Isotta, the wife of Lucaferro Albani of Bergamo, devises how she may trick Travaglino the cowherd of her brother Emilliano and thereby show him to be a liar, but she loses her husband’s farm and returns home worsted in her attempt, and bringing with her a bull’s head with gilded horns.
SO GREAT is the strength of truth, our infallible guide, that, according to the testimony of Holy Writ, it would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for truth to fail. And so far-reaching a charter has truth, as is written by all the vase men of the world, that she is ever the victor of time, and time never victor over her. Like as oil, if it be poured in a vessel together with water, will always rise to the top, so will truth always assert herself over falsehood. Where fore on this account let no one be amazed over this prologue of mine, seeing that I have set it down, moved thereto by the malignity of a wicked woman, who, deeming that she might, by the means of her false allurements, lead on a young fellow to tell a lie, only induced him to speak the plain truth to her own con fusion, the which, wicked woman as she was, she well merited. All this I propose to set before you in this story of mine, which I hope, both as to time and place, will prove more profitable than hurtful to all of you.
I will first tell my worthy hearers that in Bergamo, an ancient city of Lombardy, there lived not a great time ago a man of wealth and standing whose name was Pietromaria di Albini. To this man were born two sons, of whom one was called Emilliano, and the other Lucaferro. He possessed also two farms in a township not far removed, one of them known by the name of Ghorem, and the other by that of Pedrench. The two brothers, that is to say, Emilliano and Lucaferro, divided the farms between them by lot after the death of Pietromaria their father, and Pedrench fell to the share of Emilliano, and Ghorem to Lucaferro. Now Emilliano owned a very fine flock of sheep, and a herd of lusty young bullocks, and likewise a second herd of productive cows, and over the whole of these cattle one Travaglino had charge as herdsman, a man of the most approved truth and loyalty, who, however dear he held his life, would not have told a lie to save it, and who, moreover, as a herdsman had not his equal in all the world. With his herd of cows, Travaglino kept several very fine bulls, amongst which there was one especially beautiful in appearance, and so great a favourite was this bull with Emilliano that he caused its horns to be gilded over with the finest gold. And as often as Travaglino might go to Bergamo after his affairs, Emilliano would never fail to question him as to the welfare of his favourite bull with the gilded horns.
It happened one day that while Emilliano was entertaining and holding converse with his brother Lucaferro and with divers other of his friends, Travaglino came anigh the company and made a sign to Emilliano his master that he wanted to speak with him. Whereupon the latter forthwith withdrew from the presence of his brother and his friends, and having gone apart with Travaglino, held him there some long time in conversation. And after this it would happen full often that Emilliano would do the like, and leave his friends and family who might be about him, and betake himself aside to confer with his herdsman; so that at last Lucaferro, his brother, lost patience at such doings, and could endure them no longer. On one occasion, therefore, hot with wrath and indignation, he spake to Emilliano in these words: ‘Emilliano, I am astonished beyond measure at your behaviour, that you make more account of this rascally cowherd of yours than you make of your own brother and of your many trusted friends; because, forsooth, not once, but a thousand times, if I may so express myself, you have gone away from us when we were together in the piazza, or over our games, as if we had been so many beasts only fit to be driven to the shambles, to go and foregather with this lubberly ruffian of a Travaglino, your hireling, and to have long converse with him, making believe that the affairs you had to discuss with him were of the highest importance, while in fact nothing you talked about mattered a single straw.’ To this Emilliano made answer: ‘Lucaferro, my good brother, there is surely no need for you to fly into so hot a passion with me, while you heap all these injurious words upon poor Travaglino, who, after all, is a very worthy young fellow, and one on whom I set great store, both on account of his efficiency in his calling and for his staunch loyalty towards myself; moreover, he has yet another and special good quality, inasmuch as he would not, to gain all the wealth there is in the world, speak a word which was not the truth. And furthermore he has many other excellent traits on account of which I hold him in high esteem; therefore there is no reason why you should be astonished at my fondness for him, or that I should treat him kindly.’
This answer given by Emilliano only served to stir yet deeper his brother’s bile, and they straightway began to bandy angry words from one to the other, so that they narrowly escaped coming to blows. In the end Lucaferro, on account of the high commendation pronounced by Emilliano over Travaglino’s good qualities—the which is written above—thus spake: ‘You speak loud enough to day of the efficiency, and the good faith, and the truthfulness of this cowherd of yours, but I tell you that he is the most bungling, the most disloyal loon in the world, as well as the biggest liar that nature ever made. And moreover I will pledge myself to bring all this to your notice, and to let you hear him tell a falsehood before your very face.’ After they had spent much time in wrangling, they ended by wagering their respective farms over the question, settling the affair in this fashion, namely, that if Travaglino should be proved to be a liar, the farm of Emilliano should pass to Lucaferro; but if on the other hand, he should be found truthful, Emilliano should become the owner of Lucaferro’s. And over this matter, having called in a notary, they caused to be drawn up a legal instrument ratified by all the forms which are required in such cases.
After the brothers had parted one from the other, and after their wrath and indignation had gone down somewhat, Lucaferro began to be sore repentant of the wager he had made, and of the legal instrument he had requested to be enacted under the seal of the notary. Where fore he found himself mightily troubled over the affair, and haunted by the fear lest at the end of it he might find himself deprived of his farm, out of which alone he had to find sustenance for himself and for his family. One day, when he was in his house, his wife, whose name was Isotta, remarked that he was in a very melancholy mood, and not knowing the reason thereof, she said to him: ‘Heigho, my good husband! what can be the matter with you that you are so dismal and woebegone?’ And Lucaferro made answer to her: ‘Wife, hold your tongue, for goodness sake, and do not heap any fresh trouble upon me in addition to what I am plagued with already.’ Whereupon Isotta began to be very curious to know what this trouble might be, and she plied her husband so skilfully with questions that in the end he told her everything. Then she said to him, with her face all radiant with joy and satisfaction: ‘And is it really on account of this apprehension that you have got into such a taking of fear and agitation? Keep up a good heart, for you will see that I have wit enough in me to make this lout Travaglino tell to his master’s face, not one lie, but a thousand.’ And Lucaferro, when he heard these words, was much comforted.
Isotta, knowing perfectly well that the beautiful bull with the gilded horns was an especial favourite of Emilliano, her brother-in-law, determined, first of all, to lay out her lures in that direction. So, having dressed herself after a fashion calculated to kindle a man’s desire, and daintly painted her face, she took her way by herself out of Bergamo and went to Pedrench, where was situated the farm of Emilliano, and, having gone into the farmhouse, she found therein Travaglino, who was busy making cheese and curds of butter-milk, and greeted him, saying: ‘Travaglino, my good fellow, you see I am come to pay you a visit, to take a draught of milk and to eat some of your fine curds.’ ‘Indeed, I am very glad to see you, my mistress,’ Travaglino replied, and, having made her sit down, he began to get ready the table, and to place thereon his cheese of ewe’s milk and divers other good cheer, to do the lady honour. And after a while the youth, seeing her there all alone and very fair to look upon, was somewhat taken aback, forasmuch as it was in no way her wont thus to visit him, and could hardly persuade himself that she could be in truth Isotta, the wife of his master’s brother. However, because he had often before seen her, he did his best to please her and to pay her such honour as would have been due to any lady, let her be whosoever she might.
After the meal was despatched and the table cleared, Isotta, observing that Travaglino was about to go to his cheese-making and to strain his whey, said to him: ‘Travaglino, my good fellow, I would fain lend you a hand in making your cheese.’ And he answered her: ‘Yes, if it would please you, Signora.’ Then, without saying another word, she tucked up her sleeves as far as her elbows, thus laying bare her fair, wanton, well-rounded arms, which shone out as white as snow, and set to work with a will to help Travaglino to make his cheese, letting him now and again get a peep at her swelling bosom, where he might also see her breasts, which seemed as round and firm as two fair globes. And, besides this, she artfully brought her own rosy cheek mighty close to Travaglino’s face, so that occasionally one touched the other. Now, Travaglino, notwithstanding that he was only a simple countryman and a cowherd, was by no means wanting in wit, and, although he understood well enough from the looks and the demeanour of the lady that she was fired by lecherous passion, he did nothing more in the way of a return than beguile her by ordinary speech and glances, making believe the while to wot nothing of making love. But Isotta, who began to persuade herself that the young man was all on fire with love for her, felt herself straightway so mightily inflamed with amorous desire toward him that she could with difficulty hold herself within bounds. Although Travaglino perceived well enough what was the drift of the lady’s lascivious wishes, he did not dare to say a word to her thereanent, fearing lest he might unduly trouble her and perhaps give offence. Wherefore the lovesick dame, by way of making an end of Travaglino’s bashful dallying, said to him: ‘Travaglino, what is the reason that you stand there so mum and thoughtful, and do not venture to say a word to me? Peradventure there has come into your head the wish to ask some favour of me. Take good care and do not keep your desire a secret, whatever it may be, since by so doing you will work an injury to yourself, and not me, seeing that I am completely at your pleasure and wish.’ Travaglino, when he heard these words, put on a more sprightly manner and made a pretence of being greatly wishful to enjoy her. The besotted dame, when she saw that the young man at last gave signs of being moved to amorous intent, determined that the time had come to set about the business on which she was bent, so she spake to him thus: ‘Travaglino, I am going to ask you to do me a great favour, and, if you should be churlish enough to refuse to grant it, I tell you plainly that it will look as if you held very light the love I bear you; moreover, your refusal will perchance be the cause of my ruin, or even of my death.’ To this speech Travaglino answered: Signora, for the love I have for you I am ready to devote my life and all I possess in the world to your service, and if it should chance that you demand of me to carry out some enterprise of great difficulty, nevertheless, on account of my own love and of the love which you have shown for me, I will easily accomplish it.’ Then Isotta, taking courage from these words of Travaglino, said: ‘If indeed you are my friend, as I well believe you to be, I shall know full soon.’ ‘Lay what command on me you will, signora,’ replied Travaglino, ‘and you will see clearly enough whether I am your friend or not.’ ‘All that I want of you, said Isotta, ‘is the head of that bull of yours which has his horns gilded. Give me this, and you may do with me what you please.’ Travaglino, when he heard this request, was well-nigh overcome with amazement; but, inflamed by the pricks of fleshly desire, and by the allurements of the lustful woman before him, he made answer to her: ‘Signora, can it be that this is all you want of me? You shall have, not only the head of the bull, but the body as well; nay, I will hand over my own self into your keeping.’ And after he had thus spoken, Travaglino plucked up heart and folded the lady in his arms, and they together took part in the sweetest delights of love. When this was done, Travaglino cut off the bull’s head, and, having put it in a sack, handed it over to Isotta, who, well satisfied that she had accomplished her purpose and got much pleasure and delight besides, made her way back to her house, bearing with her more horns than farms in her sack.
Now Travaglino, as soon as the lady had taken her departure, began to feel somewhat troubled in mind and to cast about for some excuse which he might bring forward to his master when he should be called upon to account for the death of the bull with the gilded horns, which was so greatly beloved by Emilliano. While the wretched Travaglino was held by these torments of his mind, knowing neither what to say or to do, it came into his head at last to take a branch of one of the pruned trees which grew about, and to dress this up with some of his own poor garments, and to make believe that it was Emilliano. Then, standing before this scarecrow, he proposed to make trial of what he should do and say when he should be brought face to face with his master. Wherefore, after he had set up the tree branch thus bedizened in a chamber of the house with his own cap on its head and with certain of his garments upon its back, Travaglino went out from the chamber for a short space of time, and then came back and entered, saluting the branch as he went in, and saying, ‘Good day, my master!’ and then, making answer out of his own mouth, he replied, ‘I am glad to see you, Travaglino. How do you find yourself, and how are things going on at the farm? It is a long time since I have seen anything of you.’ ‘I am very well,’ replied Travaglino, ‘but I have been so busy of late that I have not been able to find time to come and see you.’ ‘How did you leave the bull with the gilded horns? ‘asked Emilliano, and then Travaglino made as if he would answer: ‘Master, I have to tell you that your favourite bull has been eaten of wolves while he was straying in the woods.’ ‘Then where are his skin and his gilded horns?’ Emilliano inquired. And when he had come to this point poor Travaglino could not hit upon any answer he could possibly give; so, wellnigh overcome with grief, he left the chamber. After a little he came in again and recommenced his discourse by saying, ‘God keep us all, good master!’ ‘And you also, Travaglino,’ said Emilliano, ‘and how prosper things at the farm? how is the bull with the gilded horns?’ ‘I am very well,’ said Travaglino, ‘but one day lately the bull broke out of the yard, and having fallen a-fighting with some of the other bulls, was so heavily mauled by them that he died of his injuries straightway.’ ‘Then where are his skin and his gilded horns? ‘asked Emilliano. Whereupon Travaglino knew no better what answer he should give to this question than before. Finally, having gone through the same discourse several times, he had to give up the matter in despair, through not being able to devise any reply which sounded at all reasonable.
Now Isotta, as soon as she had re turned to her house, said to her husband: ‘What will that poor lout Travaglino do when he shall set about excusing himself to Emilliano with regard to the death of that bull with the gilded horns which was such a pet with his master? How will he clear himself of such a trouble as this without telling a lie or two? See, here is the head of the bull, which I have brought back with me to use as a testimony against him when he shall begin with his false tales.’ But the dame said not a word to her husband as to how she had made for his own benefit two fine horns, bigger than those of a hart royal. Lucaferro, when he saw the bull’s head, was overjoyed and could hardly contain himself for glee, making sure that he would now win his wager, but the issue of the affair fell out in mighty different fashion, as you will learn later on.
Travaglino, after he had essayed divers bouts of questions and answers with his scarecrow man, discoursing just as if he were in conversation with the master himself and finding in the end that they none of them would serve the end he had in view, made up his mind without further ado to go and seek his master forthwith, no matter what might happen. Wherefore, having set forth towards Bergamo, he presented himself before his master, to whom he gave a hearty salute. Emilliano, after he had greeted his herds man in return, said to him, ‘And what business has been taking up all your time and thoughts of late, Travaglino, that you have let so many days pass without coming here or without letting us have any news of you?’ Travaglino replied, ‘Master, the many jobs I have had in hand have kept me fully occupied.’ Then said Emilliano, ‘And how goes on my bull with the gilded horns?’
When he heard these words, poor Travaglino was overcome with the direst confusion, and his face flushed with shame as red as a burning furnace, and he was fain to find some excuse for his fault and to hide the truth. But in the end the fear of saying aught which might sully his honour stood him in good stead, and made him take heart of grace and tell his master the whole story from beginning to end: how Isotta had beguiled him, and how his dealings with her had ensued in the death of the bull. Emilliano was amazed beyond measure as he listened to this story, which, however great his fault might have been, at least proved Travaglino to be a truthful fellow and one of good character, So in the end Emilliano won the wager with regard to the farm, and Lucaferro gained nothing but a pair of horns for his own head, while his good-for-nothing wife Isotta, in trying to dupe another, was finely duped herself, and got nothing but shame for her trouble. When this instructive fable was finished, every one of the worthy company of listeners was loud in blame of the dissolute Isotta, and equally loud in commendation of Travaglino, holding up to ridicule the silly loose—minded woman, who had in such vile manner given her selfaway to a herdsman, of which ill-doing the real cause was her innate and pestilential avarice. And seeing that Eritrea had not as yet propounded her enigma, the Signora, glancing at her, made a sign that she must not interrupt the procedure they had followed so far. Whereupon Eritrea, without any farther delay, gave her enigma:
I saw one day in fine spring weather,
A head and a breech full close together.
Another breech I likewise found
Squatting at ease upon the ground.
And one, as strong as any mule,
Stood quiet, subject to the rule
Of two, who in the head shone bright,
And looked with pleasure on the sight.
Meantime the head pressed closer still,
And ten there were who worked with will,
With dexterous grasp, now up, now down.
No prettier sight in all the town.
Though the ladies made merry enough over the fable, they held the enigma to be no less of a jest. And, because there was not one of them who seemed likely to be able to solve it, Eritrea spake as follows: “My enigma, ladies and gentlemen, is intended to describe one who sits down under a cow and sets to work to milk her. And for the same reason he who milks the cow must keep his head close to the cow’s breech, and the milker, for his good convenience, sits with his breech on the ground. She is very patient, and is kept in restraint by one, namely, he who milks her, and is watched by two eyes, and is stroked by two hands and the ten fingers, which draw from her the milk.” This very clever enigma pleased them all mightily, as well as the interpretation thereof; but, seeing that every star had now disappeared from the heaven, save only a certain one which still shone in the whitening dawn, the Signora gave order that every one of the company should depart whitherso ever he would, and take rest until the coming evening, commanding at the same time that each one should duly appear again at the appointed place under pain of her displeasure.
THE END OF THE THIRD NIGHT.