Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of too much love of the force of Truth
OF TOO MUCH LOVE OF THE FORCE OF TRUTH.
Petrus Alphonsus (100) relates a story of two knights, of whom one dwelt in Egypt and the other in Baldac. Messengers often passed between them; and whatever there was curious in the land of Egypt, the knight of that country sent to his friend; and he in like manner, sent back an equivalent. Thus much kindness was manifested on both sides; nor had any one even observed a contrary feeling.
As the knight of Baldac once lay upon his bed he held the following soliloquy. "My correspondent in Egypt has discovered much friendship for me; but I have never yet seen him: I will go and pay him a visit." Accordingly he hired a ship and went into Egypt; and his friend, hearing of his arrival, met him by the way, and received him with much pleasure. Now the knight had a very beautiful girl in his house, with whom the knight of Baldac was so smitten, that he fell sick and pined away. "My friend," said the other, "what is the matter with you?" "My heart," returned his comrade, "has fixed itself upon one of your female domestics, and unless I may espouse her I shall die." Upon this, all the household, save the individual in question, were summoned before him; and having surveyed them, he exclaimed, "I care little or nothing for these. But there is one other whom I have not seen; and her I love as my own soul." At last this girl was shewn to him. He protested that it was to her alone that he must owe his life. "Sir," said his friend, "I brought this girl up with the intention of making her my wife; and I shall obtain much wealth with her. Nevertheless, that I may preserve a friend's life, I give her to you with all the riches which should have fallen to my share." The sick knight, overjoyed at his good fortune, received the lady and the money, and returned with her to Baldac.
After a while, the knight of Egypt became so extremely indigent, that he possessed no habitation. "I had better," thought he, "go to my friend of Baldac; to him whom I enriched, and inform him of my wants." He did so; and reached Baldac a while after sunset. "It is night," said he to himself, "if I go now to my friend's house, he will not know me, for I am so poorly dressed; I who once used to have a large household about me, am now desolate and destitute. To-night, therefore, I will rest; and on the morrow will go to his mansion." Happening to look toward a burial-ground, he observed the gates of a church thrown open, and here he determined to remain for the night. But while he was endeavouring to compose himself to sleep in a court of that place, there entered two men who engaged in battle; and one was slain. The murderer instantly fled to the burial-ground, and escaped on the other side. By and by an extraordinary clamour penetrated through the whole city, "Where is the murderer? Where is the traitor?" was the general cry. "I am he," said our knight, "take me to crucifixion." They laid hands on him and led him away to prison. Early the next morning the city bell rang, and the judge sentenced him to be crucified. Amongst those who followed to witness his execution, was the knight whom he had befriended; and the former, seeing him led toward the cross, was struck with the resemblance to his old acquaintance, "What," cried he, "shall he be crucified, and I alive?" Shouting, therefore, with a loud voice, he said, "My friends! destroy not an innocent man. I am the murderer, and not he." Satisfied with his declaration, they immediately seized him and brought both to the cross. As they were on the point of undergoing the awarded punishment, the real murderer, who happened to be present, thought thus, "I will not permit innocent blood to be shed: the vengeance of God will sooner or later overtake me, and it is better to suffer a short pain in this world, than subject myself to everlasting torments in the next." Then lifting up his voice, "My friends! for God's sake slay not the guiltless. The dead man was killed without premeditation, and without the knowledge of any one. I only am the murderer; let these men go." The crowd, hearing what he said, instantly apprehended, and brought him with no little amazement to the judge. The judge, seeing the reputed criminals along with them, asked with surprise, why they had returned. They related what had occurred; and the judge, addressing the first knight, said, "Friend, why did you confess yourself the murderer?" "My lord," answered he, "I will tell you without deceit. In my own land I was rich; and every thing that I desired I had. But I lost all this; and possessing neither house nor home, I was ashamed; and sought in this confession to obtain a remedy. I am willing to die; and for heaven's love command me to be put to death." The judge then turning to the knight of Baldac, "And you, my friend! why did you avow yourself the murderer?" "My lord," replied he, "this knight bestowed upon me a wife, whom he had previously educated for himself, with an infinite store of wealth. When, therefore, I perceived my old and valued friend reduced to such an extremity, and saw him led rudely to the cross, I proclaimed myself the murderer. For his love I would willingly perish." "Now then," said the judge to the real homicide, "what have you to say for yourself?" "I will tell you the truth," answered he: "It would have been a heavy crime indeed had I permitted two innocent men to perish by my fault, and I should have deserved the punishment I might hereafter have been doomed to." "Well," returned the judge, "since you have declared the truth, and saved the lives of the innocent, study to amend your future life; for this time I pardon you—go in peace."
The people unanimously applauded the decision of the judge, in acquitting the guilty person, whose magnanimity had rescued two innocent persons from death.
- There is no Emperor in the story; but that is of little consequence. The reader must suppose one. Long use had so habituated the author or authors of the "Gesta Romanorum," to the anomalous introduction of an emperor, that the omission must have been held a flagrant breach of court etiquette.
- In agro Damascene plasmatus est," in the original.
Note 100.Page 347.
"This is the story of Boccace's popular novel of Tito and Gisippo, and of Lydgate's Tale of two Marchants of Egypt and of Baldad, a manuscript poem in the British Museum, and lately in the library of Dr. Askew. Peter Alphonsus is quoted for this story; and it makes the second fable of his Clericalis Disciplina."—Warton.
- R. Edwards has a play on this story.