The Third Story

Fra Rinaldo Lieth With His Gossip And Being Found Of Her Husband Closeted With Her In Her Chamber, They Give Him To Believe That He Was In Act To Conjure Worms From His Godson

Filostrato had not known to speak so obscurely of the mares of Parthia but that the roguish ladies laughed thereat, making believe to laugh at otherwhat. But, when the king saw that his story was ended, he bade Elisa tell, who accordingly, with obedient readiness, began, "Charming ladies, Emilia's conjuration of the phantom hath brought to my memory the story of another conjuration, which latter, though it be not so goodly as hers, nevertheless, for that none other bearing upon our subject occurreth to me at this present, I will proceed to relate.

You must know that there was once in Siena a very agreeable young man and of a worshipful family, by name Rinaldo, who was passionately enamored of a very beautiful lady, a neighbour of his and the wife of a rich man, and flattered himself that, could he but find means to speak with her unsuspected, he might avail to have of her all that he should desire. Seeing none other way and the lady being great with child, he bethought himself to become her gossip and accordingly, clapping up an acquaintance with her husband, he offered him, on such wise as appeared to him most seemly, to be godfather to his child. His offer was accepted and he being now become Madam Agnesa's gossip and having a somewhat more colourable excuse for speaking with her, he took courage and gave her in so many words to know that of his intent which she had indeed long before gathered from his looks; but little did this profit him, although the lady was nothing displeased to have heard him.

Not long after, whatever might have been the reason, it came to pass that Rinaldo turned friar and whether or not he found the pasturage to his liking, he persevered in that way of life; and albeit, in the days of his becoming a monk, he had for awhile laid on one side the love he bore his gossip, together with sundry other vanities of his, yet, in process of time, without quitting the monk's habit, he resumed them[345] and began to delight in making a show and wearing fine stuffs and being dainty and elegant in all his fashions and making canzonets and sonnets and ballads and in singing and all manner other things of the like sort. But what say I of our Fra Rinaldo, of whom we speak? What monks are there that do not thus? Alack, shame that they are of the corrupt world, they blush not to appear fat and ruddy in the face, dainty in their garb and in all that pertaineth unto them, and strut along, not like doves, but like very turkey-cocks, with crest erect and breast puffed out; and what is worse (to say nothing of having their cells full of gallipots crammed with electuaries and unguents, of boxes full of various confections, of phials and flagons of distilled waters and oils, of pitchers brimming with Malmsey and Cyprus and other wines of price, insomuch that they seem to the beholder not friars' cells, but rather apothecaries' or perfumers' shops) they think no shame that folk should know them to be gouty, conceiving that others see not nor know that strict fasting, coarse viands and spare and sober living make men lean and slender and for the most part sound of body, and that if indeed some sicken thereof, at least they sicken not of the gout, whereto it is used to give, for medicine, chastity and everything else that pertaineth to the natural way of living of an honest friar. Yet they persuade themselves that others know not that,—let alone the scant and sober living,—long vigils, praying and discipline should make men pale and mortified and that neither St. Dominic nor St. Francis, far from having four gowns for one, clad themselves in cloth dyed in grain nor in other fine stuffs, but in garments of coarse wool and undyed, to keep out the cold and not to make a show. For which things, as well as for the souls of the simpletons who nourish them, there is need that God provide.

Fra Rinaldo, then, having returned to his former appetites, began to pay frequent visits to his gossip and waxing in assurance, proceeded to solicit her with more than his former instancy to that which he desired of her. The good lady, seeing herself hard pressed and Fra Rinaldo seeming to her belike goodlier than she had thought him aforetime, being one day sore importuned of him, had recourse to that argument which all women use who have a mind to yield that which is asked of them and said, 'How now, Fra Rinaldo? Do monks such things?' 'Madam,' answered he, 'when as I shall have this gown off my back,—and I can put it off mighty easily,—I shall appear to you a man fashioned like other men and not a monk.' The lady pulled a demure face and said, 'Alack, wretched me! You are my gossip; how can I do this? It were sadly ill, and I have heard many a time that it is a very great sin; but, certes, were it not for this, I would do that which you wish.' Quoth Fra Rinaldo, 'You are a simpleton, if you forbear for this; I do not say that it is not a sin, but God pardoneth greater than this to whoso repenteth. But tell me, who is more akin to your child, I who held him at baptism or your husband who begat him?' 'My husband is more akin to him,' answered the lady; whereupon, 'You say sooth,' rejoined the friar. 'And doth not your husband lie with you?' 'Ay doth he,' replied she. 'Then,' said Fra Rinaldo, 'I, who am less akin to your child than is your husband, may lie with you even as doth he.' The lady, who knew no logic and needed little persuasion, either believed or made a show of believing that the friar spoke the truth and answered, 'Who might avail to answer your learned words?' And after, notwithstanding the gossipship, she resigned herself to do his pleasure; nor did they content themselves with one bout, but foregathered many and many a time, having the more commodity thereof under cover of the gossipship, for that there was less suspicion.

But once, amongst other times, it befell that Fra Rinaldo, coming to the lady's house and finding none with her but a little maid of hers, who was very pretty and agreeable, despatched his comrade with the latter to the pigeon-loft, to teach her her Paternoster, and entered with the lady, who had her child in her hand, into her bedchamber, where they locked themselves in and fell to taking their pleasure upon a daybed that was there. As they were thus engaged, it chanced that the husband came home and making for the bedchamber-door, unperceived of any, knocked and called to the lady, who, hearing this, said to the friar, 'I am a dead woman, for here is my husband, and now he will certainly perceive what is the reason of our familiarity.' Now Rinaldo was stripped to his waistcoat, to wit, he had put off his gown and his scapulary, and hearing this, answered, 'You say sooth; were I but dressed, there might be some means; but, if you open to him and he find me thus, there can be no excuse for us.' The lady, seized with a sudden idea, said, 'Harkye, dress yourself and when you are dressed, take your godchild in your arms and hearken well to that which I shall say to him, so your words may after accord with mine, and leave me do.' Then, to the good man, who had not yet left knocking, 'I come to thee,' quoth she and rising, opened the chamber-door and said, with a good countenance, 'Husband mine, I must tell thee that Fra Rinaldo, our gossip, is come hither and it was God sent him to us; for, certes, but for his coming, we should to-day have lost our child.'

The good simple man, hearing this, was like to swoon and said, 'How so?' 'O husband mine,' answered Agnesa, 'there took him but now of a sudden a fainting-fit, that methought he was dead, and I knew not what to do or say; but just then Fra Rinaldo our gossip came in and taking him in his arms, said, "Gossip, these be worms he hath in his body, the which draw near to his heart and would infallibly kill him; but have no fear, for I will conjure them and make them all die; and ere I go hence, you shall see the child whole again as ever you saw him." And for that we had need of thee to repeat certain orisons and that the maid could not find thee, he caused his comrade say them in the highest room of our house, whilst he and I came hither and locked ourselves in, so none should hinder us, for that none other than the child's mother might be present at such an office. Indeed, he hath the child yet in his arms and methinketh he waiteth but for his comrade to have made an end of saying the orisons and it will be done, for that the boy is already altogether restored to himself.' The good simple man, believing all this, was so straitened with concern for his child that it never entered his mind to suspect the cheat put upon him by his wife; but, heaving a great sigh, he said, 'I will go see him.' 'Nay,' answered she, 'thou wouldst mar that which hath been done. Wait; I will go see an thou mayst come in and call thee.'

Meanwhile, Fra Rinaldo, who had heard everything and had dressed himself at his leisure, took the child in his arms and called out, as soon as he had ordered matters to his mind, saying, 'Harkye, gossip, hear I not my gossip your husband there?' 'Ay, sir,' answered the simpleton; whereupon, 'Then,' said the other, 'come hither.' The cuckold went to him and Fra Rinaldo said to him, 'Take your son by the grace of God whole and well, whereas I deemed but now you would not see him alive at vespers; and look you let make a waxen image of his bigness and set it up, to the praise and glory of God, before the statue of our lord St. Ambrose, through whose intercession He hath vouchsafed to restore him unto you.' The child, seeing his father, ran to him and caressed him, as little children used to do, whilst the latter, taking him, weeping, in his arms, no otherwise than as he had brought him forth of the grave, fell to kissing him and returning thanks to his gossip for that he had made him whole.

Meanwhile, Fra Rinaldo's comrade, who had by this taught the serving-wench not one, but maybe more than four paternosters, and had given her a little purse of white thread, which he had from a nun, and made her his devotee, hearing the cuckold call at his wife's chamber-door, had softly betaken himself to a place whence he could, himself unseen, both see and hear what should betide and presently, seeing that all had passed off well, came down and entering the chamber, said, 'Fra Rinaldo, I have despatched all four of the orisons which you bade me say.' 'Brother mine,' answered the friar, 'thou hast a good wind and hast done well; I, for my part, had said but two thereof, when my gossip came; but God the Lord, what with thy pains and mine, hath shown us such favour that the child is healed.' Therewithal the cuckold let bring good wines and confections and entertained his gossip and the latter's comrade with that whereof they had more need than of aught else. Then, attending them to the door, he commended them to God and letting make the waxen image without delay, he sent to hang it up with the others[346] before the statue of St. Ambrose, but not that of Milan."[347]

Footnotes

[345] i.e. the discarded vanities aforesaid.

[346] i.e. the other ex votos.

[347] There is apparently some satirical allusion here, which I cannot undertake to explain.
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