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Giovanni Boccaccio - Decameron (Day the Twelfth) lyrics

The First Story

Martellino Feigneth Himself A Cripple And Maketh Believe To Wax Whole Upon The Body Of St. Arrigo. His Imposture Being Discovered, He Is Beaten And Being After Taken [For A Thief,] Goeth In Peril Of Being Hanged By The Neck, But Ultimately Escapeth

"It chanceth oft, dearest ladies, that he who studieth to befool others, and especially in things reverend, findeth himself with nothing for his pains but flouts and whiles cometh not off scathless. Wherefore, that I may obey the queen's commandment and give beginning to the appointed theme with a story of mine, I purpose to relate to you that which, first misfortunately and after happily, beyond his every thought, betided a townsman of ours.

No great while agone there was at Treviso a German called Arrigo, who, being a poor man, served whoso required him to carry burdens for hire; and withal he was held of all a man of very holy and good life. Wherefore, be it true or untrue, when he died, it befell, according to that which the Trevisans avouch, that, in the hour of his death, the bells of the great church of Treviso began to ring, without being pulled of any. The people of the city, accounting this a miracle, proclaimed this Arrigo a saint and running all to the house where he lay, bore his body, for that of a saint, to the Cathedral, whither they fell to bringing the halt, the impotent and the blind and others afflicted with whatsoever defect or infirmity, as if they should all be made whole by the touch of the body.

In the midst of this great turmoil and concourse of folk, it chanced that there arrived at Treviso three of our townsmen, whereof one was called Stecchi, another Martellino and the third Marchese, men who visited the courts of princes and lords and diverted the beholders by travestying themselves and counterfeiting whatsoever other man with rare motions and grimaces. Never having been there before and seeing all the folk run, they marvelled and hearing the cause, were for going to see what was toward; wherefore they laid up their baggage at an inn and Marchese said, 'We would fain go look upon this saint; but, for my part, I see not how we may avail to win thither, for that I understand the Cathedral place is full of German and other men-at-arms, whom the lord of this city hath stationed there, so no riot may betide; more by token that they say the church is so full of folk that well nigh none else might enter there.' 'Let not that hinder you,' quoth Martellino, who was all agog to see the show; 'I warrant you I will find a means of winning to the holy body.' 'How so?' asked Marchese, and Martellino answered, 'I will tell thee. I will counterfeit myself a cripple and thou on one side and Stecchi on the other shall go upholding me, as it were I could not walk of myself, making as if you would fain bring me to the saint, so he may heal me. There will be none but, seeing us, will make way for us and let us pass.'

The device pleased Marchese and Stecchi and they went forth of the inn without delay, all three. Whenas they came to a solitary place, Martellino writhed his hands and fingers and arms and legs and eke his mouth and eyes and all his visnomy on such wise that it was a frightful thing to look upon, nor was there any saw him but would have avouched him to be verily all fordone and palsied of his person. Marchese and Stecchi, taking him up, counterfeited as he was, made straight for the church, with a show of the utmost compunction, humbly beseeching all who came in their way for the love of God to make room for them, the which was lightly yielded them. Brief, every one gazing on them and crying well nigh all, 'Make way! Make way!' they came whereas Saint Arrigo's body lay and Martellino was forthright taken up by certain gentlemen who stood around and laid upon the body, so he might thereby regain the benefit of health. Martellino, having lain awhile, whilst all the folk were on the stretch to see what should come of him, began, as right well he knew how, to make a show of opening first one finger, then a hand and after putting forth an arm and so at last coming to stretch himself out altogether. Which when the people saw, they set up such an outcry in praise of Saint Arrigo as would have drowned the very thunder.

Now, as chance would have it, there was therenigh a certain Florentine, who knew Martellino very well, but had not recognized him, counterfeited as he was, whenas he was brought thither. However, when he saw him grown straight again, he knew him and straightway fell a-laughing and saying, 'God confound him! Who that saw him come had not deemed him palsied in good earnest?' His words were overheard of sundry Trevisans, who asked him incontinent, 'How! Was he not palsied?' 'God forbid!' answered the Florentine. 'He hath ever been as straight as any one of us; but he knoweth better than any man in the world how to play off tricks of this kind and counterfeit what shape soever he will.'

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When the others heard this, there needed nothing farther; but they pushed forward by main force and fell a-crying out and saying, 'Seize yonder traitor and scoffer at God and His saints, who, being whole of his body, hath come hither, in the guise of a cripple, to make mock of us and of our saint!' So saying, they laid hold of Martellino and pulled him down from the place where he lay. Then, taking him by the hair of his head and tearing all the clothes off his back, they fell upon him with cuffs and kicks; nor himseemed was there a man in the place but ran to do likewise. Martellino roared out, 'Mercy, for God's sake!' and fended himself as best he might, but to no avail; for the crowd redoubled upon him momently. Stecchi and Marchese, seeing this, began to say one to the other that things stood ill, but, fearing for themselves, dared not come to his aid; nay, they cried out with the rest to put him to death, bethinking them the while how they might avail to fetch him out of the hands of the people, who would certainly have slain him, but for a means promptly taken by Marchese; to wit, all the officers of the Seignory being without the church, he betook himself as quickliest he might, to him who commanded for the Provost and said, 'Help, for God's sake! There is a lewd fellow within who hath cut my purse, with a good hundred gold florins. I pray you take him, so I may have mine own again.'

Hearing this, a round dozen of sergeants ran straightway whereas the wretched Martellino was being carded without a comb and having with the greatest pains in the world broken through the crowd, dragged him out of the people's hands, all bruised and tumbled as he was, and haled him off to the palace, whither many followed him who held themselves affronted of him and hearing that he had been taken for a cutpurse and themseeming they had no better occasion[77] of doing him an ill turn,[78] began each on like wise to say that he had cut his purse. The Provost's judge, who was a crabbed, ill-conditioned fellow, hearing this, forthright took him apart and began to examine him of the matter; but Martellino answered jestingly, as if he made light of his arrest; whereat the judge, incensed, caused truss him up and give him two or three good bouts of the strappado, with intent to make him confess that which they laid to his charge, so he might after have him strung up by the neck.

When he was let down again, the judge asked him once more if that were true which the folk avouched against him, and Martellino, seeing that it availed him not to deny, answered, 'My lord, I am ready to confess the truth to you; but first make each who accuseth me say when and where I cut his purse, and I will tell you what I did and what not.' Quoth the judge, 'I will well,' and calling some of his accusers, put the question to them; whereupon one said that he had cut his purse eight, another six and a third four days agone, whilst some said that very day. Martellino, hearing this, said, 'My lord, these all lie in their throats and I can give you this proof that I tell you the truth, inasmuch as would God it were as sure that I had never come hither as it is that I was never in this place till a few hours agone; and as soon as I arrived, I went, of my ill fortune, to see yonder holy body in the church, where I was carded as you may see; and that this I say is true, the Prince's officer who keepeth the register of strangers can certify you, he and his book, as also can my host. If, therefore, you find it as I tell you, I beseech you torture me not neither put me to death at the instance of these wicked, men.'

Whilst things were at this pass, Marchese and Stecchi, hearing that the judge of the Provostry was proceeding rigorously against Martellino and had already given him the strappado, were sore affeared and said in themselves, 'We have gone the wrong way to work; we have brought him forth of the frying-pan and cast him into the fire.' Wherefore they went with all diligence in quest of their host and having found him, related to him how the case stood. He laughed and carried them to one Sandro Agolanti, who abode in Treviso and had great interest with the Prince, and telling him everything in order, joined with them in beseeching him to occupy himself with Martellino's affairs. Sandro, after many a laugh, repaired to the Prince and prevailed upon him to send for Martellino.

The Prince's messengers found Martellino still in his shirt before the judge, all confounded and sore adread, for that the judge would hear nothing in his excuse; nay, having, by chance, some spite against the people of Florence, he was altogether determined to hang him by the neck and would on no wise render him up to the Prince till such time as he was constrained thereto in his despite. Martellino, being brought before the lord of the city and having told him everything in order, besought him, by way of special favour, to let him go about his business, for that, until he should be in Florence again, it would still seem to him he had the rope about his neck. The Prince laughed heartily at his mischance and let give each of the three a suit of apparel, wherewith they returned home safe and sound, having, beyond all their hope, escaped so great a peril."


[77] Or pretext (titolo).

[78] Or "having him punished," lit. "causing give him ill luck" (fargli dar la mala ventura). This passage, like so many others of the Decameron, is ambiguous and may also be read "themseeming none other had a juster title to do him an ill turn."

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