The Fifth Story

Ricciardo, Surnamed Il Zima, Giveth Messer Francesco Vergellesi A Palfrey Of His And Hath Therefor His Leave To Speak With His Wife. She Keeping Silence, He In Her Person Replieth Unto Himself, And The Effect After Ensueth In Accordance With His Answer

Pamfilo having made an end, not without laughter on the part of the ladies, of the story of Fra Puccio, the queen with a commanding air bade Elisa follow on. She, rather tartly than otherwise, not out of malice, but of old habit, began to speak thus, "Many folk, knowing much, imagine that others know nothing, and so ofttimes, what while they think to overreach others, find, after the event, that they themselves have been outwitted of them; wherefore I hold his folly great who setteth himself without occasion to test the strength of another's wit. But, for that maybe all are not of my opinion, it pleaseth me, whilst following on the given order of the discourse, to relate to you that which befell a Pistolese gentleman[168] by reason thereof.

There was in Pistoia a gentleman of the Vergellesi family, by name Messer Francesco, a man of great wealth and understanding and well advised in all else, but covetous beyond measure. Being made provost of Milan, he had furnished himself with everything necessary for his honourable going thither, except only with a palfrey handsome enough for him, and finding none to his liking, he abode in concern thereof. Now there was then in the same town a young man called Ricciardo, of little family, but very rich, who still went so quaintly clad and so brave of his person that he was commonly known as Il Zima,[169] and he had long in vain loved and courted Messer Francesco's wife, who was exceeding fair and very virtuous. Now he had one of the handsomest palfreys in all Tuscany and set great store by it for its beauty and it being public to every one that he was enamoured of Messer Francesco's wife, there were those who told the latter that, should he ask it, he might have the horse for the love Il Zima bore his lady. Accordingly, moved by covetise, Messer Francesco let call Il Zima to him and sought of him his palfrey by way of sale, so he should proffer it to him as a gift. The other, hearing this, was well pleased and made answer to him, saying, "Sir, though you gave me all you have in the world, you might not avail to have my palfrey by way of sale, but by way of gift you may have it, whenas it pleaseth you, on condition that, ere you take it, I may have leave to speak some words with your lady in your presence, but so far removed from every one that I may be heard of none other than herself.' The gentleman, urged by avarice and looking to outwit the other, answered that it liked him well and [that he might speak with her] as much as he would; then, leaving him in the saloon of his palace, he betook himself to the lady's chamber and telling her how easily he might acquire the palfrey, bade her come hearken to Il Zima, but charged her take good care to answer neither little or much to aught that he should say. To this the lady much demurred, but, it behoving her ensue her husband's pleasure, she promised to do his bidding and followed him to the saloon, to hear what Il Zima should say. The latter, having renewed his covenant with the gentleman, seated himself with the lady in a part of the saloon at a great distance from every one and began to say thus, 'Noble lady, meseemeth certain that you have too much wit not to have long since perceived how great a love I have been brought to bear you by your beauty, which far transcendeth that of any woman whom methinketh I ever beheld, to say nothing of the engaging manners and the peerless virtues which be in you and which might well avail to take the loftiest spirits of mankind; wherefore it were needless to declare to you in words that this [my love] is the greatest and most fervent that ever man bore woman; and thus, without fail, will I do[170] so long as my wretched life shall sustain these limbs, nay, longer; for that, if in the other world folk love as they do here below, I shall love you to all eternity. Wherefore you may rest assured that you have nothing, be it much or little worth, that you may hold so wholly yours and whereon you may in every wise so surely reckon as myself, such as I am, and that likewise which is mine. And that of this you may take assurance by very certain argument, I tell you that I should count myself more graced, did you command me somewhat that I might do and that would pleasure you, than if, I commanding, all the world should promptliest obey me. Since, then, I am yours, even as you have heard, it is not without reason that I dare to offer up my prayers to your nobility, wherefrom alone can all peace, all health and all well-being derive for me, and no otherwhence; yea, as the humblest of your servants, I beseech you, dear my good and only hope of my soul, which, midmost the fire of love, feedeth upon its hope in you,—that your benignity may be so great and your past rigour shown unto me, who am yours, on such wise be mollified that I, recomforted by your kindness, may say that, like as by your beauty I was stricken with love, even so by your pity have I life, which latter, an your haughty soul incline not to my prayers, will without fail come to nought and I shall perish and you may be said to be my murderer. Letting be that my death will do you no honour, I doubt not eke but that, conscience bytimes pricking you therefor, you will regret having wrought it[171] and whiles, better disposed, will say in yourself, "Alack, how ill I did not to have compassion upon my poor Zima!" and this repentance, being of no avail, will cause you the great annoy. Wherefore, so this may not betide, now that you have it in your power to succour me, bethink yourself and ere I die, be moved to pity on me, for that with you alone it resteth to make me the happiest or the most miserable man alive. I trust your courtesy will be such that you will not suffer me to receive death in guerdon of such and so great a love, but will with a glad response and full of favour quicken my fainting spirits, which flutter, all dismayed, in your presence.' Therewith he held his peace and heaving the deepest of sighs, followed up with sundry tears, proceeded to await the lady's answer. The latter,—whom the long court he had paid her, the joustings held and the serenades given in her honour and other like things done of him for the love of her had not availed to move,—was moved by the passionate speech of this most ardent lover and began to be sensible of that which she had never yet felt, to wit, what manner of thing love was; and albeit, in ensuance of the commandment laid upon her by her husband, she kept silence, she could not withal hinder sundry gentle sighs from discovering that which, in answer to Il Zima, she would gladly have made manifest. Il Zima, having waited awhile and seeing that no response ensued, was wondered and presently began to divine the husband's device; but yet, looking her in the face and observing certain flashes of her eyes towards him now and again and noting, moreover, the sighs which she suffered not to escape her bosom with all her strength, conceived fresh hope and heartened thereby, took new counsel[172] and proceeded to answer himself after the following fashion, she hearkening the while: 'Zima mine, this long time, in good sooth, have I perceived thy love for me to be most great and perfect, and now by thy words I know it yet better and am well pleased therewith, as indeed I should be. Algates, an I have seemed to thee harsh and cruel, I will not have thee believe that I have at heart been that which I have shown myself in countenance; nay, I have ever loved thee and held thee dear above all other men; but thus hath it behoved me do, both for fear of others and for the preserving of my fair fame. But now is the time at hand when I may show thee clearly that I love thee and guerdon thee of the love that thou hast borne and bearest me. Take comfort, therefore, and be of good hope, for that a few days hence Messer Francesco is to go to Milan for provost, as indeed thou knowest, who hast for the love of me given him thy goodly palfrey; and whenas he shall be gone, I promise thee by my troth and of the true love I bear thee, that, before many days, thou shalt without fail foregather with me and we will give gladsome and entire accomplishment to our love. And that I may not have to bespeak thee otherwhiles of the matter, I tell thee presently that, whenas thou shalt see two napkins displayed at the window of my chamber, which giveth upon our garden, do thou that same evening at nightfall make shift to come to me by the garden door, taking good care that thou be not seen. Thou wilt find me awaiting thee and we will all night long have delight and pleasance one of another, to our hearts' content.' Having thus spoken for the lady, he began again to speak in his own person and rejoined on this wise, 'Dearest lady, my every sense is so transported with excessive joy for your gracious reply that I can scarce avail to make response, much less to render you due thanks; nay, could I e'en speak as I desire, there is no term so long that it might suffice me fully to thank you as I would fain do and as it behoveth me; wherefore I leave it to your discreet consideration to imagine that which, for all my will, I am unable to express in words. This much only I tell you that I will without fail bethink myself to do as you have charged me, and being then, peradventure, better certified of so great a grace as that which you have vouchsafed me, I will, as best I may, study to render you the utmost thanks in my power. For the nonce there abideth no more to say; wherefore, dearest lady mine, God give you that gladness and that weal which you most desire, and so to Him I commend you.' For all this the lady said not a word; whereupon Il Zima arose and turned towards the husband, who, seeing him risen, came up to him and said, laughing 'How deemest thou? Have I well performed my promise to thee?' 'Nay, sir' answered Il Zima; 'for you promised to let me speak with your lady and you have caused me speak with a marble statue.' These words were mighty pleasing to the husband, who, for all he had a good opinion of the lady, conceived of her a yet better and said, 'Now is thy palfrey fairly mine.' 'Ay is it, sir,' replied Il Zima, 'but, had I thought to reap of this favour received of you such fruit as I have gotten, I had given you the palfrey, without asking it[173] of you; and would God I had done it, for that now you have bought the palfrey and I have not sold it.' The other laughed at this and being now provided with a palfrey, set out upon his way a few days after and betook himself to Milan, to enter upon the Provostship. The lady, left free in her house, called to mind Il Zima's words and the love he bore her and the palfrey given for her sake and seeing him pass often by the house, said in herself, 'What do I? Why waste I my youth? Yonder man is gone to Milan and will not return these six months. When will he ever render me them[174] again? When I am old? Moreover, when shall I ever find such a lover as Il Zima? I am alone and have no one to fear. I know not why I should not take this good opportunity what while I may; I shall not always have such leisure as I presently have. None will know the thing, and even were it to be known, it is better to do and repent, than to abstain and repent.' Having thus taken counsel with herself, she one day set two napkins in the garden window, even as Il Zima had said, which when he saw, he was greatly rejoiced and no sooner was the night come than he betook himself, secretly and alone, to the gate of the lady's garden and finding it open, passed on to another door that opened into the house, where he found his mistress awaiting him. She, seeing him come, started up to meet him and received him with the utmost joy, whilst he clipped and kissed her an hundred thousand times and followed her up the stair to her chamber, where, getting them to bed without a moment's delay, they knew the utmost term of amorous delight. Nor was this first time the last, for that, what while the gentleman abode at Milan and even after his coming back, Il Zima returned thither many another time, to the exceeding satisfaction of both parties."

Footnotes

[168] i.e. a gentleman of Pistoia.

[169] Lit. "The summit," or in modern slang "The tiptop," i.e. the pink of fashion.

[170] i.e. this love shall I bear you. This is a flagrant instance of the misuse of ellipsis, which so frequently disfigures Boccaccio's dialogue.

[171] i.e. my death.

[172] Syn. a rare or strange means (nuovo consiglio). The word nuovo is constantly used by Boccaccio in the latter sense, as is consiglio in its remoter signification of means, remedy, etc.

[173] i.e. the favour.

[174] i.e. the lost six months.
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