Rodolino, son of Lodovico, King of Hungary, becomes enamoured of Violante, the daughter of Domitio, a tailor. But Rodolino having met his death, Violante, distracted by her exceeding grief, falls dead in the church upon the body of her lover.
IF the passion of love be guided by the spirit of gentleness, and by the modesty and temperance which commonly are found united thereto, it seldom happens that it does not run to a prosperous issue. But when it delivers itself up to the promptings of voracious and inordinate appetite, it becomes a scourge to men and will often lead them to a terrible and disastrous end. The issue of the fable I am about to relate to you will let you see the reason of this, my brief homily.
I must tell you, gracious ladies, that Lodovico, King of Hungary, had an only son named Rodolino, and this youth, albeit he was still of tender years, was tormented nevertheless by the burning pricks of love. Now it chanced that one day, while Rodolino was standing at the window of his chamber and turning over in his mind memories of divers incidents in which he had heretofore taken much pleasure, his eye fell by chance upon a maiden, the daughter of a certain tailor. On account of the beauty and modesty and gentle manners of the girl he became so hotly enamoured of her that he could no longer enjoy any rest. The maiden, whose name was Violante, was not long in learning the nature of Rodolino's love towards her, and on her part was fired with a passion for him as ardent as his for her; so that when it chanced for a season that she failed to get sight of him she felt like to die. And as this mutual affection between the two increased day by day, Love, who is ever the faithful guide and the sure light of every gentle soul, brought it to pass that at last the maiden took courage to speak to Rodolino. The prince, happening to be at the window, and knowing the while well enough that Violante now gave him full return for his love of her, thus spake to her: 'Violante, of a truth you must know that the love I have towards you is so great that nothing but the coming of cruel gloomy death will ever quench it in my heart. Your most laudable and gracious bearing, your sincere and modest manners, your lovely eyes which shine brightly as the stars, and all the other excellencies with which you are abundantly endowed, have so powerfully drawn me on to love you that I have resolved never to take to wife any other woman but yourself.' And Violante, who, al though she was young in years, was astute in mind, made answer to him that, al though he might love her as ardently as he declared, yet she loved him still more dearly. Furthermore, she affirmed that her love was not to be compared with his, seeing that a man does not love with his whole heart, but that his passion is often light and vain, and prone to lead a woman, who loves supremely, to a wretched end.
When Rodolino heard those words he cried out, 'Alas, my soul, speak not in this wise! Of a surety, if you yourself felt one thousandth part of the love I bear to you, you would never use such hard words; and, if you still find your self unable to believe me, put me to the test straightway, and then you will learn whether I really love you or not.'
Not long after this it happened that King Lodovico, the father of Rodolino, was made cognizant of his son's passion for Violante, and was deeply grieved in his heart thereanent, because he feared amain lest some mischance might ensue which would prove to be a reproach and a disgrace to his kingdom. Therefore, without letting Rodolino perceive that he knew aught of this matter, he deter mined to despatch him forthwith to travel into divers far countries, so that the lapse of time and long distance might work in him forgetfulness of this untoward love of his. Wherefore the king, having one day called his son into his presence, said to him: 'Rodolino, my son, you know that we have no other children but yourself, and that in the course of nature it is not likely that any others will be born to us, so that the kingdom, after our death, must fall to you as our rightful heir. Now, in order that you may grow up a prudent and far- seeing man, and in due time and place may wisely and well rule this your kingdom, I have determined to send you for a while into Austria, where lives Lamberico, your uncle on your mother's side. There, also, you will find many learned men, who, for love of us, will give you wise instruction, and under their care and discipline you will become a prudent and lettered man.
When Rodolino heard these words of the king he was sorely dismayed, and stood almost as one struck dumb; but, after he had recovered himself somewhat, he answered: 'My father, although it will be to me a cause of grief and sorrow to be obliged to part from your presence - seeing that on this account I shall no longer live in the company of my dear mother and of yourself- yet, if such be your pleasure, I will at once obey this command of yours.' The king, when he heard the dutiful answer made by his son, wrote a letter forthwith to Lamberico his brother-in-law, in which he set forth fully the whole matter, commending Rodolino to him as something as precious as his own life. The prince, when he had promised thus fully to obey his father's commands, grieved bitterly in silence; but, seeing that he could not honourably go back from his pledged word, he determined to carry it out.
Before, however, he took his departure from the city he found an opportunity of speaking face to face with Violante, desiring to instruct her as to how she should order her life until the time of his return, and how best the great love subsisting between them might be maintained. Therefore, when they were come together, Rodolino said: 'Violante, in obedience to my father's wishes I am about to separate myself from you in the body, but not in the heart, for as much as, wherever I may be, I will always remember you. I now conjure you, by the love which I have borne for you in the past and bear for you now and will ever bear for you till the end of my life, that you will never allow yourself to be joined in matrimony to any other man;, for, as soon as I return to this place, I will without fail make you my own lawful wife. In token of this my flawless faith, take this ring and hold it ever dear to you.' Violante, when she heard this sad news, was almost ready to die of grief; but, having recollected her wandering wits, she answered: 'My lord, would to God that I had never known you, for then I should not have fallen into the cruel case in which I now find myself! But since it is the will of heaven and of my fortune that you should thus go away from me, I beg at least that you will tell me whether your absence from home will be long or short; for, supposing that you should stay away a long time, I might not be able to withstand the commands of my father, should he wish me to marry.'
To this Rodolino made answer: 'Violante, do not thus bemoan yourself; but be of good cheer, for before a year shall have run its course you will see me back again. If, however, at the end of a year I do not return, I give you full permission to marry.' And, having spoken these words, with many tears and sighs he took leave of her, and the next morning, having mounted his horse in good time, he set forth towards Austria, ac companied by a goodly retinue.
When he had come to his journey's end, he was honourably welcomed by Lamberico his uncle, but in spite of his kindly reception Rodolino continued to be mightily borne down by the sorrow and love-sickness he felt on account of his beloved Violante whom he had left behind him, nor could he find any solace for his grief; although the young men of the court were very assiduous in providing for him all manner of fit ting pleasure and recreation.
Thus Rodolino remained in Austria, having his mind all the while taken up with sorrow and with thoughts of his dear Violante, and it chanced that the year came to an end without his taking note thereof. As soon, however, as he became aware that a whole twelvemonth had rolled away, he begged of his uncle leave that he might return home to see his father and his mother, and Lamberico at once acceded to his wish. When Rodolino returned to his father's kingdom the king and queen caused great rejoicings to be made, and soon after these had been brought to an end, it was noised about the court that Violante, the daughter of Messer Domitio the tailor, was married, whereupon the king rejoiced greatly, but Rodolino was plunged in the deepest grief:, lamenting bitterly in his heart that he himself had been the real cause of this cruel mischance. The unhappy young man, finding himself continually a victim to this wretched sorrow, and not knowing where to look for a remedy for the amorous passion which consumed him, wellnigh died of grief.
But Love, who never neglects his true followers, and always brings punishment to those who take no heed of their vows, devised a means by which Rodolino was able once more to find himself in the presence of Violante. One night, Rodolino, without the knowledge of Violante, silently entered the chamber where she lay in bed with her husband, and, having stealthily crept between the bed and the wall, he lifted the curtain, and slipped quietly underneath it, and placed his hand softly on Violante's bosom. She, who had no thought that Rodolino was anywhere near her, when she felt herself touched by someone who was not her husband, made as if she would cry out, whereupon Rodolino, having put his hand over her mouth, checked her cry and told her who he was. Violante, as soon as she heard that the man beside her was in truth Rodolino, nearly went out of her wits, and a great fear came over her lest he might be discovered by her husband; so, as gently and discreetly as she could, she pushed him away from her, and would not allow him to kiss her. Rodolino, as soon as he was aware of this action of hers, persuaded himself that his beloved mistress had entirely forgotten him, seeing that she thus repulsed him; so, casting about in vain for any consolation in the dire and heavy sorrow which weighed upon him, he said: 'Oh, cruel Violante, rest content now at least that my life is coming to an end, and that your eyes will no longer be troubled by the sight of me! Peradventure later on the time will come when you will fall into a more pitiful mood, and will per force be constrained to feel sorrow for your cruelty towards me. Alas! how is it possible that the great love which you formerly had for me should now have fled entirely?' And while he thus spake he clasped Violante in a close embrace, kissing her ardently whether she willed it or not. So great in sooth was his passion, that he began to feel his soul passing from his body; wherefore, collecting all his forces and uttering one deep sigh, he yielded up his wretched life as he lay by Violante's side.
The unhappy woman, as soon as she perceived that Rodolino was indeed dead, became as one bereft of reason, but after a little began to deliberate with herself as to what she should do in order to keep from her husband all knowledge of the sad mischance which had fallen upon her; so she let fall, without making any disturbance, the corpse of Rodolino into the alcove beside the bed. Then, feigning to be disturbed by a dream, she shrieked aloud, whereupon her husband straightway awoke from sleep and asked her what had happened to cause her this alarm. Violante, trembling in every limb and half dead with fear, told him that in her dream it had appeared to her as if Rodolino, the king's son, had been lying by her side, and had died suddenly in her arms, and rising from her bed, she found lying there in the alcove the dead body, which was yet warm. The husband of Violante, when he saw the strange thing that had happened, was mightily disturbed in mind, and feared greatly lest he might lose his own life on account of this ill-starred accident; but, casting aside his fears, he took the dead body of Rodolino on his shoulders, and, having gone out of the house without being seen of anyone, he laid it down at the gates of the royal palace.
The king, as soon as the sad news had been brought to him, was fain to make an end of his life on account of the grief and anger which assailed him, but later on, when his frenzy had somewhat subsided, he bade them summon the physicians, in order that they might see the corpse of Rodolino, and certify the cause of his death. The physicians, after they had separately examined the dead body, declared, one and all, that he had met his death, not by steel nor by poison, but through sheer grief. As soon as the king heard this, he gave orders for the funeral obsequies to be got in order, directing that the corpse should be carried into the cathedral, and that every woman of the city, of whatsoever rank and condition she might be, should, under pain of his high displeasure, go up to the spot where the bier was standing and kiss his dead son. Thither many of the city matrons repaired, and, for very pity, plentifully bewept the fate of the unhappy Rodolino, and amongst these came the wretched Violante. For a desire had come over her to look once more upon the dead face of him to whom, when he was alive, she refused the consolation of a single kiss. Wherefore, throwing her self down upon the corpse, and feeling certain in her mind that it was by reason of his great love for her that he was now lying there dead, she determined to die likewise; so, holding back her breath with all her force, she passed away from this life without a word. The other women, when they perceived what un looked-for thing had occurred, ran to succour her, but all their labour was in vain, for her soul had verily departed from her body, and had gone to seek that of Rodolino her lover. The king, who was privy to the love subsisting between Violante and his son, kept the whole matter a secret, and gave orders that the two should be buried in one tomb.
As soon as Lionora had finished her pitiful story, the Signora made a sign to her to complete her duty by propounding her enigma, and the damsel, without any hesitation, spake as follows:
Left in peace I never move;
The greater part of the listeners comprehended the meaning of this enigma, which, in sooth, was intended to signify the tennis ball, which, being round in form, has neither end nor beginning, and is attacked by the players as a foe, and is driven by them now here now there, being struck by the hand. Isabella, to whom had been allotted the third place in the story-telling, rose from her seat and began to speak 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.