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

Masuccio Salernitano (1410–1475)

The Silver Cup and the Lamprey

From The Collection of Tales, or “Novellino”

MASTER FLORIANO DA CASTEL SAN PIERO was known in his own day, among the people of Bologna, as a most famous and excellent doctor of laws. After he had come out of church one morning, he was walking up and down the great square of the city with certain other doctors of law, his friends, and in passing it chanced that he entered the shop of a silversmith living in those parts to whom he had given orders to make for him a rich and beautiful cup of silver gilt, and before he went any farther, and without holding any other discourse with the silversmith thereanent, he made out his account with the craftsman and paid it. Then, when he turned round to call his servant and bid him take the cup home, he found that the varlet was not there; so he begged the silversmith that he would as a favor send the cup to his house by the hand of his apprentice, which the silversmith undertook willingly to do.

Now at that time there were in Bologna two young men from the Roman states, who had come from the parts round about Trevi. These two were wandering through Italy from one place to another, carrying with them a store of false money and loaded dice and a thousand other crafty beguilements wherewith to defraud whomsoever they might meet, contriving the while to eat and drink and live a merry life by sponging upon others. Of these, one was named Liello di Cecco, and the other Andreuccio di Vallemontone; and these two, finding themselves by chance in the great piazza at that very same time when Master Floriano had bidden the silversmith let despatch the cup to his house, forthwith proposed one to the other to make an attempt to get this cup into their hands when they heard what orders had been given about it. It happened that they knew quite well the house where the doctor lived; and as soon as they perceived that the apprentice had come back from the discharge of his errand, Liello straightway gave command to his companion as to what course they must follow. First he betook himself to a tavern, and, after he had bought a very fine lamprey from a heap of large ones which was lying there, and hidden the same carefully beneath his mantle, he hurried at full speed to the house of Master Floriano. Then, having knocked at the door, he asked for the mistress of the house, and when he had been brought into her presence he said:

“Madam, your husband sends you this fish, and bids me tell you to have it daintily prepared at once for the table, as he is minded to dine here to-day with certain other doctors who are friends of his; and, moreover, he told me that you were to send back to him the same cup which the apprentice of the shop brought to you a little time ago, for the reason that he finds he has made an unprofitable bargain with the master silversmith, and wishes to have it taken back to the shop in order that it may be weighed again.”

The simple woman, lending easy belief to the knave’s words, immediately handed over to Liello the cup, and commanded her maid servants to lose no time in preparing the fish; and, having duly set in order such apparel as was needful for the reception of strangers at dinner, she awaited their coming with no little pleasure. Liello, as soon as he had got the cup safely in his possession, quickly made his way toward the monastery of San Michele in Bosco, where there dwelt a prior who was a Roman and a friend of the two sharpers, and an artist no less skilled in knavery than they themselves. This man gave Liello a friendly reception, and when he had heard the whole story, they both made merry over the good stroke which had been played, while they awaited the coming of Andreuccio, who had tarried behind in the square to listen to whatever might be said concerning the deed they had just wrought.

When the dinner hour had come Master Floriano, having taken leave of his companions, went to his house, and as he drew nigh thereto, his wife, observing that he was alone, went toward him and said:

“Sir, where are the guests you have invited?”

The doctor, greatly amazed at such a question as this, made answer to her, “What guests are these concerning whom you ask?”

“Know you not what guests I mean?” said the wife. “I, for my part, have prepared everything for dinner in very handsome fashion.”

Master Floriano, now more astonished than ever, cried out, “It seems to me that you must have lost your wits this morning.”

Then said the wife, “Nay, I am well assured that my wits fail me not at all. You, in sooth, sent me a fine lamprey, with directions for me to get the same ready, seeing that you intended to bring hither with you several other doctors to dinner; and all the things you ordered me to do by your message I have done, and I hope these may be to your pleasure, otherwise we shall have lost our time and our trouble in no small measure.”

The husband replied, “Certes, my wife, I do not comprehend the meaning of what you are saying, but may God ever go on sending to us people who use us in this kindly fashion—people who bring us something out of their own store without taking away in turn aught from ours. This time, in sooth, we must have been mistaken for some one else.”

Now when the wife, who with such scant caution had handed over the cup to the knave, heard that in truth her husband knew nothing at all about the matter, she said, with her mind greatly disturbed:

“Sir, in my opinion it is exactly the opposite to what you say, forasmuch as the man who brought hither the fish asked me in your name to hand over to him the silver cup which the apprentice of the shop had brought here only a short time before, and he described to me so exactly all the marks thereof that I handed it over to him forthwith.”

When Master Floriano heard that the cup had thus been cozened away from him, he understood at once that he had lost it by means of treacherous dealing; wherefore he cried out, “Ah, senseless numskull that you are! You have in sooth allowed yourself to be nicely tricked.”

Then he departed straightway out of the house, and when he had come to the square he went searching about on every side without knowing why, demanding of every one he met if any man had been seen going in the direction of his house and carrying in his hand a fish. In fact, the doctor gave vent to a thousand other crazy humors without getting any good therefrom. He went from place to place playing the fool and sending people to the four winds, asking all sorts of questions bearing upon the business in hand, and sometimes trying to believe, with faint hope, that it was only a harmless trick which some one had played him.

In the meantime Andreuccio was standing at the corner of the square with all the outward seeming of a man of good repute, and although he deemed that by this time his comrade and the cup as well must have gained a harbor of refuge, he felt nevertheless no little vexation that he himself should have lost the good round sum he had spent in the purchase of the lamprey without ever tasting a mouthful of the same. Wherefore he made up his mind to get into his possession the lamprey by means of another trick no less astute than the first. Thus, taking advantage of the time when he perceived that Master Floriano was most hotly engaged in his search for the cup, he betook himself at the top of his speed to the doctor’s house, and mounting the steps with a joyful face, he said to the wife:

“Madam, I bring to you good news, forasmuch as your husband has found the cup which certain friends of his caused to be stolen from him by way of playing a jest with him, therefore he has sent me hither to fetch the fish which you have got in order, and to take it to him, seeing that he is minded to make good cheer with the same in the company of those who snatched the cup out of his sight.”

The wife, who had been overwhelmed with grief and trouble for the reason that she had been the cause of the loss of the cup, rejoiced mightily when she heard that it had been found; and having taken two large dishes of pewter, with a white and scented table-cloth, she placed the well-dressed fish within, and, glad at heart at the turn of affairs, she delivered it into the hands of the worthy Andreuccio. And he, as soon as he was clear of the house, wrapped up everything carefully under his cloak and flew as fast as his legs could carry him toward San Michele; and having arrived there, he met the prior and Liello, and the three held high revel over the excellent lamprey, laughing and jesting the while heartily. They afterward handed over the pewter dishes to the prior, and then, using the greatest cunning, they sold the cup and went their way to another place without raising any hue and cry with regard to their exploit.

Master Floriano, who had spent the whole of the day in vainly seeking to get some intelligence as to the matter, went back to his house late at night hungry and sorely out of humor; whereupon his wife, going forward to meet him, addressed him in these words:

“Glory be to God! seeing that by His help you have at last found the cup, through losing which I was called a numskull.”

But he, with a heart filled with cruel resentment, replied: “Get out of my sight, conceited fool that you are! You do not wish to know what bad luck really is; for it appears that, over and beyond working a grievous wrong and injury to me by reason of your brutish folly, you now are minded to make a mock of me.”

The wife, utterly confounded by what she heard, answered, all trembling with fear:

“Sir, in good faith I do not mean to jeer at you,” and then she went on to tell him all about the second trick which had been put upon her.

Master Floriano, when he heard this, fell into a humor so overwrought and grief-stricken that he came little short of losing his wits entirely; and after he had spent a great deal of time and tried every scheme, with all sorts of most subtle investigations, to lay his hands on the thieves, he lived for a long season with his wife in sore hatred and ill-will, having failed altogether to discover anything about those who had duped him. And in this fashion the Romans enjoyed the fruit of their cunning deceit, and left the doctor, tricked and flouted, with his sorrow and loss.