The Second Story

The Parish Priest Of Varlungo Lieth With Mistress Belcolore And Leaveth Her A Cloak Of His In Pledge; Then, Borrowing A Mortar Of Her, He Sendeth It Back To Her, Demanding In Return The Cloak Left By Way Of Token, Which The Good Woman Grudgingly Giveth Him Back

Men and ladies alike commended that which Gulfardo had done to the sordid Milanese lady, and the queen, turning to Pamfilo, smilingly charged him follow on; whereupon quoth he, "Fair ladies, it occurreth to me to tell you a little story against those who continually offend against us, without being open to retaliation on our part, to wit, the clergy, who have proclaimed a crusade against our wives and who, whenas they avail to get one of the latter under them, conceive themselves to have gained forgiveness of fault and pardon of penalty no otherwise than as they had brought the Soldan bound from Alexandria to Avignon.[365] Whereof the wretched laymen cannot return them the like, albeit they wreak their ire upon the priests' mothers and sisters, doxies and daughters, assailing them with no less ardour than the former do their wives. Wherefore I purpose to recount to you a village love-affair, more laughable for its conclusion than long in words, wherefrom you may yet gather, by way of fruit, that priests are not always to be believed in everything.

You must know, then, that there was once at Varlungo,—a village very near here, as each of you ladies either knoweth or may have heard,—a worthy priest and a lusty of his person in the service of the ladies, who, albeit he knew not overwell how to read, natheless regaled his parishioners with store of good and pious saws at the elmfoot on Sundays and visited their women, whenas they went abroad anywhither, more diligently than any priest who had been there aforetime, carrying them fairings and holy water and a stray candle-end or so, whiles even to their houses. Now it chanced that, among other his she-parishioners who were most to his liking, one pleased him over all, by name Mistress Belcolore, the wife of a husbandman who styled himself Bentivegna del Mazzo, a jolly, buxom country wench, brown-favoured and tight-made, as apt at turning the mill[366] as any woman alive. Moreover, it was she who knew how to play the tabret and sing 'The water runneth to the ravine' and lead up the haye and the round, when need was, with a fine muckender in her hand and a quaint, better than any woman of her neighbourhood; by reason of which things my lord priest became so sore enamoured of her that he was like to lose his wits therefor and would prowl about all day long to get a sight of her. Whenas he espied her in church of a Sunday morning, he would say a Kyrie and a Sanctus, studying to show himself a past master in descant, that it seemed as it were an ass a-braying; whereas, when he saw her not there, he passed that part of the service over lightly enough. But yet he made shift to do on such wise that neither Bentivegna nor any of his neighbours suspected aught; and the better to gain Mistress Belcolore's goodwill, he made her presents from time to time, sending her whiles a clove of garlic, which he had the finest of all the countryside in a garden he tilled with his own hands, and otherwhiles a punnet of peascods or a bunch of chives or scallions, and whenas he saw his opportunity, he would ogle her askance and cast a friendly gibe at her; but she, putting on the prude, made a show of not observing it and passed on with a demure air; wherefore my lord priest could not come by his will of her.

It chanced one day that as he sauntered about the quarter on the stroke of noon, he encountered Bentivegna del Mazzo, driving an ass laden with gear, and accosting him, asked whither he went. 'Faith, sir,' answered the husbandman, 'to tell you the truth, I am going to town about a business of mine and am carrying these things to Squire Bonaccorri da Ginestreto, so he may help me in I know not what whereof the police-court judge hath summoned me by his proctor for a peremptory attendance.' The priest was rejoiced to hear this and said, 'Thou dost well, my son; go now with my benison and return speedily; and shouldst thou chance to see Lapuccio or Naldino, forget not to bid them bring me those straps they wot of for my flails.' Bentivegna answered that it should be done and went his way towards Florence, whereupon the priest bethought himself that now was his time to go try his luck with Belcolore. Accordingly, he let not the grass grow under his feet, but set off forthright and stayed not till he came to her house and entering in, said, 'God send us all well! Who is within there?' Belcolore, who was gone up into the hay-loft, hearing him, said, 'Marry, sir, you are welcome; but what do you gadding it abroad in this heat?' 'So God give me good luck,' answered he, 'I came to abide with thee awhile, for that I met thy man going to town.'

Belcolore came down and taking a seat, fell to picking over cabbage-seed which her husband had threshed out a while before; whereupon quoth the priest to her, 'Well, Belcolore, wilt thou still cause me die for thee on this wise?' She laughed and answered, 'What is it I do to you?' Quoth he, 'Thou dost nought to me, but thou sufferest me not do to thee that which I would fain do and which God commandeth.' 'Alack!' cried Belcolore, 'Go to, go to. Do priests do such things?' 'Ay do we,' replied he, 'as well as other men; and why not? And I tell thee more, we do far and away better work and knowest thou why? Because we grind with a full head of water. But in good sooth it shall be shrewdly to thy profit, an thou wilt but abide quiet and let me do.' 'And what might this "shrewdly to my profit" be?' asked she. 'For all you priests are stingier than the devil.' Quoth he, 'I know not; ask thou. Wilt have a pair of shoes or a head-lace or a fine stammel waistband or what thou wilt?' 'Pshaw!' cried Belcolore. 'I have enough and to spare of such things; but an you wish me so well, why do you not render me a service, and I will do what you will?' Quoth the priest, 'Say what thou wilt have of me, and I will do it willingly.' Then said she, 'Needs must I go to Florence, come Saturday, to carry back the wool I have spun and get my spinning-wheel mended; and an you will lend me five crowns, which I know you have by you, I can take my watchet gown out of pawn and my Sunday girdle[367] that I brought my husband, for you see I cannot go to church nor to any decent place, because I have them not; and after I will still do what you would have me.' 'So God give me a good year,' replied the priest, 'I have them not about me; but believe me, ere Saturday come, I will contrive that thou shalt have them, and that very willingly.' 'Ay,' said Belcolore, 'you are all like this, great promisers, and after perform nothing to any. Think you to do with me as you did with Biliuzza, who went off with the ghittern-player?[368] Cock's faith, then, you shall not, for that she is turned a common drab only for that. If you have them not about you, go for them.' 'Alack,' cried the priest, 'put me not upon going all the way home. Thou seest that I have the luck just now to find thee alone, but maybe, when I return, there will be some one or other here to hinder us; and I know not when I shall find so good an opportunity again.' Quoth she, 'It is well; an you choose to go, go; if not, go without.'

The priest, seeing that she was not in the humour to do his pleasure without a salvum me fac, whereas he would fain have done it sine custodiâ, said, 'Harkye, thou believest not that I will bring thee the money; but, so thou mayst credit me, I will leave thee this my blue-cloth cloak.' Belcolore raised her eyes and said, 'Eh what! That cloak? What is it worth?' 'Worth?' answered the priest. 'I would have thee know that it is cloth of Douay, nay, Threeay, and there be some of our folk here who hold it for Fouray.[369] It is scarce a fortnight since it cost me seven crowns of hard money to Lotto the broker, and according to what Buglietto telleth me (and thou knowest he is a judge of this kind of cloth), I had it good five shillings overcheap.' 'Indeed!' quoth Belcolore. 'So God be mine aid, I had never thought it. But give it me first of all.' My lord priest, who had his arbalest ready cocked, pulled off the cloak and gave it her; and she, after she had laid it up, said, 'Come, sir, let us go into the barn, for no one ever cometh there.' And so they did. There the priest gave her the heartiest busses in the world and making her sib to God Almighty,[370] solaced himself with her a great while; after which he took leave of her and returned to the parsonage in his cassock, as it were he came from officiating at a wedding.

There, bethinking himself that all the candle-ends he got by way of offertory in all the year were not worth the half of five crowns, himseemed he had done ill and repenting him of having left the cloak, he fell to considering how he might have it again without cost. Being shrewd enough in a small way, he soon hit upon a device and it succeeded to his wish; for that on the morrow, it being a holiday, he sent a neighbour's lad of his to Mistress Belcolore's house, with a message praying her be pleased to lend him her stone mortar, for that Binguccio dal Poggio and Nuto Buglietti were to dine with him that morning and he had a mind to make sauce. She sent it to him and towards dinner-time, the priest, having spied out when Bentivegna and his wife were at meat together, called his clerk and said to him, 'Carry this mortar back to Belcolore and say to her, 'His reverence biddeth you gramercy and prayeth you send him back the cloak that the boy left you by way of token.' The clerk accordingly repaired to her house and there, finding her at table with Bentivegna, set down the mortar and did the priest's errand. Belcolore, hearing require the cloak again, would have answered; but he husband said, with an angry air, 'Takest thou a pledge of his reverence? I vow to Christ, I have a mind to give thee a good clout over the head! Go, give it quickly back to him, pox take thee! And in future, let him ask what he will of ours, (ay, though he should seek our ass,) look that it be not denied him.' Belcolore rose, grumbling, and pulling the cloak out of the chest, gave it to the clerk, saying, 'Tell her reverence from me, Belcolore saith, she voweth to God you shall never again pound sauce in her mortar; you have done her no such fine honour of this bout.'

The clerk made off with the cloak and did her message to the priest, who said, laughing, 'Tell her, when thou seest her, that, an she will not lend me her mortar, I will not lend her my pestle; and so we shall be quits.' Bentivegna concluded that his wife had said this, because he had chidden her, and took no heed thereof; but Belcolore bore the priest a grudge and held him at arm's length till vintage-time; when, he having threatened to cause her go into the mouth of Lucifer the great devil, for very fear she made her peace with him over must and roast chestnuts and they after made merry together time and again. In lieu of the five crowns, the priest let put new parchment to her tabret and string thereto a cast of hawk's bells, and with this she was fain to be content."


[365] Where the papal court then was. See p. 257, note.

[366] Or, as La Fontaine would say, "aussi bien faite pour armer un lit."

[367] Or apron.

[368] Se n'andò col ceteratojo; a proverbial expression of similar meaning to our "was whistled down the wind," i.e. was lightly dismissed without provision, like a cast-off hawk.

[369] A play of words upon the Italian equivalent of the French word Douay (Duagio, i.e. Twoay, Treagio, Quattragio) invented by the roguish priest to impose upon the simple goodwife.

[370] Or in modern parlance, "making her a connection by marriage of etc.," Boccaccio feigning priests to be members of the Holy Family, by virtue of their office.
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Decameron (Day The Seventy Ninth) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Seventy Ninth) Lyrics