Tebaldo, Prince of Salerno, wishes to have his only daughter Doralice to wife, but she, through her father's persecution, flees to England, where she marries Genese the king, and has by him two children. These, having been slain by Tebaldo, are avenged by their father King Genese.
I CANNOT think there is one amongst us who has not realized by his own experience how great is the power of love, and how sharp are the arrows he is wont to shoot into our corruptible flesh. He, like a mighty king, directs and governs his empire without a sword, simply by his individual will, as you will be able to understand from the tenour of the story which I am about to tell to you.
You must know, dear ladies, that Tebaldo, Prince of Salerno, according to the story I have heard repeated many times by my elders, had to wife a modest and prudent lady of good lineage, and by her he had a daughter who in beauty and grace outshone all the other ladies of Salerno; but it would have been well for Tebaldo if she had never seen the light, for in that case the grave misadventure which befell him would never have happened. His wife, young in years but of mature wisdom, when she lay a-dying besought her husband, whom she loved very dearly, never to take for his wife any woman whose finger would not exactly fit the ring which she herself wore; and the prince, who loved his wife no less than she loved him, swore by his head that he would observe her wish.
After the good princess had breathed her last and had been honourably buried, Tebaldo indulged in the thought of wed ding again, but he bore well in mind the promise he had made to his wife, and was firmly resolved to keep her saying. However, the report that Tebaldo, Prince of Salerno, was seeking another mate soon got noised abroad, and came to the ears of many maidens who, in worth and in estate, were no whit his inferiors; but Tebaldo, whose first care was to fulfil the wishes of his wife who was dead, made it a condition that any damsel who might be offered to him in marriage should first try on her finger his wife’s ring, to see whether it fitted, and not having found one who fulfilled this condition — the ring being always found too big for this and too small for that— he was forced to dismiss them all without further parley.
Now it happened one day that the daughter of Tebaldo, whose name was Doralice, sat at table with her father; and she, having espied her mother’s ring lying on the board, slipped it on her finger and cried out, ‘See, my father, how well my mother’s ring fits me!’ and the prince, when he saw what she had done, assented.
But not long after this the soul of Tebaldo was assailed by a strange and diabolical temptation to take to wife his daughter Doralice, and for many days he lived tossed about between yea and nay. At last, overcome by the strength of this devilish intent, and fired by the beauty of the maiden, he one day called her to him and said, ‘Doralice, my daughter, while your mother was yet alive, but fast nearing the end of her days, she besought me never to take to wife any woman whose finger would not fit the ring she herself always wore in her lifetime, and I swore by my head that I would observe this last request of hers. Wherefore, when I felt the time was come for me to wed anew, I made trial of many maidens, but not one could I find who could wear your mother’s ring, except yourself. Therefore I have decided to take you for my wife, for thus I shall satisfy my own desire without violating the promise I made to your mother.’ Doralice, who was as pure as she was beautiful, when she listened to the evil designs of her wicked father, was deeply troubled in her heart; but, taking heed of his vile and abominable lust, and fearing the effects of his rage, she made no answer and went out of his presence with an untroubled face. As there was no one whom she could trust so well as her old nurse, she repaired to her at once as the surest bulwark of her safety, to take counsel as to what she should do. The nurse, when she had heard the story of the execrable lust of this wicked father, spake words of comfort to Doralice, for she knew well the constancy and stead fast nature of the girl, and that she would be ready to endure any torment rather than accede to her father’s desire, and promised to aid her in keeping her virginity unsullied by such terrible disgrace.
After this the nurse thought of nothing else than how she might best find a way for Doralice out of this strait, planning now this and now that, but finding no method which gained her entire approval. She would fain have had Doralice take to flight and put long distance betwixt her and her father, but she feared the craft of Tebaldo, and lest the girl should fall into his hands after her flight, feeling certain that in such event he would put her to death.
So while the faithful nurse was thus taking counsel with herself, she suddenly hit upon a fresh scheme, which was what I will now tell you. In the chamber of the dead lady there was a fair cassone, or clothes-chest, magnificently carved, in which Doralice kept her richest dresses and her most precious jewels, and this wardrobe the nurse alone could open. So she removed from it by stealth all the robes and the ornaments that were therein, and bestowed them elsewhere, placing in it a good store of a certain liquor which had such great virtue, that whosoever took a spoonful of it, or even less, could live for a long time without further nourishment. Then, having called Doralice, she shut her therein, and bade her remain in hiding until such time as God should send her better for tune, and her father be delivered from the bestial mood which had come upon him. The maiden, obedient to the good old woman’s command, did all that was told her; and the father, still set upon his accursed design, and making no effort to restrain his unnatural lust, demanded every day what had become of his daughter; and, neither finding any trace of her, or knowing aught where she could be, his rage became so terrible that he threatened to have her killed as soon as he should find her.
Early one morning it chanced that Tebaldo went into the room where the chest was, and as soon as his eye fell up on it, he felt, from the associations connected with it, that he could not any longer endure the sight of it, so he gave orders that it should straightway be taken out and placed elsewhere and sold, so that its presence might not be an offence to him. The servants were prompt to obey their master’s command, and, having taken the thing on their shoulders, they bore it away to the market-place. It chanced that there was at that time in the city a rich dealer from Genoa, who, as soon as he caught sight of the sumptuously carved cassone, admired it greatly, and settled with himself that he would not let it go from him, however much he might have to pay for it. So, having accosted the servant who was charged with the sale of it, and learnt the price demanded, he bought it forthwith, and gave orders to a porter to carry it away and place it on board his ship. The nurse, who was watching the trafficking from a distance, was well pleased with the issue thereof, though she grieved sore at losing the maiden. Wherefore she consoled herself by reflecting that when it comes to the choice of evils it is ever wiser to avoid the greater.
The merchant, having set sail from Salerno with his carven chest and other valuable wares, voyaged to the island of Britain, known to us to-day as England, and landed at a port near which the country was spread out in a vast plain. Be fore he had been there long, Genese, who had lately been crowned king of the island, happened to be riding along the seashore, chasing a fine stag, which, in the end, ran down to the beach and took to the water. The king, feeling weary and worn with the long pursuit, was fain to rest awhile, and, having caught sight of the ship, he sent to ask the master of it to give him something to drink; and the latter, feigning to be ignorant he was talking to the king, greeted Genese familiarly, and gave him a hearty welcome, finally prevailing upon him to go on board his vessel. The king, when he saw the beautiful clothes-chest so finely carved, was taken with a great longing to possess it, and grew so impatient to call it his own that every hour seemed like a thousand till he should be able to claim it. He then asked the merchant the price he asked for it, and was answered that the price was a very heavy one. The king, being now more taken than ever with the beautiful handicraft, would not leave the ship till he had arranged a price with the merchant, and, having sent for money enough to pay the price demanded, he took his leave, and straightway ordered the cassone to be borne to the palace and placed in his chamber.
Genese, being yet over-young to wive, found his chief pleasure in going every day to the chase. Now that the cassone was transported into his bedroom, with the maiden Doralice hidden inside, she heard, as was only natural, all that went on in the king’s chamber, and, in pondering over her past misfortunes, hoped that a happier future was in store for her. And as soon as the king had departed for the chase in the morning, and had left the room clear, Doralice would issue from the clothes-chest, and would deftly put the chamber in order, and sweep it, and make the bed. Then she would adjust the bed-curtains, and put on the coverlet cunningly embroidered with fine pearls, and two beautifully ornamented pillows thereto. After this, the fair maiden strewed the bed with roses, violets, and other sweet-smelling flowers, mingled with Cyprian spices which ex haled a subtle odour and soothed the brain to slumber. Day after day Dora- lice continued to compose the king’s chamber in this pleasant fashion, without being seen of anyone, and thereby gave Genese much gratification ; for every day when he came back from the chase it seemed to him as if he was greeted by all the perfumes of the East. One day he questioned the queen his mother, and the ladies who were about her, as to which of them had so kindly and graciously adorned his room, and decked the bed with roses and violets and sweet scents. They answered, one and all, that they had no part in all this, for every morning, when they went to put the chamber in order, they found the bed strewn with flowers and perfumes.
Genese, when he heard this, deter mined to clear up the mystery, and the next morning gave out that he was going to hunt at a village ten leagues distant; but, in lieu of going forth, he quietly hid himself in the room, keeping his eyes steadily fixed on the door, and waiting to see what might occur. He had not been long on the watch before Doralice, looking more beautiful than the sun, came out of the cassone and began to sweep the room, and to straighten the carpets, and to deck the bed, and diligently to set everything in order, as was her wont. The beautiful maiden had no sooner done her kindly and considerate office, than she made as if she would go back to her hiding-place; but the king, ho had keenly taken note of everything, suddenly caught her by the hand, and, seeing that she was very fair, and fresh as a lily, asked her who she was; whereupon the trembling girl confessed that she was the daughter of a prince. She declared, however, that she had forgotten what was his name, on account of her long imprisonment in the cassone, and she would say nothing as to the reason why she had been shut therein. The king, after he had heard her story, fell violently in love with her, and, with the full consent of his mother, made her his queen, and had by her two fair children.
In the meantime Tebaldo was still mastered by his wicked and treacherous passion, and, as he could find no trace of Doralice, search as he would, he began to believe that she must have been hid den in the coffer which he had caused to be sold, and that, having escaped his power, she might be wandering about from place to place. Therefore, with his rage still burning against her, he set himself to try whether perchance he might not discover her whereabouts. He attired himself as a merchant, and, having gathered together a great store of precious stones and jewels, marvellously wrought in gold, quitted Salerno unknown to anyone, and scoured all the nations and countries round about, finally meeting by hazard the trader who had originally purchased the clothes chest. Of him he demanded whether he had been satisfied with his bargain, and into whose hands the chest had fallen, and the trader replied that he had sold the cassone to the King of England for double the price he had given for it. Tebaldo, rejoicing at this news, made his way to England, and when he had landed there and journeyed to the capital, he made a show of his jewels and golden ornaments, amongst which were some spindles and distaffs cunningly wrought, crying out the while, ‘Spindles and distaffs for sale, ladies.’ It chanced that one of the dames of the court, who was looking out of a window, heard this, and saw the merchant and his goods; whereupon she ran to the queen and told her there was below a merchant who had for sale the most beautiful golden spindles and distaffs that ever were seen. The queen commanded him to be brought into the palace, and he came up the stairs into her presence, but she did not recognize him in his merchant’s guise; moreover, she was not thinking ever to behold her father again; but Tebaldo recognized his daughter at once.
The queen, when she saw how fair was the work of the spindles and distaffs, asked of the merchant what price he put upon them. ‘The price is great,’ he answered, ‘but to you I will give one of them for nothing, provided you suffer me to gratify a caprice of mine. This is that I may be permitted to sleep one night in the same room as your children.’ The good Doralice, in her pure and simple nature, never suspected the accursed design of the feigned merchant, and, yielding to the persuasion of her attendants, granted his request.
But before the merchant was led to the sleeping chamber, certain ladies of the court deemed it wise to offer him a cup of wine well drugged to make him sleep sound, and when night had come and the merchant seemed over come with fatigue, one of the ladies conducted him into the chamber of the king’s children, where there was prepared for him a sumptuous couch. Before she left him the lady said, ’Good man, are you not thirsty.‘ ‘Indeed I am,’ he replied; whereupon she handed him the drugged wine in a silver cup; but the crafty Tebaldo, while feigning to drink the wine, spilled it over his garments, and then lay down to rest.
Now there was in the children’s room a side door through which it was possible to pass into the queen’s apartment. At midnight, when all was still, Tebaldo stole through this, and, going up to the bed beside which the queen had left her clothes, he took away a small dagger, which he had marked the day before hanging from her girdle. Then he re turned to the children’s room and killed them both with the dagger, which he immediately put back into its scabbard, all bloody as it was, and having opened a window he let himself down by a cord. As soon as the shopmen of the city were astir, he went to a barber’s and had his long beard taken off for fear he might be recognized, and having put on different clothes he walked about the city without apprehension.
In the palace the nurses went, as soon as they awakened, to suckle the children; but when they came to the cradles they found them both lying dead. Whereupon they began to scream and to weep bitterly, and to rend their hair and their garments, thus laying bare their breasts. The dreadful tidings came quickly to the ears of the king and queen, and they ran barefooted and in their night-clothes to the spot, and when they saw the dead bodies of the babes they wept bitterly. Soon the report of the murder of the two children was spread throughout the city, and, almost at the same time, it was rumoured that there had just arrived a famous astrologer, who, by studying the courses of the various stars, could lay bare the hidden mysteries of the past. When this came to the ears of the king, he caused the astrologer to be summoned forthwith, and, when he was come into the royal presence, demanded whether or not he could tell the name of the murderer of the children. The astrologer replied that he could, and whispering secretly in the king’s ear he said, ‘Sire, let all the men and women of your court who are wont to wear a dagger at their side be summoned before you, and if amongst these you shall find one whose dagger is befouled with blood in its scabbard, that same will be the murderer of your children.’
Wherefore the king at once gave command that all his courtiers should present themselves, and, when they were assembled, he diligently searched with his own hands to see if any one of them might have a bloody dagger at his side, but he could find none. Then he returned to the astrologer—who was no other than Tebaldo himself—and told him how his quest had been vain, and that all in the palace, save his mother and the queen, had been searched. To which the astrologer replied,’ Sire, search everywhere and respect no one, and then you will surely find the murderer.’ So the king searched first his mother, and then the queen, and when he took the dagger which Doralice wore and drew it from the scabbard, he found it covered with blood. Then the king, convinced by this proof, turned to the queen and said to her, ‘O, wicked and inhuman woman, enemy of your own flesh and blood, traitress to your own children! what desperate madness has led you to dye your hands in the blood of these babes? I swear that you shall suffer the full penalty fixed for such a crime.’ But though the king in his rage would fain have sent her straightway to a shameful death, his desire for vengeance prompted him to dispose of her so that she might suffer longer and more cruel torment. Where fore he commanded that she should be stripped and thus naked buried up to her chin in the earth, and that she should be well fed in order that she might linger long and the worms devour her flesh while she still lived. The queen, seasoned to misfortune in the past, and conscious of her innocence, contemplated her terrible doom with calmness and dignity.
Tebaldo, when he learned that the queen had been adjudged guilty and condemned to a cruel death, rejoiced greatly, and, as soon as he had taken leave of the king, left England, quite satisfied with his work, and returned secretly to Salerno. Arrived there he told to the old nurse the whole story of his adventures, and how Doralice had been sentenced to death by her husband. As she listened the nurse feigned to be as pleased as Tebaldo himself, but in her heart she grieved sorely, overcome by the love which she had always borne towards the princess, and the next morning she took horse early and rode on day and night until she came to Eng land. Immediately she repaired to the palace and went before the king, who was giving public audience in the great hall, and, having thrown herself at his feet, she demanded an interview on a matter which concerned the honour of his crown. The king granted her re quest, and took her by the hand and bade her rise; then, when the rest of the company had gone and left them alone, the nurse thus addressed the king: c Sire, know that Doralice, your wife, is my child. She is not, indeed, the fruit of my womb, but I nourished her at these breasts. She is innocent of the deed which is laid to her charge, and for which she is sentenced to a lingering and cruel death. And you, when you shall have learnt everything, and laid your hands upon the impious murderer, and understood the reason which moved him to slay your children, you will assuredly show her mercy and deliver her from these bitter and cruel torments. And if you find that I speak falsely in this, I offer myself to suffer the same punishment which the wretched Doralice is now enduring.’
Then the nurse set forth fully from beginning to end the whole history of Doralice’s past life; and the king when he heard it doubted not the truth of it, but forthwith gave orders that the queen, who was now more dead than alive, should be taken out of the earth; which was done at once, and Doralice, after careful nursing and ministration by physicians, was restored to health.
Next King Genese stirred up through all his kingdom mighty preparations for war, and gathered together a great army, which he despatched to Salerno. After a short campaign the city was captured, and Tebaldo, bound hand and foot, taken back to England, where King Genese, wishing to know the whole sum of his guilt, had him put upon the rack, where upon the wretched man made full confession. The next day he was conducted through the city in a cart drawn by four horses, and then tortured with red-hot pincers like Gano di Magazza, and after his body had been quartered his flesh was thrown to be eaten of ravenous dogs.
And this was the end of the impious wretch Tebaldo; and King Genese and Doralice his queen lived many years happily together, leaving at their death divers children in their place.
All the listeners were both amazed and moved to pity by this pathetic story, and when it was finished Eritrea, without waiting for the Signora’s word, gave her enigma:
I tell you of a heart so vile,
So cruel, and so full of guile,
That with its helpless progeny
It deals as with an enemy.
And when it sees them plump and sleek,
It stabs them with its cruel beak.
For, lean itself, with malice fell,
It fain would make them lean as well.
So they grow thin with wasting pain,
Till nought but plumes and bones remain.
The ladies and gentlemen gave various solutions to this enigma, one guessing this and another that, but they found it hard to believe there could be an animal so vile and cruel as thus barbarously to maltreat its own progeny, but at last the fair Eritrea said with a smile, “What cause is there for your wonder Assuredly there are parents who hate their children as virulently as the rapacious kite hates its young. This bird, being by nature thin and meagre, when it sees its progeny fat and seemly — as young birds mostly are — stabs their tender flesh with its hard beak, until they too become lean like itself.”
This solution of Eritrea’s pointed enigma pleased everybody, and it won the applause of all. Eritrea, having made due salutation to the Signora, resumed her seat. Then the latter made a sign to Arianna to follow in her turn, and she rising from her chair began her fable as follows.