The Tenth Story

A Physician's Wife Putteth Her Lover For Dead In A Chest, Which Two Usurers Carry Off To Their Own House, Gallant And All. The Latter, Who Is But Drugged, Cometh Presently To Himself And Being Discovered, Is Taken For A Thief; But The Lady's Maid Avoucheth To The Seignory That She Herself Had Put Him Into The Chest Stolen By The Two Usurers, Whereby He Escapeth The Gallows And The Thieves Are Amerced In Certain Monies

Filostrato having made an end of his telling, it rested only with Dioneo to accomplish his task, who, knowing this and it being presently commanded him of the king, began as follows: 'The sorrows that have been this day related of ill fortuned loves have saddened not only your eyes and hearts, ladies, but mine also; wherefore I have ardently longed for an end to be made thereof. Now that, praised be God, they are finished (except I should choose to make an ill addition to such sorry ware, from which God keep me!), I will, without farther ensuing so dolorous a theme, begin with something blither and better, thereby perchance affording a good argument for that which is to be related on the ensuing day.

You must know, then, fairest lasses, that there was in Salerno, no great while since, a very famous doctor in surgery, by name Master Mazzeo della Montagna, who, being already come to extreme old age, took to wife a fair and gentle damsel of his city and kept better furnished with sumptuous and rich apparel and jewels and all that can pleasure a lady than any woman of the place. True it is she went a-cold most of her time, being kept of her husband ill covered abed; for, like as Messer Ricardo di Chinzica (of whom we already told) taught his wife to observe saints' days and holidays, even so the doctor pretended to her that once lying with a woman necessitated I know not how many days' study to recruit the strength and the like toys; whereof she abode exceeding ill content and like a discreet and high-spirited woman as she was, bethought herself, so she might the better husband the household good, to betake herself to the highway and seek to spend others' gear. To this end, considering divers young men, at last she found one to her mind and on him she set all her hope; whereof he becoming aware and she pleasing him mightily, he in like manner turned all his love upon her.

The spark in question was called Ruggieri da Jeroli, a man of noble birth, but of lewd life and blameworthy carriage, insomuch that he had left himself neither friend nor kinsman who wished him well or cared to see him and was defamed throughout all Salerno for thefts and other knaveries of the vilest; but of this the lady recked little, he pleasing her for otherwhat, and with the aid of a maid of hers, she wrought on such wise that they came together. After they had taken some delight, the lady proceeded to blame his past way of life and to pray him, for the love of her, to desist from these ill fashions; and to give him the means of doing this, she fell to succouring him, now with one sum of money and now with another. On this wise they abode together, using the utmost discretion, till it befell that a sick man was put into the doctor's hands, who had a gangrened leg, and Master Mazzeo, having examined the case, told the patient's kinsfolk that, except a decayed bone he had in his leg were taken out, needs must he have the whole limb cut off or die, and that, by taking out the bone, he might recover, but that he would not undertake him otherwise than for a dead man; to which those to whom the sick man pertained agreed and gave the latter into his hands for such. The doctor, judging that the patient might not brook the pain nor would suffer himself to be operated, without an opiate, and having appointed to set about the matter at evensong, let that morning distil a certain water of his composition, which being drunken by the sick man, should make him sleep so long as he deemed necessary for the performing of the operation upon him, and fetching it home, set it in his chamber, without telling any what it was.

The hour of vespers come and the doctor being about to go to the patient in question, there came to him a messenger from certain very great friends of his at Malfi, charging him fail not for anything to repair thither incontinent, for that there had been a great fray there, in which many had been wounded. Master Mazzeo accordingly put off the tending of the leg until the ensuing morning and going aboard a boat, went off to Malfi, whereupon his wife, knowing that he would not return home that night, let fetch Ruggieri, as of her won't, and bringing him into her chamber, locked him therewithin, against certain other persons of the house should be gone to sleep. Ruggieri, then, abiding in the chamber, awaiting his mistress, and being,—whether for fatigue endured that day or salt meat that he had eaten or maybe for usance,—sore, athirst, caught sight of the flagon of water, which the doctor had prepared for the sick man and which stood in the window, and deeming it drinking water, set it to his mouth and drank it all off; nor was it long ere a great drowsiness took him and he fell asleep.

The lady came to the chamber as first she might and finding Ruggieri asleep, nudged him and bade him in a low voice arise, but to no effect, for he replied not neither stirred anywhit; whereat she was somewhat vexed and nudged him more sharply, saying, 'Get up, slugabed! An thou hadst a mind to sleep, thou shouldst have betaken thee to thine own house and not come hither.' Ruggieri, being thus pushed, fell to the ground from a chest whereon he lay and gave no more sign of life than a dead body; whereupon the lady, now somewhat alarmed, began to seek to raise him up and to shake him more roughly, tweaking him by the nose and plucking him by the beard, but all in vain; he had tied his ass to a fast picket.[257] At this she began to fear lest he were dead; nevertheless she proceeded to pinch him sharply and burn his flesh with a lighted taper, but all to no purpose; wherefore, being no doctress, for all her husband was a physician, she doubted not but he was dead in very deed. Loving him over all else as she did, it needeth no asking if she were woebegone for this and daring not make any outcry, she silently fell a-weeping over him and bewailing so sore a mishap.

After awhile, fearing to add shame to her loss, she bethought herself that it behoved her without delay find a means of carrying the dead man forth of the house and knowing not how to contrive this, she softly called her maid and discovering to her her misadventure sought counsel of her. The maid marvelled exceedingly and herself pulled and pinched Ruggieri, but, finding him without sense or motion, agreed with her mistress that he was certainly dead and counselled her put him forth of the house. Quoth the lady, 'And where can we put him, so it may not be suspected, whenas he shall be seen to-morrow morning, that he hath been brought out hence?' 'Madam,' answered the maid, 'I saw, this evening at nightfall, over against the shop of our neighbour yonder the carpenter, a chest not overbig, the which, an the owner have not taken it in again, will come very apt for our affair; for that we can lay him therein, after giving him two or three slashes with a knife, and leave him be. I know no reason why whoso findeth him should suppose him to have been put there from this house rather than otherwhence; nay, it will liefer be believed, seeing he was a young man of lewd life, that he hath been slain by some enemy of his, whilst going about to do some mischief or other, and after clapped in the chest.'

The maid's counsel pleased the lady, save that she would not hear of giving him any wound, saying that for naught in the world would her heart suffer her to do that. Accordingly she sent her to see if the chest were yet whereas she had noted it and she presently returned and said, 'Ay.' Then, being young and lusty, with the aid of her mistress, she took Ruggieri on her shoulders and carrying him out,—whilst the lady forewent her, to look if any came,—clapped him into the chest and shutting down the lid, left him there. Now it chanced that, a day or two before, two young men, who lent at usance, had taken up their abode in a house a little farther and lacking household gear, but having a mind to gain much and spend little, had that day espied the chest in question and had plotted together, if it should abide there the night, to carry it off to their own house. Accordingly, midnight come, they sallied forth and finding the chest still there, without looking farther, they hastily carried it off, for all it seemed to them somewhat heavy, to their own house, where they set it down beside a chamber in which their wives slept and there leaving it, without concerning themselves for the nonce to settle it overnicely, betook them to bed.

Presently, the morning drawing near, Ruggieri, who had slept a great while, having by this time digested the sleeping draught and exhausted its effects, awoke and albeit his sleep was broken and his senses in some measure restored, there abode yet a dizziness in his brain, which held him stupefied, not that night only, but some days after. Opening his eyes and seeing nothing, he put out his hands hither and thither and finding himself in the chest, bethought himself and said, 'What is this? Where am I? Am I asleep or awake? Algates I mind me that I came this evening into my mistress's chamber and now meseemeth I am in a chest. What meaneth this? Can the physician have returned or other accident befallen, by reason whereof the lady hath hidden me here, I being asleep? Methinketh it must have been thus; assuredly it was so.' Accordingly, he addressed himself to abide quiet and hearken if he could hear aught and after he had abidden thus a great while, being somewhat ill at ease in the chest, which was small, and the side whereon he lay irking him, he would have turned over to the other and wrought so dexterously that, thrusting his loins against one of the sides of the chest, which had not been set on a level place, he caused it first to incline to one side and after topple over. In falling, it made a great noise, whereat the women who slept therenigh awoke and being affrighted, were silent for fear. Ruggieri was sore alarmed at the fall of the chest, but, finding that it had opened in the fall, chose rather, if aught else should betide, to be out of it than to abide therewithin. Accordingly, he came forth and what with knowing not where he was and what with one thing and another, he fell to groping about the house, so haply he should find a stair or a door, whereby he might get him gone.

The women, hearing this, began to say, 'Who is there?' But Ruggieri, knowing not the voice, answered not; whereupon they proceeded to call the two young men, who, for that they had overwatched themselves, slept fast and heard nothing of all this. Thereupon the women, waxing more fearful, arose and betaking themselves to the windows, fell a-crying, 'Thieves! Thieves!' At this sundry of the neighbours ran up and made their way, some by the roof and some by one part and some by another, into the house; and the young men also, awaking for the noise, arose and seized Ruggieri, who finding himself there, was in a manner beside himself for wonderment and saw no way of escape. Then they gave him into the hands of the officers of the governor of the city, who had now run thither at the noise and carried him before their chief. The latter, for that he was held of all a very sorry fellow, straightway put him to the question and he confessed to having entered the usurers' house to steal; whereupon the governor thought to let string him up by the neck without delay.

The news was all over Salerno by the morning that Ruggieri had been taken in the act of robbing the money-lenders' house, which the lady and her maid hearing, they were filled with such strange and exceeding wonderment that they were like to persuade themselves that they had not done, but had only dreamed of doing, that which they had done overnight; whilst the lady, to boot, was so concerned at the news of the danger wherein Ruggieri was that she was like to go mad. Soon after half tierce[258] the physician, having returned from Malfi and wishing to medicine his patient, called for his prepared water and finding the flagon empty, made a great outcry, saying that nothing could abide as it was in his house. The lady, who was troubled with another great chagrin, answered angrily, saying 'What wouldst thou say, doctor, of grave matter, whenas thou makest such an outcry anent a flagonlet of water overset? Is there no more water to be found in the world?' 'Wife,' rejoined the physician, 'thou thinkest this was common water; it was not so; nay, it was a water prepared to cause sleep'; and told her for what occasion he had made it. When she heard this, she understood forthright that Ruggieri had drunken the opiate and had therefore appeared to them dead and said to her husband, 'Doctor, we knew it not; wherefore do you make yourself some more'; and the physician, accordingly, seeing he might not do otherwise, let make thereof anew.

A little after, the maid, who had gone by her mistress's commandment to learn what should be reported of Ruggieri, returned and said to her, 'Madam, every one missaith of Ruggieri; nor, for aught I could hear, is there friend or kinsman who hath risen up or thinketh to rise up to assist him, and it is held certain that the prefect of police will have him hanged to-morrow. Moreover, I have a strange thing to tell you, to wit, meseemeth I have discovered how he came into the money-lenders' house, and hear how. You know the carpenter overagainst whose shop was the chest wherein we laid him; he was but now at the hottest words in the world with one to whom it seemeth the chest belonged; for the latter demanded of him the price of his chest, and the carpenter replied that he had not sold it, but that it had that night been stolen from him. Whereto, "Not so," quoth the other, "nay, thou soldest it to the two young men, the money-lenders yonder, as they told me yesternight, when I saw it in their house what time Ruggieri was taken." "They lie," answered the carpenter. "I never sold it to them; but they stole it from me yesternight. Let us go to them." So they went off with one accord to the money-lenders' house, and I came back hither. On this wise, as you may see, I conclude that Ruggieri was transported whereas he was found; but how he came to life again I cannot divine.'

The lady now understood very well how the case stood and telling the maid what she had heard from the physician, besought her help to save Ruggieri, for that she might, an she would, at once save him and preserve her honour. Quoth she, 'Madam, teach me how, and I will gladly do anything.' Whereupon the lady, whose wits were sharpened by the urgency of the case, having promptly bethought herself of that which was to do, particularly acquainted the maid therewith, who first betook herself to the physician and weeping, began to say to him, 'Sir, it behoveth me ask you pardon of a great fault, which I have committed against you.' 'In what?' asked the doctor, and she, never giving over weeping, answered, 'Sir, you know what manner young man is Ruggieri da Jeroli. He took a liking to me awhile agone and partly for fear and partly for love, needs must I become his mistress. Yesternight, knowing that you were abroad, he cajoled me on such wise that I brought him into your house to lie with me in my chamber, and he being athirst and I having no whither more quickly to resort for water or wine, unwilling as I was that your lady, who was in the saloon, should see me, I remembered me to have seen a flagon of water in your chamber. Accordingly, I ran for it and giving him the water to drink, replaced the flagon whence I had taken it, whereof I find you have made a great outcry in the house. And certes I confess I did ill; but who is there doth not ill bytimes? Indeed, I am exceeding grieved to have done it, not so much for the thing itself as for that which hath ensued of it and by reason whereof Ruggieri is like to lose his life. Wherefore I pray you, as most I may, pardon me and give me leave to go succour Ruggieri inasmuch as I can.' The physician, hearing this, for all he was angry, answered jestingly, 'Thou hast given thyself thine own penance therefor, seeing that, whereas thou thoughtest yesternight to have a lusty young fellow who would shake thy skincoats well for thee, thou hadst a sluggard; wherefore go and endeavour for the deliverance of thy lover; but henceforth look thou bring him not into the house again, or I will pay thee for this time and that together.'

The maid, thinking she had fared well for the first venue, betook herself, as quickliest she might, to the prison, where Ruggieri lay and coaxed the gaoler to let her speak with the prisoner, whom after she had instructed what answers he should make to the prefect of police, an he would fain escape, she contrived to gain admission to the magistrate himself. The latter, for that she was young and buxom, would fain, ere he would hearken to her, cast his grapnel aboard the good wench, whereof she, to be the better heard, was no whit chary; then, having quitted herself of the grinding due,[259] 'Sir,' said she, 'you have here Ruggieri da Jeroli taken for a thief; but the truth is not so.' Then, beginning from the beginning, she told him the whole story; how she, being his mistress, had brought him into the physician's house and had given him the drugged water to drink, unknowing what it was, and how she had put him for dead into the chest; after which she told him the talk she had heard between the master carpenter and the owner of the chest, showing him thereby how Ruggieri had come into the money-lenders' house.

The magistrate, seeing it an easy thing to come at the truth of the matter, first questioned the physician if it were true of the water and found that it was as she had said; whereupon he let summon the carpenter and him to whom the chest belonged and the two money-lenders and after much parley, found that the latter had stolen the chest overnight and put it in their house. Ultimately he sent for Ruggieri and questioned him where he had lain that night, whereto he replied that where he had lain he knew not; he remembered indeed having gone to pass the night with Master Mazzeo's maid, in whose chamber he had drunken water for a sore thirst he had; but what became of him after he knew not, save that, when he awoke, he found himself in the money-lenders' house in a chest. The prefect, hearing these things and taking great pleasure therein, caused the maid and Ruggieri and the carpenter and the money-lenders repeat their story again and again; and in the end, seeing Ruggieri to be innocent, he released him and amerced the money-lenders in half a score ounces for that they had stolen the chest. How welcome this was to Ruggieri, none need ask, and it was beyond measure pleasing to his mistress, who together with her lover and the precious maid, who had proposed to give him the slashes with the knife, many a time after laughed and made merry of the matter, still continuing their loves and their disport from good to better; the which I would well might so betide myself, save always the being put in the chest."

If the former stories had saddened the hearts of the lovesome ladies, this last one of Dioneo's made them laugh heartily, especially when he spoke of the prefect casting his grapnel aboard the maid, that they were able thus to recover themselves of the melancholy caused by the others. But the king, seeing that the sun began to grow yellow and that the term of his seignory was come, with very courteous speech excused himself to the fair ladies for that which he had done, to wit, that he had caused discourse of so sorrowful a matter as that of lovers' infelicity; which done, he rose to his feet and taking from his head the laurel wreath, whilst the ladies waited to see on whom he should bestow it, set it daintily on Fiammetta's fair head, saying, "I make over this crown to thee, as to her who will, better than any other, know how with to-morrow's pleasance to console these ladies our companions of to-day's woefulness."

Fiammetta, whose locks were curled and long and golden and fell over her white and delicate shoulders and whose soft-rounded face was all resplendent with white lilies and vermeil roses commingled, with two eyes in her head as they were those of a peregrine falcon and a dainty little mouth, the lips whereof seemed twin rubies, answered, smiling, "And I, Filostrato, I take it willingly, and that thou mayst be the better cognizant of that which thou hast done, I presently will and command that each prepare to discourse to-morrow of THAT WHICH HATH HAPPILY BETIDED LOVERS AFTER SUNDRY CRUEL AND MISFORTUNATE ADVENTURES." Her proposition[260] was pleasing unto all and she, after summoning the seneschal and taking counsel with him of things needful, arising from session, blithely dismissed all the company until supper-time. Accordingly, they all proceeded, according to their various appetites, to take their several pleasures, some wandering about the garden, whose beauties were not such as might lightly tire, and other some betaking themselves towards the mills which wrought therewithout, whilst the rest fared some hither and some thither, until the hour of supper, which being come, they all foregathered, as of their won't, anigh the fair fountain and there supped with exceeding pleasance and well served. Presently, arising thence, they addressed themselves, as of their won't, to dancing and singing, and Filomena leading off the dance, the queen said, "Filostrato, I purpose not to depart from the usance of those who have foregone me in the sovranty, but, like as they have done, so I intend that a song be sung at my commandment; and as I am assured that thy songs are even such as are thy stories, it is our pleasure that, so no more days than this be troubled with thine ill fortunes, thou sing such one thereof as most pleaseth thee." Filostrato replied that he would well and forthright proceeded to sing on this wise:

Weeping, I demonstrate
How sore with reason doth my heart complain
Of love betrayed and plighted faith in vain.

Love, whenas first there was of thee imprest
Thereon[261] her image for whose sake I sigh,
Sans hope of succour aye,
So full of virtue didst thou her pourtray,
That every torment light accounted I
That through thee to my breast
Grown full of drear unrest
And dole, might come; but now, alack! I'm fain
To own my error, not withouten pain.

Yea, of the cheat first was I made aware,
Seeing myself of her forsaken sheer,
In whom I hoped alone;
For, when I deemed myself most fairly grown
Into her favour and her servant dear,
Without her thought or care
Of my to-come despair,
I found she had another's merit ta'en
To heart and put me from her with disdain.

Whenas I knew me banished from my stead,
Straight in my heart a dolorous plaint there grew,
That yet therein hath power,
And oft I curse the day and eke the hour
When first her lovesome visage met my view,
Graced with high goodlihead;
And more enamouréd
Than eye, my soul keeps up its dying strain,
Faith, ardour, hope, blaspheming still amain.
How void my misery is of all relief
Thou mayst e'en feel, so sore I call thee, sire,
With voice all full of woe;
Ay, and I tell thee that it irks me so
That death for lesser torment I desire.
Come, death, then; shear the sheaf
Of this my life of grief
And with thy stroke my madness eke assain;
Go where I may, less dire will be my bane.

No other way than death is left my spright,
Ay, and none other solace for my dole;
Then give it[262] me straightway,
Love; put an end withal to my dismay:
Ah, do it; since fate's spite
Hath robbed me of delight;
Gladden thou her, lord, with my death, love-slain,
As thou hast cheered her with another swain.

My song, though none to learn thee lend an ear,
I reck the less thereof, indeed, that none
Could sing thee even as I;
One only charge I give thee, ere I die,
That thou find Love and unto him alone
Show fully how undear
This bitter life and drear
Is to me, craving of his might he deign
Some better harbourage I may attain.

Weeping I demonstrate
How sore with reason doth my heart complain
Of love betrayed and plighted faith in vain.

The words of this song clearly enough discovered the state of Filostrato's mind and the cause thereof, the which belike the countenance of a certain lady who was in the dance had yet plainlier declared, had not the shades of the now fallen night hidden the blushes that rose to her face. But, when he had made an end of his song, many others were sung, till such time as the hour of sleep arrived, whereupon, at the queen's commandment, each of the ladies withdrew to her chamber.


[257] A proverbial way of saying that he was fast asleep.

[258] i.e. about half-past seven a.m.

[259] Or "having risen from the grinding" (levatasi dal macinio).

[260] i.e. the theme proposed by her.

[261] i.e. on my heart.

[262] i.e. death.

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