The Pentamerone, or The Story of Stories/Gagliuso
Ingratitude, my lord, is a nail, which, driven into the tree of courtesy, causes it to wither; it is a broken channel, by which the foundations of affection are undermined; and a lump of soot, which falling into the dish of friendship destroys its scent and savour; as is seen in daily instances, and among others in the story which I will now tell you.
There was one time in my dear city of Naples an old man, who was as poor as poor could be: he was so wretched, so bare, so light, and with not a farthing in his pocket, that he went naked as a flea. And being about to shake out the bags of life, he called to him his sons, Oratiello and Pippo, and said to them, "I am now called upon by the tenor of my bill to pay the debt I owe to Nature; and believe me, if you are Christians, that I should feel great pleasure in leaving this abode of misery, this den of woes, but that I leave you here behind me, a pair of miserable fellows, as big as Santa Chiara on the five ways of Melito, without a stitch upon your backs, as clean as a barber's basin, as nimble as a serjeant, as dry as a plum-stone, without so much as a fly can carry upon its foot; so that were you to run a hundred miles, not a farthing would drop from you. My ill-fortune has indeed brought me to such beggary that I lead the life of a dog, and just as I am, they may put me down in their books; for I have all along, as you well know, gaped with hunger and gone to bed without a candle. Nevertheless, now that I am dying, I wish to leave you some token of my love. So do you, Oratiello, who are my first-born, take the sieve that hangs yonder against the wall, with which you can earn your bread; and do you, little fellow, take the cat, and remember your daddy." So saying he began to whimper, and presently after said, "God be with you, for it is night!"
Oratiello had his father buried by charity, and then took the sieve, and went riddling here and there and everywhere to gain a livelihood; and the more he riddled the more he earned. And Pippo, taking the cat, said, "Only see now what a pretty legacy my father has left me! I, who am not able to support myself, must now provide for two. Who ever beheld such a miserable inheritance?" But the cat, who overheard this lamentation, said to him, "You are grieving without need, and have more luck than sense; but you little know the good fortune in store for you, and that I am able to make you rich if I set about it." When Pippo heard this, he thanked her pussyship, stroked her three or four times on the back, and commended himself warmly to her. So the cat took compassion upon poor Gagliuso, and every morning, when the Sun, with the bait of light upon his golden hook, fishes for the shades of Night, she betook herself either to the shore of the Chiaja or to the Fish-rock, and catching a goodly grey mullet, or a fine dory, she bagged it, and carried it to the king, and said, "My lord Gagliuso, your Majesty's most humble slave, sends you this fish with all reverence, and says, 'A small present to a great lord.'" Then the king with a joyful face, as one usually shows to those who bring a gift, answered the cat, "Tell this lord, whom I do not know, that I thank him heartily."
At another time the cat would run to the marshes or fields, and when the fowlers had brought down a blackbird, a snipe or a lark, she caught it up, and presented it to the king with the same message. She repeated this trick again and again, until one morning the king said to her, "I feel infinitely obliged to this lord Gagliuso, and am desirous of knowing him, that I may make a return for the kindness he has shown me." And the cat replied, "The desire of my lord Gagliuso is to give his life and blood for your Majesty's crown, and tomorrow morning without fail, as soon as the Sun has set fire to the stubble of the fields of air, he will come and pay his respects to you."
So when the morning came the cat went to the king, and said to him, "Sire, my lord Gagliuso sends to excuse himself for not coming; as last night some of his servants robbed him and ran off, and have not left him a single shirt to his back." When the king heard this, he instantly commanded his servants to take out of his wardrobe a quantity of clothes and linen, and sent them to Gagliuso; and before two hours had passed, Gagliuso went to the palace, conducted by the cat, where he received a thousand compliments from the king, who made him sit beside him, and gave him a banquet that would amaze you.
While they were eating, Gagliuso from time to time turned to the cat and said to her, "My pretty puss, prithee take care that those rags don't slip through our fingers." Then the cat answered, "Be quiet, be quiet; don't be talking of these beggarly things." The king wishing to know what it was, the cat made answer that he had taken a fancy for a small lemon, whereupon the king instantly sent out to the garden for a basketful. But Gagliuso returned to the same tune about the old clothes and shirts, and the cat again told him to hold his tongue. Then the king once more asked what was the matter, and the cat had another excuse ready to make amends for Gagliuso's rudeness.
At last, when they had eaten and had chatted for some time of one thing and another, Gagliuso took his leave; and the cat staid with the king, describing the worth, and the genius, and the judgement of Gagliuso, and above all the great wealth he had in the plains of Rome and Lombardy, which well entitled him to marry into the family of a crowned king. Then the king asked what might be his fortune; and the cat replied, that no one could ever count the moveables, the immoveables, and the household furniture of this immensely rich man, who did not even know what he possessed; and if the king wished to be informed of it, he had only to send people with her out of the kingdom, and she would prove to him that there was no wealth in the world equal to his.
Then the king called some trusty persons, and commanded them to inform themselves minutely of the truth; so they followed in the footsteps of the cat, who, as soon as they had passed the frontier of the kingdom, from time to time ran on before, under the pretext of providing refreshments for them on the road; and whenever she met a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, a troop of horses or a drove of pigs, she would say to the herdsmen and keepers, "Ho! have a care! there's a troop of robbers coming to carry off everything in the country. So if you wish to escape their fury, and to have your things respected, say that they all belong to the lord Gagliuso, and not a hair will be touched."
She said the same at all the farm-houses that she passed on the road; so that wherever the king's people came, they found the pipe tuned; for everything they met with, they were told, belonged to the lord Gagliuso. So at last they were tired of asking, and went back to the king, telling seas and mountains of the riches of lord Gagliuso. The king, hearing this report, promised the cat a good drink if she should manage to bring about the match; and the cat, playing the shuttle between them, at last concluded the marriage. So Gagliuso came, and the king gave him his daughter and a large portion.
At the end of a month of festivities Gagliuso said he wished to take his bride to his estates; so the king accompanied them as far as the frontiers, and he went to Lombardy, where, by the cat's advice, he purchased a quantity of lands and territories, and became a baron.
Gagliuso, now seeing himself so extremely rich, thanked the cat more than words can express, saying that he owed his life and his greatness to her good offices, and that the ingenuity of a cat had done more for him than the wit of his father; therefore she might dispose of his life and property as she pleased; and he gave her his word that when she died, which he prayed might not be for a hundred years, he would have her embalmed and put into a golden coffin, and set in his own chamber, that he might keep her memory always before his eyes.
The cat listened to these lavish professions, and before three days she pretended to be dead, and stretched herself at her full length in the garden; and when Gagliuso's wife saw her, she cried out, "O husband, what a sad misfortune! the cat is dead!"—"Devil die with her!" said Gagliuso, "better she than we!"—"What shall we do with her?" replied the wife. "Take her by the leg," said he, "and fling her out of the window."
Then the cat, who heard this fine reward when she least expected it, began to say, "Is this the return you make for my taking you from beggary? is this the thanks I get for freeing you from rags that you might have hung distaffs with? is this my reward for having put good clothes on your back, and fed you well when you were a poor starved, miserable, tatter-brogued ragamuffin? But such is the fate of him who washes an ass's head. Go, a curse upon all I have done for you! you are not worth spitting upon in the face. A fine gold coffin you had prepared for me! a fine funeral you were going to give me! Go now, serve, labour, toil, sweat, to get this fine reward! Unhappy is he who does a good deed in hopes of a return! Well was it said by the philosopher, 'He who lies down an ass, an ass he finds himself.' But let him who does most expect least: smooth words and ill deeds deceive alike both wise and fools."
So saying she threw her cloak about her, and went her way; and all that Gagliuso with the utmost humility could do to soothe her was of no avail: she would not return, but kept running on without ever turning her head about, and saying.
"Heaven protect us from a rich man grown poor.
And from a beggar who of wealth has got store."
The poor cat was compassionated beyond measure for seeing herself so ill rewarded; but one of those present observed, that she might have found some consolation in not being alone; for at the present day ingratitude has become a domestic evil; and there are many others also who, after they have worked and toiled, and spent their money, and ruined their health, to serve this race of ungrateful people, and have fancied themselves sure of another and a better reward than a golden coffin, find themselves destined to be buried in the hospital. Meanwhile, seeing that Popa was preparing to speak, all present were silent, and she began as follows.
- Mantracchio: a miserable port of Naples so named. The word is Arabic, and signifies a Port.
- A place near Naples.
- Literally, 'I have always made gapings and crosses.' This refers to a superstitious practice formerly common in Naples of making the sign of the cross over the mouth when a person gaped: it arose from the notion that the evil spirits seized such moments to enter the body.
- He is before called Pippo, which is probably an abbreviation of piccolo. In another tale Miuccio is called Pippo.
- The Chiaja and Preta de lo Pesce—places in the bay of Naples.