The Eighth Story

Girolamo Loveth Salvestra And Being Constrained By His Mother's Prayers To Go To Paris, Returneth And Findeth His Mistress Married; Whereupon He Entereth Her House By Stealth And Dieth By Her Side; And He Being Carried To A Church, Salvestra Dieth Beside Him

Emilia's story come to an end, Neifile, by the king's commandment, began thus: "There are some, noble ladies, who believe themselves to know more than other folk, albeit, to my thinking, they know less, and who, by reason thereof, presume to oppose their judgment not only to the counsels of men, but even to set it up against the very nature of things; of which presumption very grave ills have befallen aforetime, nor ever was any good known to come thereof. And for that of all natural things love is that which least brooketh contrary counsel or opposition and whose nature is such that it may lightlier consume of itself than be done away by advisement, it hath come to my mind to narrate to you a story of a lady, who, seeking to be wiser than pertained unto her and than she was, nay, than the matter comported in which she studied to show her wit, thought to tear out from an enamoured heart a love which had belike been set there of the stars, and so doing, succeeded in expelling at once love and life from her son's body.

There was, then, in our city, according to that which the ancients relate, a very great and rich merchant, whose name was Lionardo Sighieri and who had by his wife a son called Girolamo, after whose birth, having duly set his affairs in order, he departed this life. The guardians of the boy, together with his mother, well and loyally ordered his affairs, and he, growing up with his neighbour's children, became familiar with a girl of his own age, the daughter of the tailor, more than with any other of the quarter. As he waxed in age, use turned to love so great and so ardent that he was never easy save what time he saw her, and certes she loved him no less than she was loved of him. The boy's mother, observing this, many a time chid and rebuked him therefor and after, Girolamo availing not to desist therefrom, complained thereof to his guardians, saying to them, as if she thought, thanks to her son's great wealth, to make an orange-tree of a bramble, 'This boy of ours, albeit he is yet scarce fourteen years old, is so enamoured of the daughter of a tailor our neighbour, by name Salvestra, that, except we remove her from his sight, he will peradventure one day take her to wife, without any one's knowledge, and I shall never after be glad; or else he will pine away from her, if he see her married to another; wherefore meseemeth, to avoid this, you were best send him somewhither far from here, about the business of the warehouse; for that, he being removed from seeing her, she will pass out of his mind and we may after avail to give him some well-born damsel to wife.'

The guardians answered that the lady said well and that they would do this to the best of their power; wherefore, calling the boy into the warehouse, one of them began very lovingly to bespeak him thus, 'My son, thou art now somewhat waxen in years and it were well that thou shouldst begin to look for thyself to thine affairs; wherefore it would much content us that thou shouldst go sojourn awhile at Paris, where thou wilt see how great part of thy wealth is employed, more by token that thou wilt there become far better bred and mannered and more of worth than thou couldst here, seeing the lords and barons and gentlemen who are there in plenty and learning their usances; after which thou mayst return hither.' The youth hearkened diligently and answered curtly that he was nowise disposed to do this, for that he believed himself able to fare as well at Florence as another. The worthy men, hearing this, essayed him again with sundry discourse, but, failing to get other answer of him, told his mother, who, sore provoked thereat, gave him a sound rating, not because of his unwillingness to go to Paris, but of his enamourment; after which, she fell to cajoling him with fair words, coaxing him and praying him softly be pleased to do what his guardians wished; brief, she contrived to bespeak him to such purpose that he consented to go to France and there abide a year and no more.

Accordingly, ardently enamoured as he was, he betook himself to Paris and there, being still put off from one day to another, he was kept two years; at the end of which time, returning, more in love than ever, he found his Salvestra married to an honest youth, a tent maker. At this he was beyond measure woebegone; but, seeing no help for it, he studied to console himself therefor and having spied out where she dwelt, began, after the won't of young men in love, to pass before her, expecting she should no more have forgotten him than he her. But the case was otherwise; she had no more remembrance of him than if she had never seen him; or, if indeed she remembered aught of him, she feigned the contrary; and of this, in a very brief space of time, Girolamo became aware, to his no small chagrin. Nevertheless, he did all he might to bring himself to her mind; but, himseeming he wrought nothing, he resolved to speak with her, face to face, though he should die for it.

Accordingly, having learned from a neighbour how her house stood, one evening that she and her husband were gone to keep wake with their neighbours, he entered therein by stealth and hiding himself behind certain tent cloths that were spread there, waited till, the twain having returned and gotten them to bed, he knew her husband to be asleep; whereupon he came whereas he had seen Salvestra lay herself and putting his hand upon her breast, said softly, 'Sleepest thou yet, O my soul?' The girl, who was awake, would have cried out; but he said hastily, 'For God's sake, cry not, for I am thy Girolamo.' She, hearing this, said, all trembling, 'Alack, for God's sake, Girolamo, get thee gone; the time is past when it was not forbidden unto our childishness to be lovers. I am, as thou seest, married and it beseemeth me no more to have regard to any man other than my husband; wherefore I beseech thee, by God the Only, to begone, for that, if my husband heard thee, even should no other harm ensue thereof, yet would it follow that I might never more avail to live with him in peace or quiet, whereas now I am beloved of him and abide with him in weal and in tranquility.'

The youth, hearing these words, was grievously endoloured and recalled to her the time past and his love no whit grown less for absence, mingling many prayers and many great promises, but obtained nothing; wherefore, desiring to die, he prayed her at last that, in requital of so much love, she would suffer him couch by her side, so he might warm himself somewhat, for that he was grown chilled, awaiting her, promising her that he would neither say aught to her nor touch her and would get him gone, so soon as he should be a little warmed. Salvestra, having some little compassion of him, granted him this he asked, upon the conditions aforesaid, and he accordingly lay down beside her, without touching her. Then, collecting into one thought the long love he had borne her and her present cruelty and his lost hope, he resolved to live no longer; wherefore, straitening in himself his vital spirits,[252] he clenched his hands and died by her side, without word or motion.

After a while the young woman, marvelling at his continence and fearing lest her husband should awake, began to say, 'Alack, Girolamo, why dost thou not get thee gone?' Hearing no answer, she concluded that he had fallen asleep and putting out her hand to awaken him, found him cold to the touch as ice, whereat she marvelled sore; then, nudging him more sharply and finding that he stirred not, she felt him again and knew that he was dead; whereat she was beyond measure woebegone and abode a great while, unknowing what she should do. At last she bethought herself to try, in the person of another, what her husband should say was to do [in such a case]; wherefore, awakening him, she told him, as having happened to another, that which had presently betided herself and after asked him what counsel she should take thereof,[253] if it should happen to herself. The good man replied that himseemed the dead man should be quietly carried to his house and there left, without bearing any ill will thereof to the woman, who, it appeared to him, had nowise done amiss. Then said Salvestra, 'And so it behoveth us do'; and taking his hand, made him touch the dead youth; whereupon, all confounded, he arose, without entering into farther parley with his wife, and kindled a light; then, clothing the dead body in its own garments, he took it, without any delay, on his shoulders and carried it, his innocence aiding him, to the door of Girolamo's house, where he set it down and left it.

When the day came and Girolamo was found dead before his own door, great was outcry, especially on the part of his mother, and the physicians having examined him and searched his body everywhere, but finding no wound nor bruise whatsoever on him, it was generally concluded that he had died of grief, as was indeed the case. Then was the body carried into a church and the sad mother, repairing thither with many other ladies, kinswomen and neighbours, began to weep without stint and make sore moan over him, according to our usance. What while the lamentation was at it highest, the good man, in whose house he had died, said to Salvestra, 'Harkye, put some mantlet or other on thy head and get thee to the church whither Girolamo hath been carried and mingle with the women and hearken to that which is discoursed of the matter; and I will do the like among the men, so we may hear if aught be said against us.' The thing pleased the girl, who was too late grown pitiful and would fain look upon him, dead, whom, living, she had not willed to pleasure with one poor kiss, and she went thither. A marvellous thing it is to think how uneath to search out are the ways of love! That heart, which Girolamo's fair fortune had not availed to open, his illhap opened and the old flames reviving all therein, whenas she saw the dead face it[254] melted of a sudden into such compassion that she pressed between the women, veiled as she was in the mantlet, and stayed not till she won to the body, and there, giving a terrible great shriek, she cast herself, face downward, on the dead youth, whom she bathed not with many tears, for that no sooner did she touch him than grief bereaved her of life, even as it had bereft him.

The women would have comforted her and bidden her arise, not yet knowing her; but after they had bespoken her awhile in vain, they sought to lift her and finding her motionless, raised her up and knew her at once for Sal vestra and for dead; whereupon all who were there, overcome with double pity, set up a yet greater clamour of lamentation. The news soon spread abroad among the men without the church and came presently to the ears of her husband, who was amongst them and who, without lending ear to consolation or comfort from any, wept a great while; after which he recounted to many of those who were there the story of that which had befallen that night between the dead youth and his wife; and so was the cause of each one's death made everywhere manifest, the which was grievous unto all. Then, taking up the dead girl and decking her, as they use to deck the dead, they laid her beside Girolamo on the same bier and there long bewept her; after which the twain were buried in one same tomb, and so these, whom love had not availed to conjoin on life, death conjoined with an inseparable union."


[252] Ristretti in sè gli spiriti. An obscure passage; perhaps "holding his breath" is meant; but in this case we should read "lo spirito" instead of "gli spiriti."

[253] i.e. what course she should take in the matter, consiglio used as before (see notes, pp. 2 and 150) in this special sense.

[254] i.e. her heart.
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