The Ninth Story

Lydia, Wife Of Nicostratus, Loveth Pyrrhus, Who, So He May Believe It, Requireth Of Her Three Things, All Which She Doth. Moreover, She Solaceth Herself With Him In The Presence Of Nicostratus And Maketh The Latter Believe That That Which He Hath Seen Is Not Real

Neifile's story so pleased the ladies that they could neither give over to laugh at nor to talk of it, albeit the king, having bidden Pamfilo tell his story, had several times imposed silence upon them. However, after they had held their peace, Pamfilo began thus: "I do not believe, worshipful ladies, that there is anything, how hard and doubtful soever it be, that whoso loveth passionately will not dare to do; the which, albeit it hath already been demonstrated in many stories, methinketh, nevertheless, I shall be able yet more plainly to show forth to you in one which I purpose to tell you and wherein you shall hear of a lady, who was in her actions much more favoured of fortune than well-advised of reason; wherefore I would not counsel any one to adventure herself in the footsteps of her of whom I am to tell, for that fortune is not always well disposed nor are all men in the world equally blind.

In Argos, city of Achia far more famous for its kings of past time than great in itself, there was once a nobleman called Nicostratus, to whom, when already neighbouring on old age, fortune awarded a lady of great family to wife, whose name was Lydia and who was no less high-spirited than fair. Nicostratus, like a nobleman and a man of wealth as he was, kept many servants and hounds and hawks and took the utmost delight in the chase. Among his other servants he had a young man called Pyrrhus, who was sprightly and well bred and comely of his person and adroit in all that he had a mind to do, and him he loved and trusted over all else. Of this Pyrrhus Lydia became so sore enamoured that neither by day nor by night could she have her thought otherwhere than with him; but he, whether it was that he perceived not her liking for him or that he would none of it, appeared to reck nothing thereof, by reason whereof the lady suffered intolerable chagrin in herself and being altogether resolved to give him to know of her passion, called a chamberwoman of hers, Lusca by name, in whom she much trusted, and said to her, 'Lusca, the favours thou hast had of me should make thee faithful and obedient; wherefore look thou none ever know that which I shall presently say to thee, save he to whom I shall charge thee tell it. As thou seest, Lusca, I am a young and lusty lady, abundantly endowed with all those things which any woman can desire; in brief, I can complain of but one thing, to wit, that my husband's years are overmany, an they be measured by mine own, wherefore I fare but ill in the matter of that thing wherein young women take most pleasure, and none the less desiring it, as other women do, I have this long while determined in myself, since fortune hath been thus little my friend in giving me so old a husband, that I will not be so much mine own enemy as not to contrive to find means for my pleasures and my weal; which that I may have as complete in this as in other things, I have bethought myself to will that our Pyrrhus, as being worthier thereof than any other, should furnish them with his embracements; nay, I have vowed him so great a love that I never feel myself at ease save whenas I see him or think of him, and except I foregather with him without delay, methinketh I shall certainly die thereof. Wherefore, if my life be dear to thee, thou wilt, on such wise as shall seem best to thee, signify to him any love and beseech him, on my part, to be pleased to come to me, whenas thou shalt go for him.'

The chamberwoman replied that she would well and taking Pyrrhus apart, whenas first it seemed to her time and place, she did her lady's errand to him as best she knew. Pyrrhus, hearing this, was sore amazed thereat, as one who had never anywise perceived aught of the matter, and misdoubted him the lady had let say this to him to try him; wherefore he answered roughly and hastily, 'Lusca, I cannot believe that these words come from my lady; wherefore, have a care what thou sayst; or, if they do indeed come from her, I do not believe that she caused thee say them with intent, and even if she did so, my lord doth me more honour than I deserve and I would not for my life do him such an outrage; wherefore look thou bespeak me no more of such things.' Lusca, nowise daunted by his austere speech, said to him, 'Pyrrhus, I will e'en bespeak thee both of this and of everything else wherewithal my lady shall charge me when and as often as she shall bid me, whether it cause thee pleasure or annoy; but thou art an ass.' Then, somewhat despited at his words, she returned to her mistress, who, hearing what Pyrrhus had said, wished for death, but, some days after, she again bespoke the chamberwoman of the matter and said to her, 'Lusca, thou knowest that the oak falleth not for the first stroke; wherefore meseemeth well that thou return anew to him who so strangely willeth to abide loyal to my prejudice, and taking a sortable occasion, throughly discover to him my passion and do thine every endeavour that the thing may have effect; for that, an it fall through thus, I shall assuredly die of it. Moreover, he will think to have been befooled, and whereas we seek to have his love, hate will ensue thereof.'

The maid comforted her and going in quest of Pyrrhus found him merry and well-disposed and said to him, 'Pyrrhus I showed thee, a few days agone, in what a fire my lady and thine abideth for the love she beareth thee, and now anew I certify thee thereof, for that, an thou persist in the rigour thou showedst the other day, thou mayst be assured that she will not live long; wherefore I prithee be pleased to satisfy her of her desire, and if thou yet abide fast in thine obstinacy, whereas I have still accounted thee mighty discreet, I shall hold thee a blockhead. What can be a greater glory for thee than that such a lady, so fair and so noble, should love thee over all else? Besides, how greatly shouldst thou acknowledge thyself beholden unto Fortune, seeing that she proffereth thee a thing of such worth and so conformable to the desires of thy youth and to boot, such a resource for thy necessities! Which of thy peers knowest thou who fareth better by way of delight than thou mayst fare, an thou be wise? What other couldst thou find who may fare so well in the matter of arms and horses and apparel and monies as thou mayst do, so thou wilt but vouchsafe thy love to this lady? Open, then, thy mind to my words and return to thy senses; bethink thee that once, and no oftener, it is won't to betide that fortune cometh unto a man with smiling face and open arms, who an he know not then to welcome, if after he find himself poor and beggarly, he hath himself and not her to blame. Besides, there is no call to use that loyalty between servants and masters that behoveth between friends and kinsfolk; nay, servants should use their masters, in so far as they may, like as themselves are used of them. Thinkest thou, an thou hadst a fair wife or mother or daughter or sister, who pleased Nicostratus, that he would go questing after this loyalty that thou wouldst fain observe towards him in respect of this lady? Thou are a fool, if thou think thus; for thou mayst hold it for certain that, if blandishments and prayers sufficed him not, he would not scruple to use force in the matter, whatsoever thou mightest deem thereof. Let us, then, entreat them and their affairs even as they entreat us and ours. Profit by the favour of fortune and drive her not away, but welcome her with open arms and meet her halfway, for assuredly, and thou do it not, thou wilt yet (leave alone the death that will without fail ensue thereof to thy lady) repent thee thereof so many a time thou wilt be fain to die therefor.'

Pyrrhus, who had again and again pondered the words that Lusca had said to him, had determined, and she should return to him, to make her another guess answer and altogether to submit himself to comply with the lady's wishes, so but he might be certified that it was not a trick to try him, and accordingly answered, 'Harkye, Lusca; all that thou sayst to me I allow to be true; but, on the other hand, I know my lord for very discreet and well-advised, and as he committeth all his affairs to my hands, I am sore adread lest Lydia, with his counsel and by his wish, do this to try me; wherefore, an it please her for mine assurance do three things that I shall ask, she shall for certain thereafterward command me nought but I will do it forthright. And the three things I desire are these: first, that in Nicostratus his presence she slay his good hawk; secondly, that she send me a lock of her husband's beard and lastly, one of his best teeth.' These conditions seemed hard unto Lusca and to the lady harder yet; however, Love, who is an excellent comforter[354] and a past master in shifts and devices, made her resolve to do his pleasure and accordingly she sent him word by her chamberwoman that she would punctually do what he required and that quickly, and that over and above this, for that he deemed Nicostratus so well-advised, she would solace herself with him in her husband's presence and make the latter believe that it was not true.

Pyrrhus, accordingly, began to await what the lady should do, and Nicostratus having, a few days after, made, as he oftentimes used to do, a great dinner to certain gentlemen, Madam Lydia, whenas the tables were cleared away, came forth of her chamber, clad in green samite and richly bedecked, and entered the saloon where the guests were. There, in the sight of Pyrrhus and of all the rest, she went up to the perch, whereon was the hawk that Nicostratus held so dear, and cast it loose, as she would set it on her hand; then, taking it by the jesses, she dashed it against the wall and killed it; whereupon Nicostratus cried out at her, saying, 'Alack, wife, what hast thou done?' She answered him nothing, but, turning to the gentlemen who had eaten with him, she said to them, 'Gentlemen, I should ill know how to avenge myself on a king who did me a despite, an I dared not take my wreak of a hawk. You must know that this bird hath long robbed me of all the time which should of men be accorded to the pleasuring of the ladies; for that no sooner is the day risen than Nicostratus is up and drest and away he goeth a-horseback, with his hawk on his fist, to the open plains, to see him fly, whilst I, such as you see me, abide in bed alone and ill-content; wherefore I have many a time had a mind to do that which I have now done, nor hath aught hindered me therefrom but that I waited to do it in the presence of gentlemen who would be just judges in my quarrel, as methinketh you will be.' The gentlemen, hearing this and believing her affection for Nicostratus to be no otherwise than as her words denoted, turned all to the latter, who was angered, and said, laughing, 'Ecod, how well hath the lady done to avenge herself of her wrong by the death of the hawk!' Then, with divers of pleasantries upon the subject (the lady being now gone back to her chamber), they turned Nicostratus his annoy into laughter; whilst Pyrrhus, seeing all this, said in himself, 'The lady hath given a noble beginning to my happy loves; God grant she persevere!'

Lydia having thus slain the hawk, not many days were passed when, being in her chamber with Nicostratus, she fell to toying and frolicking with him, and he, pulling her somedele by the hair, by way of sport, gave her occasion to accomplish the second thing required of her by Pyrrhus. Accordingly, taking him of a sudden by a lock of his beard, she tugged so hard at it, laughing the while, that she plucked it clean out of his chin; whereof he complaining, 'How now?' quoth she. 'What aileth thee to pull such a face? Is it because I have plucked out maybe half a dozen hairs of thy beard? Thou feltest not that which I suffered, whenas thou pulledst me now by the hair.' On this wise continuing their disport from one word to another, she privily kept the lock of hair that she had plucked from his beard and sent it that same day to her lover.

Anent the last of the three things required by Pyrrhus she was harder put to it for a device; nevertheless, being of a surpassing wit and Love making her yet quicker of invention, she soon bethought herself what means she should use to give it accomplishment. Nicostratus had two boys given him of their father, to the intent that, being of gentle birth, they might learn somewhat of manners and good breeding in his house, of whom, whenas he was at meat, one carved before him and the other gave him to drink. Lydia called them both and giving them to believe that they stank at the mouth, enjoined them that, whenas they served Nicostratus, they should still hold their heads backward as most they might nor ever tell this to any. The boys, believing that which she said, proceeded to do as she had lessoned them, and she after a while said to her husband one day, 'Hast thou noted that which yonder boys do, whenas they serve thee?' 'Ay have I,' replied Nicostratus; 'and indeed I had it in mind to ask them why they did it.' Quoth the lady, 'Do it not, for I can tell thee the reason; and I have kept it silent from thee this long while, not to cause thee annoy; but, now I perceive that others begin to be aware thereof, it skilleth not to hide it from thee longer. This betideth thee for none other what than that thou stinkest terribly at the mouth, and I know not what can be the cause thereof; for that it used not to be thus. Now this is a very unseemly thing for thee who hast to do with gentlemen, and needs must we see for a means of curing it.' Whereupon said he, 'What can this be? Can I have some rotten tooth in my head?' 'Maybe ay,' answered Lydia and carried him to a window, where she made him open his mouth, and after she had viewed it in every part, 'O Nicostratus,' cried she, 'how canst thou have put up with it so long? Thou hast a tooth on this side which meseemth is not only decayed, but altogether rotten, and assuredly, and thou keep it much longer in thy mouth, it will mar thee those which be on either side; wherefore I counsel thee have it drawn, ere the thing go farther.' 'Since it seemeth good to thee,' answered he, 'I will well; let a surgeon be sent for without more delay, who shall draw it for me.' 'God forbid,' rejoined the lady, 'that a surgeon come hither for that! Methinketh it lieth on such wise that I myself, without any surgeon, can very well draw it for thee; more by token that these same surgeons are so barbarous in doing such offices that my heart would on no account suffer me to see or know thee in the hands of any one of them; for, an it irk thee overmuch, I will at least loose thee incontinent, which a surgeon would not do.'

Accordingly, she let fetch the proper instruments and sent every one forth of the chamber, except only Lusca; after which, locking herself in, she made Nicostratus lie down on a table and thrusting the pincers into his mouth, what while the maid held him fast, she pulled out one of his teeth by main force, albeit he roared out lustily for the pain. Then, keeping to herself that which she had drawn, she brought out a frightfully decayed tooth she had ready in her hand and showed it to her husband, half dead as he was for pain, saying, 'See what thou hast had in thy mouth all this while.' Nicostratus believed what she said and now that the tooth was out, for all he had suffered the most grievous pain and made sore complaint thereof, him seemed he was cured; and presently, having comforted himself with one thing and another and the pain being abated, he went forth of the chamber; whereupon his wife took the tooth and straightway despatched it to her gallant, who, being now certified of her love, professed himself ready to do her every pleasure.

The lady, albeit every hour seemed to her a thousand till she should be with him, desiring to give him farther assurance and wishful to perform that which she had promised him, made a show one day of being ailing and being visited after dinner by Nicostratus, with no one in his company but Pyrrhus, she prayed them, by way of allaying her unease, to help her go into the garden. Accordingly, Nicostratus taking her on one side and Pyrrhus on the other, they carried her into the garden and set her down on a grassplot, at the foot of a fine pear-tree; where, after they had sat awhile, the lady, who had already given her gallant to know what he had to do, said, 'Pyrrhus, I have a great desire to eat of yonder pears; do thou climb up and throw us down some of them.' Pyrrhus straightway climbed up into the tree and fell to throwing down of the pears, which as he did, he began to say, 'How now, my lord! What is this you do? And you, madam, are you not ashamed to suffer it in my presence? Think you I am blind? But now you were sore disordered; how cometh it you have so quickly recovered that you do such things? An you have a mind unto this, you have store of goodly chambers; why go you not do it in one of these? It were more seemly than in my presence.'

The lady turned to her husband and said, 'What saith Pyrrhus? Doth he rave?' 'No, madam,' answered the young man, 'I rave not. Think you I cannot see?' As for Nicostratus, he marvelled sore and said, 'Verily, Pyrrhus, methinketh thou dreamest.' 'My lord,' replied Pyrrhus, 'I dream not a jot, neither do you dream; nay, you bestir yourselves on such wise that were this tree to do likewise, there would not be a pear left on it.' Quoth the lady, 'What may this be? Can it be that this he saith appeareth to him to be true? So God save me, and I were whole as I was aforetime, I would climb up into the tree, to see what marvels are those which this fellow saith he seeth.' Meanwhile Pyrrhus from the top of the pear-tree still said the same thing and kept up the pretence; whereupon Nicostratus bade him come down. Accordingly he came down and his master said to him, 'Now, what sayst thou thou sawest?' 'Methinketh,' answered he, 'you take me for a lackwit or a loggerhead. Since I must needs say it, I saw you a-top of your lady, and after, as I came down, I saw you arise and seat yourself where you presently are.' 'Assuredly,' said Nicostratus, 'thou dotest; for we have not stirred a jot, save as thou seest, since thou climbest up into the pear-tree.' Whereupon quoth Pyrrhus, 'What booteth it to make words of the matter? I certainly saw you; and if I did see you, it was a-top of your own.'

Nicostratus waxed momently more and more astonished, insomuch that he said, 'Needs must I see if this pear-tree is enchanted and if whoso is thereon seeth marvels.' Thereupon he climbed up into the tree and no sooner was he come to the top than the lady and Pyrrhus fell to solacing themselves together; which when Nicostratus saw, he began to cry out, saying, 'Ah, vile woman that thou art, what is this thou dost? And thou, Pyrrhus, in whom I most trusted?' So saying, he proceeded to descend the tree, whilst the lovers said, 'We are sitting here'; then, seeing him come down, they reseated themselves whereas he had left them. As soon as he was down and saw his wife and Pyrrhus where he had left them, he fell a-railing at them; whereupon quoth Pyrrhus, 'Now, verily, Nicostratus, I acknowledged that, as you said before, I must have seen falsely what while I was in the pear-tree, nor do I know it otherwise than by this, that I see and know yourself to have seen falsely in the like case. And that I speak the truth nought else should be needful to certify you but that you have regard to the circumstances of the case and consider if it be possible that your lady, who is the most virtuous of women and discreeter than any other of her sex, could, an she had a mind to outrage you on such wise, bring herself to do it before your very eyes. I speak not of myself, who would rather suffer myself to be torn limb-meal than so much as think of such a thing, much more come to do it in your presence. Wherefore the fault of this misseeing must needs proceed from the pear-tree, for that all the world had not made me believe but that you were in act to have carnal knowledge of your lady here, had I not heard you say that it appeared to yourself that I did what I know most certainly I never thought, much less did.'

Thereupon the lady, feigning to be mightily incensed, rose to her feet and said, 'Ill luck betide thee, dost thou hold me so little of wit that, an I had a mind to such filthy fashions as thou wouldst have us believe thou sawest, I should come to do them before thy very eyes? Thou mayst be assured of this that, if ever the fancy took me thereof, I should not come hither; marry, methinketh I should have sense enough to contrive it in one of our chambers, on such wise and after such a fashion that it would seem to me an extraordinary thing if ever thou camest to know of it.' Nicostratus, himseeming that what the lady and Pyrrhus said was true, to wit, that they would never have ventured upon such an act there before himself, gave over words and reproaches and fell to discoursing of the strangeness of the fact and the miracle of the sight, which was thus changed unto whoso climbed up into the pear-tree. But his wife, feigning herself chagrined for the ill thought he had shown of her, said, 'Verily, this pear-tree shall never again, if I can help it, do me nor any other lady the like of this shame; wherefore do thou run, Pyrrhus, and fetch a hatchet and at one stroke avenge both thyself and me by cutting it down; albeit it were better yet lay it about Nicostratus his cosard, who, without any consideration, suffered the eyes of his understanding to be so quickly blinded, whenas, however certain that which thou[355] saidst might seem to those[356] which thou hast in thy head, thou shouldst for nought in the world in the judgment of thy mind have believed or allowed that such a thing could be.'

Pyrrhus very readily fetched the hatchet and cut down the tree, which when the lady saw fallen, she said to Nicostratus, 'Since I see the enemy of mine honour overthrown, my anger is past,' and graciously forgave her husband, who besought her thereof, charging him that it should never again happen to him to presume such a thing of her, who loved him better than herself. Accordingly, the wretched husband, thus befooled, returned with her and her lover to the palace, where many a time thereafterward Pyrrhus took delight and pleasance more at ease of Lydia and she of him. God grant us as much!"

Footnotes

[354] Syn. encourager, helper, auxiliary (confortatore).

[355] This sudden change from the third to the second person, in speaking of Nicostratus, is a characteristic example of Boccaccio's constant abuse of the figure enallage in his dialogues.

[356] i.e. those eyes.
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