The Tenth Story

Pietro Di Vinciolo Goeth To Sup Abroad, Whereupon His Wife Letteth Fetch Her A Youth To Keep Her Company, And Her Husband Returning, Unlooked For, She Hideth Her Gallant Under A Hen-Coop. Pietro Telleth Her How There Had Been Found In The House Of One Arcolano, With Whom He Was To Have Supped, A Young Man Brought In By His Wife, And She Blameth The Latter. Presently, An Ass, By Mischance, Setteth Foot On The Fingers Of Him Who Is Under The Coop And He Roareth Out, Whereupon Pietro Runneth Thither And Espying Him, Discovereth His Wife's Unfaith, But Ultimately Cometh To An Accord With Her For His Own Lewd Ends

The queen's story come to an end and all having praised God for that He had rewarded Federigo according to his desert, Dioneo, who never waited for commandment, began on this wise: "I know not whether to say if it be a casual vice, grown up in mankind through perversity of manners and usances, or a defect inherent in our nature, that we laugh rather at things ill than at good works, especially when they concern us not. Wherefore, seeing that the pains I have otherwhiles taken and am now about to take aim at none other end than to rid you of melancholy and afford you occasion for laughter and merriment,—albeit the matter of my present story may be in part not altogether seemly, nevertheless, lovesome lasses, for that it may afford diversion, I will e'en tell it you, and do you, hearkening thereunto, as you are won't to do, whenas you enter into gardens, where, putting out your dainty hands, you cull the roses and leave the thorns be. On this wise must you do with my story, leaving the naughty man of whom I shall tell you to his infamy and ill-luck go with him, what while you laugh merrily at the amorous devices of his wife, having compassion, whenas need is, of the mischances of others.

There was, then, in Perugia, no great while agone, a rich man called Pietro di Vinciolo, who, belike more to beguile others and to abate the general suspect in which he was had of all the Perugians, than for any desire of his own, took him a wife, and fortune in this was so far conformable to his inclination that the wife he took was a thickset, red-haired, hot-complexioned wench, who would liefer have had two husbands than one, whereas she happened upon one who had a mind far more disposed to otherwhat than to her. Becoming, in process of time, aware of this and seeing herself fair and fresh and feeling herself buxom and lusty, she began by being sore incensed thereat and came once and again to unseemly words thereof with her husband, with whom she was well nigh always at variance. Then, seeing that this might result rather in her own exhaustion than in the amendment of her husband's depravity, she said in herself, 'Yonder caitiff forsaketh me to go of his ribaldries on pattens through the dry, and I will study to carry others on shipboard through the wet. I took him to husband and brought him a fine great dowry, knowing him to be a man and supposing him desireful of that whereunto men are and should be fain; and had I not believed that he would play the part of a man, I had never taken him. He knew that I was a woman; why, then, did he take me to wife, if women were not to his mind? This is not to be suffered. Were I minded to renounce the world, I should have made myself a nun; but, if, choosing to live in the world, as I do, I look for delight or pleasure from yonder fellow, I may belike grow old, expecting in vain, and whenas I shall be old, I shall in vain repent and bemoan myself of having wasted my youth, which latter he himself is a very good teacher and demonstrator how I should solace, showing me by example how I should delect myself with that wherein he delighteth, more by token that this were commendable in me, whereas in him it is exceeding blameworthy, seeing that I should offend against the laws alone, whereas he offendeth against both law and nature.'

Accordingly, the good lady, having thus bethought herself and belike more than once, to give effect privily to these considerations, clapped up an acquaintance with an old woman who showed like Saint Verdiana, that giveth the serpents to eat, and still went to every pardoning, beads in hand, nor ever talked of aught but the lives of the Holy Fathers or of the wounds of St. Francis and was of well nigh all reputed a saint, and whenas it seemed to her time, frankly discovered to her her intent. 'Daughter mine,' replied the beldam, 'God who knoweth all knoweth that thou wilt do exceeding well, and if for nought else, yet shouldst thou do it, thou and every other young woman, not to lose the time of your youth, for that to whoso hath understanding, there is no grief like that of having lost one's time. And what a devil are we women good for, once we are old, save to keep the ashes about the fire-pot? If none else knoweth it and can bear witness thereof, that do and can I; for, now that I am old, I recognize without avail, but not without very sore and bitter remorse of mind, the time that I let slip, and albeit I lost it not altogether (for that I would not have thee deem me a ninny), still I did not what I might have done; whereof whenas I remember me, seeing myself fashioned as thou seest me at this present, so that thou wouldst find none to give me fire to my tinder,[286] God knoweth what chagrin I feel. With men it is not so; they are born apt for a thousand things, not for this alone, and most part of them are of much more account old than young; but women are born into the world for nothing but to do this and bear children, and it is for this that they are prized; the which, if from nought else, thou mayst apprehend from this, that we women are still ready for the sport; more by token that one woman would tire out many men at the game, whereas many men cannot tire one woman; and for that we are born unto this, I tell thee again that thou wilt do exceeding well to return thy husband a loaf for his bannock, so thy soul may have no cause to reproach thy flesh in thine old age. Each one hath of this world just so much as he taketh to himself thereof, and especially is this the case with women, whom it behoveth, much more than men, make use of their time, whilst they have it; for thou mayst see how, when we grow old, nor husband nor other will look at us; nay, they send us off to the kitchen to tell tales to the cat and count the pots and pans; and what is worse, they tag rhymes on us and say,

"Tidbits for wenches young;
Gags[287] for the old wife's tongue."

And many another thing to the like purpose. And that I may hold thee no longer in parley, I tell thee in fine that thou couldst not have discovered thy mind to any one in the world who can be more useful to thee than I, for that there is no man so high and mighty but I dare tell him what behoveth, nor any so dour or churlish but I know how to supple him aright and bring him to what I will. Wherefore do thou but show me who pleaseth thee and after leave me do; but one thing I commend to thee, daughter mine, and that is, that thou be mindful of me, for that I am a poor body and would have thee henceforth a sharer in all my pardonings and in all the paternosters I shall say, so God may make them light and candles for thy dead.'[288]

With this she made an end of her discourse, and the young lady came to an understanding with her that, whenas she chanced to spy a certain young spark who passed often through that quarter and whose every feature she set out to her, she should know what she had to do; then, giving her a piece of salt meat, she dismissed her with God's blessing; nor had many days passed ere the old woman brought her him of whom she had bespoken her privily into her chamber, and a little while after, another and another, according as they chanced to take the lady's fancy, who stinted not to indulge herself in this as often as occasion offered, though still fearful of her husband. It chanced one evening that, her husband being to sup abroad with a friend of his, Ercolano by name, she charged the old woman bring her a youth, who was one of the goodliest and most agreeable of all Perugia, which she promptly did; but hardly had the lady seated herself at table to sup with her gallant, when, behold, Pietro called out at the door to have it opened to him. She, hearing this, gave herself up for lost, but yet desiring, an she might, to conceal the youth and not having the presence of mind to send him away or hide him elsewhere, made him take refuge under a hen-coop, that was in a shed adjoining the chamber where they were at supper, and cast over him the sacking of a pallet-bed that she had that day let empty.

This done, she made haste to open to her husband, to whom quoth she, as soon as he entered the house, 'You have very soon despatched this supper of yours!' 'We have not so much as tasted it,' replied he; and she said, 'How was that?' Quoth he, 'I will tell thee. Scarce were we seated at table, Ercolano and his wife and I, when we heard some one sneeze hard by, whereof we took no note the first time nor the second; but, he who sneezed sneezing yet a third time and a fourth and a fifth and many other times, it made us all marvel; whereupon Ercolano, who was somewhat vexed with his wife for that she had kept us a great while standing at the door, without opening to us, said, as if in a rage, "What meaneth this? Who is it sneezeth thus?" And rising from table, made for a stair that stood near at hand and under which, hard by the stairfoot, was a closure of planks, wherein to bestow all manner things, as we see those do every day who set their houses in order. Himseeming it was from this that came the noise of sneezing, he opened a little door that was therein and no sooner had he done this than there issued forth thereof the frightfullest stench of sulphur that might be. Somewhat of this smell had already reached us and we complaining thereof, the lady had said, "It is because I was but now in act to bleach my veils with sulphur and after set the pan, over which I had spread them to catch the fumes, under the stair, so that it yet smoketh thereof."

As soon as the smoke was somewhat spent, Ercolano looked into the cupboard and there espied him who had sneezed and who was yet in act to sneeze, for that the fumes of the sulphur constrained him thereto, and indeed they had by this time so straitened his breast that, had he abidden a while longer, he had never sneezed nor done aught else again. Ercolano, seeing him, cried out, "Now, wife, I see why, whenas we came hither awhile ago, we were kept so long at the door, without its being opened to us; but may I never again have aught that shall please me, an I pay thee not for this!" The lady, hearing this and seeing that her sin was discovered, stayed not to make any excuse, but started up from table and made off I know not whither. Ercolano, without remarking his wife's flight, again and again bade him who sneezed come forth; but the latter, who was now at the last gasp, offered not to stir, for all that he could say; whereupon, taking him by one foot, he haled him forth of his hiding-place and ran for a knife to kill him; but I, fearing the police on mine own account, arose and suffered him not to slay him or do him any hurt; nay, crying out and defending him, I gave the alarm to certain of the neighbours, who ran thither and taking the now half-dead youth, carried him forth the house I know not whither. Wherefore, our supper being disturbed by these things, I have not only not despatched it, nay, I have, as I said, not even tasted it.'

The lady, hearing this, knew that there were other women as wise as herself, albeit illhap bytimes betided some of them thereof, and would fain have defended Ercolano's wife with words; but herseeming that, by blaming others' defaults, she might make freer way for her own, she began to say, 'Here be fine doings! A holy and virtuous lady indeed she must be! She, to whom, as I am an honest woman, I would have confessed myself, so spiritually minded meseemed she was! And the worst of it is that she, being presently an old woman, setteth a mighty fine example to the young. Accursed by the hour she came into the world and she also, who suffereth herself to live, perfidious and vile woman that she must be, the general reproach and shame of all the ladies of this city, who, casting to the winds her honour and the faith plighted to her husband and the world's esteem, is not ashamed to dishonour him, and herself with him, for another man, him who is such a man and so worshipful a citizen and who used her so well! So God save me, there should be no mercy had of such women as she; they should be put to death; they should be cast alive into the fire and burned to ashes.' Then, bethinking her of her gallant, whom she had hard by under the coop, she began to exhort Pietro to betake himself to bed, for that it was time; but he, having more mind to eat than to sleep, enquired if there was aught for supper. 'Supper, quotha!' answered the lady. 'Truly, we are much used to get supper, whenas thou art abroad! A fine thing, indeed! Dost thou take me for Ercolano's wife? Alack, why dost thou not go to sleep for to-night? How far better thou wilt do!' Now it chanced that, certain husbandmen of Pietro's being come that evening with sundry matters from the farm and having put up their asses, without watering them, in a little stable adjoining the shed, one of the latter, being sore athirst, slipped his head out of the halter and making his way out of the stable, went smelling to everything, so haply he might find some water, and going thus, he came presently full on the hen-coop, under which was the young man. The latter having, for that it behoved him abide on all fours, put out the fingers of one hand on the ground beyond the coop, such was his luck, or rather let us say, his ill luck, that the ass set his hoof on them, whereupon the youth, feeling an exceeding great pain, set up a terrible outcry. Pietro, hearing this, marvelled and perceived that the noise came from within the house; wherefore he went out into the shed and hearing the other still clamouring, for that the ass had not lifted up his hoof from his fingers, but still trod hard upon them, said, 'Who is there?' Then, running to the hen-coop, he raised it and espied the young man, who, beside the pain he suffered from his fingers that were crushed by the ass's hoof, was all a-trembling for fear lest Pietro should do him a mischief.

The latter, knowing him for one whom he had long pursued for his lewd ends, asked him what he did there, whereto he answered him nothing, but prayed him for the love of God do him no harm. Quoth Pietro, 'Arise and fear not that I will do thee any hurt; but tell me how thou comest here and for what purpose.' The youth told him all, whereupon Pietro, no less rejoiced to have found him than his wife was woeful, taking him by the hand, carried him into the chamber, where the lady awaited him with the greatest affright in the world, and seating himself overagainst her, said, 'But now thou cursedst Ercolano's wife and avouchedst that she should be burnt and that she was the disgrace of all you women; why didst thou not speak of thyself? Or, an thou choosedst not to speak of thyself, how could thy conscience suffer thee to speak thus of her, knowing thyself to have done even as did she? Certes, none other thing moved thee thereunto save that you women are all made thus and look to cover your own doings with others' defaults; would fire might come from heaven to burn you all up, perverse generation that you are!'

The lady, seeing that, in the first heat of the discovery, he had done her no harm other than in words and herseeming she saw that he was all agog with joy for that he held so goodly a stripling by the hand, took heart and said, 'Of this much, indeed, I am mighty well assured, that thou wouldst have fire come from heaven to burn us women all up, being, as thou art, as fain to us as a dog to cudgels; but, by Christ His cross, thou shalt not get thy wish. However, I would fain have a little discourse with thee, so I may know of what thou complainest. Certes, it were a fine thing an thou shouldst seek to even me with Ercolano's wife, who is a beat-breast, a smell-sin,[289] and hath of her husband what she will and is of him held dear as a wife should be, the which is not the case with me. For, grant that I am well clad and shod of thee, thou knowest but too well how I fare for the rest and how long it is since thou hast lain with me; and I had liefer go barefoot and rags to my back and be well used of thee abed than have all these things, being used as I am of thee. For understand plainly, Pietro; I am a woman like other women and have a mind unto that which other women desire; so that, an I procure me thereof, not having it from thee, thou hast no call to missay of me therefor; at the least, I do thee this much honour that I have not to do with horseboys and scald-heads.'

Pietro perceived that words were not like to fail her for all that night; wherefore, as one who recked little of her, 'Wife,' said he, 'no more for the present; I will content thee aright of this matter; but thou wilt do us a great courtesy to let us have somewhat to sup withal, for that meseemeth this lad, like myself, hath not yet supped.' 'Certes, no,' answered the lady, 'he hath not yet supped; for we were sitting down to table, when thou camest in thine ill hour.' 'Go, then,' rejoined Pietro, 'contrive that we may sup, and after I will order this matter on such wise that thou shalt have no cause to complain.' The lady, finding that her husband was satisfied, arose and caused straightway reset the table; then, letting bring the supper she had prepared, she supped merrily in company with her caitiff of a husband and the young man. After supper, what Pietro devised for the satisfaction of all three hath escaped my mind; but this much I know that on the following morning the youth was escorted back to the public place, not altogether certain which he had the more been that night, wife or husband. Wherefore, dear my ladies, this will I say to you, 'Whoso doth it to you, do you it to him'; and if you cannot presently, keep it in mind till such time as you can, so he may get as good as he giveth."

Dioneo having made an end of his story, which had been less laughed at by the ladies [than usual], more for shamefastness than for the little delight they took therein, the queen, seeing the end of her sovranty come, rose to her feet and putting off the laurel crown, set it blithely on Elisa's head, saying, "With you, madam, henceforth it resteth to command." Elisa, accepting the honour, did even as it had been done before her, in that, having first, to the satisfaction of the company, taken order with the seneschal for that whereof there was need for the time of her governance, she said, "We have many a time heard how, by dint of smart sayings and ready repartees and prompt advisements, many have availed with an apt retort[290] to take the edge off other folks' teeth or to fend off imminent perils; and, for that the matter is goodly and may be useful,[291] I will that to-morrow, with God's aid, it be discoursed within these terms, to wit, OF WHOSO, BEING ASSAILED WITH SOME JIBING SPEECH, HATH VINDICATED HIMSELF OR HATH WITH SOME READY REPLY OR ADVISEMENT ESCAPED LOSS, PERIL OR SHAME."

This was much commended of all, whereupon the queen, rising to her feet, dismissed them all until supper time. The honourable company, seeing her risen, stood up all and each, according to the wonted fashion, applied himself to that which was most agreeable to him. But, the crickets having now given over singing, the queen let call every one and they betook themselves to supper, which being despatched with merry cheer, they all gave themselves to singing and making music, and Emilia having, at the queen's commandment, set up a dance, Dioneo was bidden sing a song, whereupon he straightway struck up with "Mistress Aldruda, come lift up your fud-a, for I bring you, I bring you, good tidings." Whereat all the ladies fell a-laughing and especially the queen, who bade him leave that and sing another. Quoth Dioneo, "Madam, had I a tabret, I would sing 'Come truss your coats, I prithee, Mistress Burdock,' or 'Under the olive the grass is'; or will you have me say 'The waves of the sea do great evil to me'? But I have no tabret, so look which you will of these others. Will it please you have 'Come forth unto us, so it may be cut down, like a May in the midst of the meadows'?" "Nay," answered the queen; "give us another." "Then," said Dioneo, "shall I sing, 'Mistress Simona, embarrel, embarrel! It is not the month of October'?" Quoth the queen, laughing, "Ill luck to thee, sing us a goodly one, an thou wilt, for we will none of these." "Nay, madam," rejoined Dioneo, "fash not yourself; but which then like you better? I know more than a thousand. Will you have 'This my shell an I prick it not well,' or 'Fair and softly, husband mine' or 'I'll buy me a cock, a cock of an hundred pounds sterling'?"[292] Therewithal the queen, somewhat provoked, though all the other ladies laughed, said, "Dioneo, leave jesting and sing us a goodly one; else shalt thou prove how I can be angry." Hearing this, he gave over his quips and cranks and forthright fell a-singing after this fashion:

O Love, the amorous light
That beameth from yon fair one's lovely eyes
Hath made me thine and hers in servant-guise.

The splendour of her lovely eyes, it wrought
That first thy flames were kindled in my breast,
Passing thereto through mine;
Yea, and thy virtue first unto my thought
Her visage fair it was made manifest,
Which picturing, I twine
And lay before her shrine
All virtues, that to her I sacrifice,
Become the new occasion of my sighs.

Thus, dear my lord, thy vassal am I grown
And of thy might obediently await
Grace for my lowliness;
Yet wot I not if wholly there be known
The high desire that in my breast thou'st set
And my sheer faith, no less,
Of her who doth possess
My heart so that from none beneath the skies,
Save her alone, peace would I take or prize.

Wherefore I pray thee, sweet my lord and sire,
Discover it to her and cause her taste
Some scantling of thy heat
To-me-ward,—for thou seest that in the fire,
Loving, I languish and for torment waste
By inches at her feet,—
And eke in season meet
Commend me to her favour on such wise
As I would plead for thee, should need arise.[293]

Dioneo, by his silence, showing that his song was ended, the queen let sing many others, having natheless much commended his. Then, somedele of the night being spent and the queen feeling the heat of the day to be now overcome of the coolness of the night, she bade each at his pleasure betake himself to rest against the ensuing day.

Footnotes

[286] i.e. she was grown so repulsively ugly in her old age, that no one cared to do her even so trifling a service as giving her a spark in tinder to light her fire withal.

[287] Or chokebits (stranguglioni).

[288] i.e. that they may serve to purchase remission from purgatory for the souls of her dead relatives, instead of the burning of candles and tapers, which is held by the Roman Catholic Church to have that effect.

[289] i.e. a hypocritical sham devotee, covering a lewd life with an appearance of sanctity.

[290] Lit. a due or deserved bite (debito morso). I mention this to show the connection with teeth.

[291] An ellipsis of a kind common in Boccaccio and indeed in all the old Italian writers, meaning "it may be useful to enlarge upon the subject in question."

[292] The songs proposed by Dioneo are all apparently of a light, if not a wanton, character and "not fit to be sung before ladies."

[293] This singularly naïve give-and-take fashion of asking a favour of a God recalls the old Scotch epitaph cited by Mr. George Macdonald:

Here lie I Martin Elginbrodde:
Hae mercy o' my soul, Lord God;
As I wad do, were I Lord God
And ye were Martin Elginbrodde.

HERE ENDETH THE FIFTH DAY
OF THE DECAMERON
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