Messer Simplicio di Rossi is enamoured of Giliola, the wife of Ghirotto Scanferla, a peasant, and having been caught in her company is ill-handled by her husband therefor.
ONE cannot deny, dear ladies, the gentle nature of love, but love rarely accords a happy issue to the enterprises it inflames us to undertake. And thus it fell out in the case of the lovesick Messer Simplicio di Rossi, who, when he flattered himself that he was about to enjoy the person of the woman he de sired so ardently, had to fly from her laden with as many buffets as he well could carry. All this history I will duly set forth, if, as is your gracious custom, you will lend your ears to the fable I purpose to relate to you.
In the village of Santa Eufemia, situated just below the plain of San Pietro, in the territory of the famous and illustrious city of Padua, there lived, some years ago, one Ghirotto Scanferla, a man rich and influential enough for a man in his station, but at the same time a factious, wrangling fellow, and he had for a wife a young woman named Giliola, who, albeit that she was peasant born, was very fair and graceful. ‘With her Simplicio di Rossi, a citizen of Padua, fell violently in love. Now it happened that he had a house which stood not far removed from that of Ghirotto, and he was accustomed frequently to roam about the neighbouring fields with his wife, a very beautiful lady, whom however he held in but little esteem, although she had many good qualities which ought to have bound him to her. So great was his passion for Giliola that he got no rest day or night, but he let this passion lie closely hidden in his heart, partly be cause he feared lest he might in any way arouse the husband’s wrath, partly on account of Giliola’s good name, and partly for fear of giving offence to his own wife. Now close to Messer Simplicio’s house there was a fountain from which gushed forth a stream of water, much sought by all the people round, and so clear and delicious that even a dead man might have been tempted to drink thereof; and hither every morning and evening Giliola would repair, with a copper pail, to fetch water for her household needs. Love, who of a truth spares nobody, spurred on Messer Simplicio in his passion; but he, knowing what her life was and the good name she bore, did not venture to manifest his love by any sign, and simply sustained himself and comforted his heart by gazing now and then upon her beauty. For her part she knew nothing of all this, nor was she cognizant at all of his admiration; for, as became a woman of honest life, she gave heed to nothing else but to her husband and her house hold affairs.
Now one day it happened that Giliola, when she went according to her custom to fetch water, met Messer Simplicio, to whom she said, in her simple, courteous way, as any woman might, ‘Good morrow, Signor,’ and to this he replied by uttering the word ‘Ticco.’ His thought was to divert her somewhat by a jest of this sort, and to make her familiar with his humour. She, how ever, took no heed thereof, nor said another word, but went straightway about her business. And as time went on the same thing happened over and over again, Simplicio always giving back the same word to Giliola’s greeting. She had no suspicion of Simplicio’s craftiness, and always went back to her home with her eyes cast down upon the ground; but after a time she determined that she would tell her husband what had befallen her. So one day, when they were conversing pleasantly together, she said to him, ‘Oh! my husband, there is something I should like to tell you, something that perhaps will m you laugh.’ ‘And what may this thing be?’ inquired Ghirotto. ‘Every time I go to the well to draw water,’ said Giliola, ‘I meet Messer Simplicio, and when I give him the good morning he answers to me “Ticco.” Over and over again I have pondered over this word, but I cannot get at the meaning thereof.’ ‘And what answer did you give him?’ said Ghirotto, and Giliola replied that she had answered him nothing. ‘Well,’ said Ghirotto, ‘take care that when he next says “Ticco” to you you answer him “Tacco.” See that you give good heed to this thing I tell you, and be sure not to say another word to him, jut come home according to your wont.’ Giliola went at the usual time to the well to fetch the water, and met Messer Simplicio and gave him good day, and as hitherto, he answered her ‘Ticco.” Then Giliola, according to her husband’s directions, replied ‘Tacco,’ whereupon Messer Simplicio, suddenly inflamed, and deeming that he had at last made his passion known to her, and that he might now have his will of her, took further courage and said, ‘And when shall I come?’ But Giliola, as her husband had instructed her, answered nothing, but made her way home forthwith, and being questioned by him how the affair had gone, she told him how she had carried out everything he had directed her to do; how Messer Simplicio had asked her when he might come, and how she had given him no reply.
Now Ghirotto, though he was only a peasant, was shrewd enough, and at once grasped Simplicio’s watchword, which perturbed him mightily; for it struck him that this word meant more than mere trifling. So, he said to his wife, ‘If the next time you go to the well he should ask of you, When shall I come?” you must answer him, “This evening.” The rest you can leave to me.
The next day, when Giliola went ac cording to her wont to draw water at t well, she found there Messer Simplicio, who was waiting for her with ardent longing, and greeted him with her accustomed ‘Good morning, Signor.’ To this the gallant answered ‘Ticco,’ and she followed suit with ‘Tacco.’ Then he added, ‘When shall I come?’ to which she replied, ‘This evening.’ ‘Let it be so then,’ he said. And when Giliola returned to her house she said to her husband, ‘I have done everything as you directed.’ ‘What did he answer?’ said Ghirotto. ‘He said he would come this evening,’ his wife replied.
Now Ghirotto, who by this time had got a bellyful of something else besides vermicelli and maccaroni, spake thus to his wife: ‘Giliola, let us go now and measure a dozen sacks of oats, for I will make believe that I am going to the mill, and when Messer Simplicio shall come, y’6u must make him welcome and give him honourable reception. But before this, have ready an empty sack beside those which will be full of oats, and as soon as you hear me come into the house make him hide himself in the sack thus prepared, and leave the rest to me.’ ‘But,’ said Giliola, ‘we have not in the house enough sacks to carry out the plan you propose.’ ‘Then send our neighbour Cia,’ said the husband, ‘to Messer Simplicio to beg him to lend us two, and she can also let it be known that I have business at the mill this evening.’ And all these directions were diligently carried out. Messer Simplicio, who had given good heed to Giliola’s words, and had marked, moreover, that she had sent to borrow two of his sacks, believed of a truth that the husband would be going to the mill in the evening, and found himself at the highest pitch of felicity and the happiest man in the world, fancying the while that Giliola was as hotly inflamed with love for him as he was for her; but the poor wight had no inkling of the conspiracy which was being hatched for his undoing, otherwise he would assuredly have gone to work with greater caution than he used.
Messer Simplicio had in his poultry yard good store of capons, and he took two of the best of these and sent them by his body-servant to Giliola, enjoining her to let them be ready cooked by the time when he should be with her according to their agreement. And when night had come he stole secretly out and betook himself to Ghirotto’s house, where Giliola gave him a most gracious reception. But when he saw the oat-sacks standing there he was somewhat surprised, for he expected that the husband would have taken them to the mill; so he said to Giliola, ‘Where is Ghirotto? I thought he had gone to the mill, but I see the sacks are still here; so I hardly know what to think.’ Then Giliola replied, ‘Do not murmur, Messer Simplicio, or have any fear. E will go well. You must know that, just at vesper-time, my husband’s brother-in-law came to the house and brought word that his sister was lying gravely ill of a persistent fever, and was not like to see another day. Where fore he mounted his horse and rode away to see her before she dies.’ Messer Simplicio, who was indeed as simple as his name imports, took all this for the truth and said no more.
Whilst Giliola was busy cooking the capons and getting ready the table, lo and behold! Ghirotto her husband appeared in the court-yard, and Giliola, as soon as she saw him, feigned to be grief stricken and terrified, and cried out, ‘Woe to us, wretches that we are! We are as good as dead, both of us;’ and without a moment’s hesitation she ordered Messer Simplicio to get into the empty sack which was lying there; and when he had got in—and he was mightily unwilling to enter it—she set the sack with Messer Simplicio inside it be hind the others which were full of oats, and waited till her husband should come in. And when Ghirotto entered a saw the table duly set and the capons cooking in the pot, he said to his wife: ‘What is the meaning of this sumptuous supper which you have prepared for me?’ and Giliola made answer: ‘I thought that you must needs come back weary and worn out at midnight, and, in order that you might fortify and re fresh yourself somewhat after the fatigues you so constantly have to undergo, I wished to let you have something succulent for your meal.’ ‘By my faith,’ said Ghirotto, ‘you have done well, for I am somewhat sick and can hardly wait to take my supper before I go to bed, and moreover I want to be astir in good time to-morrow morning to go to the mill. But before we sit down to supper I want to see whether the sacks we got ready for the mill are all in order and of just weight.’ And with these words he went up to the sacks and began to count them, and, finding there were thirteen, he feigned to have made a miscount of them, and began to count them over again, and still he found there were thirteen of them; so he said to his wife: ‘Giliola, what is the meaning of this? How is it that I find here thirteen sacks while we only got ready twelve? Where does the odd one come from?’ And Giliola answered: ‘Yes, of a certainty, when we put the oats into the sacks there were only twelve, and how this one comes to be here I cannot tell.’
Inside the sack, meantime, Messer Simplicio, who knew well enough that there were thirteen sacks on account of his being there, kept silent as a mouse and went on muttering paternosters beneath his breath, at the same time cursing Giliola, and his passion for her, and his own folly in having put faith in her. If he could have cleared himself from his present trouble by flight, he would have readily taken to his heels, for he feared the shame that might arise thereanent, rather than the loss. But Ghirotto, who knew well enough what was inside the sack, took hold of it and dragged it outside the door, which he had by design left open, in order that the poor wretch inside the sack, after he should have been well drubbed, might get out of the sack and have free field to go whithersoever he listed. Then Ghirotto, having caught up a knotty stick which he had duly prepared for the purpose, began to belabour him so soundly that there was not a square inch of his carcass which was not thrashed and beaten; indeed, a little more would have made an end of Messer Simplicio. And if it had not happened that the wife, moved by pity or by fear lest her husband should have the sin of murder on his soul, wrenched the cudgel out of Ghirotto’s hand, homicide might well have been the issue.
At last, when Ghirotto had given over his work and had gone away, Messer Simplicio slunk out of his sack, and, aching from head to foot, made his way home, half dreading the while that Ghirotto with his stick was close behind him; and in the meantime Ghirotto and his wife, after eating a good supper at Messer Simplicio’s cost, went to bed. And after a few days had passed, Giliola, when she went to the well, saw Simplicio, who was walking up and down the terrace in his garden, and with a merry. glance greeted him, saying,’ Ticco, Messer Simplicio;’ but he, who still felt the pain of the bruises he had gotten on account of this word, only replied:
Neither for your good morning, nor for your tic nor your tac,
Will you catch me again, my lady, inside your sack.
When Giliola heard this she was struck silent, and went back to her house with her face red for shame, and Messer Simplicio, after the sorry usage he had received, changed his humour and gave the fullest and most loving service to his own wife, whom he had hitherto disliked, keeping his eyes and his hands off other men’s goods, so that he might not again be treated to a like experience.
When Vicenza had made an end of her story, all the ladies cried out with one voice: “If the Trevisan treated badly the women he dealt with in his fable, Vicenza has in hers given the men yet worse measure in letting Messer Simplicio be thus beaten and mauled in the mishandling he got.” And while they were all laughing, one at this thing and another at that, the Signora made a sign for silence in order that Vicenza might duly propound her enigma; and the latter, feeling that she had more than avenged the insult put upon her sex by the Trevisan, gave her enigma in these terms:
I blush to tell my name aright,
Rough to touch, and rude to sight.
Wide and toothless is my mouth,
Red of hue my lips uncouth;
Black all round, and from below
Ardour oft will make me glow;
Rouse my passion closely pent,
Make me foam till I am spent.
A scullion base may e’en abuse me,
And all men at their pleasure use me.
The men were hard pressed to keep from laughing when they saw the ladies cast down their eyes into their laps, smiling somewhat the while. But the Signora, to whom modest speech was more pleasing than aught that savoured of ribaldry, bent a stern and troubled glance upon Vicenza and thus addressed her: “If I had not too much respect for these gentlemen, I would tell you to your face what really is the meaning of this lewd and immodest riddle of yours; but I will forgive you this once, only take good heed that you offend not again in such fashion; for, if you should, I will let you feel and know what my power over you really is.” Then Vicenza, blushing like a morning rosebud at hearing herself thus shame fully reproved, plucked up her courage and gave answer in these terms; “Signora, If I have uttered a single word which has offended your ears, or the ears of any of the modest gentlewomen I see around me, I should assuredly deserve not only your reproof, but severe chastisement to boot. But, seeing that my words were in themselves simple and blameless, they scarcely merited so bitter a censure; for the interpretation of my riddle, which has been apprehended by you in a mistaken sense, will show my words to be true and prove my innocence at the same time. The thing which my enigma describes is a stockpot, which is black all round, and when fiercely heated by the tire boils over and scatters foam on all sides. It has a wide mouth and no teeth, and takes everything that may be thrown into it, and any scullion may take out what he will when the dinner is being prepared for his master.”
When they heard from Vicenza this modest solution of her riddle, all the listeners, men as well as women, gave her hearty praise, deeming the while that she had been wrongfully reproved by the Signora. And now, because the hour was late, and the rosy tints of morning already visible in the sky, the Signora, without excusing herself in any way for the scolding she had given Vicenza, dismissed the company, bidding them all under pain of her displeasure to assemble in good time the following evening.
THE END OF THE SECOND NIGHT.