-burly between you 'And to this Gordino made answer, 'Save your honour, good sir, the matter over which we are wrangling is this: we three have set forth from our respective homes, and, as luck would have it, we met one an other on the road, and thereupon agreed to travel in one another's company to Rome. Wherefore, as we were journeying on and conversing together I espied upon the ground a very fair jewel set in gold, which by every claim of reason ought assuredly to belong to me, because I was the first to see it.' 'And I,' said Fentuzzo, 'declare that I first pointed it out to these two others, and on this ac count it appears that it ought to belong to me rather than to them.' But Sennuccio, who was not asleep, meantime said, 'I hold, signor, that the jewel ought to be awarded to me and not to the others, because without any sign being made to me thereanent, I picked it up from the ground and placed it on my finger. So neither one of us being disposed to give way to the others we began to fight, and thereby put ourselves in grave danger of death.'
Now when the Signor Gavardo had rightly apprehended the reason of the dissension between the three, he said: 'Tell me, my good fellows, whether you are disposed to refer the composition of this your dispute to me, so that I may find a way to bring you once more into accord 'And to this they all three of them replied that they were willing it should be so, and pledged their faith that they would abide by any award which might be given by the gentleman in the business. Signor Gavardo, when he saw they were disposed to act fairly, said: 'Since you by common consent have placed yourselves in my hands, desiring that I should be the sole adjudicator of your dispute, I, on my part, only require two things to be done by you. One of them is, that the jewel shall be given into my hands; and the other is, that each one of you shall set about devising how he may give the greatest proof of laziness. Then, at the end of fifteen days, the one who shall show himself to be the meanest, laziest rascal, shall become the undisputed master of the jewel.'
The three companions agreed straight- way to these terms, and, having given over the jewel into the gentleman's keeping, set out on their journey to Rome. When they arrived in the city they went their several ways, one going here and the other there, each one of them having made up his mind to endeavour to bring to pass, to the best of his powers, some achievement of laziness which should outdo any deed of the same sort hitherto accomplished, and be worthy to be kept in perpetual remembrance. Gordino at once found a master whom he agreed to serve on certain terms; and it chanced that this man bought one day in the piazza a lot of early figs of the kind which ripen at the end of the month of June, and gave the same to Gordino to hold till such time as he should return to his house. Gordino, who was enormously lazy and by nature no less of a glutton, took one of the figs, and-following the while in his master's steps - ate it secretly bit by bit. And because the taste of the fig tickled his palate very pleasantly, the lazy glutton went on, and covertly ate certain others of the figs. As the greedy rascal continued to gorge himself, it happened that at last he put in his mouth a fig which was of an extraordinary bulk; wherefore, being greatly afeared lest his master should spy out his theft, he thrust the fig into a corner of his mouth, as if he had been an ape, and kept it there. Of a sudden the master turned to look behind him, and casting his eye upon Gordino, he fancied that the fellow's left cheek was swollen somewhat. After looking him steadily in the face he was fully assured that the cheek was much swollen, and when he inquired of Gordino what had happened to him to cause such a swelling, the rascal stood as one dumb and answered not a word. When the master saw this he was mightily astonished, and said, 'Gordino, open your mouth so that I may examine what is the matter with you, then perhaps I may be able to de vise a remedy.' But the wretched fellow would neither open his mouth nor utter a word; indeed, the more his master tried to make him open his mouth the tighter and closer shut the rascal kept his teeth. So at last, after the master had made divers trials to get Gordino's jaws apart, and finding none of them to be of any service, he took him to a barber who lived thereabout, fearing lest some sore mischance might happen to him, and showed him to the blood- letter, saying, 'Messer, a very foul accident has just happened to this my servant, and as you can see his cheek is swollen so much that he can no longer speak, nor can he open his mouth. I fear greatly that he may choke.' Where upon the surgeon deftly touched the swollen cheek and said to Gordino, 'What do you feel, good brother?' but he got no response. 'Open your mouth,' he went on, and the fellow did not move in the least. The surgeon, finding it hard to hit upon a method of working a cure with words, took up certain of his instruments, and began to make trial therewith to see whether he might be able to get the mouth open, but he could not by any manner of means induce the lazy rascal to move his jaws.
The surgeon now fancied that the evil must arise from an imposthume, which had gathered little by little and which was now mature and fit for treatment, so he gave the place a cut in order that the gathering might the easier disperse. This lazy rascal, Gordino, who had in sooth heard all that was said, did not move a muscle or utter a sound, but stood as still as if he had been a firm- built tower. Having done this the surgeon began to press the tumour, so as to be able to see what the discharge, which was coming therefrom, might be like; but in place of pus and putrefaction he found nothing but healthy blood mixed with the fig-flesh which Gordino still kept closely shut in his mouth. His master, seeing that all this turmoil had arisen over a fig, and seeing, more over, what a lazy ruffian his servant was, bade the surgeon dress the wound, and then, when he was cured, told Gordino to be gone, and bad luck go with him.
Fentuzzo, who was no whit less given to slothfulness than Gordino, soon got rid of the few coins which he happened to have in his pocket, and failing, through his want of wit, to find anyone upon whom he could play the sponge, went about begging from door to door, sleeping now in this portico, now in that, and by times even out in the forest. It happened that on a certain night the vagabond ruffian came upon an old building fallen to ruin, and, having gone into it, found a heap of dung and a little straw, upon which he lay down and disposed himself in the best fashion he could, with his body on the heap and his legs stretched out beyond. Weariness came upon him, and he fell asleep; but, before he had lain long, there arose a violent wind accompanied by so great a downpour of rain and tempest that it seemed as if the world were coming to an end, nor was there any ceasing of rain and lightning all through the night. And seeing that the covering of the roof was old and rotten, a drop of rain-water which came in through a hole fell down into the eye of Fentuzzo, thereby awakening him and letting him rest quiet no longer. The wretched loon, on account of the arrant laziness which possessed him, showed no disposition to withdraw himself from the place where he lay, or to elude the danger which was threatening him, but continued to lie on in the same spot, persisting in his dogged obstinate mood, and still keeping his eye in the place where the drops were falling, as if it had been a hard and insensible pebble. The stream of rain-water, which fell without ceasing from the roof, striking upon his eye in its descent, was so bitterly cold that before morning came the sight of the poor rogue's eye was destroyed. The next day, after he had been a short time astir to see how he might win some food for his belly, he found something was wrong with one of his eyes, and, fancying that he was but half awake, he put his hand over the other and shaded it, whereupon he discovered that the other was destroyed. As soon as he was certain that he was in this case, he fell into an immoderate fit of joyfulness, holding that no chance more favourable or luckier could have befallen him, and persuading himself that the feat of slothfulness he had just accomplished must of a surety win for him the prize of the jewel.
Sennuccio, who in the meantime had adopted a way of life no less sluggard than that of the other two, took a wife, a woman who was fully his equal in laziness, Bedovina by name. One evening after supper, the pair were seated near the door of the house to take the air a little, for the season was very warm. Said Sennuccio to his wife, 'Bedovina, shut the door, for now it is time for us to get to bed.' To this request she made reply that he might shut the door him self; and as they went on thus disputing, without either one consenting to shut the door, Sennuccio said, ' Bedovina, let us make a bargain, that the one who shall speak first shall shut the door.' The wife, who was both lazy by nature and obstinate by habit, agreed to this; so Sennuccio and Bedovina sat on, lazy wretches as they were, neither one daring to speak for fear of incurring the penalty of having to shut the door. The good woman, however, soon began to weary of the sport, and growing heavy with sleep she left her husband sitting on a bench, and, having taken off her clothes, went to bed.
A short time after this there passed through the street the serving-man of a certain gentleman, who was going back to his house. At this moment it chanced that the candle in the lantern which he carried went out, and, observing that Sennuccio's house was yet open, he went in and said, Ho, there! is anyone within? give me a light for my candle;' but no one answered him. The servant, having gone a little further into the house, observed Sennuccio, who was sitting with his eyes wide open upon the bench, and made bold to ask him for a light, but the lazy fellow vouchsafed not a word in reply. Whereupon the servant, deeming that Sennuccio was fast asleep, took him by the hand and began to jog him, saying, 'Good brother, what ails you? Answer me quick.' But Sennuccio was not asleep, and only held his tongue through fear of being amerced in the penalty of having to shut the door, so he kept silent. Then the servant went on a little further, and remarked a faint light on a hearth where the embers were yet alive, and when he entered the inner room he found no one there save only Bedovina, who was lying alone in the bed. He called to her and shook her roughly more than once, but she, like her husband, in order not to incur the penalty of having to shut the door, would neither speak nor stir. The servant, having taken a good look at her, found her comely, though miserly of her words, so he laid himself softly down beside her, and though not over well furnished for the task he undertook, contrived to accomplish it, Bedovina keeping dead silence all the while and quietly allowing him to do what he would with her, though her husband saw all that went on. And when the young man had gone his way Bedovina got out of bed, and, going to the door, found there her husband, who was yet awake, and by way of chiding him thus spake: 'A fine husband you are, certes! You have left me lying all night with the door wide open, giving thereby free course for any lewd fellows to come into the house, and never lifting your hand to keep them back. You of a truth ought to be made to drink out of a shoe with a hole in it.' Whereupon the lazy rascal rose to his feet and gave answer to her in this wise: 'Now go and shut the door, little fool that you are! now I am equal with you. You, forsooth, thought you were going to make me shut the door, and you find yourself properly tricked. This is the way headstrong folk are al ways punished.' Bedovina, seeing that she had indeed lost the wager she had made, and at the same time enjoyed a merry night, shut the door forthwith, and went to bed with her cuckoldly knave of a husband.
When the appointed fifteen days had passed, the three rascals sought the presence of Gavardo, who, when he had been fully informed of the above-written feats of the three companions, and had given consideration to their several arguments, found himself in no wise disposed to make any award thereanent, for it seemed to him that under the vast canopy of heaven there could nowhere be found three other rascals who would equal these in laziness. So, having taken in hand the gem, he threw it down on the ground, and cried out that it should be the property of the one who might pick it up.
At the end of this amusing story there arose a great dispute amongst the hearers. Some held that the gem belonged by right to Gordino, others would have given it to Fentuzzo, and others to Sennuccio, all of the disputants giving excellent reasons for their particular views. But the Signora, observing that time was flying fast, made known that it was her wish that the question should be reserved for some future time, and bade all be silent in order that Eritrea might follow the due course by propounding her enigma; whereupon the damsel smiling merrily gave it in these words:
By the swampy drear seaside,
The above enigma given by Eritrea proved vastly pleasing to all the company, but no one fathomed its meaning save only Bembo, who declared it to be a certain bird, very timid in its habits, which men call Time-loser. It dwelt, he affirmed, only in swampy places, because its favourite food was carrion, and so great was its sloth that it would sit all day long on a stake watching the fish swimming about. If it happened to see one of fair size it would not move, but would let the fish go by and wait for a bigger one, and thus, from morning till evening, it would often go without food. And then, when night had fallen, it would be driven by hunger to descend into the mud and go in quest of marsh-worms upon which to make its meal. Eritrea listened to this clever solution of her enigma and saw clearly that Bembo had guessed it. Though she was somewhat annoyed thereanent, she did not let her discomposure be seen, but resolved to wait patiently for time and place to give him a flout in return. Cateruzza, when she saw that the enigma no longer engaged the attention of the company, cared not to wait for any further direction, and having cleared her voice somewhat began her fable 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.