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

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)

The One-Legged Crane

From “The Decameron”

MASTER CURRADO GIANFILIAZZI, as most of you have seen and know, living in the estate of a noble citizen, being a man bountiful, magnificent, and within the degree of knighthood, continually kept both hawks and hounds, taking no mean delight in such pleasures as they yielded, neglecting for them far more serious employments, wherewith our present subject presumeth not to meddle. Upon a day, having killed with his falcon a crane, near to a village called Peretola, and finding her to be young and fat, he sent it to his cook, a Venetian born, named Chichibio, with command to have it prepared for his supper. Chichibio, who resembled no other than (as he was indeed) a plain, simple, honest, merry fellow, having dressed the crane as it ought to be, put it on the spit and laid it to the fire.

When it was well near roasted, and gave forth a very delicate pleasing savor, it happened that a young woman dwelling not far off, named Brunetta, and of whom Chichibio was somewhat enamored, entered into the kitchen, and feeling the excellent smell of the crane to please her beyond all savors that ever she had felt before, she entreated Chichibio very earnestly that he would bestow a leg thereof upon her. Whereto Chichibio, like a pleasant companion, and evermore delighting in singing, sung her this answer:

  • “My Brunetta, fair and feat, no, no.
  • Why should you say so? Oh, oh!
  • The meat of my master
  • Takes you for no taster.
  • Go from the kitchen—go!”
  • Many other speeches passed between them in a short while, but, in the end, Chichibio, because he would not have his mistress Brunetta angry with him, cut off one of the crane’s legs from the spit and gave it to her to eat.

    Afterward, when the fowl was served up to the table before Currado, who had invited certain strangers his friends to sup with him, wondering not a little, he called for Chichibio his cook, demanding what was become of the crane’s other leg. Whereto the Venetian, being a liar by nature, suddenly answered, “Sir, cranes have no more but one leg each bird.” Currado, growing very angry, replied, “Wilt thou tell me that a crane hath no more than one leg? Did I never see a crane before this?” Chichibio, persisting resolutely in his denial, said, “Believe me, sir, I have told you nothing but the truth; and when you please I will make good my words by such fowls as are living.”

    Currado, in kind love to the strangers that he had invited to supper, gave over any further contestation; only he said, “Seeing thou assurest me to let me see thy affirmation for truth by other of the same fowls living—a thing which as yet I never saw or heard of—I am content to make proof thereof to-morrow morning. Till then I shall rest satisfied. But, upon my word, if I find it otherwise, expect such a sound payment as thy knavery justly deserveth, to make thee remember it all thy lifetime.”

    The contention ceasing for the night, Currado, who, although he had slept well, remained still discontented in his mind, arose in the morning by break of day, and puffing and blowing angrily, called for his horses, commanding Chichibio to mount on one of them; so riding on toward the river, where early every morning he had seen plenty of cranes, he said to his man, “We shall see anon, sirrah, whether thou or I lied yesternight.”

    Chichibio, perceiving that his master’s anger was not as yet assuaged, and that now it stood him upon to make good his lie, not knowing how he should do it, rode after his master fearfully trembling all the way. Gladly he would have made an escape, but he could not by any possible means, and on every side he looked about him, now before and after behind, to espy any cranes standing on both their legs, which would have been an ominous sight to him. But being come near to the river he chanced to see, before any of the rest, upon the bank thereof about a dozen cranes in number, each standing upon one leg, as they use to do when they are sleeping. Whereupon, showing them quickly to Currado, he said: “Now, sir, yourself may see whether I told you true yesternight or no. I am sure a crane hath but one thigh and one leg, as all here present are apparent witnesses, and I have been as good as my promise.”

    Currado, looking at the cranes, and well understanding the knavery of his man, replied, “Stay but a little while, sirrah, and I will show thee that a crane hath two thighs and two legs.” Then, riding somewhat nearer to them, he cried out aloud, “Shough! shough!” which caused them to set down their other legs; and all fled away, after they had made a few paces against the wind for their mounting. So, going unto Chichibio, he said, “How now, you lying knave! hath a crane two legs or no?” Chichibio, being well near at his wits’ end, not knowing now what answer he should make, but even as it came suddenly in his mind, said, “Sir, I perceive you are in the right; and if you would have done as much yesternight, and have cried ‘Shough!’ as here you did, questionless, the crane would then have set down the other leg, as these here did. But if, as they, she had fled away, too, by that means you might have lost your supper.”

    This sudden and unexpected answer, coming from such a logger-headed lout, and so seasonably for his own safety, was so pleasing to Currado, that he fell into a hearty laughter, and, forgetting all anger, said, “Chichibio, thou hast quitted thyself well and to my contentment, albeit I advise thee to try no more such tricks hereafter.” Thus Chichibio, by his sudden and merry answer, escaped a sound beating, which otherwise his master had inflicted upon him.