Finetta steals from Madonna Veronica, the wife of Messer Brocardo di Cavalli, a gentleman of Verona, a necklace, a string of pearls, and other jewels; which, by the aid of a certain lover of hers, Veronica recovers without letting her loss come to her husband's ears.
IN such times as I have employed myself in considering and reconsidering the cares and perplexities which, day by day, Fortune sends for the tormenting of wretched mortals, I have often come to the conclusion that no sufferings or sorrows can match those of a woman who loyally loves her husband, and is at the same time, without any just cause, despised and spurned by him. And on this account we ought not to be in any way astonished if at times women, unhappy and miserable as those I have spoken of, should put forth all their strength to find some remedy for their unhappy lot. If, perchance, these ill-fated ones should now and then inadvertently fall into some error, let not their husbands lay the blame on their wives, but on themselves, seeing that they are in truth the primary cause of any misfortune and shame which may overtake them. A fate like this, in sooth, might easily have befallen a certain gracious lady of whom I now intend to speak, but she was prudent and wise, and by her virtue and strength brake in pieces the arrows of unlawful love, keeping unharmed both her own honour and that of her husband.
In Verona, a noble and ancient city, there lived in times now long past Messer Brocardo di Cavalli, a man of great wealth, and highly reputed. This gentle man, being unmarried, took for his wife a daughter of Messer Can della Scala, Veronica by name, who, although she was very beautiful, graceful, and modest, did not win her husband's love, for he (as it not seldom happens) entertained a woman as his mistress, who was the delight of his heart, and took no thought of his wife. Wherefore Madonna Veronica grieved sorely, for she could not endure to think that her rare beauty, which won the praises of all else, should be thus despised and rejected by her husband. It chanced that this fair lady, having gone into the country during the heats of summer, was walking all alone one day before the door of her house, sedulously debating within herself the conduct and the habits and the practices of her husband, and considering how little was the love he bore her, and how a lewd and vile strumpet, unclean and filthy, had so easily dazzled the eyes of his understanding that he saw no more clearly than a blind man. And while she was thus lamenting within herself she said: 'Oh! how much better had it been for me if my father had given me in marriage to a poor man, than to this one who is so wealthy ; for then I should have passed my days in greater pleasure and content than I do now. Of what good to me are all these riches? What profits it me that I go clad in sumptuous raiment, that I am decked with gems and necklaces and pendants and other precious jewels? Of a truth all such things as these are as mere vapour compared with the delights which a happy wife may enjoy with her husband.'
While the Signora Veronica was thus letting her mind dwell on these injurious thoughts, there came suddenly across her path a beggar woman, whose real trade it was to steal whatever she could find; moreover, she was so wily and cunning that she could easily have cozened, not merely a lady as distraught as Signora Veronica was, but any grave and prudent man she might have met. This woman, whose name was Finetta, no sooner saw the gentle lady absorbed in deep thought walking up and down in front of her house, than she began to weave a plot against her, and, having approached her, she saluted her respectfully and begged alms of her. The lady, who was thinking of other matters than almsgiving, repulsed her with an angry look, but the wily and thievish Finetta was in no wise disposed to go away, and, peering earnestly into the lady's face, and observing how sad and sorrowful was the look thereon, she said: 'O gentle lady, what ill can have befallen you that you look so full of care? Can it be that your husband leads you an ill life? Will it please you that I shall tell you your fortune? ' The lady, as soon as she heard these words, imagined that this common vagrant woman had discovered the wound which was tormenting her so cruelly, wherefore she began to weep bitterly, for it seemed to her as if she saw her husband lying dead before her eyes. Finetta, when she marked the scalding tears and the heartfelt sighs and the agonized sobbings and the bitter lamentations of the lady, said: 'What can be the cause of this piteous grief of yours, gracious madonna?' To this the lady answered: 'When you said that perchance my husband led me an ill life, you then laid bare my heart as with a knife.' Finetta answered: 'Gentle lady, I need but to look a person narrowly in the face to tell exactly what her life may have been. Your wound, in sooth, is recent and fresh, and on this account can be healed without difficulty, but if it were of long standing and festered, it would be much harder to cure.'
The lady, when she heard the woman discourse in this wise, told her every thing about the practices of her husband, and of the wicked life he led, and the evil treatment he gave her, failing to disclose nought of his doings, but telling everything to the beggar woman most minutely. When Finetta had listened to the whole of this pitiful story, she perceived that her own plans were in the way to come to an issue exactly according to her wishes, or even beyond them, and she said: 'Dear madonna, do not grieve any more, only keep steadfast and be of good cheer, and we will soon find a remedy for your trouble. I, whensoever it may please you, will devise for you a method by which you may win the ardent love of your husband, and cause him to follow you up like a man possessed.' While they were thus talking together they went into the chamber where Madonna Veronica was wont to sleep with her husband, and, after they had both seated themselves, Finetta said: 'Madonna, if it should be your pleasure that we now set to work about this matter, I will ask you to send all the maids and servants forthwith out of this room to occupy themselves in the services of the house; then we can remain by our selves here and do everything that is necessary for your case.'
After the servants had been dismissed from the room and the door thereof closed, Finetta said: 'Now bring to me the most beautiful of your golden neck laces, together with a string of pearls.' Whereupon Madonna Veronica opened one of her caskets and took therefrom a necklet with a fine pendant, and a string of oriental pearls, and handed the same over to Finetta. The woman, as soon as she had taken the jewels in her hand, asked for a cloth of white linen, and this Madonna Veronica at once handed to her. Then, having taken up all the jewels one by one, she made certain signs over them, according to the fashion such women use, and put them separately into the white cloth. Next, in the presence of Madonna Veronica, she tied up the cloth with the jewels therein tightly in a knot, and muttered over it certain secret spells, and made signs with her hands. Then, handing over the cloth to Madonna Veronica, she said to her: 'Madonna, take this cloth, and with your own hands place it under the pillow upon which your husband sleeps. Having done this, you will see that a wonderful thing will come to pass; but be careful that you do not open the cloth until to-morrow, because, if you do this thing, all the jewels will dissolve and disappear in smoke.' Madonna Veronica, having taken the cloth with the jewels tied up therein and placed it under the pillow whereupon Messer Brocardo was wont to sleep, Finetta said to her: 'Let us now go at once down into the wine cellar.' And thither they went accordingly.
As soon as they entered the cellar, the crafty Finetta's eye fell upon a wine butt which had been broached, whereupon she said, 'Madonna, you must now take off all the clothes that you have on you.' And the lady stripped herself, and stood as naked as when she was born. This done, Finetta drew out the tap from the wine butt, which was full of good wine, and said: 'Madonna, put your finger into this hole and keep it well closed, in order that the wine may not run out, and be sure that you move not from this place till I shall have come back to you, because I must now betake myself to a place outside, and there make certain mystic signs. Then all our work will be accomplished.' The lady, who put full faith in every thing Finetta said, stood there, all naked as she was, and moved not, still keeping her finger in the hole of the cask, and while she thus remained without moving the wanton Finetta went straightway into the chamber where had been left the jewels tied up in the cloth, and having untied this she took out the necklace and the pearls, and in place of these she filled the cloth with pebbles and with earth. Then, after she had knotted it up again securely, she put it back in the same place, and straightway took to flight.
The lady, standing stark naked with her finger thrust into the bunghole of the cask, waited until Finetta should return, but when, after some time had passed, she found that the woman did not come back, and that the hour was now growing very late, she was seized with fear lest her husband should come and find her standing naked there in this wise, and should take her for a mad woman. Therefore, having found the tap, which lay by her side, she stopped the hole of the butt therewith, and put on her clothes and went up out of the cellar. A little time after this it happened that Messer Brocardo, the husband of Madonna Veronica, returned to his house and saluted her with a good-humoured face, saying: 'Well met, indeed, my dear wife, comfort and solace of my heart! 'The wife, when she heard this salute of a sort so strange to her and almost unnatural, stood as one confounded, and in her heart thanked God that He had sent this beggar woman to her, by whose aid she had found a remedy for her most weighty grief. And all through that day, and the following night as well, she remained in loving dalliance with her husband, exchanging sweet kisses as if they were newly-married folk. Madonna Veronica, full of joy and merriment on account of the endearments which her husband had bestowed on her, told him the whole story of the passion and the torment which she had suffered on account of her love for him, and he on his part promised to treat her ever afterwards as his beloved wife, and that the misunderstanding of the past should never trouble them again.
When the next morning was come, and when her husband had arisen from the bed to go a-hunting, after the fashion of gentlemen of high estate, Madonna Veronica went at once to the bed, and having lifted up the pillow, took hold of the linen cloth in which the jewels had been placed, and untied it, expecting to find therein the necklet and the pearls, but she found it full of pebbles instead. The wretched woman, when she perceived this, was utterly confounded, and knew not at all what course she should take, because in sooth she feared that her husband would kill her were she to make known this loss to him. While, therefore, the poor lady was tormented with this fresh sorrow, and was turning over in her mind now this thing and now that, without being able to decide in what wise she might contrive to get back her beloved jewels, she at last determined, as an honest woman might, to enlist the services of a certain gentleman who for a long time had courted her with longing looks. This same was a certain cavalier of Verona, a gentleman of fine presence, of haughty spirit, famous for his prowess, and of honourable descent. He, like all others who are mastered by the passion of love, was so cruelly tortured by the flame which consumed him on account of Madonna Veronica, that he could get no rest at all ; indeed, for love of her he spent much time in jousting, and in all other kinds of martial exercises, and gave rich feasts and gallantries, thus making gay the whole city. But Madonna Veronica, who had entirely given her love to her husband, took little heed either of him or of his pompous displays, on account of which neglect the cavalier felt the greatest grief and sorrow that a lover ever knew.
Now as soon as Madonna Veronica's husband had left the house, she went to the window and espied, passing in the street, this same cavalier who was so deeply enamoured of her, whereupon she called to him, and thus cautiously ad dressed him: 'Good sir, you have told me full often of the burning and passionate love which you have always borne towards me, and still bear. I know that I, for my part, must often have seemed hard and cruel to you; but this humour of mine has not come of any lack of love for you, but of my firm determination to keep my honour intact, which thing I have placed before all else. Do not for this reason be astonished or offended that I have not at once given assent to your ardent wishes, for the sense of honour which keeps chaste the wife of a dissolute husband is some thing to be greatly commended and held dear. Although you have wrongly judged me to be hard and cruel and heartless towards you, I will not on that account refuse now to have recourse to you, with all faith and confidence, as to the fountain of my salvation. If you, as a devoted friend, will lend me succour in this my great trouble, and give me your ready assistance, you may for the future always hold me as one bound to you, and may dispose of me as if I be longed to you.' When she had finished her speech she described to him exactly the whole of her misfortune, and the cavalier, after he had listened to the words of his dearly beloved lady, first of all thanked her that she had so graciously deigned to lay these commands upon him, and then gave her his promise that he would not fail in his aid, lamenting at the same time the mischance that had befallen her.
Hereupon the cavalier departed secretly, and, having mounted his horse in the company of four trusty comrades, went in pursuit of the woman who had taken flight with the jewels, and before evening had come he overtook her at a ferry which she was about to pass over. Then, having recognized her by the description which had been given of her, he seized her by the hair of the head and made her confess everything. With the recovered jewels in his possession he returned to Verona full of joy, and when he found a fitting opportunity he restored them to Madonna Veronica. And thus, without allowing her husband to become privy to her doings, she retained her honour without any spot upon her good name.
As soon as Lauretta had brought her fable to an end, the Signora made a sign that she should let her enigma follow at once. Whereupon the damsel, without further delay, gave it in these words:
Fair and lovely is my face,
This enigma was forthwith interpreted by the greater part, if not all of the listeners, to mean the fan which ladies carry in their hands. Then, so as to preserve the accustomed order, the Signora bade Arianna to begin her fable and she at once spake thus.
Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.