From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900, first published c. 1824]; pp. 449-472.
To waive every conjecture respecting the precise period in which they may have originated, the translator is not without sufficient authority for the mode of their arrangement. The authors of some of the most esteemed Italian collections, or novellieri, along with the learned Manni, Gualteruzzi, and others, happen to agree in referring them pretty nearly to the same period, and placing them in the same order of chronological succession as they will be found by the reader to hold in the present work.
The ensuing night was accordingly fixed upon for the transformation; when Philip, as being upon the most intimate terms with Grasso, was appointed to go about the time of shutting up shop to visit him. So he went; and after talking with Grasso, as had been agreed upon, for some time, there appeared a little lad running in great haste, who inquired if Signor Brunellesco were there. Philip answered he was, and begged to know what he wanted. “O signor!” said the boy, “you must come immediately, for you mother has met with a sad accident; she is very nearly killed, so you must come home now.” With well-feigned grief and alarm, Philip exclaimed, “Good Lord defend us!” and took leave somewhat abruptly of his friend Grasso, who said he would go with him if he thought he could be of any service, for now was the time to show his regard. Somewhat conscience-smitten, 453 Philip thanked him, saying, “No, not now; but if I want you I will make bold to send for you.” Then pretending to hasten homewards, Philip turned the corner of a street leading to Grasso’s house, opposite to Santa Reparata, and very unceremoniously picking the luck of the door, he marched in and fastened it behind him so that no one could follow.
Now it happened that Grasso’s mother had set off some days before to a little country place at Polerossa, for the purpose of washing linen and such household concerns, and she was expected back again that day. After shutting up his shop, Grasso went sauntering along the Piazza, ruminating on his friend’s misfortune; until, finding that it grew late, he concluded that Philip would hardly think of sending for him that night. So he resolved to go home, but was somewhat puzzled on ascending the steps to find that he could not open the door as usual; and after several vain attempts, he supposed it must be locked in the inside, and knocking pretty sharply, he shouted, “Open the door!” thinking that his mother had returned, and for some reason or other had fastened it after her in the inside. But at length a voice answered in Grasso’s own tone, “Who is there?” and Grasso, a little startled, said, “It is I; let me in.” “No,” returned the voice; “and I beg, Matteo, that you will go away. I am in great anxiety about a friend of mine; for as I was just now talking in my shop to Philip, there came a messenger in haste to say that his mother was nearly dead, and I am very sorry for him.” Philip pretended all the while he said this to take poor Grasso for his friend Matteo; and then, as if turning to Grasso’s mother, he continued, “Pray, good mother, let me have my supper; it is really too bad; you ought to have been back two days since, and you come in just at this time of night;” and he went on grumbling and scolding exactly in Grasso’s own voice. Still more surprised at this, Grasso now said, “That is very like my own voice; what the deuce can it all mean? Who is it speaking there upstairs? Can it be I? How is it, I wonder? He says Philip was at his shop when he heard his mother was ill, and now he is busy chiding his mother, or my mother, Giovanna, I do not know which. Have I lost my senses, or what does it mean?” Then he went down the steps again and shouted up at the windows, when, as had been agreed upon, there passed by his friend Donatello, the sculptor, who said as he went past, “Good night, Matteo, good night! I am going to call upon your friend Grasso; he is just gone home.” Grasso was now perfectly bewildered on hearing his friend Donatello address him as Matteo; and turning away, he went into the Piazza San Giovanni, saying to himself, “I will stay here till somebody comes by who can tell me who I really am.” He was next met by some officers of police, a bailiff, and a creditor, to whom Matteo, whom, however reluctantly, he now represented, owed a sum of money. “This is the man, this is Matteo; take him — he is my debtor. I have watched him closely, and caught him at last!” cried the creditor; and the officers, laying hands on him, led him away. It was in vain that Grasso, turning towards the creditor, exclaimed, “Why, what have you to do with me? You have mistaken your man! 454 My name is Grasso the carver; I am not Matteo, nor any of his kin: I do not even know him.” And he was beginning to lay about him lustily; but they soon secured him and held him fast. “You not Matteo?” cried his creditor, surveying him from head to foot; “we shall soon see that. Do you think I do not know my own debtor Matteo? Yes, too well. Cannot I distinguish him from Grasso the carver, think you? You have been in my books too long. I have had accounts against you this year past: yet you have the impudence to tell me you are not Matteo; but will such an alias, think you, pay me my money back? Off with him: we shall soon see whether he be Matteo or not.” They then hurried him in no very gentle way to prison, and it being supper-time, they encountered no one on the road. His name was entered in the gaol-book as Matteo, and he was compelled to take up his station with the rest of the prisoners, all of whom hailed him in the same tone, saying, “Good night, Matteo, good night!” Hearing himself thus addressed, Grasso said, “There must be something in it certainly; what can it mean?” and he almost began to persuade himself that, as everybody said so, he must indeed be Matteo. “Will you come and take some supper with us,” said the prisoners, “and put off thinking of your case till to-morrow?” So Grasso supped with them and took up his quarters along with one of them, who observed, “Now, Matteo, make yourself as comfortable as you can to-night, and to-morrow, if you can pay, well and good; but, if not, you must send home for bed-clothes.” Grasso, thanking him, laid himself down to rest, thinking what would become of him if he were really changed into Matteo; “Which I fear,” he continued, “must in some way be the case; there are so many proofs of it on all sides. Suppose I send home to my mother; but then if Grasso be really in the house they will only laugh at me, and perhaps say I am mad. And yet surely I must be Grasso.” And with such cogitations he lay perplexing himself all night, not able to determine which of the two he was. After a sleepless night, he arose and stationed himself at the small grated window, in hopes some one might pass who knew him; and, as chance would have it, Giovanni Rucellai, one of the supper-party when the plot was first hatched, approached. It happened that Grasso was making a dressing-table for Giovanni, intended for a lady, and the latter had been in his shop the day before pressing him to finish the work in a few days at farthest. Giovanni, going into a shop facing the prison grate on the ground floor where Grasso stood, the prisoner began to smile and make mouths at him; but his friend only stared at him as if he had never seen him in his life before. Grasso, thinking the other did not know him, said, “Pray, do you happen to know a person of the name of Grasso, who lives at the back of the Piazza San Giovanni, and makes inlaid work?” “Know him! to be sure I do,” replied Giovanni, “very well; he is a particular friend of mine, and I am going to him directly about a little job he has in hand for me.” “Then,” said Grasso, “as you are going, pray be so good as just to say to him, ‘A very particular acquaintance of yours, Grasso, has been taken into custody, and would be glad to exchange a word with you!’” “To be sure I will,” said the other, 455 “very willingly,” and, taking his leave, pursued his way. Friend Grasso, remaining at the window of the prison, began to commune with himself, “Well, at last it is clear that I am no longer Grasso, for I am Matteo, and no one else, with a vengeance. The devil give him good of the change! but what a wretched fate is mine! If I say a word about the matter they will think me mad, and the very beggar lads will laugh at me; and if I fail to explain it a thousand mistakes will occur, like that of yesterday, when I was arrested for him, so that I am in a most awkward dilemma. Well, I must wait for Grasso’s arrival, and see what he says when I explain the affair to him.” After anxiously looking out for his arrival during many hours in vain, he at length retired from his station to make room for other prisoners who wished to look out. Now, it happened that a certain learned judge had that day been committed to prison for debt, who, though unacquainted with Grasso, observing his forlorn situation and supposing he must be an unhappy debtor, sought to encourage him, saying, “Why, Matteo, you look as melancholy as if you were going to be executed to-morrow, and yet you are only confined for a trifling debt. Come, you ought not to despair; but send for some of your friends or relatives, and try to accommodate matters so that you may shortly get out, instead of fretting yourself to death.” Hearing these consolatory words, Grasso resolved to confide the source of his grievance to so kind an adviser, and, drawing him aside, he said, “Though you do not seem to know me, I am well acquainted with you, signor, and the reputation you have acquired. It is this that emboldens me to entrust you with the source of my unhappiness, lest you should imagine that any small debt could produce the agitation in which you saw me. Alas! it is far worse;” and he then proceeded to relate the whole of his adventure, bitterly lamenting, and entreating of him two things, namely, that he would mention it to no other person, and that he would deign to give him some advice as to the course he ought to pursue, adding, “As I know you to be deeply read in those authors who treat of ancient histories, and of every kind of strange events; have you ever met with any case similar to this?” The worthy judge, having heard him out, came at once to the conclusion that the poor man was either insane or the dupe of some trick, such as it really was. He therefore replied that he had read of many instances of persons being changed in this way, and that it was no new thing. “Then,” said Grasso, “pray tell me, in case I am become Matteo, who is Matteo now?” The judge replied, “Of course, he must have become Grasso.” The latter rejoined, “Well, I should at least wish to see him in order to put this matter a little to rights.” In this way they continued conversing together until near the hour of vespers, when Matteo’s two brothers made their appearance, and inquired of the prison registrar whether a brother of theirs, named Matteo, was confined there for debt, and to what amount. This man happening to be a particular friend of Tommaso de’ Pecori, had been let into the secret, and answered that there was; then pretending to run over a list of names, he added the amount of the sum, along with the creditor’s name. “Well,” said the brothers, “we wish to speak with him instantly and fix upon some method of payment.” So entering 456 into the prison, they inquired of a man whom they saw standing at the window whether one Matteo was near at hand, begging him to tell him that two of his brothers were come to ransom him, if he would appear. Soon after Grasso made his appearance at the grate, and having saluted them, the eldest of the brothers said, “Ah! Matteo, and has all the advice we have given you gone for nothing? How often we have warned you what would be the result, plunging every day deeper and deeper into debt, while your extravagance never admits of your paying any one! What with gambling and other evil courses, you have never a farthing in the world that you can call your own; and now you reap the fruits of such conduct. Do you think we have not already been involved in sufficient trouble and expense, without adding this to the list of your former follies and extravagances? Let me tell you, that were it not in consideration of our own honour and the anxiety of our mother, we would leave you here to pay the penalty of your sins in order that you might learn better for the future. As it is, we have determined to give you one more trial and pay the amount; warning you, at the same time, that should you repeat the offence, you shall lie and rot here before we will trouble ourselves with you more. Be ready, then, when we call for you about vesper-time, when there will be fewer people abroad; as it is not very pleasant to be seen here every day in consequence of your scandalous proceedings.” To this rebuke Grasso replied with the utmost humility, promising to abandon the course he had pursued, and no longer bring disgrace upon his friends by his extravagance. He then entreated that they would be true to the hour, which they said they would observe, and took leave of him.
Grasso then went back, and thus addressed the judge: “Well, this is strange indeed! Matteo’s brothers have just been here to inform me they will come and release me in the evening. But,” he continued, very much puzzled, “when they take me hence, where shall I go? Certainly not to my own house, because if Grasso lives there, what can I say? He will assuredly believe me mad; for I am sure he must be there, or my mother would have sent before this to say that I was missing, whereas she now thinks I am at home.” The judge replied, “Then do not go there, but accompany your brothers (I mean those who called), wherever they please.” Thus conversing, evening at length arrived; the brothers made their appearance, pretending that they had accommodated the affair; the gaoler came forward with the prison keys, and, stepping up to the place, said, “Which of you is Matteo?” Grasso, presenting himself, replied, “I am here.” The gaoler, narrowly observing him, said, “Your brothers have settled your debt; so go, you are free;” at the same time opening the prison door for Grasso and his brothers to pass. Now they resided at Santa Felicita, near the side of San Giorgio, and when they reached home they took Grasso into a room on the ground floor, and bade him to stay there quietly till supper-time: the table was already covered, and there was a good fire. One of them next went to seek for a priest residing at Santa Felicita, a good-looking personage, to whom he said that he came to consult him in confidence, as one neighbour ought 457 to do with another. “You know there are three brothers of us, one of whom is Matteo, who was yesterday arrested for debt. Such is the impression it appears to have made upon him, that he is gone almost beside himself; and more particularly upon one point; for he thinks he has become another person, a carver in ebony, of the name of Grasso, who has a shop at Santa Reparata; and there seems to be no way of getting it out of his head. We have taken him out of prison and brought him home, confining him to his chamber, lest he should proclaim his folly to the world: for should it once become public he will always have the reputation of it, though he were to become the wisest man in the world. This you very well know, and, for the same reason I am come to entreat that you will consent to accompany me back, and try whether there is any chance of restoring him. Do this, and we shall always consider ourselves greatly indebted to you.”
The good priest replied that he would cheerfully attend him; for he was sure that if he could only engage his brother in conversation, he should hit upon some method of restoring him to reason. So they set out together, and on their arrival the priest was instantly introduced to our hero, who rose up on his entrance. “Good evening to you, Matteo,” said the former. “Good evening, and good year to you also,” said Grasso; “who are you looking for?” The priest answered, “I am come to sit with you a little while;” and seating himself, he continued, “Come, sit down by me, Matteo, and I will tell you what I am thinking of. You must know I have been much concerned to hear that you have been arrested, and have taken the thing so much to heart as almost to lose your wits. Among other notions, they tell me that you have got it into your head you are no longer the same Matteo, but are become a certain fellow named Grasso the carver, who keeps a shop at Santa Reparata. Now if this be so, you are much to blame for permitting such a slight reverse of fortune to affect your mind. I have to entreat you will dismiss these whims altogether from your imagination, and attend to your business like other people. By so doing you will please your brothers, as well as me, besides doing yourself the greatest service in the world; for if you once let people suspect it, they will never give you credit for being in your senses again. Then rouse yourself; be a man, and scorn to indulge such absurdities any longer.” Grasso, hearing the kind and encouraging way in which he spoke, declared that he should be glad to obey him as far as lay in his power, being convinced that it was all meant for his good; and that from that hour he would no longer imagine he was any one else but Matteo, as it was clear he was not. There was one thing, however, that he particularly desired, which was, to have an interview with the real Grasso, in order to set his mind quite at rest. “What then?” said the priest. “I see it is still running in your head; why do you wish to speak with Grasso? It would only be indulging and proclaiming your folly;” and he said so much that the poor man was content to abandon the idea. Then leaving him alone, the priest went to inform the brothers of all that had passed, and shortly taking his leave, he returned to officiate at church.458
While the priest had been engaged with our hero, came Philip Brunellesco, bringing with him a certain beverage, which he handed to one of the two brothers, saying, “Take care that you give him this to drink while you are at supper, for it will throw him into so sound a slumber, that you might beat him to a mummy during six hours before he would awake. So give it him, and I will return again about five, when we will finish the joke.” Accordingly the brothers sat down to sup with our hero, and contrived to make him swallow the whole of the mixture without his perceiving it. After supper Grasso turned towards the fire, and the potion very soon began to operate in such a way that he was no longer able to keep his eyes open; when the brothers, not a little amused, said to him, “Why, Matteo, you are very dull; you are almost asleep!” “True,” returned Grasso, “I think I never felt so sleepy in all my life; had I never had a wink of sleep for this month past I could not feel worse. So pray let me go to bed.” And it was with some difficulty he was able to get there, and more especially to undress himself, before he fell into a profound slumber, snoring like a pig. Philip, with three of his companions, then made his appearance, and finding him fast asleep, had him laid upon a litter, with all his clothes, and carried to his own house. No one being within, his mother not having yet returned from the country, they laid him gently upon his bed, and placed everything exactly in the same order as usual. Next they took the keys of his shop, which they found hanging on a nail in the wall, and going straight to the place, they took all the instruments of his trade they could find and laid them in different positions. Planes, saw, hammers, rules, and hatchets, all were turned awry, and confused in such sort as if twenty demons had been puzzling their heads how to produce so much disorder. Then shutting up the shop again, they restored the keys to the same place and retired to their own houses to rest. Grasso continued sunk in profound repose the whole night, nor awoke until after matins the next morning. Directly recognising his old spot at Santa Reparata, he gazed through the window and endeavoured to collect his confused thoughts. He felt the utmost astonishment at finding himself in his own house, considering where he lay down the preceding evening. “The Lord help me!” he exclaimed as he dressed himself, and took down the keys, proceeding with all haste to inspect his shop. “The Lord help me! what a sight is here!” he continued, as he beheld everything out of its place, and began the herculean task of readjusting his different articles in the manner he had left them. At this moment arrived Matteo’s brothers, who finding him thus busily engaged, affected not to know him, one of them saying, “Good day, master!” Grasso turning round and recognising them, began to change colour, replying, “Good day and good year; pray whom are you seeking?” “I will tell you,” said the other. “We happen to have a brother whose name is Matteo, who has latterly become a little odd, and got into his head that he is no longer the same Matteo, but the master of this shop, a man of the name of Grasso. After giving him the best advice we could, the priest of our parish, a very good kind of person, tried to assist us in eradicating this foolish impression from his mind, and we believed 459 that he was getting better, as he fell into a quiet slumber before we left him. But this morning we found that he had absconded: whither he is fled we know not, and we came here to inquire.” Grasso seemed quite confounded at this account, and turning towards them, said, “I know nothing of all this: why disturb me with your affairs? Matteo has never been here. If he said he was I, he was guilty of a falsehood, and if I meet with him I intend to tell him so, and learn whether I am he, or he is I, before we part. We are surely all bedevilled within this day or two; why come to me with such a story?” and with this he seized his cloak, and left them in great anger, closing his shop and proceeding towards Santa Reparata, complaining bitterly the whole way. The brothers also went off, while our hero, stopping at the church, began to walk about in great wrath, until he happened to be joined by one of his companions, formerly his fellow-labourer in the same trade of inlaid work under Maestro Pellegrino, a native of Terma. This youth had for some time been settled in Hungary, and managed his affairs so well that he had returned to Florence in order to obtain assistance to execute the numerous commissions he received. Often had he tried to persuade Grasso to accompany him back, by holding out the prospect of his acquiring great wealth; and the moment our hero cast his eyes upon him, he resolved to avail himself of the offer. Hastening towards him, he said, “you have more than once asked me to go with you into Hungary, which I have hitherto refused; but now, from some particular circumstances, as well as a little dispute with my mother, I shall be very happy to return with you. Yet if I am to go, it must be soon, as most probably before to-morrow it might be too late.” The young man received this proposal with great joy, and it was arranged that Grasso should immediately proceed to Bologna, where he was to wait for his companion. He accordingly hired a horse and set out for that city, having first left a letter for his mother, informing her of his departure and desiring her to take possession of his property in Florence. The undertakings of the two friends in Hungary prospered so well that they acquired considerable fortunes, and Grasso more than once returned to his native place, and diverted his friends by relating the mysterious adventure of his earlier years.
Now, as he ventured not to set out without taking leave likewise of his beloved Mabilia (so the other lady was named), she on her part entreated him to purchase for her a rich and beautiful mantle, and this also he undertook to do. On his arrival, therefore, he proceeded to despatch his business, in order to attend to the commissions of the ladies, and so successful was he in his speculations, that after realising more than he expected, he purchased a variety of rich presents besides the mantle, and was enabled to expedite his return. As he was on the point of setting out he recollected the purse of sense, and inquired of one of his old correspondents on Change where he was most likely to meet with it. The other being very much of the same leaven as his friend, quite a matter-of-fact man, recommended him, in the same serious tone, to apply at an apothecary’s shop, believing it must be some kind of herb or spice brought from the Levant. The apothecary, with as much simplicity as his customer, assured him that he had none, and referred him to an old Spanish chemist, a little better acquainted with the rare production of which he was in want. Though this tradesman resided at some distance, Ranieri, with a proper regard for his wife’s wishes, persevered in his application, and begged to know whether he sold any of this rare article or had any portion of it to spare. The good man, surprised at this singular demand, began to suspect that there must be some deception in the case, if indeed Ranieri himself did not wish to make a fool of him. “There is mischief here,” he said to himself, he began to question our hero more particularly on the point, until he artfully extracted from him a long account of himself and of his fair, discreet young wife, who had desired him to purchase a little sense, while he learned that articles of a very different kind had been purchased for the other lady. Upon this account, being a sensible, humane man, and seeing how the affair stood, he began to vend him a little of the article he so much wanted, in the shape of some good advice upon the subject. He described in pretty lively colours the folly and injustice of which he had been guilty, preferring a vile, mercenary creature to the gentle affections of so kind, so judicious, and lovely a wife, sacrificing her peace and happiness for the sake of a blind and illicit passion for another. “And if you wish,” continued the kind old man, “to experience the truth of all I have said, only consent to put to the trial their respective affection 461 and regard for you, which I sincerely advise all such infatuated men to do, and you will soon find which of the two will remain most loyal and faithful to your love.”
Ranieri, who had listened very attentively to the old gentleman’s discourse, without once interrupting him, or testifying the slightest offence, for the first time began to consider the matter seriously and to feel impressed with the truth of what he had heard. So, taking the good sense offered him by the old Spaniard in good part, he professed himself ready to follow his advice, would he only point out in what way he could satisfy himself as to the different degrees of affection entertained by the wife and the mistress; indeed, nothing would please him better than to put their tempers to the proof. “There can be no difficulty,” continued the good Spaniard, “in ascertaining this; only despoil yourself of your gentlemanly attire, assume a very plain, poor dress, and send before you tidings of your complete downfall in the world” — (“Heaven forbid!” cried the poor merchant, horrified at the idea) — “then,” continued the old man, smiling, “follow them yourself soon afterwards on foot. In this plight visit the respective houses of the ladies in question, and I think I may give you permission to take up your residence at that which, of the two, receives you the most kindly and hospitably; but never, if you value your own happiness, visit the other again.” Perceiving the kind and judicious nature of this advice, Ranieri promised to obey: he instantly proceeded to the execution of his plan, and instructed his attendants as to all that was necessary for its completion. Setting off alone, he arrived in his poor habiliments about sunset in his own district; and apparently overwhelmed with grief and shame, as if he had barely escaped with life, he knocked at the door of his adored Mabilia. It so happened that the lady being close at hand, came herself to let him in; upon which, in a most alarmed and piteous tone, Ranieri entreated her to grant him an asylum in her house from the rage of his angry creditors, who would not be long in overtaking him. For some time the interested wretch was at a loss to recognise her love in his poor garb, and stood as if doubtful what to think. At length, beholding him in so destitute a condition, and hearing the fatal tidings of his losses as it were confirmed, she at once assumed a bold and arrogant tone, inquired who he was and what he did there, and affected complete ignorance of there being such a person in the world. At the same time she shut the door in his face, and went murmuring away. Such was the sudden shock to the feelings of the poor merchant that it was with difficulty he restrained his rage: he left the place heaping upon her all the reproachful epithets that she so well deserved. With sensations it is impossible to describe, he next proceeded towards his own house, whither the report of his ruin had already preceded him; but the moment the door opened, he felt himself encircled in the arms of his wife, who, mingling consolations with her tears, conducted him into his room, where she had prepared everything for his reception likely to alleviate his woes. Such, indeed, was the sweetness and the kindness of her manner, that the delight he now felt amply repaid him for the disquiet and pain which the opposite conduct of his mistress 462 had excited in him. Accordingly he found himself, as the good Spaniard had predicted, one of the happiest men in the world, and ever afterwards appreciated as they deserved the charms and virtues of his noble consort. Nor did her affection, courage, and devotion stop here; for believing that the whole of her husband’s fortune was lost, she generously brought her private allowance, her jewels, and other ornaments, in order to supply his most immediate wants. For he, desirous of ascertaining the extent of her attachment to him, continued to feign the utmost difficulty in what way to escape the vengeance of his creditors, and incessantly lamented the bitter fate that awaited him. His noble-minded consort, unable to witness his unhappiness, made over to him without hesitation a very considerable fortune, left to her by one of her relations. “Take it, take it all, my dear Ranieri, if it can be of the least service in protecting you from the severity of the law: only let me behold you a little easier and happier in your mind. Let us recollect that fortune comes and goes; that ‘riches make themselves wings and fly away;’” and in this manner she would invite him to take heart, and induce him by every means in her power to partake of refreshment and repose. When these, however, appeared to fail of their effect, she for the first time began to indulge her grief, declaring that she would rather die than witness his continual sorrow and lamentation, and with this she burst into a flood of tears. No longer proof against this last appeal, her delighted husband, soothing and caressing her in the most affectionate manner, acquainted her with the real circumstances of the case, and assured her that he was far more wealthy than he had ever before been. While he was yet speaking, and a crowd of incensed creditors besieged his door, there came tidings of the arrival of waggon-loads of goods, with merchandise of every description, purchased with the immense profits he had realised in his last sales; a sight which, delightful as it was to his creditors, was surpassed by the pure and exquisite pleasure felt by his wife, who saw herself thus unexpectedly restored to affluence, and to the undivided affection and esteem of her repentant husband.
I think it was M. Guccio de’ Nobili who first broke in upon this unpleasant portion of our subject by observing: “Pray let us leave the dead to bury their dead and the doctors to their sick, but let us, who are yet sound and hearty, try to keep ourselves so by being in good humour and enjoying ourselves as long as we can. If you are 463 wise enough to follow my example, you shall have no reason to complain of the dulness and tediousness of the day: there is nothing equal to a good feast and a good laugh for keeping away infection!” We all declared upon this that he should lead the way, and we would abide by his direction; when he immediately rose, declaring we much first seek some place rather more airy, and taking an arm of Pitti and another of Viniziano, he invited us to follow him as far as Ponte Vecchio. We thence proceeded in high glee to the pleasant gardens of the Pitti, where we sheltered ourselves under the embowering arch of vine and jessamine, watered by a fine cool spring, where Giovannozzo provided a table of fruits and wines of almost every kind and in the highest perfection. After having partaken of these with no little zest and perseverance, our friend Viniziano, with one of his humorous introductions, commenced the story of Donna Lizetta, whom, as well as her lover, he, being an admirable mimic, took off so completely to the life, that we had some difficulty in preventing ourselves from dying with laughter.
Lioncino was the first to recover himself, and turning towards Piero with a look of mock defiance: “Now is the time come, Piero,” he cried, “that our long dispute must be settled. I am resolved to know which of us two is to be esteemed henceforth the best novelist. Our noble friends here shall decide which must for the future call the other master when he begins to tell a good story.” To this his friend Piero having consented, the challenger smoothed his whiskers, and having swallowed an inspiring glass, he forthwith began: “If I mistake not, you are all pretty well acquainted with a certain Bianco Alfani, the same who is generally known from all other men by the diminutive epithet of lad, resembling one in every point, though he is really above forty years of age. Although he gives himself credit for extraordinary ability, his shrewdness and wit are merely such as are compatible with his boyish appearance, but by no means indicative of the sense and seriousness of forty. Such as he is, however, he was thought equal to the appointment of watching over the safety of debtors, among whom, by redeeming some of the poorer sort and other means, he realised something handsome.
“But being of a sociable disposition, more especially with the ladies, he soon contrived to dissipate the greatest part of it; and you shall hear the very ingenious way in which he disposed of the remainder. He was frequently in the habit, last year, of appearing about the new market, where, at a famous eating-house, he was proud to entertain a number of young fellows, not quite so simple as himself, who flocked together, like birds in pairing-time, to pick up the best helpmate they could find. Nor was it the least part of their feast to listen to the vain boastings and complacent absurdities uttered by the simple host. Now it happened that a few friends and I came one evening to sup in the same house where he was entertaining one of his usual parties, and we had the advantage of hearing, through our vicinity to them, the whole of their absurd and humorous discourse. But the worthy host far surpassed the most ridiculous of his guests in the folly of his remarks; and when we had heard quite as much as we wished, my 464 friend Niccolo Timucci declared that, good as it was, it was, nevertheless, no way to be compared with the still more ridiculous proofs of simplicity he had at other times given. You must know that this eccentric genius having occasion not long ago to visit Norcia, obtained an introduction to my noble friend Giovanni di Santi, who resides there; and repeating his visits on somewhat too familiar a footing, as I seldom entered my friend’s house without finding him there before me, Giovanni at length became almost weary of his strange and wild vagaries, which he humoured with infinite skill, to the admiration of all his guests. In order sometimes to get rid of his company, my friend contrived to employ him in some little commissions; observing, for instance, ‘Now pray inquire into that business, my dear Bianco, and let me have an early answer, and you may depend upon it I will make it worth your while, for I see you are not one of that stamp to remain long quiet without meeting with promotion in the world.’ ‘And what promotion am I likely to get among you people of Norcia?’ replied our hero. ‘Do you think I do not know your tricks?’ ‘Know what you will,’ rejoined Giovanni, ‘but there are some of us who have sworn to leave no stone unturned to have you elected our mayor — the mayor of Norcia; I think this would not sound amiss, my Bianco?’ ‘It would be something, to be sure,’ returned the latter; ‘and, to say the least of it, I think I could carry the mace as well as you carry that walking-stick.’ ‘Very good, Bianco,’ said my friend, ‘and we shall soon put you to the proof.’ ‘So much the better; you may do it now, if you please,’ cried Bianco, with a very important face, as he hastened to discharge my friend’s commission. He had no sooner turned his back, than Giovanni addressing me with a laugh, ‘Well, signor, what do you think of him? Did you ever see a more heavy and conceited ass in your life? Though you see he gives himself credit for an extraordinary degree of shrewdness, he cannot help believing he is to become our mayor at the next election: yet he is scarcely fit to be a constable of the borough. Blockhead as he is, however, I will contrive to make him useful to me in my affairs, flattering him with the hope of his mayoralty, while at the same time I amuse myself with his extravagances.’
“When the time of his departure from our city arrived, Giovanni, having already made him nearly frantic with expectations of the chief magistracy, escorted him with much mock respect, along with a few other friends who were in the secret, several miles, as far as Bagno a Ripoli, and there they took a solemn leave of him, bidding him be of good cheer, for that they were resolved to go through with the business, and prove their zeal in his service. Our hero returned thanks with a very complacent and ceremonious air, not in the least questioning the truth of what was said: and we then measured our way back to the city. The next step proposed was to prepare a letter, as if coming from our friend Giovanni, inviting him to stand candidate at the ensuing election, when he would infallibly be guilty of a thousand fresh absurdities on the occasion. ‘There is not the slightest doubt of that!’ exclaimed Messer Niccolo. ‘Then the sooner we have them the better,’ rejoined Messer Antonio, ‘and my acquaintance 465 with the Norcian dialect will entitle me to the composition of this precious document.’ In fact, the next morning he produced it ready cut and dry, insomuch that any one would have sworn, from its phraseology, that it could have been written nowhere but at Norcia. The tenor of it ran thus: ‘The question of your election to the supreme magistracy would now appear to be placed beyond a doubt, as a certain friend of great influence with the council has recently declared in your favour.’ This document was regularly copied and signed by a roguish notary, and forthwith despatched to its destination. It was delivered by the messenger into Bianco’s hands with a profusion of compliments and ceremonies, and after repeated perusals he took the bearer of it courteously by the hand and invited him in to supper. The messenger then answered all inquiries to our hero’s satisfaction, having been well tutored by Giovanni to the task before setting out.
“The ensuing day he returned in triumph with the expected answer, which Niccolo read aloud to us with a very business-like air and much mock solemnity. It was just what we could have wished; he accepted the nomination, returning thanks to the good burgesses for this gratifying proof of their regard. To witness the progress of his extravagance, we next resolved to send a deputation of gentlemen to wait upon him at the public prison, where he officiated as a sort of contractor with the poorer debtors for their ransom, at a certain exorbitant interest. We found him treating with them for terms in a most ludicrous manner, interrupting himself at every other word with a triumphant assurance that he should shortly be altogether freed from their impertinent solicitations and obstinate folly. ‘Away,’ he cried; ‘in the course of another month we shall see whether I am somebody or no.’ And this was followed by such a medley of similar expressions, that, finding him much worse than we had expected, we agreed that there could be no hazard in advancing boldly to the point. For this purpose we indited a fresh epistle, still in the name of the said Giovanni, and further despatched by the hand of the same courier, containing the actual tidings of his election, and stating that a more formal annunciation of the whole affair would speedily follow. Until that time, it alluded to the propriety of keeping the matter secret, as it ought to be most formally announced both the public and his familiar friends.
“This soon brought a still more glorious answer than before, so complete a specimen, indeed, of the burlesque, that we resolved to put a finish to the scheme. The mock election took place at the house of Ser Niccolo, the votes were regularly entered, and the great corporation seal attached to the letter, signed by the common council, announcing the official intelligence of our hero’s election. The courier was then commissioned to repair to the new magistrate and request him to hold himself in readiness at Pergola, three miles from Norcia, on the 24th day of July, where he was to await the arrival of the colours, the dresses, and all the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of election. This duty the courier discharged in the best style possible, for, pulling off his hat, streaming with ribbons, with his face full of happy news, he delivered the great seal with the most reverential air, wishing the new magistrate joy at a humble distance. Having perused it for a full hour, he began 466 to give vent to his overcharged feelings by a thousand ridiculous acts and gestures. He presented the courier with a handsome sum, with the promise of a further reward when he took the magisterial chair at Norcia. He then hastened back to a party with whom he had supped as usual, and bursting upon them, not far from the spot where we stood to enjoy the scene, he exclaimed in a hurried manner, ‘Well, gentlemen, the time is at length come when you are to know the extent of my influence and reputation in the world.’ ‘Why, what has happened?’ inquired his companions; ‘have you heard anything new?’ ‘I am inclined to think this is new,’ returned our hero, displaying the credentials of his election. ‘If this does not lie, we shall soon see whether I know how to carry a staff of office as well as my predecessors. The truth is, gentlemen, I have just been elected mayor of Norcia;’ and this he tried to confirm by a thousand extravagances, occasioned by the contradictions with which they purposely provoked him. Then, in a violent heat, approaching the place where we stood, he took Ser Niccolo to witness whether our friend Giovanni had not promised and obtained for him the high situation he alluded to. ‘Faith, I believe it must be so,’ cried Ser Niccolo as he perused the letter; ‘he only tells you the truth, my good follows, and if you are wise, you will bestow upon a man of his influence and importance every attention in your power.’ The whole company then vied with each other in doing honour to him, entreating that they might be admitted as part of his escort when he should set out to enter on his new office. So our hero departed home to make suitable preparations, and then called on all his acquaintance, with the great seal always in his hand, observing he came to take leave as he was shortly about to enter upon a new career. Great were the doubts and controversies which arose among his friends in Florence on hearing these tidings; but when they discovered him actually engaged in preparing steeds and colours for his retinue, they almost began to give credit, against the evidence of their better judgment, to the truth of his statements.
“Finding that his ready money was scarcely equal to the magnificence of his ideas, our hero turned his thoughts to the sale of some property situated near the Church of St. Mark, which a certain notary had long been desirous of purchasing. In order to obtain it on more easy terms, the notary began to flatter him with his splendid preparations and magnificent prospects, observing that he emulated the noblest of his ancestors, the house of Alfani having always distinguished itself for its liberality in its public exhibitions and offices. ‘And since it will be an accommodation to you in your new affairs, I shall be proud to offer you what I once mentioned, though, should any of your other friends be enabled to give you more, you had perhaps better not think of my proposal.’ But our hero immediately jumped at this offer, and forthwith received an order on the bank of Esau Martellini for the amount agreed upon. The whole of this was speedily employed in completing his outfit on this solemn occasion, having to provide, according to the tenor of his instructions, no less than a judge, a knight, and a notary to accompany his retinue. Before setting out, applications for minor offices flowed in upon him on all sides, and he made 467 various promises to his friends, how handsomely he would take care to provide for them.
“On the appointed day he accordingly set forward, the mock constables and other officers preceding him with their staves, while the cavalcade, with our hero at their head, followed with colours spread and trumpets sounding as they proceeded slowly and solemnly along. They first took the road towards Arezzo, and from thence to Castiglione, to Cortona, and to Perugia, at all of which places they visited the chief magistrates, to their infinite surprise and perplexity. Doubtful in what way to act, they nevertheless believed it would be the safest plan to show every proper attention and respect to their countrymen. Leaving Perugia, they next arrived at Pergola, exactly on the 24th day of the month, as had been stipulated for by his friend Giovanni in the credentials. Alighting at the hotel, the host, nearly overwhelmed with the sense of the honour received, lavished abundance of ceremony and respect upon his new guests; but recovering himself a little in the course of the evening, he ventured to inquire what was the governor’s destination, as he doubted not, from the magnificence of his preparations, he must be proceeding upon some high destination. Bianco, happening to overhear this inquiry, instantly answered for himself that he was about to assume the chief magistracy of Norcia. The good host, upon this, testified the utmost surprise, and shortly again inquired of one of the attendants whether they meant to jest with him. ‘The chief magistrate of Norcia,’ he continued, ‘is a noble Roman gentleman, elected not more than a fortnight ago.’ ‘What is that the man mutters there?’ exclaimed our hero; ‘the simpleton is perhaps talking of the governor, for, as matters at present stand, here is the mayor!’ and he grew several inches taller in a moment. And in order to avoid further discussion, he commanded the great seal, with his credentials, to be handed to the unbelieving host. With a thousand apologies for his boldness, he returned the document, expressing himself perfectly satisfied of its truth, though he shrugged up his shoulders as he exclaimed, ‘I almost begin to think I see double; the idea of two magistrates has confused me strangely, and perhaps the best way of recovering myself will be to attend to supper.’ In great glee at having thus discomfited the poor landlord, Bianco, turning round to his officers, observed; ‘There goes a wise head! he has drunk till he has confused the distinction in his own mind between a governor and a lord mayor.’
“But the inquisitive host, still unsatisfied on the subject, had no sooner served up supper, than, leaving his nephew in charge, he mounted a fine blood mare and proceeded post to Norcia, where, alighting at an old friend’s house, not quite sure whether he was out of his wits or no, he exclaimed in a tone of anxiety, ‘There has the oddest thing in the world happened to me to-night!’ and he proceeded to relate what had occurred. The other, bursting into a loud laugh, inquired whether he had really ridden the whole of the way to learn a fact which he was acquainted with before he set out. ‘You know as well as I do, you wiseacre, that the mayor was elected the eighth of the month! The man is merely making a fool of you, unless 468 he happens to be a greater fool than yourself.’ ‘But how, in the name of all the saints, can that be,’ retorted the host, ‘when I read a true account of his election?’ Thus conversing, they walked towards the piazza, where a number of citizens shortly collecting together, they proceeded to pass their opinions on the matter. Great was the perplexity and wonder of all, and by all he was advised to refer the affair to the consideration of the council, accompanied by them as vouchers to the truth of his statement. Fresh embarrassment here arose among the members of the council, and after vainly puzzling their heads to divine the motives of this strange proceeding, they came to the determination of despatching their president to ascertain the meaning of it. The latter then accompanied the host back, and still guessing and puzzling themselves the whole way, they arrived in haste at the hotel, and calling for lights, they sent in word to our friend Bianco that the president of the council of Norcia requested an interview with him. Believing it to be a deputation to welcome him on his approach, our hero ordered him to be ushered in. Having moved to each other with no little ceremony, Bianco, turning round upon the landlord, observed with much self-complacency, ‘Do you think you can now recollect the time when the new mayor was elected?’ ‘I fear you will begin to doubt as much as myself, signor, very soon,’ was the good host’s reply. The president had some difficulty in restraining his mirth at this novel scene, but trying to put the most serious face upon it he could, he thus proceeded to address our hero; ‘The members of the city council, hearing of your arrival, signor, have commissioned me to inform you that they cannot but testify the utmost surprise at your pretensions to the magistracy of Norcia, the present mayor having been duly elected on the eighth day of this month to the office he now enjoys. They would willingly, therefore, be made acquainted with the motives of this strange proceeding on your part, for which they can in no way account.’
“Such was the astonishment of our hero on hearing these words, that it was with the utmost difficulty he stood the shock, as he inquired in a scarcely audible voice whether it was customary to elect two mayors at Norcia. The president replying in the negative, our disappointed friend imagined that he had been solemnly duped by the good people of Norcia, whom alone he believed capable of such a trick. His surprise and grief were suddenly converted into the fiercest anger and impatience; and handing the president the various letters he had received upon the subject, he inveighed bitterly against the council for refusing to sanction his claims, adding, ‘If these letters do not lie, I shall yet live to be mayor of Norcia. Should it indeed turn out that I have been bubbled, either by the people of Norcia or any other people, I will soon let them know where I come from and who I am, and they shall pay pretty dearly for their impertinence; they shall learn it is no jest, and that the Florentines are a very different class of men from some whom they have to deal with. What! Mr. President, do you take us for mountaineers? Think you we shall put up with your skits and insults as they do? we who have worsted the Duke of Milan, to say nothing of others who have longer claws than the people of 469 Norcia. What will my fellow-citizens say, think you, when they learn that you invited me hither to preside over your councils, and then elected another in my place? Suppose I had not come early enough, what, in the devil’s name, would they have done then?’ The president, beginning to be afraid he might actually become frantic in his presence, attempted various means to pacify him, and proposed to put off the discussion of the case to another time, observing that he would in the meanwhile acquaint the council with the state of the affair; and then retreating behind the host, he mounted his horse as quick as possible and hastened home.
“He informed the members that he was not yet enabled to throw much light on the strange business they had in hand, owing to the eccentric language and conduct of the party concerned; and that it might perhaps be the most satisfactory way to summon him before the council. Having resolved to defer further proceedings for a little while, they learned that our hero was in deep consultation with his mock officers and other waggish friends in what way to proceed, laying the whole blame on the people of Norcia, who had been instigated by the devil to the infernal act of inviting him to become mayor, and electing another in his place. Wearied with disputation and perplexity, all parties at length retired to rest, though our hero could scarcely close his eyes for thinking of the dilemma in which he was, or if he slept, he only dreamed sad and vexatious dreams. The next morning he resumed his journey to the seat of magistracy, where crowds of people were collected to witness the novel sight, the arrival of a second mayor. But the procession was somewhat too lugubrious, as our hero’s retinue had fallen sadly away, and he proceeded rather like a whipped criminal than a judge, hanging down his head and looking in every direction but the right one. In this way he alighted at the council hall, announced his arrival, and at the request of the council entered the audience-room, and took a seat near them. Being called upon to explain his business, he rose up as he had been commissioned to do by the pseudo-judge who accompanied him, and addressed the council as follows: ‘My lords and gentlemen, it is now about three months since one of your townsmen, a certain Giovanni di Santi, invited me to become a candidate, and actually secured my election for the chief magistracy of your city. I soon after received intelligence of this event, as you will perceive by these letters under your own hand and seal. Desirous of emulating the example of my ancestors in filling the most honourable offices, as I have been informed they did, I resolved to take upon myself the burden of duties and honours I imagined you had prepared for me. For this purpose I made the most splendid preparations, according to the usual custom, to enter upon my new dignity in a becoming manner, attended by a retinue which it required many hundred crowns to equip, as you may well imagine. What was my surprise, what my indignation, then, to learn from the master of an hotel the strange news, soon after confirmed by your own president, that you had elected another officer in my place! I am grieved to say that such a proceeding is scarcely compatible with the honour and fidelity to be expected from a community 470 like yours. Neither is it agreeable to the alliance at present subsisting between the Florentines and your own city; nor have you, as you perhaps think, imposed upon one of plebeian rank. No, gentlemen; you will be shocked when I declare that you have attempted to cast a slur upon the fair name of one of the respectable member is of the honourable house of Alfani, a house, gentlemen, the most ancient and grand of our whole city, insomuch that you may justly dread the vengeance of Heaven, which will not fail to overtake you. Yet, perhaps, it you will be prevailed upon to act a fair and honourable part, to dismiss your present magistrate and place me in his seat, to heal the wounds my reputation has suffered, and reimburse me for my various expenses, I and my house may probably be induced to bury in oblivion what has already passed. Thus, gentlemen, and thus only will you properly consult mine and your own honour; for here I hold the document received from the hands of your deputation. Are you prepared to put in force its articles?’ Strangely bewildered by this specimen of the mad oratory of our hero, the whole council rose, somewhat anxious for their personal security, while the president proceeded to answer his complaint in the most mild and soothing terms he could select for the purpose: ‘May it please you, most lofty and flourishing branch of the noble stock of the very honourable house of Alfani, may it please you to deign to retire for a few moments, while our council proceeds to debate the important question you have just laid before us.’ Our hero then retiring, with no little ceremony on both sides, the good common council-men proceeded to examine, with anxious brows, the nature of the documents just submitted to their notice. What was their surprise and mirth at beholding this wretched forgery, a false copy of their own forms and ceremonies of election, but written neither by the hand of their president nor sealed with their corporate seal. The judge, the knight, the men-at-arms, were all of the wicked Giovanni’s own creation. Upon this the members unanimously declared our poor hero to have been solemnly burlesqued, in the true style of the mock heroic; and having indulged their mirth for some time, and commanded several constables to be in waiting in case of need, they ventured to recall the ex-mayor to give him his dismissal. On his appearance the president again addressed him: ‘Most noble sir, the sitting council has commissioned me to express the deepest concern on discovering the gross imposition which has been practised upon you in forging the papers which you have here submitted to their perusal. There never, I am sorry to observe, was the least idea entertained of inviting you to take upon yourself the duties of our magistracy, neither are the papers sealed with our seal nor written in the form of our elections. Understanding you are sprung from an ancient and noble family, our council sincerely condoles with you on the loss either of reputation or of property which you may possibly incur through the scandalous and unprovoked treatment you have received. We wish it were in our power to prevent your suffering in either, no less out of regard to your own person than to the city to which you belong. But we are sorry to have to state that we have not at present a single office vacant, with which we should 471 otherwise be most happy to present you. Under these circumstances we would presume to advise’ (for the constables were now at hand) ‘that you should, as soon as possible, think of returning to your own home; and consulting, as far as possible, your own reputation, which cannot but suffer by prolonging the discussion of this affair, no longer give yourself any uneasiness at what has passed.’ On hearing the termination of this address, so contrary to his ambitious views, our unhappy hero appeared quite thunderstruck; it was so heavy a blow that it totally upset the arrogance and extravagance he had formerly show. ‘My good lords and gentlemen,’ he exclaimed, with the tears starting into his eyes, ‘I begin to fear I have been sadly overreached, and all by that arrant knave and traitor Giovanni di Santi, as a return for the good services I rendered him in Florence. Behold! I have here letters under his own hand; send for him — pray send for him directly, and first compel him to make me compensation for all my losses; for as to the rest of the injury, I think, with the help of my friends and brothers, he will never be inclined to repeat the joke.’ ‘Only convict him of it,’ replied the president, ‘and we will take care that he make you most ample reparation, besides giving him such chastisement as shall leave you little trouble in the way of taking revenge.’ The rogue was accordingly summoned, a crowd of citizens following, inquisitive to learn the new magistrate’s fate. When he met his friend Bianco face to face, he testified the greatest surprise, as if he were shocked on beholding him there; and when the cause of his arrest was explained, with a very sharp inquiry into the motives of so shameful an imposition, the prisoner only expressed still greater surprise, observing; ‘It is true, my lords, that when I was in office at Florence, I received certain favours at the hands of my friend Bianco, here before you; for which, feeling truly grateful, I should have been happy to serve him by every means in my power. Something of the kind I also expressed in his presence; adding, that I thought him every way calculated to adorn so eminent a station as the chief magistracy of Norcia, and that I could have wished I had influence to procure it for him. But from that period to the present, I wish I may lose my head if I ever heard a single syllable on the subject.’ Bianco upon this immediately confronted him with the letter, saying, ‘Now, my lords, we shall see with what face he will venture to deny this,’ Without the least hesitation the prisoner denied its being his production, and bringing a host of noble witnesses to back his assertions, the council, however reluctantly, was compelled to set him free. The sole remuneration our poor hero obtained was the expenses of his procession, which, out of pure compassion, the council at length consented to discharge.
“He then walked out of the hall, accompanied by his false friend, Giovanni, attracting the admiration and curiosity of all the people wherever he passed. The wicked author of the plot had the dexterity further to impose upon him, condoling with him on the very unlucky occurrence, and expressing his desire of punishing the perpetrators of so vile a forgery, who presumed to make use of his name in order to ruin him with his best friend. On reaching the inn, then, our hero 472 took a hearty leave of his best friend, and journeyed on his way towards Perugia, followed by the sham judge, the knight, and the notary, all of whom had been hired for the occasion. Not having yet received the due reward for their occupation of such dignified stations, and aware that the enterprise had miscarried, they began to murmur, and unable to obtain satisfaction, they resolved, without further ceremony, by the advice of the notary, to make seizure of the ex-mayor’s effects, the remnants of his splendid preparations for the procession. At his next stage, steeds, trunks, and trappings were laid under sequestration by virtue of a pretended writ which the false notary served upon our unfortunate hero, in spite of his earnest prayers and entreaties to retain them, that he might re-enter his native city as honourably attended as he possibly could. The sole property left him was his coat of arms, his banner, and his lance, which he carried on his shoulders to Arezzo.”