A simple fellow, named Peter, gets back his wits by the help of a tunny fish which he spared after having taken it in his net, and likewise wins for his wife a king’s daughter.
THERE is proof enough, dear ladies, both in the chronicles of the past and in the doings of our own day, that a fool, whether by lucky accident or by sheer force of blundering, may sometimes score a success where a wise man might fail. Therefore it has come into my mind to tell you the story of one of these fools, who, through the issue of a very foolish deed, got for his wife the daughter of a king and became a wise man himself into the bargain.
In the Ligurian Sea there is an island called Capraia, which, at the time I am describing, was ruled by King Luciano. Amongst his subjects was a poor widow named Isotta, who lived with her only son Peter, a fisher-lad, but from Peter’s fishing she would scarce have kept body and soul together, for he was a poor silly creature known to all the neighbours as Peter the Fool. Though he went fishing every day he never caught any thing, but in spite of his ill-success he would always come up from his boat shouting and bellowing so that all the town might hear him:’ Mother, mother, bring out your tubs and your buckets and your pails; bring them out all, great and small, for Peter has caught a boat full of fish.’ The poor woman soon got to know the value of Peter’s bragging, but in spite of this she always prepared the vessels, only to find herself jeered at by the silly youth, who, as soon as he came near, would thrust out his long tongue in ridicule, and otherwise mock at her.
Now it chanced that the widow’s cottage stood just opposite to the palace of King Luciano, who had only one child, a pretty graceful girl about ten years old, Luciana by name. She, it happened was looking out of the window of the palace one day when Peter came back from fishing, crying out to his mother to bring out her tubs and her buckets and her pails to hold the fish with which he was laden, and so much was she diverted at the silly antics of the fool, that it seemed likely she would die with laughing. Peter, when he saw that he was made sport of, grew very angry, and threw some ugly words at her, but the more he raged the more she—after the manner of wilful children—laughed and made mock at him. Peter, however, went on with his fishing day after day, and played the same trick on his mother every evening on his return; but at last fortune favoured him, and he caught a fine tunny, very big and fat. Overjoyed at his good luck, he began to shout and cry out over and over again, ‘Mother and I will have a good supper to-night,’ when, to his amazement, he heard the tunny which he had just caught begin to speak: C Ah! my dear brother, I pray you of your courtesy to give me my life. When once you have eaten me, what farther benefit do you think you will get from me? but if you will let me live there is no telling what service I may not render you.’ But Peter, whose thoughts just then were set only on his supper, hoisted the fish on his shoulders and set off homewards; but the tunny still kept on beseeching his captor to spare his life, promising him first as many fish as he could want, and finally to do him any favour he might demand. Peter was not hard-hearted, and, though a fool, fancied he might profit by sparing the fish, so he listened to the tunny’s petition and threw him back into the sea. The fish, sensible of Peter’s kindness, and not wishing to seem ungrateful, told Peter to get into his boat again and tilt it over so that the water could run in. This advice Peter at once followed, and, having leant over on one side, he let the boat be half filled with water, which brought in with it such a huge quantity of fish that the boat was in danger of sinking. Peter was wellnigh beside himself with joy when he saw what had happened, and, when he had taken as many fish as he could carry, he betook himself home wards, crying out, as was his wont, when he drew near to the cottage: ‘Mother, mother, bring out your tubs and your buckets and your pails; bring out them all, great and small, for Peter has caught a boatful of fish.’ At first poor Isotta, thinking that he was only playing his old fool’s game, took no heed; but at last, hearing him cry out louder than ever, and fearing that he might commit some greater folly if he should not find the vessels prepared as usual, got them all ready. What was her surprise to see her simpleton of a son at last coming back with a brave spoil! The Princess Luciana was at the palace window, and hearing Peter bellowing louder than ever, she laughed louder than ever, so that Peter was almost mad with rage, and having left his fish, he rushed back to the seashore, and called aloud on the tunny to come and help him. The fish, hearing Peter’s voice, came to the marge of the shore, and putting his nose up out of the waves, asked what service was required of him. ‘What service! ‘cried Peter. ‘Why I would that Luciana, that saucy minx, the daughter of our king, should find herself with child at once.’
What followed was a proof that the tunny had not made an empty promise to Peter, for before many days had passed the figure of the young girl, who was not twelve years old, began to show signs of maternity. Her mother, when she marked this, fell into great trouble, but she could not believe that a child of eleven could be pregnant, and rather set down the swelling to the working of an incurable disease; so she brought Luciana to be examined by some women expert in such cases, and these, as soon as they saw the girl, declared that she was certainly with child. The queen, over whelmed by this terrible news, old it also to the king, and he, when he heard it, cried aloud for death rather than such ignominy. Strict inquisition was made to discover who could have violated the child, but nothing was found out; so Luciano, to hide her dire disgrace, determined to have his daughter secretly killed.
The queen, on hearing this, begged her husband to spare the unfortunate Luciana till the child should be born, and then do with her what he would. The king, moved with compassion for his only daughter, gave way so far; and in due time Luciana was delivered of a boy so fine and beautiful that the king could no longer harbour the thought of putting them away, but, on the other hand, gave order to the queen that the boy should be well tended till he was a year old. When this time was completed the child had become beautiful beyond compare, and then it came into the king’s mind that he would again make a trial to find out who the father might be. He issued a proclamation that every man in the city who had passed fourteen years should, under pain of losing his head, present himself at the palace bearing in his hand some fruit or flower which might attract the child’s attention. On the appointed day, in obedience to the proclamation, all those summoned came to the palace, bearing, this man one thing and that man another, and, having passed before the king, sat down according to their rank.
Now it happened that a certain young man as he was betaking himself to the palace met Peter, and said to him,’ Peter, why are you not going to the palace like all the others to obey the order of the king?’ ‘What should I do in such a crowd as that?’ said Peter. ‘Cannot you see I am a poor naked fellow, and have hardly a rag to my back, and yet you ask me to push myself in amongst all those gentlemen and courtiers? No.’ Then the young man, laughing at him, said, ‘Come with me, and I will give you a coat. Who knows whether the child may not turn out to be yours?’ In the end Peter let himself be persuaded to go to the young man’s house, and having put on a decent coat, they went together to the palace; but when they arrived there Peter’s heart again failed him, and he hid himself behind a door. By this time all the men had presented themselves to the king, and were seated in the hall. Then Luciano commanded the nurse to bring in the child, thinking that if the father should be there the sense of paternity would make him give some sign. As the nurse carried the child down the hall everyone, as he passed, began to caress him and to give him, this one a fruit and that one a flower; but the infant, with a wave of his hand, refused them all. When the nurse passed by the entrance door the child began to laugh and crow, and threw himself forward so lustily that he almost jumped out of the woman’s arms, but she, not knowing that any one was there, walked on down the hail. When she came back to the same place, the child was more delighted than ever, laughing and pointing with his finger to the door; so that the king, who had already noticed the child’s actions, called to the nurse, and asked her who was be hind the door. The nurse, being some what confused, said that surely some beggar must be hidden there. By the king’s command Peter was at once haled forth, and everybody recognized the town fool; but the child, who was close to him, stretched out his arms and clasped Peter round the neck, and kissed him lovingly. The king, recognizing the sign, was stricken to the heart with grief and having discharged the assembly, commanded that Peter and Luciana and the child should be put to death forthwith.
The queen, though assenting to this doom, was fearful lest the public execution of the victims might draw down upon the king the anger of the people; so she persuaded him to have made a huge cask into which the three might be put and cast into the sea to drift at random; then, at least, no one might witness their dying agony. This the king agreed to; and when the cask was made, the condemned ones were put therein, with a basket of bread and a flask of wine, and a drum of figs for the child, and thrust out into the rough sea, with the expectation that the waves would soon dash it to pieces against the rocks; but this was not to be their fate.
Peter’s poor old mother, when she heard of her son’s misfortune, died of grief in a few days; and the unhappy Luciana, tossed about by the cruel waves, and seeing neither sun nor moon, would have welcomed a similar fate. The child, since she had no milk to give it, had to be soothed to sleep with now and then a fig; but Peter seemed to care for nothing, and ate the bread and drank the wine steadily, laughing the while. ‘Alas! ‘alas!’ cried Luciana in despair, ‘you care nothing for this evil which you have brought upon me, a poor innocent girl. ‘You eat and drink and laugh without a thought of the danger around us.’ ‘Why,’ replied Peter, ‘this misfortune is more your own fault than mine. If you had not mocked me so, it would never have happened; but do not lose heart, our troubles will soon be over.’ ‘I believe that,’ cried Luciana, ‘for the cask will soon be split on a rock, and then we must all be drowned.’ ‘No, no,’ said Peter, ‘calm yourself. I have a secret, and were you to know what it is, you would be vastly surprised and vastly delighted too, I believe.’ ‘What secret can you know,’ said Luciana, ‘which will avail us in such danger as this?’ ‘I will soon tell you,’ Peter replied. ‘I have a faithful servant, a great fish, who will do me any service I ask of him, and there is nothing he cannot do. I may as well tell you it was through his working that you became with child.’ ‘That I cannot believe,’ said Luciana; ‘and what may this fish of yours be called?’ ‘His name is Signor Tunny,’ replied Peter. ‘Then,’ said Luciana, ‘to put your fish to the test, I will ask you to transfer to me the power you exercise over him, and to command him to do my bidding instead of yours. ‘Be it as you will,’ said Peter; and without more ado he called the tunny, who at once rose up near the cask, whereupon Peter commanded him to do everything that Luciana might require of him. She at once exercised her power over the fish by ordering him to make the waves cast the cask ashore in a fair safe cleft in the rocks on an island, a short sail from her father’s kingdom. As soon as the fish had worked her will so far, she laid other and much harder tasks upon him: one was to change Peter from the ugly fool that he was into a clever, handsome gallant; another was, to have built for her forthwith a rich and sumptuous palace, with halls and chambers, and girt with carven terraces. Within the court there was to be laid out a beautiful garden, full of trees which should bear, instead of fruit, pearls and precious stones, and in the midst of it two fountains, one of the freshest water and the other of the finest wine. All these wonders were wrought by the fish almost as soon as Luciana had spoken.
Now all this time the king and the queen were in deep misery in thinking of the cruel death they had contrived for Luciana and her child, how they had given their own flesh and blood to be eaten by the fishes; therefore, to find some solace in their woe, they deter mined to go to Jerusalem and to visit the Holy Land. So they ordered a ship to be put in order for them, and furnished with all things suited to their state. They set sail with a favouring wind, and before they had gone a hundred miles they came in sight of an island upon which they could see a stately palace, built a little above the level of the sea. Seeing that this palace was so fair and sumptuous, and standing, more over, within Luciano’s kingdom, they were seized with a longing to view it more closely; so, having put into a haven, they landed on the island. Before they had come to the palace Luciana and Peter saw and recognized them, and, having gone forth to meet them, greeted them with a cordial welcome, but the king and queen did not know their hosts for the great change which had come over them. The guests were taken first into the palace, which they examined in every part, praising loudly its great beauty, and then they were led by a secret staircase into the garden, the splendour of which pleased them so amazingly that they swore they had never at any time before looked upon a place so delightful. In the centre of this garden there stood a noble tree, which bore on one of its branches three golden apples. These the keeper of the garden was charged to guard jealously against robbers, and now some secret working which I cannot unravel, the finest of these apples was transported into the folds of the king’s robe about his bosom, and there hidden. Luciano and the queen were about to take their leave when the keeper approached and said to Luciana,’ Madam, the most beautiful of the three golden apples is missing, and I can find no trace of the thief.’
Luciana forthwith gave orders that the whole household should be searched, one by one, for such a loss as this was no light matter. The keeper, after he had searched thoroughly everyone, came back and told Luciana that the apple was nowhere to be found. At these words Luciana fell into great confusion, and, turning to the king, said: ‘Your majesty must not be wroth with me if I ask that even you allow yourself to be searched, for I prize the golden apple that is lost almost as highly as my life.’
The king, unsuspicious of any trick, and sure of his innocence, straightway loosened his robe, and lo! the golden apple fell from it to the ground.
The king stood as one dazed, ignorant as to how the golden apple could have come into his robe, and Luciana spoke: ‘Sire, we have welcomed you to our house with all the worship fitting to your rank, and now, as a recompense, you would privily rob our garden of its finest fruit. Meseems you have proved yourself very ungrateful.’ The king, in his innocence, attempted to prove to her that he could not have taken the apple, and Luciana, seeing his confusion, knew that the time had come for her to speak, and reveal herself to her father. ‘My lord,’ she said, with the tears in her eyes, ‘I am Luciana, your hapless daughter, whom you sentenced to a cruel death along with my child and Peter the fisher- boy. Though I bore a child, I was never unchaste. Here is the boy, and here is he whom men were wont to call Peter the Fool. You wonder at this change. It has all been brought about by the power of a marvellous fish whose life Peter spared when he had caught it in his net. By this power Peter has been turned into the wisest of men, and the palace you see has been built. In the same way I became pregnant with out knowledge of a man, and the golden apple was conveyed into the folds of your robe. I am as innocent of unchastity as you are of theft.’
When the king heard these words his eyes were opened, and he knew his child. Then, weeping with joy, they embraced each other, and all were glad and happy. After spending a few days on the island, they all embarked and re turned together to Capraia, where with sumptuous feastings and rejoicings Peter was duly married to Luciana, and lived with her in great honour and contentment, until Luciano died, and then he became king in his stead.
The story of Cateruzza had at one time moved the ladies to tears; but, when its happy issue was made known to them, they rejoiced and thanked God therefor. Then the Signora, when Cateruzza had ended, commanded her to continue in the order they had followed hitherto, and she, not willing to hold in suspense the attention of her hearers, smilingly proposed to them the following enigma:
Sir Redman stands behind a tree,
Now hidden, now in sight is he.
To him four runners speed along,
Bearing a warrior huge and strong.
Two darts into the trunk he wings,
And Redman from his lair upsprings,
And smites him from behind with skill;
Thus ten little men one giant kill.
Now he who shall this speech unfold,
Shall be a witty rogue and bold.
Cateruzza’s graceful and ingenious enigma was received by the whole company with applause. Many interpretations were put forth; but none came so near the mark as Lauretta: “Our sister’s enigma can have but one meaning—the wild bull of the forest,” she said. “He has four runners to carry his huge bulk. The sight of a red rag maddens him, and thinking to rend it, he strikes his horns into the tree. Straightway the hunts—man, who was hidden behind the trunk, comes forth and kills him with a dart sped by ten little men, that is, the ten fingers of his two hands.”
This speedy solution of her riddle raised an angry humour in Cateruzza’s heart, for she had hoped it might prove beyond the wit of any; but she had not reckoned for Lauretta’s quickness. The Signora, who perceived that the two were fain to wrangle, called for silence, and gave the word to Arianna to begin a story which should please them all, and the damsel, somewhat bashful, began as follows: