A solicitous priest gets in a tangle with Mrs Rosie Hues in Giovanni Boccaccio's MRS ROSIE AND THE PRIEST.
So, to begin, there’s a village not far from here called Varlungo, as every one of you knows or will have heard from other people. It had once a valiant priest, a fine figure of a man who served the ladies well. He was not much of a reader, but every Sunday he would spout wholesome holy verbiage beneath the churchyard elm to refresh the spirits of his parishioners. When the men were off somewhere, he would come visiting their wives more solicitously than any priest they’d had before, sometimes bringing religious bits and pieces, holy water or candle-ends into their houses, and giving them his blessing.
Now among the women of the parish he took a fancy to, there was one he particularly liked, called Mrs Rosie Hues. She was the wife of a labourer by the name of Willy Welcome, and she really was a lovely ripe country-girl, tanned, sturdy, with lots of grinding potential. She was also better than any girl around at playing the tambourine, singing songs like ‘The water’s running down my river’, and dancing reels and jigs, when she had to, waving a pretty little kerchief in her hand. With all these talents, she reduced the good priest to a quivering wreck. He would wander round the village all day trying to catch sight of her. When he realized she was in church on a Sunday morning, he would launch into a Kyrie or a Sanctus and struggle to come over as a virtuoso singer, though he sounded more like an ass braying, whereas, when he didn’t see her there, he barely bothered to sing at all. All the same, he was clever enough not to arouse the suspicions of Willy Welcome or any neighbours of his.
From time to time, he would send Mrs Rosie presents in an effort to win her over. Sometimes it was a bunch of fresh garlic, since he grew the best in the region in a vegetable garden he worked with his own hands, sometimes it was a basket of berries, and now and then a bunch of shallots or spring onions. When he saw his chance, he would give her a hurt look and mutter a few gentle reproaches, while she acted cold, pretending not to notice, and looking all supercilious. So the estimable priest was left getting nowhere.
Now it happened one day that the priest was kicking his heels in the noontime heat out in the countryside with nothing much to do, when he bumped into Willy Welcome driving an ass loaded up with a pile of things on its back. He greeted him and asked him where he was going.
‘To tell the truth, Father sir,’ replied Willy, ‘I’m off to town on a bit of business. I’m transporting these materials to Mr Notary Bonaccorri da Ginestreto to get him to aid and assist with a fiddle-Faddle on the legal side that the assessor is officializing to put the whole house in order at last.’
‘That, my son, is a good thing to do,’ said the priest, full of glee. ‘Go with my blessing and come back soon. And if you should happen to see Lapuccio or Naldino, don’t let it slip your mind to tell them to bring me those straps for my threshing flails.’
Willy said he would do that and went off towards Florence, while the priest decided the time had come for him to go and try his luck with Rosie. He strode out vigorously and did not stop until he reached her house. He went in, calling out, ‘God be with us! Is anyone here?’
Rosie was up at the top of the house. Hearing him, she shouted, ‘Father, you’re very welcome. What are you doing all fancy free in this heat?’
‘God help me,’ said the priest, ‘I’ve come to spend a little time with you, having just met your man on his way to town.’
Rosie was downstairs by now. She sat and began cleaning some cabbage seeds her husband had sifted out a short time before.
‘Well, Rosie,’ said the priest, ‘must you go on being the death of me like this?’
Rosie began to laugh.
‘Well, what am I doing to you?’ she said.
‘You’re not doing anything to me,’ said the priest, ‘but you don’t let me do what I’d like to do to you, which is love my neighbour as God commanded.’
‘Oh, get on with you,’ said Rosie. ‘Do priests do things of that sort?’
‘Yes,’ said the priest, ‘and better than other men. And why shouldn’t we? I tell you, we do a much, much better job. And do you know why? It’s because we let the pond fill up before the mill starts grinding. And truly I can give you just what you need, if you’ll only stay quiet and let me do the business.’
‘What do you mean, just what I need?’ said Rosie. ‘You priests are all tighter-fisted than the devil himself.’
‘I don’t know,’ said the priest. ‘Just ask me. Maybe you want a nice little pair of shoes, or a headscarf, or a pretty woollen waistband, or maybe something else.’
‘That’s all very well, Brother Priest,’ said Rosie. ‘I’ve enough of that stuff. But if you’re that keen on me, you can do me a particular favour, and then I’ll do what you want.’
‘Tell me what you’re after and I’ll be glad to do it,’ said the priest.
‘I have to go to Florence on Saturday,’ said Rosie, ‘to give in the wool I’ve been spinning and get my spinning wheel mended. If you let me have five pounds (which I know you’ve got), I’ll get the pawnbroker to give me back my purple skirt and the decorated Sunday belt I wore when I got married. You know not having it has meant I can’t go to church or anywhere respectable. And after that I’ll be up for what you want for evermore.’
'God help me,’ said the priest, ‘I haven’t the money on me. But trust me, I’ll make sure you have it before Saturday.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Rosie, ‘you’re all great at making promises. And then you don’t keep any of them. Do you think you can treat me the way you treated Nell the Belle, who was left with just a big bass tum to play with? You’re not going to do the same to me, by God. She ended up on the game because of you. If you haven’t got it here, go and get it.’
‘Oh, please,’ said the priest, ‘don’t make me go all the way back to the house. You can tell my luck is up, and there’s no one about. It could be that when I came back someone would be here to get in our way. I don’t know when it might next stand up as well as it’s standing up now.’
‘That’s all very fine,’ she said, ‘but if you’re willing to go, go. If not, you’ll just have to manage.’ He saw that she was only going to agree to his wishes when a contract was signed and delivered, whereas he was hoping for a bit of free access.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘you don’t believe I’ll bring you the money. What about if I leave you this blue cape of mine as a guarantee? It’s a good one.’
Rosie gave him a haughty look.
‘This cape,’ she said, ‘how much is it worth?’
‘What do you mean, how much is it worth?’ said the priest. ‘Let me tell you it’s Douai cloth, double ply, maybe triple ply, and there are even people here who say it’s got some foreply in it. I paid seven pounds at Lotto’s second-hand clothes shop less than two weeks ago. It had five shillings knocked off, so it was a bargain, according to Bulietto d’Alberto, who you know is a bit of an expert in blue cloths.’
‘Oh yes?’ said Rosie. ‘God help me, I’d never have believed it. But give it to me first.’
The good priest, who was feeling hard-pressed by his loaded weapon, unfastened his cape and passed it over.
‘Well, Mr Priest,’ she said, when she’d put it away, ‘let’s go down here to the shed. It doesn’t get visitors.’
So off they went. And there he covered her in the sloppiest kisses in the world, introduced her to God’s holy bliss and enjoyed himself generally with her for a good while. He finally left in the uncaped state priests normally appear in only at weddings and went back to the church.
There he reflected how all the candle-ends he picked up from his parishioners in the course of a year weren’t worth half a fiver, and felt he had made a mistake. Now regretting leaving the cape behind, he started thinking about how to get it back at no cost to himself. Since he was quite crafty-minded, he figured out a good way of doing so. And it worked.
The next day being a feast-day, he sent the son of a neighbour of his to Rosie Hues’s house, with a request for her to be so kind as to lend him her stone mortar, since Binguccio del Poggio and Nuto Buglietti were dining with him that morning and he wanted to make a sauce. Rosie sent it back with the boy. When it got to round lunchtime, the priest guessed Willy Welcome and Rosie Hues would be eating. He called his curate and said to him, ‘Pick up that mortar and take it back to Mrs Rosie. Tell her, “The Father is immensely grateful and would like to have back the cape the boy left with you as a guarantee.” ’
The curate went to Rosie’s house with the mortar and found her with Willy at the table eating their meal. He set down the mortar and gave them the priest’s message. Rosie was all set to give her reply to this request for the cape. But Willy’s brow darkened.
‘So you need guarantees from our estimated father, do you?’ he said. ‘I swear to Christ, I could really give you a clout up the bracket. Go and fetch it right now, and get yourself cancered while you’re at it. And watch out for him wanting anything else of ours. He’d better not be told no, whatever it is. Even if it’s our donkey, our donkey he gets.’
Rosie got up grumbling to herself and went over to the linen-chest. She took out the cape and passed it to the curate.
‘You must give that priest a message from me,’ she said, ‘Say, “Rosie Hues vows to God that you’ll never again be sauce-pounding in her mortar. That last time you didn’t do yourself any credit.” ’
The curate went off with the cape and relayed Rosie’s message to the priest, who burst out laughing.
‘You can tell her next time you see her,’ he told him, ‘that if she won’t lend out the mortar, I won’t lend her the pestle. The one goes with the other.’
Willy believed that his wife had spoken as she did because he had told her off and gave the matter no further thought. But coming off worst made Rosie fall out with the priest, and she refused to speak to him until the grape-harvest, when he terrified her by threatening to have her stuffed into the mouth of the biggest devil in hell. She made her peace with him over fermenting must and roasting chestnuts, and after that the two of them had a good guzzle together on various occasions. To make up for the five pounds, the priest had her tambourine re‑covered and a dinky little bell attached, which made her very happy.