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. 82-93.
Novels of Sacchetti.
He sprung from the noble family of the Sacchetti, and was born at Florence about the year 1335. His father was Benci di Uguccione (de’ Sacchetti), usually termed Il Buono, the Good, who perceiving his son’s decided taste for literary pursuits, permitted him to indulge the poetical vein he early discovered, without reproach or molestation. His excellence in this career, though not of the loftiest kind, was such as to merit the attention of his friends and contemporaries, many of his effusions, and in particular his “Rime,” being very generally sought after and admired, no less for their pleasing and easy style than for the depth and pathos of their sentiments. In his poetry, which has never been printed, he took Petrarch for his model.
His poetical character, indeed, soon rose so high in the public estimation, that he was selected by the Senate of Florence, as one of the most approved writers, to compose some lines for an inscription on a grand statue of a lion, placed before the Palagio de’ Priori in 1377, and another over the gate of the Udienza de’ Signori, as well as in other public places. His superior talents and acquirements becoming further appreciated by his countrymen, he was raised to some of the first offices in the Florentine state, being made one of the members of the Council of Eight, and afterwards of the Priori. In the year 1385 he was likewise chosen, though against his express wishes, ambassador to the republic of Genoa, an appointment which he only avoided by entering upon the office of Podesta of Bibbienna in Casentino, to which he had been elected at the same period. A similar office he exercised in 1392 as chief magistrate of San Miniato, and in 1396 at Faenza, where he rose high in the esteem of Astorre Manfredi, the lord of that city. On his return to his native place in the year 1398, he was made governor of the Florentine provinces in Romagna, and during his residence at Portico contracted an intimacy with Lodovico degli Alidosi, lord of Imola, with Pino degli Ordelaffi di Forli, and with Pietro Gambacorti, lord of Pisa, besides many others of distinguished rank and character. He was also known to the great Boccaccio, by whose example he was first induced to devote his leisure hours to fictitious narrative and the improvement of his native tongue.84
At different periods of his life Sacchetti visited Milan and Genoa; and, most probably with some commercial views, he went as far as Sclavonia. In none of his various employments, however, did he realise much worldly wealth, and the inconveniences to which he is said sometimes to have been subjected proved most serious to a delicate habit of body, to which he was liable from early youth.
In his manners he was open and animated, while his conversation is said to have been extremely agreeable and witty. We may gather indeed from his “Rime,” and still more from his “Novelle,” that these latter qualities have justly been attributed to him, though imbued with a species of humour, whose national peculiarities possess little relish for us: a criterion, however, by which no author ought to be judged.
Sacchetti thrice entered into matrimonial engagements, and had several sons by his first marriage, of whom we can give no account. The precise period of his decease has never been ascertained, though it is believed to have occurred about the year 1400, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. Besides his “Novelliero,” consisting of three hundred tales, we have to enumerate among his works a pretty large collection of sonnets, canzoni, and capitoli, with many other pieces, as well serious as comic. The most singular, and perhaps the most esteemed among these, are some verses entitled “Cacce,” written in the dithyrambic measure, expremely spirited and pleasing.
From the numerous MS. copies of his tales, it is conjectured that Sacchetti was one of the most favourite novelists of his day. Testimonies to his merit are extremely numerous from the pens of the chief critics of Italy. Crescimbeni ranks him next to Boccaccio, and the learned editors of the corrected copy of the “Decameron” observe: “We have frequently also availed ourselves of Franco di Benci Sacchetti, our illustrious fellow-citizen, contemporary with Boccaccio, who, though much younger, by following his example, succeeded in acquiring that easy and familiar, rather than polished and laboured style, for which he is remarkable. The simplicity and purity of his language is very apparent in his three hundred ‘Novellette,’ founded chiefly upon historical and familiar incidents, though a few are to be considered wholly fictitious. From the similarity that exists between their words and language, we perceive that, like Boccaccio, he traces his origin to an early and fortunate age.” Nor are the compilers of the “Della Cruscan Dictionary” less lavish of their approbation, frequently quoting him as an authority for their words; while Tassoni and Borghini make frequent use of him in explaining some of the more ancient words and phrases in the “Novelle Antiche,” entitled the “Novellino.”
The MS. copy of his tales lay for a long period incomplete and neglected, nor was it until 1724 that two hundred and fifty of the three hundred stories were edited by Bottari, from two MSS. preserved in the Laurentian Library, the most correct that could at that period be discovered. This edition was printed at Naples, with the date of Florence, “and,” observes Mr. Dunlop, “was followed by two impressions, facsimiles of the former, which can hardly be distinguished from it.” Since this publication, eight more of the stories have been added 85 to the two hundred and fifty, many of which, however, in the MS. are deficient, and there would be no great difficulty in extending them yet nearer to the original number, did not a proper regard for the author’s reputation temper in some degree the admiration of his editors.
In regard to the spirit and character of his stories, they are perhaps not so well adapted as those of some less skilful and humorous writers for general perusal, a circumstance which will account for the comparatively small proportion in the following selection. Neither M. Sismondi in his “Literature of the South,”* nor Mr. Dunlop in his “View of the Progress of Fiction,” appears nearly so partial to his manner of relation as most of his Italian commentators. The latter of these observes: “At the present day I fear the tales of Sacchetti will hardly amuse in more favourable circumstances. His work wants that dramatic form which is a principal charm in the ‘Decameron,’ and which can alone bestow unity or connection on this species of composition. The merit of a pure and easy style is indeed allowed him by all the critics of his own country, and his tales are also regarded by the Italian antiquaries, who frequently avail themselves of his works, as most valuable records of some curious historical facts, and of customs that had fallen into disuse; but their intrinsic merit, merely considered as stories, is not great.”† These observations applied in a general sense to the novels of Sacchetti are extremely just, nor will any one who has been at the pains of an exact perusal and examination of nearly three hundred of the author’s stories feel inclined to dissent from their general truth. Yet we are to consider that so voluminous a novelist as Sacchetti could scarcely fail to produce a few out of so great a number (and the amount is certainly in the author’s favour), of such a character as to entitle them to an exemption from the censure pronounced by Mr. Dunlop, no less than by M. Sismondi. These will be found to be such as are less tinctured with the peculiarities of his style and humour, whose interest consists rather in the natures of the incidents, than in the facetious attempts, the forced witticisms, and repartees of the author. Still, however, they are rare gems, which require so much toil in their discovery, and in their separation from the mines of dross in which they are buried, that they will scarcely, such as we have found them, afford the reader amusement at all proportioned to the pains they have cost in the selection. In his “View of the Literature of the South,” M. Sismondi remarks: “Au reste, quelque éloge que l’on fasse de la pureté et de l’élégance de son style je le trouve plus curieux à consulter sur les mœurs de son temps qu’entraînant par sa gaieté lorsqu’il croit être le plus plaisant.”
* See vol. ii. p. 21, of the English translation.
† History of Fiction, vol. ii. p. 357.
The case he had here in hand was that of a wealthy abbot, who had been fined by the governor in four florins for his negligent care in the education of two mastiff whelps intrusted to his spiritual direction, but which had turned out somewhat too cruel and quarrelsome. The covetous father upon this cried out for mercy, to which the governor merely replied, that he must infallibly pay the fine, unless he had the wit to give a satisfactory explanation of four points he should propose to him; which were these: “What distance, father, do you apprehend it is from hence to heaven? What quantity of water is there in the sea? What do people do in the infernal regions? And fourthly, What may be the value of my person?” The good father hung his head on one side in a reflecting attitude for some time, but at length only uttered a deep sigh, perfectly at a loss what to do. To gain time, however, he begged he might be allowed to return home, to consider these important questions somewhat more maturely. His Excellency would only grant him a single day, and, moreover, made him enter into good security for his speedy return. The priest, in a doleful mood, then measured his steps back again to his abbey, blowing like a broken-winded steed. On his arrival, the first person he met was the jolly miller, who, observing his melancholy air, inquired into the nature of his distress and the exhausted state of his breathing. “I may well be out of breath,” he exclaimed, “when his Excellency has set me no less than four knotty points to solve, which neither the wisdom of Solomon, nor that of the Stagyrite himself, would have been able to unriddle.” “Very likely,” returned the miller; “but if you will trust to me, I will bring you through the scrape at once.” “The Lord grant you could,” said the poor abbot, with a pious ejaculation. “Yes, and the Lord and all the saints in heaven will, if you will only let them; that I think I may fairly say.” “If you were really in earnest, and could be as good as your word, Mr. Miller, you might afterwards count upon me in everything during the whole of your life.” “That is saying a good deal too,” returned the miller, “but I will give it full credit for the sake of your cloth.” “To be sure,” said the reverend father; “but how do you propose to get me off the horns of this dilemma? that is the question.” “How!” exclaimed the miller in a scornful tone; “why, I shall shave my beard, and take your hood and cloak, and present myself to-morrow morning in your place. Trust me, I will answer his Excellency’s questions, whatever they may be; and he shall never find out the difference between us, except it be from the difference in our wits.” “The Lord bless thee for an impudent varlet!” cried the honest father. “As I hope for salvation, I verily believe thou wilt bring me through! Get thee gone, and rely upon thy impudence; it will appear a thousand years until I hear the result.” Having disguised himself in the good abbot’s suit, our knight of the white hat accordingly set out for the city early the ensuing day, and soon arriving at his Excellency’s 87 palace, knocked pretty loudly at the door, telling the porter he had brought the requisite answers for his master, which he must deliver by word of mouth.
Hearing who he was, his Excellency ordered the abbot to be brought straightway into his presence, wondering how he had already prepared himself for his task. The false friar, with reverence due, accosted his Excellency with a sidling air, having admirably metamorphosed his physiognomy and imitating the abbot’s voice to perfection. With very little ceremony he was required to repeat what he had learned in the way of explanation of the four points in dispute. Expressing his readiness, he was first requested to point out the exact distance between earth and heaven.
“Having considered the matter very maturely,” said the miller, “I find there are just thirty-six millions eight hundred and fifty-four miles, seventy-two yards, and twenty-two feet.” “You must have measured it very exactly,” exclaimed his Excellency; “but how will you prove it is correct? “How!” retorted the bold miller’ “as such matters are always proved. Let your Excellency refer it to arbitration, and if it should not be found upon a second measurement exactly what I have stated, hang me up by the neck upon the next tree. It seems you want to know next how much water there is contained in the sea. Now this has cost me a good deal of trouble, for it would neither stand still while I measured it, nor stop from receiving its tributary streams. Yet I have nevertheless compassed the difficulty, and find there are just twenty-five thousand nine hundred and eighty-two millions of vats, seven barrels, seven bottles, and two glasses of water in the sea.” “But how have you learned that, Mr. Abbot?” inquired the governor. “Why, if you do not like to believe me,” retorted the other, “order the proper vessels to be prepared, and measure it again. If you do not find just as much as I have told you, quarter me alive without any mercy. The third question, I think, you want resolved, is how people contrive to employ themselves in the world below. To this I answer, they do as much as we do here; they cut and hack one another until they are weary of such sport; they persecute and they hang one another.” “But what are your reasons for this opinion?” “Do you ask me for reasons?” retuned the miller. “Why, I spoke with the very man who returned from a tour there, the same from whom the divine Florentine received his account of the infernal government, and the whole of its civil and judicial polity; but the traveller, I believe, is now dead, and went back again. And if you are not satisfied with my word for the truth of it, I refer you to him, and would advise you to send and see. The fourth and last of your questions concerns the worth of your own respected person; and I tell you it amounts to neither more nor less than ten shillings and five pence.”
Upon hearing this, Messer Bernabo rose in a furious passion, crying, “Villain, I will make you eat your words. How, you rogue abbot, am I worth no more than an old rusty pan?
The poor miller, beginning to quake in his shoes, entreated in a somewhat milder tone that his Excellency would but deign to hear 88 his reasons, saying, “You are aware, my honoured lord, that our great Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, was sold for only thirty pence, and surely will not be offended at being rated one mark lower.”
The moment he heard this answer, the governor was convinced he had no longer the honest abbot to deal with, and eyeing him more narrowly, he perceived him to be of larger dimensions, both in body and mind, than his friend the honest abbot could boast.
“You say very true,” he exclaimed, “but you are not the abbot, friend: at least I have you there.” The poor miller, fearing upon this that it was all over with him, fell piteously upon his knees, with uplifted hands, confessing it was true he was only the good father’s grinder of corn. He then proceeded to explain the occasion of his appearance in this disguise, for the mere purpose of amusing all parties, but of giving offence to none.
“Then by all the saints in heaven,” cried Messer Bernabo, “I swear, since he has made thee abbot, an abbot thou shall remain. By this sword I confirm his decree, and henceforth he shall serve thee, abbot, as thine honest miller, and cheat thee of thy flour. The proceeds of the monastery are thine, those of the mill shall be his;” and this sentence he strictly enforced.
On rousing themselves once more, one of them inquired of the other whether he had yet succeeded. “I know not,” was the reply; “ but I know that our host’s is the best wine I ever drank: the truth is, I have never thought about it since dinner, and now I hardly know where I am.” “And I declare it has been the same with me,” answered his friend; “the Lord only knows what we shall do! However, we will stay here to-day and to-night, for the night is always favourable to memory; we cannot fail to recollect the whole.” To this the other agreed; and they stayed there the remainder of the day, repeating the experiment of the wine, frequently finding themselves in the clouds, where, however, they found nothing of their mission. The same story was repeated at supper; and they afterwards with difficulty found their way to bed. At breakfast the next morning the inquiry was as vainly repeated, both declaring that they had not so much as dreamed about the matter, and that they had not got the most distant notion of it, having never slept so sound in all their lives. “The devil is in the wine, I think,” cried one, “let us mount horse again, and see what that will do; it will come when we are not thinking about it on the road.” So they again set out, occasionally asking each other as they went, “Well, have you got it yet?” “No; have you? “Not I, indeed.” And in this way they journeyed along till they came to Arezzo, where they alighted at one of the first hotels. There they retired into a private room, for the purpose of putting their heads seriously together, as it was quite time to recollect what was their business. But I am sorry to add, it was all in vain; and such was their hopeless condition, that one said, “Come, let us go; and God help us at the worst!” But will He help us?” said the other. “What must we say? what do we know about the matter?” “Well, but we must go through with the business; so let us go and do our best.” So, trusting to Fortune, they requested an audience of the bishop, saying they had some matters of importance to communicate to him; and being introduced into his presence, they made a very low obeisance, and remained silent. Upon this the bishop with great dignity approached them, and taking them by the hand, said: “You are welcome, gentlemen; what tidings of import may you bring?” Each of the ambassadors now looked at the other, and bowing, said, “Do you speak!” “No, sir,” was the reply; “do you speak, sir; I cannot think of it;” till at length the boldest of the two, addressing the bishop, observed: “We come, my lord, as ambassadors from your poor servants of Casentino, and I can assure your Grace that both those who send us and we who are sent are equally devoted to you; but, please your Grace, we are all of us men of fact, but of few words: our mission was intrusted to us in haste; and whatever may be the occasion of it, either our assembly must have informed us wrong, or we have in some way misunderstood 90 them. Nevertheless, we humbly recommend both them and ourselves to your Grace’s good offices; though what possessed them to send us on such a mission, or ourselves to come, we cannot exactly say.” The good bishop, like a wise man, only patting them on the shoulder, said, “Well, well, my friends, it is all right; go home, and say to my dear children of Casentino that I shall always be happy to serve them every way in my power; so much so, that henceforward they need be at no expense in appointing ambassadors to my court; let them only write to me, and I will reply agreeably to their wishes.”
The bishop then taking leave of them, our ambassadors resumed their way, saying as they went, “Let us take care not to fall into the same error on our return.” “But,” said one, “we cannot easily do that; we have got nothing to remember.” “Yet we must have our wits about us,” returned the other; “for they will ask what we said in our oration, and what was the reply. For if the good people were to suspect that our embassy, like many others, was all a joke, they would never employ us again; and farewell to our occupation, — it is gone.” To this the more politic of the two replied, “Oh, leave that to me; we will continue in office, trust me. I will tell them such a story about the embassy, and what passed on both sides, as would deceive wiser heads than theirs. The bishop shall say such polite things of them as shall make them in good humour with themselves for an age to come. I will tell them of the letter, and how he thinks himself highly honoured by their alliance.” “That is well thought,” said the other; “and let us spur along a little, that we may get in time for dinner at the same inn, — you know where.” “That is well thought,” echoed the other; and mending their pace at the idea of the Frontignac, they soon dismounted, all in a heat, and without waiting for dinner, called out for some of the same wine. “Good sirs,” replied the waiter, “we have some better than ever;” and the ambassadors kept him pretty sharply employed in drawing the bottles, until the wine began to get low, and their politic heads somewhat too elevated. Grieved to hear this, these patterns of diplomacy were compelled to mount again, and the next stage or two brought them into the presence of their employers, where, finding it easier to recollect their own lies than the truths which had been reposed in them, they mystified the good people in such a manner that they were highly pleased with the success of the embassy. They talked in so bold and lofty a tone of the orations they had delivered, that some of the audience compared them to Tully and Quintilian; and the thanks of the assembly being unanimously voted to them, they were afterwards promoted to other offices of great honour and emolument. Nor will this appear very extraordinary if we reflect on the sort of people, of a higher rank than our heroes, whom we every day see intrusted with public missions, and who are about as much suited to their business as a common trooper taken from the ranks; and yet they write long letters, assuring the Government that they are busied day and night in the affairs of the nation, and that all the lucky events which fall out are wholly to be imputed to their skill. Did they tell truth, however, they would own that they had as little merit in bring them about as a cabbage, 91 or any other vegetating substance, though they are richly recompensed and promoted to the highest honours, in consideration of the ingenious lies and forgeries which they pass upon their countrymen.
It happened that the Florentine republic fixed upon him to proceed to the election of their Podesta, and leaving the city during Lent, our hero took his way towards Bologna, thence to Ferrara, and passing on, arrived late in the evening at a gloomy and wet-looking place called the Ca Saladega. Alighting at the inn, and having secured his trunks and horses for fear of the neighbouring gipsies and banditti, no less than the pilgrims who were all gone to rest, he inquired of the host after supper where he was to sleep. The man replied, “You must rest as you best can: go in there, the beds are full of pilgrims, but they are all I have. You may perhaps find a corner somewhere; at least you can try.” Poor Lapaccio, half in the dark, went groping along to find a place, but they were all occupied, with the exception of that of an Hungarian, who, having died the day before, lay alone. But our hero not knowing this, for he would have preferred being roosted alive, very innocently took his station at the other side. The deceased gentleman, however, appearing to our hero to take up too much room, the latter very gently requested him to go a little further. But his bedfellow remained still, appearing to take no notice; upon which, repeating his request, with a slight push, he begged him for charity’s sake to make a little more room. Finding all was still, Lapaccio, a little impatiently, cried, “Pray do stir yourself, for a lazy, ill-natured clown!” But he might as well have spoken to the wall. Until, losing all patience, he began to swear, “The devil take the fellow! Will you move, I say?” And, as the dead man still took no notice, our hero, drawing in his legs, and 92 holding by the bed-post with all his force, launched out both his heels at him in such a style, as hitting him plump in the ribs, sent him with a terrific fall fairly out of bed. So heavy, indeed, was it, that our hero said to himself, “Alas! what have I done?” and turning to the side where the body fell, he said in a milder tone, “Come, get up. You are not hurt, are you? Get into bed!”
But his companion permitted him to repeat the request till he was tired; he would neither get up nor come to bed; and poor Lapaccio began to be seriously afraid he had done him a mortal injury. Sadly perplexed and frightened, he got up — he looked — he felt at him — and the more he looked, the more he feared that all was indeed over. “Good God!” he cried, “what shall I do? whither shall I go? Alas! I know not. I wish to heavens I had died at Florence, sooner than come to this hateful place. And if I stay here, I shall be taken to Ferrara and executed. Oh, what a thought! Should I go and tell the host? should I or should I not? Nay, he will have me hanged to save himself.” Remaining the whole of the night in this state of fear and perplexity, he stood like a criminal looking for the halter.
At early dawn the pilgrims all rose and went forth. More dead than alive, Lapaccio also tried to rise, wishing to get away for two reasons, both of which gave him equal torment — to escape the danger before the host was aware, and to fly from the dead, of which he had such a superstitious horror. So he got out with difficulty, and ordered the groom to saddle the beasts; then, seeking the host, he counted out the bill, his hands trembling like an aspen all the while.
“Are you cold, friend?” inquired the host. With a great effort, our hero replied that it was the marsh fog which affected him. A pilgrim stepped up at this time, saying he could nowhere find his scrip in the place he had slept in; upon which the host taking a light, went to search the chamber where Lapaccio had slept. There he found the Hungarian lying dead at the foot of the bed, and said, “What the devil is all this? Who slept in this bed?” Our hero, who stood listening, felt his blood run cold. The pilgrim, pointing to our poor friend, said, “There is the man who slept in that bed, if I mistake not.” Lapaccio, looking as if he were already half hanged, took the good host on one side, saying, “For the love of God, sir, listen to me! It is too true that I slept in that bed, and the man would not make room for me, nor lie on his own side; till he at last enraged me to such a degree, that, giving him a great kick, I pitched him out of bed; but I did not think — I am sure I had no intention of killing him. It was very unfortunate; but it is not my fault, I assure you.” “What is your name?” said the host, and our hero gave it. “Suppose you could get out of this ugly affair,” continued the man, “what would you give?” “I will give what you please,” said our hero, “if I can get away from this place; only get me to Florence, and I will reward you well.” Observing his simplicity, the compassionate host said, “You unhappy rogue! why did not you look with your candle before you jumped into bed with a dead Hungarian, who died here yesterday evening?” On hearing this, Lapaccio seemed to recover a little, but not much; for there was no great difference, in his opinion, between 93 having his head chopped off and sleeping with a corpse. At length, mustering a little courage, he said, “In truth, Mr. Host, you are a very facetious gentleman not to tell me before I went to bed that you had a dead man lying in the room. If you had informed me of it, you would not have been troubled with my company at all; for I should have proceeded many miles farther rather than have been put into so terrible a fright that I fear it will be the death of me.” The host, who had before insisted upon some compensation, seeing the state our hero was in, and afraid of having him left upon his hands, was glad to become reconciled, and to get rid of him on any terms. Lapaccio then took his leave, hastening away as fast as possible, not without frequently looking behind him to see that the corpse of the Hungarian was not in pursuit, whose physiognomy was scarcely more cadaverous than his own.
In this extreme anxiety, he went to a certain Messer Andreasgio Rosso da Parma, who being now elected Podesta of Florence, Lapaccio returned to that city, reporting that he had fulfilled his commission by the election of the said Podesta, who had accepted the office. But such was the terror he had experienced, that soon after his return he was seized with a violent fever which brought him nearly to death’s door. Indeed it would seem as if Fortune had owed our poor superstitious hero a bitter spite in fixing upon him, of all others, to place by the side of a dead man when there had been nothing remarkable in it happening to any one else.
Indeed, the poor bailiff was delighted at the proposal, his condition being none of the best, inasmuch as he had forfeited his right hand on occasion of having perjured himself for the service of an intimate friend, by which he incurred the punishment of a fine of eight pounds or the loss of a hand. Now, he was so poor, that though his friend sent him the money for payment, he resolved rather to keep it and let the law take its course. Seeing the whole heaped up in silver on the table, he laid his hand by the side of it, and began to calculate, saying, ‘Which shall I take? which can I afford best to lose? If I part with my hand, I have still another left; but if I let the money go, am I sure of getting as much again? No, I am not; and I should only go about begging with two hands, with which everybody will tell me I might work, while they may take compassion upon one. Besides I have often seen one-handed gentlemen.” And so he stuck to the money and laid his hand upon the block. I say thus much to show the excuse this half limb of the law had for consenting to the old gentleman’s plan. Besides Sandro was a reputable citizen, who had borne some of the chief offices in the state, and therefore the myrmidons of the law felt considerable hesitation in sullying with their profane touch the dignity of his magisterial person. So, according to agreement, after three days’ notice, Totto Fei laid his hand upon the old gentleman’s shoulder, as he was returning from the exchange, and taking him straight to the mansion-house of the Podesta, put him into durance for the time being. Notice of this event being sent to the creditor, he came to plead his cause against him in the usual form. Our friend Sandro was eyeing Totto Fei through the prison grating, as had been agree upon, with no very pleasant looks. He first shook his head and then his fist, as if in high dudgeon, while Totto applied to the creditor for his sixteen florins, the amount fixed upon for the arrest. In the hearing of old Sandro, who was quite on the alert, the creditor passed his word for the payment. “But, dear sir,” said the bailiff, “pray give me something besides your word. Alas! I am in want, and you see how enraged the prisoner is against me; it will certainly cost me my life: he will kill me when he gets out, and what will become of my family?” Saying this, he approached nearer to the prisoner, who cried in a furious voice, “Yes, rascal, I will recompense you, you may depend!” then he whispered in a lower tone, “Has he paid you?” “No,” was the reply. “Villain,” then continued the old man, in a strain of virulent abuse, “you shall live to rue the day you were born!” ‘Oh dear, oh dear! what shall I do? said Totto; “he will infallibly be the death of me. Do, do, good sir, pay me the money, and let me escape alive.” “Wait a little,” replied the creditor; “you would make one believe yourself the person going to be put up for debt: cannot you wait?” Poor Totto, now bewailing himself more than ever, again approached the grate; and Sandro whispered, “Has he paid you yet?” “Alas, no!” “Oh, you vile wretch1” then he cried, “is this 95 the way you use gentlemen, throwing them into prison? But I will make you repent.” And such were the diabolical threats he made use of, that at length the creditor, out of mere compassion, began to count out the sixteen florins. “Has he paid you?” inquired Sandro once more, as he came near the grate. “Yes,” answered Totto, “this time he has.” “Then let some one go immediately to my house.” And on the messenger’s return, being brought before the court, the old gentleman said, “There are very pretty rascals in the world, but none like those who insist upon being paid twice over: they well deserve to be hanged. Now, will your worship please to look at this? This, Mr. Podesta, is a receipt which the father of this youth gave me for moneys paid, and the young gentleman has upon this thrown me into prison.”
The whole court, in the greatest astonishment, handed about the document, and beheld the creditor overwhelmed with confusion, not knowing what to think or say. At length, humbly apologising to Sandro for his mistake, and the doubts he had entertained of his good faith, he entreated he would forgive him. To this the old gentleman replied, “But you should have known better, young man! Who is to repay me for the slur you have cast on my reputation? However, I am willing to hush up the matter with you and your friends upon condition of your paying me three hundred florins, when I promise you not to proceed further against you.”
This the Podesta compelled him to do, and he retired out of court, like Ughetta del Asino, with his ears shorn. Such was the subtle and most avaricious nature of old Sandro of Florence, turning the tables even upon his creditor, and obliging him to pay instead of being paid. Yet the young man was not a whit to blame: his father had preserved the account, and left no memorandum of its settlement.
Novels of Sacchetti Continued