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. 597-608.
* Literature of the Italians, vol. ii. p. 402, English translation.600
So Moscione, casting a knowing look on the whole concern, bit his lips and frowned, and then apparently proceeded to a minute examination, often stopping, as if considering very deeply the remedy in view. The spectators, in spite of his abuse of them, stood looking on with an air of respect and reverence, with the Count at their head, his eyes and mouth wide open, expecting to see him perform little less than a miracle. After completing his examination, and reflecting for a long time, during which the people around stood still as death, Moscione turned short upon the Count, and said, “Let the beast rest!” And having uttered this, he quietly went his way.
When the people had a little recovered from their surprise, they burst into immoderate fits of laughter, chiefly directed at the Count, who for a long time stood waiting for his return, believing that he was gone to seek for some new mechanical apparatus for raising his horse. But he might have stood there until the day of judgment; no Moscione appeared there any more. He was, finally, compelled to have his chariot taken away piecemeal, while his fine young steed was dragged to the stables useless, at least for the Count’s purposes, ever afterwards.
At first he vowed to be revenged upon the impertinent wag, Moscione; but the latter only said, laughing, “Let him prove that I did him any injury, and I will pay the damages;” and in this way he kept up the laugh against the Count: a proper reward for his extreme vanity and folly.
The mass being at length over, Messer Gherardo bethought himself, according to courteous custom, of making a chaste obeisance to the lady; but while he was preparing, she had already passed, and he followed, marvelling within himself in what manner she would have returned his intended civility. On getting out, he instinctively took the road to pay his ten pieces to the landlord, an agent for one of the noble Morosini family, and knocking at the door, he said, “I am come here to pay money as usual, but you have never yet returned my calls to pay me anything; come and look at my shop some day;” and in this jocular strain he thrust his hand into his purse, feeling on all sides without finding a single sequin. “Am I out of my wits?” he cried. “What is this?” and he rolled his eyes like a demoniac, as if under the operation of the bitterest torments. At length, feeling something hard sticking in a corner of his purse, and hastily seizing it, he drew forth a beautiful bracelet of fine gold with diamond clasps, amounting to the value of some two hundred ducats. The poor tradesman was half petrified at the sight. At first he believed it to be the effect of witchcraft, then a trick; and was altogether so much at a loss that turning briskly round, while the agent grinned in his face, he ran down the steps without saying a single word. “Messer Gherardo, good Messer Gherardo,” he cried, as he held pen and paper in hand to give him a receipt, “what is the matter?” Then looking out of the window, he beheld him running along at a furious pace, every one making way for him. The agent, shaking his head (for he now thought him a little beside himself), returned to his accounts, regretting only that he had not received the money; while Messer Gherardo, who had all his wits about him as far as his interest was concerned, hastened to the 603 house of his friend the goldsmith, anxious to ascertain the value of the toy, in lieu of the sum he had lost. When he heard it amounted to at least two hundred ducats, he suddenly bethought him of the richly dressed lady who stood near him at mass, imagining he had seen it upon her arm, but of this he was not certain. He next conjectured she had played him a trick, but neither the time nor place seemed to warrant such a supposition. Besides he did not know her, nor she him, though he wished to learn where she lived. “I think I have guessed it though now,” he exclaimed, as if a sudden bright thought had struck him. “My purse lay beside me; I was buried in profound devotion, and she, wanting money, thrust her hand into my money-bag, and by accident left the bracelet behind her.” Yet how to reconcile this, he thought, with so much fashion, beauty, and devotion as she displayed? He felt ashamed of such an accusation, and tried to banish it from his mind. He resolved, however, to keep the bracelet and quietly await the result; then returning in better spirits to settle his account with the agent, not without some jeers, he pretended to have forgotten the money, which, having now paid, he felt much happier and easier, and, with a smile on both sides, they took leave.
The next day Messer Gherardo, walking along the streets, observed, upon turning a corner, affixed to a pillar the following advertisement in large letters: “Lost or stolen, a rich gold bracelet, with handsome diamond clasps; whoever will restore it to the owner, by leaving it at the sacristy of Santo Marcuola, shall receive a handsome reward.” Messer Gherardo, thunderstruck at these words, read them again and again, as he would otherwise have had no scruples in retaining the bracelet. As it was, however, such was the singularity of the case, that he could not help laughing as he directed his steps towards the said sacristy, where, upon his arrival, he inquired for the curate. Taking him on one side, he said, “My reverend father, my business with you is no other than a confession, and if you will give me permission, I will inform you. But you must grant me one condition, without which I must take my leave as I came.” “Speak out,” replied the curate; “what is it? If proper, it is granted.” “Then,” returned Messer Gherardo, “I am the man who found the bracelet; but I will never restore it, except it be to the lady herself. Now I beg you will not attribute this to any suspicion, or any improper motive; only it will be far preferable, on the lady’s account, that I should return it to her without other witnesses. If you will be so good as to point out her abode to me, you may rely upon it that I will go forthwith, like a good subject of the Catholic Church, and return it to the owner; otherwise you must excuse me. I shall keep the bracelet, and without the slightest scruples of conscience.” The curate replied, “To any person who should restore such an ornament I have received orders to give three sequins, that he might treat himself to a good dram; but as to you, signor, you are perhaps not in want of one.” “Signor,” retorted Messer Gherardo, “I would not return it for a hundred sequins; but if I may restore it into the lady’s own hands, I will require nothing.” “My son,” replied the curate, “I would recommend to you to entertain a little more reverence and holy fear of 604 Heaven. Surely you would not keep what is not yours; but as you seem resolved to restore it only to the lady, so be it. I will call my clerk, since you are so very obstinate, and he shall point out to you her dwelling.” So, after accompanying him a little way, the little fat clerk said, “That is it, signor,” pointing to a very handsome-looking and spacious house; and upon gaining admission he was shown up a magnificent staircase into a large saloon, the walls all covered with silk linings, the sight of which made the mercer’s heart glow; and such was his confusion at the idea of his temerity in entering, that he could scarcely ascertain the quality of the silk. At first he thought of making his escape, imagining that he had committed some gross blunder, and might be running his head into a great scrape. While doubtful in what way to act, but gradually edging out, a maid-servant advanced from the staircase, crying, “Who is it? Pray who are you and what do you want?” Half struck dumb, with his hat held politely in his hand, Messer Gherardo replied, “I wish to see the lady of the house, and, if perfectly convenient to her ladyship, to be permitted to speak with her;” and this he said in his usual style when waiting on the great to receive commissions. “Madam,” cried the girl, calling to her mistress in an adjacent apartment, “it is a gentleman who wishes to speak to you about some business.” “Then let him come. Why do not you show him in?” answered a voice that startled our poor tradesman, as he hastened to obey her commands. Sitting in an easy-chair, he discovered, on entering, the same identical beautiful lady whom he had seen at mass, a surprise that had almost cost him his life, for a few degrees more would infallibly have amounted to a fit of apoplexy. The lady looked full at Messer Gherardo, and grew pale as the wife of Lot when she was turned into a pillar of salt; in fact, she had nearly swooned away; for it had never entered into her head, when she first missed her bracelet, that she could have left it behind on withdrawing her hand out of the old gentleman’s purse. But such was her hurry to secure the ten pieces, which she effectually did, as she observed him absorbed in his devotions, that it is hardly surprising she was not aware of the loss of it when it came unclasped. On the other hand, she concluded she must have lost it on the road from church, or she would never have had the folly to advertise it. Little did she think, then, such shame and exposure were reserved for her. But Heaven, that frequently punishes guilty mortals in a way they least expect, never fails to overtake offenders. Messer Gherardo, in his turn, fixed his eyes upon the lady, whose looks were still directed towards him, neither of them uttering a word. At length, however, our tradesman, being naturally possessed of much presence of mind and discrimination, further disciplined by his habit of attending to all ranks and descriptions of purchasers, pulled the fatal bracelet from his pocket, and holding it by one end, proceeded to observe: “I am at a loss, madam, to say in what manner the accident occurred; it is plain that you lost this bracelet, but the wretch has stolen ten sequins out of my purse. Yet you see I have caught him, and hold him fast by the hair,” showing the bracelet in his hand; “and if he refuses to make restitution of my money, which is my heart’s blood, 605 I will put him into such durance that you will never have the pleasure of beholding the offender again. I know that he is a familiar friend, very dear to you, and that you love him as well as woman ever loved such pretty things. For the sake of your reputation and of your family, then, I would advise you to pay his fine, or I will take such revenge upon him as will prove very disagreeable to you. If, on the other hand, you consent to pay what he owes me, the scandal of this affair shall go no further than ourselves, and I will set the thief free; not, however, without desiring you to give him a word of advice for the future, and a little correction at your hands, such as he will remember to the latest day of his life.” In spite of her confusion, the lady could not avoid bursting into a fit of laughter as he concluded; and upon recovering her presence of mind, she adopted the most prudent course, by walking to her desk and taking out ten sequins, perhaps the identical pieces she had pilfered and which had arrested the guilty bracelet in the very act. Turning towards Messer Gherardo, she said: “I vow, my dear signor, that the moment the rogue had committed the deed, he ran away from me, dreading my displeasure. Here is the money he stole; and since you are pleased to set him at liberty and to keep the affair secret, which I entreat you to do, I shall consider myself eternally bound to you. As you say, I will keep him in order for the future, and prevent the possibility of his becoming guilty of such an offense again.” She then counted the pieces into his hand, and received the bracelet in return; and after a few more ceremonies, the good man took his leave. It is certain that this lady was a woman of fashion, of respectable family and connections, the wife of a wealthy citizen, too fond of gaiety and extravagance. Her husband not supplying her fast enough with money for dresses and play, she was in the habit of drawing from other resources, in the manner we have here detailed. It is thus that our errors and vices obscure the intellect and lead us gradually into the abyss of ruin.
It happened to be a year of great scarcity, and more especially in the province of O——, insomuch that the villagers died of hunger, while the grain and vines of every kind looked as if they had been ridden over by troops of horse, affording such a prospect as nearly 606 drove the farmers and their landlords distracted. A fine time indeed for those who had nothing to do but eat the fruits of others! So that the owners were compelled to keep watch day and night, though the harvest was hardly worth the pains. More for whim than want, Carlo Foschino agreed with his companions to make an attack on one of the vineyards, celebrated for the sweetness of its grapes, at Santo Martino di ——, which is situated at a short distance from the city, intending not only to eat as much as they liked, but to fill a good basket or two for future use. With this view each of them took his pannier under his arm, and sallying forth about midnight, they arrived at the land of promise, into which they cautiously entered. When once fairly in possession, they proceeded to clear the ground before them in great style, whispering to one another at intervals, “How good they are!” “Yes, so sweet! what a flavour! quite exquisite! It is a real paradise for us hapless mortals;” and thus feasting and applauding, they did great execution, sweeping everything before them in order to get at fresh bunches, until they were fairly weary and in danger of suffocation. Then drawing their well-sharpened knives, they began afresh the work of destruction, filling their panniers with all the expedition in their power. They were proceeding merrily through a fine plantation, having finished the better half of their task, but could not avoid making a rustling noise with the branches and scattering a few leaves; and the night being so still that a nest of ants at work would have been heard, this was enough to rouse the jealousy of three armed myrmidons on watch, who, like men-of-war, were scouring those coasts, to give all freebooters a warm reception with their great rusty blunderbusses and enormous slugs, in any shape but round. Hearing a noise of the crashing of branches, one of the watchmen discharged his piece in that direction, while a sudden rush was made, and a cry set up enough to shake the soul of a hero. “Thieves! thieves! that way! leap the ditch! shoot, kill them! oh, that is good, by San Bellino!” Yet Heaven willed that the shot should miss its aim; and the wily robbers, not forgetting their panniers, started off at the sounds of vengeance they heard, using their utmost efforts to escape along a narrow path. The night was dark, and they often stumbled over the stalks of the vine or of the Indian-corn growing in the field, though without paying attention to the circumstance, the entangling and tearing and trampling of leaves giving them little chance of escape from their fierce pursuers, whose threatening cries sounded nearer and nearer, till they imagined they felt themselves run through the body. In this extremity Petrani whispered in a soft voice as he continued running, “My friends, let us throw our panniers away and have a chance for our lives!” To this Cedola replied, hardly able to draw his breath, “You say well, let them go.” “No, no,” cried Foschino; “take heart, brothers, and leave the matter to me! So forthwith he began to bellow as loud as he could, “Mercy upon me! that last shot has pierced me through; I am dying, though I did not feel it before; my blood is spouting out like new wine from the barrel! —— Confirm what I say, you blockheads, and make your escape.” Then Cedola began to cry, “Mercy, mercy upon us! try to get a little farther; 607 the wound is perhaps not mortal, and we will fetch you to a surgeon.” “No,” replied the wily Foschino, in a dying voice, the better to keep up the cheat, “it is all over with me. Those cruel rascals have murdered a poor Christian for eating a bunch of grapes; yet, by the Holy Virgin, they will have to swing for it, that is some consolation!” And thus saying, they proceeded with flying colours, their panniers heaped up with grapes. For the stupid watchmen, imagining all they heard to be true, began to consider the matter and take more time. “Do you hear what he says?” cried one. “That I do,” cried the second. “And you, do you hear?” they added to the third, one of the oldest cut-throats in all Italy. “Let them take it, by all the saints, it is very well; they will obey the seventh commandment in future. I will go nearer, for I daresay they must have left loads of grapes behind them, the wretches!” and they proceeded more cautiously in pursuit. Foschino hearing footsteps stealing along, afraid of discovery, and at the same time of losing the grapes and receiving a good bastinado from the watchmen, resolved, as he felt himself quite wearied out, to go no further. “Leave me here to die, dear friends. I am only grieved that there is no priest at hand to confess me, but Heaven’s will be done! Fly, save yourselves! Remember me to my poor wife and children, and perform my last wish!” During this time the foolish watchmen were listening, as he continued to add, “Be witness that I leave my wife all I have, in trust for the benefit of our children after her, in equal portions; be kind to her and to them, and assist them to bring my body away to-morrow, that I may receive Christian burial, and persuade my friends to offer up a few alms and masses for my poor soul. I feel that I am going now, and do you go too!” The rustics hearing these sad words, stopped, and now began to hold a colloquy upon this unlucky case; while Cedola and Petrani set up the most horrid lamentations, wringing their hands and sobbing as if their hearts would break. “Nay, do not give way to despair. A plague upon the watchmen! they will hang for it; and upon the grapes! we may indeed call them sour. Well, we have the comfort to think that the watchmen will be hanged if you die; they were only to take us into custody, not to take our lives. There never was such a piece of barbarity, such a wilful murder, since the world began. See how he bleeds, poor fellow! he will not live long. Come, let them even kill us all, since they have killed our best friend, a gentleman who only joined us for a frolic, Let the wretches dip their hands in the blood of us all; but we are men of quality, and they shall smart for it.” Upon hearing these words and cries so boldly uttered, the guards concluded it to be a serious affair, and being really afraid that they had killed the gentleman, began to think of running in their turn. But when they next heard him say, in a feeble and lamentable voice, “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum,” they could no longer control their fright, but took to their heels, just as they heard the others utter, “He is dead, he is gone forever; cold, cold, my friend!” and a fresh ululation was set up, which added wings to the flight of the watchmen. This done, they departed at their leisure, the dead man leading the way with the panniers. When the watch 608 ventured to stop, one of them said, “Who shot him, think you? It was not I, I am sure.” “Nor I.” “Nor I.” “Well, but,” said another, “you agreed that I should fire.” “True, but you should have shot over his head and not through his body.” “Well,” replied the man, “I thought I did shoot high up into the air. I wonder how it could have killed him;” and thus, each speaking in his own defence, full of fear and trembling, they returned home, but were unable to sleep a wink that night; while the three knaves, having recovered from their terror, were enjoying themselves comfortably over their panniers of grapes. In the morning the thieves gave an account of their adventure, which threw their auditors into such fits of laughter that some have not ceased even to this day. As for the poor rustics, although they never found the corpse, or had any charge brought against them, they yet continued uneasy and suspicious, having the fear of the gallows perpetually before their eyes, and not having courage to make any inquiries into the affair, lest they should betray themselves, and raise suspicions that they had been guilty of so wicked a homicide.