From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 117-122.117
THE neighborhood of San Lorenzo, near Santa Orsa, in Florence, was the favourite haunt of certain blind mendicants who were in the habit of rising early to take their respective rounds. Some took their station at the Church of the Nunziata, some in St. Michael’s Gardens, while others sang songs in the suburbs; all, however, agreeing to meet at St. Laurence’s Bell to dine, after having made their morning calls; for the host of the said inn wholly devoted himself to the entertainment of gentlemen of their cloth. It happened that two of the party were sitting together one morning after taking some refreshment, talking over the state of their affairs.
“I first became blind,” said one, “about twelve years ago, since which time I have made, perhaps a hundred pounds.”
“Then what an unlucky fellow I am,” cried the other, “not to have blinded myself sooner! for I have only saved about twenty.”
“Why, how long have you been blind?” inquired his companion: to which the latter answered:
“Not more than three years.”
During this conversation, another beggar of the name 118 of Lazzero da Corneto joined them, saying, “God bless you, my dear brothers!”
“What are you, friend?” inquired they.
“I am in the dark like you; what is it you were discoursing of?” and they told him.
Lazzero on this said: “Well, I was born blind, and I am now forty-seven years old; if I had saved all the money I got, I should now be one of the richest blind men in all Maremma.”
“I can find no one,” said the three years blind, “who has not done better than myself.” He soon, however, added, in the course of conversation: “What is done is done; let us leave the past to itself, and enter into a new company. I think we three should do very well together; and we might make a common fund. We can sally out together, and take care of one another should one of us happen to get into straits.”
The other two approved of the plan, and they shook hands and swore a good round oath over the table to play each other fair. The new firm continued for some time; but a person who had happened to overhear the terms they had made, seeing them standing one Wednesday at the gate of San Lorenzo, bestowed upon one of them a farthing, saying, “ Divide this shilling among you,” a gift which he frequently repeated in the same words.
The man who received it at length said, “Faith! I think it feels more like a farthing than a shilling, from its size.”
“Where is it? said the others; “do not let us begin to impose upon each other already.”
“How impose?” replied the man; “I put what I get into the bag, and so do you, I hope.”
Lazzero here observed, “Good faith, my brethren, is a fine thing”; and so the affair stood. Though it first infused suspicion into the whole firm, still they continued to meet and to unite their spoils every eight days, and to divide them afterwards into three parts.
About the middle of August they resolved as usual to attend the feast of our Lady of Pisa, each preparing 119 himself for the journey with his little dog, his money-dish, and a correct version of the intemerata, which they sang in every village through which they passed. They arrived at Santa Gonda on the Sabbath, the day fixed for the division of their spoils; and going into an inn, they requested a private room for the evening to settle their accounts. Taking possession of it along with their four-footed guides, with their cane knots in their hands, about the time of going to repose, one of them, called Salvadore, inquired what would be the best time to settle business; which it was agreed to do as soon as the whole family was gone to rest. When the time came, Grazia, the three years blind, said:
‘Come, let us sit down, and each count what he has got, and whoever has most must make it up to the others.”
This being understood, they set to work, and having enumerated the whole of their gains, Lazzero said:
“I find I have just five shillings and fourpence.”
“And I,” continued Salvadore, “have exactly three shillings and twopence.”
“So far good,” cried Grazia, “very good; and I myself have just two shillings.”
“But how can that be, in the devil’s name?” exclaimed the others.
“Indeed, I cannot tell,” answered Grazia.
“Cannot tell!” said they; “but you must have some more shillings somewhere; you are playing us false; do you think it is the firm of the wolf and the sheep? Your name is indeed Grazia, but I think it will be Disgrazia, a disgrace, sir, to us.”
The other replied: “I know not what you mean by that, sir; but if you will recollect, I told you before that whenever that fellow said he gave me a shilling, I thought it was only a farthing. However, I put it into the bag, such as it was, and I would have you to know that I am just as fair and honorable as yourselves.”
“No, you are a perfect Judas,” said Salvadore, “and you cheat us in every way you can.”120
“Then you lie in your throat,” replied Grazia; and the next moment they began to shake their fists and to cuff each other terribly, while all their money fell upon the floor.
Lazzero, hearing the strife begun, took his club and hazarded some hearty blows in the dark to part them. Feeling the superior effect of the cudgel, both the combatants had recourse to theirs, and they all fell to work, while the whole of their spoils lay scattered on the ground. The action becoming rather warm, the dogs began to take part in it, barking and pulling at their masters to persuade them to desist. Loud was the concert they made amongst them, for their masters, feeling the effects of their teeth, began to return the compliment with their clubs, upon which the dogs howled out still more piteously. The host, sleeping in the room below, said to his wife:
“Surely the demons of confusion must have broken loose above-stairs; did you ever hear such an infernal noise since you were born?”
Both of them rose from bed, and taking a light, went forthwith to the room door, calling for admittance. But the blind combatants were too deeply engaged to attend to them, though they heard them knocking all the while. So the host burst open the door, and proceeding to separate the party, he received a pretty smart blow over his face, on which he immediately knocked one of them down, and seizing the cudgel, he began to apply it with so much more precision, swearing all the while, that in a short time, with the help of his wife, who screamed and cuffed as women do, he remained master of the field. He ordered the whole party off, but they were scarcely in a condition to move, and one of the dogs seized the landlady’s petticoat, which it tore clean away. The floor was now strewn with the wounded and their spoils; while Lazzero declared to the host that he believed he was a dead man.
“I wish you were,” replied the host, “you make such an infernal noise; so up and be packing; I will have no such doings in my house.”
The blind men, in the utmost distress, entreated to be permitted 121 some hours’ grace, being beaten black and blue, and their money being dispersed on all sides.
“Money! what money?” cried the host; ‘you have nearly knocked my eyes out with that huge club.”
“I lament that,” Lazzero said; “pardon us, my dear sir, for we are all of us as blind as a stone wall.”
“That is no reason you should blind me too,” said the host; “so get out of my house, you rascals.”
“Then be so good as to gather up our money for us, and we will go,” said one of them: which the host did, amounting to about half the original sum, observing there might perhaps be near five shillings, of which he must keep two for their entertainment, leaving them one each. He would then, he said, appeal to the vicar for damages against their dogs, which had torn his wife’s petticoat; and this would be something more. Great was the lamentation now raised by the blind men, beseeching him for the love of heaven, not to ruin them utterly, but take what they could afford to give and let them go.
“Rogues,” said the host, “you must give me something to cure my eyes, or I shall probably be as blind as you. Besides, my wife’s petticoat cost me ever so much.”
In short, they were compelled to come to his terms, and give up the whole of the money which had fallen, amounting to more than half of their profits. They were then obliged to turn out, more dead than alive, well bruised and beaten, so that they cut a still more piteous figure than before, which somewhat helped to replenish their purse as they journeyed along towards Pisa. Arriving at an inn near Marti, they began to abuse each other afresh, when the host, commiserating their forlorn appearance, inquired who could have used them so.
“Never mind that,” they replied, “but bring each of us a pint of wine to wash the remembrance of it away.”
They had likewise to dress their wounds and set their broken legs and arms; after which Grazia thus addressed the others:
“Now I will tell the honest truth. I never thrust a thief’s 122 hand into the money-bag since we entered into partnership, and broken bones are all the reward I have earned, besides being nearly ruined. But short folly is better than long, and I will even verify the old saying” ‘Uno, due e tre, io mi scompagno da te.’ I will have nothing more to do with you, and be witness to it, our good host.”
So he afterwards proceeded on his journey to our Lady’s festival alone, leaving Lazzero and Salvadore to fight their own battles in future. As they were now all of them both lame and blind, great was the harvest which they reaped at our holy Lady of Pisa’s shrine, and they always considered their engagement as the most fortunate event in the world.
* Elf.Ed. — Thomas Roscoe is not credited as the translator, but this story is included in his book, The Italian Novelists, also here on Elfinspell. In this series, the spelling is Americanized and there are minor changes in punctuation and format, mostly more paragraphs than in Roscoe’s translation. To see the original version go here.