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From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 204-209.



[Translated by Thomas Roscoe*]

IN the time of Lodovico Sforza, the unfortunate Duke of Milan, there was kept, among other living curiosities, in the ducal palace, a large and beautiful ape, whose amusing yet harmless manners, full of practical jests and witticisms, had long obtained for him the liberty of going at large. Such, indeed, was his reputation for prudence and good conduct that he was not merely permitted the range of the whole palace, but frequently visited the outskirts, in the vicinity of Maine, of Cusano, and San Giovanni, and was not unfrequently seen conversing with some friend upon the walls. In fact most people were eager to show their respect for him by presenting him with fruits and other dainties, no less from regard to his ducal patron, than to his own intrinsic merits.

The singular pleasure he afforded to all classes of society by his happy talents of various kinds was always a sufficient passport from place to place. But his favorite resort, among many others, was the house of an ancient gentlewoman, situated in the parish of San Giovanni, upon the walls, where he cultivated the society of her two sons, one of whom in particular, though at the head of a family, invariably received his monkey guest in the most amiable manner, making him as much at home as if he had been the lady’s favorite lapdog. These young men, perceiving their aging mother amused with the animal’s unequaled exhibitions 205 of his art, vied with each other in paying the most gratifying attentions to his monkeyship, and would certainly, had he not happened to have been ducal property, either have purchased or stolen him, merely out of regard to their mother. The whole household, likewise, received orders to treat him with the same invariable kindness and respect, studying what appeared most agreeable to his taste, so as to give him an affection for the old lady’s house. This last motive weighed so greatly with his apeship that he almost deserted his other neighbors in order to enjoy more of the society of these very agreeable friends, although he was careful to return to his own ducal residence at the castle in the evening.

During this time, the aged lady, becoming very infirm, no longer left her chamber, where she was affectionately attended by her whole family, who supplied her with every alleviation in the power of medical advice to bestow. Thither, occasionally, our facetious hero was also introduced for the purpose of awakening a smile on the wan features of the patient by his strange and amusing manners, receiving some delicate morsels in return from the poor lady’s own hand. As he possessed a natural taste, in common with most of his race, for every kind of sweets, he was in the habit of besieging the old lady’s room with great perseverance and assiduity, feasting upon the best confectionary with far higher zest than the poor patient herself. Worn out at length by long infirmities and age, she soon after departed this world, having first with becoming piety confessed herself and received the holy sacraments of our church, with the communion and extreme unction at the final close.

While the funeral ceremonies were preparing, and the last offices rendered to the deceased, the monkey appeared to pay remarkable attention to all that was going forward. The corpse being dressed, and placed on the funeral bier, the holy sisterhood then attended with the usual ceremonies, offering up hymns and aves to the Virgin for the soul of the deceased. The body was afterwards borne to the parish 206 church not far distant, not unobserved by the monkey, who watched the procession depart.

But he soon turned his attention to the state of things around him; and after feasting on the cake and wine, being a little elevated, he began to empty the boxes and drawers, and examine the contents. Having observed the deceased in her last habiliments, and the form of her headdress when she was laid out, the facetious ape immediately began to array himself in the cast-off garments, exactly in the manner he had witnessed; and so perfect was the resemblance that when he had covered himself up in bed, the physician himself would have been puzzled to detect the cheat. Here the false patient lay when the domestics entered the chamber; and suddenly perceiving the monkey thus dexterously laid out, they ran back in the utmost terror and surprise, believing that they had really seen either the corpse or the spirit of the deceased. After recovering sufficient presence of mind to speak, they declared, as they hoped to be saved, that they had seen their mistress reposing upon her sick couch as usual.

On the return of the two brothers with their friends and relatives from church, they directly resolved to ascend in a body into the sick chamber; and night already approaching, they all felt, in spite of their affected indifference, an unpleasant sensation on entering the room. Drawing near the bedside, they not only fancied they saw and heard a person breathe, but observing the coverings move, as if the patient were about to spring from the couch, they retreated with the utmost precipitation and alarm. When they had recovered their spirits a little, the guests requested that a priest might be sent for, to whom, on his arrival, they proceeded to explain the case.

On hearing the nature of it, the good friar, being of a truly prudent and pious turn, despatched a person back for his clerk, with orders to bring him the large ivory crucifix and the illuminated psalter. These, with the help of holy water, the wafer, and the priest’s stole, were judged a sufficient match for the devices of the Evil One; and 207 thus armed, repeating the seven psalms, with due ejaculations to the Virgin, they once more ascended the stairs, the clerk, in obedience to the friar, bearing the huge ivory crucifix at their head. He had previously exhorted the brothers to have no fears for the final salvation of their parent, as the number and excellence of her confessions were an effectual preservative against the most diabolical efforts of the adversary. He maintained that there was not the least cause for alarm, for what the servants had beheld were merely Satanic illusions, which he had frequently been in the habit of dispelling with singular success; and that having made use of his exorcisms, he would then bless the house, and, with the Lord’s help, lay such a curse upon the bad spirits, as would deprive them of the least inclination to return.

When they arrived at the chamber door, all the guests, in spite of these encouraging exhortations and the sprinkling of holy water, drew back, while the bold friar ordered his clerk to advance in the name of the Lord; which he did, followed only by his superior. Approaching the sick bed, they perceived Monna Bertuccia, our facetious ape, laid out, as we have said, in perfect personification of the deceased. After mumbling some prayers, and flourishing the cross in vain, for some time, they began to entertain doubts of their success, though at the same time they felt ashamed to retreat. So sprinkling the holy water with a more liberal hand, crying: “Asperges me domine; asperges me;” they complimented the ape with a portion of it in his face. Expecting upon this to be next saluted with a blow of the huge cross, he suddenly began to grin and chatter in so horrible a manner that the sacred vessel fell from the priest’s hands, and the clerk at the same time dropping the crucifix, they both fled together. Such was their haste, that they stumbled one over the other down the stairs, the priest falling upon his clerk when they reached the bottom.

On hearing the sudden crash, and the terrified exclamations of the good friar, “Jesus, Jesus, Domine, adjuva me,” the brothers, followed by the rest of the party, rushed towards 208 the spot, eagerly inquiring what dreadful accident had occurred. Both of the holy personages gazed on the guests without being able to utter a word, but their pallid looks spoke volumes sufficient to answer all demands. The poor clerk fainted away, no less from excess of fear than from the terrible fall he had just received.

Having obliged both to partake of some restoratives, the priest at length summoned courage enough to say: “It is true, my dear children, I have indeed seen your poor departed mother in the form of a fierce demon”; when just as he had finished these words, the cause of all their disturbance, desirous of securing the remnants of the feast, was heard approaching at a pretty brisk and clattering pace down the unlucky stairs. Without giving any of the party time to discover a fresh place of refuge, or even to prepare their minds for his reception, he bounced suddenly into the room, armed cap-à-pie, in the fearful petticoats of the deceased. His head was dressed to a nicety exactly in the same manner as the old lady’s, and his whole body very decently arrayed in her late habiliments. He placed himself in the midst of the company, all of whom stood rooted to the spot, silent and awe-stricken, awaiting the dreadful scene that might ensue.

The wrinkles in his countenance certainly bore no small resemblance to those in the features of the deceased, to which his very serious demeanor added not a little. Yet, after a few secret ejaculations for divine protection on the part of the guests, the facetious visitor was soon recognized by one of the brothers, the only person who had possessed courage to look the monkey in the face on his sudden entrance into the room. Momentary prayers and exclamations were then as suddenly converted into bursts of laughter, and in a few minutes the author of all their sufferings began to resume the usual hilarity of his disposition, to exhibit his best maneuvers in the saltic art, and with the greatest politeness, severally to accost the company.

He evinced, however, the utmost aversion to disrobing himself of his new honors, snapping at any one who ventured 209 to approach him, while he performed his antics in the ablest and most whimsical manner. In full dress he thus set out on his return to the castle, meeting with reiterated plaudits as he passed along the streets. In this state he was welcomed home by the domestics of the castle, producing infinite diversion among the courtiers, and all those who witnessed his exploits. Nor did the two brothers punish him for his involuntary fault; rather kindly permitting him to return to his old haunts, where he feasted and frolicked away his days, until he attained to a happy and respectable old age.

*  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. It was also included in another collection by The Bibliophile Society, which is here as well. But in the latter case, the publishers did have the decency to credit Roscoe as the translator.


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