The Counterparts by Anonymous

Messer Basilio, of Milan, who had fixed his residence in Pisa, on his return from Paris, where he had pursued the study of physic, having accumulated, by industry and extraordinary skill, a good fortune, married a young woman of Pisa, of very slender fortune, and fatherless and motherless; by her he had three sons, and a daughter who in due time was married in Pisa; the eldest son was likewise married, the younger one was at school; the middle one, whose name was Lazarus, although great sums had been spent upon his education, made nothing of it; he was naturally idle and stupid, of a sour and melancholy disposition; a man of few words, and obstinate to such a degree, that if once he had said no to any thing, nothing upon earth could make him alter his mind. His father, finding him so extremely troublesome, determined to get rid of him, and sent him to a beautiful estate he had lately bought at a small distance from town.

There he lived contented, more proud of the society of clowns and clodpoles, than the acquaintance of civilized people. While Lazarus was thus living quietly in his own way, there happened about ten years after a dreadful mortality in Pisa; people were seized with a violent fever, they then fell into a sleep suddenly, and died in that state. The disease was catching; Basilio, as well as other physicians, exerted their utmost skill, as well for their own interest as the general good; but ill fortune would have it that he caught the infection and died. The contagion was such that not one individual of the family escaped death, except an old woman servant. The raging disease having ceased at last, Lazarus was induced to return to Pisa, where he inherited the extensive estates and riches of his father. Many were the efforts made by the different families to induce him to marry their daughters, notwithstanding they were aware of his boorish disposition; but nothing would avail. He said he was resolved to wait four years before he would marry; so that his obstinate disposition being well known, they ceased their importunities. Lazarus, intent upon pleasing himself alone, would not associate with any living soul. There was, however, one poor man, named Gabriel, who lived in a small house opposite to him, with his wife Dame Santa. This poor fellow was an excellent fisherman and birdcatcher, made nets, &c. and what with that, and the assistance of his wife, who spun, he made shift to keep his family, consisting of two children, a boy of five, and a girl of three years old. Now it happened that this Gabriel was a perfect likeness of Lazarus; both were red haired, had the same length of beard, every feature, size, gait, and voice so perfectly alike, that one would have sworn they were twins; and had they both been dressed alike, certainly no one but would have mistaken the one for the other; the wife herself would have been deceived, but for the clothes—those of Lazarus being fine cloth, and her husband's of coarse wool of a different colour. Lazarus, observing tins extraordinary resemblance, could not help fancying that there must be something in it, and began to familiarise himself with his society, sent his wife presents of eatables, wines, &c. and often invited Gabriel to dinner or supper with him, and conversed with him. Gabriel, though poor and untaught, was shrewd and sagacious, and knew well how to get on the blind side of any one; he so humoured him, that at last Lazarus could not rest an instant without his company. One day, after dinner, they entered into conversation on the subject of fishing, and the different modes of catching fish, and at last came to the fishing by diving with small nets fastened to the neck and arms; and Gabriel told him of the immense numbers of large fish which were caught in that manner, insomuch that Lazarus became very anxious to know how one could fish diving, and begged of him to let him see how he did it. Upon which Gabriel said he was very willing, and it being a hot summer's day, they might easily take the sport, if he too were willing. Having risen from table, Gabriel marched out, fetched his nets, and away they went. They arrived on the borders of the Arno, in a shady place surrounded by elders; there he requested Lazarus to sit and look on. After stripping, and fastening the nets about him, he dived in the river, and being very expert at the sport, he soon rose again with eight or ten fish of terrible size in his nets. Lazarus could not think how it was possible to catch so many fish under water; it so astonished him, that he determined to try it himself. The day was broiling hot, and he thought it would cool him. By the assistance of Gabriel he undressed, and the latter conducted him in at a pleasant part of the shore, where the water was scarcely knee deep. There he left him with nets, giving him charge not to go farther than the stake which he pointed out to him. Lazarus, who had never before been in the water, was delighted at its coolness, and observing how often Gabriel rose up with nets full of fish, bethought himself one must see under as well as above water, otherwise it would be impossible to catch the fish in the dark, therefore, in order to ascertain the point, without thinking of consequences, he put his head under water, and dashed forward beyond the stake. Down he went like a piece of lead; not aware he should hold his breath, and knowing nothing of swimming, he struggled hard to raise himself above the surface. He was almost stifled with the water he had swallowed, and was carried away by the current so that he very shortly lost his senses. Gabriel, who was very busy catching a great deal of fish in a very good place, did not care to leave it; therefore, poor Lazarus, after rising half dead two or three times, sunk at last never to rise again. Gabriel, after he had got as much fish as he thought would do for him, joyfully turned round to show Lazarus his sport; he looked round and did not see him, he then sought him every where, but not finding him, he became quite alarmed, and terrified at the sight of the poor fellow's clothes that were laid on the bank. He dived, and sought the body, and found it at last driven by the current on the beach; at the sight he almost lost his senses; he stood motionless, not knowing what to do, for he feared, that in relating the truth, people would think it was all a lie, and that he had drowned him, himself, in order to get his money. Driven thus almost to despair, a thought struck him, and he determined to put it in instant execution. There was no witness to the fact, for every one was asleep, it being the heat of the day; he, therefore, took the fish, and put them safe in a basket, and for that purpose, took the dead body on his shoulders, heavy as it was, laid him on some grass, put his own breeches on the dead limbs, untied the nets from his own arms, and tied them tight to the arms of the corpse. This done, he took hold of him, dived into the water, and tied him fast with the nets to the stake under water. He then came on shore, slipped on Lazarus's shirt, and all his clothes, and even his fine shoes, and sat himself down on a bank, determining to try his luck first in saving himself from his perilous situation, and next to try whether he might not, from his extreme likeness to Lazarus, make his fortune and live at ease. Being a bold and sagacious fellow, he immediately undertook the daring and dangerous experiment, and began to cry out with all his might and main, "Oh! good people, help! help! run and help the poor fisherman, who is drowning." He roared out so, that at last the miller, who lived not far off, came running with I know not how many of his men. Gabriel spoke with a gruff voice, the better to imitate that of Lazarus, and weepingly related that the fisherman, after diving and catching a good deal of fish, had gone again, and that as he had been above an hour under water, he was afraid he was drowned; they, enquiring what part of the river he had gone to, he shewed them the stake and place. The miller, who could swim very well, rushed in towards the stake, and found the corpse, but being unable to extricate it from the stake, rose up again and cried out, "Oh! yes he is dead sure enough, but I cannot get him up by myself," upon which two others stripped, and got the body out, whose arms and limbs were lacerated by the nets, which (as they thought) had entangled him, and caused his death. The news being spread abroad, a priest came, the corpse was put in a coffin and carried to a small church, that it might be owned by the family of Gabriel. The dreadful news had already reached Pisa, and the unfortunate wife, with her weeping children, came to the church, and there beholding her beloved husband, as she thought, she hung over him, wept, sobbed, tore her hair, and became almost frantic, insomuch that the bystanders were moved to tears. Gabriel, who was a most loving husband and father, could scarce refrain from weeping, and seeing the extreme affliction of his wife, came forward, keeping Lazarus's hat over his eyes, and his handkerchief to his face as it were to wipe away his tears, and approaching the widow, who took him, as well as others, for Lazarus, he said, in the hearing of all the people, "good woman, do not give, way to such sorrow, nor weep so, for I will, not forsake you; as it was to oblige me, and afford me pleasure, that he went a fishing to-day against his inclination, methinks it is partly to me he owed his death, therefore I will ever be a friend to thee and thine; all expenses shall be paid, therefore return home and be comforted, for while I live thou shalt never want, and should I die I will leave thee enough to make thee as comfortable as any of thy equals." Thus he went on, weeping and sobbing, as if regretting the loss of Gabriel, and really agonized by the distress of his widow. He was inwardly praised by all present, who believed him to be Lazarus.

The poor widow, after the funeral was performed, returned to Pisa, much comforted by the promises of him, whom she considered as her neighbour Lazarus. Gabriel, who had been long acquainted with the deceased's ways, manners, and mode of living, entered Lazarus's house, as if the master of it; without uttering a syllable, ascended into a very beautiful room that looked over a fine garden, pulled out of the dead man's coat he had on a bunch of keys, and opened several chests, and finding some smaller keys, he opened several desks, bureaus, money chests, and found, independent of trunks filled with cloth, linen and jewels, which the old father, the physician, and brothers of the deceased had left, nearly to the value of two thousand gold florins, and four hundred of silver. He was in raptures all the night, and began to think of the best means to conceal himself from the servants, and appear as the real Lazarus. About the hour of supper he came out of his room, weeping; the servants, who had heard the dreadful situation of the Widow Santa, and that it was reported that their master had partly been the cause of the accident, were not much surprised at seeing him thus afflicted, thinking it was on account of Gabriel. He called the servant and desired him to take a couple of loaves, two bottles of wine, and half his supper to the Widow Santa, the which the poor widow scarcely touched. When the servant returned, Gabriel ordered supper but ate sparingly, the better to deceive the servants, as Lazarus was a very little eater; then left the room without saying a word, and shut himself up in his own room as the deceased used to do. The servants thought there was some alteration in his countenance and voice, but attributed it to the sorrowful event that had occurred. The widow, after having tasted of the supper, and considering the care that had been taken of her, and the promises made by Lazarus, began to take comfort, parted with her relations, who had come to condole with her, and retired to bed. Gabriel, full of thought, could not sleep a wink, and got up in the morning at Lazarus's usual hour, and in all things imitated him. But being informed by the servants that Santa was always in grief, weeping and discomforted, and being a fond husband, and loving her tenderly, he was miserable upon hearing this, and determined to comfort her. Thus resolved, one day after dinner he went to her, and found a cousin of her's with her. Having given her to understand he had some private business with her, the cousin knowing how much she was indebted to him, and her expectations, left the room, and departed, saying, he begged she would be advised by her worthy neighbour.

As soon as he was gone, he shut the door, went into his room and motioned her to follow; she, struck with the singularity of the case, and fearing for her honor, did not know what to do, whether she should, or she should not follow; yet thinking of his kindness, and the hopes she had from his liberality, and taking her eldest son by the hand, she went into the room, where she found him lying on a little bed, on which her husband used to lie when tired; upon which she started and stopped. Gabriel, seeing her come with her son, smiled with pleasurable feelings at the purity of his wife's conduct; one word that he uttered, which he was in the habit of using, staggered the poor Santa, so that she could not utter a syllable. Gabriel, pressing the poor boy to his breast, said, "thy mother weeps unaware of thy happy fate, her own, and her husband's." Yet not daring to trust himself before him, though but a child, he took him into the next room, gave him money to play with, and left him there. Returning to his wife, who had caught his words, and partly recognized him, he double-locked the door, and related to her every circumstance that had happened, and how he had managed every thing; she, delighted and convinced from the repetition of certain family secrets, known to themselves alone, embraced him, giving him as many kisses as she had bestowed tears for his death, for both were loving and tenderly attached. After reciprocal marks of each other's affection, Gabriel said to her that she must be perfectly silent, and pointed out to her how happy their life would hereafter prove; he told her of the riches he had found, and what he intended to do, the which highly delighted her. In going out, Santa pretended to cry on opening the street door, and said aloud, that she might be heard by the neighbours, "I recommend these poor fatherless children to you, signor!" to which he answered, "fear not, good Mrs. Santa," and walked away, full of thoughts on his future plans. When evening came on, observing the same uniform conduct of his predecessor, he went to bed, but could not sleep for thinking. No sooner did the dawn appear than he rose and went to the church of St. Catherine, where a devout and worthy pastor dwelt, and who was considered by all the Pisanians as a little saint: friar Angelico appearing, Gabriel told him he wanted to speak to him on particular business, and to have his advice upon a very important and singular case that had happened to him. The kind friar, although he did not know him, led him into his room. Gabriel, who well knew the whole genealogy of Lazarus, son of Basilio of Milan, related it fully to the friar, likewise the dreadful accident, adding, that he considered himself as a principal cause of it, making him believe it was he who induced the unfortunate man to go a fishing against his will; he represented the mischief which resulted from it to the widow and children of the deceased, and that he considered himself so much the cause of it, and felt such a weight on his conscience, that he had made up his mind, though Santa was of low condition, and poor, to take her for his wife, if she and her friends approved of it, and to take the children of the poor fisherman under his care as his own; bring them up with his own children, should he have any, and leave them co-heirs with them; this, he said, would reconcile him to himself and his Maker, and be approved by men. The holy man, seeing the worthy motives which actuated him, approved of his intention, and recommended as little delay as possible, since he would thereby meet with forgiveness. Gabriel, in order the more effectually to secure his ready cooperation, threw down thirty pieces of money, saying, that in the three succeeding Mondays he wished high mass to be sung for the soul of the deceased. At this tempting sight the friar, although a very saint, leaped with joy, took the cash, and said, "my son, the masses shall be sung next Monday; there is nothing more to attend to now but the marriage, a ceremony which I advise thee to hasten as much as thou canst; do not think of riches or noble birth; thou art, thank heaven, rich enough; and as to birth, we are all children of one father; true nobility consists in virtue and the fear of God, nor is the good woman deficient in either; I know her well, and most of her relations."

"Oh, Father," said Gabriel, "I am come to you for the very purpose, therefore, I pray you, put me quickly in the way to forward the business."

"When will you give her the ring?" said the holy man. "This very day," he answered, "if she be inclined."

"Well," said the friar, "go thy ways, and leave all to me; go home, and stir not from thence—these blessed nuptials shall take place." Gabriel thanked him, received his blessing, and went home. The holy father carefully put the cash in his desk, then went to an uncle of Dame Santa, a shoemaker by trade, and a cousin of hers, a barber, and related to them what had happened; after which they went together to Dame Santa, and used every possible argument to persuade her to consent to the match, the which she feigned great difficulty in consenting to, saying that it was merely for the advantage of her children that she submitted to such a thing. I will only add, that the very same morning, by the exertions of the friar, they were married a second time; great rejoicings took place, and Gabriel and his wife laughed heartily at the simplicity of the good friar, and the credulity of the relations and neighbours. They happily lived in peace and plenty, provided for and dismissed the old servants; were blessed with two more children, whom he named Fortunatus, and from whom afterward sprung some of the most renowned men, both in arms and letters.