The Second Story

Cisti The Baker With A Word Of His Fashion Maketh Messer Geri Spina Sensible Of An Indiscreet Request Of His

Madam Oretta's saying was greatly commended of all, ladies and men, and the queen bidding Pampinea follow on, she began thus: "Fair ladies, I know not of mine own motion to resolve me which is the more at fault, whether nature in fitting to a noble soul a mean body or fortune in imposing a mean condition upon a body endowed with a noble soul, as in one our townsman Cisti and in many another we may have seen it happen; which Cisti being gifted with a very lofty spirit, fortune made him a baker. And for this, certes, I should curse both nature and fortune like, did I not know the one to be most discreet and the other to have a thousand eyes, albeit fools picture her blind; and I imagine, therefore, that, being exceeding well-advised, they do that which is oftentimes done of human beings, who, uncertain of future events, bury their most precious things, against their occasions, in the meanest places of their houses, as being the least suspect, and thence bring them forth in their greatest needs, the mean place having the while kept them more surely than would the goodly chamber. And so, meseemeth, do the governors of the world hide oftentimes their most precious things under the shadow of crafts and conditions reputed most mean, to the end that, bringing them forth therefrom in time of need, their lustre may show the brighter. Which how Cisti the baker made manifest, though in but a trifling matter, restoring to Messer Geri Spina (whom the story but now told of Madam Oretta, who was his wife, hath recalled to my memory) the eyes of the understanding, it pleaseth me to show you in a very short story.

I must tell you, then, that Pope Boniface, with whom Messer Geri Spina was in very great favour, having despatched to Florence certain of his gentlemen on an embassy concerning sundry important matters of his, they lighted down at the house of Messer Geri and he treating the pope's affairs in company with them, it chanced, whatever might have been the occasion thereof, that he and they passed well nigh every morning afoot before Santa Maria Ughi, where Cisti the baker had his bakehouse and plied his craft in person. Now, albeit fortune had appointed Cisti a humble enough condition, she had so far at the least been kind to him therein that he was grown very rich and without ever choosing to abandon it for any other, lived very splendidly, having, amongst his other good things, the best wines, white and red, that were to be found in Florence or in the neighbouring country. Seeing Messer Geri and the pope's ambassadors pass every morning before his door and the heat being great, he bethought himself that it were a great courtesy to give them to drink of his good white wine; but, having regard to his own condition and that of Messer Geri, he deemed it not a seemly thing to presume to invite them, but determined to bear himself on such wise as should lead Messer Geri to invite himself.

Accordingly, having still on his body a very white doublet and an apron fresh from the wash, which bespoke him rather a miller than a baker, he let set before his door, every morning, towards the time when he looked for Messer Geri and the ambassadors to pass, a new tinned pail of fair water and a small pitcher of new Bolognese ware, full of his good white wine, together with two beakers, which seemed of silver, so bright they were, and seated himself there, against they should pass, when, after clearing his throat once or twice, he fell to drinking of that his wine with such a relish that he had made a dead man's mouth water for it. Messer Geri, having seen him do thus one and two mornings, said on the third, 'How now, Cisti? Is it good?' Whereupon he started to his feet and said, 'Ay is it, Sir; but how good I cannot give you to understand, except you taste thereof.' Messer Geri, in whom either the nature of the weather or belike the relish with which he saw Cisti drink had begotten a thirst, turned to the ambassadors and said, smiling, 'Gentlemen, we shall do well to taste this honest man's wine; belike it is such that we shall not repent thereof.' Accordingly, he made with them towards Cisti, who let bring a goodly settle out of his bakehouse and praying them sit, said to their serving-men, who pressed forward to rinse the beakers, 'Stand back, friends, and leave this office to me, for that I know no less well how to skink than to wield the baking-peel; and look you not to taste a drop thereof.' So saying, he with his own hands washed out four new and goodly beakers and letting bring a little pitcher of his good wine, busied himself with giving Messer Geri and his companions to drink, to whom the wine seemed the best they had drunken that great while; wherefore they commended it greatly, and well nigh every morning, whilst the ambassadors abode there, Messer Geri went thither to drink in company with them.

After awhile, their business being despatched and they about to depart, Messer Geri made them a magnificent banquet, whereto he bade a number of the most worshipful citizens and amongst the rest, Cisti, who would, however, on no condition go thither; whereupon Messer Geri bade one of his serving-men go fetch a flask of the baker's wine and give each guest a half beaker thereof with the first course. The servant, despiteful most like for that he had never availed to drink of the wine, took a great flagon, which when Cisti saw, 'My son,' said he, 'Messer Geri sent thee not to me.' The man avouched again and again that he had, but, getting none other answer, returned to Messer Geri and reported it to him. Quoth he, 'Go back to him and tell him that I do indeed send thee to him; and if he still make thee the same answer, ask him to whom I send thee, [an it be not to him.]' Accordingly, the servant went back to the baker and said to him, 'Cisti, for certain Messer Geri sendeth me to thee and none other.' 'For certain, my son,' answered the baker, 'he doth it not.' 'Then,' said the man, 'to whom doth he send me?' 'To the Arno,' replied Cisti; which answer when the servant reported to Messer Geri, the eyes of his understanding were of a sudden opened and he said to the man, 'Let me see what flask thou carriedst thither.'

When he saw the great flagon aforesaid, he said, 'Cisti saith sooth,' and giving the man a sharp reproof, made him take a sortable flask, which when Cisti saw, 'Now,' quoth he, 'I know full well that he sendeth thee to me,' and cheerfully filled it unto him. Then, that same day, he let fill a little cask with the like wine and causing carry it softly to Messer Geri's house, went presently thither and finding him there, said to him, 'Sir. I would not have you think that the great flagon of this morning frightened me; nay, but, meseeming that which I have of these past days shown you with my little pitchers had escaped your mind, to wit, that this is no household wine,[300] I wished to recall it to you. But, now, for that I purpose no longer to be your steward thereof, I have sent it all to you; henceforward do with it as it pleaseth you.' Messer Geri set great store by Cisti's present and rendering him such thanks as he deemed sortable, ever after held him for a man of great worth and for friend."

Footnotes

[300] Lit. Family wine (vin da famiglia), i.e. no wine for servants' or general drinking, but a choice vintage, to be reserved for special occasions.
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