The Second Story

Peronella Hideth A Lover Of Hers In A Vat, Upon Her Husband's Unlooked For Return, And Hearing From The Latter That He Hath Sold The Vat, Avoucheth Herself To Have Sold It To One Who Is Presently Therewithin, To See If It Be Sound; Whereupon The Gallant, Jumping Out Of The Vat, Causeth The Husband Scrape It Out For Him And After Carry It Home To His House

Emilia's story was received with loud laughter and the conjuration commended of all as goodly and excellent; and this come to an end, the king bade Filostrato follow on, who accordingly began, "Dearest ladies, so many are the tricks that men, and particularly husbands, play you, that, if some woman chance whiles to put a cheat upon her husband, you should not only be blithe that this hath happened and take pleasure in coming to know it or hearing it told of any, but should yourselves go telling it everywhere, so men may understand that, if they are knowing, women, on their part, are no less so! the which cannot be other than useful unto you, for that, when one knoweth that another is on the alert, he setteth himself not overlightly to cozen him. Who, then, can doubt but that which we shall say to-day concerning this matter, coming to be known of men, may be exceeding effectual in restraining them from cozening you ladies, whenas they find that you likewise know how to cozen, an you will? I purpose, therefore, to tell you the trick which, on the spur of the moment, a young woman, albeit she was of mean condition, played her husband for her own preservation.

In Naples no great while agone there was a poor man who took to wife a fair and lovesome damsel called Peronella, and albeit he with his craft, which was that of a mason, and she by spinning, earned but a slender pittance, they ordered their life as best they might. It chanced one day that a young gallant of the neighbourhood saw this Peronella and she pleasing him mightily, he fell in love with her and importuned her one way and another till he became familiar with her and they took order with each other on this wise, so they might be together; to wit, seeing that her husband arose every morning betimes to go to work or to find work, they agreed that the young man should be whereas he might see him go out, and that, as soon as he was gone,—the street where she abode, which was called Avorio, being very solitary,—he should come to her house. On this wise they did many times; but one morning, the good man having gone out and Giannello Strignario (for so was the lover named) having entered the house and being with Peronella, it chanced that, after awhile, the husband returned home, whereas it was his won't to be abroad all day, and finding the door locked within, knocked and after fell a-saying in himself, 'O my God, praised be Thou ever! For, though Thou hast made me poor, at least Thou hast comforted me with a good and honest damsel to wife. See how she locked the door within as soon as I was gone out, so none might enter to do her any annoy.'

Peronella, knowing her husband by his way of knocking, said to her lover, 'Alack, Giannello mine, I am a dead woman! For here is my husband, whom God confound, come back and I know not what this meaneth, for never yet came he back hither at this hour; belike he saw thee whenas thou enteredst here. But, for the love of God, however the case may be, get thee into yonder vat, whilst I go open to him, and we shall see what is the meaning of his returning home so early this morning.' Accordingly, Giannello betook himself in all haste into the vat, whilst Peronella, going to the door, opened to her husband and said to him, with an angry air, 'What is to do now, that thou returnest home so soon this morning? Meseemeth thou hast a mind to do nought to-day, that I see thee come back, tools in hand; and if thou do thus, on what are we to live? Whence shall we get bread? Thinkest thou I will suffer thee pawn my gown and my other poor clothes? I, who do nothing but spin day and night, till the flesh is come apart from my nails, so I may at the least have so much oil as will keep our lamp burning! Husband, husband, there is not a neighbour's wife of ours but marvelleth thereat and maketh mock of me for the pains I give myself and all that I endure; and thou, thou returnest home to me, with thy hands a-dangle, whenas thou shouldst be at work.'

So saying, she fell a-weeping and went on to say, 'Alack, woe is me, unhappy woman that I am! In what an ill hour was I born, at what an ill moment did I come hither! I who might have had a young man of such worth and would none of him, so I might come to this fellow here, who taketh no thought to her whom he hath brought home! Other women give themselves a good time with their lovers, for there is none [I know] but hath two and some three, and they enjoy themselves and show their husbands the moon for the sun. But I, wretch that I am! because I am good and occupy myself not with such toys, I suffer ill and ill hap. I know not why I do not take me a lover, as do other women. Understand well, husband mine, that had I a mind to do ill, I could soon enough find the wherewithal, for there be store of brisk young fellows who love me and wish me well and have sent to me, proffering money galore or dresses and jewels, at my choice; but my heart would never suffer me to do it, for that I was no mother's daughter of that ilk; and here thou comest home to me, whenas thou shouldst be at work.'

'Good lack, wife,' answered the husband, 'fret not thyself, for God's sake; thou shouldst be assured that I know what manner of woman thou art, and indeed this morning I have in part had proof thereof. It is true that I went out to go to work; but it seemeth thou knowest not, as I myself knew not, that this is the Feast-day of San Galeone and there is no work doing; that is why I am come back at this hour; but none the less I have provided and found a means how we shall have bread for more than a month, for I have sold yonder man thou seest here with me the vat which, as thou knowest, hath this long while cumbered the house; and he is to give me five lily-florins[344] for it.' Quoth Peronella, 'So much the more cause have I to complain; thou, who art a man and goest about and should be versed in the things of the world, thou hast sold a vat for five florins, whilst I, a poor silly woman who hath scarce ever been without the door, seeing the hindrance it gave us in the house, have sold it for seven to an honest man, who entered it but now, as thou camest back, to see if it were sound!' When the husband heard this, he was more than satisfied and said to him who had come for the vat, 'Good man, begone in peace; for thou hearest that my wife hath sold the vat for seven florins, whereas thou wast to give me but five for it.' 'Good,' replied the other and went his way; whereupon quoth Peronella to her husband, 'Since thou art here, come up and settle with him thyself.' Giannello, who abode with his ears pricked up to hear if it behoved him fear or be on his guard against aught, hearing his mistress's words, straightway scrambled out of the vat and cried out, as if he had heard nothing of the husband's return, 'Where art thou, good wife?' whereupon the goodman, coming up, answered, 'Here am I; what wouldst thou have?' 'Who art thou?' asked Giannello. 'I want the woman with whom I made the bargain for this vat.' Quoth the other, 'You may deal with me in all assurance, for I am her husband.' Then said Giannello, 'The vat appeareth to me sound enough; but meseemeth you have kept dregs or the like therein, for it is all overcrusted with I know not what that is so hard and dry that I cannot remove aught thereof with my nails; wherefore I will not take it, except I first see it clean.' 'Nay,' answered Peronella, 'the bargain shall not fall through for that; my husband will clean it all out.' 'Ay will I,' rejoined the latter, and laying down his tools, put off his coat; then, calling for a light and a scraper, he entered the vat and fell to scraping. Peronella, as if she had a mind to see what he did, thrust her head and one of her arms, shoulder and all, in at the mouth of the vat, which was not overbig, and fell to saying, 'Scrape here' and 'There' and 'There also' and 'See, here is a little left.'

Whilst she was thus engaged in directing her husband and showing him where to scrape, Giannello, who had scarce yet that morning done his full desire, when they were interrupted by the mason's coming, seeing that he could not as he would, bethought himself to accomplish it as he might; wherefore, boarding her, as she held the mouth of the vat all closed up, on such wise as in the ample plains the unbridled stallions, afire with love, assail the mares of Parthia, he satisfied his juvenile ardour, the which enterprise was brought to perfection well nigh at the same moment as the scraping of the vat; whereupon he dismounted and Peronella withdrawing her head from the mouth of the vat, the husband came forth thereof. Then said she to her gallant, 'Take this light, good man, and look if it be clean to thy mind.' Giannello looked in and said that it was well and that he was satisfied and giving the husband seven florins, caused carry the vat to his own house."

Footnotes

[344] So called from the figure of a lily stamped on the coin; cf. our rose-nobles.
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