From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 123-125.123
IN the castle of Pietra Santa, belonging to the state of Lucca, there resided a certain castellan of the name of Vitale, who was an honorable man, and stood very well in the world. His wife was lately dead, leaving him a son of about twenty years of age, and two girls, seven and ten years old respectively. The boy, understanding his grammar well, was thought entitled to a university education, and sent to study law at Bologna. During his studies there, his father again married, and being pleased from time to time to hear of his son’s extraordinary progress, supplied him with books and money to the value of forty or fifty florins at a time. Now this lessening the income of the house, his father’s new wife was by no means pleased with it; and after many sour looks, she began to express her aversion to the plan more openly, saying in the true language of the stepmother:
“This is money really thrown away; you may send as much as you please, but you do not know who pockets it all..”
“Why, my love, what can you mean?” said the fond father; “reflect how much we are ourselves interested in it; for if my son should happen to become judge or doctor at law, we may consider our fortune made.”
“Our fortune made, indeed!” returned his wife, “I think you are deceived there; he is a mere dead-weight upon you, and will pull you down before long, you will see.”
Continuing to revile her stepson in this strain, whenever her husband made him a remittance, she was in the habit of repeating her phrase of his being a dead-weight upon the family. Such was the extent to which she carried her 124 enmity in this respect, that it at length reached the ears of the young man, together with the appellation she had bestowed upon him. Though he said nothing, the phrase was not lost upon him; and in the course of some months, having made great progress in the civil law, he returned to Pietra Santa to see his relations.
His father, overjoyed to behold him, directly ordered a warm supper to be prepared, in which was included a fine roasted capon, and invited the neighbouring parson to sup with them, who, in consideration of his cloth, took his station at the head of the table; next to him sat the father with his new wife, and then his two daughters, while the young student took his station by himself at a distance. As soon as the capon made its appearance, the stepmother, eyeing him askance with the utmost malignity, began to whisper to her husband:
“Why do not you ask him to cut up the capon in a grammatical style, and you will know if he has learned anything.”
this he did, observing: “As you are going to carve, my son, let us see you do it by rule of grammar.”
The youth, who had sense enough to see what was going forward, answered he would do so very willingly; and taking his knife, he cut off the capon’s crest, and handed it on a plate to the priest, saying:
“As you are our spiritual father, and wear a priest’s shaved crown, I present you with the shaved crown of the capon.”
Then decapitating it, he gave the head to his father.
“Being the head of the family, sir, the head is justly your own.”
He next cut off the bare legs, and handed them to his stepmother:
“As it is your business, madam, to go up and down looking after your household affairs, and this cannot be done without a pair of legs, please to accept them for your share.”
The wings were then separated, which he very politely handed to his sisters, saying: “As these young ladies ought 125 to fly out of the house and settle elsewhere as speedily as possible, I am happy to present them with wings to fly away with. For myself,” he added, taking the whole of the breast and body of the capon for his share, “as you know I am a corpo morto — a dead weight, madam, I rest satisfied with what is left.”
He proceeded to feast very heartily upon the tenderest parts of the bird. If the lady had before shown herself offended, she was now almost mad with vexation, murmuring:
“The devil give him good of it! do you see what you have done?” she whispered to her husband, “It is all your own doing.”
Nor were some of the rest of the company much more pleased; in particular the priest, who sat contemplating the capon’s crown as if it might have been a mitre. But before setting out on his return to Bologna, the youth so very humorously explained the meaning of what he had done, that he won the good-will of the whole party, not excepting his stepmother, who only wished he might never live to return.
* 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.