The Friar Entrapped by Anonymous

At Arezzo, a city of Tuscany, there formerly lived a friar, who was styled Master Stefano. He was, in fact, a Mantuan, but he had dwelt so long at Arezzo, that most people considered him an Aretine. He was a handsome fellow, about thirty, extremely bold, and eloquent, and, as most of the preaching friars are, I mean the wickeder part of them, inclined to trick his best friend out of his wife's affections. Although in the pulpit they preach up chastity, reprobate the sin of disturbing the happiness of married life, and dwell upon the merit of alms-giving, all this is in order to be more securely admitted into families, and to gain a character for sanctity, by which people may be induced to leave their property to the church, and deprive their rightful heirs of their due. Thus they enrich themselves, and laugh in their sleeves at the fools who are deluded by their hypocrisy.

Instead of paying regard to the divine precept, which directs all those of their profession not to provide food for the morrow, they are for ever begging, and grasping at every thing within their reach; and if perchance they should confess a dying person, who has detained that which was not his own, they will make him believe it is more meritorious and good for his soul, to give it to the church, than restore it to its owner. This Master Stefano was one of these fine fellows. He fell in love with a beautiful and virtuous lady, named Emilia, who was married to as worthy a man, Girolamo de Brendali. The lady, who thought that Stefano led so pure and holy a life, never suspected that he could entertain such unworthy intentions, and received him every day with the greatest marks of kindness, both on account of her husband's partiality to him, and, moreover, because for two years past he had been her confessor. The friar, however, being unable to moderate the ardour of his passion, determined to make her acquainted with it, having that opportunity at command every day. Still he thought it would be better to wait awhile, because it was carnival time; after which she was in the habit of going to church to confess, thinking it much more safe on account of the sanctity of the place, in case any thing should be suspected, rather than her own house.

About eight days after the carnival, the lady, as was her custom, went to the church. The friar hastened to lead her to the remotest confessional he could pitch upon. After a few words of civility had passed, he began to interrogate her cursorily and lightly, touching the mortal sins, except that of incontinence, upon which he long dwelt, being highly delighted with an opportunity of expatiating on the subject, after the manner of too many confessors, who, under the pretence of interrogating, gratify their own prurient imaginations with indecent explanations, and circumstantial detail. Thus did the friar dwell on his favourite subject as long as he could, in order to forward the discovery of his passion to the lady. At last, breathing a deep sigh, he said, "Lady, heaven knows I have many a time hesitated to give you absolution, because I have from your confession found you so chaste and free from the sin of incontinence."

"How, father," said she, "is it then a sin to be faithful to one's husband, and to be chaste?"

"The reason is," said the friar, "because so beautiful as you are, I cannot believe but you must have numbers of admirers, and surely you cannot have resisted them all. I have often thought, that through shame you have not told the truth, perhaps for fear (though heaven forbid that I should ever do such a thing) lest I should tell your husband, or lest I should refuse you absolution, of which, however, you would be unworthy only by disguising from me the truth. Therefore, speak to me with sincerity, let no fear prevent you, for I promise you, that instead of the reproof you might expect, you will find praise and approbation; for I think it a much greater sin to let a poor unfortunate fellow of a lover die, than to break through that which has been prescribed merely to make us live a little more regularly, than if all things were in common; or, perhaps, because we set less value upon those things which we can obtain with ease." The lady was greatly astonished at hearing these words, and being a virtuous and sensible woman, she began to suspect what the hypocritical friar was driving at; but resuming her serenity of countenance, which had been a little ruffled by his discourse, she resolved to answer him, without giving him the least suspicion that she understood his meaning, in order not to check him from saying what he had in his mind. So with a smile she said, "alas! father, saidst thou that thou dost not believe I am the honest and virtuous woman which I am?"

"Nay, it is quite the reverse," quoth the friar, "I do think you a more worthy lady than you would seem, and that you would not be so cruel, as to suffer any one to languish and die for the sake of preserving that virtue."

"Heaven preserve you," said the lady, "who do you think would die on my account? who would cast on me a look of tenderness?"

"Oh!" groaned the friar, "who is it can look on you and not lose his heart. As for my part, (and pray pardon me if I offend you), since I have been blessed with a sight of you, there has not been a day or night that I have spent without thinking of your beauty, or without petitioning mighty Love to afford me an opportunity (though at the risque of my life) of telling you how great is the tender affection I bear you. Should my ill-fate order it so that my passion should offend, lay the blame not on me, but on those transcendent charms and noble manners which have brought me to such a crisis, that I can no longer live unless you take pity on me. Should you delay this compassion, lady too long, perhaps it may come too late, for I must surely die." Besides that Emilia was a virtuous woman; she was doubly offended at the friar's speech, on account of the friendship which her husband bore him, and for this reason resolved on his punishment. She told him she could not give credit to such wonderful things; neither did she believe in his affection, nor in the charms he alluded to. Having parted from the friar, the lady went home, and related every word to her husband Girolamo, having previously made him solemnly swear that he would not meditate any serious revenge, but merely inflict some slight punishment on him, and let him go. Girolamo considering what he could do to the worthy preacher, which should not be a serious injury, and yet a great disgrace, he hit upon a plan which will soon appear. He told his wife to contrive to let the friar come to her some night, and related to her his plan. To this she agreed, and, in consequence, to prevent the friar from having any suspicion, and in order that the plot might the better succeed, she sent the friar some little trifling presents by her maid—perfumes, flowers, and green and black ribbons, such as ladies are used to send their lovers.

Our innamorato accepted every thing with joy and rapture, and had no scruple in sending as many back by a little convenient brother. The friar, now thinking he was at home to a peg, determined one Saturday to pay her a visit, for, on that day, it was his custom to rest from his duty; therefore, taking with him the little friar, on the Saturday before the Sunday of St. Lazarus, he marched off to the Lady Emilia. It so happened that, exactly as he wished it, Girolamo had gone out; he joyfully went up stairs, and sent word to Emilia that he had waited upon her; the lady received him with very great kindness and affection; upon which our worthy friar, after a few sweet words, reminded her of his anguish and his hopes; to which Emilia, who had been taught by her husband what to say, replied, "holy father! heaven knows I have always thought infidelity to my husband a great crime, but as you have assured me that there is no sin in it, and that you bear me such great love, I have determined to reward your passion, but on condition of inviolable secrecy; indeed, to shew you that I am in earnest, I would say that, were not to-morrow the Sunday of Lazarus, when you are to preach, you might come this very evening between eleven and twelve o'clock, my husband being gone to Villa Cavalca; I would not fail to open the door to you, at that time all the servants will be gone to bed and fast asleep." The worthy friar, who wished for nothing more ardently, and to whom every minute seemed an age, said, "dear lady, if this be your kind intention, do not let my preaching prevent you, for if you will let me out a little before day-light, I will preach a sermon to-morrow that shall delight and melt the hearts of my hearers." He departed, and, in order to make himself the more agreeable to the lady, he went to refresh and perfume himself; the lady, meanwhile, related all the particulars to her husband, who, after telling his lady how she should act, left the house, and went to sup with an intimate friend. At the hour appointed, the friar tapped at the door, which was opened to him, and he was led gently up stairs to the bedchamber where Girolamo and his wife usually slept; here she left him, desiring him to undress, saying that she would come to him as soon as she had arranged some trifling matters. Scarcely had our amorous lover stripped himself to his shirt, when Girolamo, who, with the friend with whom he had supped, had watched the friar, knocked furiously at the door. Emilia, on hearing this, rushed into the room, threw open the window, and demanded who was there, pretending to be in a dreadful fright. Girolamo answering, desired to be admitted, saying it was her husband. Emilia began to call out that she was undone, ran up to the father, who was more dead than alive through fright, bid him get up quick, and said, "we are as good as dead; I cannot think how it is, but my husband, whom I thought ten miles off, is now knocking at the door."

"For heaven's sake," said she, "slip into that chest," shewing him a large one in the room, "and lie there until I see what may be done; meanwhile I will hide your clothes somewhere or other as well as I am able; heaven knows, I fear more for your holy person than I do for my own life." The unfortunate wretch, seeing himself reduced to such a pass, did as the lady desired. Meanwhile the servants awoke, got up, and let their master in, who, pretending that he had been attacked, along with his companion, when put of Arezzo, by some banditti, said he had caused the city gates to be opened by giving a crown to the guard; the which had delayed him for more than three hours, on account of his being obliged to go to the castle to get the keys. After ordering a bed for his companion, he went into bed to his wife, while the poor fellow remained in the chest. Day-light coming, the church bells began to ring for prayers, which greatly annoyed our captive, who was to preach at the cathedral.

Girolamo and his friend having risen, ordered two servants to carry the chest to the church, and place it in the middle, saying they were ordered to do so by the preacher; and that unlocking the chest without raising the lid, they should leave it there; all which the fellows did very neatly: every body stared, and wondered what all this could mean, some said one thing, and some another. At last the bell having ceased to ring, and no one appearing in the pulpit, or any other part of the church, a young man rose and said, "really this preacher of ours makes us wait too long; pray let us see what he has ordered to be brought in this chest," having said thus much, he, before all the congregation, lifted up the lid, and looking in, beheld the friar in his shirt, pale, almost frightened to death, and certainly appearing more dead than alive, and as if buried in the chest.

He, however, finding himself discovered, collected his mind as well as he could, and stood upright to the great astonishment of all present; and, having taken his text from the Sunday of Lazarus, he then addressed his congregation:—"My dear brethren, I am not at all astonished at your surprise and amusement in seeing me brought before you in this chest, or rather at my ordering myself to be brought thus: ye know that this is the day in which our holy church commemorates the wonderful miracle our Lord performed on the person of Lazarus, in raising him from the dead who had been buried four days. I was desirous in your favour to present myself to you, as it were, in the form of Lazarus, in order that seeing me in this chest, which is no other than an emblem of the sepulchre wherein he had been buried, you might be moved more effectually to the consideration of what perishable things we are, and that seeing me stripped of all worldly decorations, thus, in my shirt, you may be convinced of the vanity of the things in this world, the which if duly considered, may tend greatly to the amending of our lives. Will you believe that, since yesternight, I have been a thousand times dead, and revivified as Lazarus was; and, considering my dreadful situation, remember that we must all die, and trust to Him who can bestow upon us life eternal; but first ye must die to sin, to avarice, to rapine, and all those sinful deeds to which our nature prompts us; and, above all, avoid seducing the wives of others, as none who so act can be saved." In such language, and in this manner did the friar continue his sermon. Much praise did the Aretines heap upon him, more especially Girolamo and his friend, who had come to see how the trick would succeed, and who were astonished at the extraordinary presence of mind which the friar displayed, and laughed heartily at his success in persuading his audience of his wonderful chastity in respect of other men's wives. Girolamo, in consideration of the adroitness of the culprit, did not attempt any other revenge, but took very good care to shut his door in future against all such double-faced hypocrites.