From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 128-134.128
THERE formerly resided in the rich and beautiful city of Bologna a brave and intelligent youth of the name of Faustino, whose birth and accomplishments entitled him to rank among the noblest and proudest of the place. To these gifts of Nature and of Fortune was added a susceptible heart, and he soon became deeply enamored of a young lady of exquisite beauty, whose name was Eugenia, and who in a short time seemed inclined to return his passion with equal tenderness and truth. Such was her lover’s extreme desire of beholding her, that he availed himself of every opportunity and encountered every risk to enjoy her society, frequently being in wait for hours to catch a mere glimpse of her, and employing numberless emissaries to instruct him as to her motions. Though the young lady’s parents had been unable to extort any confession of her attachment from her own lips, they were at no loss to perceive it, and endeavored to obviate the danger to be apprehended from its indulgence, believing that the young lover, on account of his superior rank and fortune, entertained no serious intentions of making her his wife.
With this view they kept a very strict watch over their daughter, debarring her from visits, and even from the sight of Faustino, as much as they possibly could. Yet her mother, being of a religious turn of mind, was unwilling that she should relinquish her usual attendance on divine worship, and herself accompanied her daughter every morning to hear mass at a church near their own house, but at so very early an hour, that not even the artisans of the city, much less the young gentry of the place, were stirring. And there she heard service performed by a priest expressly 129 on her own account, though several other persons might happen to be present who were in the habit of very early rising.
Now among these was a certain corn merchant, who had been established only for a short time in Bologna. His name was Ser Nastagio de’ Rodiotti, a man who had driven many a hard bargain and thriven wonderfully in his trade, but of so devout a turn withal that he would not for the world have made an usurious contract, or even speculated to any extent, without having first punctually attended mass, believing doubtless that so good an example more than counterbalanced, in the eye of Heaven, the evil consequences of his actions. And these were certainly very great, especially in the way of raising the price of bread by his vast monopoly of that necessary article of life. Such, however, was his exemplary conduct in attending church that he lost not a single opportunity of showing himself there among the earliest of the congregation, having afterwards the consolation to reflect that he had discharged all his religious duties and was ready for business before a great portion of his fellow-citizens were stirring.
Now in a short time it also reached the ears of Faustino, through the good offices, it is supposed, of the young lady, that high mass was to be heard every morning at a certain church, with every particular relating to the devotees who attended and the nearest way thither. Rejoiced at this news, her lover now resolved to rise somewhat earlier than he had been accustomed to do, that he might avail himself of the same advantage that the lady enjoyed in beginning the day with religious duties. For this purpose he assumed a different dress, the better to deceive the eyes of her careful mother, being perfectly aware that she merely made her appearance thus early with her daughter for the sake of concealing her from his sight.
In this way the young lady had the merit of bringing Faustino to church, where they had the pleasure of gazing at each other with the utmost devotion; except indeed when the unlucky tradesman whom we have just mentioned happened 130 to place himself, as was frequently the case, exactly in their way, so as to intercept the silent communion of souls. And this he did in so vexatious a manner, that they could scarcely observe each other for a moment without exposing themselves to his searching eye and keen observation. Greatly displeased at this kind of inquisition into his looks and motions, the lover frequently wished the devout corn dealer in purgatory, or that he would at least offer up his prayers in another church.
Such an antipathy did he at length conceive to Ser Nastagio that he resolved to employ his utmost efforts to prevail upon him to withdraw himself from that spot. Revolving in his mind a great variety of plans, he at last hit upon one which he believed could not fail to succeed, and in a manner equally safe and amusing. With this view he hastened without delay to the officiating priest, whom he addressed in the following pious and charitable strain:
“It has ever been esteemed, my good Messer Pastore, a most heavenly and laudable disposition to devote ourselves to the relief of our poorer brethren, and this you doubtless know far better than I can inform you, from the fact of our blessed Savior having actually appeared on earth to redeem us from our sins. But though every species of charity is highly commendable, that which seeks out its objects without waiting to be solicited far transcends the rest. For there are many who, however, destitute, feel ashamed to come forward for the purpose of begging alms.
“Now I think, my worthy pastor, that I have of late observed one of these deserving objects in a person who frequents your church. He was formerly a Jew, but through the mercy of Heaven, which never ceases, not long ago he became a Christian, and one whose exemplary life and conduct render him in all respects worthy of the name. Yet, on the other hand, there is not a more destitute being on the face of the earth, while such is his modesty, that I assure you I have frequently had the utmost difficulty in persuading him to accept of alms. It would really be a 131 very meritorious act, worthy of the excellent character I have heard of you, were you to touch some morning upon his cruel misfortunes, relating his conversion to our faith and the singular modesty with which he attempts to conceal his wants. This would probably procure for him a handsome contribution; and if you will only have the kindness to apprise me of the day, I will take care to bring a number of my friends along with me, and we shall be sure to find this poor fellow seated in your church, where I know he is often employed in listening gratefully to your spiritual advice and consolation.”
Our kind-hearted priest, unlike some of his brethren, who are too apt to appropriate the alms of the poor to themselves, making a traffic of the divine mercy of their Redeemer, impelled only by pure zeal and charity, cheerfully complied with the wily lover’s request. He proposed, then, as the most favourable occasion, the next Sunday morning, when a large assemblage of people would be present, regretting that he had not been sooner made acquainted with the affair. Faustino next gave the priest an accurate description of the features, person, and dress of our unfortunate corn merchant, observing that the poor man always appeared neat and clean, so that he could not possibly mistake him. Then taking leave of the good friar, he hastened to communicate this piece of mischief to some of his youthful companions, all of whom now awaited with great impatience for the approaching Sunday. Punctually on its arrival were they found assembled at the church, even early enough to hear the first mass, and there Messer Nastagio was seen stationed at his usual post, surrounded by a crowd of people collected for the purpose of witnessing the consecration of the place. After going through the Evangelists and the Creed, and muttering a few aves, the good priest paused and looked about him; then wiping his forehead and taking breath for a while, he again addressed the congregation, opening his subject as follows:
“Dearly beloved brethren, you must be aware, for our Savior Himself has enlightened you on that head, and I 132 have myself likewise insisted upon it, as well as I could; you must be aware, I say, that the most pleasing thing you can do in the eyes of the Lord is to show your charity towards poorer Christians, loving and assisting them according to their wants, as far as lies in your power. I trust, therefore, I shall not have much difficulty in persuading you to show the fruits of this good seed of charity in the manner I desire. For as I know you are not wanting in charity, but rather abounding in good works, I am not afraid to inform you that there is a most deserving yet destitute object before you, who, though too modest to urge your compassion, is in every way worthy of it. Pray take pity upon him; I commend him to your kindness.
“Behold him,” he cried, pointing full at Ser Nastagio; “Lo! thou art the man. Yes,” he continued, while the corn merchant stared at him in the utmost astonishment, “yes, thou art the man! Thy modesty shall no longer conceal thee from the eyes of the people. which are now fixed upon thee. For though thou wert once an Israelite, my friend, thou art now one of the lost sheep which are found, and if thou hast not much temporal, thou hast a hoard of eternal wealth.”
He addressed himself during the whole of this time, both by words and signs, to Ser Nastagio, yet the poor merchant could by no means persuade himself, against the evidence of his own reason, that he was the individual pointed out. Without stirring, therefore, from the spot, he somewhat reluctantly put his hand into his pocket, so far conquering his avarice as to prepare to bestow his alms in the same manner as the rest of the congregation. The first person to present his contribution was the author of the trick, who approaching the spot where the merchant stood, offered his alms, and, in spite of Ser Nastagio, dropped them into his hat, making a sign to the people expressive of his admiration at the poor man’s modesty. And though the incensed tradesman exclaimed in an angry tone to the young lover, “I have a longer purse than thou hast ears, man!” it availed him nothing. The good priest 133 pursued his theme without noticing Ser Nastagio’s remark, except by saying:
“Give no credit to his words, good people, but give him alms — give him alms; it is his modest merit which prevents him from accepting them. Yes, go, thrust them into the good man’s pockets; fill his hat, his shoes, his clothes with them, and make him bear away with him the good fruits of your charity.”
Then once more directing his attention to the confused and angry merchant, he exclaimed:
“Do not look thus ashamed, but take them — take them! for believe me, good friend, many greater and better men have been reduced to the same piteous plight, yea, even worse than that you are now in. You should rather consider it as an honor than otherwise, inasmuch as your necessities have not been the consequence of your own misconduct, but solely arise from your embracing the light of truth, and becoming a disciple of our Lord.”
The priest had no sooner ended than there was a general rush of the whole congregation towards the place where the astonished merchant stood, endeavoring who should be the first to deposit their donations in his hands, while he in vain attempted to resist the tide of charitable contributions which now poured in upon him on every side. He had likewise to struggle against his own avarice, no less than against the officious donors of alms, for he would willingly have received the money, though he did all in his power to repulse their offers.
When the tumult had at length a little subsided, the incensed merchant began to attack the priest in the most virulent terms, until the preacher was almost inclined to suspect that he must really in some way have been misinformed as to the proper object of his charity. He then began to make his excuses, as well as he could, for the error into which he had fallen; but the lover’s purpose was accomplished and the deed could not be recalled.
For it was soon reported that Ser Nastagio, the corn merchant, had that very morning been recommended to 134 the charitable notice of the congregation as an example of true conversion from the Jewish to the Christian creed. This story was quickly circulated throughout the whole city, to the infinite amusement of all its inhabitants, more especially of the young lovers, who had now full leisure once more to contemplate each other’s perfections, free from the observation of Ser Nastagio, who was never known to enter that church again.
* 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].