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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549)

One Ducat for a Horse

From “The Heptameron”

THERE was at Saragossa a merchant who, feeling his end approach, and seeing that he must quit his possessions, which he had, perhaps, acquired with bad faith, thought to make satisfaction in part for his sins after his death by giving some little present to God, as if God gave His grace for money. After giving orders respecting his house, he desired that a fine Spanish horse, which constituted nearly the whole of his wealth, should be sold, and the money bestowed on the poor mendicants; and he charged his wife to do this without fail immediately after his death. The burial being over, and the first tears shed, the wife, who was no more of a simpleton than Spanish women are in general, said to the man-servant, who, like her, had heard her husband deliver his last will, “Methinks I lose enough in losing my husband, whom I so tenderly loved, without losing also the rest of my property. I would by no means, however, contravene the orders he laid upon me, but would rather improve upon his intentions. The poor man, beguiled by the avarice of the priests, thought to make a sacrifice to God, in giving away after his death a sum, one crown of which he would not have given in his lifetime, however pressing might be the need, as you very well know. It has occurred to me, then, that we will do what he ordered us much better than he could have done it himself had he lived a few days longer, but no one in the world must know a word about it.”

The man having promised to keep the secret, she continued: “You will take the horse to the market, and when you are asked the price you will say one ducat. But I have a very good cat which I want to sell also. You will sell it along with the horse, and charge for it ninety-nine ducats, making of the two one hundred ducats, which is the price at which my husband wished to sell the horse alone.”

The man promptly obeyed his mistress’s orders. As he was walking the horse about in the market-place, carrying the cat under his arm, a gentleman who knew the horse, and had before wished to buy it, came up and asked what he would take for it at a word. “A ducat,” said the man.

“I would thank you not to make game of me,” said the gentleman.

“I assure you, sir,” said the man, “it will cost you no more. However, you must buy this cat at the same time, and I want ninety-nine ducats for it.”

The gentleman, who thought it a pretty good bargain, paid him forthwith a ducat for the horse, and then the remainder for the cat, and had his two purchases taken home. The man on his side went off with the money to his mistress, who was delighted to get it, and failed not to bestow on the poor mendicants, according to her husband’s intentions, the ducat for which the horse had been sold, and kept the rest to provide for her own wants and those of her family.