The Nightingale (Decameron)  

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The Nightingale (Decameron) is a story from the Decameron.

It is the fourth story of the fifth day, the actual title being: "Ricciardo Manardi, being found by Messer Lizio da Valbona with his daughter, espouseth her and abideth with her father in peace"'.

Full text (translation via Anthologica Rarissima: The Way of a Virgin )


THERE lived in Romagna a gentleman of great worth and good breeding, called Messer Lizio da Valbona, to whom, well-nigh in his old age, it chanced there was born of his wife, Madame Giacomina by name, a daughter, who grew up fair and agreeable beyond any other of the country; and for that she was the only child that remained to her father and mother, they loved and tended her exceeding dear and guarded her with marvellous diligence, looking to make some great alliance by her.

Now there was a young man of the Manardi of Brettinoro, comely and lusty of his person, by name Ricciardo, who much frequented Messer Lizio's house and conversed amain with him and of whom the latter and his lady took no more account than they would have taken of a son of theirs. Now, this Ricciardo, looking once and again upon the young lady and seeing her very fair and sprightly and commendable of manners and fashions, fell desperately in love with her, but was very careful to keep his love secret.

The damsel presently became aware thereof and without anywise seeking to shun the stroke, began on like wise to love him; whereat Ricciardo was mightily rejoiced. He had many a time a mind to speak to her, but kept silence for misdoubtance; however, one day taking courage and opportunity, he said to her:

"I prithee, Caterina, cause me not to die of love."

To which she straightway made answer: "Would God thou wouldst not cause me die!"

This answer added much courage and pleasure to Ricciardo and he said to her:

"Never shall aught that may be agreeable to thee miscarry for me; but it resteth with thee to find a means of saving thy life and mine."

"Ricciardo," answered she, "thou seest how straitly I am guarded; wherefore, for my part, I cannot see how thou mayst avail to come at me; but, if thou canst see aught that I may do without shame to myself, tell it me and I will do it."

Ricciardo, having bethought himself of sundry things, answered promptly:

"My sweet Caterina, I can see no way, except that thou lie or make shift to come upon the gallery that adjoineth thy father's garden, where an I knew that thou wouldst be anights, I would without fail contrive to come to thee, how high soever it may be."

"If thou have the heart to come thither," rejoined Caterina, "methinketh I can well enough win to be there."

Ricciardo assented and they kissed each other once only in haste and went their ways.

Next day, it being then near the end of May, the girl began to complain before her mother that she had not been able to sleep that night for the excessive heat. Quoth the lady:

"Of what heat dost thou speak, daughter? Nay, it was nowise hot."

"Mother mine," answered Caterina, "you should say 'to my seeming' and belike you would say sooth; but you should consider how much hotter are young girls than ladies in years."

"Daughter mine," rejoined the lady, "that is true; but I cannot make it cold and hot at my pleasure, as belike thou wouldst have me do. We must put up with the weather, such as the seasons make it; maybe this next night will be cooler and thou wilt sleep better."

"God grant it may be so!" cried Caterina. "But it is not usual for the nights to go cooling, as it groweth towards summer."

"Then what wouldst thou have done?" asked the mother; and she answered:

"An it please my father and you, I would fain have a little bed made in the gallery, that is beside his chamber and over his garden, and there sleep. There I should hear the nightingale sing and having a cooler place to lie in, I should fare much better than in your chamber."

Quoth the mother: "Daughter, comfort thyself; I will tell thy father, and as he will, so will we do."

Messer Lizio, hearing all this from his wife, said; for that he was an old man and maybe therefore somewhat cross-grained:

"What nightingale is this to whose song she would sleep? I will yet make her sleep to the chirp of the crickets."

Caterina, coming to know this, more of despite than for the heat, not only slept not that night, but suffered not her mother to sleep, still complaining of the great heat. Accordingly, next morning, the latter repaired to her husband and said to him:

"Sir, you have little tenderness for yonder girl; what mattereth it to you if she lie in the gallery? She could get no rest all night for the heat. Besides, can you wonder at her having a mind to hear the nightingale sing, seeing she is but a child? Young folk are curious of things like themselves."

Messer Lizio, hearing this, said:

"Go to, make her a bed there, such as you think fit, and bind it about with some curtain or other, and there let her lie and hear the nightingale sing to her heart's content."

The girl, learning this, straightway let make a bed in the gallery and meaning to lie there that same night, watched till she saw Ricciardo and made him a signal appointed between them, by which he understood what was to be done.

Messer Lizia, hearing the girl gone to bed, locked a door that led from his chamber into the gallery, and betook himself likewise to sleep.

As for Ricciardo, as soon as he heard quiet on every hand, he mounted a wall, with the aid of a ladder, and thence, laying hold of certain toothings of another wall, he made his way, with great toil and danger, if he had fallen, up to the gallery, where he was quietly received by the girl with the utmost joy. Then, after many kisses, they went to bed together and took delight and pleasure one of another well nigh all that night, making the nightingale sing many a time.

The nights being short and the delight great and it being now, though they thought it not, near day, they fell asleep without any covering, so overheated were they what with the weather and what with their sport, Caterina having her right arm entwined about Ricciardo's neck and holding him with the left hand by that thing which you ladies think most shame to name among men.

As they slept on this wise, without awaking, the day came on and Messer Lizio arose and remembering him that his daughter lay in the gallery, opened the door softly, saying in himself:

"Let us see how the nigtingale hath made Caterina sleep this night."

Then, going in, he softly lifted up the serge wherein the bed was curtained about, and saw his daughter and Ricciardo lying asleep, naked and uncovered, embraced as it hath before set out; whereupon, having recognised Ricciardo, he went out again and reparing to his wife's chamber, called to her, saying:

"Quick, wife, get thee up and come see, for that thy daughter hath been so curious of the nightingale that she hath e'en taken it and hath it in hand."

"How can that be?" quoth she; and he answered:

"Thou shalt see it, an thou come quickly."

Accordingly, she made haste to dress herself and quietly followed her husband to the bed where, the curtain being drawn, Madam Giacomina might plainly see how her daughter had taken and held the nightingale, which she had so longed to hear sing; whereat the lady, holding herself sore deceived of Ricciardo, would have cried out and railed at him; but Messer Lizio said to her:

"Wife, as thou boldest my love dear, look thou say not a word, for, verily, since she hath gotten it, it shall be hers. Ricciardo is young and rich and gently born; he cannot make us other than a good son-in-law. An he would part from thee on good terms, needs must he first marry her, so it will be found that he hath put the nightingale in his own cage and not in that of another."

The lady was comforted to see that her hussband was not angered at the matter and considering that her daughter had passed a good night and rested well and had caught the nightingale, to boot, she held her tongue. Nor had they abidden long after these words when Ricciardo awoke and seeing that it was broad day, gave himself over for lost and called Caterina, saying:

"Alack, my soul, how shall we do, for the day is come and hath caught me here?"

Whereupon Messer Lizio came forward and lifting the curtain, answered:

"We shall do well."

When Ricciardo saw him, himseemed the heart was torn out of his body and sitting up in bed, he said:

"My lord, I crave your pardon for God's sake. I acknowledge to have deserved death, as a disloyal and wicked man; wherefore do you with me as best pleaseth you; but, I prithee, an it may be, have mercy on my life and let me not die."

"Ricciardo," answered Messer Lizio, "the love that I bore thee and the faith I had in thee merited not this return; yet, since thus it is and youth hath carried thee away into such a fault, do thou, to save thyself from death and me from shame, take Caterina to thy lawful wife, so that, like as this night she hath been thine, she may e'en be thine so long as she shall live. On this wise thou mayst gain my pardon and thine own safety; but, an thou choose not to do this, commend thy soul to God."

Whilst these words were saying, Caterina let go the nightingale and covering herself, fell to weeping sore and beseeching her father to pardon Ricciardo, whilst on the other hand she entreated her lover to do as Messer Lizio wished, so they might long pass such nights in security.

But there needed not overmany prayers, for that, on the one hand, shame of the fault committed and desire to make amends for it, and on the other, the fear of death and the wish to escape,—to say nothing of his ardent love and longing to possess the thing beloved,—made Ricciardo freely and without hesitation avouch himself ready to do that which pleased Messer Lizio; whereupon the latter borrowed of Giacomina one of her rings and there, without budging, Ricciardo in their presence took Caterina to his wife. This done, Messer Lizio and his lady departed, saying:

"Now rest yourself, for belike you have more need thereof than of rising."

They being gone, the young folk clipped each other anew and not having run more than half a dozen courses overnight, they ran other twain ere they arose and so made an end of the first day's tilting.

Then they arose and Ricciardo having had more orderly conference with Lizio a few days after, as it beseemed, he married the damsel over again, in the presence of their friends and kinsfolk, and brought her with great pomp to his own house. There he held goodly and honourable nuptials and after went long nightingale-fowling with her to his heart's content, in peace and solace, both by night and by day.

See also

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