Vardiello by Giambattista Basile
If Nature had given to animals the necessity of clothing themselves,
and of buying their food, the race of quadrupeds would inevitably be
destroyed. Therefore it is that they find their food without
trouble,—without gardener to gather it, purchaser to buy it, cook to
prepare it, or carver to cut it up; whilst their skin defends them from
the rain and snow, without the merchant giving them cloth, the tailor
making the dress, or the errand-boy begging for a drink-penny. To man
however, who has intelligence, Nature did not care to grant these
indulgences, since he is able to procure for himself what he wants.
This is the reason that we commonly see clever men poor, and blockheads
rich; as you may gather from the story which I am going to tell you.
Grannonia of Aprano was a woman of a great sense and judgment, but she
had a son named Vardiello, who was the greatest booby and simpleton in
the whole country round about. Nevertheless, as a mother's eyes are
bewitched and see what does not exist, she doted upon him so much, that
she was for ever caressing and fondling him as if he were the
handsomest creature in the world.
Now Grannonia kept a brood-hen, that was sitting upon a nest of eggs,
in which she placed all her hope, expecting to have a fine brood of
chickens, and to make a good profit of them. And having one day to go
out on some business, she called her son, and said to him, "My pretty
son of your own mother, listen to what I say: keep your eye upon the
hen, and if she should get up to scratch and pick, look sharp and drive
her back to the nest; for otherwise the eggs will grow cold, and then
we shall have neither eggs nor chickens."
"Leave it to me," replied Vardiello, "you are not speaking to deaf
"One thing more," said the mother; "look-ye, my blessed son, in yon
cupboard is a pot full of certain poisonous things; take care that ugly
Sin does not tempt you to touch them, for they would make you stretch
your legs in a trice."
"Heaven forbid!" replied Vardiello, "poison indeed will not tempt me;
but you have done wisely to give me the warning; for if I had got at
it, I should certainly have eaten it all up."
Thereupon the mother went out, but Vardiello stayed behind; and, in
order to lose no time, he went into the garden to dig holes, which he
covered with boughs and earth, to catch the little thieves who come to
steal the fruit. And as he was in the midst of his work, he saw the hen
come running out of the room, whereupon he began to cry, "Hish, hish!
this way, that way!" But the hen did not stir a foot; and Vardiello,
seeing that she had something of the donkey in her, after crying "Hish,
hish," began to stamp with his feet; and after stamping with his feet
to throw his cap at her, and after the cap a cudgel which hit her just
upon the pate, and made her quickly stretch her legs.
When Vardiello saw this sad accident, he bethought himself how to
remedy the evil; and making a virtue of necessity, in order to prevent
the eggs growing cold, he set himself down upon the nest; but in doing
so, he gave the eggs an unlucky blow, and quickly made an omelet of
them. In despair at what he had done, he was on the point of knocking
his head against the wall; at last, however, as all grief turns to
hunger, feeling his stomach begin to grumble, he resolved to eat up the
hen. So he plucked her, and sticking her upon a spit, he made a great
fire, and set to work to roast her. And when she was cooked, Vardiello,
to do everything in due order, spread a clean cloth upon an old chest;
and then, taking a flagon, he went down into the cellar to draw some
wine. But just as he was in the midst of drawing the wine, he heard a
noise, a disturbance, an uproar in the house, which seemed like the
clattering of horses' hoofs. Whereat starting up in alarm and turning
his eyes, he saw a big tom-cat, which had run off with the hen, spit
and all; and another cat chasing after him, mewing, and crying out for
Vardiello, in order to set this mishap to rights, darted upon the cat
like an unchained lion, and in his haste he left the tap of the barrel
running. And after chasing the cat through every hole and corner of the
house, he recovered the hen; but the cask had meanwhile all run out;
and when Vardiello returned, and saw the wine running about, he let the
cask of his soul empty itself through the tap-holes of his eyes. But at
last judgment came to his aid and he hit upon a plan to remedy the
mischief, and prevent his mother's finding out what had happened; so,
taking a sack of flour, filled full to the mouth, he sprinkled it over
the wine on the floor.
But when he meanwhile reckoned up on his fingers all the disasters he
had met with, and thought to himself that, from the number of fooleries
he had committed, he must have lost the game in the good graces of
Grannonia, he resolved in his heart not to let his mother see him again
alive. So thrusting his hand into the jar of pickled walnuts which his
mother had said contained poison, he never stopped eating until he came
to the bottom; and when he had right well filled his stomach he went
and hid himself in the oven.
In the meanwhile his mother returned, and stood knocking for a long
time at the door; but at last, seeing that no one came, she gave it a
kick; and going in, she called her son at the top of her voice. But as
nobody answered, she imagined that some mischief must have happened,
and with increased lamentation she went on crying louder and louder,
"Vardiello! Vardiello! are you deaf, that you don't hear? Have you the
cramp, that you don't run? Have you the pip, that you don't answer?
Where are you, you rogue? Where are you hidden, you naughty fellow?"
Vardiello, on hearing all this hubbub and abuse, cried out at last with
a piteous voice, "Here I am! here I am in the oven; but you will never
see me again, mother!"
"Why so?" said the poor mother.
"Because I am poisoned," replied the son.
"Alas! alas!" cried Grannonia, "how came you to do that? What cause
have you had to commit this homicide? And who has given you poison?"
Then Vardiello told her, one after another, all the pretty things he
had done; on which account he wished to die and not to remain any
longer a laughing-stock in the world.
The poor woman, on hearing all this, was miserable and wretched, and
she had enough to do and to say to drive this melancholy whimsey out of
Vardiello's head. And being infatuated and dotingly fond of him, she
gave him some nice sweetmeats, and so put the affair of the pickled
walnuts out of his head, and convinced him that they were not poison,
but good and comforting to the stomach. And having thus pacified him
with cheering words, and showered on him a thousand caresses, she drew
him out of the oven. Then giving him a fine piece of cloth, she bade
him go and sell it, but cautioning him not to do business with folks of
too many words.
"Tut, tut!" said Vardiello, "let me alone; I know what I'm about, never
fear." So saying, he took the cloth, and went his way through the city
of Naples, crying, "Cloth! cloth!" But whenever any one asked him,
"What cloth have you there?" he replied, "You are no customer for me;
you are a man of too many words." And when another said to him, "How do
you sell your cloth?" he called him a chatterbox, who deafened him with
his noise. At length he chanced to espy, in the courtyard of a house
which was deserted on account of the Monaciello, a plaster statue; and
being tired out, and wearied with going about and about, he sat himself
down on a bench. But not seeing any one astir in the house, which
looked like a sacked village, he was lost in amazement, and said to the
statue: "Tell me, comrade, does no one live in this house?" Vardiello
waited awhile; but as the statue gave no answer, he thought this surely
was a man of few words. So he said, "Friend, will you buy my cloth?
I'll sell it you cheap." And seeing that the statue still remained
dumb, he exclaimed, "Faith, then, I've found my man at last! There,
take the cloth, examine it, and give me what you will; to-morrow I'll
return for the money."
So saying Vardiello left the cloth on the spot where he had been
sitting, and the first mother's son who passed that way found the prize
and carried it off.
When Vardiello returned home without the cloth, and told his mother all
that had happened, she wellnigh swooned away, and said to him, "When
will you put that headpiece of yours in order? See now what tricks you
have played me—only think! But I am myself to blame, for being too
tender-hearted, instead of having given you a good beating at first;
and now I perceive that a pitiful doctor only makes the wound
incurable. But you'll go on with your pranks until at last we come to a
serious falling-out, and then there will be a long reckoning, my lad!"
"Softly, mother," replied Vardiello, "matters are not so bad as they
seem; do you want more than crown-pieces brand new from the mint? Do
you think me a fool, and that I don't know what I am about? To-morrow
is not yet here. Wait awhile, and you shall see whether I know how to
fit a handle to a shovel."
The next morning, as soon as the shades of Night, pursued by the
constables of the Sun, had fled the country, Vardiello repaired to the
courtyard where the statue stood, and said, "Good-day, friend! Can you
give me those few pence you owe me? Come, quick, pay me for the cloth!"
But when he saw that the statue remained speechless, he took up a stone
and hurled it at its breast with such force that it burst a vein, which
proved, indeed, the cure to his own malady; for some pieces of the
statue falling off, he discovered a pot full of golden crown-pieces.
Then taking it in both his hands, off he ran home, head over heels, as
far as he could scamper, crying out, "Mother, mother! see here! what a
lot of red lupins I've got. How many! how many!"
His mother, seeing the crown-pieces, and knowing very well that
Vardiello would soon make the matter public, told him to stand at the
door until the man with milk and new-made cheese came past, as she
wanted to buy a pennyworth of milk. So Vardiello, who was a great
glutton, went quickly and seated himself at the door; and his mother
showered down from the window above raisins and dried figs for more
than half an hour. Whereupon Vardiello, picking them up as fast as he
could, cried aloud, "Mother, mother! bring out some baskets; give me
some bowls! Here, quick with the tubs and buckets! for if it goes on to
rain thus we shall be rich in a trice." And when he had eaten his fill
Vardiello went up to sleep.
It happened one day that two countrymen—the food and life-blood of the
law-courts—fell out, and went to law about a gold crown-piece which
they had found on the ground. And Vardiello passing by said, "What
jackasses you are to quarrel about a red lupin like this! For my part I
don't value it at a pin's head, for I've found a whole potful of them."
When the judge heard this he opened wide his eyes and ears, and
examined Vardiello closely, asking him how, when, and where he had
found the crowns. And Vardiello replied, "I found them in a palace,
inside a dumb man, when it rained raisins and dried figs." At this the
judge stared with amazement; but instantly seeing how the matter stood,
he decreed that Vardiello should be sent to a madhouse, as the most
competent tribunal for him. Thus the stupidity of the son made the
mother rich, and the mother's wit found a remedy for the foolishness of
the son: whereby it is clearly seen that—
"A ship when steered by a skilful hand
Will seldom strike upon rock or sand."