Nerino, the son of Gallese, King of Portugal, becoming enamoured of Genobbia, wife of Messer Raimondo Brunello, a physician, has his will of her and carries her with him to Portugal, while Messer Raimondo dies of grief.
I MUST tell you, charming ladies, that there are very many men who, because they have consume a great part of their time over the study of letters, are persuaded that they are mighty wise, whereas in truth they know little or nothing. And while men of this sort think they are marking their foreheads with lines of wisdom, they too often only scoop out their own eyes, which thing happened to a certain physician, greatly skilled in his calling, for he, while he deemed he was about to put a cheat upon another, was himself most ignominiously duped, to his own great injury, all of which you will learn from the fable which I will presently tell you.
Gallese, King of Portugal, had a son whose name was Nerino, and in the bringing up of this boy he followed such a course that up to the time when he reached his eighteenth year Nerino had never once cast eyes upon a woman except his mother and the nurse who had the care of him. Wherefore when he had come to full age the king determined to send him to pursue his studies in the university of Padua, so that he might get a knowledge of Latin letters and of the tongue and manners of the Italians as well. And the plan which he had devised he duly carried out. When the young Nerino had come to Padua, he soon acquired the friendship of many of the scholars, and every day these would come to pay their respects to him, one of the above named being a certain Messer Raimondo Brunello, a physician. It chanced one day, as Nerino and this friend of his were conversing now about this thing and now about that, they engaged (as is the manner of sprightly youths) in a discourse anent the beauty of women, and on this subject the former took one view and the latter another. But Nerino, though he had never in times past cast eyes upon any woman save his mother and his nurse, declared with some heat that in his reckoning there could not be found in all the world any lady who should be more beautiful, more graceful, and more exquisite, than was his own mother. And when, by way of putting this speech of his to the test, they brought divers ladies to his notice, he still declared that in comparison to his mother they were little better than carrion.
Now Messer Raimondo had to wife a lady who was one of the fairest nature ever created, and when he listened to this chattering he settled his gorget and said: ‘Signor Nerino, I happen to have seen a certain lady who is of such great loveliness that when you shall have be held her I think it probable you will judge her to be not less but more beautiful than your mother.’ To this speech Nerino made answer that he could not believe there could be any woman more lovely than his mother, but at the same time it would give him great pleasure to look upon this one. Whereupon Messer Raimondo said; ‘Whenever it shall please you to behold her I will point her out to you.’ Nerino replied: ‘I am much pleased at what you propose, and I shall ever be obliged to you.’ Then Messer Raimondo said at once: ‘Since it will give you pleasure to see her, take care to be present in the Church of the Duomo to-morrow morning, for there I promise you that you shall have sight of her.’
When he had returned to his house, Messer Raimondo said to his wife: ‘To- morrow morning see that you rise be- times, and deck carefully your head, and make yourself seem as fair as you can, and put on the most sumptuous raiment you possess, for I have a mind that you should go to the Duomo at the hour of high mass to hear the office.’ Genobbia (for this was the name of Messer Raimondo’s wife), not being in the habit of going now hither now thither, but rather to pass all her time at home over her sewing and broidery work, was much astonished at these words; but, seeing that her husband’s command fell in well with her own desire, she did all she was directed to do, and set herself so well in order and decked herself so featly that she looked more like a goddess than like a mortal woman. And when Genobbia, following the command which her husband had laid upon her, had entered into the holy lane, there came thither like wise Nerino, the son of the king, and when he had looked upon her he found that she was exceedingly fair. When the lady had gone her way, Messer Raimondo came upon the scene, and having gone up to Nerino spake thus: ‘Now how does that lady who is just gone out of the church please you? Does she seem to you to be one who ought to be compared with any other? Say, is she not more beautiful than your mother?’ ‘Of a truth,’ replied Nerino, ‘she is fair, and nature could not possibly make aught that is fairer; but tell me of your courtesy of whom is she the wife, and where does she dwell?’ But to this query Messer Raimondo did not answer so as to humour Nerino’s wish, for as much as he had no mind to give him the clue he sought. Then said Nerino, ‘My good Messer Raimondo, though you may not be willing to tell me who she is and where she dwells, at least you might do me such good office as to let me see her once more.’ ‘This I will do willingly,’ answered Messer Raimondo. ‘To-morrow come here again into the church, and I will so bring it to pass that you shall see her as you have seen her to-day.’
When Messer Raimondo had gone back to his house, he said to his wife, ‘Genobbia, see that you attire yourself to-morrow; for I wish that you should go to the mass in the Duomo, and if hitherto you have ever made yourself look beautiful or have arrayed yourself sumptuously, see that you do the same to morrow.’ When she heard this, Genobbia (as on the former occasion) was greatly astonished, but since the command of her husband pointed to this matter, she did everything even as he had ordered. When the morrow came, Genobbia, sumptuously clothed and adorned more richly than was her wont, betook herself to the church, and in a very short time Nerino came likewise. He, when he saw how very fair she was, was in flamed by love of her more ardently than ever man had burned for woman before, and, when Messer Raimondo arrived, begged him to tell straightway what might be the name of this lady who seemed in his eyes to be so marvellously beautiful. But Messer Raimondo, making excuse that he was greatly pressed for time to give to his own affairs, was in no humour to thus inform Nerino on the spot, and was rather disposed to leave the galliard to stew for a time in his own fat; so he went his way in high spirits. Whereupon Nerino, with his temper somewhat ruffled by the mean account in which Messer Raimondo seemed to hold him, spake thus to himself: ‘Aha! you are not willing that I should have an inkling as to who she is and where she lives, but Twill know what I want to know in spite of you.’
After he had left the church, Nerino waited outside until such time as the fair dame should likewise issue forth, and then, having given her a modest obeisance with a smiling countenance, he went with her as far as her home. Now, as soon as Nerino had got to know clearly the house where she dwelt, he began to cast amorous eyes upon her, and never a day passed on which he would not pass up and down ten times in front of her window. Wherefore, having a great desire to hold converse with her, he set about considering what course he should follow in order to keep unsullied the honour of the lady, and at the same time to attain his own end. But, having pondered over the affair, and looked at it on every side without lighting upon any course which seemed to promise security, he at last, after a mighty amount of imagining, determined to make the acquaintance of an old woman who lived in a house opposite to that occupied by Genobbia. After having sent to her certain presents, and settled and confirmed the compact between them, he went secretly into the old woman’s lodging, in which there was a certain window overlooking the hall of Genobbia’s house, where he might stand and gaze at his good convenience at the lady as she went up and down about the house; at the same time, he had no wish to divulge himself, and thereby give her any pretext for withdrawing herself from his sight. Nerino, having spent one day after another in these amorous glances, at last found himself no longer able to resist the burning desire within him which consumed his very heart; so he made up his mind to write a letter and to throw it down into her lodging at a certain time when he should judge her husband to be away from home. And several times he wrote letters as he had planned and threw them down to her.
But Genobbia without reading the billet she picked up, cast it into the fire, and it was burnt. After she had done this several times, on a certain day it came into her mind to break open one of the notes and see what might be written therein. When she had broken the seal and marked that the writer was no other than Nerino, the son of the King of Portugal, who declared thereby his fervent love of her, she was at first wellnigh con founded, but after a little when she had called to mind the poor cheer she enjoyed in her husband’s house, she plucked up heart and began to look kindly upon Nerino. At last, having come to an agreement with him, she found means to bring him into the house, when the youth laid before her the story of the ardent love he bore her, and of the torments he endured every day on her account, and in like manner the way by which his passion for her had been kindled. Wherefore the lady, who was alike lovely and kind-hearted and complaisant, felt herself in no humour to reject his suit. And while the two thus foregathered, happy in the consciousness of mutual love and indulging in amorous discourse, lo and behold! Messer Raimondo knocked suddenly at the door. When Genobbia heard this she bade Nerino go straightway and lie down on the bed, and to let down the curtains, and to remain there until such time as her husband should be once more gone out. The husband came in, and having taken divers trifles of which he had need, went away without giving heed to aught be sides, and a little later Nerino followed him.
On the following day, when it happened that Nerino was walking up and down the piazza, Messer Raimondo by chance went that way, to whom Nerino made known by sign that he wanted to have a word with him. Wherefore, having approached him, he spake thus: ‘Signor, have I not a good bit of news to tell you?’ ‘And what may it be?’ replied Messer Raimondo. ‘Do I not know,’ said Nerino, ‘the house where dwells that beautiful lady? and have I not had some delightful intercourse with her? But because her husband came home unexpectedly she hid me in the bed, and drew the curtains for fear that he should see me; however, he soon went out again.’ ‘Is it possible?’ said Messer Raimondo. ‘Possible!’ answered Nerino, ‘it is more than possible—it is a fact. Never in all my life have I seen so delightful, so sweet a lady as she. If by any chance, Signor, you should meet her, I beg you to speak a good word on my behalf, and to en treat her to keep me in her good graces.’ Messer Raimondo, having promised to do what the youth asked him, went his way with ill will in his heart. But before he left Nerino he said, ‘And do you pro pose to go in search of your good for tune again? ‘To this Nerino replied, ‘Return! what should one do in such case?’ Then Messer Raimondo went back to his house, and was careful to let drop no word in his wife’s presence, but to wait for the time when she and Nerino should again come together.
When the next day had come Nerino once more stole to a meeting with Genobbia, and while they were in the midst of their amorous delights and pleasant converse the husband came back to the house, but the lady quickly hid Nerino in a chest in front of which she heaped a lot of clothes from which she had been rip ping the wadding to keep them from destruction by insects. The husband, making believe to search for certain things, turned the house upside down, and pried even into the bed, but, finding nothing of the sort he looked for, went about his business with his mind more at ease.
Very soon Nerino also departed, and afterwards, chancing to meet Messer Raimondo, he thus addressed him: ‘Signor doctor, what would you say if you heard I had paid another visit to my charming lady, and that envious fortune broke in upon our pleasure, seeing that the husband again arrived and spoilt all our sport?’ ‘And what did you then?’ said Messer Raimondo. ‘She straightway opened a chest,’ said Nerino, ‘and put me therein, and in front of the chest she piled up a heap of clothes which she was working at in order to preserve them from moth, and after he had turned the bed upside down more than once without finding aught, he went away.’ What tortures Messer Raimondo must have suffered when he listened to these words I leave to the judgment of any who may know the humours of love.
Now Nerino had given to Genobbia a very fine and precious diamond, within the golden setting of which was engraved his name and his likeness. The very next day, when Messer Raimondo had gone to see to his affairs, the lady once more let Nerino into the house, and while they were taking their pleasure and talking pleasantly together, behold! the husband again came back to the house. But the crafty Genobbia, as soon as she remarked his coming, immediately opened a large wardrobe which stood in her chamber, and hid Nerino therein. Almost immediately Messer Raimondo entered the chamber, pretending as before that he was in search of certain things he wanted, and in quest thereof he turned the room upside down. But, finding nothing either in the bed or in the chest, like a man out of his wits he took fire and strewed it in the four corners of the chamber, with the intention of burning the place and all that it contained.
Now the party walls and the wooden framing of the apartment soon caught fire, whereupon Genobbia, turning to her husband, said: ‘What is this you are doing, husband? Surely you must be gone mad. Still, if you wish to burn up the room, burn it as you will, but by my faith I will not have you burn this ward robe, wherein are all the papers relating to my dowry.’ So, having summoned four strong porters, she bade them carry the wardrobe out of the house and bear it into the neighboring house which be longed to the old woman. Then she opened the wardrobe secretly when no one was by and returned to her own house. Messer Raimondo, now like one out of his mind, still kept a sharp watch to see whether anybody who ought not to have been there might be driven out of hiding by the conflagration, but he met with nothing save the smoke, which was becoming insufferable, and the fierce flames which were consuming the house. And by this time all the neighbors had gathered together to put out the fire, and so well and heartily did they work that in time it was extinguished.
On the following day, as Nerino was sallying forth towards the fields in the valley, he met Messer Raimondo, and after giving him a salute, said to him: ‘Aha, my gentleman! I have got a piece of news to tell you which ought to please you mightily.’ ‘And what may this news be?’ said Messer Raimondo. ‘I have just made my escape,’ said Nerino, ‘from the most frightful peril that ever man came out of without loss of his life. I had gone to the house of my lovely mistress, and while I was spending the time with her in all manner of delightful dallying her husband once more broke in upon our content, and after he had turned the house upside down, lighted some fire, and this he scattered about in the four corners of the room and burnt up all the chattels that were about.’ ‘And you,’ said Messer Raimondo, ‘where were you the while?’ Then answered Nerino, ‘I was hidden in a wardrobe which she caused to be taken out of the house.’ And when Messer Raimondo heard this, and clearly understood all which Nerino told him to be the truth, he was like to die of grief and passion. Nevertheless, he did not dare to let his secret be known, because he was determined still to catch him in the act. Wherefore he said to him, ‘And are you bent upon going thither again, Signor Nerino?’ to which Nerino made answer,’ Seeing that I have come safely out of the fire, what else is there for me to fear?’ And, letting pass any further remarks of this sort, Messer Raimondo begged Nerino that he would do him the honour of dining with him on the morrow; which civility the young man willingly accepted.
When the next day had come, Messer Raimondo bade assemble at his house all his own relations and his wife’s as well, and prepared for their entertainment a rich and magnificent repast—not in the house which had been half consumed by fire, but in another. He gave directions to his wife, moreover, that she also should be present, not to sit at table as a guest, but to keep her self out of sight, and see to the ordering of aught which might be required for the banquet. As soon as all the kinsfolk had assembled, and the young Nerino as well, they were bidden take their places at the board, and as the feast went on Messer Raimondo tried his best with his charlatan science to make Nerino drunk, in order to be able to work his will upon him. Having several times handed to the youth a glass of malvoisie wine, which he never failed to empty, Messer Raimondo said to him: ‘Now, Signor Nerino, cannot you tell to these kinsfolk of mine some little jest which may make them laugh?’ The luckless Nerino, who had no inkling that Genobbia was Messer Raimondo’s wife, began to tell the story of his adventures, keeping back, however, the names of all concerned.
It chanced at this moment that one of the servants went into the room apart where Genobbia was, and said to her: ‘Madonna, if only you were now hidden in some corner of the feasting-room, you would hear told the finest story you ever heard in your life. I pray you go in quick.’ And, having stolen into a corner, she knew that the voice of the story teller belonged to Nerino her lover, and that the tale he was giving to the company concerned himself and her as well. Whereupon this prudent and sharp witted dame took the diamond which Nerino had given her, and, having placed it in a cup filled with a very dainty drink, she said to a servant, ‘Take this cup and give it to Signor Nerino, and tell him to drink it off forthwith, that he may tell his story the better.’ The servant took the cup, and placed it on the table, whereupon Nerino gave sign that he wished to drink therefrom; so the servant said to him, ‘Take this cup, signor, so that you may tell your story the better.’
Nerino took the cup and forthwith drank all the wine therein, when, seeing and recognizing the diamond which lay at the bottom, he let it pass into his mouth. Then making pretence of rinsing his teeth, he drew forth the ring and put it on his finger. As soon as he was well assured that the fair lady about whom he was telling his story was the wife of Messer Raimondo, he had no mind to say more, and when Messer Raimondo and his kinsfolk began to urge him to bring the tale which he had begun to an end, he replied, ‘And then and there the cock crowed and the day broke, so I awoke from my sleep and heard nothing more.’ Messer Raimondo’s kinsmen, having listened to Nerino’s story, and up to this time believed all he had said about the lady to be the truth, now imagined that both their host and the young man were drunk.
After several days had passed it happened that Nerino met Messer Raimondo, and feigning not to know that he was the husband of Genobbia, told him that within the space of two days he would take his departure, because his father had written to him to bid him without fail to return to his own country. Whereupon Messer Raimondo wished him good speed for his journey. Nerino, having come to a private under standing with Genobbia, carried her off with him and fled to Portugal, where they long lived a gay life together; but Messer Raimondo, when he went back to his house and found that his wife was gone, was stricken with despair, and died in the course of a few days.
Isabella’s fable pleased the ladies and gentlemen equally well, and they rejoiced especially that Messer Raimondo himself proved to be the cause of his own misfortune, and that the thing which he had courted had really fallen upon him. And when the Signora marked that this discourse was come to an end, she gave the sign to Isabella to finish her task in due order, and she, in no wise neglectful of the Signora’s command, gave the enigma which follows:
In the middle of the night,
Rises one with beard bedight.
Though no astrologer he be,
He marks the hours which pass and flee.
He wears a crown, although no king;
No priest, yet he the hour doth sing,
Though spurred at heel he is no knight;
No wife he calls his own by right,
Yet children many round him dwell.
Sharp wits you need this thing to tell.
Here the cleverly-devised enigma of Isabella came to an end, and although the various listeners went casting about in various directions, no one hit upon the exact truth except the somewhat haughty Lodovica, who, mindful of the slight which had of late been put upon her, rose to her feet and spake thus: “The enigma which our sister has set us to guess means nothing else than the cock, which is on the alert to crow while it is yet night; which wears a beard and has knowledge of the passage of time, although he is no astrologer. He bears a crest instead of a crown, and is no king; he sings the hours, yet is no priest. Besides this, he wears spurs on his heels; he has no wife, and brings up the children of others, that is to say, the young chickens.”
All the listeners commended this solution of Isabella’s skilful enigma, especially Capello, who said: “Signora Isabella, Lodovica has given you back bread for your bannock,’ seeing that a short time ago you very cleverly declared the meaning of her enigma and now she has mastered yours; but for this reason you must not harbour malice one against another.” Then Lodovica answered promptly, “Signor Bernardo, when the night time is come, I will pay you back yea for yea.”
But in order to keep the discourse within limits, the Signora imposed silence upon all, and, turning her face towards Lionora, whose turn it was to tell the last story of the night, directed her to begin, with due courtesy, her fable, and the damsel, with the best grace in the world thus began.