The Fifth Story

Three Young Men Pull The Breeches Off A Marchegan Judge In Florence, What While He Is On The Bench, Administering Justice

Emilia having made an end of her story and the widow lady having been commended of all, the queen looked to Filostrato and said, "It is now thy turn to tell." He answered promptly that he was ready and began, "Delightsome ladies, the mention by Elisa a little before of a certain young man, to wit, Maso del Saggio, hath caused me leave a story I purposed to tell you, so I may relate to you one of him and certain companions of his, which, if (albeit it is nowise unseemly) it offer certain expressions which you think shame to use, is natheless so laughable that I will e'en tell it.

As you may all have heard, there come oftentimes to our city governors from the Marches of Ancona, who are commonly mean-spirited folk and so paltry and sordid of life that their every fashion seemeth nought other than a lousy cadger's trick; and of this innate paltriness and avarice, they bring with them judges and notaries, who seem men taken from the plough-tail or the cobbler's stall rather than from the schools of law. Now, one of these being come hither for Provost, among the many judges whom he brought with him was one who styled himself Messer Niccola da San Lepidio and who had more the air of a tinker than of aught else, and he was set with other judges to hear criminal causes. As it oft happeneth that, for all the townsfolk have nought in the world to do at the courts of law, yet bytimes they go thither, it befell that Maso del Saggio went thither one morning, in quest of a friend of his, and chancing to cast his eyes whereas this said Messer Niccola sat, himseemed that here was a rare outlandish kind of wild fowl. Accordingly, he went on to examine him from head to foot, and albeit he saw him with the miniver bonnet on his head all black with smoke and grease and a paltry inkhorn at his girdle, a gown longer than his mantle and store of other things all foreign to a man of good breeding and manners, yet of all these the most notable, to his thinking, was a pair of breeches, the backside whereof, as the judge sat, with his clothes standing open in front for straitness, he perceived came halfway down his legs. Thereupon, without tarrying longer to look upon him, he left him with whom he went seeking and beginning a new quest, presently found two comrades of his, called one Ribi and the other Matteuzzo, men much of the same mad humour as himself, and said to them, 'As you tender me, come with me to the law courts, for I wish to show you the rarest scarecrow you ever saw.'

Accordingly, carrying them to the court house, he showed them the aforesaid judge and his breeches, whereat they fell a-laughing, as soon as they caught sight of him afar off; then, drawing nearer to the platform whereon my lord judge sat, they saw that one might lightly pass thereunder and that, moreover, the boards under his feet were so broken that one might with great ease thrust his hand and arm between them; whereupon quoth Maso to his comrades, 'Needs must we pull him off those breeches of his altogether, for that it may very well be done.' Each of the others had already seen how;[381] wherefore, having agreed among themselves what they should say and do, they returned thither next morning, when, the court being very full of folk, Matteuzzo, without being seen of any, crept under the bench and posted himself immediately beneath the judge's feet. Meanwhile, Maso came up to my lord judge on one side and taking him by the skirt of his gown, whilst Ribi did the like on the other side, began to say, 'My lord, my lord, I pray you for God's sake, ere yonder scurvy thief on the other side of you go elsewhere, make him restore me a pair of saddle-bags whereof he hath saith indeed he did it not; but I saw him, not a month ago, in act to have them resoled.' Ribi on his side cried out with all his might, 'Believe him not, my lord; he is an arrant knave, and for that he knoweth I am come to lay a complaint against him for a pair of saddle-bags whereof he hath robbed me, he cometh now with his story of the boothose, which I have had in my house this many a day. An you believe me not, I can bring you to witness my next-door neighbor Trecca and Grassa the tripewoman and one who goeth gathering the sweepings from Santa Masia at Verjaza, who saw him when he came back from the country.

Maso on the other hand suffered not Ribi to speak, but bawled his loudest, whereupon the other but shouted the more. The judge stood up and leaned towards them, so he might the better apprehend what they had to say, wherefore Matteuzzo, watching his opportunity, thrust his hand between the crack of the boards and laying hold of Messer Niccola's galligaskins by the breech, tugged at them amain. The breeches came down incontinent, for that the judge was lean and lank of the crupper; whereupon, feeling this and knowing not what it might be, he would have sat down again and pulled his skirts forward to cover himself; but Maso on the one side and Ribi on the other still held him fast and cried out, 'My lord, you do ill not to do me justice and to seek to avoid hearing me and get you gone otherwhere; there be no writs granted in this city for such small matters as this.' So saying, they held him fast by the clothes on such wise that all who were in the court perceived that his breeches had been pulled down. However, Matteuzzo, after he had held them awhile, let them go and coming forth from under the platform, made off out of the court and went his way without being seen; whereupon quoth Ribi, himseeming he had done enough, 'I vow to God I will appeal to the syndicate!' Whilst Maso, on his part, let go the mantle and said, 'Nay, I will e'en come hither again and again until such time as I find you not hindered as you seem to be this morning.' So saying, they both made off as quickliest they might, each on his own side, whilst my lord judge pulled up his breeches in every one's presence, as if he were arisen from sleep; then, perceiving how the case stood, he enquired whither they were gone who were at difference anent the boothose and the saddle-bags; but they were not to be found, whereupon he began to swear by Cock's bowels that need must he know and learn if it were the won't at Florence to pull down the judges' breeches, whenas they sat on the judicial bench. The Provost, on his part, hearing of this, made a great stir; but, his friends having shown him that this had only been done to give him notice that the Florentines right well understood how, whereas he should have brought judges, he had brought them sorry patches, to have them better cheap, he thought it best to hold his peace, and so the thing went no farther for the nonce."

Footnotes

[381] i.e. how they might do this.
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