Dimitrio the chapman, having disguised himself as a certain Gramottiveggio, surprises his wife Polissena with a priest, and sends her back to her brothers, who put her to death, and Dimitrio afterwards marries his serving woman.
WE often see, dear ladies, great inequality in the degree of mutual love. How often will the husband love the wife entirely, and she care little for him; and, on the other hand, the wife will love the husband to find nothing but hatred in return. In conditions like these is born the passion of sudden jealousy, the destroyer of all happiness, rendering a decent life impossible; likewise dishonourings and unseemly deaths, which often shed deep disgrace over all our sex. I will say nothing of the headlong perils, of the numberless ills, into which both men and women rush on account of this accursed jealousy. It would weary rather than divert you were I to recount them all to you one by one; but, as it is my task to bring to an end this evening of pleasant discourse, I will tell you a story of Gramottiveggio, now told for the first time, and I believe you will gather there from no less pleasure than edification.
The noble city of Venice, famed for the integrity of its magistrates, for the justice of its laws, and as being the re sort of men from every nation of the world, is seated on the bosom of the Adriatic sea, and is named the queen of cities, the refuge of the unhappy, the asylum of the oppressed. Her walls are the sea and her roof the sky; and, though the earth produces nought, there is no scarcity of anything that life in a great city demands.
In this rich and magnificent city there lived in former days a merchant whose name was Dimitrio, a good and trust worthy man of upright life, though of low degree. He was possessed with a great desire of offspring, wherefore he took to wife a fair and graceful girl named Polissena, whom he loved as dearly as ever man loved woman, letting her clothe herself so sumptuously that there was no dame in all the city—save amongst the nobles—who could outvie her in raiment, or in rings, or in pearls of price. And besides he took care to let her have abundance of delicate victuals, which, not being suitable to one of her humble degree, gave her the look of being more pampered and dainty than she should have been.
It chanced one day that Dimitrio, who on account of his business was often constrained to travel by sea, determined to take ship with a cargo of goods for Cyprus, and, when he had got ready his apparel and stocked the house with pro visions and everything that was needful, he left his dear wife Polissena with a fair and buxom serving-maid to bear her company, and set sail on his voyage.
After his departure Polissena went on living luxuriously and indulged herself with every delicacy, and before very long found she was unable to endure further the pricks of amorous appetite, so she cast her eyes upon the parish priest and became hotly enamoured of him. The priest on his part, being young, lively, and well-favoured, came at last to divine the meaning of the glances Polissena cast towards him out of the corner of her eye; and, seeing that she was gifted with a lovely face and a graceful shape, and further endowed with all the charms men desire in a woman, he soon began to return her amorous looks. Thus love grew up between them, and many days had not passed before Polissena brought the young man privily into the house to take her pleasure with him. And thus, for the course of many months, they secretly enjoyed the delights of love in close embraces and sweet kisses, letting the poor husband fare the best he might in the perils of sea and land.
Now when Dimitrio had been some time in Cyprus, and had made there a reasonable profit on his goods, he sailed back to Venice; and, having disembarked, he went to his home and to his dear Polissena, who, as soon as she saw him, burst into tears, and when Dimitrio asked her the reason of her weeping, she replied, I weep because of some bad news which came to me of late, and also for the great joy I feel in seeing you again; for I heard tell by many that all the ships which had sailed for Cyprus were wrecked, and I feared sorely lest some terrible misadventure should have overtaken you. But now, seeing you have by God’s mercy returned safe and sound, I cannot keep back my tears for the joy I feel.’ The simple Dimitrio, who had returned to Venice to make up—as he thought—to his wife for the solitary time she had passed during his long absence, deemed that the tears and sighs of Polissena sprang from her warm and constant love for him; but the poor dupe never suspected that all the while she was saying in her heart, ‘Would to Heaven that he had been drowned at sea! for then I might the more safely and readily take my pleasure with my lover who loves me so well.’
Before a month had passed Dimitrio was forced to set on his travels once more, whereat Polissena was filled with joy greater than can be imagined, and forewith sent word to her lover, who showed himself to be no less on the alert; and, when the settled hour for their foregathering had come, he went secretly to her. But the comings and goings of the priest could not be kept secret enough to escape for long the eye of a certain Manusso, a friend of Dimitrio, who lived just opposite. Where fore Manusso, who held Dimitrio in high esteem for that he was a pleasant companion and one ever ready to do a friendly service, grew mightily suspicious of his young neighbour, and kept a sharp watch over her. When he had satisfied himself that, with a given sign at a certain hour, the door would always be opened to the priest, and that after this the lovers would disport themselves with less circumspection than prudence demanded, he determined that the business, which was as yet a secret, should not be brought to light so as to stir up a scandal, but to let his project have time to ripen by awaiting the return of Dimitrio.
When Dimitrio found himself at liberty to return home, he took ship, and with a favourable breeze sailed back to Venice! and, having disembarked, went straight to his own house and knocked at the door, thus arousing the servant, who, when she had looked out of the window and recognized her master, ran quickly to let him in, weeping with joy the while. Polissena, when she heard her husband had returned, came down stairs forthwith, taking him in her arms and embracing and kissing him as if she had been the most loving wife in the world. And because he was weary and altogether worn out by the sea voyage, he went to bed without taking any food, and slept so soundly that the morning came before he had taken any amorous pleasure with his wife. When the night had passed and full daylight had come, Dimitrio awoke, and, having left the bed without bestowing so much as a single kiss upon his wife, took a little box, out of which he drew a few ornamental trinkets of no small value, which, on re turning to bed, he gave to his wife, who set little store by them, seeing that her thoughts were running upon another matter. Shortly after this it happened that Dimitrio had occasion to go into Apulia to purchase oil and other merchandise, and, having announced this to his wife, he began to make ready for his journey. She, cunning and full of mischief, and feigning to be heartbroken at his departure, kissed him lovingly and besought him to tarry yet a few days longer with her; but in her heart of hearts she reckoned one day of his presence like a thousand, since it pre vented her from taking her pleasure in the arms of her lover.
Now Manusso, who had often espied the priest courting Polissena and doing divers other things which it is not seemly to mention, felt that he would be working his friend a wrong if he should not now let him know all that he had seen. Therefore he determined, come what might, to tell him all. So, having invited him one day to dinner, he said to him as they sat at table, ‘ Dimitrio, my friend, you know, if I am not mistaken, that I have always held, and shall ever hold you in great affection, so long as there is breath in my body; nor could you name any task, however difficult, which I would not undertake for the love I bear you; and, if you would not take it ill, I could tell you of certain matters which might annoy you rather than please you, but I fear to speak lest thereby I should disturb your peace of mind. Nevertheless, if you will take it — as I hope you will — circumspectly and prudently, you will not let your anger get the mastery over you, and thus blind your eyes to the truth.’ ‘Know you not,’ answered Dimitrio, ‘that you may say to me anything you please? If you have, by any mischance, killed a man, tell me, and do not doubt my fidelity.’ Manusso answered, ‘I have killed nobody, but I have seen another man slay your honour and your good name.’ ‘Speak your meaning clearly,’ said Dimitrio, ‘and do not beat about the bush with ambiguous words.’ ‘Do you wish me to tell it you briefly?’ asked Manusso; ‘then listen and hear patiently what I have to say. Polissena your wife, whom you hold so dear, all the time you are away sleeps every night with a priest and takes her pleasure with him.’ ‘How can this be possible,’ said Dimitrio, ‘seeing that she loves me so tenderly, never failing when I leave her to shed floods of tears on my bosom and to fill the air with her sighs? If I were to behold this thing with my own eyes I would not believe it.’ ‘If you are wise, as I believe you to be,’ said Manusso, ‘if there is any reason in you, you will not shut your eyes, as is the way with so many simpletons and fools. I will let you see with your eyes and touch with your hands all that I have told you; then you may be convinced.’ ‘Then,’ said Dimitrio,’ I shall be content to do what ever you may direct me in order to let you show me all you have promised.’ Then Manusso replied, ‘But you must take care to keep your secret and put a good face on the matter, otherwise you will wreck the whole plot. When next you have to go abroad, make believe to set sail, but in lieu of quitting Venice come to my lodgings as secretly as you can, and I will clear up the mystery for you.’
When the day came for Dimitrio to start on his journey he embraced his wife tenderly, while he bade her take good care of the house, and having taken leave of her feigned to go on board his ship, but turned and withdrew secretly to the lodging of Manusso. By chance it happened that, before two o’clock had struck, a terrible storm came on, with rain so heavy that it seemed as if the heavens themselves were broken up, and the rain ceased not all through the night. The priest, who had already been advertised of the departure of Dimitrio, and cared neither for wind nor rain, was waiting for the hour of assignation. When he gave the sign the door was opened to him, and, as soon as he was inside, Polissena greeted him with sweet and passionate kisses; while the husband, who was concealed in a passage over the way, saw all that went on, and, being no longer able to contradict his friend’s assertion, was altogether over whelmed, and burst into tears on account of the righteous grief which possessed him. Then said his friend to him,’ Now what do you think? Have you not seen something you would never have believed? But say not a word and keep yourself cool, for if you listen to what I have to say, and do exactly what I shall direct you, you shall see something more. Take off the clothes you are now wearing, and put on some beggar’s rags, and smear your face and your hands with dirt; then go over to your own house as a beggar, and in a counterfeited voice ask for a night’s lodging. Most likely the servant, seeing how bad a night it is, will take pity on you and take you in; and if you do this, you will probably see something else you would rather not see.’
Dimitrio, having listened to his friend’s counsel, took off his clothes and put on instead the rags of a poor man who had come to the house and asked for lodging in God’s name, and, although it still rained smartly, he went over to the door of his own house, at which he knocked thrice, weeping and, groaning bitterly the while. The serving-maid having opened the window, cried out who was there, and Dimitrio, in a broken and feigned voice, replied that it was a poor old man, almost drowned by the rain, who begged a night’s lodging. Whereupon the kindly girl, who was just as tender-hearted towards the poor and wretched as was her mistress towards the priest, ran to Polissena and begged her to grant the petition of this poor man who was soaked with rain, and to give him shelter till he should be warm and dry. ‘He can draw us some water,’ she went on, ‘and make up the fire, so that the fowls may be the sooner roasted. Then I can prepare the soup, and get ready the spoons, and do other chores about the kitchen.’ To this the mistress agreed, and the girl, having opened the door, let him in and bade him sit by the fire and turn the spit. It happened that the priest and Polissena, who had in the meantime been in the chamber, came down into the kitchen holding one another by the hand, and at once began to make mock of the poor wight with his dirty face. Going up to him Polissena asked what was his name. ‘I am called Gramottiveggio, signora,’ he replied; and Polissena when she heard this began to laugh heartily, showing all her teeth so plainly that a leech might have drawn any one of them. Then she threw her arms round the priest, crying out,’ Come, dear heart, and let me kiss you.’ And poor Dimitrio had to look on while they thus kissed and embraced each other. I leave you to fancy what he felt at seeing his wife kissed and fondled by a priest in his very presence.
When the time had come for supper, the servant, when the lovers had sat down, returned to the kitchen and said to the poor man: ‘Well now, father, I must just tell you that my mistress has for a husband as good a man as you would find in all Venice, one who lets her want for nothing, and God only knows where the poor man is in this dreadful weather, while she, an ungrateful hussy, caring nothing for his person and less for his honour, has let herself be blinded by this lecherous passion — always fondling this lover, and shutting the door to every body but him alone. But, I pray you, let us go softly to the door of the chamber; then you will see what they are doing, and how they bear themselves at table.’ And when they came to the door they espied the two lovers within, making good play with the viands, and carrying on all sort of amorous dalliance the while.
When the hour of bedtime came, the two lovers retired to rest, and, after a little playful pastime, began to sport in good earnest, and made so much ado that the poor Dimitrio, who was abed in a chamber adjoining, did not close his eyes all night, and understood completely what was going on. As soon as morning came he repaired to the lodgings of Manusso, who, as soon as he saw him, said, laughing, ‘Well, friend, how is the business going on? Is all you have seen to your taste?’ ‘No, indeed,’ answered Dimitrio; ‘I would never have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes; .but, patience! since my ill luck will have it so.’ Then Manusso, who was a crafty fellow, said, ‘My friend, I would have you do what I shall tell you. Wash your self well and put on your own clothes, and go straightway to your house, and make believe that by great good luck you had not embarked before the storm broke. Take good care that the priest steal not away; for, as soon as your enter, he will assuredly hide himself somewhere, and will lie there till he can make his retreat safely. Meantime, summon all your wife’s relations to a banquet at your house, and then, when you have dragged the priest from his hiding-place in their presence, you can do anything else which may seem good to you.’
Dimitrio was highly pleased at his friend’s advice, and as soon as he had stripped himself of his ragged clothes went over to his house and knocked at the door. The servant) when she saw it was her master, ran forthwith to Polissena, who was yet in bed with the priest, and said to her, ‘Signora, my master is come back.’ Her mistress, when she heard these words, was beside herself with fright, and, getting up with what despatch she could, she hid the priest, who was in his shirt, in the coffer where she kept all her choicest raiment, and then ran in her fur-lined cloak, all shoe less as she was, to open the door to Dimitrio. ‘My dear husband,’ she cried, ‘you are indeed welcome. I have not closed my eyes for love of you, wondering always how fortune might be using you, but God be praised for that you have come back safe and sound.’ Dimitrio, as soon as he entered the chamber, said, ‘ Polissena, my love, I scarcely slept a wink last night on account of the bad weather, so that now I would fain rest a little; and in the meanwhile let the servant go to your brothers’ house and bid them dine with us to-day.’ To this Polissena replied, ‘Would it not be better to wait till another day, seeing that it rains so heavily, and the girl is busy calendering our body linen and sheets and other napery?’ ‘To-morrow the weather will mend, and I shall have to set forth,’ said Dimitrio. Polissena then said, ‘But you might go yourself; or, if you are too weary, go ask your friend Manusso to do you this service.’ ‘That is a good suggestion,’ said Dimitrio, and, having sent for his friend, he carried the affair out exactly as it had been settled.
The brothers of Polissena came, and they dined jovially together. When the table was cleared, Dimitrio cried: ‘Good brothers-in-law of mine, I have never properly let you see my house, nor the fine apparel which I have given to Polissena, my wife and your sister, so that you might judge therefrom how I treat her. Now go, Polissena, my good wife, get up and show your brothers over the house.’ Dimitrio then rose and showed them his storehouses full of wheat and timber and oil and other merchandise, then casks of malvoisie and Greek wine and other delicacies. Next he said to his wife: ‘Bring out the rings and the pearls which I have bought for you. Just look at these fine emeralds in this little casket; the diamonds, the rubies, and other rings of price. Does it seem to you, my brothers, that your sister is well treated by me? ‘We knew all this well, brother,’ they replied, ‘and if we had not been satisfied with your worth, we would not have given you our sister to wife.’
But Dimitrio had not yet finished, for he next directed his wife to open all her coffers, and to bring out her fair raiment; but Polissena, her heart sinking with dread, replied, ‘What need can there be to open the coffers and show my clothes? Do not my brothers know well enough that you always let me be attired full honourably—more sumptuously indeed than our station calls for? ‘But Dimitrio cried out, ‘Open this coffer, and that, at once,’ and when they were opened he went on showing all her wardrobe to her brothers.
Now when they came to the last coffer the key of this was nowhere to be found, for the good reason that the priest was hidden therein. Dimitrio, when he saw the key was not forthcoming, took up a hammer and beat the lock so lustily that it gave way, and then he opened the coffer.
The priest, shaking with fear, could in no way hide himself, or escape being recognized by all the bystanders. The brothers of Polissena, when they saw how the matter stood, were so strongly moved by anger that they were within a little of slaying her and her lover as well on the spot with the daggers they wore, but the husband was averse to this course, deeming it shameful to kill a man in his shirt, however stout a fellow he might be. He spake to the brothers thus: ‘What think ye now of this trull of a wife of mine?’ Then, turning to Polissena, he said: ‘Have I deserved such a return as this from you? Wretched woman! who has any right to keep me back from cutting your throat?’ The poor wretch, who could in no wise excuse herself was silent, because her husband told her to her face all he had seen of her doings the night before so clearly that she could not find a word to say in her defence. Then, turning to the priest, who stood with his head bent down, he said: ‘Take your clothes and go quickly from this place, and bad luck go with you. Let me never see your face again, for I have no wish to soil my hands in your accursed blood for the sake of a guilty woman. Now begone; why do you tarry?’ The priest, without opening his mouth, stole away, fancying as he went that Dimitrio and his brothers-in-law were close behind him with their knives. Then, Dimitrio, turning to his brothers-in-law, said:
‘Take your sister where you will, for I will not have her before my eyes any longer.’ And the brothers, inflamed with rage, took her out of the house and slew her forthwith. When news of this was brought to Dimitrio, he cast his eyes on the serving-maid, who was indeed a very comely lass, and he bore in mind, moreover, the kind turn she had done him. So he made her his wife. He gave her, likewise, all the jewels and raiment of his first wife, and lived many years with her in joy and peace.
As soon as Arianna had brought her story to an end, the company with one voice cried out that the worth and the constancy of the unlucky Dimitrio was most noteworthy, even when he saw before his very eyes the priest who had wrought him this dishonour, and quite as noteworthy was the terror of the cul prit, who, clad only in his shirt, and see ing the husband and brothers of his mistress close upon him, trembled like a leaf shaken by the wind. And then the Signora, perceiving that discussion on the matter promised to be over much, called for silence, and directed Arianna to give her enigma, whereupon she, with her gracious manner and pleas ant smile, set it forth in these words:
Three jolly friends sat down to eat,
A merrier crew you could not meet.
They tried and emptied every dish,
For better fare they could not wish.
The varlet next before them placed
A dish with three fat pigeons graced.
Each ate his pigeon, bones and all,
But pigeons twain were left withal.
This enigma seemed to the company to be one very difficult to solve, and finally it was judged to be impossible, for no one saw how, after each had eaten his pigeon, two out of the three could remain on the board, but they did not look for the snake which was hidden in the grass. When, therefore, Arianna saw that the secret of her enigma had not been grasped, and that the solution was impossible, she turned her fair and delicate face towards the Signora and said: “It seems, dear lady, that my enigma is not to be solved, and yet it is not so difficult but that it may be easily disentangled. The answer is this: Out of the three jolly friends one bore the name of Each. As they sat together at the same table they ate as if they had been famished wolves, and when, at the end of the feast, the varlet brought them three roast pigeons, two out of the three revellers were so full that they could eat no more, but the one whose name was Each finished his neatly, so there were two pigeons left when they rose from the table.”
The solution of this obscure riddle was greeted with great laughter and applause, for not one of the company could have solved it. Thus, the last story of this present night having been told, the Signora directed everyone to go home to rest. And by the flare of torches, which shed over all the place a white light, the ladies and gentlemen were escorted to the landing-place.
THE END OF THE FIRST NIGHT.