THE MISCHIEVOUS APE

By MATTEO BANDELLO ( 1480 - 1562 )

(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, aged mother amused with the animal's unequaled exhibitions 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 be coming 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 confectionery 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 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 head dress 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, dispatched 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 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 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-a-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 anyone who ventured 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.






A LOVER OF LIES

By ORTENSIO LANDO

(From "The Italian Novelists": translated by Thomas Roscoe)


IT was said of Messer Leandro de' Traversari, canon of Ravenna, that, from the opening to the close of his mortal career, he invariably evinced the most decided enmity to truth. He had such a total disregard for this invaluable quality that if he ever happened to stumble upon the truth, he betrayed as much melancholy and regret as if he had actually sinned against the Holy Ghost. Besides, he was not merely the most notorious asserter of "the thing which is not" himself, but the cause of falsehood in others, compelling his very friends and dependents to confirm his wicked statements, under penalty of incurring his most severe spiritual displeasure.

There was a certain Florentine, who had lately entered into his service, and who, perceiving his master's peculiarity in this respect, resolved not merely to humor him in it, but to add something further on his own part, in order the better to recommend himself to his notice. He one day availed himself of an opportunity, when walking with the good canon in the gardens of the archbishop, near the city, to give his master a specimen of his inventive powers. Observing the gardener employed in planting cauliflowers, the prelate happened to remark, "These cauliflowers grow to a surprising size; their bulk is quite prodigious; I believe no one can bring them to such rare perfection as my gardener." As the latter did not care to contradict this testimony, so favorable to his character, Messer Leandro subjoined to the observation of his superior, " Yes, my lord; but if you had ever seen those that grow in Cucagna, you would not think these so very extraordinary in point of size."
"Why, how large may they grow?" inquired the archbishop.
" How large? " returned Messer Leandro, "I can scarcely give your lordship an idea of it. In those parts I hear it is no uncommon thing for twenty knights on horseback to take shelter together under their huge cabbage leaves." The archbishop expressing no slight astonishment at these words, the wily Florentine stepped forward to his master's relief, saying; "Your excellency will not be so much surprised, when I inform your excellency that I have myself seen these magnificent cabbages growing in that strange country; and I have seen the immense caldrons in which they are boiled, of such a vast construction that twenty workmen are engaged in framing them at once; and it is said that the sound of their hammers cannot be heard from opposite sides, as they sit in the huge vessel to complete their work." The noble prelate, whose intellect was not of the highest order, opened his eyes still wider upon the Florentine, exclaiming, that he fancied such a capacious saucepan would contain sufficient food, were it rightly calculated, for the whole people of Cairo at one meal. While they were thus engaged, a person made his approach, with an ape upon his shoulders, intended as a present for the venerable archbishop, who, turning towards the canon, with a smiling countenance, noticed the very singular resemblance between the human figure and that of the sagacious animal before them. "It is my serious opinion," continued he, "that if the beast had only a little more intellect, there would not be so much difference between him and ourselves, as some people imagine." --
" I trust," replied the worthy canon, "your lordship would not mean to insinuate that monkeys really want sense; for, if so, I can soon, I think, convince your lordship of the contrary, by a story pretty apposite to the purpose.

"The noble lord Almerico was one day feasting the good bishop of Vicenza, having given orders to his cook to prepare all the varieties and delicacies of the season. Now the cook was in possession of an excellent method of guarding the treasures of his kitchen; for which purpose he kept an invaluable ape, excellently tutored to the business. No man, not even the boldest, ventured to steal the least thing in his presence, until a certain footman, from Savignano, more greedy than a horse-leech, and unable to check his thieving propensities, hit upon what he considered a safe means of eluding the monkey's observation. He began to cultivate his acquaintance by performing all kinds of amusing tricks, and bribing him to be in good humor. The moment he perceived the ape busily engaged in imitating what he saw, the rogue, binding a handkerchief over his own eyes, in a short time handed it likewise to the mimic, and with secret pleasure beheld him fastening it over his face; during which time he contrived to lay his hands upon a fat capon, which the ape, though too late, soon afterwards perceived. The head cook upon this occasion gave his monkey-ship so severe a flogging that, being doubly cautious, the next time the thievish footman repeated the same tricks, and proceeded to bandage his eyes, the wily animal, instead of imitating him, stared around him with all his eyes, pointing at the same time to his paws, as if advising him to keep his hands from picking and stealing; so that the rogue was, this time, compelled to depart with his hands as empty as they came. Finding that all his arts were of no avail--"
The archbishop, here overpowered with wonder and delight, exclaimed, "If this be only true, it is one of the most astonishing things I ever heard."
The assiduous Florentine upon this again interposed in his master's behalf, crying out with singular force of gesticulation: "As I hope to be saved at the last day, please your grace, what my honored patron has just advanced is every particle of it true; and as your grace appears to take a particular pleasure in listening to strange and almost unaccountable events, I will now beg leave to add a single story in addition to those of my noble patron, however inferior in point of excellence: --

"During the last vintage, I was in the service of a gentleman at Ferrara, of the name of Libanoro, who took singular pleasure in fishing, and used frequently to explore the recesses of the vale of Santo Appollinare. This master of mine had also an ape in his possession, considerably larger than your excellency's, and, while he was in the country, he commissioned me to take along with me to Ferrara this said ape, a barrel of white wine, and a fat pig; in order to present them to a certain convenient ruffian, whom he kept in his service. So I took a boat, and plying oars and sail, while we were bounding along the waters, I gave the skiff a sudden jerk, which made the pig's fat sides shake, and he went round like a turnspit, performing the strangest antics. So loud and vehement were his lamentations, that they seemed to annoy his apeship excessively, who after in vain trying to stop his ears and nose, at length seized the plug out of the barrel that stood near him, and fairly thrust it down the pig's throat, just as he was opening it to give another horrible cry. Both the wine and the pig were in extreme jeopardy, the one actually choking, and the other running all away. I tried to save as much of it as I could; but my immoderate laughter almost prevented me, so much was I amused at his ingenious contrivance. So that your grace may perceive," continued the mendacious Florentine, "that my master speaks the simple truth, in asserting that these animals are possessed of great acuteness of intellect."
Now, on returning home, the good canon thus addressed his servant: "I thought, sirrah, there was no man living who could tell a lie with a bolder and better face than myself; but you have undeceived me: you are the very prince of liars and impostors; the father of lies himself could not surpass you!" --

"Your reverence," replied the Florentine, "need not be surprised at that, when I inform you of the advantages I have enjoyed in the society of tailors, millers, and bargemen, who live upon the profit they bring. But if from this time forth, you insist upon my persevering in confirming so many monstrous untruths as you utter, I trust that you will consent to increase my wages, in consideration of so abominable a business."--
" Well then, listen to me," replied his master; "when it is my intention to come out with some grand and extraordinary falsehood, I will take care to tell you the evening before, and at the same time I will always give you such a gratuity as shall make it worth your while. And if I should happen to tell a good story after dinner, as you stand behind my chair, and you swear to having seen it, very innocently, you may depend upon it you shall be no loser." This his servant agreed to do, upon condition that he would observe some bounds, and keep up some show, at least, of reason and probability; which the honest canon said, so far as he was able, he would try to do; adding that if they were not reasonable lies, the servant should not be bound by the contract, and might return the gift.

Thus the most wonderful adventures continued to be related at the good canon's table, and what is more extraordinary, they were all very dexterously confirmed. So going on very amicably together, the canon, one evening intending to impose a monstrous lie upon one of his friends, took down a pair of old breeches, and presented them to his servant as the requisite gift. In the morning, attending his master to church as usual, he heard him, after service, relating a story to one of the holy brotherhood, who stood swallowing it all, with a very serious face, how in the island of Pastinaca the magpies are accustomed to get married in proper form and ceremony; and how, after laying, and sitting upon their eggs for the space of a month, they bring forth little men, not larger than ants, but astonishingly bold and clever.
The Florentine upon this could no longer restrain his feelings, crying out before the whole company: "No, no, I cannot swear to this neither; so you may take back your breeches, master, and get somebody else in my place."






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