The Third Story

Madam Nonna De' Pulci, With A Ready Retort To A Not Altogether Seemly Pleasantry, Imposeth Silence On The Bishop Of Florence

Pampinea having made an end of her story and both Cisti's reply and his liberality having been much commended of all, it pleased the queen that the next story should be told be Lauretta, who blithely began as follows, "Jocund ladies, first Pampinea and now Filomena have spoken truly enough touching our little worth and the excellence of pithy sayings, whereto that there may be no need now to return, I would fain remind you, over and above that which hath been said on the subject, that the nature of smart sayings is such that they should bite upon the hearer, not as the dog, but as the sheep biteth; for that, an a trait bit like a dog, it were not a trait, but an affront. The right mean in this was excellently well hit both by Madam Oretta's speech and Cisti's reply. It is true that, if a smart thing be said by way of retort, and the answerer biteth like a dog, having been bitten on like wise, meseemeth he is not to be blamed as he would have been, had this not been the case; wherefore it behoveth us look how and with whom, no less than when and where, we bandy jests; to which considerations, a prelate of ours, taking too little heed, received at least as sharp a bite as he thought to give, as I shall show you in a little story.

Messer Antonio d'Orso, a learned and worthy prelate, being Bishop of Florence, there came thither a Catalan gentleman, called Messer Dego della Ratta, marshal for King Robert, who, being a man of a very fine person and a great amorist, took a liking to one among other Florentine ladies, a very fair lady and granddaughter to a brother of the said bishop, and hearing that her husband, albeit a man of good family, was very sordid and miserly, agreed with him to give him five hundred gold florins, so he would suffer him lie a night with his wife. Accordingly, he let gild so many silver poplins,[301] a coin which was then current, and having lain with the lady, though against her will, gave them to the husband. The thing after coming to be known everywhere, the sordid wretch of a husband reaped both loss and scorn, but the bishop, like a discreet man as he was, affected to know nothing of the matter. Wherefore, he and the marshal consorting much together, it chanced, as they rode side by side with each other, one St. John's Day, viewing the ladies on either side of the way where the mantle is run for,[302] the prelate espied a young lady,—of whom this present pestilence hath bereft us and whom all you ladies must have known, Madam Nonna de' Pulci by name, cousin to Messer Alessio Rinucci, a fresh and fair young woman, both well-spoken and high-spirited, then not long before married in Porta San Piero,—and pointed her out to the marshal; then, being near her, he laid his hand on the latter's shoulder and said to her, 'Nonna, how deemest thou of this gallant? Thinkest thou thou couldst make a conquest of him?' It seemed to the lady that those words somewhat trenched upon her honour and were like to sully it in the eyes of those (and there were many there) who heard them; wherefore, not thinking to purge away the soil, but to return blow for blow, she promptly answered, 'Maybe, sir, he would not make a conquest of me; but, in any case, I should want good money.' The marshal and the bishop, hearing this, felt themselves alike touched to the quick by her speech, the one as the author of the cheat put upon the bishop's brother's granddaughter and the other as having suffered the affront in the person of his kinswoman, and made off, shamefast and silent, without looking at one another or saying aught more to her that day. Thus, then, the young lady having been bitten, it was not forbidden her to bite her biter with a retort."


[301] A silver coin of about the size and value of our silver penny, which, when gilded, would pass muster well enough for a gold florin, unless closely examined.

[302] Il palio, a race anciently run at Florence on St. John's Day, as that of the Barberi at Rome during the Carnival.
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