Emilia's pleasantness and her story moved the queen and all the rest to laugh and applaud the rare conceit of this new-fangled crusader. Then, after the laughter had subsided and all were silent again, Filostrato, whose turn it was to tell, began to speak on this wise: "It is a fine thing, noble ladies, to hit a mark that never stirreth; but it is well-nigh miraculous if, when some unwonted thing appeareth of a sudden, it be forthright stricken of an archer. The lewd and filthy life of the clergy, in many things as it were a constant mark for malice, giveth without much difficulty occasion to all who have a mind to speak of, to gird at and rebuke it; wherefore, albeit the worthy man, who pierced the inquisitor to the quick touching the hypocritical charity of the friars, who give to the poor that which it should behove them cast to the swine or throw away, did well, I hold him much more to be commended of whom, the foregoing tale moving me thereto, I am to speak and who with a quaint story rebuked Messer Cane della Scala, a magnificent nobleman, of a sudden and unaccustomed niggardliness newly appeared in him, figuring, in the person of another, that which he purposed to say to him concerning themselves; the which was on this wise.

As very manifest renown proclaimeth well nigh throughout the whole world, Messer Cane della Scala, to whom in many things fortune was favourable, was one of the most notable and most magnificent gentlemen that have been known in Italy since the days of the Emperor Frederick the Second. Being minded to make a notable and wonder-goodly entertainment in Verona, whereunto many folk should have come from divers parts and especially men of art[59] of all kinds, he of a sudden (whatever might have been the cause) withdrew therefrom and having in a measure requited those who were come thither, dismissed them all, save only one, Bergamino by name, a man ready of speech and accomplished beyond the credence of whoso had not heard him, who, having received neither largesse nor dismissal, abode behind, in the hope that his stay might prove to his future advantage. But Messer Cane had taken it into his mind that what thing soever he might give him were far worse bestowed than if it had been thrown into the fire, nor of this did he bespeak him or let tell him aught.

Bergamino, after some days, finding himself neither called upon nor required unto aught that pertained to his craft and wasting his substance, to boot, in the hostelry with his horses and his servants, began to be sore concerned, but waited yet, himseeming he would not do well to depart. Now he had brought with him three goodly and rich suits of apparel, which had been given him of other noblemen, that he might make a brave appearance at the festival, and his host pressing for payment, he gave one thereof to him. After this, tarrying yet longer, it behoved him give the host the second suit, an he would abide longer with him, and withal he began to live upon the third, resolved to abide in expectation so long as this should last and then depart. Whilst he thus fed upon the third suit, he chanced one day, Messer Cane being at dinner, to present himself before him with a rueful countenance, and Messer Cane, seeing this, more by way of rallying him than of intent to divert himself with any of his speech, said to him, 'What aileth thee, Bergamino, to stand thus disconsolate? Tell us somewhat.'[60] Whereupon Bergamino, without a moment's hesitation, forthright, as if he had long considered it, related the following story to the purpose of his own affairs.

'My lord,' said he, 'you must know that Primasso was a very learned grammarian[61] and a skilful and ready verse-maker above all others, which things rendered him so notable and so famous that, albeit he might not everywhere be known by sight, there was well nigh none who knew him not by name and by report. It chanced that, finding himself once at Paris in poor case, as indeed he abode most times, for that worth is[62] little prized of those who can most,[63] he heard speak of the Abbot of Cluny, who is believed to be, barring the Pope, the richest prelate of his revenues that the Church of God possesseth, and of him he heard tell marvellous and magnificent things, in that he still held open house nor were meat and drink ever denied to any who went whereas he might be, so but he sought it what time the Abbot was at meat. Primasso, hearing this and being one who delighted in looking upon men of worth and nobility, determined to go see the magnificence of this Abbot and enquired how near he then abode to Paris. It was answered him that he was then at a place of his maybe half a dozen miles thence; wherefore Primasso thought to be there at dinner-time, by starting in the morning betimes.

Accordingly, he enquired the way, but, finding none bound thither, he feared lest he might go astray by mischance and happen on a part where there might be no victual so readily to be found; wherefore, in order that, if this should betide, he might not suffer for lack of food, he bethought himself to carry with him three cakes of bread, judging that water (albeit it was little to his taste) he should find everywhere. The bread he put in his bosom and setting out, was fortunate enough to reach the Abbot's residence before the eating-hour. He entered and went spying all about and seeing the great multitude of tables set and the mighty preparations making in the kitchen and what not else provided against dinner, said in himself, "Of a truth this Abbot is as magnificent as folk say." After he had abidden awhile intent upon these things, the Abbot's seneschal, eating-time being come, bade bring water for the hands; which being done, he seated each man at table, and it chanced that Primasso was set right over against the door of the chamber, whence the Abbot should come forth into the eating-hall.

Now it was the usance in that house that neither wine nor bread nor aught else of meat or drink should ever be set on the tables, except the Abbot were first came to sit at his own table. Accordingly, the seneschal, having set the tables, let tell the Abbot that, whenas it pleased him, the meat was ready. The Abbot let open the chamber-door, that he might pass into the saloon, and looking before him as he came, as chance would have it, the first who met his eyes was Primasso, who was very ill accoutred and whom he knew not by sight. When he saw him, incontinent there came into his mind an ill thought and one that had never yet been there, and he said in himself, "See to whom I give my substance to eat!" Then, turning back, he bade shut the chamber-door and enquired of those who were about him if any knew yonder losel who sat at table over against his chamber-door; but all answered no.

Meanwhile Primasso, who had a mind to eat, having come a journey and being unused to fast, waited awhile and seeing that the Abbot came not, pulled out of his bosom one of the three cakes of bread he had brought with him and fell to eating. The Abbot, after he had waited awhile, bade one of his serving-men look if Primasso were gone, and the man answered, "No, my lord; nay, he eateth bread, which it seemeth he hath brought with him." Quoth the Abbot, "Well, let him eat of his own, an he have thereof; for of ours he shall not eat to-day." Now he would fain have had Primasso depart of his own motion, himseeming it were not well done to turn him away; but the latter, having eaten one cake of bread and the Abbot coming not, began upon the second; the which was likewise reported to the Abbot, who had caused look if he were gone.

At last, the Abbot still tarrying, Primasso, having eaten the second cake, began upon the third, and this again was reported to the Abbot, who fell a-pondering in himself and saying, "Alack, what new maggot is this that is come into my head to-day? What avarice! What despite! And for whom? This many a year have I given my substance to eat to whosoever had a mind thereto, without regarding if he were gentle or simple, poor or rich, merchant or huckster, and have seen it with mine own eyes squandered by a multitude of ribald knaves; nor ever yet came there to my mind the thought that hath entered into me for yonder man. Of a surety avarice cannot have assailed me for a man of little account; needs must this who seemeth to me a losel be some great matter, since my soul hath thus repugned to do him honour."

So saying, he desired to know who he was and finding that it was Primasso, whom he had long known by report for a man of merit, come thither to see with his own eyes that which he had heard of his magnificence, was ashamed and eager to make him amends, studied in many ways to do him honour. Moreover, after eating, he caused clothe him sumptuously, as befitted his quality, and giving him money and a palfrey, left it to his own choice to go or stay; whereupon Primasso, well pleased with his entertainment, rendered him the best thanks in his power and returned on horseback to Paris, whence he had set out afoot.

Messer Cane, who was a gentleman of understanding, right well apprehended Bergamino's meaning, without further exposition, and said to him, smiling, 'Bergamino, thou hast very aptly set forth to me thy wrongs and merit and my niggardliness, as well as that which thou wouldst have of me; and in good sooth, never, save now on thine account, have I been assailed of parsimony; but I will drive it away with that same stick which thou thyself hast shown me.' Then, letting pay Bergamino's host and clothing himself most sumptuously in a suit of his own apparel, he gave him money and a palfrey and committed to his choice for the nonce to go or stay."

Footnotes

[59] i.e. gleemen, minstrels, story-tellers, jugglers and the like, lit. men of court (uomini di corte).

[60] Dinne alcuna cosa. If we take the affix ne (thereof, of it), in its other meaning (as dative of noi, we), of "to us," this phrase will read "Tell somewhat thereof," i.e. of the cause of thy melancholy.

[61] i.e. Latinist.

[62] Lit. was (era); but as Boccaccio puts "can" (possono) in the present tense we must either read รจ and possono or era and potevano. The first reading seems the more probable.

[63] i.e. have most power or means of requiting it.
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Decameron (Day The Seventh) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Seventh) Lyrics