From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 152-156.152
THERE dwelt in the vicinity of Florence a certain Lapaccio di Geri da Montelupo, a man of simple and singular manners, with whom I was well acquainted in his day. Had any one said to him, “Such a person is dead,” and had touched his hand, he would instantly touch him again; and if the informant had taken leave, our hero would run after him, to make himself sure of the efficacy of his touch, which, if he did not succeed in, he would touch the next animal he met. And if he could meet with no one, and find neither dog nor cat, as a last resource he would touch the blade of his own knife.
Such, indeed, was his superstition in this respect, that if he happened to come in contact with a person who had witnessed a death-bed or a funeral, he infallibly held himself for a dead man until he had succeeded in returning his touch. Was a malefactor taken to execution, a burial or a cross passing along the way, such was our hero’s reputation that every one for the joke’s sake would run and touch him, which avoiding with the utmost dread, he now ran from them, and now after them, making the strangest confusion in the world.
It happened that the Florentine republic fixed upon him to proceed to the election of their podestà, 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 Salvadega. 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 153 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 roasted 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 holding by the bedpost 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 154 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.”155
“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 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 podestà of Florence, Lapaccio returned to that city, reporting that he had fulfilled his commission by the election of the said podestà, 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 156 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 its happening to any one else.
* 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.