The Eighth Story

A Man Waxeth Jealous Of His Wife, Who Bindeth A Piece Of Packthread To Her Great Toe Anights, So She May Have Notice Of Her Lover's Coming. One Night Her Husband Becometh Aware Of This Device And What While He Pursueth The Lover, The Lady Putteth Another Woman To Bed In Her Room. This Latter The Husband Beateth And Cutteth Off Her Hair, Then Fetcheth His Wife's Brothers, Who, Finding His Story [Seemingly] Untrue, Give Him Hard Words

It seemed to them all that Madam Beatrice had been extraordinarily ingenious in cozening her husband and all agreed that Anichino's fright must have been very great, whenas, being the while held fast by the lady, he heard her say that he had required her of love. But the king, seeing Filomena silent, turned to Neifile and said to her, "Do you tell"; whereupon she, smiling first a little, began, "Fair ladies, I have a hard task before me if I desire to pleasure you with a goodly story, as those of you have done, who have already told; but, with God's aid, I trust to discharge myself thereof well enough.

You must know, then, that there was once in our city a very rich merchant called Arriguccio Berlinghieri, who, foolishly thinking, as merchants yet do every day, to ennoble himself by marriage, took to wife a young gentlewoman ill sorting with himself, by name Madam Sismonda, who, for that he, merchant-like, was much abroad and sojourned little with her, fell in love with a young man called Ruberto, who had long courted her, and clapped up a lover's privacy with him. Using belike over-little discretion in her dealings with her lover, for that they were supremely delightsome to her, it chanced that, whether Arriguccio scented aught of the matter or how else soever it happened, the latter became the most jealous man alive and leaving be his going about and all his other concerns, applied himself well nigh altogether to the keeping good watch over his wife; nor would he ever fall asleep, except he first felt her come into the bed; by reason whereof the lady suffered the utmost chagrin, for that on no wise might she avail to be with her Ruberto.

However, after pondering many devices for finding a means to foregather with him and being to boot continually solicited thereof by him, it presently occurred to her to do on this wise; to wit, having many a time observed that Arriguccio tarried long to fall asleep, but after slept very soundly, she determined to cause Ruberto come about midnight to the door of the house and to go open to him and abide with him what while her husband slept fast. And that she might know when he should be come, she bethought herself to hang a twine out of the window of her bedchamber, which looked upon the street, on such wise that none might perceive it, one end whereof should well nigh reach the ground, whilst she carried the other end along the floor of the room to the bed and hid it under the clothes, meaning to make it fast to her great toe, whenas she should be abed. Accordingly, she sent to acquaint Ruberto with this and charged him, when he came, to pull the twine, whereupon, if her husband slept, she would let it go and come to open to him; but, if he slept not, she would hold it fast and draw it to herself, so he should not wait. The device pleased Ruberto and going thither frequently, he was whiles able to foregather with her and whiles not.

On this wise they continued to do till, one night, the lady being asleep, it chanced that her husband stretched out his foot in bed and felt the twine, whereupon he put his hand to it and finding it made fast to his wife's toe, said in himself, 'This should be some trick'; and presently perceiving that the twine led out of window, he held it for certain. Accordingly, he cut it softly from the lady's toe and making it fast to his own, abode on the watch to see what this might mean. He had not waited long before up came Ruberto and pulled at the twine, as of his won't; whereupon Arriguccio started up; but, he not having made the twine well fast to his toe and Ruberto pulling hard, it came loose in the latter's hand, whereby he understood that he was to wait and did so. As for Arriguccio, he arose in haste and taking his arms, ran to the door, to see who this might be and do him a mischief, for, albeit a merchant, he was a stout fellow and a strong. When he came to the door, he opened it not softly as the lady was used to do, which when Ruberto, who was await, observed, he guessed how the case stood, to wit, that it was Arriguccio who opened the door, and accordingly made off in haste and the other after him. At last, having fled a great way and Arriguccio stinting not from following him, Ruberto, being also armed, drew his sword and turned upon his pursuer, whereupon they fell to blows, the one attacking and the other defending himself.

Meanwhile, the lady, awaking, as Arriguccio opened the chamber-door, and finding the twine cut from her toe, knew incontinent that her device was discovered, whereupon, perceiving that her husband had run after her lover, she arose in haste and foreseeing what might happen, called her maid, who knew all, and conjured her to such purpose that she prevailed with her to take her own place in the bed, beseeching her patiently to endure, without discovering herself, whatsoever buffets Arriguccio might deal her, for that she would requite her therefor on such wise that she should have no cause to complain; after which she did out the light that burnt in the chamber and going forth thereof, hid herself in another part of the house and there began to await what should betide.

Meanwhile, the people of the quarter, aroused by the noise of the affray between Arriguccio and Ruberto, arose and fell a-railing at them; whereupon the husband, fearing to be known, let the youth go, without having availed to learn who he was or to do him any hurt, and returned to his house, full of rage and despite. There, coming into the chamber, he cried out angrily, saying, 'Where art thou, vile woman? Thou hast done out the light, so I may not find thee; but thou art mistaken.' Then, coming to the bedside, he seized upon the maid, thinking to take his wife, and laid on to her so lustily with cuffs and kicks, as long as he could wag his hands and feet, that he bruised all her face, ending by cutting off her hair, still giving her the while the hardest words that were ever said to worthless woman. The maid wept sore, as indeed she had good cause to do, and albeit she said whiles, 'Alas, mercy, for God's sake!' and 'Oh, no more!' her voice was so broken with sobs and Arriguccio was so hindered with his rage that he never discerned it to be that of another woman than his wife.

Having, then, as we have said, beaten her to good purpose and cut off her hair, he said to her, 'Wicked woman that thou art, I mean not to touch thee otherwise, but shall now go fetch thy brothers and acquaint them with thy fine doings and after bid them come for thee and deal with thee as they shall deem may do them honour and carry thee away; for assuredly in this house thou shalt abide no longer.' So saying, he departed the chamber and locking the door from without, went away all alone. As soon as Madam Sismonda, who had heard all, was certified of her husband's departure, she opened the door and rekindling the light, found her maid all bruised and weeping sore; whereupon she comforted her as best she might and carried her back to her own chamber, where she after caused privily tend her and care for her and so rewarded her of Arriguccio's own monies that she avouched herself content. No sooner had she done this than she hastened to make the bed in her own chamber and all restablished it and set it in such order as if none had lain there that night; after which she dressed and tired herself, as if she had not yet gone to bed; then, lighting a lamp, she took her clothes and seated herself at the stairhead, where she proceeded to sew and await the issue of the affair.

Meanwhile Arriguccio betook himself in all haste to the house of his wife's brothers and there knocked so long and so loudly that he was heard and it was opened to him. The lady's three brothers and her mother, hearing that it was Arriguccio, rose all and letting kindle lights, came to him and asked what he went seeking at that hour and alone. Whereupon, beginning from the twine he had found tied to wife's toe, he recounted to them all that he had discovered and done, and to give them entire proof of the truth of his story, he put into their hands the hair he thought to have cut from his wife's head, ending by requiring them to come for her and do with her that which they should judge pertinent to their honour, for that he meant to keep her no longer in his house. The lady's brothers, hearing this and holding it for certain, were sore incensed against her and letting kindle torches, set out to accompany Arriguccio to his house, meaning to do her a mischief; which their mother seeing, she followed after them, weeping and entreating now the one, now the other not to be in such haste to believe these things of their sister, without seeing or knowing more of the matter, for that her husband might have been angered with her for some other cause and have maltreated her and might now allege this in his own excuse, adding that she marvelled exceedingly how this [whereof he accused her] could have happened, for that she knew her daughter well, as having reared her from a little child, with many other words to the like purpose.

When they came to Arriguccio's house, they entered and proceeded to mount the stair, whereupon Madam Sismonda, hearing them come, said, 'Who is there?' To which one of her brothers answered, 'Thou shalt soon know who it is, vile woman that thou art!' 'God aid us!' cried she. 'What meaneth this?' Then, rising to her feet, 'Brothers mine,' quoth she, 'you are welcome; but what go you all three seeking at this hour?' The brothers,—seeing her seated sewing, with no sign of beating on her face, whereas Arriguccio avouched that he had beaten her to a mummy,—began to marvel and curbing the violence of their anger, demanded of her how that had been whereof Arriguccio accused her, threatening her sore, and she told them not all. Quoth she, 'I know not what you would have me say nor of what Arriguccio can have complained to you of me.' Arriguccio, seeing her thus, eyed her as if he had lost his wits, remembering that he had dealt her belike a thousand buffets on the face and scratched her and done her all the ill in the world, and now he beheld her as if nothing of all this had been.

Her brothers told her briefly what they had heard from Arriguccio, twine and beating and all, whereupon she turned to him and said, 'Alack, husband mine, what is this I hear? Why wilt thou make me pass, to thine own great shame, for an ill woman, where as I am none, and thyself for a cruel and wicked man, which thou art not? When wast thou in this house to-night till now, let alone with me? When didst thou beat me? For my part, I have no remembrance of it.' 'How, vile woman that thou art!' cried he. 'Did we not go to bed together here? Did I not return hither, after running after thy lover? Did I not deal thee a thousand buffets and cut off thy hair?' 'Thou wentest not to bed in this house to-night,' replied Sismonda. 'But let that pass, for I can give no proof thereof other than mine own true words, and let us come to that which thou sayest, to wit, that thou didst beat me and cut off my hair. Me thou hast never beaten, and do all who are here and thou thyself take note of me, if I have any mark of beating in any part of my person. Indeed, I should not counsel thee make so bold as to lay a hand on me, for, by Christ His Cross, I would mar thy face for thee! Neither didst thou cut off my hair, for aught that I felt or saw; but haply thou didst it on such wise that I perceived it not; let me see if I have it shorn or no.' Then, putting off her veil from her head, she showed that she had her hair unshorn and whole.

Her mother and brothers, seeing and hearing all this, turned upon her husband and said to him, 'What meanest thou, Arriguccio? This is not that so far which thou camest to tell us thou hadst done, and we know not how thou wilt make good the rest.' Arriguccio stood as one in a trance and would have spoken; but, seeing that it was not as he thought he could show, he dared say nothing; whereupon the lady, turning to her brothers, said to them, 'Brothers mine, I see he hath gone seeking to have me do what I have never yet chosen to do, to wit, that I should acquaint you with his lewdness and his vile fashions, and I will do it. I firmly believe that this he hath told you hath verily befallen him and that he hath done as he saith; and you shall hear how. This worthy man, to whom in an ill hour for me you gave me to wife, who calleth himself a merchant and would be thought a man of credit, this fellow, forsooth, who should be more temperate than a monk and chaster than a maid, there be few nights but he goeth fuddling himself about the taverns, foregathering now with this lewd woman and now with that and keeping me waiting for him, on such wise as you find me, half the night and whiles even till morning. I doubt not but that, having well drunken, he went to bed with some trull of his and waking, found the twine on her foot and after did all these his fine feats whereof he telleth, winding up by returning to her and beating her and cutting off her hair; and not being yet well come to himself, he fancied (and I doubt not yet fancieth) that he did all this to me; and if you look him well in the face, you will see he is yet half fuddled. Algates, whatsoever he may have said of me, I will not have you take it to yourselves except as a drunken man's talk, and since I forgive him, do you also pardon him.'

Her mother, hearing this, began to make an outcry and say, 'By Christ His Cross, daughter mine, it shall not pass thus! Nay, he should rather be slain for a thankless, ill-conditioned dog, who was never worthy to have a girl of thy fashion to wife. Marry, a fine thing, forsooth! He could have used thee no worse, had he picked thee up out of the dirt! Devil take him if thou shalt abide at the mercy of the spite of a paltry little merchant of asses' dung! They come to us out of their pigstyes in the country, clad in homespun frieze, with their bag-breeches and pen in arse, and as soon as they have gotten a leash of groats, they must e'en have the daughters of gentlemen and right ladies to wife and bear arms and say, "I am of such a family" and "Those of my house did thus and thus." Would God my sons had followed my counsel in the matter, for that they might have stablished thee so worshipfully in the family of the Counts Guidi, with a crust of bread to thy dowry! But they must needs give thee to this fine jewel of fellow, who, whereas thou art the best girl in Florence and the modestest, is not ashamed to knock us up in the middle of the night, to tell us that thou art a strumpet, as if we knew thee not. But, by God His faith, an they would be ruled by me, he should get such a trouncing therefor that he should stink for it!' Then, turning to the lady's brothers, 'My sons,' said she, 'I told you this could not be. Have you heard how your fine brother-in-law here entreateth your sister? Four-farthing[353] huckster that he is! Were I in your shoes, he having said what he hath of her and doing that which he doth, I would never hold myself content nor appeased till I had rid the earth of him; and were I a man, as I am a woman, I would trouble none other than myself to despatch his business. Confound him for a sorry drunken beast, that hath no shame!'

The young men, seeing and hearing all this, turned upon Arriguccio and gave him the soundest rating ever losel got; and ultimately they said to him. 'We pardon thee this as to a drunken man; but, as thou tenderest thy life, look henceforward we hear no more news of this kind, for, if aught of the like come ever again to our ears, we will pay thee at once for this and for that.' So saying, they went their ways, leaving Arriguccio all aghast, as it were he had taken leave of his wits, unknowing in himself whether that which he had done had really been or whether he had dreamed it; wherefore he made no more words thereof, but left his wife in peace. Thus the lady, by her ready wit, not only escaped the imminent peril [that threatened her,] but opened herself a way to do her every pleasure in time to come, without evermore having any fear of her husband."


[353] Or, in modern parlance, "twopennny-halfpenny."
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