Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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Two Friars, The


TWO friars once went out on a journey, that is to say, a friar and a lay brother. [2] One day of their journey, when they were far from their convent, the friar said to the lay brother: 'We fare poorly enough all the days of our life in our convent, let us, for one day of our lives, taste the good things of this world which others enjoy every day.'

               'You know better than I, who am only a poor simple lay brother,' answered the other, 'whether such a thing may be done. I don't mean to say I should not like to have a jolly good dinner for once; but there is the uneasiness of conscience to spoil the feast, and the penance afterwards. I think we had better leave it alone.'

               They journeyed on, therefore, and said no more about it that day, but the next, when they were very hungry after a long walk through the cold mountain air, the scent of the viands preparing in the inn as they drew near brought the subject of yesterday's conversation to their minds again, and the friar said to the lay brother: 'You know even our rule says that when we are journeying we cannot live as we do in our convent; we must eat and drink whatever we find in the places to which we are sent; moreover, some relaxation is allowed for the restoration of the body under the fatigues of the journey. Now, if we come, as it has often happened to us, to a poor little mountain village, where scarcely a wholesome crust of bread is to be found, to be washed down with a glass of sour wine, we have to take it for all our dinner, and eat it with thanksgiving. Therefore why, now, when we come to a place where the fare is less scanty, even as by the odours we perceive is the case here, should we not also take what is found ready, and eat it with thanksgiving?'

               'What you say seems right and just enough,' said the lay brother, not at all sorry to have his scruples so speciously explained away. 'But there is one thing you have not thought of. It is all very well to say we will eat and drink this and that, but how are we poor friars, who possess nothing, to command the delicacies which are smoking round the fire, and which have to be paid for by well-stored purses?'

               'Oh! that is not the difficulty,' replied the friar; 'leave that to me.'

               By this time they had reached the threshold of the inn, and, taking his companion's last feeble resistance for consent, the friar strutted into the eating-room with so bold an air that the lay brother hardly knew him for the humble religious he had been accompanying anon.

               'Ho! here! John, Peter, Francis, whatever you are called!'

               'Francesco, to your service,' replied the host humbly, thinking by his commanding tone he must be some son of a great family.

               'Francesco guercino, [3] then,' continued the friar in the same high-sounding voice, 'take away this foul table-cloth, and bring the cleanest and finest in your house; remove these cloudy glasses and bring out the bright ones you have there locked up in the glass case, and replace these bone spoons and forks [4] with the silver ones out of your strong box.'

               'Your Excellency is served!' [5] said the host, who, as well as his wife and son, had bustled so fast to do what he was so peremptorily ordered that all was done as soon as spoken.

               'Now then Francesco guercino, what have you got to put before a hungry gentleman in this poor little place of yours?'

               'Excellenza! when you have tasted the cooking of my poor little house,' said the host, 'you will not, I am sure, be displeased; all unworthy as it is of your Excellency's palate. For what we have ready, we have beef for our boiled meat, good brains for our fried, the plumpest poultry for our grilled, and the freshest eggs for our omelette; or, if your Excellency prefers it, we have hashed turkey, with crisp watercresses; and as for our soup, [6] there is not an inn in the whole province can beat us, I know. And for dessert we have cheese and fruits, and'----

               'Well done, Francesco guercino,' said the friar interrupting him. 'You know how to cry your own wares, at all events. Bring us the best of what you have; it is not for poor friars to complain of what is set before us.'

               The last sentence gave the host a high idea of the piety of his guest just as the hectoring tone he had assumed had convinced him he must be high-born, and in a trice the best of everything in the house was made ready for the table of the friar. All other guests had to wait, or go away unserved; the host was intent only on serving the friar.

               Every dish he took to the table himself, and as he did so each time the friar, fixing on him a look of sanctity, exclaimed,--

               'Blessed Francesco! Blessed Francesco!' [7]

               At the close of the meal, as he was hovering about the table, nervously wiping away a crumb, or polishing a plate, he said, with trembling:

               'Excellenza! Permit a poor man to put one question. What is there you see about me that makes you look at me as though you saw happiness in store, and exclaim with so much unction as quite to fill me with joy, "Blessed Francesco!"?'

               'True, something I see wherefore I call thee blessed,' replied the friar; 'but I cannot tell it thee now. To-morrow, perhaps, I may find it easier. Impossible now, friend. Now, pray thee, show us our rooms.'

               It needed not to add any injunctions concerning the rooms; of course, the cleanest and the best were appointed by Francesco spontaneously for such honoured guests.

               'How do you think we are getting on?' said the friar to the lay brother when they were alone.

               'Excellently well so far,' replied the other; 'things have passed my lips this night which never have they tasted before, nor ever may again. But the reckoning, the reckoning; that is what puzzles me: when it comes to paying the bill, what'll you do then?'

               'Leave it all to me,' returned the friar; 'I'm quite satisfied with the man we have to deal with. It will all come right, never fear.'

               The next morning the two brothers were astir betimes, but Francesco was on the look-out to serve them.

               'Excellenza! you will not leave without breakfast, Excellenza!'

               'Yes, Francesco; poor friars must not mind going without breakfast.'

               'Never, from my house, Excellenza!' responded Francesco. 'I have the table ready with a bottle of wine freshly drawn from the cellar, eggs that were born [8] since daylight, only waiting your appearance to be boiled, rolls this moment drawn from the oven, and my wife is at the stove preparing a fried dish [9] fit for a king.'

               'Too much, too much, Francesco! You spoil us; we are not used to such things,' said the lay brother as they sat down; but Francesco had flown into the kitchen, and returned with the dish.

               'Blessed Francesco!' said the friar as he set it on the table.

               'I will not disturb your Excellency now,' said Francesco; 'but, after you have breakfasted, I crave your remembrance of your promise of last night, that you would reveal to me this morning wherefore you say with such enthusiasm "Blessed Francesco!"'

               'It is not time to speak of it now,' said the friar; 'first we have our reckoning to make.'

               The lay brother hid his face in his table-napkin in terror, and seemed to be seized with a distressing fit of coughing.

               'Oh, don't speak of the reckoning, Excellenza; that is as nothing.'

               'Nay,' said the friar; 'that must not be;' and he made a gesture as if he would have drawn out a purse, while under the table he had to press his feet against those of the lay brother to silence his rising remonstrance for his persistence.

               'I couldn't think of taking anything from your Excellenza,' persisted the host, putting his hands behind him that no money might be forced upon him.

               The more stedfastly he refused the more perseveringly the friar continued to press the payment, till, with his companion, he had gained the threshold of the door.

               As they were passing out, however, the host once more exclaimed, 'But the explanation your Excellency was to give me of why you said "Blessed Francesco!"'

               'Impossible, friend; I cannot tell it here. Wait till I have gained the height of yonder mound, while you stand at its foot, and I will tell it you from thence.'

               With this they parted.

               When the friar and his companion had reached the height he had pointed out, and were at a sufficient distance to be saved the fear of pursuit, he turned to the host, who stood gaping at the bottom, and said:

               'Lucky for you, Francesco, that when you come to die you will only have the trouble of shutting one eye, instead of two, like other men.' [10]


Such a story at the expense of a single unworthy monk contains no implied taunt at the religious orders, who are deeply honoured in Rome, and none more than the mendicant Franciscans, most of whom are themselves of the very people. Ever since the invasion of September 20, 1870, every effort has been used to stir up the people against them, but with little effect. At the last Carneval the most elaborate car was got up with the purpose of ridiculing them, but it met with no approval, except from members of the clubs. The narrator of the story was herself not only a devoted member of the Church, but had a relative in the order of St. Francis, nor did she tell it without an edifying exordium on the goodness of the frati in general, though there must be unworthy members of all professions. Facetiæ of this class are much rarer in Rome than in Spain.


[1] Though I believe there is no rule or ground for the distinction, in conversational language, 'fratello' is used for 'brother,' and 'frate' for 'monk' (as 'sorella' usually means any sister and 'suora' a nun). 'Frate,' again, is usually, though not by any rule, or exclusively, reserved for the mendicant Franciscans. A Capuchin is called 'padre cappucino,' and a Dominican, generally, a 'padre domenicano.'

[2] 'Laico.'

[3] 'Guercino.' There is no very definitely expressed distinction in Italian in the way of saying weak-sighted, or one-eyed, or squinting; 'guercio' is used to express all. The termination 'ino' here is not an actual diminutive, but means 'he who is one-eyed,' or 'he who is weak-sighted,' or 'he who squints,' with an implied expression of sympathy (see Note 5, p. 379). In this case the conclusion shows that 'one-eyed' was intended.

[4] 'Posate,' plural of 'posata,' knife, fork, and spoon.

[5] 'Ecco servito, Excellenza.' 'It is all done as you desire.'

[6] The poor, badly fed themselves, delight to dilate on a description of good living, just as dreaming of eating is said to arise from a condition of hunger. I have not added a word here in the text to those of the narrator of the story, and her enumeration is a very fair rendering of the usual repertory of a Roman innkeeper. Broth or thin soup ('minestra'); a dish of boiled meat ('lesso'), of 'arrosto,' that is, grilled or baked, and of 'fritto' (fried) is the regular course: 'gallinaccio spezzato' is a turkey cut up in joints and served with various sauces, and is much more esteemed than if cooked whole, a rather unusual dish; 'frittata,' omelette; 'crescione,' watercresses.

[7] 'Beato a te, Francesco.'

[8] 'Born,' an Italianism for 'laid.'

[9] 'Fritto dorato.' Romans, though not eminent in the culinary art, fry admirably. They always succeed in making their fried dishes a rich golden colour, and they ordinarily express a fried dish by the two words together, 'fritto dorato.'

[10]     'Beato a te, Francesco,         
Che quando morirai         
Un occhio serrerai           
E l'altro no!'

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Two Friars, The
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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