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Giovanni Boccaccio - Decameron (Day the Fourteenth) lyrics

The Third Story

Three Young Men Squander Their Substance And Become Poor; But A Nephew Of Theirs, Returning Home In Desperation, Falleth In With An Abbot And Findeth Him To Be The King's Daughter Of England, Who Taketh Him To Husband And Maketh Good All His Uncles' Losses, Restoring Them To Good Estate

The adventures of Rinaldo d'Asti were hearkened with admiration and his devoutness commended by the ladies, who returned thanks to God and St. Julian for that they had succoured him in his utmost need. Nor yet (though this was said half aside) was the lady reputed foolish, who had known how to take the good God had sent her in her own house. But, whilst they discoursed, laughing in their sleeves, of the pleasant night she had had, Pampinea, seeing herself beside Filostrato and deeming, as indeed it befell, that the next turn would rest with her, began to collect her thoughts and take counsel with herself what she should say; after which, having received the queen's commandment, she proceeded to speak thus, no less resolutely than blithely, "Noble ladies, the more it is discoursed of the doings of Fortune, the more, to whoso is fain to consider her dealings aright, remaineth to be said thereof; and at this none should marvel, an he consider advisedly that all the things, which we foolishly style ours, are in her hands and are consequently, according to her hidden ordinance, transmuted by her without cease from one to another and back again, without any method known unto us. Wherefore, albeit this truth is conclusively demonstrated in everything and all day long and hath already been shown forth in divers of the foregoing stories, nevertheless, since it is our queen's pleasure that we discourse upon this theme, I will, not belike without profit for the listeners, add to the stories aforesaid one of my own, which methinketh should please.

There was once in our city a gentleman, by name Messer Tedaldo, who, as some will have it, was of the Lamberti family, albeit others avouch that he was of the Agolanti, arguing more, belike, from the craft after followed by his sons,[88] which was like unto that which the Agolanti have ever practised and yet practise, than from aught else. But, leaving be of which of these two houses he was, I say that he was, in his time, a very rich gentleman and had three sons, whereof the eldest was named Lamberto, the second Tedaldo and the third Agolante, all handsome and sprightly youths, the eldest of whom had not reached his eighteenth year when it befell that the aforesaid Messer Tedaldo died very rich and left all his possessions, both moveable and immoveable, to them, as his legitimate heirs. The young men, seeing themselves left very rich both in lands and monies, began to spend without check or reserve or other governance than that of their own pleasure, keeping a vast household and many and goodly horses and dogs and hawks, still holding open house and giving largesse and making tilts and tournaments and doing not only that which pertaineth unto men of condition, but all, to boot, that it occurred to their youthful appetite to will.

They had not long led this manner of life before the treasure left by their father melted away and their revenues alone sufficing not unto their current expenses, they proceeded to sell and mortgage their estates, and selling one to-day and another to-morrow, they found themselves well nigh to nought, without perceiving it, and poverty opened their eyes, which wealth had kept closed. Whereupon Lamberto, one day, calling the other two, reminded them how great had been their father's magnificence and how great their own and setting before them what wealth had been theirs and the poverty to which they were come through their inordinate expenditure, exhorted them, as best he knew, ere their distress should become more apparent, to sell what little was left them and get them gone, together with himself. They did as he counselled them and departing Florence, without leavetaking or ceremony, stayed not till they came to England, where, taking a little house in London and spending very little, they addressed themselves with the utmost diligence to lend money at usance. In this fortune was so favourable to them that in a few years they amassed a vast sum of money, wherewith, returning to Florence, one after another, they bought back great part of their estates and purchased others to boot and took unto themselves wives.

Nevertheless, they still continued to lend money in England and sent thither, to look to their affairs, a young man, a nephew of theirs, Alessandro by name, whilst themselves all three at Florence, for all they were become fathers of families, forgetting to what a pass inordinate expenditure had aforetime brought them, began to spend more extravagantly than ever and were high in credit with all the merchants, who trusted them for any sum of money, however great. The monies remitted them by Alessandro, who had fallen to lending to the barons upon their castles and other their possessions, which brought him great profit, helped them for some years to support these expenses; but, presently, what while the three brothers spent thus freely and lacking money, borrowed, still reckoning with all assurance upon England, it chanced that, contrary to all expectation, there broke out war in England between the king and his son, through which the whole island was divided into two parties, some holding with the one and some with the other; and by reason thereof all the barons' castles were taken from Alessandro nor was there any other source of revenue that answered him aught. Hoping that from day to day peace should be made between father and son and consequently everything restored to him, both interest and capital, Alessandro departed not the island and the three brothers in Florence no wise abated their extravagant expenditure, borrowing more and more every day. But, when, after several years, no effect was seen to follow upon their expectation, the three brothers not only lost their credit, but, their creditors seeking to be paid their due, they were suddenly arrested and their possessions sufficing not unto payment, they abode in prison for the residue, whilst their wives and little ones betook themselves, some into the country, some hither and some thither, in very ill plight, unknowing what to expect but misery for the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile, Alessandro, after waiting several years in England for peace, seeing that it came not and himseeming that not only was his tarrying there in vain, but that he went in danger of his life, determined to return to Italy. Accordingly, he set out all alone and as chance would have it, coming out of Bruges, he saw an abbot of white friars likewise issuing thence, accompanied by many monks and with a numerous household and a great baggage-train in his van. After him came two old knights, kinsmen of the King, whom Alessandro accosted as acquaintances and was gladly admitted into their company. As he journeyed with them, he asked them softly who were the monks that rode in front with so great a train and whither they were bound; and one of them answered, 'He who rideth yonder is a young gentleman of our kindred, who hath been newly elected abbot of one of the most considerable abbeys of England, and for that he is younger than is suffered by the laws for such a dignity, we go with him to Rome to obtain of the Holy Father that he dispense him of his defect of overmuch youthfulness and confirm him in the dignity aforesaid; but this must not be spoken of with any.'

The new abbot, faring on thus, now in advance of his retinue and now in their rear, as daily we see it happen with noblemen on a journey, chanced by the way to see near him Alessandro, who was a young man exceedingly goodly of person and favour, well-bred, agreeable and fair of fashion as any might be, and who at first sight pleased him marvellously, as nought had ever done, and calling him to his side, fell a-discoursing pleasantly with him, asking him who he was and whence he came and whither he was bound; whereupon Alessandro frankly discovered to him his whole case and satisfied his questions, offering himself to his service in what little he might. The abbot, hearing his goodly and well-ordered speech, took more particular note of his manners and inwardly judging him to be a man of gentle breeding, for all his business had been mean, grew yet more enamoured of his pleasantness and full of compassion for his mishaps, comforted him on very friendly wise, bidding him be of good hope, for that, an he were a man of worth, God would yet replace him in that estate whence fortune had cast him down, nay, in a yet higher. Moreover, he prayed him, since he was bound for Tuscany, that it would please him bear him company, inasmuch as himself was likewise on the way thitherward; whereupon Alessandro returned him thanks for his encouragement and declared himself ready to his every commandment.

The abbot, in whose breast new feelings had been aroused by the sight of Alessandro, continuing his journey, it chanced that, after some days, they came to a village not overwell furnished with hostelries, and the abbot having a mind to pass the night there, Alessandro caused him alight at the house of an innkeeper, who was his familiar acquaintance, and let prepare him his sleeping-chamber in the least incommodious place of the house; and being now, like an expert man as he was, grown well nigh a master of the household to the abbot, he lodged all his company, as best he might, about the village, some here and some there. After the abbot had supped, the night being now well advanced and every one gone to bed, Alessandro asked the host where he himself could lie; whereto he answered, 'In truth, I know not; thou seest that every place is full and I and my household must needs sleep upon the benches. Algates, in the abbot's chamber there be certain grain-sacks, whereto I can bring thee and spread thee thereon some small matter of bed, and there, an it please thee, thou shalt lie this night, as best thou mayst.' Quoth Alessandro, 'How shall I go into the abbot's chamber, seeing thou knowest it is little and of its straitness none of his monks might lie there? Had I bethought me of this, ere the curtains were drawn, I would have let his monks lie on the grain-sacks and have lodged myself where they sleep.' 'Nay,' answered the host, 'the case standeth thus;[89] but, an thou wilt, thou mayst lie whereas I tell thee with all the ease in the world. The abbot is asleep and his curtains are drawn; I will quickly lay thee a pallet-bed there, and do thou sleep on it.' Alessandro, seeing that this might be done without giving the abbot any annoy, consented thereto and settled himself on the grain-sacks as softliest he might.

The abbot, who slept not, nay, whose thoughts were ardently occupied with his new desires, heard what passed between Alessandro and the host and noted where the former laid himself to sleep, and well pleased with this, began to say in himself, 'God hath sent an occasion unto my desires; an I take it not, it may be long ere the like recur to me.' Accordingly, being altogether resolved to take the opportunity and himseeming all was quiet in the inn, he called to Alessandro in a low voice and bade him come couch with him. Alessandro, after many excuses, put off his clothes and laid himself beside the abbot, who put his hand on his breast and fell to touching him no otherwise than amorous damsels use to do with their lovers; whereat Alessandro marvelled exceedingly and misdoubted him the abbot was moved by unnatural love to handle him on that wise; but the latter promptly divined his suspicions, whether of presumption or through some gesture of his, and smiled; then, suddenly putting off a shirt that he wore, he took Alessandro's hand and laying it on his own breast, said, 'Alessandro, put away thy foolish thought and searching here, know that which I conceal.'
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Alessandro accordingly put his hand to the abbot's bosom and found there two little breasts, round and firm and delicate, no otherwise than as they were of ivory, whereby perceiving that the supposed prelate was a woman, without awaiting farther bidding, he straightway took her in his arms and would have kissed her; but she said to him, 'Ere thou draw nearer to me, hearken to that which I have to say to thee. As thou mayst see, I am a woman and not a man, and having left home a maid, I was on my way to the Pope, that he might marry me. Be it thy good fortune or my mishap, no sooner did I see thee the other day than love so fired me for thee, that never yet was woman who so loved man. Wherefore, I am resolved to take thee, before any other, to husband; but, an thou wilt not have me to wife, begone hence forthright and return to thy place.'

Alessandro, albeit he knew her not, having regard to her company and retinue, judged her to be of necessity noble and rich and saw that she was very fair; wherefore, without overlong thought, he replied that, if this pleased her, it was mighty agreeable to him. Accordingly, sitting up with him in bed, she put a ring into his hand and made him espouse her[90] before a picture wherein our Lord was portrayed, after which they embraced each other and solaced themselves with amorous dalliance, to the exceeding pleasure of both parties, for so much as remained of the night.

When the day came, after they had taken order together concerning their affairs, Alessandro arose and departed the chamber by the way he had entered, without any knowing where he had passed the night. Then, glad beyond measure, he took to the road again with the abbot and his company and came after many days to Rome. There they abode some days, after which the abbot, with the two knights and Alessandro and no more, went in to the Pope and having done him due reverence, bespoke him thus, 'Holy Father, as you should know better than any other, whoso is minded to live well and honestly should, inasmuch as he may, eschew every occasion that may lead him to do otherwise; the which that I, who would fain live honestly, may throughly do, having fled privily with a great part of the treasures of the King of England my father, (who would have given me to wife to the King of Scotland, a very old prince, I being, as you see, a young maid), I set out, habited as you see me, to come hither, so your Holiness might marry me. Nor was it so much the age of the King of Scotland that made me flee as the fear, if I were married to him, lest I should, for the frailty of my youth, be led to do aught that might be contrary to the Divine laws and the honour of the royal blood of my father. As I came, thus disposed, God, who alone knoweth aright that which behoveth unto every one, set before mine eyes (as I believe, of His mercy) him whom it pleased Him should be my husband, to wit, this young man,' showing Alessandro, 'whom you see here beside me and whose fashions and desert are worthy of however great a lady, although belike the nobility of his blood is not so illustrious as the blood-royal. Him, then, have I taken and him I desire, nor will I ever have any other than he, however it may seem to my father or to other folk. Thus, the principal occasion of my coming is done away; but it pleased me to make an end of my journey, at once that I might visit the holy and reverential places, whereof this city is full, and your Holiness and that through you I might make manifest, in your presence and consequently in that of the rest of mankind, the marriage contracted between Alessandro and myself in the presence of God alone. Wherefore I humbly pray you that this which hath pleased God and me may find favour with you and that you will vouchsafe us your benison, in order that with this, as with more assurance of His approof whose Vicar you are, we may live and ultimately die together.'

Alessandro marvelled to hear that the damsel was the King's daughter of England and was inwardly filled with exceeding great gladness; but the two knights marvelled yet more and were so incensed, that, had they been otherwhere than in the Pope's presence, they had done Alessandro a mischief and belike the lady also. The Pope also, on his part, marvelled exceedingly both at the habit of the lady and at her choice; but, seeing that there was no going back on that which was done, he consented to satisfy her of her prayer. Accordingly, having first appeased the two knights, whom he knew to be angered, and made them well at one again with the lady and Alessandro, he took order for that which was to do, and the day appointed by him being come, before all the cardinals and many other men of great worship, come, at his bidding, to a magnificent bride-feast prepared by him, he produced the lady, royally apparelled, who showed so fair and so agreeable that she was worthily commended of all, and on like wise Alessandro splendidly attired, in bearing and appearance no whit like a youth who had lent at usury, but rather one of royal blood, and now much honoured of the two knights. There he caused solemnly celebrate the marriage afresh and after goodly and magnificent nuptials made, he dismissed them with his benison.

It pleased Alessandro, and likewise the lady, departing Rome, to betake themselves to Florence, whither report had already carried the news. There they were received by the townsfolk with the utmost honour and the lady caused liberate the three brothers, having first paid every man [his due]. Moreover, she reinstated them and their ladies in their possessions and with every one's goodwill, because of this, she and her husband departed Florence, carrying Agolante with them, and coming to Paris, were honourably entertained by the King. Thence the two knights passed into England and so wrought with the King that the latter restored to his daughter his good graces and with exceeding great rejoicing received her and his son-in-law, whom he a little after made a knight with the utmost honour and gave him the Earldom of Cornwall. In this capacity he approved himself a man of such parts and made shift to do on such wise that he reconciled the son with his father, whereof there ensued great good to the island, and thereby he gained the love and favour of all the people of the country.

Moreover, Agolante thoroughly recovered all that was there due to him and his brethren and returned to Florence, rich beyond measure, having first been knighted by Count Alessandro. The latter lived long and gloriously with his lady, and according as some avouch, what with his wit and valour and the aid of his father-in-law, he after conquered Scotland and was crowned King thereof."


[88] i.e. usury? See post. One of the commentators ridiculously suggests that they were needlemakers, from ago, a needle.

[89] i.e. the thing is done and cannot be undone; there is no help for it.

[90] i.e. make her a solemn promise of marriage, formally plight her his troth. The ceremony of betrothal was formerly (and still is in certain countries) the most essential part of the marriage rite.

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