From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated, <1900>]; pp. 82-93.
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 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;” and 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.97
About the middle of August they resolved as usual to attend the feast of our Lady at Pisa, each preparing 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 100 that I am just as fair and honourable as yourselves.” “No, you are a perfect Judas,” said Salvadore, “and you cheat us in every way you can.” “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 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 101 were compelled to come into 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 hand into the money-bag since we entered into partnership, and broken bones are all the rewards 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.
Now our friend Michelozzo, having witnessed the whole of these proceedings, also took leave of his lordship and returned to Florence, where a bright thought struck him, that if he were to present the governor with a pair of fine asses, it might be no bad speculation, and perhaps advance him greatly in his favour. So he sent his emissaries through the Roman territories, and they had the good fortune to meet with two of a superior size, which cost him forty florins. On their arrival in Florence, he had them both very exactly measured by a saddler, commissioned to purchase the requisite quantity of fine scarlet and cloth of gold, who decked them out in the most splendid style, not omitting even to adorn their comely ears. The arms of the Visconti were likewise emblazoned on the neck and crest; those of the owner being placed lower down, approaching the feet. Two handsome pages, one on horseback and one on foot, with a groom to urge them from behind, were next ordered to convey these beautiful animals very carefully, to be presented on his part to the said lord.
Great was the admiration of the Florentines as the procession passed along the streets; and what it was, and where it was going, was the general cry. “They are asses, cannot you see?” replied the page, “a present from Michelozzo to Lord Bernabo.” Some thought it very fine, some made faces and shrugged up their shoulders, while others declared it was all a piece of folly, such as they should not easily see again; with other commentaries, of which the mouth of the people is usually full.
Having reached the gate of San Gallo, their splendid accoutrements were removed and carefully packed up, until they were about to enter Bologna, when the asses were again equipped, in order to attract the admiration of the citizens; among whom the same questions as before took place: except that they were here mistaken for chargers going to enter the lists. This favourable opinion one of the animals, however, destroyed by braying in a most discordant tone, which elicited a shrewd remark from an old citizen: “Faith, I believe they are only a pair of stupid asses.” “Yes, sir,” said the page, “which a gentleman of Florence is going to present to my lord of Milan.” “But,” rejoined the citizen, “he ought to have put them in a cage, as they sing so well.”
On arriving at the inn of Felice Ammannati, the entertainment was doubly renewed, every one declaring it the greatest wonder that had ever been known. “But I trust,” said the facetious host, “that though these carcases are really going to the governor, they will leave behind them what I value much more for the benefit of my fields, unless it is to be forwarded to your master in Florence.” After a hearty laugh, the beasts proceeded on their journey; and such was the impression their appearance everywhere made, that their fame travelling before them, several miracles were said to have happened 103 as of old in Parma, Piacenza, and Lodi ere they reached their destination. When they at length arrived there, the groom knocked at the city gate, informing the porter they had brought a rich present to his lord Bernabo on the part of Michelozzo, a gentleman of Florence.
The castellan observing through the wicket two asses thus gorgeously arrayed in scarlet trappings, hastened to acquaint his master with the fact. The governor, in no little perplexity on hearing this, gave orders that they should be admitted, when the head page explained the nature of his embassy, presenting the asses on the part of Michelozzo to the lord of Milan. The latter immediately replied, “You will tell your master that I am sorry he should think of thus depriving himself of the company of his companions, leaving himself behind; and so I bid you good day.” He then sent for one of his officers, of the name of Bergamino da Crema, commanding him to take the scarlet cloth, and to get a dress made of it for himself, and another for one of his muleteers; and to place the emblazoned coats of arms, one in the front, and one on the back of each dress, with those of Michelozzo below, when they were to await his further orders. Bergamino then went, and disposing of the asses in a stable, took possession of their rich accoutrements, sending the same day for a tailor to measure and cut them up into dresses for himself and three other muleteers of the court. This done, they proceeded to load the asses, and going out of Milan, they soon returned with them, bringing corn, and attracting the attention of the people wherever they passed along. On inquiry into the occasion of these fine scarlet dresses, “Michelozzo,” replied they, “a Florentine gentleman, presented them to us, and so we wear them out of regard to the donor.” Bergamino next ordered the clerk of the governor to return a suitable reply to Michelozzo, how they had received the asses adorned with scarlet robes, and speedily put them under a course of burdens, finding them exceedingly useful in the service of his master, while their drivers had arrayed themselves in the rich trappings they formerly wore, besides displaying his coat of arms below that of their master, with all which, in honour of the donor, they had that day made a solemn procession with their burdens through Milan, attributing the whole honour to himself. This letter was signed and sealed, and sent, bearing the signature in proper form of “Bergamino da Crema, Equipage-master and Mule-driver to his Excellency the Lord of Milan,” &c. &c., directed “To my brother Michelozzo, or Bambozzo de’ Bamboli, of Florence;” and delivered to the messenger, who, after lingering in vain for a pecuniary gratification, set out with his despatches for Florence. On perusing he direction, Signor Michelozzo began to change colour, and proceeding to read, he grew worse and worse, till he arrived at the name of his correspondent, the master of the mules. Clasping his hands in a paroxysm of despair, he inquired of the messenger to whom he had delivered the letter, “To the governor,” replied the man. “And what answer did he give?” “He said he was sorry you should deprive yourself of your companions for his sake.” “And who gave you this letter?” “His servant,” replied he, “for I could never get to see 104 his master again.” “Heavens!” cried Michelozzo, “you have ruined me! what know I of Bergamino or Merdollino? get out of my house, and never come near me again.” “I will go or stay, just as you please,” said the man; “but I must tell you the truth: we have made fools of ourselves wherever we appeared; it is impossible to say how much you were laughed at; you would be quite astonished if you knew.” “Why, what could they say? Did no one ever make a present to a lord, think you, before?” “Yes, sir, but never of asses, I believe,” said the man. “But,” returned his master, “you were with me yourself when the Spanish cavalier made a present of his.” “True, sir, but that was mere accident; besides, his was a knowing beast, and yours are as stupid as asses need to be.” “I tell you, you lie,” said his master; “one of their feet was worth the whole body of the other ass, equipped as they were: you have ruined me, I say; and get about your business,” which the man was glad enough to do. In a short time after, our hero grew melancholy and sickened from the vexation of his adventure; in which, as the present which he made was of a novel nature, he was in return treated in a manner perfectly novel and appropriate.
Greatly incensed to hear this, his Grace replied, “My friend Bonamico, you must repair the damage done, and I will reward you well. Moreover, I will give you six of my guard, with their sabres drawn; with these you shall lie in wait, and when the wretches appear, fall upon them, and cut them to pieces in a moment.” “Allow me to do that,” said the enraged painter, “and I will go. When the work is repaired, if indeed that be possible, I will send word to your Grace, and you must send me the soldiers instantly.” With much difficulty poor Bonamico’s task was at length accomplished, and, fired with the hopes of revenge, he despatched a messenger to the bishop, who gave him six armed men to lie in ambush with the painter beneath the altar. They repeated their watch several times, however, before the vile offender made his appearance; but they at last heard a noise in the church of something rolling along, and believing the wretches were come, Bonamico and his myrmidons rushed out, and beheld the ape making his way, as well as his clog and chain would permit him, towards the altar-piece. Upon this they stopped, while the offender went on, and mounting the stage with difficulty, began to repeat the very same business he had before done, assuming the brush, and proceeding methodically to work. At this sight, Bonamico, instead of taking a deadly revenge, began to laugh outright, and turning towards his myrmidons, said they might put up their weapons and retire; “for I see how it is,” he continued: “the bishop’s own painter has adopted a certain style of composition which his master does not altogether like, and so he has sent me to introduce another. But we painters can never agree; the rogue has been beforehand with me, and got his revenge.” On approaching the scaffold where he stood, the ape, having first painted his visage, rose on his hind legs, and tried to frighten them away; but soon after, dismounting from his eminence, he took to flight. Hastening after him, lest he might prejudice his Grace against the new painter, our friend, Bonamico went to tell his own story, and addressed the bishop in the following words: “There is no necessity for your lordship to invite painters to come from Florence, while you entertain one at your own court, who seems resolved that you shall paint in his manner, as he has twice destroyed the figures I have made. Your Grace’s ape has to answer for this sin; and if you think I deserve to be recompensed for my loss of time and 106 labour, give me what you consider just, and I will return home.” The bishop was so mightily entertained with the whole affair, more especially with the serious way in which Bonamico requested his dismission, that so far from consenting to his departure, he entreated him to proceed with his task, adding, that as he appeared so piqued with the success of his rival, he should likewise have his revenge. For this purpose the bishop directed a large cage to be provided, into which, however reluctantly, the painter’s rival was forced to enter, when he was carried to the place which had been the scene of his offence, and there doomed to the most ignominious punishment a painter can suffer, namely, to watch his rival, Bonamico, proceed with his design, while he sat chattering and grinning at him from his cage until the whole work was completed. His impatience and indignation were sometimes truly ludicrous, his strange grimaces not a little interrupting Bonamico, while they excited the laughter of all the spectators. The painting being completed, and the stage removed away, the author of the mischief was set free, though he afterwards frequently haunted the spot with the view of giving fresh specimens of his art. But finding he could no longer perform upon the same stage, after anxiously gazing at the picture for some time, he began to turn his thoughts to some more feasible plans of mischief, the exploit we have recounted serving the whole court for amusement during several days.
At the end of three days, the blind mendicant, desirous of inspecting his treasure, took a quiet time for visiting the place, and removing the tile, searched a long while in great perturbation, but all in vain, to find his beloved purse. At last, replacing things just as they were, he was compelled to return in no very enviable state of mind to his dwelling; and there meditating over his loss, the harvest of the toil of so many days, by dint of intense thinking a bright thought struck him, as frequently happens by cogitating in the dark, how he had yet a kind of chance of redeeming his lost spoils. Accordingly in the morning he called his young guide, a lad about nine years old, saying, “My son, lead me to church;” and before setting out the tutored him how he was to behave, seating himself at his side before the entrance, and particularly remarking every person who should enter into the church. “Now, if you happen to see any one who takes particular notice of me, and who either laughs or makes any sign, be sure you observe it and tell me.” The boy promised he would; and they proceeded accordingly, and took their station before the church. There they remained the whole of the morning, till just as they were beginning to despair, Juccio made his appearance, and fixing his eyes upon the blind man, could not refrain from laughing. When the dinner-hour arrived the father and son prepared to leave the place, the former inquiring by the way whether his son had observed any one looking hard at him as he passed along. “That I did,” answered the lad, “but only one, and he laughed as he went past us. I do not know his name, but he is strongly marked with the smallpox, and lives somewhere near the Frati Minori.” “Do you think, my dear lad,” said his father, “you could take me to his shop, and tell me when you see him there?” “To be sure I could,” said the lad. “Then come, let us lose no time,” replied his father, “and when we are there tell me, and while I speak to him you can step on one side and wait for me.” So the sharp little fellow led him along the way until he reached a cheesemonger’s stall, when he acquainted his father, and brought him close to it. No sooner did the blind man hear him speaking with his customers, than he recognised him for the same Juccio with whom he had formerly been acquainted during his days of light. When the coast was a little clear, our blind hero entreated some moments’ conversation, and Juccio, half suspecting the occasion, took him on one side into a little room, saying, “Cola, friend, what good news?” “Why,” said Cola, “I am coming to consult you, in great hopes you will be of use to me. You know it is a long time since I lost my sight, and being in a destitute condition, I was compelled to earn my subsistence by begging alms. Now, by the grace of God, and with the help of you and of other good people of Orvieto, I have saved a sum of two hundred florins, one of which I have deposited in a safe place, and the other is in the hands of my relations, which I expect to receive with interest in the course of a week. Now if you would consent to receive, and to employ for me to the best advantage, the whole sum of two hundred florins, it 108 would be doing me a great kindness, for there is no one besides in all Orvieto in whom I dare to confide; nor do I like to be at the expense of paying a notary for doing business which we can as well transact ourselves. Only I wish you would say nothing about it, but receive the two hundred florins from me to employ as you think best. Say not a word about it, for there would be an end of my calling were it known I had received so large a sum in alms.” Here the blind mendicant stopped; and the sly Juccio imagining he might thus become master of the entire sum, said he should be very happy to serve him in every way he could, and would return an answer the next morning as to the best way of laying out the money. Cola then took his leave, while Juccio going directly for the purse, deposited it in its old place, being in full expectation of soon receiving it again with the addition of the other hundred, as it was clear that Cola had not yet missed the sum. The cunning old mendicant on his part expected that he would do no less, and trusting that his plot might have succeeded, he set out the very same day to the church, and had the delight, on removing the tile, to find his purse really there. Seizing upon it with the utmost eagerness, he concealed it under his clothes, and placing the tiles exactly in the same position, he hastened home whistling, troubling himself very little about his appointment of the next day.
The sly thief, Juccio, set out accordingly the next morning to see his friend Cola, and actually met him on the road. “Whiter are you going?” inquired Juccio. “I was going,” said Cola, “to your house.” The former then taking the blind man aside, said, “I am resolved to do what you ask; and since your are pleased to confide in me, I will tell you of a plan I have in hand of laying out your money to advantage. If you will put the two hundred into my possession, I will make a purchase in cheese and salt meat, a speculation which cannot fail to turn to good account.” “Thank you,” said Cola;’ “I am going to-day for the other hundred, which I mean to bring, and when you have got them both, you can do with them what you think proper.” Juccio said, “Then let me have them soon, for I think I can secure this bargain; and as the soldiers are come into the town, who are fond of these articles, I think it cannot fail to answer; so go, and Heaven speed you.” And Cola went; but with very different intentions to those imagined by his friend — Cola being now clear-sighted, and Juccio truly blind. The next day Cola called on his friend with very downcast and melancholy looks, and when Juccio bade him good day, he said, “I wish from my soul it were good, or even a middling day for me,” “Why, what is the matter?” “The matter!” said Cola, “why it is all over with me; some rascal has stolen a hundred florins from the place where they were hidden, and I cannot recover a penny from my relations, so that I may eat my fingers off for anything I have to expect.” Juccio replied, “”This is like all the rest of my speculations. I have invariably lost where I expected to make a good hit. What I shall do I know not; for if the person should choose to keep me to the agreement I made for you, I shall be in a pretty dilemma indeed.” “Yet,” said Cola, “I think my condition is still worse than yours. I shall be sadly distressed, and shall have to amass a fresh capital, which will 109 take me ever so long. And when I have got it, I will take care not to conceal it in a hole in the floor, or trust it, Juccio, into any friend’s hands.” “But,” said Juccio, “if we could contrive to recover what is owing by your relations, we might still make some pretty profit by it, I doubt not.” For he thought, if he could only get hold of the hundred he had returned, it would still be something in his way. “Why,” said Cola, “to tell the truth, if I were to proceed against my relations, I believe I might get it; but such a thing would ruin my business, my dear Juccio, for ever: the world would know I was worth money, and I should get no more money from the world; so I fear I shall hardly be able to profit by your kindness, though I shall always consider myself as much obliged as if I had actually cleared a large sum. Moreover, I am going to teach another blind man my profession, and if we have luck you shall see me again, and we can venture a speculation together.” So far the wily mendicant; to whom Juccio said, “Well, go and try to get money soon, and bring it; you know where to find me, but look sharp about you, and the Lord speed you: farewell.” “Farewell,” said Cola, “and I am well rid of thee,” he whispered to himself; and going upon his way, in a short time he doubled his capital; but he no longer went near his friend Juccio to know how he should invest it. He had great diversion in telling the story to his companions during their feasts, always concluding, “By St. Lucia! Juccio is the blinder man of the two: he thought it was a bold stroke to risk his hundred to double the amount.”
For my own part, I think the blind must possess a more acute intellect than other people, inasmuch as the light, exhibiting such a variety of objects to view, is apt to distract the attention, of which many examples might be adduced. For instance, two gentlemen may be conversing together on some matter of business, and in the middle of a sentence a fine woman happens to pass by, and they will suddenly stop, gazing after her; or a fine equipage, or any other object, is enough to turn the current of their thoughts. And then we are obliged to recollect ourselves, saying, “Where was I?” “What was it that I was observing?” A thing which never occurs to a blind man. The philosopher Democritus very properly on this account knocked his own eyes out, in order to catch objects in a juster light with his mind’s eye.
It is impossible to describe Juccio’s vexation on going to the church and finding the florins were gone. His regret was far greater than if he had actually lost a hundred of his own; as is known to be the case with all inveterate rogues, half of whose pleasure consists in depriving others of their lawful property.