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. 422-441.
Malespini entered not the service of the King of Spain, under the government of the Milanese, though in what capacity does not appear. Some particulars, however, may be gathered from Novel XI. Part II., in which he gives a description of the splendid nuptials of Duke Guglielmo of Mantua, celebrated in the year 1561. He acquaints us that the Cavalier Lione Aretino and Luca Contile wrote on this occasion to the Marquis Pescara, entreating him to send them some gentleman of the Malespini family, in the service of King Philip, to assist them, as their particular friend, in a due preparation for the approaching solemnities. Most probably this was no other than their friend Celio, who seems to have contributed not a little to the humour of the scene. After holding a public office some time in the Milanese, Malespini proceeded to Venice, where he was residing at the time of the pestilence, which he describes in his forty-eighth Novel, Part I., as having laid desolate that beautiful city. There, with more fearful 424 reality than that of Defoe, he kept a journal of the scenes he witnessed, which he transmitted to his brother Scipione. He displays in his writings an intimate acquaintance with the whole topography of the city of Venice, and also introduces persons speaking in the Venetian dialect such as it was in use at the period when he wrote. Subsequently he passed into the court of Duke Francesco de’ Medici, where he occupied the post of secretary. It is not with certainty known where or in what manner he terminated his days; but, what is more to the point, his stories are many of them amusing, and moreover curious in preserving some historical particulars deserving of record.
This notice will be concluded with a brief account of the singular institutions of the “Compagni della Calza,” or Knights of the Stocking, the festival of which was celebrated in our author’s time at Venice, and is described by him. The Abbate Giustiniani erroneously ranks them among the orders of chivalry, and traces their origin as high as that of the Maestri de’ Cavalieri of Venice, during the infancy of the republic. Schonebek and Mennenio are of opinion that they took their rise at the same time, and with the same views, as the Cavalier della Banda of Spain, in 1368. Père Heliot is also mistaken in referring them to a military origin; as it is clearly apparent from their rules that the members were private gentlemen, who merely obtained the sanction of the magistrate, without any authority of the prince or of a supreme head. Their origin is to be referred to the fifteenth century, though they chiefly flourished during the sixteenth, many of the members having had their portraits taken by the first Venetian artists of the age, the Bellini, Carpaccio, Conegliano, and even by Titian himself. They appear to have assembled merely for the purpose of public and private entertainments, as games, feasts, and theatrical representations. As the device of their association, they wore a parti-coloured stocking richly embroidered and ornamented with pearls and jewels, from which the company derived its name. It was afterwards divided into different fraternities, as the “Compagnia de’ Floridi,” “Sempiterni,” &c., each of which had its own laws and officers, and its peculiar habits.
* Ducento Novelle del Sig. Celio Malespini, nelle quali si raccontano diversi avvenimenti cosi lieti come mesti e stravaganti, &c., 4to. Venezia, 1609.
Desirous of beholding so rare an exhibition as the sailing theatre afforded, the new convivial company, with our Sicilian at their head, could no longer refrain from besetting the piazza of St. Mark’s, on whose steeple stood a Turkish mountebank ready to throw himself headlong down, without hurting himself, if possible, for the amusement of his friends. In this manner, before the enchanted theatre had finished its voyage, the ladies been safely handed out again by their cavalieri serventi, and the Turk leaped in safety from the very top of St. Mark’s upon a rope stretched out below to receive him, to the terror of all beholders, the best part of the day was well-nigh flown. Our joyous company again departed, bearing with them the materials from their evening festival, towards the Merciaria, and thence towards San Jacopo dall’ Orio, to lay siege to the mansion of merchant Gazzuola, and destroy the fragile preparations he had been making to meet the carnival for the last twelve months. On their way, however, just as they approached San Giuliano, they had the misfortune to encounter the procession of the old Company of the Calza, in all their pride of patrician pomp, followed by a vast retinue bearing their gold and silver censers and covers, and at no great distance the delicious materials of the banquet itself, according to established custom from time immemorial. Here, then, was a delicate question to be discussed, a nice point of difference; for whether was the old or the new company of revellers to yield the way? Unluckily it was not to be adjusted by dint of discussion; and a singular contest at length commenced between the banquet-bearers on either side, a truly heroic battle of the cooks, in which some of the implements of their pleasing art became formidable weapons, dealing very unpalatable strokes, while showers of cups, and bowls, and glasses, with still more precious wares, flew winged with their own destruction on every side. Great, indeed, were the feats of strength and skill wrought by the followers of either company, animated as they were by the presence of the head-cooks, and impelled to fresh efforts by their bottle-holders, the butlers, who ceased not to renew the flagging spirits of the combatants with the “red grape’s juice.” As long as such ammunition held out, the conflict continued to rage with equal ferocity on both sides, until, the old Company being the most liberally supplied, the opposite party was at length compelled to give way. Many heroes had already measured their length upon the ground, some levelled with ladles, some stabbed with toasting forks, and others lingering under the torments of too much hot maccaroni and burning soup.
But as the patrician chiefs of both companies, as well of the Company of the Calza as of the Ten, had deigned to take not the least notice of this affray, it was incumbent upon the more plebeian class to marshal themselves once more into order, and conduct the procession in the same style as before. Still they could by no means flatter themselves with making so splendid and magnificent an exhibition as they had done: the lustre of the whole equipment, of their arms, their dresses, their plate, and of their very scutcheons, was faded, as it were, and gone. The people no longer continued to gaze upon it with the same veneration and respect; having been infinitely better amused in 427 witnessing the engagement, and sharing some portion of the spoils of the field. The procession, however, was still extremely grand and imposing, though shorn of some of its beams; the richness and variety of the dresses, the dazzling splendour of hose and doublet, and the embroidered stockings, the badge of the order, covered with gold and silver lace, sparkling with precious pearls and gems, diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, could surely be equalled by nothing less than a coronation day. There walked in the train of each lord four pages decked in rich parti-coloured vests and mantles of silk, followed again by an infinite multitude of plate and cup bearers, with a great variety of precious vases filled with sweets and perfumes, with the rarest fruits and birds, and the most exquisite imitations wrought in sugar of almost every kind of object existing under the sun. Among these were to be seen a fleet of glorious galleys sailing amidst a sea of sweets: the boldest figures in relievo mingling in mock battles; ladies with bright faces watching cavaliers contending in the ring; and a thousand other ingenious devices: sights which called forth the applauding shouts of the spectators.
But the procession of the companies by night, amidst a grand illumination of the whole city, was still more striking and imposing, attended by a concert of the finest music, which, repeated from a thousand gondolas, was heard far over the bosom of the Adriatic. First came two beautiful pages, bearing two large waxen torches; next, the champion of the Company of the Calza, followed by two other pages, also with torches, and men-at-arms, with their squires and grooms. Secondly, came the grand standard, which appeared on fire with the splendour of its ornaments, and a person with a most exquisitely wrought statue, borne in a large vase of gold and silver, richly enchased and glowing with the brightest colours. Thirdly, appeared the golden plate-bearers, with every species of imitative confectionery, followed by a long line of attendants, the meanest of whom bore satin suits, gold bracelets, and large gold chains about their necks. Each of the members was attended as near as I can recollect, by a train of six hundred followers, so that before the whole party had arrived in succession at the great council-hall, where the banquet was to be held, and where they found all the most bright and beautiful ladies of the city awaiting their arrival, whose splendid ornaments cast around them artificial day, the chief part of the night was already consumed. But why should I attempt to describe the convivial scenes which there took place — scenes with which too many of my hearers are familiar to require the feeble delineation of my hand? Suffice it to observe that ere the joyous guests had yet ceased to celebrate their convivial rites, the sun had been watching them many hours out of the east; when the music growing fainter and fainter, as the late nimble hands and feet beat time to its flagging mirth, and the richly painted floors being strewed with the spoils of stormed castles, wounded knights, and a thousand artificial relics of a miniature world in ruins, the revel rout became desirous of adjourning the further continuation of their mysteries to another carnival, which my lovely audience must be aware will soon be here. Yet we cannot flatter ourselves that it will dispense 428 to the happy people of Venice half the amusement which the late season — a period that well deserves to be better commemorated — afforded to us all.
Flattering himself with the possession of some yet more valuable secrets, our simple hero promised to obey him in everything, and accordingly the next morning exhibited the result of his labours to his view. Commending him very highly, the wily Genoese now said, “Truly, I believe you will never be at a loss how to proceed.” “I believe so too,” said our conceited gentleman, to the no small amusement of the other, “for you see what I have done.” “Next, then,” added his friend, “you must cut up the metal into small bits, weigh out of it three ounces, and melt it down in a crucible until it becomes liquid. Into this throw, leaf by leaf, the herb which I now give you,” taking about fifty plantain stalks out of his handkerchief. “Do you know what it is?” “Oh, yes; there is plenty of it growing in my meadow just by,” said our hero. “You are a fortunate man, then,” rejoined his friend. “You must throw it into the melted copper, and leave it to cool in the crucible, watching it frequently till I come again.” “I will take care to do so,” said our hero, and proceeded forthwith to business. His next object was to gather as much of the plantain root as he could possibly find, to give the proper tinge, as he was told, to the metal, and he proceeded to weigh out and note down the various proportions with a piece of charcoal upon the wall. Being quite ignorant, however, of the process of fusing, of the proper degree of heat, and the best mode of confining it in the crucible, he placed it on a 430 large heap of charcoal, and set to work with a little pair of bellows, about as powerful as a lady’s fan, to blow it into a flame. When he thought it began to melt, he opened the crucible, and exposing it to the air, the metal became as hard and cold as before. Repeating the same experiment until he was quite weary and half roasted alive before the fire, to his infinite delight he saw it begin to melt, and threw in the plantain leaves as directed. Then, no longer able to stand, and covered with dust and smoke, he lay down in a profuse perspiration, awaiting the arrival of his arch-deceiver, who approved of everything he had done, and next advised him to go and consult some chemists as to the value of his products, and learn how much they would give him the ounce. Believing he should soon penetrate into some greater secrets, faint and weary as he was, our hero hastily seized his cloak and sword, and ran as fast as his strength permitted to the shop of a certain M. Ercole, an assayer, and found him just as he was going to supper. Earnestly entreating him to put it to the test upon the spot, though the assayer begged hard for a little time, he was at length prevailed upon to try a small piece of the new metal over the fire, to which he added a few bits of lead. Soon after he declared, on examining the crucible, that he had detected several grains of gold, and that he was prepared to offer him two crowns and a half per ounce for such a product. Being well aware he had not made use of any gold, our experimentalist upon this observed, “But you are very much deceived, friend Ercole, in supposing there is any gold in the case; I did not put a single fraction of a grain in it.” “Surely,” said the assayer, “you will allow me to believe my own eyes; here is the gold, and you are one of the most fortunate men in the world if you really did not put any gold in it.” Hearing these words, the poor gentleman was overpowered with joy, and beseeching him to make a fresh trial, which succeeded equally well with the former, he assured his friend the assayer that he should be glad to let him have the whole of the metal on the terms he had mentioned. The assayer was extremely anxious to learn the exact process he had observed in fusing it, which our hero, however, with an air of infinite importance, tried to evade, and at length flatly refused to make him acquainted with the secret. Then, promising to bring fresh samples very soon, he retired and went to rest, though quite unable to close his eyes on account of the multitude of castles in the air that ceased not to haunt his imagination. His next meeting with his friend the Genoese was a very joyous one. He informed him, with tears of gratitude, of the grand test and the complete success of his experiments. “Then I am now satisfied,” returned the Genoese, “for I perceive you are quite equal to conduct the whole process without my farther assistance. Indeed, your facility and skill are truly astonishing; and if you still indulge the least doubt of your own ability, pray mention it.” “Nay,” replied his friend, “I have none; I think I stand in need of no farther directions; and I have only to express my gratitude for the ample instructions you have already given me. Only acquaint me in what manner I can at all requite you, for I assure you I shall think nothing too great for the noble secrets you have confided in me.” “Say no more,” said the 431 Genoese; “I have only to entreat that you will value the secret for my sake, and unfold it to no one.”
Unable to make any adequate return to this kind and courteous language, our hero could only press his friend’s hand in silence, who, embracing him tenderly, took his departure. Thus fancying himself in full possession of unlimited wealth, he began to calculate the different sums which he intended to bestow upon his friends and relatives, saying to himself as he proceeded, “Yes, I will purchase the castle for Pietro; my good Paolo shall have an estate now, but Giovanni must have the marquisate. Thanks, great thanks to the Almighty, I shall at length have a little money in my pocket in addition to his majesty’s pension, which I can throw about on all sides as I please. My sole fear is that the money-market will not be able to supply me fast enough for my precious metal, though I dispose of it in all parts of the world.” Then, after revolving the subject deeply in his mind, he resolved to form a complete establishment for the manufacture of the precious article, hiring a number of artificers to assist him in the business, and to collect a quantity of plantain roots wherever they were known to grow. These he stored up by fifty and a hundred loads at a time, until he had completely ransacked the country for many miles round. He employed all the boys and women he could find, whom he supplied with baskets to bring the plantains to his house in such quantities as to excite the curiosity and wonder of all the neighbourhood.
Inquisitive to learn the nature of such proceedings, his wife, frequently applied to him for an explanation, but always in vain, being told to attend to her household affairs as he was fully competent to manage his own. When he had made his final preparations, his friend the Genoese one day came to him, with a countenance full of anxiety, and accosted him thus: “I wish, from my very soul, I had never undertaken this speculation from the senate, with all its pretended privileges: a curse upon all such furnaces, I am heartily sick of the job!” “My dear Raffaello,” cried our hero, “what is it that has thus disturbed you?” “What is it?” replied the wily Genoese; “why, it is this: I wish to go and leave this business with which our senate has saddled me (and yet I am compelled to keep to my engagement), and to set out immediately for Genoa. Now, I am come to beg you will please to lend me a hundred ducats until my return, which I shall take as a particular favour.” “Oh, certainly,” said our hero, and immediately went out, and returned with a bag of gold, saying, “Help yourself, my dear friend, and take as many as you please; for I owe you more, far more than anything I can repay. Indeed, I wish you would deign to put my gratitude to a severer test; I have friends who will join me in assisting you to a much larger amount.” “I thank you,” said the Genoese, “I will only take this sum at present; it is quite sufficient for the object I have in view.” Then quietly pocketing the money, he took his departure, leaving our poor hero to carry on his operations alone. He had already expended more than a thousand crowns in the purchase of some buildings from Angelo Coiro, near Monte Brianza, admirably situated, as he imagined, for the purpose of carrying on his extensive business. Hither were 432 conveyed the materials of his new trade, loads of charcoal and plantain, with crucibles, brass cauldrons, and silver plate; believing he was the first man who could boast of having set up a grand manufactory of gold. And there, shutting himself up, he superintended his enormous furnace, stripping himself to the skin in order the better to heat his crucibles, and blowing with all his might to produce the fusion of his metals. Great was the fire, and great his toil and torture though not equal to his desire of beholding the gold. Three hours incessantly he blew and blew, trying different kinds of processes and different sized vessels, without the least effect. The strong heat and the working of the bellows together began at length to prove quite too much for his strength, while he stood in a violent perspiration from head to foot without being any nearer the accomplishment of his task. The rest of his fires were in the same predicament, not the least fusion of the metals appearing, and the whole of his establishment, servants and assistants, were as weary and exhausted as himself. Eight hours had now elapsed, when the place becoming heated like one immense stove, and our poor hero having twice fainted away, he was borne home by his people, who refused any longer to bear the brunt of the day. His wife, who had observed a remarkable change in him of late, an unaccountable elevation and inequality of spirits, wild at times, and at times depressed, conceived no time was to be lost. Seeing him, then, brought home in the condition we have described, his face fiery, and his clothes covered with foam and dust, crying out at the same time loudly for drink, she compassionately ran towards him, and accosted him thus: “What can be the reason, my dear, of your strange conduct, shutting yourself up day and night in a place too hot for a salamander? Would to Heaven that that old wretch of a Genoese had broken his neck before you saw him! would that the great demon had caught him in his clutches! would that you had not been such a fool, my dear, as to have listened to him!” Hearing himself thus tenderly apostrophised by his wife, who presumed to intermeddle in things that he thought did not concern her, the poor man, impelled by rage and disappointment, lent her two hearty cuffs on the side of her head, which somewhat checked the flow of her tenderness. Then, out of mere spite, instead of going to repose as he ought to have done, he got up and ran to his friend the assayer’s, to put his folly to a further test, with the same unhappy result as before. His final hopes now rested upon the return of the arch-villain Chiecaro to put him into the right way again; but after bearing the sickness of hope deferred with great fortitude during many weeks, he bethought him of following the Genoese, though he had no directions how to find him. First, however, he essayed the effect of sending letters and special messengers in all directions, without hearing the least tidings of him. His own personal exertions proved equally fruitless; and in this state of affairs, lost in a world of chimeras, he passed his unhappy time till Christmas. About that time happening one day to be in company, he heard a party of gentlemen conversing, one of whom observed, “If you can do this, you will render me a great service; for a certain speculation by which I hoped 433 to become richer than the Grand Turk, has ended in smoke. An old villain of a Genoese, whom God confound, has emptied my pockets of all my ready cash, though he seemed to come, like Jupiter, in a golden shower.” “And how,” replied his friend, “did he inveigle you? What was the trick?” “What was the trick, indeed! You shall hear! He wanted to teach me how to make gold, and I, like a simple one who loves simplicity, wished to learn. For this purpose I advanced three hundred gold crowns, deposited in the hands of Luca Contile.” “Did you speak of gold crowns?” cried our hero, no longer able to repress his curiosity, “and of a Genoese? For pity’s sake, dear captain, go on!” This the captain did, and mutual explanations and condolements then took place. The only fact which they could clearly ascertain was that he had succeeded in the same manner in cheating them all; that he was gone, and no longer to be found. After conversing for some time together upon the subject, and considering in what way the losses they had suffered might best be repaired, they arrived at the conclusion that the most effectual plan would be to avail themselves of the same means as had been practised by the Genoese, whenever they had the good fortune to meet with any friend as simple as they had themselves been. Somewhat consoled with having hit upon this ingenious method of reimbursing themselves, they laughed heartily and took leave.
The governor having already arrived at Mantua and taken possession of the king’s palace, likewise visited the works, anxious to bring them to a speedy termination, as the royal visitors had nearly all arrived. But observing that there was a deficiency of glass in giving a fine reflection to the whole, Malespini was commissioned to go to Milan with large orders, which ought to have been already executed, and not to return without fulfilling them. These he despatched with such celerity, returning two days before the festival, that he won the applause of all the lords and princes present, not having broken a single chandelier by the way. Malespini, returning to his infernal labours, inspired such a degree of activity into his laziest imps as to extort the applause of all. Yet some there were mightily afraid of burning their fingers with the work whenever his back or that of the cavalier was turned upon them. These he instigated by blows, and, moreover, importuned the Duke to let the same plan be adopted in his regions above as in those underneath. This likewise greatly expedited the business towards the last; for Aretino had just before been seized with such a fit of desperation, that he threatened to assassinate two of the idlest, and throw up the whole concern as a hopeless job. So they got an order from the Duke for the artificers to work all night long, encouraging and scourging them by turns the whole of the time. By these means the magnificent pile seemed to 435 start into sudden existence, and was considered a miracle by the people. For the cavalier had now succeeded in drawing off the water from the lake into a sort of canal before the enchanted island, so that no one could approach it but by the bridge, where the cavaliers were to arrive after having engaged in battle and come off victors against the garrison. The cavaliers, namely, the Marquis Pescara, Don Giovanni d’Avalos, his brother, and Don Giorgio Mariquez, were to be led on by two Amazons towards the canal, over which a small wooden bridge projected by which they were to pass, when it became immediately submerged as before. Then they arrived under the Arch of the Loyal Lovers, over which a statue of bronze appeared with a trumpet in her hand, to welcome the approach of the conqueror, while a shower of flowers fell upon his head; until just as he passed under a great vault, he was suddenly assaulted by a number of naked weapons, and a huge hand was stretched forth which dragged him into the enchanted cave of Apollidone and Grimanessa, where he remained a prisoner. The cavalier being thus worsted, was next to be conducted by the two Amazons to the place where the bridge had disappeared, and the statue was seen venting fire and flame out of the trumpet. He was then to be seized by a host of devils and thrown into the inferno. It required a considerable effort of skill to compel the bridge to stay under water, which was at length, however, devised by the cavalier applying some ropes and iron bands in such a way as to make it rise and fall at pleasure. Requiring after this feat some little repose, he begged Malespini to direct the remainder of the work, and to take particular care that no one meddled with the bridge, which might destroy the machinery and break it into a thousand pieces. Having taken upon himself the duty of a sentinel, Malespini desired him to make his mind easy and get a little rest, for the whole was in safe hands. Then brandishing a huge stick, he went among the artificers, crying as he smote the more idle among them, “Courage, courage, my dear brothers! let us employ the little time that remains to some purpose!” Being thus engaged, about two hours before midnight torchlights were observed flashing in the theatre, followed by a large train of lords and princes. Malespini being aware of them at a distance, in order to avoid the reiterated persecutions to which he had formerly been subjected, ran and hid himself within his inferno, in hopes they might the sooner take their leave. The company then burst in upon him, consisting of the Cardinal Madruccio, followed by various prelates, the Dukes of Parma and of Mantua, the Marquis Pescara, with numerous counts and cavaliers. After inspecting the whole place they proceeded to the intended field of battle, wide and capacious, and extremely well laid out. Here the Duke Guglielmo, with a few of his friends, stopping till the rest of the party had passed on, was desirous of showing them the secret bridge. For this purpose he took hold of one of the ropes by which it was bound, and giving it a pretty smart jerk, and it happening to be the wrong one, the whole machinery broke with a tremendous crash, and the bridge rose up, dashing the water abroad on all sides. Malespini hearing the terrific sound, hastily ran towards the spot, and beholding the 436 bridge out of the water, and the machinery that had employed so many painful hours broken into pieces, which his friend, too, had just committed to his care, felt such a sudden emotion of anger, that, seeing the Duke, a little hunchbacked man with whose person he was unacquainted, standing near, and taking him for the prelate’s clerk not far from him, he lent him several pretty severe blows upon the shoulders with the weapon he held in his hand. “Villain of a hunchback!” he cried, “I feel the greatest inclination to knock your brains out;” which he might, perhaps, have done, but for the speedy interference of those around him. The Duke, conscious of the mischief he had committed and seeing him in such a furious passion, replied not a word; while Malespini, raving and swearing, declared he had not done with him yet, and hastened as fast as possible to accuse the little hunchback before the Marquis. “There he is!” he cried, as the Duke with his few companions appeared. “See, my lord, what sort of people you permit to visit our works! Oh, my lord, he has broken the beautiful bridge, the Bridge of the Loyal Lovers, which was to grace the noble Duke’s espousals! It is entirely broken!” In the meanwhile all the people present, on the appearance of the Duke, made their obeisance; when poor Malespini, beginning to suspect that all was not right, intently eyed the little hunchback whose head he had broken. But when the truth burst upon him, he grew pale and mute, while the blood seemed to stagnate in his veins — for he still held the fatal cudgel in his hands — as he beheld the Marquis and other princes paying homage to the Duke. Though still smarting a little, the Duke could not help laughing at the pitiable appearance of his accuser; and addressing himself to the noblemen, he said, “I think I ought to be the accuser here: that gentleman has to answer for an assault; and truly, my lords, I was afraid he was going to flay me alive; it is wonderful how I escaped out of his hands.” Then turning towards the trembling Malespini, he continued, “Come, friend, I believe we must both give and take; I have done you a terrible injury, and you have had your revenge.” “Oh, my lord Duke,” stammered out the unhappy gentleman; “Oh, my lord, may I presume your Excellency will ever forgive me? Your Excellency must be informed that I had never the honour of being acquainted with your person, or this dreadful affair could not have happened; attribute it, then, only to my regard for your Excellency’s interests.” “I do,” replied the Duke, “for you have given me a very sensible proof of it, and I feel it, as I believe I ought to do, for meddling where I had no business;” and upon this he shrugged his shoulders and shook hands with Malespini, while the whole palace rang with mingled laughter and applause. Still Malespini was ill at ease, for he had now to encounter the reproaches of Aretino, who seemed, however, somewhat consoled at the revenge he had taken, which he thought was not at all too much, though they both wore a very lugubrious face upon the occasion. Their next business was, if possible, to repair the damage, which, though great, turned out not to be irreparable. For Malespini, having now dealt with his devils, gave his assistance to the unhappy Aretino until the entire work was restored, and the day of the festival arrived.437
The valiant cavaliers now engaged on both sides with the utmost valour, fighting during the greater part of the night by torchlight, and displaying all the terrors of a mock heroic battle and storm by night. The Marquis Pescara had already stretched three heroes on the ground, while a fourth, an unfortunate gentleman of Ferrara, was seized and dragged by the devils into Malespini’s hell, where he was put to all kinds of tortures till the place resounded with his cries. Another was thrown headlong down a tremendous precipice to the terror of all the spectators, who imagined he must have infallibly broken his neck; but Pluto had the kindness to receive him upon a bed of feathers, instead of flames. In the inferno were exhibited all those extraordinary embellishments with which it is peopled by the poets; — Ixion’s wheel, the stone of Sisyphus, Tantalus with his apples, the vulture of the fire-stealer, Cerberus with his three heads, and a variety of other terrific objects. Old Charon was extremely busy with his souls, arrayed in every kind of form and dress, with fires and furies in abundance to greet their arrival. One of the principal figures was that of Lodovico Gonzaga, brother to the Duke, representing a Cavalier of the Sun, arrayed in white velvet trimmed with rays of fire, and wearing a band of crimson silk lined with gold, saturated with inflammable liquids. Issuing in this dress out of a cave, he set fire to the belt, and instantly appeared enveloped in flames; for him alone being reserved the glory of giving freedom to the captives enchanted in the den of Apollidone and Grimanessa, an exploit that crowned the wonders of the scene. But a still more strange and serious accident occurred to Malespini than to any of the enchanted persons present. For he had ordered a choice selection of wines to be in readiness to refresh the actors and their assistants. Now some of these were inadvertently placed among some bottles of very fine aqua-vitæ mixed with camphor and other ingredients calculated to make a fine display of fireworks, which the devils were to spout out of their mouths and their eyes without injuring any one. It happened that Charon in his frequent voyages was intrusted with a quantity of rich dresses and ornaments, esteemed of much more value than the souls whom they adorned, for the better protection of which some of the Duke’s guards had been appointed. Observing the number of flasks, and supposing them filled with good wine, as, in truth, many of them were, they took an opportunity as soon as possible of emptying them of their contents. Just then poor Malespini came wandering by with scorched eyebrows, inflamed cheeks, and with little of his mustachios remaining, faint and weary “with excess of toil,” and dying of thirst. Imagining that his part was nearly played and the festival almost over, he seized upon one of these fatal flasks, and without further consideration swallowed a great part of it at a single draught. But finding it to be pure aqua-vitæ, he stopped about half way; for he had yet the task of arraying a huge porter in a demon’s habiliments, who was to bear in his hand a large machine made of fine linen steeped in spirits, which he was afterwards to set on fire, and it therefore behoved him to husband his strength. In this blaze the demon was to run round the top of a large tower in the city of Pluto, and to precipitate himself thence into the depths of the inferno; 438 but, seized with a sudden qualm on beholding the place, and hearing the noise and confusion of demons below, which he imagined too nearly resembled the reality, no persuasions or threats could prevail upon him to venture upon the perilous leap. Malespini, determined not to bate a jot of what appertained to his duty on the occasion, when he found that neither force nor entreaties availed, gave him a sound cuff on the side of the head, and resolving not to disappoint the spectators, seized upon his devil’s dress, arrayed himself in it, took the blazing machine, and ran with the utmost speed round the great tower; thence, throwing his blazing emblems before him, with the spirit of a real demon he took a flying leap in pursuit of them, thanks to the quantity of brandy he had swallowed, which considerably diminished the height of the tower. Almost every one who beheld him, and even Aretino himself, astonished at the sight, and believing it to be the porter, pronounced him a dead man; but, thanks again, perhaps, to the brandy, our hero sustained no kind of harm. Yet this formed only a part of the grand exhibitions of the evening, the whole of which it would be an idle attempt to describe. The battle of the cavaliers, the enchanted bridge, and the disenchantment of the lovers, would each require a separate story, while the jousts and games that followed, attended by the flower of beauty and the pride of chivalry of all Italy, gave a joyous termination to those happy nuptials, from which no one returned home without some proofs of the munificence of the Duke.
Once free, after drawing many deep sighs, not for love, but to recover his breathing, he was about to take his leave of the lady and secure his escape while there was yet time, when, seizing him half frantic in her arms, she conjured him not to abandon her alone to death and to dishonour. “But what can be done?” cried he, “how can you contrive to escape?” “Why,” said she, “if we could put somebody else into the trunk, there might be some excuse for letting you out.” “True,” said her lover; “but who can we find to take my place so that I may go, for it is quite time?” “Now I think of it,” returned the lady, “there is a young ass in the stable; if you would assist me to get it here, and shut it up in the box!” “Certainly I will do that,” replied the lover, though not much flattered at the idea of his successor; “I will do that; and let us go about it quickly.” So, having achieved this feat and kissed his fair deliverer tenderly, he ran out of the house; while the lady, having locked up the little donkey, very quietly went to rest. Ere long, however, she was roused by a tremendous noise at the door; all the relations she had in the world were arrived, and she went downstairs to welcome them herself. “Now,” cried the enraged husband, rushing in followed by the whole troop, “I will convince you of the truth of all I have said. Go in, go in! and you shall take this vile daughter of yours home with you after we have despatched her wretched paramour before her face!” This they one and all promised him to do, proceeding with lighted torches and drawn swords to the scene of action, and followed at a convenient distance by the women, extremely curious to behold the termination of the tragedy. The lady expressing the utmost astonishment at these proceedings and the strange reception she met with on all hands, her husband, without deigning to reply, lent her a pretty severe box on the ear, a species of compliment which was as eagerly returned. “Mind whom you have to deal with and what you say!” exclaimed the insulted fair one; “do you think I will be thus treated in the presence of my parents?” “Oh, thou vile, abandoned woman!” he returned; “what will you say when I show them your wicked paramour, whom we are going to kill before your face” and upon this a volley of abuse was launched on her from all sides, not a single one of her friends or relatives joining their voice to hers. “Yes, go on, go on!” she cried; “call me by all the horrid names you please; for I have the satisfaction of knowing that you all lie in your throats; yes, you do, you do! or else you are all stark mad: my husband must have driven you out of your wits.” “Let us inquire of this 441 chest,” retorted he; “let us hear what that will say!” “O villain!” cried his wife, “you know I never had the key in my life; and whoever you may have hidden here, I swear I have never had anything to say to him in all my life, and I trust that Heaven will help me, and make my innocence manifest to the world. Yes, and Heaven will interfere, for it is all a vile conspiracy to rob a poor inoffensive and injured woman of her chief crown and jewel, her innocence and honour!”
“Come, no whining!” cried the husband. “I have long known your practices; but I hardly thought that he could have made such a complete hypocrite of you: he seems to have taught you to some purpose indeed! Your time is at length come. I will give such proofs of your depravity! Come along, I am going to open the box. But first, my good friends, have your weapons ready, and draw closer round. Strike sure, and take good care he does not escape; for I can assure you he is a fierce and powerful fellow.” “Never fear,” they all cried at once; “we will do his business; I think we are a match for him!” and wrapping their mantles around them, and brandishing their swords, they entreated him to proceed. One of them even cried in an insulting tone, “Have you confessed yourself, villain? for you are likely to have no other priests to officiate than ourselves.” As the jealous husband was unlocking the trunk, his mother and sisters turned their heads aside, as if desirous of shunning the horrid sight, even the shedding of a wicked adulterer’s blood.
With hands and eyes intent upon the approaching slaughter the men of vengeance stood; the box opened, and the ass, uneasy at having been so long confined, got upon his legs, and the better to take his breath, brayed a long and discordant welcome to his friends. Such was the sudden shock he gave them, that some of the spectators fainted; the more fortunate ran away, and great was the terror and confusion before order could be restored. The more devout cried that it was a miracle sent to prove the innocence of the lady and the wicked design of injuring her reputation; so that with one accord changing the object of their resentment, they began to revile the poor merchant, and accuse him of the most flagitious conduct in attempting to ruin the reputation of his own wife: indeed, had he not quickly sought refuge elsewhere, the lady’s brothers would have consigned him to the fate they had prepared for her lover. It was some time before he was again received into favour by the lady and her friends, nor was he ever afterwards known to make the least complaint, although the visits of the lover were so often renewed as to attract the notice of everybody but himself.