From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated, c. 1900; first published, c. 1824]; pp. 218-231.
Novels of Agnolo Firenzuola.
Adopting the latter resolution, after taking a sorrowful and affectionate leave, he bent his course towards Genoa, and there took his passage in a Genoese vessel upon the point of sailing for a Spanish port. It was now that his fortune first began to wear a different aspect; for the ship had hardly made fifty leagues from shore, when about sunset the sea was observed to become white and foamy, presenting at the same time various other signs of an approaching tempest. And before the master of the vessel had completed his orders, she was enveloped in a torrent of rain, while the fierce hurricane rendered her unmanageable, bearing her onwards in a shroud of mist and darkness that defied the eye of the oldest navigator. This soon became, if possible, more horridly appalling by contrast with the lurid flashes of lightning that broke athwart the gloom, consigning them again to utter darkness. Images of the most terrific nature haunted the fancy of the crew, thus suddenly deprived of all external objects; and it was piteous to think of the efforts of those who retained heart enough to struggle with the adverse elements, while they often adopted, in hope of rescue, measures that tended, perhaps, only to accelerate their own destruction. Even the stentorian voice of the master could no longer be heard through the storm, while the straining and rending of the masts and sails, intermingled with occasional cries, and the deep volleys of thunder rolling in the distance, formed altogether a union of appalling sounds that struck terror to the boldest spirit.
The danger still increased, and their remaining courage dying away in their last feeble efforts, soon wholly forsook them; for they were now borne mountains high, now plunged, as it were, into the abysses of the deep, from which the ship would again emerge, to the surprise 221 of all, like a sea-bird from the hollow caverns of the deep. So terrific indeed, before she yielded, did the scene appear, that the hair of the boldest sailor stood on end, as he felt rather than saw the furious commingling, the utter confusion, and the wild reverberation, of heaven, air, and sea. Alas! how hastily did the most niggardly and grasping hands consign their treasure, their richest silks and stuffs, to the remorseless deep, with all the precious metals that were first thrown overboard; though, when lightened of her load, she only seemed to drive more madly before the winds. The affrighted passengers, who had before sought to shun the sight of their approaching doom below, at length rushed tumultuously upon deck. “The cabin is filling with water!” was the cry, while every sailor who before had stood to his post then fell on his knees, and embracing his nearest friend, and joining in the general cry of Misericordia! appeared to consign himself to his doom. How many who wanted comfort themselves generously tried in that bitter moment to support others yet weaker and more appalled! How many who had seldom or never prayed were heard muttering faint and incoherent appeals to Heaven! Some called upon the Blessed Virgin, some upon San Niccolo di Bari, while others trusted to San Ermo; and pilgrimages to the holy sepulchre and religious vows were abundantly poured forth in the hope of being miraculously rescued, like Jonas, from the bowels of the deep. The libertine was even heard to make a vow of marriage; dealers and usurers swore to make restitution; while such few as loved the world less uttered the most tender expressions to their absent fathers, mothers, children, and friends, at the same time mingling their pity for each other. While thus employed, the mainmast with a terrific crash went into the sea, which was the signal for the vessel’s parting, hardly affording time for a few of the most bold and active to seize the scattered pieces of the wreck. Niccolo, however, being among these last, supported himself with the aid of a small table, nor ever yielded his hold until he found himself thrown upon the coast of Barbary, a short way from Susa. Being there perceived by a party of fisherman, they took compassion upon him, and conducted him to a small hut belonging to them, where they restored him to animation over a large fire. Upon finding that he spoke in the Latin tongue, the fishermen, supposing him to be an infidel, and that they were not likely to catch any more valuable fish that morning, agreed to carry him instantly for sale to Tunis. Thee they sold him to a wealthy merchant of the name of Lagi Amet, who, liking his youthful and gentlemanlike appearance, resolved to retain him about his own person. In this service the captive displayed so much discretion and fidelity as to merit the regard of the whole household, but, most unfortunately for his master, of one in particular, the lovely wife of Amet having been unable to behold the pleasing and handsome stranger with indifference. Possessed of the greatest beauty and accomplishments, she remarked the superiority of his manners and appearance to every other person around her, and at first taking an innocent delight in hearing the narration of his life and travels, she soon began to feel uneasy when out of his company. She would sit and hear him converse, and gaze upon him 222 for hours, and yet so open and undisguised was her admiration, that Lagi Amet, entertaining no idea of the possibility of danger, made his beautiful lady a present of the amusing slave upon whom she bestowed so much attention. Overpowered with agitation and delight, she attempted to conceal the pleasure which such an offer gave her, and for some time succeeded in it, though she now began to be aware, when too late, of the real nature of her feelings. In spite of her caution, she was often on the point of betraying them to the object of her regard, but the idea of the confidence reposed in her by Amet, and of bestowing her affections upon a slave, deprived her of the power of utterance. Besides the difficulties she would have to encounter, her life, her honour, everything which she valued, would be at stake; and frequent and long were the struggles she made against the growing passion that consumed her. “Wretched creature that I am!” she would exclaim. “to be so deeply sensible of those superior merits and accomplishments that I must not love, nor hardly admire, and yet all these affections are bestowed upon a slave, an outcast, and a Christian, one who, upon the first glimpse of liberty, would leave thee to weep over thine own weakness in sorrow and despair! And how could he love me, indeed? Could a slave love me as he loves his own liberty? Oh, abandon the very thought! it is alike treason against my honour and my life! If I sacrifice myself, let it at least be for some nobler object; let it not be said that the wife of Amet died for a slave! But, alas! why did I not feel and act in this way before — before I became thus tortured, lost, abandoned to passion and despair? Besides, am I not wed — am I not already the property of another? Yes, it is madness to pursue the path I am in, and still I feel, I know, I have not strength to abandon it. If I yield not, if I tell him not all my love and sufferings to-day, should I continue still to see and to listen to him, I only prolong the period of my ruin until to-morrow. Let me hasten, then, and acquaint him while there is yet time; for though a foreigner and a slave, he has a noble spirit, and it is Fortune only that is to blame. She cannot rob him of those sweet and courteous manners, of that true nobility of soul that shines in every tone and look, and of all those virtues which seem to surround him with a radiant light that attracts my very soul, and which I feel sure he must possess beyond all the men I have ever seen. Can Fortune deprive him of these and of his noble birth? No; to be unfortunate is the common lot of all; and even were I the next moment to become a slave, should I not still be the same I now am? His ill fortune, therefore, ought not to make me love him the less; and who can say I may not be the happy means of bringing him over to the true faith, while at the same time he will on that account become more passionately attached to me? And why should a weak and wretched creature like myself attempt to master a feeling that has enslaved thousands of the wisest men upon earth? I must at least see and speak to him, though I refrain from giving him the most distant idea of my love!”
With these weak and dangerous sentiments, the unhappy lady, half reconciled to her fate, sought the presence of her handsome slave; nor was it long before this was followed by an explanation, that, 223 almost inarticulate between tears and blushes, invested Niccolo rather with the character of her lord than of her slave. Still he was long in doubt whether he ought to credit the words he heard, whether it were reality or a dream, a snare laid for his honour or the proudest tribute that could be rendered to his worth. At first, then, he was about to check the torrent of her feelings, expressing equal surprise and alarm at what he heard; but when he next reflected upon the many gentle tokens of her kindness and attention to him, and upon her superior sense and accomplishments beyond all the women he had ever seen, bethinking himself at the same time of the story of the Comte d’Anversa and the queen of France, besides many others, he began to consider the whole as nothing less than actual truth.
Warmly expressing his deep gratitude for the distinction conferred upon him, and far from being insensible to her transcendent beauty and accomplishments, the enslaved Niccolo bent himself lowly at his mistress’s feet. Yet, possessing high and honourable principles, he resolved to make her his upon no other condition than consenting to be baptized in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The lady, who had ever inclination to become a believer on these terms, finding that she had no chance of adding him to the disciples of Mahomet, readily gave her consent, sealing it at the same time with a thousand Saracenic oaths: upon which Niccolo thought it incumbent upon him to explain a little more clearly the nature of the Christian religion and what it imposed upon her. Thinking the conditions at first a little hard, she made some slight demur, proposing that they should rather both embrace the doctrines of Mahomet, which were certainly more easy and much more likely to be fulfilled. Niccolo, however, assured her that as a Christian she was bound to observe as many duties as possible, and to pray for grace to perform such as she felt an inclination to omit; that she must never be weary of her task; that she must be found always watching, and not like the foolish virgins, who forgot to trim their lamps, and whose lights went out. On hearing him utter these words, she would certainly have pronounced him mad had she not already been too deeply in love. As it was, she contented herself with saying, after revolving a variety of confused ideas in her mind, “Come, you shall make me what you please;” and accordingly she was the same day baptized, christened, confessed, received the communion, and married to Niccolo according to the rites of the holy Church. And so sweet in a short time did its new mysteries and duties appear to her, that being naturally possessed of superior intellect and endowments, she no longer regretted the faith of her ancestors, and began to take delight in nothing so much as having the Christian doctrines expounded to her by the voice of Niccolo.
While she thus continued making daily progress under the judicious instructions of Niccolo in a subject so important to her best interests, Niccolo’s friend, Coppo, in the meanwhile had not been idle, inquiring in all directions, wherever he conceived it probable that he might have been wrecked or captured. Not content with this, he himself set out in quest of him, and arrived at Tunis just as Niccolo happened to be passing with the lady close by the place where he was seen dismounting, 224 so that they met and recognised each other in the streets. Niccolo testified his gratitude to Coppo for so striking a proof of his fidelity, but at the same time requested him not to execute his intention of procuring his ransom until he should hear further from him; and then giving him his address, and shaking him cordially by the hand, he accompanied his lady home. A little surprised at this occurrence, the lady inquired with a smile, who he was and what business he could have with her slave, being particularly jealous of everything that might interfere with her own views, questions which her Christian husband answered with his usual eloquence to her entire satisfaction. Yet, as we may easily believe, Niccolo was still anxious to return to his native land, but he was aware that if the enamoured lady discovered his design, she would effect his utter destruction, or at least would counteract his plans. He was therefore uncertain how to act, and for this reason he had exhorted Coppo to secrecy as to the object of his arrival. Besides, he would have preferred, rather than basely desert her, to remain in the pleasing slavery to which his adored lady had consigned him. Fly, however, somewhere, they shortly must, as she had now become so extravagantly attached to him that he was fearful of the affair reaching the ears of Lagi Amet. With this view, he now determined to persuade her to accompany him, insisting that it was one of the duties of a Christian wife to share her husband’s fortunes and follow him wherever he went. He therefore considered the arrival of Coppo as a very fortunate circumstance, and after consulting with him, and reflecting upon the best method that could be adopted, they determined to carry her along with them. So Niccolo represented to his wife that there was no time to be lost, if they wished to avoid the fate of so many unfortunate lovers, who had fallen victims to the bowstring or the sack; and to this judicious opinion the lady, without any sort of hesitation, subscribed. “Yes,” she added, “I will see your beautiful Italy; there is no question of it at all; whatever sacrifices I make, whatever pleasures and honours I relinquish, they are for your sake, and I shall not regret them. And yet I tremble when I think upon the dreadful risks I am about to encounter, even if I escape alive out of the hands of the savage infidel who called me his consort, whom it would perhaps be the wisest way to strangle before we go.” Here Niccolo, grieved that she should have made so little progress in the duty of Christian charity, reminded her that she must no longer consider these things in the light she had been used to, adding that he felt inclined rather to pity the fate of Amet in being deprived of so much beauty and perfection, were it not that it was his paramount duty to convert infidels to the true faith. Then advising her to collect the whole of her treasures, but to respect the property of Amet, he hastened to fix the time and method of his departure with his friend Coppo.
All at length being in readiness, they planned a little pleasure party, feigning it was entirely for the amusement of Amet, to which the foolish infidel, not a little proud of so delicate a compliment, gladly consented. Having conveyed everything on board a fast-sailing little pinnace, they said that they would just pay a visit to one of the Dey’s 225 large ships before they called for their master; and, hoisting all sail, they very wisely left the old merchant behind them. They had proceeded about half a league from shore, when some of Lagi Amet’s servants, observing them pass the vessel at full sail and boldly hold on their course, raised a hue and cry that very quickly reached the ears of their master. Tearing his hair, at least what little was left of it, the credulous old infidel, in a fit of rage and despair, despatched boats in pursuit without number, employing himself in the meantime with trying different bowstrings and other refined instruments of torture to welcome their return. And unluckily, as it happened, though they escaped pursuit and set foot in safety on the Sicilian shore, they took up their quarters at an hotel in Messina, where the following unpleasant circumstances occurred. For the ambassador of the king of Tunis having that very day arrived at the same place to transact affairs of great importance at the court of Sicily, occupied apartments in the same house, and casting his eyes upon the disordered dress and dark complexion of the lady, he thought that he recognised in the fugitive one whom he had often seen in Tunis. At the same moment arrived letters advertising him of him of the lady’s flight, and imposing upon him the duty of securing her person, with the leave of his Sicilian majesty, with whom he was to use his utmost influence to have her sent back to her own husband. So immediately requesting an audience, the ambassador expounded his master’s wishes on the subject; and the king having verified the fact, expressed the greatest readiness to remand the fugitives, since it would afford pleasure to his ally, from whom at that time he was desirous of obtaining some essential favours. What were the feelings, then, of the unhappy party, who, imagining that they had secured their escape, found they had rushed upon their own destruction, and were to be consigned into the hands of an offended and relentless enemy! The heart of Coppo was torn with distraction for his friend, while the lovers uttered the most piteous cries and prayers, pleading also that they were united in faith and in marriage, both deserving of freedom, and both Christians. All, however, was of no avail, for the king, anxious to conciliate the Dey, commanded them to be re-embarked forthwith in the same vessel, under the care of one of his own captains, who had orders to land them in Barbary, and deposit them safely, with the king’s compliments, in the hands of their lawful sovereign. And already were they proceeding upon their wretched voyage, with calm and favourable breezes, from which they turned in anguish to the shores that were receding from their view, when Fortune, as if weary at length of her continued persecutions, again raised a furious tempest before the vessel had time to make the port, and drove her back until she reached the Tyrrhene Sea, near Leghorn, where, broken and dismantled she became the easy prey of some Pisan corsairs. But noble ransom being offered them by the unfortunate captives, they were shortly afterwards put on shore, and at length arrived in safety, with some portion of their remaining treasures, at the city of Pisa. There, owing to the infinite dangers and sufferings to which she had been subjected, the hapless lady was seized with a fever that had nearly proved mortal, and it was the incessant 226 care and affection of Niccolo alone that succeeded in restoring her. Upon her recovery, they bent their way towards Florence, where, on their arrival, they were received with the utmost surprise and the warmest congratulations by all their friends, while feasts and revelry on all sides testified the joy that was felt for their return. When the health of his beloved proselyte and benefactress was a little recruited, Niccolo kindly proposed, for their more complete satisfaction, that his beloved wife should be again baptized in the Church of San Giovanni; and being christened by the name of Beatrice, she was once more solemnly espoused by him, with the utmost splendour and magnificence, according to the minutest rites and ceremonies of the Holy Church. At the same time, in order to bind their interests in a still nearer union, Niccolo bestowed upon his friend Coppo the hand of his sister, who, in addition to the charms of beauty, boasted likewise all the virtues of her brother. Beatrice, delighted with everything she saw and heard, even beyond the picture held out to her by the happy Niccolo, soon made such rapid progress in every desirable virtue and accomplishment as to astonish the Florentine ladies by the richness and vivacity of her ideas, and the charms of her manners and conversation. In a short time, also, she became so fondly attached to her new sister-in-law as to render it difficult to decide whether their friendship or that of their husbands was the most rare and exemplary. Certain it is that the two happy pairs passed their days in such amity and peace, that there never occurred the slightest cause of dissatisfaction or division, an instance of domestic happiness highly deserving of commemoration, and which attracted universal admiration and applause. Indeed, so far from becoming disagreeable to or weary of each other, they appeared daily to take more pleasure in one another’s company, and more intent upon amusing, gratifying, and instructing themselves and their friends around them, in such a manner that, becoming extremely popular with all parties, they exercised the most happy and beneficial influence over the manners and feelings of the people of Florence.
It happened that in the town of Novara, a very pretty city of Lombardy, there dwelt a rich widow lady, whose name was Donna Agnes. She had worn her weeds with persevering sorrow ever since the death of her dear Gaudenzio de’ Piotti, who, besides her dowry, which was very handsome for a lady in those parts, had left her other possessions that put her very much at her ease, even though she should prefer worshipping his memory to any new connection. She had borne him, moreover, four boys, whose education would now devolve upon her alone. But this excellent and considerate husband was scarcely laid at rest in the ground, before tidings of this his last will and testament reached the ears of the superior of the convent of San Nazaro, situated a little way beyond the gate of San Agabio. This same good monk was commissioned by the society to keep an eye upon testamentary donations, so that no widow should pass him by without affording at least her mite and assuming the girdle of the seraphic St. Francis. Having been once admitted as lay sisters into their order, may of these devotees were in the habit of frequenting their congregation, and offering up prayers for the souls of their deceased friends, expressing their gratitude to the poor brethren in the shape of fine Bologna sausages and pasties, and were occasionally induced, in their zeal for imitating the good works of the blessed Fra Ginepro, and other renowned saints, to endow some little chapel for the convenience of the order, where they might represent the glorious history of St. Francis, as he was seen preaching to the birds in the desert, engaged in kneading the holy bread, or at the moment when the Angel Gabriel brought him his saintly slippers. The chapel once built, it was not very difficult to raise sufficient from the same quarter to defray an annual festival in honour of the saint’s holy stripes, and to celebrate every Monday a mass for the souls of all his followers who might still happen to be suffering the pangs of purgatory. But as, consistent with their profession of poverty, the good brethren could not openly avail themselves of these gifts, they adopted the ingenious method of endowing their holy buildings, and holding the property as appurtenant to the sacristies, imagining they could thus as easily impose upon Heaven as upon us poor credulous mortals here below; as if their real motives, and all the envy, pride, and covetousness, concealed under the large cowls of pursy monks, were not fully as evident to an all-seeing eye as those vices that are more clearly apparent in the broad light of the day. These are they who, instead of begging their bread barefoot, or preaching to the people as they ought to do wherever they appear, prefer sitting at ease in their well-stored monasteries, supplied with delicate changes of shoes and linen, some five pair of Cordova slippers, silk stockings, and sweet, dainty fare. And when they can muster sufficient exertion, or it is quite necessary for them to go abroad, they mount their mules, as elegantly attired as themselves, or pretty palfreys, whose paces are of the easiest, so as never to produce a feeling 228 of fatigue. They are equally cautious not to burden the mind with too much study, finding the truth of the Scripture observation, that it is indeed “a weariness to the flesh;” besides the holy dread they entertain, as in the case of Lucifer, of its producing pride, and thus incurring the risk of a fall from their state of monastic innocence and simplicity.
But to return to our devout inspector of the property of rich widows. It is certain that he followed so closely in pursuit of the lady in question, and made so much noise in his poor wooden clogs, that for peace sake she was soon compelled to add her name to those of the third order, an arrangement from which the poor brethren drew a regular supply of alms, besides warm jackets and richly-worked tunics. But, not content with this, and imagining nothing done while anything remained to do, he placed monks round her all day long, to remind her of the superior efficacy of endowing a whole chapel, if she really consulted the benefit of her soul. The lady, however, having four sons, at first thought it rather hard to rob them of their substance in favour of the monks, and being, like some of her sex, by no means liberally inclined, she tried to amuse them for some time with fair words, though resolved in her own mind to stick fast to her property. Just about the period that the good brethren imagined they had brought her over to their will, it happened that she was taken suddenly unwell, and, in spite of all medical assistance, died. Before breathing her last, she sent in haste for the superior of San Nazaro to receive her dying confessions, who, imagining he was now about to reap the harvest of his toils in laying such long siege to the widow’s purse, very frankly told her how necessary it was, after having made confession, to show a little more charity towards her own soul while it remained yet in her power, and not to rely upon her sons offering up any sort of compensation for her sins in the way of alms and masses after her decease. It was his duty to remind her of the fate of her friend Donna Leonora Caccia, the wife of Messer Cervagio, doctor of laws, who, at the time he spoke, was suffering in purgatory through the wicked neglect of her sons, who had never burnt a single taper since the day of her funeral. Alarmed at the idea of being in a similar predicament, and feeling extremely weak and troubled, such was the impression of the monk’s oratory, that she was just on the point of yielding her consent and calling for her will; but still balancing between the opposite interests of her soul and of her family, she declared that she would make up her mind before he should return again on the morrow. The good priest, shaking his head, reminded her of the danger of delay in a case of such paramount importance, and, under pain of great future suffering, hinted at the propriety of the alteration being made before his return the next day. In the meantime, the widow’s second son, Agabio, having in some way got scent of this negotiation, communicated his fears to his brothers, who agreed with him that it was of the utmost consequence to overhear what should take place on the priest’s return. So when Fra Serafino, the superior, arrived the next day, with the intention of concluding the bargain, 229 Agabio took a station which enabled him to hear every word that passed; and such, he found, was the effect of the monk’s eloquence, and so dreadful his denunciations of purgatory, that the poor lady was glad to receive absolution upon condition of leaving the sum of two hundred ducats for the purpose of endowing and ornamenting a chapel. Another hundred was to be appropriated to the purchase of the sacred vessels and other articles requisite to the celebration of mass in proper style, besides an annual festival and a service for the souls of the dead. To these was to be added a small farm, situated very conveniently for the use of the poor brotherhood, at Camigliano, worth at least three thousand ducats; in consideration of which, having arranged everything necessary respecting the title, and that the whole should be drawn up by a regular notary as soon as possible, the happy monk absolved the good widow and took his leave.
Agabio, who had heard all that passed, lost no time in acquainting his brothers, all of whom were of opinion that it was not an affair to be trifled with. So, after consulting some of their friends, they proceeded to their mother’s chamber, and with some difficulty, by help of a less fastidious confessor, who absolved her on easier terms, they prevailed upon her to leave her will as it was. This done, they next despatched a confidential servant with a message to the wily monk in their mother’s name, begging that he would no longer give himself the trouble of calling, as her sons, having got to hear the nature of his business, were bent upon doing him some grievous mischief in case they should meet with him at her house; that she begged him at the same time not to make himself at all anxious upon the subject, as the holy brotherhood would find everything arranged to their entire satisfaction in her last bequest.
Upon receiving these tidings, Fra Serafino took the hint, and giving himself no little credit for his successful negotiation, he abstained from troubling the lady further. But in a few days he had the gratification of hearing that she had breathed her last, and directly hastened, according to his instructions, to the house of Ser Tomeno, the notary, who had already been apprised by Agabio in what way he was to act. By him he was informed that he ought immediately to wait upon Agabio and his brothers, into whose hands he had committed the will the day before, when he might possibly hear of something to his advantage. Without replying a single word, the delighted friar hastened to inspect its contents, and after duly condoling with the young men upon their loss, he came at once to the point, and requested Agabio to let him see the will. The latter, expressing his surprise at this question, requested to know the reason of his troubling himself with affairs that no way concerned him; an observation at which the holy man began to express his dissatisfaction, but was threatened by Agabio with no very pleasing consequences in case he did not forthwith proceed to take sanctuary in his own monastery. Not in the least daunted, however, at this reception, the wily monk made his bow with a malicious smile, and departed without deigning to say a word; and calling upon a certain Messer Niccola, procurator to the order, he put five soldi into his hands, and requested to know 230 his opinion. Having heard the particulars of the case, Messer Niccola, without further hesitation, sent a summons to Ser Tomeno, Agabio’s notary, citing him to appear before the bishop’s vicar with a copy of the last will and testament of the deceased.
Ser Tomeno, the moment he had perused this document, lost no time in acquainting Agabio with the progress of the affair, and he, desiring nothing better, took his attorney along with him, and called privately at the house of the vicar, who happening to be a particular friend of his, heard the whole proceedings from beginning to end, — the good friar’s long and difficult negotiations, Agabio’s stratagems to counteract him, and the commencement of the present process. Now the vicar, as belonging to the order of the priesthood, was by no means overburdened with affection towards the friars, and expressed his satisfaction at hearing what had passed. Upon the following day, at the hour appointed for the parties to make their appearance, came Fra Serafino, accompanied by the procurator of his convent, both of whom were extremely noisy, and bent upon obtaining a sight of the will immediately. Agabio, in answer to their appeal, said, “Good Messer Vicar, may it please your reverence, I have not the slightest objection to the production of the will, provided that all the parties whose names are therein mentioned consent to fulfil the articles according to the letter, of whatever nature they may be.”
“Say no more,” interrupted the vicar; “all this is very clear; for our laws are very particular on this point, and whoever comes in for the benefit must also incur the inconvenience of such bequests. Let us have this document, then; it is only what is lawful and reasonable:” and Agabio, instantly taking a scroll out of his pocket, handed it to the opposite notary for perusal. After running over the leading particulars relating to the heirs, and several legacies inserted for the purpose of giving the whole a greater air of reality, he came to the part that concerned the friar, the tenor of which ran in the following manner: “Item, I will and bequeath, for the better preservation of my sons’ fortune and for the general benefit of all the widow in Novara, that there be given by the hands of my own children the amount of fifty lashes upon the back of Fra Serafino, at this time being the guardian or superior of the convent of San Nazaro; and that the said lashes be of the best and soundest in the power of my sons’ hands to inflict. And be it further stated, that these are intended to serve as an example to the rest of his brotherhood how they venture in future to impose upon poor credulous women or feeble old dotards, basely and maliciously persuading them to disinherit and impoverish their own flesh and blood for the purpose of ornamenting cells and chapels.”
Here the risible muscles of the notary would permit him to proceed no further, and his laugh was speedily caught and re-echoed through the whole court; insomuch that the poor friar, overwhelmed with ridicule and confusion, sought to make good his escape, and find the way back to his convent, though fully resolved in his own mind to bring the whole affair, in form of appeal, before the high apostolic chamber. But he was not doomed to end the manner in quite so 231 honourable a manner; for Agabio, seizing fast hold of his gown, exclaimed, “Tarry a little, holy father! why are you in such a hurry? I am come here for the purpose of fulfilling the conditions of the will, and these must be complied with;” and then appealing to the vicar, while he held the good father tight by his band, “I require to know from you, as the judge, why Father Serafino should not be entitled to the benefit of his bequest, mounted on the great horse, and receive from my hands the amount of the legacy due to him. If this be not granted, I shall feel bound to appeal to a superior tribunal against the undue partiality and injustice of this court.” The good vicar, receiving the whole of this with an air of mock solemnity, turning towards Agabio, replied, “My good Messer Agabio, your beneficent intentions respecting the worthy father no one surely can dispute; but I daresay he will be inclined to rest satisfied with them, without insisting upon the execution of the deed; in particular, as it might possibly bring some degree of scandal upon his cloth, while at the same time that it would be painful to him, such inheritance would produce no sort of benefit to the holy brotherhood. Besides, if he be so truly disinterested as not to wish to accept the kind bequest of your mother, I hardly see how you can venture to force it upon him, and I would rather permit him to take his leave, with the noble consciousness that he bears no marks of your favour along with him.”
Upon this hint Fra Serafino acted, and full of mingled rage, fear, and vexation, retreated to his own Abode, which he did not again quit for many days, out of apprehension of the ridicule of the people. His punishment, however, was followed by the desired effect; for from that time forth he was never known to solicit widow ladies for their fortunes to endow chapels, especially such as had families of sons, by whom he might again run the risk of being severely handled. As it was, he had the good fortune to escape martyrdom from their hands, and contrived to digest his spleen and disappointment by patience, as every good Christian ought. According, however, to a different version of the story, trumped up, it is supposed, by some friars for the credit of their order, and as I was myself informed by one of them, that same wicked vicar had soon reason to repent of the part he bore in the affair, having to pay no less a fine than five hundred florins.