Two brothers who are soldiers take to wife two sisters. One makes much of his wife, and is ill-rewarded by her disobedience. The other mishandles his, and she does his will. The former inquires of the latter how he may gain his wife's obedience, and is duly instructed thereanent. Where upon he threatens his wife with punishment, and she laughs in his face, and ultimately makes scoff at him.
THE learned and prudent physician, when he foresees that a certain disease will manifest itself in the human body, adopts those remedies which in his estimation promise fairest to preserve life, without waiting for the distemper to make itself apparent, because a new wound heals more readily than an old one. And a husband when he takes to himself a wife - I must here crave forgiveness of the ladies - should act in precisely the same fashion, that is, never to let her get the upper hand, lest, when some time afterwards he may wish to keep her in order, he may find such task beyond his powers, and be forced to follow in her wake for the rest of his life. Such in sooth was the case of a certain soldier, who, wishing to induce his wife to mend her ways, after he had too long delayed to assert himself, had to put up with the consequences of this failing of his to the day of his death.
No great time ago there lived in Corneto, a village near Rome, situated in the patrimony of St. Peter, two men who were sworn brothers; indeed, the love between them was just as great as it would have been supposing they had been born of the same womb, Of these one was called Pisardo and the other Silverio, and both one and the other followed the calling of arms, and were in the pay of the Pope; wherefore a great love and friendship sprang up between them though they did not dwell in the same house. Silverio, who was the younger in years and was under no family restraint, took to wife a certain Spinella, the daughter of a tailor, a very fair and lovely maiden, but somewhat over-flighty in humour. After the wed ding was over and the bride brought home, Silverio found himself so completely inflamed and dominated by the power of her beauty that it seemed to him she must be beyond comparison, and straightway he fulfilled any demand that she might make upon him. Thus it came to pass that Spinella grew so arrantly haughty and masterful that she took little or no reck of her husband. And in time the doting fool fell into such a state that if he should ask his wife to do one thing, she would forthwith do something else, and whenever he told her to come here, she went there, and laughed at everything he said. Because the foolish fellow saw nothing except through his own foolish eyes, he could not pluck up heart of grace enough to reprove her, nor seek a remedy for his mistake, but let her go her own way, and work her own will in everything, according to her pleasure.
Before another year had passed away Pisardo took to wife Fiorella, the other daughter of the tailor, a damsel no less comely of person than Spinella, nor less sprightly in her disposition. When the wedding-feast was over, and the wife taken home to her husband's house, Pisardo brought forth a pair of men's breeches and two stout sticks, and said: 'Fiorella, you see here this pair of men's breeches. Now you take hold of one of these sticks and I will take hold of the other, and we will have a struggle over the breeches as to who shall wear them. Which one of us shall get the better of the other in this trial shall be the wearer, and the one who loses shall henceforth yield obedience to the winner.' When Fiorella heard this speech of her husband's, she answered without aught of hesitation in a gentle voice: 'Ah, my husband! what do you mean by such words as these? what is it you say? Are not you the husband, and I the wife, and ought not the wife always to bear herself obediently towards her husband? And, moreover, how could I ever bring myself to do such a foolish trick as this? Wear the breeches your self, for assuredly they will become you much better than they will become me.' 'I, then,' said Pisardo, 'am to wear the breeches and to be the husband, and you, as my dearly-beloved wife, will always hold yourself obedient to me. But take good care that you keep the same mind and do not hanker after taking the husband's part for yourself, and giving me the wife's, for such licence you will never get from me.' Fiorella, who was a very prudent woman, confirmed all that she had hitherto said, and the husband, on his part, handed over to her the entire governance of his house, and committed all his chattels to her keeping, making known to her the order he desired to have observed in his house hold.
Fiorella, when she saw what her husband had done, was mightily moved with pity for the horse, and cried out, 'Alas, my husband! why have you killed your horse, seeing that he was so shapely to look upon? Surely it is a great pity to have slain him thus.' To this Pisardo replied, with his face strongly moved by passion, 'Know then that all those who eat my bread and refuse to do my will must look to be paid in exactly the same coin.' Fiorella, when she heard this speech, was greatly distressed, and said to herself, 'Alas? what a wretched miserable woman I am! What an evil day it was for me when I met this man! I believed I had chosen a man of good sense for my husband, and lo! I have become the prey of this brutal fellow. Behold how, for little or no fault, he has killed this beautiful horse!' And thus she went on, grieving sorely to her self, for she knew not to what end her husband had spoken in this wise.
On account of what had passed Fiorella fell into such a taking of fear and terror of her husband that she would tremble all over at the very sound of his footstep, and whenever he might demand any service of her she would carry out his wishes straightway. Indeed, she would understand his meaning almost before he might open his mouth, and never a cross word passed between them. Silverio, who, on account of the friend ship he felt for Pisardo, would often visit the house of the latter, and dine and sup there, remarked the manners and carriage of Fiorella, and, being much astonished thereat, said to himself: 'Great God! why was it not my lot to have Fiorella for my wife, as is the good luck of my brother Pisardo? See how deftly she manages the house, and goes about her business without any uproar! See how obedient she is to her husband, and how she carries out every wish of his! But my wife, miserable wight that I am, does everything to annoy me, and uses me in as vile a fashion as possible.'
One day it chanced that Silverio and Pisardo were in company together, talking of various things, when the former spake thus: 'Pisardo, my brother, you are aware of the love that there is between us. Now, on this account, I would gladly learn what is the method you have followed in the training of your wife, seeing that she is altogether obedient to you, and treats you in such loving wise. Now I, however gently I may ask Spinella to do anything, find that she always stubbornly refuses to answer me, and, beyond this, does the exact opposite to what I ask her to do.' Whereupon Pisardo, smiling, set forth word by word the plan and the means he had adopted when first he brought his wife home, and counselled his friend to go and do likewise, and to see whether he might not also succeed, adding that in case this remedy should not be found efficient, he would not know what other course to recommend.
Silverio was much pleased with this excellent counsel, and having taken his leave he went his way. When he reached his house he called his wife at once, and brought out a pair of his breeches and two sticks, following exactly the same course as Pisardo had recommended. When Spinella saw what he was doing, she cried out: 'What new freak is this of yours? Silverio, what are you about? What ridiculous fancy has got into your head? Surely you are gone stark mad! Don't you think everybody knows that men, and not women, should wear the breeches? And what need is there now to set about doing things which are beside all purpose?' But Silverio made no answer and went on with the task he had begun, laying down all sorts of rules for the regulation of his household. Spinella, altogether astonished at this humour of her husband, said in a mocking way: 'Peradventure, Silverio, it seems to you that I know not how to manage a house rightly, since you make all this ado about letting your meaning be known?' But still the husband kept silence, and having taken his wife with him into the stable, he did with the horses everything which Pisardo had done, and in the end slew one of them. Spinella, when she saw this fool's work, was convinced in her own mind that her husband had in truth lost his wits, and spake thus: ' By your faith, tell me, husband what crazy humours are these that have risen to your head? What is the true meaning of all this foolishness you are doing without thinking of the issue? Perhaps it is your evil fate to have gone mad.' Then answered Silverio: 'I am. not mad, but I have made up my minds that anyone who lives at my charges and will not obey me shall be treated in such fashion as you have seen me use this morning towards my horses.'
Whereupon Spinella, when she perceived the drift of her besotted husband's brutal deed, said: 'Ah, you wretched dolt! it must be clear enough to you that your horse was nothing but a poor beast to allow himself to be killed in this manner. What is the full meaning of this whim of yours? Perhaps you think you can deal with me as you have dealt with the horse? Certes, if such is your belief, you are hugely mistaken, and you put your hand much too late to the task of setting things in order after the fashion you desire. The bone is become too hard, the sore is now all ulcerated, and there is no cure at hand. You should have been more prompt in compassing the righting of these curious wrongs of yours. You fool! you brainless idiot! do you not see what damage and disgrace must come upon you through these doltish deeds out of number of which you have been guilty? And what profit do you deem you will get from them? None, as I am a living woman.'
Silverio, when he listened to the words of his shrewd wife, knew in his heart that his effort, through the doting affection he had hitherto spent on Spinella, had miserably failed; so he made up his mind, greatly to his chagrin, to put up patiently with his wretched lot till death should come to release him. And Spinella, when she perceived how little her husband's plan had turned out to his ad vantage, resolved that if in the past she had worked her own will with a finger she would henceforth work it with an arm; for a woman headstrong by nature would sooner die a thousand times than go aside aught from the path which she has deliberately marked out for herself.
All the ladies laughed heartily over the foolish dealing of Silverio, but they laughed yet more when they recalled to mind the battle over the pair of breeches to decide who ought to wear them, and seeing that the laughter was growing louder and longer, and that time was on the wing, the Signora gave the sign for all to cease their talking so that Cateruzza might tell them her enigma ac cording to the order of the revels, and Cateruzza, divining the Signora's wish, spake thus:
Ladies, I sure shall die straightway
The enigma propounded by Cateruzza gave to the company even greater pleasure than her story, seeing that it afforded ample subject for reasoning; some giving an interpretation thereof after one fashion and some after another, but all of these trials were far wide of the true meaning. Whereupon the discreet Cateruzza, with her merry face all covered with smiles, gave with the leave of the Signora the following answer to her rid- die: "This enigma of mine simply de scribes the bagpipe, which lets its tongue, that is, the mouthpiece, be put into the mouth of the one who plays upon it, and holds it tight, and delights all who listen." Everyone was pleased with the solution of this cleverly-constructed enigma, and they praised it greatly; but in order that no time might be lost the Signora bade Arianna to follow in her turn, and the damsel, with downcast eyes, first made the due obeisance and then opened her little mouth to tell the following 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.