From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 279-282.103
THERE was a Greek merchant from Corfu, who having trafficked in various parts of Italy, at length settled in Mantua. His name was Filargiro, one of the most avaricious characters in the world; for though he had realized a handsome property, all his thoughts were bent upon amassing more and more, his avarice still increasing with the increase of his wealth.
It happened that on returning one day from a sale of some of his goods, with a purse of four hundred gold crowns, while engaged in transacting other business he was unlucky enough to lose the whole sum, nor was he aware of his loss until he reached home. Arriving there, he opened an immense chest containing many thousand crowns, and on preparing to add the four hundred to the number, he was struck dumb with astonishment to find that they were gone. He uttered an exclamation of horror every time he put his hand into each of his pockets, till convinced at last that his loss was but too true, he ran off in great consternation along the path he had come, inquiring of the very dogs he met on the way whether they had seen or seized upon his treasure. He was quite confounded when he reached the place where he had first received the money, without obtaining the least tidings of it.
Almost overwhelmed with despair, he suddenly bethought him, as a last resource, to apply to the marquis, entreating that a public crier might be instantly sent forth, and offering the sum of forty crowns for the recovery of his treasure. With great courtesy the marquis acceded to his request, expressing himself at the same time concerned to witness the excessive affliction under which the unfortunate Filargiro seemed to labor.280
The reward was accordingly proclaimed, and the gold soon afterwards made its appearance in the hands of one of those aged old ladies, who, being great devotees, always walk with their eyes upon the ground as they come from church. In this way she discovered the lost treasure, and fearful lest her conscience should be loaded with such a weight of gold, through extremely poor, she would have been very greatly perplexed in what way to act, had she not luckily heard the crier announcing the reward of forty crowns, which she hoped she might receive with a safe conscience. Observing her destitute appearance, the marquis very humanely inquired whether she had any means of procuring her subsistence, and whether she had no one to assist her.
“I have nothing,” she replied, “but what I gain by the work of my hands and the help of one daughter; we weave and spin, signor, to earn as much as we want, living in the fear of the Lord in the best way we are able. My daughter, to be sure, I should wish to see married before I die, but I have nothing to give her for a portion.”
The marquise, on hearing the poor woman’s account of herself, highly praised her integrity in thus restoring what she might so easily have reserved for herself and for a marriage-portion for her daughter; observing that it was an action of which he feared that few others, under the same temptation, would have been capable. He then summoned the merchant, informing him that the lost treasure was found, and requesting him at the same time to put into the poor woman’s hands the stated reward. The raptures of the miser were truly amusing when he beheld and seized upon the gold, even in the presence of the marquis; but on hearing the demand of the stipulated sum, his countenance again fell, and he began to think how he could possibly withhold the promised reward. Having numbered the pieces once or twice exactly over, though he found them perfectly correct, he turned towards the old woman, saying:281
“There are four-and-thirty ducats short of the sum which I put into this bag.”
The old lady appeared extremely confused at this accusation, exclaiming in a distressed tone to the marquis:
“Oh, signor, can that be possible? Is it likely I should have stolen thirty-four ducats, when I had it in my power to possess myself of the whole? No; believe me, noble signor, I swear, as I value my hopes of heaven, that I have restored the exact sum which I found on my return from church; not a single farthing have I taken out.”
But the miserly old wretch continuing to affirm most solemnly that the ducats were in the same bag with the crowns, and that she must consider them as a sufficient remuneration, the affair seemed to perplex the marquis not a little. Yet when he reflected that the old miser had only mentioned the four hundred crowns in the first instance, he began to suspect his design of imposing upon the poor woman in order to save the paltry sum offered as a reward. The marquis felt the utmost indignation at the discovery of this deceit, believing no punishment to be too severe for this despicable breach of faith; but checking his rising passion for a moment, he reflected that the most effectual chastisement he could bestow upon the miser’s attempt to impose upon the magistracy would be to make him fall into the very snare he had laid for another. With this view he thus addressed the merchant
“And why did you not mention the full amount of your loss before proclaiming the reward?”
“I overlooked it; I quite forgot it,” was the reply.
“But it seems somewhat strange that you, who appear so particular about trifles, should not have recollected the circumstance of the ducats. And as far as I can understand, you wish to recover what is not your own. I mean to say that this bag of gold could never have belonged to you at all, since the sum you first mentioned is not to be found in it. I imagine the real owner to be myself, since of servant of mine lost exactly the sum here contained on the very same day your pretend to have lost yours.”282
The marquis then turned towards the old woman, observing: “Since it is clear that the money is none of his, but mine, and you have had the good luck to find it, pray keep it: the whole is your own; present it as a wedding-gift to your daughter. If it should happen that you meet with another purse, containing the ducats as well as the crowns, belonging to this gentleman, I beg you will return it to him without demanding any reward.”
The poor lady expressed her gratitude to the marquis for this generous mark of his favor, and promised to observe his directions in everything. The wretched merchant, finding that the marquis had truly penetrated into his motives, and that there was not a chance of succeeding in his nefarious design, declared that he was now quite willing to pay the reward he had promised, if she restored the remaining money, which was indisputably his own. But it was now too late. The marquis, turning towards him with an angry air, threatened to punish him for such a disgraceful attempt to defraud another of so large a sum, since from his own account, it could not possibly be his.
“Get out of my presence, and beware how you exasperate me further. If this good woman should be fortunate enough to meet with the purse, with the exact amount you mention, she has promised to restore it to you untouched. That I think is enough.”
Without venturing to answer a single word, the unhappy Filargiro was compelled to leave the place, unaccompanied by his newly-recovered treasure, and filled with sorrow and regret at having refused to fulfil the conditions he had made. The poor old woman, on the other hand, went away overjoyed with her unexpected good fortune, and full of gratitude to the marquis. She hastened to impart the happy tidings to her daughter, who, after having long indulged a vain attachment, had at length the pleasure of being united to the object of her choice at the expense of the avaricious old merchant.
* Elf.Ed. — Thomas Roscoe is not credited as the translator, but this story is included in his book, The Italian Novelists, also here on Elfinspell. In this series, the spelling is Americanized and there are minor changes in punctuation and format, mostly more paragraphs than in Roscoe’s translation. To see the original version go here.