[ 001 ] Immense was the delight and diversion which this story afforded to all the company alike, and great and general was the laughter over Fra Cipolla, and more especially at his pilgrimage, and the relics, as well those that he had but seen as those that he had brought back with him. Which being ended, the queen, taking note that therewith the close of her sovereignty was come, stood up, took off the crown, and set it on Dioneo's head, saying with a laugh: [ 002 ] “ 'Tis time, Dioneo, that thou prove the weight of the burden of having ladies to govern and guide. Be thou king then; and let thy rule be such that, when 'tis ended, we may have cause to commend it. ” [ 003 ] Dioneo took the crown, and laughingly answered: “ Kings worthier far than I you may well have seen many a time ere now--I speak of the kings in chess; but let me have of you that obedience which is due to a true king, and of a surety I will give you to taste of that solace, without which perfection of joy there may not be in any festivity. But enough of this: I will govern as best I may. ” [ 004 ] Then, as was the wont, he sent for the seneschal, and gave him particular instruction how to order matters during the term of his sovereignty, which done, he said: “ Noble ladies, such and so diverse has been our discourse of the ways of men and their various fortunes, that but for the visit that we had a while ago from Madam Licisca, who by what she said has furnished me with matter of discourse for to-morrow, I doubt I had been not a little put to it to find a theme. [ 005 ] You heard how she said that there was not a woman in her neighbourhood whose husband had her virginity; adding that well she knew how many and what manner of tricks they, after marriage, played their husbands. [ 006 ] The first count we may well leave to the girls whom it concerns; the second, methinks, should prove a diverting topic: wherefore I ordain that, taking our cue from Madam Licisca, we discourse to-morrow of the tricks that, either for love or for their deliverance from peril, ladies have heretofore played their husbands, and whether they were by the said husbands detected or no. ” [ 007 ] To discourse of such a topic some of the ladies deemed unmeet for them, and besought the king to find another theme. But the king made answer: [ 008 ] “ Ladies, what manner of theme I have prescribed I know as well as you, nor was I to be diverted from prescribing it by that which you now think to declare unto me, for I wot the times are such that, so only men and women have a care to do nought that is unseemly, 'tis allowable to them to discourse of what they please. [ 009 ] For in sooth, as you must know, so out of joint are the times that the judges have deserted the judgment-seat, the laws are silent, and ample licence to preserve his life as best he may is accorded to each and all. [ 010 ] Wherefore, if you are somewhat less strict of speech than is your wont, not that aught unseemly in act may follow, but that you may afford solace to yourselves and others, I see not how you can be open to reasonable censure on the part of any. [ 011 ] Furthermore, nought that has been said from the first day to the present moment has, methinks, in any degree sullied the immaculate honour of your company, nor, God helping us, shall aught ever sully it. [ 012 ] Besides, who is there that knows not the quality of your honour? which were proof, I make no doubt, against not only the seductive influence of diverting discourse, but even the terror of death. [ 013 ] And, to tell you the truth, whoso wist that you refused to discourse of these light matters for a while, would be apt to suspect that 'twas but for that you had yourselves erred in like sort. [ 014 ] And truly a goodly honour would you confer upon me, obedient as I have ever been to you, if after making me your king and your lawgiver, you were to refuse to discourse of the theme which I prescribe. [ 015 ] Away, then, with this scruple fitter for low minds than yours, and let each study how she may give us a goodly story, and Fortune prosper her therein. ”
[ 016 ] So spake the king, and the ladies, hearkening, said that, even as he would, so it should be: whereupon he gave all leave to do as they might be severally minded until the supper-hour. [ 017 ] The sun was still quite high in the heaven, for they had not enlarged in their discourse: wherefore, Dioneo with the other gallants being set to play at dice, Elisa called the other ladies apart, and said: [ 018 ] “ There is a nook hard by this place, where I think none of you has ever been: 'tis called the Ladies' Vale: whither, ever since we have been here, I have desired to take you, but time meet I have not found until today, when the sun is still so high: if, then, you are minded to visit it, I have no manner of doubt that, when you are there, you will be very glad you came. ” [ 019 ] The ladies answered that they were ready, and so, saying nought to the young men, they summoned one of their maids, and set forth; nor had they gone much more than a mile, when they arrived at the Vale of Ladies. They entered it by a very strait gorge, through which there issued a rivulet, clear as crystal, and a sight, than which nought more fair and pleasant, especially at that time when the heat was great, could be imagined, met their eyes. [ 020 ] Within the valley, as one of them afterwards told me, was a plain about half-a-mile in circumference, and so exactly circular that it might have been fashioned according to the compass, though it seemed a work of Nature's art, not man's: 'twas girdled about by six hills of no great height, each crowned with a palace that shewed as a goodly little castle. [ 021 ] The slopes of the hills were graduated from summit to base after the manner of the successive tiers, ever abridging their circle, that we see in our theatres; [ 022 ] and as many as fronted the southern rays were all planted so close with vines, olives, almond-trees, cherry-trees, fig-trees and other fruit-bearing trees not a few, that there was not a hand's-breadth of vacant space. [ 023 ] Those that fronted the north were in like manner covered with copses of oak saplings, ashes and other trees, as green and straight as might be. [ 024 ] Besides which, the plain, which was shut in on all sides save that on which the ladies had entered, was full of firs, cypresses, and bay-trees, with here and there a pine, in order and symmetry so meet and excellent as had they been planted by an artist, the best that might be found in that kind; wherethrough, even when the sun was in the zenith, scarce a ray of light might reach the ground, which was all one lawn of the finest turf, pranked with the hyacinth and divers other flowers. [ 025 ] Add to which--nor was there aught there more delightsome--a rivulet that, issuing from one of the gorges between two of the hills, descended over ledges of living rock, making, as it fell, a murmur most gratifying to the ear, and, seen from a distance, shewed as a spray of finest, powdered quick-silver, [ 026 ] and no sooner reached the little plain, than 'twas gathered into a tiny channel, by which it sped with great velocity to the middle of the plain, where it formed a diminutive lake, like the fishponds that townsfolk sometimes make in their gardens, when they have occasion for them. [ 027 ] The lake was not so deep but that a man might stand therein with his breast above the water; and so clear, so pellucid was the water that the bottom, which was of the finest gravel, shewed so distinct, that one, had he wished, who had nought better to do, might have counted the stones. Nor was it only the bottom that was to be seen, but such a multitude of fishes, glancing to and fro, as was at once a delight and a marvel to behold. [ 028 ] Bank it had none, but its margin was the lawn, to which it imparted a goodlier freshness. So much of the water as it might not contain was received by another tiny channel, through which, issuing from the vale, it glided swiftly to the plain below.
[ 029 ] To which pleasaunce the damsels being come surveyed it with roving glance, and finding it commendable, and marking the lake in front of them, did, as 'twas very hot, and they deemed themselves secure from observation, resolve to take a bath. [ 030 ] So, having bidden their maid wait and keep watch over the access to the vale, and give them warning, if haply any should approach it, they all seven undressed and got into the water, which to the whiteness of their flesh was even such a veil as fine glass is to the vermeil of the rose. [ 031 ] They, being thus in the water, the clearness of which was thereby in no wise affected, did presently begin to go hither and thither after the fish, which had much ado where to bestow themselves so as to escape out of their hands. [ 032 ] In which diversion they spent some time, and caught a few, and then they hied them out of the water and dressed them again, and bethinking them that 'twas time to return to the palace, they began slowly sauntering thither, dilating much as they went upon the beauty of the place, albeit they could not extol it more than they had already done. [ 033 ] 'Twas still quite early when they reached the palace, so that they found the gallants yet at play where they had left them. To whom quoth Pampinea with a smile: “ We have stolen a march upon you to-day. ” [ 034 ] “ So, ” replied Dioneo, “ 'tis with you do first and say after? ” [ 035 ] “ Ay, my lord, ” returned Pampinea, and told him at large whence they came, and what the place was like, and how far 'twas off, and what they had done. [ 036 ] What she said of the beauty of the spot begat in the king a desire to see it: wherefore he straightway ordered supper, whereof when all had gaily partaken, the three gallants parted from the ladies and hied them with their servants to the vale, where none of them had ever been before, and, having marked all its beauties, extolled it as scarce to be matched in all the world. [ 037 ] Then, as the hour was very late, they did but bathe, and as soon as they had resumed their clothes, returned to the ladies, whom they found dancing a carol to an air that Fiammetta sang, which done, they conversed of the Ladies' Vale, waxing eloquent in praise thereof: [ 038 ] insomuch that the king called the seneschal, and bade him have some beds made ready and carried thither on the morrow, that any that were so minded might there take their siesta. [ 039 ] He then had lights and wine and comfits brought; and when they had taken a slight refection, he bade all address them to the dance. So at his behest Pamfilo led a dance, and then the king, turning with gracious mien to Elisa: [ 040 ] “ Fair damsel, ” quoth he, “ 'twas thou to-day didst me this honour of the crown; and 'tis my will that thine to-night be the honour or the song; wherefore sing us whatsoever thou hast most lief. ” [ 041 ] “ That gladly will I, ” replied Elisa smiling; and thus with dulcet voice began:
[ 042 ] If of thy talons, Love, be quit I may,I deem it scarce can beBut other fangs I may elude for aye.
[ 043 ] Service I took with thee, a tender maid,In thy war thinking perfect peace to find,And all my arms upon the ground I laid,Yielding myself to thee with trustful mind:Thou, harpy-tyrant, whom no faith may bind,Eftsoons didst swoop on me,And with thy cruel claws mad'st me thy prey.
[ 044 ] Then thy poor captive, bound with many a chain,Thou tookst, and gav'st to him, whom fate did callHither my death to be; for that in painAnd bitter tears I waste away, his thrall:Nor heave I e'er a sigh, or tear let fall,So harsh a lord is he,That him inclines a jot my grief to allay.
[ 045 ] My prayers upon the idle air are spent:He hears not, will not hear; wherefore in vainThe more each hour my soul doth her torment;Nor may I die, albeit to die were gain.Ah! Lord, have pity of my bitter pain!Help have I none but thee;Then take and bind and at my feet him lay.
[ 046 ] But if thou wilt not, do my soul but looseFrom hope, that her still binds with triple chain.Sure, O my Lord, this prayer thou'lt not refuse:The which so thou to grant me do but deign,I look my wonted beauty to regain,And banish miseryWith roses white and red bedecked and gay.
[ 047 ] So with a most piteous sigh ended Elisa her song, whereat all wondered exceedingly, nor might any conjecture wherefore she so sang. [ 048 ] But the king, who was in a jolly humour, sent for Tindaro, and bade him out with his cornemuse, and caused them tread many a measure thereto, until, no small part of the night being thus spent, he gave leave to all to betake them to rest.← PreviousNext →