The Fifth Story

A Jealous Husband, In The Guise Of A Priest, Confesseth His Wife, Who Giveth Him To Believe That She Loveth A Priest, Who Cometh To Her Every Night; And Whilst The Husband Secretly Keepeth Watch At The Door For The Latter, The Lady Bringeth In A Lover Of Hers By The Roof And Lieth With Him

Lauretta having made an end of her story and all having commended the lady for that she had done aright and even as befitted her wretch of a husband, the king, to lose no time, turned to Fiammetta and courteously imposed on her the burden of the story-telling; whereupon she began thus, "Most noble ladies, the foregoing story moveth me to tell you, on like wise, of a jealous husband, accounting, as I do, all that their wives do unto such,—particularly whenas they are jealous without cause,—to be well done and holding that, if the makers of the laws had considered everything, they should have appointed none other penalty unto women who offend in this than that which they appoint unto whoso offendeth against other in self-defence; for that jealous men are plotters against the lives of young women and most diligent procurers of their deaths. Wives abide all the week mewed up at home, occupying themselves with domestic offices and the occasions of their families and households, and after they would fain, like every one else, have some solace and some rest on holidays and be at leisure to take some diversion even as do the tillers of the fields, the artisans of the towns and the administrators of the laws, according to the example of God himself, who rested from all His labours the seventh day, and to the intent of the laws, both human and Divine, which, looking to the honour of God and the common weal of all, have distinguished working days from those of repose. But to this jealous men will on no wise consent; nay, those days which are gladsome for all other women they make wretcheder and more doleful than the others to their wives, keeping them yet closelier straitened and confined; and what a misery and a languishment this is for the poor creatures those only know who have proved it. Wherefore, to conclude, I say that what a woman doth to a husband who is jealous without cause should certes not be condemned, but rather commended.

There was, then, in Arimino a merchant, very rich both in lands and monies, who, having to wife a very fair lady, became beyond measure jealous of her; nor had he other cause for this save that, as he loved her exceedingly and held her very fair and saw that she studied with all her might to please him, even so he imagined that every man loved her and that she appeared fair to all and eke that she studied to please others as she did himself, which was the reasoning of a man of nought and one of little sense. Being grown thus jealous, he kept such strict watch over her and held her in such constraint that belike many there be of those who are condemned to capital punishment who are less straitly guarded of their gaolers; for, far from being at liberty to go to weddings or entertainments or to church or indeed anywise to set foot without the house, she dared not even stand at the window nor look abroad on any occasion; wherefore her life was most wretched and she brooked this annoy with the more impatience as she felt herself the less to blame. Accordingly, seeing herself unjustly suspected of her husband, she determined, for her own solacement, to find a means (an she but might) of doing on such wise that he should have reason for his ill usage of her. And for that she might not station herself at the window and so had no opportunity of showing herself favourable to the suit of any one who might take note of her, as he passed along her street, and pay his court to her,—knowing that in the adjoining house there was a certain young man both handsome and agreeable,—she bethought herself to look if there were any hole in the wall that parted the two houses and therethrough to spy once and again till such time as she should see the youth aforesaid and find an occasion of speaking with him and bestowing on him her love, so he would accept thereof, purposing, if a means could be found, to foregather with him bytimes and on this wise while away her sorry life till such time as the demon [of jealousy] should take leave of her husband.

Accordingly, she went spying about the walls of the house, now in one part and now in another, whenas her husband was abroad, and happened at last upon a very privy place where the wall was somewhat opened by a fissure and looking therethrough, albeit she could ill discover what was on the other side, algates she perceived that the opening gave upon a bedchamber there and said in herself, 'Should this be the chamber of Filippo,' to wit, the youth her neighbour, 'I were half sped.' Then, causing secretly enquire of this by a maid of hers, who had pity upon her, she found that the young man did indeed sleep in that chamber all alone; wherefore, by dint of often visiting the crevice and dropping pebbles and such small matters, whenas she perceived him to be there, she wrought on such wise that he came to the opening, to see what was to do; whereupon she called to him softly. He, knowing her voice, answered her, and she, profiting by the occasion, discovered to him in brief all her mind; whereat the youth was mightily content and made shift to enlarge the hole from his side on such wise that none could perceive it; and therethrough they many a time bespoke one another and touched hands, but could go no farther, for the jealous vigilance of the husband.

After awhile, the Feast of the Nativity drawing near, the lady told her husband that, an it pleased him, she would fain go to church on Christmas morning and confess and take the sacrament, as other Christians did. Quoth he, 'And what sin hast thou committed that thou wouldst confess?' 'How?' answered the lady. 'Thinkest thou that I am a saint, because thou keepest me mewed up? Thou must know well enough that I commit sins like all others that live in this world; but I will not tell them to thee, for that thou art not a priest.' The jealous wretch took suspicion at these words and determined to seek to know what sins she had committed; wherefore, having bethought himself of a means whereby he might gain his end, he answered that he was content, but that he would have her go to no other church than their parish chapel and that thither she must go betimes in the morning and confess herself either to their chaplain or to such priest as the latter should appoint her and to none other and presently return home. Herseemed she half apprehended his meaning; but without saying otherwhat, she answered that she would do as he said.

Accordingly, Christmas Day come, the lady arose at daybreak and attiring herself, repaired to the church appointed her of her husband, who, on his part, betook himself to the same place and reached it before her. Having already taken order with the chaplain of that which he had a mind to do, he hastily donned one of the latter's gowns, with a great flapped cowl, such as we see priests wear, and drawing the hood a little over his face, seated himself in the choir. The lady, entering the chapel, enquired for the chaplain, who came and hearing from her that she would fain confess, said that he could not hear her, but would send her one of his brethren. Accordingly, going away, he sent her the jealous man, in an ill hour for the latter, who came up with a very grave air, and albeit the day was not over bright and he had drawn the cowl far over his eyes, knew not so well to disguise himself but he was readily recognized by the lady, who, seeing this, said in herself, 'Praised be God! From a jealous man he is turned priest; but no matter; I will e'en give him what he goeth seeking.'

Accordingly, feigning not to know him, she seated herself at his feet. My lord Jealousy had put some pebbles in his mouth, to impede his speech somewhat, so his wife might not know him by his voice, himseeming he was in every other particular so thoroughly disguised that he was nowise fearful of being recognized by her. To come to the confession, the lady told him, amongst other things, (having first declared herself to be married,) that she was enamoured of a priest, who came every night to lie with her. When the jealous man heard this, himseemed he had gotten a knife-thrust in the heart, and had not desire constrained him to know more, he had abandoned the confession and gone away. Standing fast, then, he asked the lady, 'How! Doth not your husband lie with you?' 'Ay doth he, sir,' replied she. 'How, then,' asked the jealous man, 'can the priest also lie with you?' 'Sir,' answered she, 'by what art he doth it I know not, but there is not a door in the house so fast locked but it openeth so soon as he toucheth it; and he telleth me that, whenas he cometh to the door of my chamber, before opening it, he pronounceth certain words, by virtue whereof my husband incontinent falleth asleep, and so soon as he perceiveth him to be fast, he openeth the door and cometh in and lieth with me; and this never faileth.' Quoth the mock priest, 'Madam, this is ill done, and it behoveth you altogether to refrain therefrom.' 'Sir,' answered the lady, 'methinketh I could never do that, for that I love him too well.' 'Then,' said the other, 'I cannot shrive you.' Quoth she, 'I am grieved for that; but I came not hither to tell you lies; an I thought I could do it, I would tell you so.' 'In truth, madam,' replied the husband, 'I am concerned for you, for that I see you lose your soul at this game; but, to do you service, I will well to take the pains of putting up my special orisons to God in your name, the which maybe shall profit you, and I will send you bytimes a little clerk of mine, to whom you shall say if they have profited you or not; and if they have profited you, we will proceed farther.' 'Sir,' answered the lady, 'whatever you do, send none to me at home, for, should my husband come to know of it, he is so terribly jealous that nothing in the world would get it out of his head that your messenger came hither for nought[352] but ill, and I should have no peace with him this year to come.' Quoth the other, 'Madam, have no fear of that, for I will certainly contrive it on such wise that you shall never hear a word of the matter from him.' Then said she, 'So but you can engage to do that, I am content.' Then, having made her confession and gotten her penance, she rose to her feet and went off to hear mass; whilst the jealous man, (ill luck go with him!) withdrew, bursting with rage, to put off his priest's habit, and returned home, impatient to find a means of surprising the priest with his wife, so he might play the one and the other an ill turn.

Presently the lady came back from church and saw plainly enough from her husband's looks that she had given him an ill Christmas; albeit he studied, as most he might, to conceal that which he had done and what himseemed he had learned. Then, being inwardly resolved to lie in wait near the street-door that night and watch for the priest's coming, he said to the lady, 'Needs must I sup and lie abroad to-night, wherefore look thou lock the street-door fast, as well as that of the midstair and that of thy chamber, and get thee to bed, whenas it seemeth good to thee.' The lady answered, 'It is well,' and betaking herself, as soon as she had leisure, to the hole in the wall, she made the wonted signal, which when Filippo heard, he came to her forthright. She told him how she had done that morning and what her husband had said to her after dinner and added, 'I am certain he will not leave the house, but will set himself to watch the door; wherefore do thou find means to come hither to me to-night by the roof, so we may lie together.' The young man was mightily rejoiced at this and answered, 'Madam, leave me do.'

Accordingly, the night come, the jealous man took his arms and hid himself by stealth in a room on the ground floor, whilst the lady, whenas it seemed to her time,—having caused lock all the doors and in particular that of the midstair, so he might not avail to come up,—summoned the young man, who came to her from his side by a very privy way. Thereupon they went to bed and gave themselves a good time, taking their pleasure one of the other till daybreak, when the young man returned to his own house. Meanwhile, the jealous man stood to his arms well nigh all night beside the street-door, sorry and supperless and dying of cold, and waited for the priest to come till near upon day, when, unable to watch any longer, he returned to the ground floor room and there fell asleep. Towards tierce he awoke and the street door being now open, he made a show of returning from otherwhere and went up into his house and dined. A little after, he sent a lad, as he were the priest's clerkling that had confessed her, to the lady to ask if she wot of were come thither again. She knew the messenger well enough and answered that he had not come thither that night and that if he did thus, he might haply pass out of her mind, albeit she wished it not. What more should I tell you? The jealous man abode on the watch night after night, looking to catch the priest at his entering in, and the lady still had a merry life with her lover the while.

At length the cuckold, able to contain himself no longer, asked his wife, with an angry air, what she had said to the priest the morning she had confessed herself to him. She answered that she would not tell him, for that it was neither a just thing nor a seemly; whereupon, 'Vile woman that thou art!' cried he. 'In despite of thee I know what thou saidst to him, and needs must I know the priest of whom thou art so mightily enamoured and who, by means of his conjurations, lieth with thee every night; else will I slit thy weasand.' She replied that it was not true that she was enamoured of any priest. 'How?' cried the husband, 'Saidst thou not thus and thus to the priest who confessed thee?' And she, 'Thou couldst not have reported it better, not to say if he had told it thee, but if thou hadst been present; ay, I did tell him this.' 'Then,' rejoined the jealous man, 'tell me who is this priest, and that quickly.'

The lady fell a-smiling and answered, 'It rejoiceth me mightily to see a wise man led by the nose by a woman, even as one leadeth a ram by the horns to the shambles, albeit thou art no longer wise nor hast been since the hour when, unknowing why, thou sufferedst the malignant spirit of jealousy to enter thy breast; and the sillier and more besotted thou art, so much the less is my glory thereof. Deemest thou, husband mine, I am as blind of the eyes of the body as thou of those of the mind? Certes, no; I perceived at first sight who was the priest that confessed me and know that thou wast he; but I had it at heart to give thee that which thou wentest seeking, and in sooth I have done it. Wert thou as wise as thou thinkest to be, thou wouldst not have essayed by this means to learn the secrets of thy good wife, but wouldst, without taking vain suspicion, have recognized that which she confessed to thee to be the very truth, without her having sinned in aught. I told thee that I loved a priest, and wast not thou, whom I am much to blame to love as I do, become a priest? I told thee that no door of my house could abide locked, whenas he had a mind to lie with me; and what door in the house was ever kept against thee, whenas thou wouldst come whereas I might be? I told thee that the priest lay with me every night, and when was it that thou layest not with me? And whenassoever thou sentest thy clerk to me, which was thou knowest, as often as thou layest from me, I sent thee word that the priest had not been with me. What other than a crack-brain like thee, who has suffered thyself to be blinded by thy jealousy, had failed to understand these things? Thou hast abidden in the house, keeping watch anights, and thoughtest to have given me to believe that thou wast gone abroad to sup and sleep. Bethink thee henceforth and become a man again, as thou wast won't to be; and make not thyself a laughing stock to whoso knoweth thy fashions, as do I, and leave this unconscionable watching that thou keepest; for I swear to God that, an the fancy took me to make thee wear the horns, I would engage, haddest thou an hundred eyes, as thou hast but two, to do my pleasure on such wise that thou shouldst not be ware thereof.'

The jealous wretch, who thought to have very adroitly surprised his wife's secrets, hearing this, avouched himself befooled and without answering otherwhat, held the lady for virtuous and discreet; and whenas it behoved him to be jealous, he altogether divested himself of his jealousy, even as he had put it on, what time he had no need thereof. Wherefore the discreet lady, being in a manner licensed to do her pleasures, thenceforward no longer caused her lover to come to her by the roof, as go the cats, but e'en brought him in at the door, and dealing advisedly, many a day thereafter gave herself a good time and led a merry life with him."


[352] Boccaccio writes carelessly "for aught" (altro), which makes nonsense of the passage.
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Decameron (Day The Seventy First) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Seventy First) Lyrics