Cassandrino, a noted robber, and a friend of the praetor of Perugia, steals the praetor’s bed and his horse Liardo, but afterwards becomes a man of probity and good repute.
THE wit of man, dear ladies, is so keen and subtle, that one would be hard set to find a task arduous enough to baffle it. There is, indeed, a familiar saying of the common people, that a man does what he wishes to do; and this same proverb it is which has suggested to me the tale I am about to tell you. Although it is somewhat ridiculous, it may yield you some pleasure, or even instruction, by demonstrating to you the cunning of those who are thieves by profession.
In Perugia, an ancient and noble city of Romagna, renowned for its learning and for sumptuous living, there abode, not very long ago, a handsome young scapegrace named Cassandrino. So ill was his reputation with the citizens, on account of his many robberies, that frequent and lengthy complaints thereanent were made to the praetor by men of all stations in the city; but this latter, though he rated Cassandrino soundly for his misdeeds, seemed loath to punish him. Now, though Cassandrino was, past gainsaying, a thievish knave, he had one virtue which at least got him credit with the praetor that is, he did not rob for the mere love of pelf so much as to be able, now and then, to spend magnificently and to offer handsome gifts to those who favoured him. Wherefore, and because he was affable, courteous, and witty, the praetor looked upon him so kindly that he would rarely let pass a day without seeing him.
But since Cassandrino persisted in these more or less reprehensible courses, the praetor was forced to give ear to the complaints which, with full justice, were laid against him. Being still reluctant to bring the culprit to justice, on account of the kindly feeling in his heart, he summoned Cassandrino one day into an inner chamber, and began to admonish him with friendly words, and to exhort him to have done with his evil ways, warning him of the perils he was risking thereby. Cassandrino listened attentively to the praetor’s words, and spake thus in reply: ‘Sir, I hear and clearly understand the good counsel which you, of your great courtesy, have given to me, and I know full well that it springs from the generous affection in which you hold me, and for which I am most grateful. I am indeed grieved that we should be plagued with certain foolish people jealous of others’ well being, and ever ready to blast their honour with spiteful words. These busybodies, who bear such tales about me, would do better to keep their venomous tongues between their teeth than to let them run on to my hurt.’ The praetor swayed by his affection for the speaker, needed very little persuasion to believe Cassandrino’s story and to turn a deaf ear to the plaints of his ravages made by the citizens. It chanced soon after that Cassandrino, being a guest at the praetor’s table, told him of a youth who was so marvellously light-fingered that he could steal anything he had a mind to, however carefully guarded and protected it might be. The praetor when he heard this, laughed and said: ‘Cassandrino, this youth can be no other than you yourself, for there cannot be another such a crafty trickster; but, to put you to the test, I will promise you a hundred golden forms if you succeed to-night in stealing the bed out of the chamber in which I sleep.’ Cassandrino seemed somewhat disturbed at these words, and then answered: ‘Sir, you evidently take me for a thief; but let me tell you I am not one, nor the son of one. I live by the sweat of my brow, and by my own industry, such as it is, and do for myself the best I can. But if it be your will to bring me to the gallows on this score, I will go there gladly for the sake of the regard I have ever had, and still have, for you.’ After this speech Cassandrino withdrew, for he was very anxious to humour the praetor whim, and he went about all day cudgelling his brains to devise how he might steal the praetor’s bed from under him without betraying himself. At last he hit on the following scheme. A certain doctor of the city had lately died, and on that very day had been buried in his family vault. After mid night Cassandrino stole to the burying place, and, having opened the vault, drew therefrom the dead body of the doctor by the feet, and, after he had stripped it, dressed it again in his own clothes, which fitted so well that any one would have taken it for Cassandrino and not for the doctor. He hoisted the corpse upon his shoulders as well as he could, and, having made his way safely to the palace, he scaled the roof, with the doctor’s body on his back, by a ladder which he had provided, and began noiselessly to remove the tiles with an iron crowbar, finally making a large hole in the ceiling of the room in which the praetor was sleeping.
The praetor who was wide awake, heard distinctly all that was going on, and laughed to himself, though his roof was being pulled to pieces, for he expected every moment to see Cassandrino enter the room and attempt to carry off the bed. ‘Ah! Messer Cassandrino,’ he said to himself, ‘you will not steal my bed to-night.’ But while he was thus chuckling and expecting the attempt, Cassandrino let fall the dead body of the doctor through the breach in the ceiling into the praetor’s room. The noise it made caused him to jump out of bed and light a candle, and then he saw what he took to be the body of Cassandrino (because it was dressed in that worthy’s clothes) lying mangled and huddled together on the floor.
When he recognized the garments, he was profoundly grieved, and cried out, ‘Ah, what a wretched sight is here! To gratify my silly caprice I have killed this man. What will men say if it be noised abroad that he met his end in my house? Of a truth one needs to be careful.’ The praetor, lamenting thus, went to rouse a faithful servant of his, and having awakened him, told him of the unhappy mischance, and begged him go dig a hole in the garden and bury therein the dead body, so as to prevent scandal. Whilst the praetor and his servant were burying the dead body in the garden, Cassandrino, who had silently watched the praetor’s movements, as soon as the coast was clear let himself down by a rope, and having made a parcel of the bed, carried it away with all possible haste. After he had buried the body, the praetor returned to his room; but when he prepared to get into bed, no bed was there. He slept little that night, wherefore he had plenty of time to ponder over the cunning and dexterity of his friend Cassandrino.
The next day Cassandrino, according to his wont, went to the palace and presented himself to the praetor, who, as soon as he had set eyes on him, said: ‘In truth, Cassandrino, you are the very prince of thieves! who else would have contrived so cunningly to steal my bed?’ Cassandrino was silent, feigning the utmost astonishment; as if he had had no part in the affair. ‘You have played an excellent trick upon me,’ the praetor went on to say, ‘but I must get you to play me yet another, in order that I may judge how far your ingenuity can carry you. If you can manage to-night to steal my horse, Liardo — the best I ever had — I will give you another hundred forms, in addition to the hundred I have al ready promised you.’ Cassandrino, when he heard of this fresh task which was put upon him, feigned to be much troubled, and loudly lamented that the praetor should hold him in such ill repute, begging him at the same time not to be his ruin. The praetor deeming that Cassandrino refused assent to his request, grew angry and said, ‘Well, if you will not do as I bid you, look for no other fate than to hang by a halter from the city wall.’ Cassandrino, who now saw that his case was dangerous, and in no small measure, replied: ‘I will do all I can to gratify you in what you ask, but believe me the task you propose is one beyond my power;’ and with these words he departed.
As soon as he was gone, the praetor who was resolved this time to put Cassandrino’s ingenuity to no light trial, called one of his servants and thus addressed him: ‘Go to the stable, and saddle and bridle my horse Liardo; then mount him, and keep all night on his back, taking good heed the while that he be not stolen.’ And he gave orders to another to see that all the doors of the palace were well secured with bolts. That night Cassandrino took all his implements, and repaired to the principal gate of the palace, where he found the porter quietly dozing; but, because he knew well all the secret issues of the place, he let the porter sleep on, and, making use of another passage, he gained the courtyard, and thence passed on to the stables, which he found fast locked. With very little trouble he unfastened the door, and having opened this, he perceived, to his amazement, that a man was sitting on the praetor’s favourite horse, with the reins in his hand, but when he approached he saw the fellow was sound asleep. The crafty rascal, noting that the sleeping varlet was senseless as a statue, at once hit upon a plan, clever beyond belief. He carefully measured the height of the horse, and then stole away into the garden, from whence he ‘brought back four stout poles, such as are used in supporting vines on a trellis; and having sharpened them at the ends, he cunningly cut the reins, which the sleeping servant held in his hand, and the breast-strap, and the girths, and the crupper, and every other bond which stood in his way. Then, having fixed one of the poles in the ground, with the upper end dexterously inserted under one corner of the saddle, he did exactly the same on the other side, and repeated the operation at the other two remaining corners. Next he raised the saddle off the horse’s back (the servant being sound asleep all the while), and let it rest entirely on the four poles which were firmly fixed in the ground. Then, there being no obstacle in his way, he haltered the horse, and led it off. The praetor was astir early the next morning, and repaired forthwith to the stable, where he expected to find his horse all safe; but the sight which met his eyes was his servant, still sitting fast asleep on the saddle propped up by four poles. The praetor having awakened him, loaded him with abuse, and, half dazed with what he had seen, quitted the stable and returned to the palace. At the usual hour in the morning Cassandrino betook himself to the palace, and gave the praetor a merry salute when he appeared. ‘Cassandrino,’ said the latter, ‘assuredly you carry off the palm amongst thieves. I may indeed dub you with the title of” King of the thieves,” but still should like to ascertain whether you are a man of wit and cleverness. You know, I think, Messer Severino, the priest of Sangallo, a village hard by. Well, if you bring him here to me tied up in a sack, I promise to give you as much money again as you have already earned; but if you fail in this, be sure that I will hang you up by the neck.’ This Messer Severino was a man of holy life, and of the best repute, but in no wise experienced in worldly affairs, seeing that he cared for nought else but the service of his church. Cassandrino, perceiving that the praetor had set his mind on working him an injury, said to himself: ‘This man, I plainly see, is bent on doing me to death; but in this he will find himself mistaken, for I will execute this task if it is to be done.’ Cassandrino, being thus anxious to do the praetor’s bidding, cast about how he might play a trick upon the priest which would serve the purpose he had in view, and ultimately fixed on the following stratagem. He borrowed from a friend of his a priest’s alb, long enough to come down to his heels, and a well-broidered stole, and these he took home to his lodging. Then he got ready a pair of beautiful wings, painted in divers colours, which he had fashioned out of pasteboards, and also a diadem of tinsel, which shone radiantly. At nightfall he stole out of the town with his gewgaws, and went towards the village where Messer Severino abode, and there he hid him self in a thicket of sharp thorns, and lay close till the day began to dawn. Then Cassandrino put on the alb, and the stole round about his neck, and set the diadem on his head, and fixed the wings on his shoulders. Having done this, he hid himself again, and stirred not till the time had come when the priest should go forth to ring the bell for the Ave Maria. Scarcely had Cassandrino vested himself, when Messer Severino, with his acolyte, arrived at the church door, which he left open, and went in to do his morning office. Cassandrino, who was on the watch, saw that the door of the church was standing open while the good priest was ringing the bell, crept out of his hiding place, stole softly into the church, and, when he had entered, went up to the al tar and stood upright, holding open a large sack in his hands. Next he cried out in a low chanting voice: ‘Whoever wishes to enter into the joys of paradise, let him get into this sack;’ and these words he repeated over and over again. While he was performing this mummery, the acolyte came out of the sacristy, and, when he saw the snow-white alb, and the diadem shining brilliant as the sun, and the wings as gorgeous as a peacock’s—to say nothing of the words he heard—he was altogether amazed; but when he had somewhat recovered, he went off to find the priest, and said to him: ‘Sir, sir, I have just seen in the church an angel of heaven, holding a sack in his hands, who said: “Whoever wishes to enter into the joys of paradise, let him get into this sack;” and I, for my part, have made up my mind to do as he bids me.’
The priest, who was not over well- furnished in the upper storey, gave full credence to the acolyte’s tale, and, as soon as he had issued from the sacristy, saw the angel standing there, clad in celestial garb, as the acolyte had said. Now Messer Severino was powerfully moved by the angel’s words, and being mightily anxious to get safe to paradise, and at the same time somewhat in fear lest the clerk should forestall him by getting first into the sack, made believe to have left his breviary behind him at his lodging, and said to the acolyte: ‘Go quickly home and search my chamber diligently, and bring back my breviary which I have left somewhere.’
And while the acolyte was gone to search for the breviary the priest approached the angel, making the while a deep reverence, and crept into the sack. Cassandrino, who was full of sharp cunning and mischief, seeing that the game was going as he wished, closed the sack’s mouth at once and tied it firmly. Then he took off the alb, the diadem, and the wings, and having made a bundle of these and hoisted it, together with the sack, on his shoulders, he set out for Perugia, where he arrived as soon as it was clear daylight, and at the accustomed hour presented himself before the praetor with the sack on his back. Having untied the mouth, he lugged out Messer Severino, who, finding himself in the presence of the praetor, and more dead than alive—conscious likewise that a fool’s trick had been played with him—made a weighty charge against Cassandrino, crying out at the top of his voice that he had been robbed and inveigled by craft into the sack, to his great loss and humiliation, and begging the praetor to make an example of him, nor to let so great a crime go without severe punishment, so as to give a clear warning to all other malefactors. The praetor who had already fathomed the business from beginning to end, could not contain his laughter, and turning to Messer Severino thus addressed him: ‘My good father and my friend, say not another word and do not distress yourself, for you shall never want any favour, nor fail to have justice done to you ; although, as I see quite clearly, you have just been made the victim of a joke.’ The praetor had to say and do his best to pacify the good priest, and, having taken a little packet wherein were several pieces of gold, he gave it to him and directed that he should be escorted out of the town. Then, turning to Cassandrino, he said to him: ‘Cassandrino, Cassandrino, of a truth your knavish deeds outdo your knavish reputation which is spread abroad. Wherefore, take these four hundred golden forms which I promised you, because you have fairly gained them, but take care that you bear yourself more decently in the future than you have borne yourself in the past, for if I hear any more complaints of your knavish pranks, you shall certainly be hanged.
Cassandrino hereupon took the four hundred golden forms, and having duly thanked the praetor for them, went his way, and with this money he traded skillfully and successfully, and in time became a man of business highly respected by all.
The ladies and gentlemen were much pleased with Alteria’s story, and she being called upon by the Signora gave her enigma in the following terms:
While I my nightly vigil kept,
A man I spied, who softly crept
Adown the hail, whereon I said,
“To bed, Sir Bernard, get to bed.
Two shall undress you, four with care
Shut fast the doors, and eight up there
Shall watch, and bid the rest beware.”
While these deceiving words I said,
The thievish wight in terror fled.
Alteria, seeing that the hour was late and that no one was likely to solve her riddle, gave this explanation: “A gentleman had gone into the country with all his household, and had left in his palace an old woman, who prudently made a practice of going about the house at nightfall to see if she might espy any thieves, and one evening it chanced that she saw a robber on a balcony, who watched her through a hole. The good old woman refrained from crying out, and wisely made believe that her master was in the house, and a throng of servants as well. So she said: ‘Go to bed, Messer Bernardo, and let two servants undress you, and four shut the doors, while eight go upstairs and guard the house.’ And while the old woman was giving these orders, the thief fearing to be discovered, stole away.” When Alteria’s clever riddle had been solved, Cateruzza, who was seated next to her, remembered that the third story of this first night was to be told by her, so with a smiling face she began.