The Tenth Story

A Certain Woman Of Sicily Artfully Despoileth A Merchant Of That Which He Had Brought To Palermo; But He, Making Believe To Have Returned Thither With Much Greater Plenty Of Merchandise Than Before, Borroweth Money Of Her And Leaveth Her Water And Tow In Payment

How much the queen's story in divers places made the ladies laugh, it needed not to ask; suffice it to say that there was none of them to whose eyes the tears had not come a dozen times for excess of laughter: but, after it had an end, Dioneo, knowing that it was come to his turn to tell, said, "Gracious ladies, it is a manifest thing that sleights and devices are the more pleasing, the subtler the trickster who is thereby artfully outwitted. Wherefore, albeit you have related very fine stories, I mean to tell you one, which should please you more than any other that hath been told upon the same subject, inasmuch as she who was cheated was a greater mistress of the art of cheating others than was any of the men or women who were cozened by those of whom you have told.

There used to be, and belike is yet, a custom, in all maritime places which have a port, that all merchants who come thither with merchandise, having unloaded it, should carry it all into a warehouse, which is in many places called a customhouse, kept by the commonality or by the lord of the place. There they give unto those who are deputed to that end a note in writing of all their merchandise and the value thereof, and they thereupon make over to each merchant a storehouse, wherein he layeth up his goods under lock and key. Moreover, the said officers enter in the book of the Customs, to each merchant's credit, all his merchandise, causing themselves after he paid their dues of the merchants, whether for all his said merchandise or for such part thereof as he withdraweth from the customhouse. By this book of the Customs the brokers mostly inform themselves of the quality and the quantity of the goods that are in bond there and also who are the merchants that own them; and with these latter, as occasion serveth them, they treat of exchanges and barters and sales and other transactions. This usance, amongst many other places, was current at Palermo in Sicily, where likewise there were and are yet many women, very fair of their person, but sworn enemies to honesty, who would be and are by those who know them not held great ladies and passing virtuous and who, being given not to shave, but altogether to flay men, no sooner espy a merchant there than they inform themselves by the book of the Customs of that which he hath there and how much he can do;[414] after which by their lovesome and engaging fashions and with the most dulcet words, they study to allure the said merchants and draw them into the snare of their love; and many an one have they aforetime lured thereinto, from whom they have wiled great part of their merchandise; nay, many have they despoiled of all, and of these there be some who have left goods and ship and flesh and bones in their hands, so sweetly hath the barberess known to ply the razor.

It chanced, not long since, that there came thither, sent by his masters, one of our young Florentines, by name Niccolo da Cignano, though more commonly called Salabaetto, with as many woollen cloths, left on his hands from the Salerno fair, as might be worth some five hundred gold florins, which having given the customhouse officers the invoice thereof, he laid up in a magazine and began, without showing overmuch haste to dispose of them, to go bytimes a-pleasuring about the city. He being of a fair complexion and yellow-haired and withal very sprightly and personable, it chanced that one of these same barberesses, who styled herself Madam Biancofiore, having heard somewhat of his affairs, cast her eyes on him; which he perceiving and taking her for some great lady, concluded that he pleased her for his good looks and bethought himself to order this amour with the utmost secrecy; wherefore, without saying aught thereof to any, he fell to passing and repassing before her house. She, noting this, after she had for some days well enkindled him with her eyes, making believe to languish for him, privily despatched to him one of her women, who was a past mistress in the procuring art and who, after much parley, told him, well nigh with tears in her eyes, that he had so taken her mistress with his comeliness and his pleasing fashions that she could find no rest day or night; wherefore, whenas it pleased him, she desired, more than aught else, to avail to foregather with him privily in a bagnio; then, pulling a ring from her pouch, she gave it to him on the part of her mistress. Salabaetto, hearing this, was the joyfullest man that was aye and taking the ring, rubbed it against his eyes and kissed it; after which he set it on his finger and replied to the good woman that, if Madam Biancofiore loved him, she was well requited it, for that he loved her more than his proper life and was ready to go whereassoever it should please her and at any hour. The messenger returned to her mistress with this answer and it was appointed Salabaetto out of hand at what bagnio he should expect her on the ensuing day after vespers.

Accordingly, without saying aught of the matter to any, he punctually repaired thither at the hour appointed him and found the bagnio taken by the lady; nor had he waited long ere there came two slave-girls laden with gear and bearing on their heads, the one a fine large mattress of cotton wool and the other a great basket full of gear. The mattress they set on a bedstead in one of the chambers of the bagnio and spread thereon a pair of very fine sheets, laced with silk, together with a counterpane of snow-white Cyprus buckram[415] and two pillows wonder-curiously wrought.[416] Then, putting off their clothes they entered the bath and swept it all and washed it excellent well. Nor was it long ere the lady herself came thither, with other two slave-girls, and accosted Salabaetto with the utmost joy; then, as first she had commodity, after she had both clipped and kissed him amain, heaving the heaviest sighs in the world, she said to him, 'I know not who could have brought me to this pass, other than thou; thou hast kindled a fire in my vitals, little dog of a Tuscan!' Then, at her instance, they entered the bath, both naked, and with them two of the slave-girls; and there, without letting any else lay a finger on him, she with her own hands washed Salabaetto all wonder-well with musk and clove-scented soap; after which she let herself be washed and rubbed of the slave-girls. This done, the latter brought two very white and fine sheets, whence came so great a scent of roses that everything there seemed roses, in one of which they wrapped Salabaetto and in the other the lady and taking them in their arms, carried them both to the bed prepared for them. There, whenas they had left sweating, the slave-girls did them loose from the sheets wherein they were wrapped and they abode naked in the others, whilst the girls brought out of the basket wonder-goodly casting-bottles of silver, full of sweet waters, rose and jessamine and orange and citron-flower scented, and sprinkled them all therewith; after which boxes of succades and wines of great price were produced and they refreshed themselves awhile.

It seemed to Salabaetto as he were in Paradise and he cast a thousand glances at the lady, who was certes very handsome, himseeming each hour was an hundred years till the slave-girls should begone and he should find himself in her arms. Presently, at her commandment, the girls departed the chamber, leaving a flambeau alight there; whereupon she embraced Salabaetto and he her, and they abode together a great while, to the exceeding pleasure of the Florentine, to whom it seemed she was all afire for love of him. Whenas it seemed to her time to rise, she called the slave-girls and they clad themselves; then they recruited themselves somedele with a second collation of wine and sweetmeats and washed their hands and faces with odoriferous waters; after which, being about to depart, the lady said to Salabaetto, 'So it be agreeable to thee, it were doing me a very great favour an thou camest this evening to sup and lie the night with me.' Salabaetto, who was by this time altogether captivated by her beauty and the artful pleasantness of her fashions and firmly believed himself to be loved of her as he were the heart out of her body, replied, 'Madam, your every pleasure is supremely agreeable to me, wherefore both to-night and at all times I mean to do that which shall please you and that which shall be commanded me of you.'

Accordingly the lady returned to her house, where she caused well bedeck her bedchamber with her dresses and gear and letting make ready a splendid supper, awaited Salabaetto, who, as soon as it was grown somewhat dark, betook himself thither and being received with open arms, supped with all cheer and commodity of service. Thereafter they betook themselves into the bedchamber, where he smelt a marvellous fragrance of aloes-wood and saw the bed very richly adorned with Cyprian singing-birds[417] and store of fine dresses upon the pegs, all which things together and each of itself made him conclude that this must be some great and rich lady. And although he had heard some whispers to the contrary anent her manner of life, he would not anywise believe it; or, if he e'en gave so much credit thereto as to allow that she might erst have cozened others, for nothing in the world could he have believed that this might possibly happen to himself. He lay that night with her in the utmost delight, still waxing more enamoured, and in the morning she girt him on a quaint and goodly girdle of silver, with a fine purse thereto, saying, 'Sweet my Salabaetto, I commend myself to thy remembrance, and like as my person is at thy pleasure, even so is all that is here and all that dependeth upon me at thy service and commandment.' Salabaetto, rejoiced, embraced and kissed her; then, going forth of her house, he betook himself whereas the other merchants were used to resort.

On this wise consorting with her at one time and another, without its costing him aught in the world, and growing every hour more entangled, it befell that he sold his stuffs for ready money and made a good profit thereby; of which the lady incontinent heard, not from him, but from others, and Salabaetto being come one night to visit her, she fell to prattling and wantoning with him, kissing and clipping him and feigning herself so enamoured of him that it seemed she must die of love in his arms. Moreover, she would fain have given him two very fine hanaps of silver that she had; but he would not take them, for that he had had of her, at one time and another, what was worth a good thirty gold florins, without availing to have her take of him so much as a groat's worth. At last, whenas she had well enkindled him by showing herself so enamoured and freehanded, one of her slave-girls called her, as she had ordained beforehand; whereupon she left the chamber and coming back, after awhile, in tears cast herself face downward on the bed and fell to making the woefullest lamentation ever woman made. Salabaetto, marvelling at this, caught her in his arms and fell a-weeping with her and saying, 'Alack, heart of my body, what aileth thee thus suddenly? What is the cause of this grief? For God's sake, tell it me, my soul.' The lady, after letting herself be long entreated, answered, 'Woe's me, sweet my lord, I know not what to say or to do; I have but now received letters from Messina and my brother writeth me that, should I sell or pawn all that is here,[418] I must without fail send him a thousand gold florins within eight days from this time, else will his head be cut off; and I know not how I shall do to get this sum so suddenly. Had I but fifteen days' grace, I would find a means of procuring it from a certain quarter whence I am to have much more, or I would sell one of our farms; but, as this may not be, I had liefer be dead than that this ill news should have come to me.'

So saying, she made a show of being sore afflicted and stinted not from weeping; whereupon quoth Salabaetto, whom the flames of love had bereft of great part of his wonted good sense, so that he believed her tears to be true and her words truer yet, 'Madam, I cannot oblige you with a thousand florins, but five hundred I can very well advance you, since you believe you will be able to return them to me within a fortnight from this time; and this is of your good fortune that I chanced but yesterday to sell my stuffs; for, had it not been so, I could not have lent you a groat.' 'Alack,' cried the lady, 'hast thou then been straitened for lack of money? Marry, why didst thou not require me thereof? Though I have not a thousand, I had an hundred and even two hundred to give thee. Thou hast deprived me of all heart to accept of thee the service thou profferest me.' Salabaetto was more than ever taken with these words and said, 'Madam, I would not have you refrain on that account, for, had I had such an occasion therefor as you presently have, I would assuredly have asked you.' 'Alack, Salabaetto mine,' replied the lady, 'now know I aright that thine is a true and perfect love for me, since, without waiting to be required, thou freely succoureth me, in such a strait, with so great a sum of money. Certes, I was all thine without this, but with this I shall be far more so; nor shall I ever forget that I owe thee my brother's life. But God knoweth I take it sore unwillingly, seeing that thou art a merchant and that with money merchants transact all their affairs; however, since need constraineth me, and I have certain assurance of speedily restoring it to thee, I will e'en take it; and for the rest, an I find no readier means, I will pawn all these my possessions.' So saying, she let herself fall, weeping, on Salabaetto's neck. He fell to comforting her and after abiding the night with her, he, next morning, to approve himself her most liberal servant, without waiting to be asked by her, carried her five hundred right gold florins, which she received with tears in her eyes, but laughter in her heart, Salabaetto contenting himself with her simple promise.

As soon as the lady had the money, the signs began to change, and whereas before he had free access to her whenassoever it pleased him, reasons now began to crop up, whereby it betided him not to win admission there once out of seven times, nor was he received with the same countenance nor the same caresses and rejoicings as before. And the term at which he was to have had his monies again being, not to say come, but past by a month or two and he requiring them, words were given him in payment. Thereupon his eyes were opened to the wicked woman's arts and his own lack of wit, wherefore, feeling that he could say nought of her beyond that which might please her concerning the matter, since he had neither script nor other evidence thereof, and being ashamed to complain to any, as well for that he had been forewarned thereof as for fear of the scoffs which he might reasonably expect for his folly, he was beyond measure woeful and inwardly bewailed his credulity.

At last, having had divers letters from his masters, requiring him to change[419] the monies in question and remit them to them, he determined to depart, lest, an he did it not, his default should be discovered there, and accordingly, going aboard a little ship, he betook himself, not to Pisa, as he should have done, but to Naples. There at that time was our gossip Pietro dello Canigiano, treasurer to the Empress of Constantinople, a man of great understanding and subtle wit and a fast friend of Salabaetto and his family; and to him, as to a very discreet man, the disconsolate Florentine recounted that which he had done and the mischance that had befallen him, requiring him of aid and counsel, so he might contrive to gain his living there, and avouching his intention nevermore to return to Florence. Canigiano was concerned for this and said, 'Ill hast thou done and ill hast thou carried thyself; thou hast disobeyed thy masters and hast, at one cast, spent a great sum of money in wantonness; but, since it is done, we must look for otherwhat.'[420] Accordingly, like a shrewd man as he was, he speedily bethought himself what was to be done and told it to Salabaetto, who was pleased with the device and set about putting it in execution. He had some money and Canigiano having lent him other some, he made up a number of bales well packed and corded; then, buying a score of oil-casks and filling them, he embarked the whole and returned to Palermo, where, having given the customhouse officers the bill of lading and the value of the casks and let enter everything to his account, he laid the whole up in the magazines, saying that he meant not to touch them till such time as certain other merchandise which he expected should be come.

Biancofiore, getting wind of this and hearing that the merchandise he had presently brought with him was worth good two thousand florins, without reckoning what he looked for, which was valued at more than three thousand, bethought herself that she had flown at too small game and determined to restore him the five hundred florins, so she might avail to have the greater part of the five thousand. Accordingly, she sent for him and Salabaetto, grown cunning, went to her; whereupon, making believe to know nothing of that which he had brought with him, she received him with a great show of fondness and said to him, 'Harkye, if thou wast vexed with me, for that I repaid thee not thy monies on the very day....' Salabaetto fell a-laughing and answered; 'In truth, madam, it did somewhat displease me, seeing I would have torn out my very heart to give it you, an I thought to pleasure you withal; but I will have you hear how I am vexed with you. Such and so great is the love I bear you, that I have sold the most part of my possessions and have presently brought hither merchandise to the value of more than two thousand florins and expect from the westward as much more as will be worth over three thousand, with which I mean to stock me a warehouse in this city and take up my sojourn here, so I may still be near you, meseeming I fare better of your love than ever lover of his lady.'

'Look you, Salabaetto,' answered the lady, 'every commodity of thine is mighty pleasing to me, as that of him whom I love more than my life, and it pleaseth me amain that thou art returned hither with intent to sojourn here, for that I hope yet to have good time galore with thee; but I would fain excuse myself somedele to thee for that, whenas thou wast about to depart, thou wouldst bytimes have come hither and couldst not, and whiles thou camest and wast not so gladly seen as thou wast used to be, more by token that I returned thee not thy monies at the time promised. Thou must know that I was then in very great concern and sore affliction, and whoso is in such case, how much soever he may love another, cannot always show him so cheerful a countenance or pay him such attention as he might wish. Moreover, thou must know that it is mighty uneasy for a woman to avail to find a thousand gold florins; all day long we are put off with lies and that which is promised us is not performed unto us; wherefore needs must we in our turn lie unto others. Hence cometh it, and not of my default, that I gave thee not back thy monies. However, I had them a little after thy departure, and had I known whither to send them, thou mayst be assured that I would have remitted them to thee; but, not knowing this, I kept them for thee.' Then, letting fetch a purse wherein were the very monies he had brought her, she put it into his hand, saying, 'Count them if there be five hundred.' Never was Salabaetto so glad; he counted them and finding them five hundred, put them up and said, 'Madam, I am assured that you say sooth; but you have done enough [to convince me of your love for me,] and I tell you that, for this and for the love I bear you, you could never require me, for any your occasion, of whatsoever sum I might command, but I would oblige you therewith; and whenas I am established here, you may put this to the proof.'

Having again on this wise renewed his loves with her in words, he fell again to using amically with her, whilst she made much of him and showed him the greatest goodwill and honour in the world, feigning the utmost love for him. But he, having a mind to return her cheat for cheat, being one day sent for by her to sup and sleep with her, went thither so chapfallen and so woebegone that it seemed as he would die. Biancofiore, embracing him and kissing him, began to question him of what ailed him to be thus melancholy, and he, after letting himself be importuned a good while, answered, 'I am a ruined man, for that the ship, wherein is the merchandise I expected, hath been taken by the corsairs of Monaco and held to ransom in ten thousand gold florins, whereof it falleth to me to pay a thousand, and I have not a farthing, for that the five hundred pieces thou returnedst to me I sent incontinent to Naples to lay out in cloths to be brought hither; and should I go about at this present to sell the merchandise I have here, I should scarce get a penny for two pennyworth, for that it is no time for selling. Nor am I yet so well known that I could find any here to help me to this, wherefore I know not what to do or to say; for, if I send not the monies speedily, the merchandise will be carried off to Monaco and I shall never again have aught thereof.'

The lady was mightily concerned at this, fearing to lose him altogether, and considering how she should do, so he might not go to Monaco, said, 'God knoweth I am sore concerned for the love of thee; but what availeth it to afflict oneself thus? If I had the monies, God knoweth I would lend them to thee incontinent; but I have them not. True, there is a certain person here who obliged me the other day with the five hundred florins that I lacked; but he will have heavy usance for his monies; nay, he requireth no less than thirty in the hundred, and if thou wilt borrow of him, needs must he be made secure with a good pledge. For my part, I am ready to engage for thee all these my goods and my person, to boot, for as much as he will lend thereon; but how wilt thou assure him of the rest?' Salabaetto readily apprehended the reason that moved her to do him this service and divined that it was she herself who was to lend him the money; wherewith he was well pleased and thanking her, answered that he would not be put off for exorbitant usance, need constraining him. Moreover, he said that he would give assurance of the merchandise he had in the customhouse, letting inscribe it to him who should lend him the money; but that needs must be kept the key of the magazines, as well that he might be able to show his wares, an it were required of him, as that nothing might be touched or changed or tampered withal.

The lady answered that it was well said and that this was good enough assurance; wherefore, as soon as the day was come, she sent for a broker, in whom she trusted greatly, and taking order with him of the matter, gave him a thousand gold florins, which he lent to Salabaetto, letting inscribe in his own name at the customhouse that which the latter had there; then, having made their writings and counter-writings together and being come to an accord,[421] they occupied themselves with their other affairs. Salabaetto, as soonest he might, embarked, with the fifteen hundred gold florins, on board a little ship and returned to Pietro dello Canigiano at Naples, whence he remitted to his masters, who had despatched him with the stuffs, a good and entire account thereof. Then, having repaid Pietro and every other to whom he owed aught, he made merry several days with Canigiano over the cheat he had put upon the Sicilian trickstress; after which, resolved to be no more a merchant, he betook himself to Ferrara.

Meanwhile, Biancofiore, finding that Salabaetto had left Palermo, began to marvel and wax misdoubtful and after having awaited him good two months, seeing that he came not, she caused the broker force open the magazines. Trying first the casks, which she believed to be filled with oil, she found them full of seawater, save that there was in each maybe a runlet of oil at the top near the bunghole. Then, undoing the bales, she found them all full of tow, with the exception of two, which were stuffs; and in brief, with all that was there, there was not more than two hundred florins' worth. Wherefore Biancofiore, confessing herself outwitted, long lamented the five hundred florins repaid and yet more the thousand lent, saying often, 'Who with a Tuscan hath to do, Must nor be blind nor see askew.' On this wise, having gotten nothing for her pains but loss and scorn, she found, to her cost, that some folk know as much as others."

No sooner had Dioneo made an end of his story than Lauretta, knowing the term to be come beyond which she was not to reign and having commended Canigiano's counsel (which was approved good by its effect) and Salabaetto's shrewdness (which was no less commendable) in carrying it into execution, lifted the laurel from her own head and set it on that of Emilia, saying, with womanly grace, "Madam, I know not how pleasant a queen we shall have of you; but, at the least, we shall have a fair one. Look, then, that your actions be conformable to your beauties." So saying, she returned to her seat, whilst Emilia, a thought abashed, not so much at being made queen as to see herself publicly commended of that which women use most to covet, waxed such in face as are the new-blown roses in the dawning. However, after she had kept her eyes awhile lowered, till the redness had given place, she took order with the seneschal of that which concerned the general entertainment and presently said, "Delightsome ladies, it is common, after oxen have toiled some part of the day, confined under the yoke, to see them loosed and eased thereof and freely suffered to go a-pasturing, where most it liketh them, about the woods; and it is manifest also that leafy gardens, embowered with various plants, are not less, but much more fair than groves wherein one seeth only oaks. Wherefore, seeing how many days we have discoursed, under the restraint of a fixed law, I opine that, as well unto us as to those whom need constraineth to labour for their daily bread, it is not only useful, but necessary, to play the truant awhile and wandering thus afield, to regain strength to enter anew under the yoke. Wherefore, for that which is to be related to-morrow, ensuing your delectable usance of discourse, I purpose not to restrict you to any special subject, but will have each discourse according as it pleaseth him, holding it for certain that the variety of the things which will be said will afford us no less entertainment than to have discoursed of one alone; and having done thus, whoso shall come after me in the sovranty may, as stronger than I, avail with greater assurance to restrict us within the limits of the wonted laws." So saying, she set every one at liberty till supper-time.

All commended the queen of that which she had said, holding it sagely spoken, and rising to their feet, addressed themselves, this to one kind of diversion and that to another, the ladies to weaving garlands and to gambolling and the young men to gaming and singing. On this wise they passed the time until the supper-hour, which being come, they supped with mirth and good cheer about the fair fountain and after diverted themselves with singing and dancing according to the wonted usance. At last, the queen, to ensue the fashion of her predecessors, commanded Pamfilo to sing a song, notwithstanding those which sundry of the company had already sung of their freewill; and he readily began thus:

Such is thy pleasure, Love
And such the allegresse I feel thereby
That happy, burning in thy fire, am I.

The abounding gladness in my heart that glows,
For the high joy and dear
Whereto thou hast me led,
Unable to contain there, overflows
And in my face's cheer
Displays my happihead;
For being enamouréd
In such a worship-worthy place and high
Makes eath to me the burning I aby.

I cannot with my finger what I feel
Limn, Love, nor do I know
My bliss in song to vent;
Nay, though I knew it, needs must I conceal,
For, once divulged, I trow
'Twould turn to dreariment.
Yet am I so content,
All speech were halt and feeble, did I try
The least thereof with words to signify.

Who might conceive it that these arms of mine
Should anywise attain
Whereas I've held them aye,
Or that my face should reach so fair a shrine
As that, of favour fain
And grace, I've won to? Nay,
Such fortune ne'er a day
Believed me were; whence all afire am I,
Hiding the source of my liesse thereby.

This was the end of Pamfilo's song, whereto albeit it had been completely responded of all, there was none but noted the words thereof with more attent solicitude than pertained unto him, studying to divine that which, as he sang, it behoved him to keep hidden from them; and although sundry went imagining various things, nevertheless none happened upon the truth of the case.[422] But the queen, seeing that the song was ended and that both young ladies and men would gladly rest themselves, commanded that all should betake themselves to bed.

Footnotes

[414] i.e. what he is worth.

[415] Bucherame. The word "buckram" was anciently applied to the finest linen cloth, as is apparently the case here; see Ducange, voce Boquerannus, and Florio, voce Bucherame.

[416] i.e. in needlework.

[417] "It was the custom in those days to attach to the bedposts sundry small instruments in the form of birds, which, by means of certain mechanical devices, gave forth sounds modulated like the song of actual birds."—Fanfani.

[418] Syn. that which belongeth to us (ciò che ci è,) ci, as I have before noted, signifying both "here" and "us," dative and accusative.

[419] i.e. procure bills of exchange for.

[420] i.e. we must see what is to be done.

[421] i.e. having executed and exchanged the necessary legal documents for the proper carrying out of the transaction and completed the matter to their mutual satisfaction.

[422] The song sung by Pamfilo (under which name, as I have before pointed out, the author appears to represent himself) apparently alludes to Boccaccio's amours with the Princess Maria of Naples (Fiammetta), by whom his passion was returned in kind.

HERE ENDETH THE EIGHTH DAY
OF THE DECAMERON
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Decameron (Day The Eighty Seventh) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Eighty Seventh) Lyrics