Salardo, son of Rainaldo Scaglia, quits Genoa and goes to Montferrat, where he disobeys certain injunctions laid upon him by his father’s testament, and is condemned to death therefor; but, being delivered, he returns to his own country.
IN EVERY work, let it be good or bad, which we undertake, or propose to undertake, we ought first to consider the issue thereof. Wherefore, as we are now about to make beginning of our sportive and pleasant entertainment, I will protest that it would have been vastly more agreeable to me, had the lot willed it that some other lady should begin the story-telling; because I do not feel myself in any wise competent for the undertaking; because I am wanting in that fluency of speech which is so highly necessary in discourse of this kind, seeing that I have had scanter usage in the art of elocution than the charming ladies I see around me. But, since it pleases you, and has been decided by lot that I should be the first, I will begin — so as not to cause any inconvenience to this worshipful assemblage — my task of story-telling with the best of the faculties granted to me by divine providence. I will moreover leave open for those of my companions who shall come after me a wide and spacious field so that they may be able to relate their fables in an easier and more graceful style than I have at command.
Blessed, nay most blessed that son must be held to be who obeys his father with all due reverence, forasmuch as he thereby carries out the commands of the Eternal God, and lives long in the land, and prospers in all his works. And on the other hand he who is disobedient may be reckoned unhappy, nay most unhappy, seeing that all his undertakings come to a wretched and ill-starred end, as you will easily understand from the fable I am about to relate to you.
You must know then, gentle ladies, that at Genoa (a very ancient city, and as pleasant a one as there is in the world) there lived, not long ago, a gentleman named Rainaldo Scaglia, a man of great wealth, and endowed no less generously with wit and knowledge. He had a son called Salardo, whom he loved beyond all his other possessions, and this youth he had caused to be educated in every worthy and liberal art, letting him want nothing which might serve for his training and advancement. It happened that in his old age a heavy sickness came upon Rainaldo, who, seeing that his end was near, called for a notary, and made his will, which gave to Salardo all his goods. Beyond this he begged his son to honour his memory by keeping certain precepts ever in his mind, and never to act counter thereto. The first precept was that, no matter how great might be the love he had for his wife, he should never trust her with any important secret. The second was that he should never adopt another man’s child as his own, supposing his marriage to be a fruitless one. The third was that he should never abide in a state, of which the chief magistrate wielded powers of life and death unchecked. Having given to his son these precepts, Rainaldo turned his face to the wall, and breathed his last.
After his father’s death, Salardo, a young, rich, well-born gallant, grieved but moderately; and, in lieu of troubling about the administration of his estates or taking to heart his father’s precepts, was in hot haste t’ find a wife, and began to search for one of sufficiently good descent, and with a person to his taste. Before his father had been a year dead, he married Theodora, the daughter of Messer Odescalco Doria, a Genoese noble of the first rank. She was very beautiful and of virtuous mind, though somewhat haughty, and Salardo was so deeply enamoured of her that he could not bear, night or day, to let her go out of his sight. For several years they lived together without a child being born to them; and then Salardo, yearning for an heir and disregarding the counsel of his father, determined to adopt a child and to bring him up as his heir. Having gained his wife’s consent, he lost no time in carrying out his purpose, and adopted the son of a poor widow, calling the boy by the name of Postumius, and educating him with the utmost care.
In the course of time it happened that Salardo grew weary of Genoa, and determined to seek a home elsewhere, not because he did not find the city all that was fair and pleasant, but simply because he was infected with that desire for change which, not seldom, seizes upon those who live for pleasure alone. There fore, with great store of money and jewels, and with sumptuous equipage, he left Genoa with Theodora his beloved wife, and his adopted son Postumius, and having traversed Piamonte, made a halt at Montferrat. Here he soon began to make the acquaintance of divers of the citizens, through going with them to the chase, and in other social gatherings in which he took great delight; and, in consequence of his wealth and generosity, he soon achieved a position of honour and repute.
The rumour of Salardo’s splendid hospitality came before long to the ears of the ruling prince, the Marquis of Montferrat, who, when he saw that the new comer was a handsome young man, well born, rich, of courtly manners, and ready for any gallant enterprise, took him into high favour and would seldom let a day pass without seeing him. At last, so great was the influence of Salardo over the marquis, it fell out that anyone who wanted a favour done to him by the latter would always manage to let his petition pass through Salardo’s hands. Wherefore Salardo, mindful of the favour he enjoyed, was ever eager to devise some new pleasure for his patron, who, as became a young man, was much given to field sports, and kept a great number of falcons and hounds for the chase, and all appurtenances of venery, worthy of his high estate. But he would never go hunting or hawking save in the company of Salardo.
One day Salardo, being alone, began to consider the great fortune which had befallen him through the favour of the prince, and by-and-by his thoughts turned to his son Postumius, how discreet, and dutiful, and upright, and graceful he was. ‘Ah!’ he said to himself, ‘my poor old father was indeed sorely in error about these precepts of his. He must, like many old men, have become imbecile with age; either this cause, or some frenzy, must have urged him to command me so particularly not to adopt a strange child as my own, or to become the subject of an absolute prince. I now see the folly of his precepts, for what son born to a father could be more sober, courteous, gentle, and obedient, than Postumius, whom I have adopted, and where should I find greater affection and more honourable treatment than is given to me by the marquis, an absolute prince and one knowing no superior? And, exalted as he is, he pays me so much worship and love that it seems sometimes as if I stood in the highest place, and he in one beneath me. Of a truth I know not what to think of it; of a truth it is a common trick of old people to forget the tastes and inclinations of their youth, and to lay down for their children rules and regulations, imposing thereby burdens which they themselves would not touch with the tips of their fingers. And this they do, moved not by love, but by the craving to keep their offspring longer in subjection. Now, because I have disburdened myself of two of the pledges .imposed upon me by my father without any evil consequence, I will quickly get rid of the third; for I am assured that when I shall be free from it my dear wife, will only love me the more. And she herself, whom I love more than the light of my eyes, will give ample proof of the imbecility, or even madness, of wretched old age, which finds its chief joy in imposing, with its dead hand, intolerable restrictions on the living. Truly my father must have been insane when he made his will, for to whom is my trust due if not to her who has left her home and kinsfolk and become of one heart and soul with me. Surely I may confide to her any secret, however important it may be; so I will put her fidelity to the test, not on my own account, for I doubt it not, but to prove her strength, and to give an example to those foolish ones who rate disobedience to the wishes of dead and gone dotards as an unpardonable sin.’
In these terms Salardo girded at his father’s wise injunctions and deliberated how he might best rid himself of them entirely. After a little he left his house and went over to the mews at the pal ace, where the falcons of the marquis were kept, and of these he took one which was a great favourite of its owner, and secretly conveyed it to the house of a friend of his whose name was Francesco. He handed over the bird to his friend, and begged him, for the sake of the love there was between them, to hold it for him till the time should come when he might disclose the object of his request. Then, when he had returned to his home, he took a falcon of his own, and, having privily killed it, he bore it to his wife, saying: ‘Theodora, my beloved wife, I, as you well know, find it hard to get a moment’s rest on account of the many hours I am compelled to spend in attendance on the marquis, hunting, or fowling, or jousting, or in some other sport; and sometimes I hardly know whether I am dead or alive. Wherefore, to keep him from spending all his time over the chase, I have played him a trick he will relish but little. However, it may perhaps keep him at home, and give us and others some repose.’ To this his wife said: ‘And what have you done?’ ‘I have killed his best falcon,’ Salardo replied, ‘the favourite of all; and when he looks for it in vain I believe he will die of rage.’ And here he lifted his croak and took out the falcon which he had killed, and, having handed it over to his wife, directed her to have it cooked for supper. When Theodora heard this speech, and saw the dead falcon, she was deeply moved to grief and, turning to Salardo, reproached him severely for his foolish jest. ‘For what reason have you committed such a grave offence,’ she said, ‘and put such an insult on the marquis, who holds you so dear, and heaps such high favour upon you, and sets you above all others? Alas! Salardo, I fear our ruin is near. If, peradventure, the marquis should come to know what you have done, you would assuredly be in great danger of death.’ Salardo answered: ‘But how can he ever know this? The secret is yours and mine alone, and, by the love you have borne and still bear me, I pray you be careful not to reveal it, for if he should learn it our ruin would be complete.’ ‘Have no fear of this,’ said Theodora, ‘I would rather die than disclose it.’
The falcon was cooked and served at supper, and Salardo and his wife took their seats, but the lady refused to eat of the bird, though Salardo, with gentle words, enticed her thereto. At last, as she remained obstinate, he gave her such a buffet on the face that her cheek be-U came scarlet from the blow. Wherefore she began to weep and lament bitterly that he should thus misuse her, and at last rose from the table, muttering beneath her breath that she would bear in mind that blow as long as she might live, and that in due time she would repay him. When morning was come, she stole early from her bed, and hastened to tell the marquis of the falcon’s death, which news so fired him with rage that he ordered Salardo to be seized forthwith, and to be hanged without trial, and all his goods to be divided into three parts, of which one should be given to his wife as accuser, another to his son, and the remaining one to the man who should act as hangman. Now Postumius, who was now a lusty well-grown youth, when he heard his f doom and the disposition of his goods ordered by the marquis, ran quickly to Theodora and said to her:
‘Mother, would it not be wiser for me to hang my father myself, thus gaining the third of his goods which would otherwise pass to a stranger.’ And to this Theodora replied: ‘Truly, my son, you speak well, for if you do this, your father’s riches will remain with us intact.’ So Postumius went straightway to the marquis to ask leave to hang his father, and thus earn the hangman’s share, which boon the marquis graciously allowed.
Now Salardo had confided the whole of his secret to his faithful friend Francesco, and at the same time had begged him, when the hangman should be ready to do his work, to go to the marquis and beg him to let Salardo be brought before him, and graciously to listen to what he might have to say in his de fence, and Francesco was loyal in carrying out this request. Meantime, the wretched Salardo, loaded with fetters, was awaiting in prison the hour which should see him led to a disgraceful death on the scaffold. ‘Now I know,’ he cried, with bitter weeping, ‘that my good old father in his wisdom gave me those precepts for my profit. He gave me sage counsel, and I, senseless ribald as I am, cast it aside. He, mindful of my safety, warned me against my domestic enemies, and I have delivered myself into their hands, and handed over to them my riches to enjoy. He, well skilled in the disposition of despots, who in the space of an hour will love and hate, exalt and abase, counselled me to shun them; but I, as if eager to sacrifice at once my substance, my honour, and my life, thrust my head into the jaws of this marquis, and put my faithless wife to the proof. Ah, Salardo, better had it been for you to follow in your father’s footsteps, and let others seek the company of princes! Now I see into what strait my foolish confidence in myself, in my wife, in my wicked son, and, above all, in this ungrateful marquis, has led me. Now I see the value of the love of this prince for me. How could he deal more cruelly with me than by robbing me of my goods, my life, and my honour in one blow, showing thus how his love has turned to hate I recognize now the truth of the proverb which says that a prince is like wine in a flagon, sweet in the morning and sour at eve. Where is flow my nobility and my kinsmen? Is this the end of my loyalty, uprightness, and courtesy? O my father, I believe that, dead though you be, when you gaze into the mirror of eternal goodness, and see me about to be hanged, because, forsooth, I disbelieved and disregarded your wise and loving counsel, you will pray to God to have compassion on my youthful errors, and I, your disobedient and ungrateful son, pray to you also for pardon.’
While the unhappy Salardo was thus communing with himself; Postumius, with the air of a practised hangman, went with a body of police to the prison, and, arrogantly presenting himself to Salardo, spake thus: ‘My father, forasmuch as you are bound to be hanged by the order of the marquis, and as the third part of your goods is to go to him who ties the noose, I am sure, for the love you bear me, you will not be wroth at the part I have chosen to play, seeing that thereby your goods, in lieu of passing to strangers, will remain with your own family.’
Salardo, after listening attentively to this speech, replied: ‘God bless you, my son; the course you have chosen pleases me much, and if at first the thought of death terrified me, I am now content to die after listening to your words. Do your office, therefore, quickly.’ Postumius first implored his father’s pardon, and then, having kissed him, put the halter about his neck, and exhorted him to meet death with patience. Salardo, when he saw the turn things were taking, stood astonished, and, after a little, was led out of prison with his arms bound and a halter round his neck, and, accompanied by the hangman and the officers, was hurried towards the place of execution. Arrived there, he turned his back towards the ladder which stood against the gibbet, and in this attitude he mounted step by step. When he had reached the top he looked down courageously upon the assembly, and told them at full length the cause which had brought him there, and with gentle words he implored pardon for any affront he might have given, and exhorted all young people to be obedient to their fathers. When the people heard for what cause Salardo was condemned, there was not one who did not lament his unhappy fate and pray he might yet be pardoned.
While the events above named were taking place, Francesco betook himself to the palace, and, having been introduced, thus addressed the marquis: ‘Most worshipful sir, if ever you have been prompted to show pity towards any one, you are now doubly bound to deal mercifully with the case of this friend of yours who is now, for no fault of his, led out to suffer a shameful death. Consider, my lord, for what reason you condemned Salardo, who loved you so dearly, and never by thought or deed wrought an offence against you. Most gracious prince, only suffer your faithful friend to be brought into your presence, and I will clearly demonstrate to you his innocence.’ The marquis, with his eyes aflame with rage at Francesco’s petition, made an effort to thrust him out of his presence, but the suppliant threw himself down at the feet of the marquis, and, embracing his knees, cried out with tears: ‘As you are a just prince, have pity, O noble marquis! and let not the guiltless Salardo die because of your anger. Calm yourself, and I will prove his innocence; stay your hand but one hour, for the sake of that justice which you and your fathers have always reverenced, lest it be said of you that you put your friend to death without cause.’
The marquis, violently angered against Francesco, now broke silence: ‘I see you wish to go the way of Salardo. If you go on enraging me thus I will assuredly have you set by his side.’ ‘My lord,’ Francesco replied, ‘I ask for no greater boon than to be hanged alongside Salardo, if, after having made inquiry, you do not find him innocent.’ This last speech moved the marquis somewhat, for he reasoned that Francesco would never have spoken thus without being assured of Salardo’s innocence, seeing that he thereby ran the risk of the halter him self. Wherefore he accorded the hour’s delay, and, having warned Francesco that he must look to be hanged if he should fail to prove his friend’s innocence, he sent a messenger straightway to the place of justice with an order to delay the execution, and to bring Salardo, bound as he was and with the rope about his neck, and the hangman and officers as well, into his presence without delay.
Salardo, on being brought before the marquis, noted that his face was still clouded with anger, and outspake at once with clear voice and undaunted carriage: ‘My lord, the service I freely gave you, and the love I bore you, scarcely de served such a reward as the shame and indignity you have put upon me in thus condemning me to a disgraceful death. I admit that my folly, so to call it, de served your anger; but I was guilty of no crime heinous enough to warrant you in condemning me thus hastily and unheard. The falcon, on account of which your anger was kindled, lives safe and sound. It was never in my mind to kill it or to insult you. I wanted to use it as a means of trying an experiment, the nature of which I will now disclose to you.’ Having thus spoken, Salardo bade Francesco go fetch the falcon and return it to its master; and then he told the marquis the whole story of the precepts he had received from his father, and how he had disregarded every one. The marquis, when he listened to this frank and candid speech, and saw his falcon, handsome and well nourished as ever, was, for the moment, struck dumb; but when he had fully realized his error of having condemned a guiltless man to death unheard, he raised his eyes, which were full of tears, and turned them on Salardo, saying: “Salardo, if you could clearly realize all I feel at this moment, you would know that the pain you have suffered from the halter round your neck and the bonds about your arms is as nought compared with the anguish which now torments me. I can hardly hope ever to be happy again after having done so grievous an injury to you, who loved and served me so faithfully. If it were possible that all should be undone, how gladly would I undo it; but, since this is out of the question, I will do my utmost to wipe out my offence, and to give you all the reparation I can.’
Having thus spoken, the marquis with his own hands unfastened the halter from Salardo’s neck, and loosened his bonds, embracing him the while with the greatest tenderness; and, having taken him by the right hand and led him to a seat by his own, he ordered the halter to be put round the neck of Postumius, and the youth to be led away to execution, because of his wicked conduct; but this Salardo would not permit. ‘Postumius,’ he said to the wretched youth, ‘what shall I now do with you, whom, for the love of God, I have nurtured from childhood, only to be so cruelly deceived? On one side is my past love for you; on the other, the contempt I feel for the wicked deed you planned to do. One calls upon my fatherly kindness to forgive you, the other bids me harden my heart against you. What then shall I do? If I pardon you, men will jeer at my weakness; if I punish you as you deserve, I shall go counter to the divine exhortation to forgiveness. But that men may not tax me either with too great leniency, or too great severity, I will neither make you suffer in your person, nor will I myself endure the sight of you any more; and in place of my wealth which you so greedily desired, you shall have the halter which you knotted round my neck, and keep it always as a remembrance of your wicked deed. Now begone, and let me never see you or hear of you again.’
With these words he drove out the wretched Postumius, of whom nothing more was ever heard. Theodora, as soon as she was told of Salardo’s liberation, fled to a certain convent, where she soon ended her days miserably, and Salardo, when he heard the news of her death, took leave of the marquis and re turned to Genoa, where, after having given away all the wealth he did not want for his own use, he lived long and happily.
During the telling of Lauretta’s story divers of the hearers were moved to tears, but when they heard that Salardo had been delivered from the gibbet, and Postumius ignominiously expelled, and of Theodora’s flight and ill-starred end, they were heartily glad. The Signora gave the word to Lauretta to propound her enigma, so that the order of entertainment agreed upon the previous evening might be observed, and the damsel with a smiling face gave it in these words:
In a prison pent forlorn,
A tiny son to me was born.
Ah, cruel fate! The savage elf,
Scarce bigger than a mite himself,
Devoured me in his ravenous lust,
And changed me into sordid dust.
A mother fond I was of late,
Now worse e’en than a slave’s my fate.
The fair Lauretta, when she saw that no one was likely to solve her riddle, said, “This enigma of mine concerns the dry bean which is imprisoned between two husks; where, later on, she engenders a worm no bigger than a mite. This worm feeds upon her, and finally consumes her, so that not only is she destroyed as a mother, but not even the condition of a servant is possible for her.” All were pleased at Lauretta’s explanation, and Alteria, who sat next to her, having been selected as the next speaker, began at once her story without awaiting the Signora’s command.