From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 386-390.386
THERE once resided in the beautiful city of Brescia a certain youth of the name of Tommaso de’ Tommasi, sprung from one of the most wealthy and ancient families of that place, but unfortunately addicted to those pursuits into which high-spirited and thoughtless young men are too apt to fall. Careless of the consequences which attend their dissipated and licentious course of life, they yield themselves up an easy prey to every variety of gambling, intrigue, and boon companionship, as if they were more desirous of lavishing their regards upon cut-throats, parasites, and buffoons, than upon men of worth. These reprobates, with false and adulatory arts, are incessantly on the watch to impose upon and to ruin such credulous youths as listen to them; and when they once get their victims entangled in their snares, they prey upon the fortunes both of them and of their families, until scarcely a wreck is left.
Such, unfortunately, were the companions of this easy but spirited youth, who in the course of four years dissipated almost all his fortune, a little country-seat being the sole remaining property which he could call his own. It was situated in the vicinity of the city, on the declivity of one of those mild and pleasant hills, many of which are in the possession of different nobles, who have fixed upon them for the beauty of their site and views; and these charming residences, resembling little paradises of pleasure rather than places of domestic abode, are called ronchi. Out of all his noble villas and other houses, this then was the only little place now left him; and as it had been intended rather for a garden of delight, full of sweet fruits and flowers, than a source of profit in grain and wines, so it ill supplied its 387 master’s personal expenses, much less his usual establishment of hawks and dogs, buffoons and parasites, with other companions fully as expensive as these. Having become too late aware of the consequences of his conduct, he resolved, through fear of the disgrace he should incur in the eyes of all his friends, who too well knew the habits into which he had fallen, to abandon the birthplace of his ancestors altogether.
With these views he determined to dispose of his little estate and a cottage adjoining, on the most advantageous terms he could obtain, without paying much regard to the honesty and propriety of his measures. Avoiding any public notice, he contrived to give some individuals a knowledge of his intentions, requesting as a favor that each would have the goodness to say nothing to his friends on the subject; and in this way he soon received considerable deposits from a number of different individuals who were desirous of purchasing the residence, without saying a word to each other.
Having thus amassed a large sum of money, he soon after availed himself of an opportunity of disposing of the property altogether and obtaining its full value in addition to the earnest-money which he had already received. But just as he was on the point of setting out with the proceeds in his hands, the whole transaction came to light, on which he was instantly seized and thrown into prison. His sole concern when he was there seemed to be how he could possibly contrive to retain possession of his treasure and obtain his liberty. For this purpose he sent in haste for his attorney, who had been the boon companion of his pleasures during his prosperity, and to him he communicated his views, though the man of law had expressed no little reluctance to attend, and to take his instructions on the subject, believing there was now an end to his client’s business for ever. Having approached the prison gate, Tommaso very politely saluted him as formerly, on which the notary condoled with him, and inquired in what way he could be of service to him.388
“You know,” replied Tommaso, “the liberal manner in which I have treated you, and all my other friends, as this very place can testify for me, being encaged here like a winged bird, as I am. But I shall not insist on the obligations I have laid you under, because I would willingly relieve you from their weight by begging you to take compassion on me, and assist me to procure my enlargement from this detestable spot. As you must know, at least as well as I do, what brought me here, I shall do much better than waste my time upon the subject, and shall instead inform you how I mean to get away, and keep possession of the proceeds of my house and farm, which I will stay here till doomsday sooner than render up. I think you are upon good terms with our magnifico, the podestà, no less on account of your social wit and humor than of the services you rendered him while you were his agent in Venice.
“Now, what I wish you particularly to impress upon his magisterial mind is, that I have altogether lost my wits on finding that I have run through my fortune in so short a time and in so very scandalous a manner: and indeed it is almost strange that I have not. I shall take care on my side to be guilty of all kinds of extravagant actions that may give probability to your story. And when you have carried me fairly through the difficulty, you will greatly oblige me by accepting of at least twenty-five gold ducats for your pains. Moreover, I shall be eternally indebted to you; and if I succeed by this contrivance in liberating myself from these gloomy walls without refunding my resources, I shall consider myself a great man yet. On thee, then, and on thee only, my friend, is my dependence, and trust me that my enlargement will be a work worthy of thy trouble.”
The wary notary, one of those who possess the cunning of the serpent without the innocence of the dove, sensible of his influence with the magistrate, and tempted by the amount of the proposed fee, gave the prisoner his hand, promising to make the most strenuous exertions to bring his friend Tommaso out of durance, without insisting upon more than five and twenty ducats. Apprehensive lest the prisoner 389 should overact his part in the mad character which he intended to assume, the attorney suggested that he should make no other reply to all the questions which might be put to him than by a single ludicrous gesture; and, repeating his injunction to this effect, he left him to adjourn to the residence of the magistrate.
Being upon the pleasantest terms, he immediately entered upon a variety of amusing topics, when there suddenly appeared one of the unlucky personages whom Tommaso had imposed upon, appealing vehemently to the magistrate for redress, and demanding the restitution of his money. To him the attorney in the gentlest possible tone replied, turning at the same time towards his friend the podestà:
“What! is the gentlemen so unfortunate, then, as to have dealings with that madman?”
“Madman! what is it you talk of?” returned the creditor. “I wish he were no more wicked than he is mad.”
“Alas! I fear, whatever may be your opinion,” said the attorney, in the calmest voice, “that he will turn out a mere idiot, and one that ought to be confined. I imagine that his unfortunate circumstances have driven him altogether out of his senses. Could I suppose for a moment that our magnifico here was acquainted with his real state, I should express my surprise that he has committed to custody for debt a mere fool, such as this poor wretch is. I am very apprehensive that should he really have robbed any one, or been entrusted with money, he may have thrown it into the first ditch he came near or scattered it on the public highway.”
The gentleman, however, advanced arguments to prove the perfect sanity of the prisoner, and indeed that he had proved somewhat too acute; but these were so well rebutted by the evidence of the lawyer that the magistrate, giving credit to it, ordered the accused to appear by way of ascertaining the truth. Signor Tommaso was then brought forward, having already made a strange metamorphosis in his appearance by tearing his clothes to pieces, and being interrogated on the subject nearest his creditor’s heart, 390 gave only the manifest signs of folly recommended by his legal adviser. In a short time the rest of his creditors appeared, and bringing the same charges upon the very same grounds, and obtaining only a repetition of his antics, the podestà, to try his sincerity, immediately ordered him to be put to the question, which however only elicited symptoms of fear and folly, such as he showed before the application was made. He would, in fact, almost have endured to be torn limb from limb rather than be separated from his money.
All other means adopted to obtain some kind of information from him turned out equally fruitless, and the podestà was at length compelled by the representations of the notary, who carried the whole affair through with great skill, to sign an order for the release of his mad client without paying anything whatever.
The attorney, calling on his client the next day for the stated sum, was surprised to find he could get no other answer from him than that which he had himself taught him. By all his entreaties for the five and twenty ducats he obtained nothing but the same gestures which had sufficed to exonerate him from the rest of his creditors, and the deceiver for once fell into his own trap. As he could not venture to reveal the affair, he was obliged to take the whole patiently, and of the two he was certainly the more deserving of punishment.
* 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.