The Fourth Story

Dom Felice Teacheth Fra Puccio How He May Become Beatified By Performing A Certain Penance Of His Fashion, Which The Other Doth, And Dom Felice Meanwhile Leadeth A Merry Life Of It With The Good Man's Wife

Filomena, having made an end of her story, was silent and Dioneo having with dulcet speech mightily commended the lady's shrewdness and eke the prayer with which Filomena had concluded, the queen turned with a smile to Pamfilo and said, "Come, Pamfilo, continue our diversion with some pleasant trifle." Pamfilo promptly answered that he would well and began thus: "Madam, there are many persons who, what while they study to enter Paradise, unwittingly send others thither; the which happened, no great while since, to a neighbour of ours, as you shall hear.

According to that which I have heard tell, there abode near San Pancrazio an honest man and a rich, called Puccio di Rinieri, who, devoting himself in his latter days altogether to religious practices, became a tertiary[160] of the order of St. Francis, whence he was styled Fra Puccio, and ensuing this his devout life, much frequented the church, for that he had no family other than a wife and one maid and consequently, it behoved him not apply himself to any craft. Being an ignorant, clod-pated fellow, he said his paternosters, went to preachments and attended mass, nor ever failed to be at the Lauds chanted by the seculars,[161] and fasted and mortified himself; nay, it was buzzed about that he was of the Flagellants.[162] His wife, whose name was Mistress Isabetta,[163] a woman, yet young, of eight-and-twenty to thirty years of age, fresh and fair and plump as a lady-apple, kept, by reason of the piety and belike of the age of her husband, much longer and more frequent fasts than she could have wished, and when she would have slept or maybe frolicked with him, he recounted to her the life of Christ and the preachments of Fra Nastagio or the Complaint of Mary Magdalene or the like. Meantime there returned home from Paris a monk hight Dom[164] Felice, Conventual[165] of San Pancrazio, who was young and comely enough of person, keen of wit and a profound scholar, and with him Fra Puccio contracted a strait friendship. And for that this Dom Felice right well resolved him his every doubt and knowing his pious turn of mind, made him a show of exceeding devoutness, Fra Puccio fell to carrying him home bytimes and giving him to dine and sup, as the occasion offered; and the lady also, for her husband's sake, became familiar with him and willingly did him honour. The monk, then, continuing to frequent Fra Puccio's house and seeing the latter's wife so fresh and plump, guessed what should be the thing whereof she suffered the most default and bethought himself, an he might, to go about to furnish her withal himself, and so spare Fra Puccio fatigue. Accordingly, craftily casting his eyes on her, at one time and another, he made shift to kindle in her breast that same desire which he had himself, which when he saw, he bespoke her of his wishes as first occasion betided him. But, albeit he found her well disposed to give effect to the work, he could find no means thereunto, for that she would on nowise trust herself to be with him in any place in the world save her own house, and there it might not be, seeing that Fra Puccio never went without the town. At this the monk was sore chagrined; but, after much consideration, he hit upon a device whereby he might avail to foregather with the lady in her own house, without suspect, for all Fra Puccio should be at home. Accordingly, the latter coming one day to visit him, he bespoke him thus, 'I have many a time understood, Fra Puccio, that all thy desire is to become a saint and to this end meseemeth thou goest about by a long road, whereas there is another and a very short one, which the Pope and the other great prelates, who know and practise it, will not have made known, for that the clergy, who for the most part live by alms, would incontinent be undone, inasmuch as the laity would no longer trouble themselves to propitiate them with alms or otherwhat. But, for that thou art my friend and hast very honourably entertained me, I would teach it thee, so I were assured thou wouldst practise it and wouldst not discover it to any living soul.' Fra Puccio, eager to know the thing, began straightway to entreat him with the utmost instancy that he would teach it him and then to swear that never, save in so far as it should please him, would he tell it to any, engaging, an if it were such as he might avail to follow, to address himself thereunto. Whereupon quoth the monk, 'Since thou promisest me this, I will e'en discover it to thee. Thou must know that the doctors of the church hold that it behoveth whoso would become blessed to perform the penance which thou shalt hear; but understand me aright; I do not say that, after the penance, thou wilt not be a sinner like as thou presently art; but this will betide, that the sins which thou hast committed up to the time of the penance will all by virtue thereof be purged and pardoned unto thee, and those which thou shalt commit thereafterward will not be written to thy prejudice, but will pass away with the holy water, as venial sins do now. It behoveth a man, then, in the first place, whenas he cometh to begin the penance, to confess himself with the utmost diligence of his sins, and after this he must keep a fast and a very strict abstinence for the space of forty days, during which time thou[166] must abstain from touching, not to say other women, but even thine own wife. Moreover, thou must have in thine own house some place whence thou mayst see the sky by night, whither thou must betake thyself towards the hour of complines,[167] and there thou must have a wide plank set up, on such wise that, standing upright, thou mayst lean thy loins against it and keeping thy feet on the ground, stretch out thine arms, crucifix fashion. An thou wouldst rest them upon some peg or other, thou mayst do it, and on this wise thou must abide gazing upon the sky, without budging a jot, till matins. Wert thou a scholar, thou wouldst do well to repeat certain orisons I would give thee; but, as thou art it not, thou must say three hundred Paternosters and as many Ave Marys, in honour of the Trinity, and looking upon heaven, still have in remembrance that God is the Creator of heaven and earth and the passion of Christ, abiding on such wise as He abode on the cross. When the bell ringeth to matins, thou mayst, an thou wilt, go and cast thyself, clad as thou art, on thy bed and sleep, and after, in the forenoon, betake thyself to church and there hear at least three masses and repeat fifty Paternosters and as many Aves; after which thou shalt with a single heart do all and sundry thine occasions, if thou have any to do, and dine and at evensong be in church again and there say certain orisons which I will give thee by writ and without which it cannot be done. Then, towards complines, do thou return to the fashion aforesaid, and thus doing, even as I have myself done aforetime, I doubt not but, ere thou come to the end of the penance, thou wilt, (provided thou shalt have performed it with devoutness and compunction,) feel somewhat marvellous of eternal beatitude.' Quoth Fra Puccio, 'This is no very burdensome matter, nor yet overlong, and may very well be done; wherefore I purpose in God's name to begin on Sunday.' Then, taking leave of him and returning home, he related everything in due order to his wife, having the other's permission therefor. The lady understood very well what the monk meant by bidding him stand fast without stirring till matins; wherefore, the device seeming to her excellent, she replied that she was well pleased therewith and with every other good work that he did for the health of his soul and that, so God might make the penance profitable to him, she would e'en fast with him, but do no more. They being thus of accord and Sunday come, Fra Puccio began his penance and my lord monk, having agreed with the lady, came most evenings to sup with her, bringing with him store of good things to eat and drink, and after lay with her till matinsong, when he arose and took himself off, whilst Fra Puccio returned to bed. Now the place which Fra Puccio had chosen for his penance adjoined the chamber where the lady lay and was parted therefrom but by a very slight wall, wherefore, Master Monk wantoning it one night overfreely with the lady and she with him, it seemed to Fra Puccio that he felt a shaking of the floor of the house. Accordingly, having by this said an hundred of his Paternosters, he made a stop there and without moving, called to his wife to know what she did. The lady, who was of a waggish turn and was then belike astride of San Benedetto his beast or that of San Giovanni Gualberto, answered, 'I' faith, husband mine, I toss as most I may.' 'How?' quoth Fra Puccio. 'Thou tossest? What meaneth this tossing?' The lady, laughing, for that she was a frolicsome dame and doubtless had cause to laugh, answered merrily; 'How? You know not what it meaneth? Why, I have heard you say a thousand times, "Who suppeth not by night must toss till morning light."' Fra Puccio doubted not but that the fasting was the cause of her unableness to sleep and it was for this she tossed thus about the bed; wherefore, in the simplicity of his heart, 'Wife,' said he, 'I told thee not to fast; but, since thou wouldst e'en do it, think not of that, but address thyself to rest; thou givest such vaults about the bed that thou makest all in the place shake.' 'Have no care for that,' answered the lady; 'I know what I am about; do you but well, you, and I will do as well as I may.' Fra Puccio, accordingly, held his peace and betook himself anew to his Paternosters; and after that night my lord monk and the lady let make a bed in another part of the house, wherein they abode in the utmost joyance what while Fra Puccio's penance lasted. At one and the same hour the monk took himself off and the lady returned to her own bed, whereto a little after came Fra Puccio from his penance; and on this wise the latter continued to do penance, whilst his wife did her delight with the monk, to whom quoth she merrily, now and again, 'Thou hast put Fra Puccio upon performing a penance, whereby we have gotten Paradise.' Indeed, the lady, finding herself in good case, took such a liking to the monk's fare, having been long kept on low diet by her husband, that, whenas Fra Puccio's penance was accomplished, she still found means to feed her fill with him elsewhere and using discretion, long took her pleasure thereof. Thus, then, that my last words may not be out of accord with my first, it came to pass that, whereas Fra Puccio, by doing penance, thought to win Paradise for himself, he put therein the monk, who had shown him the speedy way thither, and his wife, who lived with him in great lack of that whereof Dom Felice, like a charitable man as he was, vouchsafed her great plenty."

Footnotes

[160] i.e. a lay brother or affiliate.

[161] i.e. the canticles of praise chanted by certain lay confraternities, established for that purpose and answering to our præ-Reformation Laudsingers.

[162] An order of lay penitents, who were won't at certain times to go masked about the streets, scourging themselves in expiation of the sins of the people. This expiatory practice was particularly prevalent in Italy in the middle of the thirteenth century.

[163] Contraction of Elisabetta.

[164] Dom, contraction of Dominus (lord), the title commonly given to the beneficed clergy in the middle ages, answering to our Sir as used by Shakespeare (e.g. Sir Hugh Evans the Welsh Parson, Sir Topas the Curate, etc.). The expression survives in the title Dominie (i.e. Domine, voc. of Dominus) still familiarly applied to schoolmasters, who were of course originally invariably clergymen.

[165] A Conventual is a member of some monastic order attached to the regular service of a church, or (as would nowadays be said) a "beneficed" monk.

[166] Sic. This confusion of persons constantly occurs in Boccaccio, especially in the conversational parts of the Decameron, in which he makes the freest use of the various forms of enallage and of other rhetorical figures, such as hyperbaton, synecdoche, etc., to the no small detriment of his style in the matter of clearness.

[167] i.e. nine o'clock p.m.
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Decameron (Day The Twenty Sixth) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Twenty Sixth) Lyrics