Pre Scarpafico, having been once duped by three robbers, dupes them thrice in return, and lives happily the rest of his days.
THE end of Signora Alteria’s story, which she has set forth with so great skill, supplies me with a theme for my own, which peradventure may please you no less than hers, though on one point it will show a variance, inasmuch as she pictured to us Pre Severino neatly entrapped by Cassandrino; while in the story I am about to tell you, Pre Scarpafico threw the net no less adroitly over divers knaves who were trying to get the better of him.
Near to Imola, a city always plagued by factious quarrels and ultimately destroyed thereby, there lived once upon a time a priest named Scarpafico, who served the village church of Postema. He was well to do, but miserly and avaricious beyond measure, and he had for housekeeper a shrewd and clever woman named Nina, who was so alert and pushing that she would never scruple to tell any man whatever might come into her mind. And because she was faithful and prudent in administering his affairs he held her in high esteem.
Now when good Pre Scarpafico was young he was as jolly a priest as there was to be met in all the country round; but at this time age had made walking on foot irksome to him, so the good Nina was always persuading him to buy a horse, in order that his days might not be shortened through too great fatigue. At last Scarpafico, overborne by the per suasions of his servant, went one day to the market, and having seen there a mule which appeared exactly to suit his need, bought it for seven golden florins.
It happened that there were three merry fellows at the market that day, of the sort which liefer lives on the goods of others than on its own earnings—as sometimes happens even in our own time—and, as soon as they saw the bargain struck, one said to the other, ‘Comrades, I have a mind that the mule yonder should belong to us.’ ‘But how can that be managed?’ said the others. Then the first speaker re plied, ‘We must post ourselves along the road he will take on his journey home, about a quarter of a mile apart one from another, and as he passes each one must affirm positively that the mule he has bought is not a mule at all, but an ass, and if we are brazen enough in our declaration the mule will be ours.’
Accordingly they started from the market and stationed themselves separately on the road, as they had appointed, and when Pre Scarpafico approached the first of the thieves, the fellow, feigning to be on the road to the market, said, ‘God be with you, sir!’ to which Scarpafico replied, ‘And welcome to you, my brother.’ ‘Whence come you, sir?’ said the thief. ‘From the market,’ Scarpafico answered. ‘And what good bargains have you picked up there?’ asked the thief. ‘This mule,’ said Scarpafico. ‘Which mule?’ exclaimed the robber. ‘Why, the mule I am riding,’ returned Scarpafico. ‘Are you speaking in sober truth, or do you mock me?’ asked the thief; ‘because it seems to me to be an ass, and not a mule.’ ‘Indeed,’ Scarpafico answered, and with out another word he went his way. Be fore he had ridden far he met the next robber, who greeted him, ‘Good morrow, sir, and where may you come from?’ ‘From the market,’ answered Scarpafico. ‘And was there aught worth buying?’ said the robber. ‘Yes,’ answered Scarpafico, ‘I bought this mule which you see.’ ‘How, sir,’ said the robber, ‘do you mean to say you bought that for a mule, and not for an ass? What rascals must be about, seeing you have been thus cheated!’ ‘An ass, indeed,’ replied Scarpafico ‘if anyone else should tell me this same tale, I will make him a present of the beast straightway.’ Then going his way, he soon met the third thief, who said to him, ‘Good morrow, sir. You come mayhap from the market?’ ‘I do,’ replied Scarpafico. ‘And what may you have bought there?’ asked the robber. ‘I bought this mule which I am riding,’ said Scarpafico. ‘Mule,’ said the fellow; ‘do you really mean what you say? Surely you must be joking when you call that beast a mule, while it is really an ass.’ Scarpafico, when he heard this tale, said to the fellow, ‘Two other men I have met told me the same story, and I did not believe them, but now it appears certain that the beast is an ass,’ and having dismounted from the mule, he handed it over to the thief, who, having thanked the priest for it, went off to join his companions, leaving good Pre Scarpafico to make his way home on foot.
As soon as he came to his house he told Nina how he had bought a nag at the market, thinking it to be a mule, but that it had proved to be an ass; and how, having been told that he had mistaken one beast for the other by several people he had met on the road home, he had given the beast to the last of them. ‘Ah, you poor simpleton!’ cried Nina. ‘Cannot you see they have played you a trick? I thought you were cleverer than this. In truth, they would not have fooled me thus.’ ‘Well, it is no use to grieve over it,’ said Scarpafico. ‘They may have played me a trick, but see if I do not play them two in return. Be sure that these fellows, after having once fooled me, will not rest content with that, but will soon be weaving some new plot whereby they may plunder me afresh.’
Not far from Pre Scarpafico’s house there lived a peasant, who had amongst his goats two which were so much alike that it was impossible to tell one from the other. These two goats the priest bought, and the next day ordered Nina to prepare a good dinner for himself and some friends he proposed to invite — some boiled veal, and roast fowls and meat, and to make savoury sauces there to, and a tart of the sort she was accustomed to serve him with. Then he took one of the goats and tied it to a hedge in the garden, and having given it some fodder, he put a halter round the neck of the other and led it off to the market, where he was at once accosted by the three worthies of the late escapade. ‘Welcome, good sir, and what may be your business here to-day? You are come, no doubt, to make another good purchase?’ To which Scarpafico replied, ‘I have come to buy divers provisions, for some friends are coming to dine with me; and if you will consent to join our feast it will please me greatly.’ The cunning rascals willingly accepted Scarpafico’s invitation, and he, when he had bought everything he required, bestowed all his purchases on the back of the goat, and said to the beast, ‘Now go home and tell Nina to boil this veal, and to roast the fowls and the meat, and tell her, moreover, to make savoury sauce with these spices, and a fair tart. Do you understand? Now go in peace.’ And with these words he drove off the laden goat, which, being left to go where it would, wandered away, and what befell it no one knows. Scarpafico and his companions and some other friends of his strolled about the market-place till the hour of dinner, and then they all repaired to the priest’s house, where the first thing they saw on entering the garden was the goat which Scarpafico had tied to the hedge, calmly ruminating after its meal of herbage. The three adventurers at once set it down as the goat which Pre Scarpafico had despatched home with his purchases, being beyond measure amazed thereat; and when they were all come in, the priest said to Nina, ‘ Have you pre pared everything as the goat told you?’ and she, understanding his meaning, replied, ‘Yes, sir, in a few minutes the roast loin and the fowls and the boiled veal will be ready, and the sauce made with spices, and the tart likewise; all as the goat told me.’
The three robbers, when they saw set forth the roast and boiled and the tart, and heard what Nina said, were more astonished than ever, and at once began to cast about how they might get possession of the goat by theft; but ‘when the dinner had come to an end, and they found themselves as far as ever from compassing their felonious purpose, they said to Scarpafico, ‘Sir, will you do us the favour to sell us that goat of yours?’ But Scarpafico replied that he had no wish to part with it, for it was worth more money than the world held; but, after a little, he consented to oblige them, and to take in exchange for it fifty golden forms. ‘But,’ he added, ‘take warning, and blame me not after wards if the goat does not obey you as it obeys me, for it knows you not or your ways.’
But the three adventurers heeded not this speech of Scarpafico, and, without further parley, carried off the goat, rejoicing in their bargain. When they came to their homes, they said to their wives, ‘See that you prepare no food to-morrow save that which we shall send home by the goat.’ On the morrow they went to the piazza, where they purchased fowls and divers other viands, and these they packed on the goat’s back, and directed it to go home, and to tell to their wives all they ordered. The goat, thus laden, when it was set at liberty, ran away into the country and was never seen again.
When dinner-hour was come the three confederates straightway went home and demanded of their wives whether the goat had come back safely with the provisions, and whether they had duly cooked these according to the directions given. The women, amazed at what they heard, cried out, ‘What fools and numskulls you must be to suppose that a beast like that would do your bidding! You surely have been prettily duped. With your cheating other people every day, it was quite certain you would be caught yourselves at last.’
As soon as the three robbers saw that Scarpafico had verily made fools of them, besides having eased their pockets of fifty golden forms, they were hotly in censed against him, and, having caught up their arms, they set forth to find him, swearing they would have his life. But the cunning priest, who fully expected that the robbers would seek vengeance upon him when they should discover how he had tricked them, had taken counsel with Nina thereanent. ‘Nina,’ he said,’ take this bladder, which you see is full, and wear it under your dress; then, when these robbers come, I will put all the blame on you, and in my rage will make believe to stab you; but I will thrust the knife in this bladder, and you must fall down as if you were dead. The rest you will leave to me.’
Scarcely had Scarpafico finished speaking when the confederates arrived, and at once made for Scarpafico as if to kill him. ‘Hold, brothers,’ he cried, ‘what you would bring against me is none of my doing, but the work of this servant of mine, most likely on account of some affront of which I know nothing.’ And, turning towards Nina, he struck his knife into the bladder, which he had previously filled with blood, and she forthwith feigned to be dead and fell down, while the blood gushed in streams about where she lay. Then the priest, looking upon his work, made great show of repentance, and bawled out lustily, ‘Oh, wretched man that I am! what have I done in thus foolishly slaying this woman who was the prop of my old age? How shall I manage to live with out her?’ But after a little he fetched a bagpipe, made according to a fancy of his own, and blew a tune upon it, until at last Nina jumped up safe and sound, as if recalled to life.
When the robbers saw what happened they forgot their anger in their astonishment, and, after a little chaffering, they purchased the bagpipe for two hundred florins, and went highly delighted to their homes. A day or two after it chanced that one of them fell out with his wife, and, becoming enraged, stabbed her in the breast with his knife and killed her. The husband at once took the bagpipe which had been bought of Scarpafico, and blew into them as Scarpafico had done in hopes of reviving her; but he spent his wind to no purpose, for the poor woman had verily passed from this life to the next. When the second thief saw what his comrade had done, he cried out, ‘What a fool you are! you have bungled the affair. Wait and see how I do it.’ And with these words he seized his own wife by the hair, and cut her throat with a razor. Then, taking the bagpipe, he blew with all his might, but with no better result than the first. The third fellow, who was standing by, nothing daunted by the failure of the others, served his own wife in the same way to no better purpose; so the three were all alike wifeless. With hotter anger against Scarpafico than ever, they hurried to his house, resolved that this time they would pay no heed to his plausible tales, and seized him and thrust him into a sack, purposing to drown him in a neighbouring river. But as they bore him along something gave them an alarm, and they ran to hide themselves for a while, leaving Pre Scarpafico in his sack by the wayside.
They had not been gone many minutes before a shepherd, driving his flock to pasture, went by; and, as he drew nigh, he heard a plaintive voice saying, ‘They want me to take her, but I will have none of her; for I am a priest, and have no concern with such matters.’ The shepherd stopped short, somewhat frightened, because he could not discover whence came the voice, which kept repeating the same words over and over again; but, having looked now here, now there, his eye at last fell on the sack in which Scarpafico was tied up. The shepherd opened the sack and let the priest come forth, demanding why he had been thus tied up, and what he meant by the words he kept uttering. Whereupon Scarpafico declared that the seigneur of the town insisted on marrying him to one of his daughters, but that he himself had no stomach for the match, because, besides being a priest, he was too old to wive. The shepherd, who, like a simpleton, believed every word the cunning priest told him, at once cried out, ‘Good father, do you think the seigneur would bestow her upon me?’ ‘I believe he would,’ said Scarpafico, ‘provided you get into this sack and let me tie you up.’ The silly shepherd at once crept in, and Scarpafico, having fastened the sack, got away from the place as quickly as he could, driving the poor shepherd’s flock before him.
When an hour or so had passed the three thieves returned, and, without examining the sack, they bore it to the river and threw it in, thus sending the wretched shepherd to the fate they had destined for Pre Scarpafico.
They then took their way homewards, and, as they were conversing, they perceived a flock of sheep grazing hard by, and at once began to scheme how they might easiest carry off a couple of lambs. But when they drew anigh, judge their amazement at seeing Pre Scarpafico, whom they believed to be lying at the bottom of the river, tending the flock as a shepherd. As soon as they had re covered from their amazement, they demanded of him how he had managed to get out of the river, and he straightway answered: ‘Away with you! you have no more sense than so many jackasses. If you had thrown me a little farther into the stream, I should have come back with ten times as many sheep as you see here.’ When the robbers heard this they cried out,’ Ah! Pre Scarpafico, will you at last do us a good turn? Will you put us into sacks and throw us into the river? Then, you see, we shall no longer have need to be footpads and rascals, and will live as honest shepherds.’ ‘Well,’ answered Scarpafico, ‘I will do so much for you; indeed, there is no favour in the world I would not grant you, on account of the love I bear you;’ and, having got three good sacks of strong canvas, he tied the three thieves therein so firmly that there was no chance of their getting out, and threw them into the river. Thus they went to the place which was their due, and Scarpafico went back to Nina with good store of gold and cattle, and lived many years in happiness and prosperity.
Cateruzza’s tale gave great pleasure to all the company, and won high praise, especially the part of it which dealt with Pre Scarpafico’s cunning scheme whereby, in exchange for the mule he gave away, he gained much money and a fine flock of sheep. Cateruzza then set forth her enigma:
A sturdy blacksmith and his wife,
Who lived a simple honest life,
Sat down to dine; and for their fare
A loaf and a half of bread was there.
But ere they finished came the priest,
And with his sister joined the feast.
The loaf in twain the blacksmith cleft,
So three half loaves for the four were left.
Each ate a half, each was content.
Now say what paradox is meant.
The solution of Cateruzza’s enigma was, that the blacksmith’s wife was the priest’s sister. When the husband and wife had sat down to their meal, the priest came in and joined them, and then, apparently, there were four of them, to wit, the blacksmith and his wife, and the priest and his sister; but in reality there were but three. As each one had a third of the bread they were all contented. After Cateruzza had explained her very ingenious enigma, the Signora gave the signal to Eritrea to give them her story, and she forthwith began.