A certain priest being enamoured of the wife of an image carver, goes to her house, where a grave mischance befalls him.
IF all our churchmen (I am speaking of unworthy and not of worthy clerks) were zealous after learning, thus giving an example to the lewd, and disposed to live in godly wise according to their rules, the ignorant rabble would have less occasion to rail at them and to pre tend to teach them their duties. On the other hand, all men would then hold the priest in high reverence, and account them selves favoured by God if they should only touch the hem of a cassock. It is because our spiritual guides have taken the manners of secular folk, giving them selves up to the world in luxury and lasciviousness, doing things such as they would never suffer us to do, and holding in no reverence the state to which they have been called, that one hears evil report of them everywhere, both in public and in private. For this reason I have no scruple in telling you the story of a peccant clerk, which, though you may find it somewhat long, may prove both a pleasant diversion and a profitable lesson.
In the fair city of Florence there lived at one time a clerk named Messer Tiberio. To what order he belonged I cannot now undertake to say, as my memory has failed me. Suffice it to remark that he was a man well versed in letters, an eloquent preacher, subtle in argument, and standing well with every body; but, for some reason to me unknown, he had cast off his monk's habit to become a secular. Nevertheless, though he had thrown his cowl into the nettle-bed, and, on this account, was not in such high esteem as heretofore, he still enjoyed the consideration of many per sons of worship, and of the city as a whole.
It chanced one day- for Messer Tiberio had good repute as a confessor- that a pretty young woman called Prudence, a name which went well with her character, presented herself to lay bare her offences. She was wife to one Quinquino, a carver of images and the first craftsman of the day. This lady being on her knees before Tiberio, said to him: 'Sir, my confessor, to whom I have hitherto gone, is dead, and having heard the report of your holiness and virtuous life, I have chosen to come to you, in his place, as my spiritual director.'
Messer Tiberio, seeing that she was fair and fresh as a bud with the dew upon it, graceful and well made, and in the flower of her youth, fell so hotly in love with her that he scarce knew what he said or did, being carried away by the very sight of her beauty. When he came to deal with the sin of luxury he asked her, 'And now, my daughter, have you ever felt particular affection or preference for any priest or religious person?' She, quite unsuspicious of a trick, and recking nothing of whither he was bent on leading her, replied, 'Yes, surely. For my late confessor I felt all the love that a daughter has for a good father, and honoured and revered him as was his due.' After this reply Tiberio plied her with such subtle speech that he contrived to learn what was her name, and her condition, and the place where she abode. This done, he commended him self to her, and besought her to hold him as dear as her late director, and, as a sign of his well-wishing, he promised at the next Easter to visit her and give her spiritual consolation. For this grace she thanked him, and, having received absolution, went her way. When she was gone, Messer Tiberio's brain was wellnigh turned as he called up the fair image of his late penitent, and, wrapping himself up in his cloak of furs, he schemed how he might best win her favours; but the affair ran to an issue other than that which he had figured, so much easier is it to frame your design than to fill it in with colours. After Easter Tiberio did not forget to walk frequently before the house of Prudence, to whom, as often as he saw her, he made a courteous salutation, ogling her out of the corner of his eye; but she, like a modest woman, looked down and feigned not to see him. So instant was he, with his comings and goings and salutations, that Prudence began to fear lest his attentions should beget evil report; to prevent which she was careful to let herself be seen by him no more - a measure which gave no small chagrin to the priest, who was by this time so violently enamoured of her that he felt there was no escape from his thraldom save through the kindness of Signora Prudence. He sent to her a young clerk to beg her to suffer him to visit her as her ghostly adviser; but the clerk could get no reply to take back to Tiberio, who at once set her down as prudent and careful to keep her own counsel. However, it is well known that one must often knock more than once at a door before it opens, and that a strong place need never surrender unless it be valiantly assaulted; so the priest resolved not to give over his essay, and every day he sent some fresh messenger to glean tidings of the lady. Prudence, noting the resolute humour of the priest, was much disturbed there at; wherefore, at last, she felt constrained to speak to her husband, saying: 'Quinquino, for some time past Messer Tiberio, my confessor, has sent divers messengers to me, and whenever he meets me he gives me salutation, and, more than that, he pursues me, making the while I know not what fanciful speeches, which confuse me sorely. For this reason I have re solved to go no more where he can see me-a step I was unwilling to take with out first letting you know.' 'And what reply have you given him?' said the husband. 'I have given none,' Prudence answered. 'You did well and very wisely,' said Quinquino; 'but I would counsel you, in case he should salute you again, or say any word to you, that you should give him in reply, as soberly and as discreetly as possible, some speech which may seem to you meet for the occasion. Then we may watch what the issue may be.' To this proposition Prudence freely assented.
Before many days had passed it chanced that Quinquino was called away after dinner on his affairs to another part of the city, and Prudence was left to take care of the house. Very soon Tiberio appeared, and, having observed that she was by herself, took off his hat with pro found obeisance, and said, 'Good day, Signora,' and to this Prudence answered graciously, 'A good day and a happy year to you.' The priest, marking that she returned his salute, a good fortune which had never hitherto happened to him, imagined that her heart was softened, and that, her pity being aroused, she would now look kindly upon him. Encouraged by her voice, he entered the shop, where he remained more than an hour, setting before her ardently the object of his desire. At last, fearing lest Quinquino should return, he took his leave, begging Prudence to hold him in her good graces, and swearing to remain her devoted servant. For which she thanked him modestly, promising to hold in mind his request.
Soon after the priest was gone Quinquino came back, and Prudence told him all that had passed. 'You have done very well,' he said; 'and the next time he comes you can beguile him with any favour which may be seemly and honest.' This she agreed to, and Messer Tiberio having whetted his appetite by the sight of the lady, began to pre pare the next step by sending her divers presents, all of which she vouchsafed to accept, thus kindling in him the belief that if once he should get fair speech with her the prize would be won. He found her once more alone, and besought her with soft and winning words to give him her favour, without which he would surely die. To which she replied: 'Signor, I would willingly grant your wish, which indeed is my wish as well, did I not dread my husband's wrath, and to lose, it may be, both my life and my honour at the same time.' These words so powerfully affected Tiberio that he was like to die of grief; but, having recollected his wits, he besought her not to let him perish when she had it in her power to save him. Then Prudence, feigning to be touched in the heart, feigning also to yield to his prayer, ac corded to him an assignation for that same night, her husband having gone into the country to buy wood. The priest, overjoyed at his success, departed in high glee.
When Quinquino returned Prudence told him exactly what she had done, and then he said to her, 'We must do more than this, and play him such a trick as will put an end to all his fancies, and keep him from ever annoying you again. Go and make the bed, and lock up every place except the chest, and clear away any lumber which may be lying on the presses. I will lie in wait, to be ready to send him about his business, as I will tell you.' Then he set forth to her the snare he had planned, and Prudence, having grasped her husband's intent, promised to carry it out.
To the priest this day seemed to be six years long. It was as if the night, which was to bring him into the arms of his love, would never come. He went to the market and bought good store of delicate meats, which he sent to Prudence, begging her to let them be cooked, and assuring her that he would not fail to sup with her at the appointed hour.
Prudence, as soon as the provisions arrived, began to bustle about in the kitchen, and Quinquino having hidden himself, they awaited the coming of Tiberio, who, as soon as he entered, hastened to give Prudence a kiss while she was busied over the cooking of the sup per, but she drew back, saying, 'Signor, as you have had so much patience, have a little more; for it is hardly fit that you should touch me, black and dirty as I am.' With these words she shifted and turned now one pot and now another, contriving to keep Messer Tiberio at a distance. Meantime Quinquino, on the watch, had taken his stand in a secret passage, from whence he could see and hear all that passed, a little in dread, mayhap, lest the trick might be played at his own cost. At this point of the affair Prudence, as she dawdled now over this and now over that, sorely taxed the patience of the poor priest, who, to make greater despatch, tried his hand at the pastry, wishing to figure as a cook himself; but this caused the lady to loiter all the more. Tiberio, fearing lest all the time should be taken up with these preparations, and none be left for the purpose on account of which he had come, said: 'Signora, so great is my desire to hold you in my arms that it has taken away all my appetite for food and drink, therefore I have decided to go without my supper;' and with these words he stripped and got into bed. Then Prudence, laughing secretly at the ridiculous figure he made, replied: 'What foolishness to turn your back on all these delicate meats. I can tell you, if you are simple enough to forego them, the loss will be all your own, for I am not going to bed without my supper.' All this time she was busy with her cookery, and the more the priest besought her to get into bed, the more there seemed to be done outside it. At last, seeing that he was worn out with impatience, she said, to keep him quiet: 'But one thing is certain, I will never go to bed with a man who sleeps in his shirt; therefore, if you want to have your will with me, you must take it off, and then you will see I shall be ready to do what you want. Messer Tiberio, deeming this request to be but a trifling one, took off his shirt, and lay there as naked as when he came from his mother's womb. Prudence, seeing that he was ready to follow whither she would lead him, gathered up his shirt and all his other clothes and put them in a chest and turned the key. Then, though she made a great show of washing and per fuming herself, and getting ready for bed, she did little else but bustle about the room, till the poor wight between the sheets was half mad with impatience. Quinquino, who had espied through a crevice all that had passed, now saw that it was time for him to come upon the scene; so he went out by the back door, and, having come round to the front, knocked loudly thereat. Prudence, hearing her husband at the knocker, made as if she were beside herself with fear, and, trembling all over, she cried, 'Alas! what will become of me? for it is my husband who is without. I know his knock too well. Wretch that I am! What shall we do so that he may not see you?' Then said Tiberio: 'Bad luck indeed; but quick, give me my clothes. I will put them on and hide under the bed.' 'Put on your clothes, indeed,' cried Prudence. 'What time will you find to do this? No. I see another plan. Get up quick on the top of this dresser, and stand close against that cross there, with your feet crossed and your arms stretched out after the fashion of a crucifix, and then I am sure my husband, when he comes in and sees you in such a posture, will take you for some crucifix upon which he has recently been at work.' All the while Quinquino was knocking lustily without and calling; and Messer Tiberio, in a dead fright lest he should be discovered in the bed, mounted the dresser, where he stationed himself quite still against the cross with his arms stretched out. Prudence then went down and opened the door to her husband, who rated her soundly for keeping him cooling his heels so long outside. When he entered the chamber he gave no sign of being aware of Tiberio's presence, but sat down to supper with his wife, and, this despatched, they undressed and went to bed.
What tortures poor Tiberio must have suffered, I leave to the imagination of those who may have writhed under the pricks of amorous desire, thus to see the husband gorging himself with the banquet which he had so carefully devised for his own delectation, only to find himself overwhelmed with shame and injury.
At last the morning began to dawn, and little by little the chamber grew light. Then Quinquino rose from his bed, and, having dressed himself, set to work at his carving; but he had scarce begun when two nuns from a neighbouring convent came to the house, and, having entered, thus spake to him: 'Master Quinquino, our abbess desires that you will send home at once the crucifix which several days ago she ordered of you.' 'My sisters,' Quinquino replied, 'will you say to the abbess that the crucifix is begun, but not yet finished. In two days' time, however, she shall have it.' 'But she told us to say,' replied the nuns, 'that, finished or not, she wishes it to be sent home, for you have kept her waiting too long.' Quinquino, feigning to be wroth at the persistence of the nuns, answered angrily, 'Now please to come in and see if I have not taken heed of your commandment, and whether the crucifix, as it is, is one which would suit the fancy of your abbess.' And when the nuns had entered he went on with his speech, pointing towards Tiberio, Look up there over the dresser, and see whether you would like to have that crucifix just as it is, and whether you think the abbess would be satisfied with it.' The nuns, when they had closely scanned the woebegone figure he pointed out to them, exclaimed: 'Indeed, the abbess would be hard to please were she not content therewith, seeing that you have counterfeited nature so well that your work seems like so much flesh and blood; of a truth it only wants speech. But there are parts of it which might perchance give offence; for you have carved, too much in the semblance of nature, something which might breed a riot in a convent of women.' 'No need to let that trouble you,' said Quinquino, 'I will give it the finishing stroke in a moment. Would to God I could cure a man of mortal sickness as easily as I can cure this fault!' And snatching up one of his sharpest tools, he said, 'Just watch and see how quickly I will rid it of everything that might offend the abbess and the other sisters;' and as he spoke he made for Tiberio as if to carry out his threat. The priest, who up to this moment had kept as still as if he were dead, no sooner saw the tool which Quinquino had taken up than he sprang down from his place without a word, and, naked as he was, took to flight, as if a red-hot poker were behind him, with Quinquino in pursuit. Prudence, fearing lest some scandal should get abroad, caught hold of her husband and held him back; so that poor Tiberio was able to make his way out of the house. Then the two nuns, who had been standing open-mouthed at these strange doings, ran out also, and began to cry along the streets : 'A miracle, a miracle! the crucifix has come to life and run away.' And when they heard such clam our all the loiterers flocked around to see what was happening, and then fell to laughing hugely when they heard what the business really was. But poor Tiberio, when he had put on some garments, fled the city, and whither he betook himself I cannot tell. I only know that never again was he seen in Florence.
The whole company laughed at the notion of the poor priest, compelled to spend the whole night feigning to be a crucifix, and not daring to cough even, though he might have a hundred pounds of feathers tickling his throat, and they were still more diverted to figure him flying at full speed to save what he could not afford to lose, and the nuns crying out that a miracle had come to pass, and that the crucifix had run away. So loud and long was the merriment over this that the Signora had to clap her hands to restore silence, and, this being done, she directed Vicenza to give her enigma, which was as follows:
Fresh and rosy from your birth,
"My enigma," said Vicenza, "signifies nothing else than the tongue, in its good or evil humour. It is red, as we all know, and it is a glorious work of heaven when with it we praise God, and thank Him for all the benefits He has given us, and it is in like manner the glory of the world when it impels men to do good. So, when by its words it shows that it has given itself to evil, it spreads headlong ruin all around, and of this I could give you many examples if I did not see that the hour grows late." And with these words Vicenza sat down.
(Straparola has used this enigma in the Sixth Fable of Night VIII.)
THE END OF THE NINTH NIGHT
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.