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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Frederick of the Alberighi and His Falcon
By Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)
 
YOU must know that Coppo di Borghese Domenichi—who was in our city, and perhaps still is, a man of reverence and of great authority amongst us, both for his opinions and for his virtues, and much more for the nobility of his family, being distinguished and wealthy and of enduring reputation, being full of years and experience—was often delighted to talk with his neighbors and others of the things of the past, which he, better than anybody else, could do with excellent order and with unclouded memory. Amongst the pleasant stories which he used to tell was this:—  1
  In Florence there was a young man called Frederick, son of Master Philip Alberighi, who for military ability and for courteous manners was reputed above all other gentlemen of Tuscany. He, as often happens with gentlemen, became enamored of a gentle lady called Madonna Giovanni, in her time considered the most beautiful and most graceful woman in Florence. In order that he might win her love he tilted and exercised in arms, made feasts and donations, and spent all his substance without restraint. But Madonna Giovanni, no less honest than beautiful, cared for none of these things which he did for her, nor for him. Frederick then spent more than his means admitted, and gaining nothing, as easily happens, his money disappeared, and he remained poor and without any other property than a poor little farm, by the income of which he was barely able to live; besides this, he had his falcon, one of the best in the world. On this account, and because unable to remain in the city as he desired, though more than ever devoted, he remained at Campi, where his little farm was; and there, as he might hunt, he endured his poverty patiently.  2
  Now it happened one day when Frederick had come to extreme poverty, that the husband of Madonna Giovanni became ill, and seeing death at hand, made his will; and being very rich, in this will left as his heir his son, a well-grown boy; and next to him, as he had greatly loved Madonna Giovanni, he made her his heir if his son should die without legitimate heirs, and then died. Remaining then a widow, as the custom is amongst our women, Madonna Giovanni went that summer with her son into the country on an estate of hers near to that of Frederick, so that it happened that this boy, beginning to become friendly with Frederick and to cultivate a liking for books and birds, and having seen many times the falcon of Frederick fly, took an extreme pleasure in it and desired very greatly to have it, but did not dare to ask it, seeing that it was so dear to Frederick.  3
  In this state of things it happened that the boy became ill, and on this account the mother sorrowing greatly, he being that which she loved most of everything which she had, tended him constantly and never ceased comforting him; and begged him that if there was anything that he wanted, to tell her, so that she certainly, if it were possible to get it, would obtain it for him. The young man, hearing many times this proposal, said: “Mother, if you can manage that I should have the falcon of Frederick, I believe that I should get well at once.” The mother, hearing this, reflected with herself and began to study what she might do. She knew that Frederick had long loved her, and that he had never received from her even a look; on this account she said, How can I send to him or go to him, to ask for this falcon, which is, by what I hear, the thing that he most loves, and which besides keeps him in the world; and how can I be so ungrateful as to take from a gentleman what I desire, when it is the only thing that he has to give him pleasure? Embarrassed by such thoughts, and feeling that she was certain to have it if she asked it of him, and not knowing what to say, she did not reply to her son, but was silent. Finally, the love of her son overcoming her, she decided to satisfy him, whatever might happen, not sending but going herself for the falcon; and she replied, “My son, be comforted and try to get well, for I promise you that the first thing that I do to-morrow will be to go and bring to you the falcon;” on which account the son in his joy showed the same day an improvement. The lady the next day took as companion another lady, and as if for pleasure went to the house of Frederick and asked for him. It being early, he had not been hawking, and was in his garden attending to certain little operations; and hearing that Madonna Giovanni asked for him at the door, wondering greatly, joyfully went. She, seeing him coming, with a ladylike pleasure went to meet him, and Frederick having saluted her with reverence, she said, “I hope you are well, Frederick,” and then went on, “I have come to recompense you for the losses which you have already had on my account, loving me more than you need; and the reparation is, then, that I intend with this my companion to dine with you familiarly to-day.” To this Frederick humbly replied, “Madonna, I do not remember ever to have suffered any loss on your account, but so much good that if I ever was worth anything, it is due to your worth, and to the love which I have borne you; and certainly your frank visit is dearer to me than would have been the being able to spend as much more as I have already spent, for you have come to a very poor house.” So saying, he received them into his house in humility and conducted them into his garden; and then, not having any person to keep her company he said, “Madonna, since there is no one else, this good woman, the wife of my gardener, will keep you company while I go to arrange the table.”  4
  He, although his poverty was so great, had not yet realized how he had, without method or pleasure, spent his fortune; but this morning, finding nothing with which he could do honor to the lady for whose love he had already entertained so many men, made him think and suffer extremely; he cursed his fortune, and as a man beside himself ran hither and thither, finding neither money nor anything to pawn. It being late, and his desire to honor the gentle lady in some manner, and not wishing to call on anybody else, but rather to do all himself, his eyes fell upon his beloved falcon, which was in his cage above the table. He therefore took it, and finding it fat, and not having any other resource, he considered it to be a proper food for such a woman; and without thinking any further, he wrung its neck and ordered his servant that, it being plucked and prepared, it should be put on the spit and roasted immediately. And setting the table with the whitest of linen, of which he had still a little left, with a delighted countenance he returned to the lady and told her that such dinner as he was able to prepare for her was ready. Thereupon, the lady with her companion, rising, went to dinner, and without knowing what she ate or what Frederick served, ate the good falcon.  5
  Then leaving the table, and after pleasant conversation with him, it appeared to the lady that it was time to say what she had come for, and so she began amiably to say to Frederick:—“Frederick, recalling your past life and my honesty, which perhaps you considered cruelty and severity, I do not doubt in the least that you will be astonished at my presumption, hearing what I have come for; but if you had ever had children, through whom you might know how great is the love which one bears them, it seems to me certain that in part you would excuse me. But as you have not, I, who have one, cannot escape the law common to all mothers; obeying which, I am obliged, apart from my own pleasure and all other convention and duty, to ask of you a gift which I know is extremely dear, and reasonably so, because no other delight and no other amusement and no other consolation has your exhausted fortune left you; this gift is your falcon, which my boy has become so strongly enamored of, that if I do not take it to him I fear that his illness will become so much aggravated that I may lose him in consequence; therefore I pray you, not on account of the love which you bear me, but because of your nobility, which has shown greater courtesy than that of any other man, that you would be so kind, so good, as to give it to me, in order that by this gift the life of my son may be preserved, and I be forever under obligation to you.”  6
  Frederick, hearing what the lady demanded, and knowing that he could not serve her, because he had already given it to her to eat, commenced in her presence to weep so that he could not speak a word in reply; which weeping the lady first believed to be for sorrow at having to give up his good falcon more than anything else, and was about to tell him that she did not want it, but, hesitating, waited the reply of Frederick until the weeping ceased, when he spoke thus:—“Madonna, since it pleased God that I bestowed my love upon you, money, influence, and fortune have been contrary to me, and have given me great trouble; but all these things are trivial in respect to what fortune makes me at present suffer, from which I shall never have peace, thinking that you have come here to my poor house—to which while I was rich you never deigned to come—and asked of me a little gift, and that fortune has so decreed that I shall not be able to give it to you; and why I cannot do so I will tell you in a few words. When I heard that you in your kindness wished to dine with me, having regard for your excellence and your worth, I considered it worthy and proper to give you the dearest food in my power, and therefore the falcon for which you now ask me was this morning prepared for you, and you have had it roasted on your plate and I had prepared it with delight; but now, seeing that you desire it in another manner, the sorrow that I cannot so please you is so great that never again shall I have peace;” and saying this, the feathers and the feet and the beak were brought before them in evidence; which thing the lady seeing and hearing, first blamed him for having entertained a woman with such a falcon, and then praised the greatness of his mind, which his poverty had not been able to diminish. Then, there being no hope of having the falcon on account of which the health of her son was in question, in melancholy she departed and returned to her son; who either for grief at not being able to have the falcon, or for the illness which might have brought him to this state, did not survive for many days, and to the great sorrow of his mother passed from this life.  7
  She, full of tears and of sorrow, and remaining rich and still young, was urged many times by her brothers to remarry, which thing she had never wished; but being continually urged, and remembering the worth of Frederick and his last munificence, and that he had killed his beloved falcon to honor her, said to her brothers:—“I would willingly, if it please you, remain as I am; but if it please you more that I should take a husband, certainly I will never take any other if I do not take Frederick degli Alberighi.” At this her brothers, making fun of her, said, “Silly creature, what do you say? Why do you choose him? He has nothing in the world.” To this she replied, “My brothers, I know well that it is as you say; but I prefer rather a man who has need of riches, than riches that have need of a man.” The brothers, hearing her mind, and knowing Frederick for a worthy man,—although poor,—as she wished, gave her with all her wealth to him; who, seeing this excellent woman whom he had so much loved become his wife, and besides that, being most rich, becoming economical, lived in happiness with her to the end of his days.  8
 
 
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