From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 157-168.157
THERE lived at Perugia, a young man named Andreuccio di Pietro, a dealer in horses, who, hearing that they were cheap at Naples, put five hundred florins of gold into his purse; and leaving home for the first time in his life, in company with some other dealers, arrived in that city on a Sunday evening. Having consulted with his landlord, he went into the market next morning, where he saw many horses to his mind, and cheapened some as he went up and down, without coming to any bargain; but to show people that he came with an intent to buy, he unadvisedly pulled out his purse on all occasions. The consequence was that a very pretty Sicilian damsel (who was at everyone’s service for a small matter) got sight of the purse, without being observed by its owner: and said she to herself, as she passed on:
“Who is there that would be my betters, if that purse were mine?”
Along with her was an old woman of Sicily likewise, who, as soon as she saw Andreuccio, ran and embraced him; which the young woman observing without saying a word, stepped aside to wait for her. Andreuccio recognized the old woman, spoke to her with great cordiality, and having made her promise to come to his inn, he parted from her and went on about his business, but bought nothing all that morning. The young woman, who had taken notice first of the purse, and then of her friend’s knowledge of the owner, began to inquire of her, as cautiously as might be, by way of contriving how to come at the money, in whole or in part, who that man was, whence he came, what was his business, and how she happened to know him.158
These questions the old woman answered in every particular as fully as he himself could have done, having lived a long time with his father in Sicily, and afterwards at Perugia, and having heard from him the cause of his coming to Naples, and when he was to return. Thinking herself now sufficiently instructed concerning the man’s kindred and their names, the young woman laid her plans in the most artful manner possible; and going home, she sent the old woman out upon business for the whole day, that she might have an opportunity of seeing Andreuccio again. In the meantime, towards evening, she despatched a young woman, well trained for such services, to his inn, where the messenger found him sitting alone at the door, and inquiring of him whether one Andreuccio, of Perugia, lived there, he made answer that he was the man. She then took him a little aside and said:
“Sir, a gentlewoman of this city would gladly speak with you, if you please.”
On hearing this, he began to consider the matter; and, as she seemed to be a creditable girl, he concluded that the lady must be in love with him, being in his own eyes as handsome a man as any in Naples. He answered, therefore, that he was ready, and asked where and when the lady would speak with him.
“She expects you,” said the girl, “at her own house, as soon as may be agreeable to you.”
Without saying a word then to the people of the inn, he bade her show him the way; and she brought him to her house, in a certain street famous for such sort of inhabitants; but he, knowing nothing of the matter, nor at all suspecting but that he was visiting a place of repute and a lady that had taken a fancy to him, went into the house, and going upstairs (whilst the girl called out to her mistress that Andreuccio was there), found her at the top, waiting for him. She was young, had a fine face and figure, and was very well dressed, Running down two or three steps with open arms to meet him, and clasping his neck, she stood some time without speaking a word, 159 as if overpowered by her emotions; at last, showering tears and kisses on his face, she faltered out:
“Oh, my Andreuccio! you are heartily welcome.”
Quite astonished at being caressed in such a manner, he replied:
“Madam, I am proud of the honor to wait upon you.”
She then took him by the hand, and led him, without saying a word more, through a large dining-room, into her own chamber, which was perfumed with roses, orange-flowers, and other rich odors, and where there was also a fine bed, and other rich furniture, far beyond what he had ever seen before, which convinced him that she was some great lady. When they had sat down together upon a couch at the bed’s feet, she addressed him thus:
“I am very sure, Andreuccio, you must be under great astonishment both at my tears and embraces, as being unacquainted with me, and perhaps never having heard of me before; but you will now hear what will surprise you more, namely, that I am your sister; and I assure you that since God has indulged me with the sight of one of my brothers — how I wish I could see them all! — I could die contented this very moment. If you are unacquainted with the particulars of my story, I will relate them. Pietro, my father and yours, as I suppose you must know, lived a long time at Palermo, where he was much respected for his integrity and good nature, and is so still, by all that knew him. But of all his friends, none loved him so well as my mother. Having occasion to retire from Palermo, and to return to Perugia, he left me there an infant, with my mother, and from that time, as far as I can learn, took no more notice either of me or her; which, were he not my father, I could blame him for; considering what ingratitude he showed to my mother, to say nothing of the love he owed to me, his child.
“Yet so it was; he left me, as I said, at Palermo, an infant, where, when I grew up, my mother, who was rich, married me to one of the family of the Gergenti, who, out of regard to me and her, came and lived at Palermo, where, 160 being an ardent Guelph, and having begun to treat with our King Charles, he was discovered by Frederick, king of Aragon, before his scheme could take effect, and was forced to fly from Sicily at a time when I expected to have been the greatest lady ever known in the island. Taking with us what few effects we could (I call them few, in comparison with the abundance we were possessed of), and leaving our estates and palaces behind us, we came at length to this [place, where we found King Charles so grateful that he has made up to us, in part, the losses we had sustained on his account, giving us lands and houses, and paying my husband, and your kinsman, a pension besides, as you will hereafter see. Thus I live here, where, thanks be to Heaven, and not to you, my dearest brother, I now see you.” Having so said, she wept, and tenderly embraced him again.
Andreuccio, hearing this fable so orderly, so artfully composed, and related without the least faltering or hesitation; remembering, also, that his father had lived at Palermo, and knowing by his own experience, how prone young fellows are to love; beholding, too, her tears and affectionate caresses, he took all she had said for gospel; and when she had done speaking, he replied:
“Madam, it should not seem strange to you that I am surprised; for, in truth, whether it was that my father, for reasons best known to himself, never mentioned you or your mother at any time; or, if he did, that I have forgotten it, I had no more knowledge of you than if you had never been born. Truly it is the more pleasing to me to find a sister here, as I the less expected it, and am also alone: nor is there any man, however high he may be, who would not value you; much more myself, who am but a mean trader. But one thing I beg you would clear up to me, that is — How came you to know that I was here?”
“A poor woman,” she replied, “whom I often employ, told me so; for she lived, as she informed me, with our father a considerable time, both at Palermo and Perugia; 161 and were it not that it appeared more reputable that you should come to my house, than that I should visit you at another’s, I would have come directly to you.”
She then inquired of him particularly, and by name, how all their relations did; to all which he answered her fully, his belief in her story becoming the stronger in proportion as there was the more reason for suspicion. Their conference having lasted a long time, and the weather being sultry, she ordered some Greek wine and sweetmeats for him; and when he made an offer afterwards to depart, because it was supper-time, she would by no means suffer it; but seeming to be under great concern, she embraced him, and said:
“Alas! now I plainly see how little account you make of me; that, being with a sister whom you never saw before, and in her house, which you should always make your home, you should yet think of going to sup at an inn. Indeed you shall sup with me; and though my husband be abroad, which I am much concerned at, I will contrive, as well as a lady may, to pay you some little respect.”
Not knowing what else to say to this, Andreuccio replied: “I love you as much as it is possible for me to love a sister; but it will be wrong not to go, because hey will be expecting me to supper all the evening.”
“Lord bless me!” she exclaimed, “have I no one here that I can send to tell them not to expect you? But you would oblige me more, and do as you ought, if you would send to invite your friends hither to supper, and afterwards, if you chose to go, you might all of you go together.”
Andreuccio would not trouble her that evening, he said, with his companions, but for himself, she might dispose of him as she pleased. She now made a pretense of sending to his inn to tell them not to expect him to supper, and, after much other discourse, they sat down to a choice and copious repast, which she contrived to protract till it was quite dark. When they rose from table, Andreuccio again wanted to go away; but she would by no means suffer it, for Naples, she declared, was not a place to walk in after dark, especially for a stranger; and she had sent word 162 to the inn that he would sleep as well as sup abroad. Believing this to be true, and glad also of being with his sister, he was easily prevailed upon to stay. After supper, she purposely prolonged the conversation to a late hour in the night, when she left him in her own chamber to take his repose, with a boy to wait upon him, she herself retiring with her women into another room.
It was very hot weather, on which account Andreuccio, seeing himself alone, stripped to his doublet. But setting his foot upon a board, which was not nailed at the other end to the rafter on which it was laid, it flew up, and down they went, board and man together. Heaven was merciful to him, however, for he was not hurt by the fall, though the height was great. Finding himself now at the bottom, he called in great distress to the boy; but the latter, the moment he heard him fall, ran off to tell his mistress, who hastened to the chamber to see if Andreuccio’s clothes were there. Finding both them and the money, which he, out of a foolish mistrust, always carried about him, and having now got hold of that for the sake of which she had laid this snare, pretending to be of Palermo and the sister of this Perugian, she took no farther heed of her dear brother, but made the door fast. Andreuccio, finding the boy made no answer, bawled out louder and louder, but to no purpose; and now, beginning to suspect the trick when it was too late, he climbed over a low wall which parted from the alley from the street, and went to the door, which he knew full well; there did he knock and shout in vain for a long time; lamenting much, and seeing plainly his calamity.
“Alas!” quoth he, “in how little a time have I lost five hundred florins, and a sister besides!”
After many more wailings, he began again to batter the door, and to bawl so loudly that he roused many of the neighbors out of their beds. Among the rest, one of the courtesan’s women, pretending to be half asleep, opened the casement, and called out:
“Who’s that making such a noise there?”163
“Oh!” cried Andreuccio, “don’t you know me? I am Andreuccio, brother to my lady Fiordalisa.”
“Prithee, honest fellow,” replied the woman, “if thou hast had too much liquor, get thee to bed, and come tomorrow. I know nothing of Andreuccio, nor what thy idle tale means; please to go about thy business, I say again, and let us rest.”
“What!” said he, “don’t you know what I say? you know well enough, if you will; but if our Sicilian relationship be so soon forgotten, give me my clothes which I left with you, and I’ll go with all my heart.”
The man is dreaming,” she replied, with a contemptuous laugh, and instantly shut the casement.
Andreuccio, now too well assured of his misfortune, became outrageous in his sorrow; and, resolving to obtain by force what he had failed to get by fair words, he took a great stone, and banged at the door harder than ever. Many of the neighbors whom he had waked up, supposing that he was some spiteful fellow who did this to annoy the woman, and provoked at the intolerable noise he made, calling out, one and all (just as dogs in the street all join in barking at a strange cur):
“It is a shameful thing to come to a decent woman’s house at this time of night with these idle stories: get away, in God’s name, and let us sleep; if thou hast any business with her, come tomorrow, and do not disturb us now.”
Encouraged, perhaps, by these last words, a bully in the house, whom Andreuccio had neither seen nor heard of, came to the window, and with a most rough and terrible voice, cried out:
“Who is that below?”
Andreuccio, looking up at this, beheld an ill-looking rascal, with a great black beard, yawning and rubbing his eyes, as if he was just awakened out of his sleep. He made answer, therefore, not without a good deal of fear, “I am brother to the lady within”: but the other (never waiting to let him make an end of his speech) replied:164
“I don’t know what should stop me from coming down and cudgeling thee as long as thou canst stand, for a troublesome drunken beast as thou art, disturbing everybody’s rest in this manner.”
With that he closed the window. Hereupon some of the neighbors, who knew more of the fellow’s character, called out softly to Andreuccio:
“For heaven’s sake, honest man, go away, unless thou hast a mind to lose thy life; it will be much the best for thee.”
Terrified by the bully’s voice and aspect, and persuaded by these people, who seemed to speak out of mere goodwill, the woe-begone Andreuccio now gave up all hopes of recovering his money, and wended his way towards that part of the city whence he had been decoyed by the girl the day before. But unable to endure the scent he carried about him, and purposing to have a good wash in the sea, he turned to the left, through a street called Catalana. He had now reached the higher part of the city, when he saw two people coming towards him with a lantern, and fearing that they were the watch or some ill-disposed persons, he stepped into an old house that was near to hide himself. It happened that these people were going into the very same place; and one of them having laid down some iron tools there, which he carried over his shoulder, they began to examine them together. While they were talking about them, said one to the other:
“There is the most confounded stink here that ever I smelt in my life, what can it be?”
Then, turning the lantern this way and that, they spied unfortunate Andreuccio, and, in a good deal of amazement, demanded who he was? He made no answer; and, drawing nearer with the light, they asked what he did there in such a pickle? He then related to them his whole adventure; and they, easily guessing where the thing had happened, said to one another:
“This must certainly have been in the house of Scarabon Firebrand.”165
Then, turning towards him: “Honest man,” said one of them, “you ought to be very thankful that you fell down, and could not return into the house, for otherwise you would certainly have been murdered as soon as ever you went to sleep, and so have lost your life as well as your money. But what signifies lamenting? You may as soon pluck a star out of its firmament as recover one farthing; nay, you may chance to be killed, should the man hear that you make any words about it.”
Having admonished him in this manner, they said; “See, we have pity on you, and if you will engage with us in a certain affair which we are now about, we are very sure that your share will amount to more than you have lost.”
Andreuccio, like a desperate man as he was, told them he was willing.
That day had been buried Signor Philippo Minutolo, archbishop of Naples, in rich pontifical robes, and with a ruby on his finger worth upwards of five hundred florins of gold. His body they proposed to strip and rifle, and they made known their intention to Andreuccio, who, more covetous than wise, went with them towards the cathedral. As they were going along, he smelt so badly that one said to the other:
“Can we contrive no way to wash this man a little, so as to make him stink less infernally?”
“Why not!” said the other, “We are not far from a well, where there are usually a pully and a great bucket; let us go there, and we may make him clean in an instant.”
Coming to the well, they found the rope, but the bucket was taken away; they therefore agreed to tie him to the rope and let him down; and when he had well washed himself, he was to shake the rope, and they would draw him up. Now it happened that, after they had let him down, some of the watch, being thirsty with the heat of the weather and a sharp run they had had after some rogue or another, came to that well to drink, and as soon as the two men saw them, they took to their heels: the watch, however, saw nothing of them.166
Andreuccio had by this time washed himself thoroughly at the bottom of the well; and the watch, having laid down their casques and halberds upon the ground, began to draw up the rope, thinking from its weight, that the bucket was fastened to it, and full of water. As soon as Andreuccio found himself at the top, he let go the rope, and clung fast to the edge of the well; the watch immediately dropped the rope on seeing him, and ran away, frightened out of their wits, which greatly amazed him; and had he not held fast, he would have fallen to the bottom, and perhaps lost his life. Getting out, however, and beholding their weapons, which he knew belonged not to his companions, he wondered the more; and not knowing what to make of it, he went away without touching anything. As he was walking along, not knowing whither, he met with his companions, who had returned to help him out of the well. Greatly surprised to see him, they asked who had helped him out. He replied that he could not tell, and related to them the whole affair and what he had found by the well-side: whereupon, laughing heartily, they acquainted him with the reason for their running away, and who they were that had drawn him up.
Without wasting more time in words, it being now midnight, the three confederates hastened to the great church, entered without difficulty, and went straight to the archbishop’s tomb, which was of marble and of great size. With their levers they raised up the cover, which was very heavy, so high that a man might go under and prop it; which being done, said one:
“Who shall go in?”
“Not I,” cried the other.
“Nor I,” said the first, “but Andreuccio shall.”
“I will not go in,” quoth Andreuccio; when they both turned towards him, and said: “What! you won’t go in? We will beat your brains out this moment, if you don’t.”
Terrified at their threats, he consented, and being now within, he began to consider with himself in this manner:
“These fellows have certainly forced me in here to cheat 167 me, and so when I have given them everything, and am endeavoring to get out again, they will run away, and I shall be left empty-handed.”
Accordingly, he resolved to make sure of his part beforehand; and, remembering the precious ring he had heard them speak of, as soon as ever he got into the vault, he took it off the archbishop’s finger and secured it. Then he gave his companions the pastoral staff, miter, and gloves, and after stripping the prelate’s body to his shirt, he told them there was nothing else. They insisted that there was a ring, and bade him seek everywhere for it. He assured them that he could find nothing of the sort, and, pretending to look carefully about, he kept them some time waiting for him; at length they, who were fully as cunning as himself, calling him to search diligently, suddenly drew away the prop which supported the cover, and left him shut up in the vault.
You may easily suppose what condition he was in now. Many times did he endeavor with his head and shoulders to raise up the heavy slab, but in vain; till, overcome with grief, he fell down upon then dead body; and whoever had seen them then, could scarcely have said, whether there was more life in the one than the other. When at last he came to himself, bitter were his lamentations, seeing that he was now brought to this dreadful dilemma, that he must either die there with hunger and the stench of the dead carcass, if no one came to help him out, or be hanged for a thief, should anyone happen to find him in that place.
While he was in this perplexity, he heard the noise of many persons in the church, who, he supposed, were come to do what he and his companions had been about, and this greatly added to his fear; but after they had raised up the lid and propped it, a dispute arose which should go in; and none caring to do it, after a long contest, said a priest:
“What are you afraid of? Do you think he will eat you? Dead men cannot bite; I will go in myself.”
And immediately resting his belly on the edge of the 168 vault, he attempted to slide down, feet foremost; which, Andreuccio perceiving, he stood up and caught fast hold of one of the priest’s legs, as if he meant to pull him in. The priest upon this making a most terrible outcry, scrambled out immediately; and the whole party, leaving the vault open in their terror, ran for their lives, as if they had been pursued by a hundred thousand devils. Andreuccio, little expecting this good fortune, got out of the vault, and the church, as quickly as he could.
Daylight had now begun to appear, and wandering, with the ring on his finger, he knew not whither, he came at last to the seaside, and found the way leading to his inn. There he met with his companions and his landlord, who had been in pain all that night for him; and having related to them all that had passed, he was advised to get out of Naples with all speed. He instantly complied with that advice, and returned to Perugia, having laid out his money on a ring, whereas the intent of his journey had been to buy horses.