HotFreeBooks.com
Droll Stories, Complete - Collected From The Abbeys Of Touraine
by Honore de Balzac
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"You, with your own eyes, saw this woman, cursed cuckold, and you did not kill your rival?"

"It was not a common woman, but a lady of the court."

"You saw her?"

"And verified her in both cases."

"What do you mean by those words?" cried the king, who was bursting with laughter.

"I say, with all the respect due to your Majesty, that I have verified the over and the under."

"You do not, then, know the physiognomies of your own wife, you old fool without memory! You deserve to be hanged."

"I hold those features of my wife in too great respect to gaze upon them. Besides she is so modest that she would die rather than expose an atom of her body."

"True," said the king; "it was not made to be shown."

"Old coquedouille! that was your wife," said the constable.

"My lord constable, she is asleep, poor girl!"

"Quick, quick, then! To horse! Let us be off, and if she be in your house I'll forgive you."

Then the constable, followed by the provost, went to the latter's house in less time than it would have taken a beggar to empty the poor-box.

"Hullo! there, hi!"

Hearing the noise made by the men, which threatened to bring the walls about their ears, the maid-servant opened the door, yawning and stretching her arms. The constable and the provost rushed into the room, where, with great difficulty, they succeeded in waking the lady, who pretended to be terrified, and was so soundly asleep that her eyes were full of gum. At this the provost was in great glee, saying to the constable that someone had certainly deceived him, that his wife was a virtuous woman, and was more astonished than any of them at these proceedings. The constable turned on his heel and departed. The good provost began directly to undress to get to bed early, since this adventure had brought his good wife to his memory. When he was harnessing himself, and was knocking off his nether garments, madame, still astonished, said to him—

"Oh, my dear husband, what is the meaning of all this uproar—this constable and his pages, and why did he come to see if I was asleep? Is it to be henceforward part of a constable's duty to look after our . . ."

"I do not know," said the provost, interrupting her, to tell her what had happened to him.

"And you saw without my permission a lady of the court! Ha! ha! heu! heu! hein!"

Then she began to moan, to weep, and to cry in such a deplorable manner and so loudly, that her lord was quite aghast.

"What's the matter, my darling? What is it? What do you want?"

"Ah! You won't love me any more are after seeing how beautiful court ladies are!"

"Nonsense, my child! They are great ladies. I don't mind telling you in confidence; they are great ladies in every respect."

"Well," said she, "am I nicer?"

"Ah," said he, "in a great measure. Yes!"

"They have, then, great happiness," said she, sighing, "when I have so much with so little beauty."

Thereupon the provost tried a better argument to argue with his good wife, and argued so well that she finished by allowing herself to be convinced that Heaven has ordained that much pleasure may be obtained from small things.

This shows us that nothing here below can prevail against the Church of Cuckolds.



ABOUT THE MONK AMADOR, WHO WAS A GLORIOUS ABBOT OF TURPENAY

One day that it was drizzling with rain—a time when the ladies remain gleefully at home, because they love the damp, and can have at their apron strings the men who are not disagreeable to them—the queen was in her chamber, at the castle of Amboise, against the window curtains. There, seated in her chair, she was working at a piece of tapestry to amuse herself, but was using her needle heedlessly, watching the rain fall into the Loire, and was lost in thought, where her ladies were following her example. The king was arguing with those of his court who had accompanied him from the chapel—for it was a question of returning to dominical vespers. His arguments, statements, and reasonings finished, he looked at the queen, saw that she was melancholy, saw that the ladies were melancholy also, and noted the fact that they were all acquainted with the mysteries of matrimony.

"Did I not see the Abbot of Turpenay here just now?" said he.

Hearing these words, there advanced towards the king the monk, who, by his constant petitions, rendered himself so obnoxious to Louis the Eleventh, that that monarch seriously commanded his provost-royal to remove him from his sight; and it has been related in the first volume of these Tales, how the monk was saved through the mistake of Sieur Tristan. The monk was at this time a man whose qualities had grown rapidly, so much so that his wit had communicated a jovial hue to his face. He was a great favourite with the ladies, who crammed him with wine, confectioneries, and dainty dishes at the dinners, suppers, and merry-makings, to which they invited him, because every host likes those cheerful guests of God with nimble jaws, who say as many words as they put away tit-bits. This abbot was a pernicious fellow, who would relate to the ladies many a merry tale, at which they were only offended when they had heard them; since, to judge them, things must be heard.

"My reverend father," said the king, "behold the twilight hour, in which ears feminine may be regaled with certain pleasant stories, for the ladies can laugh without blushing, or blush without laughing, as it suits them best. Give us a good story—a regular monk's story. I shall listen to it, i'faith, with pleasure, because I want to be amused, and so do the ladies."

"We only submit to this, in order to please your lordship," said the queen; "because our good friend the abbot goes a little too far."

"Then," replied the king, turning towards the monk, "read us some Christian admonition, holy father, to amuse madame."

"Sire, my sight is weak, and the day is closing."

"Give us a story, then, that stops at the girdle."

"Ah, sire!" said the monk, smiling, "the one I am thinking of stops there; but it commences at the feet."

The lords present made such gallant remonstrances and supplications to the queen and her ladies, that, like the good Bretonne that she was, she gave the monk a gentle smile, and said—

"As you will, my father; but you must answer to God for our sins."

"Willingly, madame; if it be your pleasure to take mine, you will be a gainer."

Everyone laughed, and so did queen. The king went and sat by his dear wife, well beloved by him, as everyone knows. The courtiers received permission to be seated—the old courtiers, of course, understood; for the young ones stood, by the ladies' permission, beside their chairs, to laugh at the same time as they did. Then the Abbot of Turpenay gracefully delivered himself of the following tale, the risky passages of which he gave in a low, soft, flute-like voice:—

About a hundred years ago at the least, there occurred great quarrels in Christendom because there were two popes at Rome, each one pretending to be legitimately elected, which caused great annoyance to the monasteries, abbeys, and bishoprics, since, in order to be recognised by as many as possible, each of the two popes granted titles and rights to each adherent, the which made double owners everywhere. Under these circumstances, the monasteries and abbeys that were at war with their neighbours would not recognise both the popes, and found themselves much embarrassed by the other, who always gave the verdict to the enemies of the Chapter. This wicked schism brought about considerable mischief, and proved abundantly that error is worse in Christianity than the adultery of the Church.

Now at this time, when the devil was making havoc among our possessions, the most illustrious abbey of Turpenay, of which I am at present the unworthy ruler, had a heavy trial on concerning the settlements of certain rights with the redoubtable Sire de Cande, an idolatrous infidel, a relapsed heretic, and most wicked lord. This devil, sent upon earth in the shape of a nobleman, was, to tell the truth, a good soldier, well received at court, and a friend of the Sieur Bureau de la Riviere; who was a person to whom the king was exceedingly partial—King Charles the Fifth, of glorious memory. Beneath the shelter of the favour of this Sieur de la Riviere, Lord of Cande did exactly as he pleased in the valley of the Indre, where he used to be master of everything, from Montbazon to Usse. You may be sure that his neighbours were terribly afraid of him, and to save their skulls let him have his way. They would, however, have preferred him under the ground to above it, and heartily wished him bad luck; but he troubled himself little about that. In the whole valley the noble abbey alone showed fight to this demon, for it has always been a doctrine of the Church to take into her lap the weak and suffering, and use every effort to protect the oppressed, especially those whose rights and privileges are menaced.

For this reason this rough warrior hated monks exceedingly, especially those of Turpenay, who would not allow themselves to be robbed of their rights either by force or stratagem. He was well pleased at the ecclesiastical schism, and waited the decision of our abbey, concerning which pope they should choose, to pillage them, being quite ready to recognise the one to whom the abbot of Turpenay should refuse his obedience. Since his return to his castle, it was his custom to torment and annoy the priests whom he encountered upon his domains in such a manner, that a poor monk, surprised by him on his private road, which was by the water-side, perceived no other method of safety then to throw himself into the river, where, by a special miracle of the Almighty, whom the good man fervently invoked, his gown floated him on the Indre, and he made his way comfortably to the other side, which he attained in full view of the lord of Cande, who was not ashamed to enjoy the terrors of a servant of God. Now you see of what stuff this horrid man was made. The abbot, to whom at that time, the care of our glorious abbey was committed, led a most holy life, and prayed to God with devotion; but he would have saved his own soul ten times, of such good quality was his religion, before finding a chance to save the abbey itself from the clutches of this wretch. Although he was very perplexed, and saw the evil hour at hand, he relied upon God for succour, saying that he would never allow the property of the Church to be touched, and that He who had raised up the Princess Judith for the Hebrews, and Queen Lucretia for the Romans, would keep his most illustrious abbey of Turpenay, and indulged in other equally sapient remarks. But his monks, who—to our shame I confess it—were unbelievers, reproached him with his happy-go-lucky way of looking at things, and declared that, to bring the chariot of Providence to the rescue in time, all the oxen in the province would have to be yoked it; that the trumpets of Jericho were no longer made in any portion of the world; that God was disgusted with His creation, and would have nothing more to do with it: in short, a thousand and one things that were doubts and contumelies against God.

At this desperate juncture there rose up a monk named Amador. This name had been given him by way of a joke, since his person offered a perfect portrait of the false god Aegipan. He was like him, strong in the stomach; like him, had crooked legs; arms hairy as those of a saddler, a back made to carry a wallet, a face as red as the phiz of a drunkard, glistening eyes, a tangled beard, was hairy faced, and so puffed out with fat and meat that you would have fancied him in an interesting condition. You may be sure that he sung his matins on the steps of the wine-cellar, and said his vespers in the vineyards of Lord. He was as fond of his bed as a beggar with sores, and would go about the valley fuddling, faddling, blessing the bridals, plucking the grapes, and giving them to the girls to taste, in spite of the prohibition of the abbot. In fact, he was a pilferer, a loiterer, and a bad soldier of the ecclesiastical militia, of whom nobody in the abbey took any notice, but let him do as he liked from motives of Christian charity, thinking him mad.

Amador, knowing that it was a question of the ruin of the Abbey, in which he was as snug as a bug in a rug, put up his bristles, took notice of this and of that, went into each of the cells, listened in the refectory, shivered in his shoes, and declared that he would attempt to save the abbey. He took cognisance of the contested points, received from the abbot permission to postpone the case, and was promised by the whole Chapter the Office of sub-prior if he succeeded in putting an end to the litigation. Then he set off across the country, heedless of the cruelty and ill-treatment of the Sieur de Cande, saying that he had that within his gown which would subdue him. He went his way with nothing but the said gown for his viaticum: but then in it was enough fat to feed a dwarf. He selected to go to the chateau, a day when it rained hard enough to fill the tubs of all the housewives, and arrived without meeting a soul, in sight of Cande, and looking like a drowned dog, stepped bravely into the courtyard, and took shelter under a sty-roof to wait until the fury of the elements had calmed down, and placed himself boldly in front of the room where the owner of the chateau should be. A servant perceiving him while laying the supper, took pity on him, and told him to make himself scarce, otherwise his master would give him a horsewhipping, just to open the conversation, and asked him what made him so bold as to enter a house where monks were hated more than a red leper.

"Ah!" said Amador, "I am on my way to Tours, sent thither by my lord abbot. If the lord of Cande were not so bitter against the poor servant of God, I should not be kept during such a deluge in the courtyard, but in the house. I hope that he will find mercy in his hour of need."

The servant reported these words to his master, who at first wished to have the monk thrown into the big trough of the castle among the other filth. But the lady of Cande, who had great authority over her spouse, and was respected by him, because through her he expected a large inheritance, and because she was a little tyrannical, reprimanded him, saying, that it was possible this monk was a Christian; that in such weather thieves would succour an officer of justice; that, besides, it was necessary to treat him well to find out to what decision the brethren of Turpenay had come with regard to the schism business, and that her advice was put an end by kindness and not by force to the difficulties arisen between the abbey and the domain of Cande, because no lord since the coming of Christ had ever been stronger than the Church, and that sooner or later the abbey would ruin the castle; finally, she gave utterance to a thousand wise arguments, such as ladies use in the height of the storms of life, when they have had about enough of them. Amador's face was so piteous, his appearance so wretched, and so open to banter, that the lord, saddened by the weather, conceived the idea of enjoying a joke at his expense, tormenting him, playing tricks on him, and of giving him a lively recollection of his reception at the chateau. Then this gentleman, who had secret relations with his wife's maid, sent this girl, who was called Perrotte, to put an end to his ill-will towards the luckless Amador. As soon as the plot had been arranged between them, the wench, who hated monks, in order to please her master, went to the monk, who was standing under the pigsty, assuming a courteous demeanour in order the better to please him, said—

"Holy father, the master of the house is ashamed to see a servant of God out in the rain when there is room for him indoors, a good fire in the chimney, and a table spread. I invite you in his name and that of the lady of the house to step in."

"I thank the lady and lord, not for their hospitality which is a Christian thing, but for having sent as an ambassador to me, a poor sinner, an angel of such delicate beauty that I fancy I see the Virgin over our altar."

Saying which, Amador raised his nose in the air, and saluted with the two flakes of fire that sparkled in his bright eyes the pretty maidservant, who thought him neither so ugly nor so foul, nor so bestial; when, following Perrotte up the steps, Amador received on the nose, cheeks, and other portions of his face a slash of the whip, which made him see all the lights of the Magnificat, so well was the dose administered by the Sieur de Cande, who, busy chastening his greyhounds pretended not see the monk. He requested Amador to pardon him this accident, and ran after the dogs who had caused the mischief to his guest. The laughing servant, who knew what was coming, had dexterously kept out of the way. Noticing this business, Amador suspected the relations of Perrotte and the chevalier, concerning whom it is possible that the lasses of the valley had already whispered something into his ear. Of the people who were then in the room not one made room for the man of God, who remained right in the draught between the door and the window, where he stood freezing until the moment when the Sieur de Cande, his wife, and his aged sister, Mademoiselle de Cande, who had the charge of the young heiress of the house, aged about sixteen years, came and sat in their chairs at the head of the table, far from the common people, according to the old custom usual among the lords of the period, much to their discredit.

The Sieur de Cande, paying no attention to the monk, let him sit at the extreme end of the table, in a corner, where two mischievous lads had orders to squeeze and elbow him. Indeed these fellows worried his feet, his body, and his arms like real torturers, poured white wine into his goblet for water, in order to fuddle him, and the better to amuse themselves with him; but they made him drink seven large jugfuls without making belch, break wind, sweat or snort, which horrified them exceedingly, especially as his eye remained as clear as crystal. Encouraged, however, by a glance from their lord, they still kept throwing, while bowing to him, gravy into his beard, and wiping it dry in a manner to tear every hair of it out. The varlet who served a caudle baptised his head with it, and took care to let the burning liquor trickle down poor Amador's backbone. All this agony he endured with meekness, because the spirit of God was in him, and also the hope of finishing the litigation by holding out in the castle. Nevertheless, the mischievous lot burst out into such roars of laughter at the warm baptism given by the cook's lad to the soaked monk, even the butler making jokes at his expense, that the lady of Cande was compelled to notice what was going on at the end of the table. Then she perceived Amador, who had a look of sublime resignation upon his face, and was endeavouring to get something out of the big beef bones that had been put upon his pewter platter. At this moment the poor monk, who had administered a dexterous blow of the knife to a big ugly bone, took it into his hairy hands, snapped it in two, sucked the warm marrow out of it, and found it good.

"Truly," said she to herself, "God has put great strength into this monk!"

At the same time she seriously forbade the pages, servants, and others to torment the poor man, to whom out of mockery they had just given some rotten apples and maggoty nuts. He, perceiving that the old lady and her charge, the lady and the servants had seen him manoeuvring the bone, pushed backed his sleeve, showed the powerful muscles of his arm, placed nuts near his wrist on the bifurcation of the veins, and crushed them one by one by pressing them with the palm of his hand so vigorously that they appeared like ripe medlars. He also crunched them between his teeth, white as the teeth of a dog, husk, shell, fruit, and all, of which he made in a second a mash which he swallowed like honey. He crushed them between two fingers, which he used like scissors to cut them in two without a moment's hesitation.

You may be sure that the women were silent, that the men believed the devil to be in the monk; and had it not been for his wife and the darkness of the night, the Sieur de Cande, having the fear of God before his eyes, would have kicked him out of the house. Everyone declared that the monk was a man capable of throwing the castle into the moat. Therefore, as soon as everyone had wiped his mouth, my lord took care to imprison this devil, whose strength was terrible to behold, and had him conducted to a wretched little closet where Perrotte had arranged her machine in order to annoy him during the night. The tom-cats of the neighbourhood had been requested to come and confess to him, invited to tell him their sins in embryo towards the tabbies who attracted their affections, and also the little pigs for whom fine lumps of tripe had been placed under the bed in order to prevent them becoming monks, of which they were very desirous, by disgusting them with the style of libera, which the monk would sing to them. At every movement of poor Amador, who would find short horse-hair in the sheets, he would bring down cold water on to the bed, and a thousand other tricks were arranged, such are usually practised in castles. Everyone went to bed in expectation of the nocturnal revels of the monk, certain that they would not be disappointed, since he had been lodged under the tiles at the top of a little tower, the guard of the door of which was committed to dogs who howled for a bit of him. In order to ascertain what language the conversations with the cats and pigs would be carried on, the Sire came to stay with his dear Perrotte, who slept in the next room.

As soon as he found himself thus treated, Amador drew from his bag a knife, and dexterously extricated himself. Then he began to listen in order to find out the ways of the place, and heard the master of the house laughing with his maid-servant. Suspecting their manoeuvres, he waited till the moment when the lady of the house should be alone in bed, and made his way into her room with bare feet, in order that his sandals should not be in his secrets. He appeared to her by the light of the lamp in the manner in which monks generally appear during the night—that is, in a marvellous state, which the laity find it difficult long to sustain; and the thing is an effect of the frock, which magnifies everything. Then having let her see that he was all a monk, he made the following little speech—

"Know, madame, that I am sent by Jesus and the Virgin Mary to warn you to put an end to the improper perversities which are taking place—to the injury of your virtue, which is treacherously deprived of your husband's best attention, which he lavishes upon your maid. What is the use of being a lady if the seigneurial dues are received elsewhere. According to this, your servant is the lady and you are the servant. Are not all the joys bestowed upon her due to you? You will find them all amassed in our Holy Church, which is the consolation of the afflicted. Behold in me the messenger, ready to pay these debts if you do not renounce them."

Saying this, the good monk gently loosened his girdle in which he was incommoded, so much did he appear affected by the sight of those beauties which the Sieur de Cande disdained.

"If you speak truly, my father, I will submit to your guidance," said she, springing lightly out of bed. "You are for sure, a messenger of God, because you have been in a single day that which I had not noticed here for a long time."

Then she went, accompanied by Amador, whose holy robe she did not fail to run her hand over, and was so struck when she found it real, that she hoped to find her husband guilty; and indeed she heard him talking about the monk in her servant's bed. Perceiving this felony, she went into a furious rage and opened her mouth to resolve it into words— which is the usual method of women—and wished to kick up the devil's delight before handing the girl over to justice. But Amador told her that it would be more sensible to avenge herself first, and cry out afterwards.

"Avenge me quickly, then, my father," said she, "that I may begin to cry out."

Thereupon the monk avenged her most monastically with a good and ample vengeance, that she indulged in as a drunkard who puts his lips to the bunghole of a barrel; for when a lady avenges herself, she should get drunk with vengeance, or not taste it at all. And the chatelaine was revenged to that degree that she could not move; since nothing agitates, takes away the breath, and exhausts, like anger and vengeance. But although she were avenged, and doubly and trebly avenged, yet would she not forgive, in order that she might reserve the right of avenging herself with the monk, now here, now there. Perceiving this love for vengeance, Amador promised to aid her in it as long as her ire lasted, for he informed her that he knew in his quality of a monk, constrained to meditate long on the nature of things, an infinite number of modes, methods, and manners of practicing revenge.

Then he pointed out to her canonically what a Christian thing it is to revenge oneself, because all through the Holy Scriptures God declares Himself, above all things, to be a God of vengeance; and moreover, demonstrates to us, by his establishment in the infernal regions, how royally divine a thing vengeance is, since His vengeance is eternal. From which it followed, that women with monks ought to revenge themselves, under pain of not being Christians and faithful servants of celestial doctrines.

This dogma pleased the lady much, and she confessed that she had never understood the commandments of the Church, and invited her well-beloved monk to enlighten her thoroughly concerning them. Then the chatelaine, whose vital spirits had been excited by the vengeance which had refreshed them, went into the room where the jade was amusing herself, and by chance found her with her hand where she, the chatelaine, often had her eye—like the merchants have on their most precious articles, in order to see that they were not stolen. They were—according to President Lizet, when he was in a merry mood—a couple taken in flagrant delectation, and looked dumbfounded, sheepish and foolish. The sight that met her eyes displeased the lady beyond the power of words to express, as it appeared by her discourse, of which to roughness was similar to that of the water of a big pond when the sluice-gates were opened. It was a sermon in three heads, accompanied with music of a high gamut, varied in tones, with many sharps among the keys.

"Out upon virtue! my lord; I've had my share of it. You have shown me that religion in conjugal faith is an abuse; this is then the reason that I have no son. How many children have you consigned to this common oven, this poor-box, this bottomless alms-purse, this leper's porringer, the true cemetery of the House of Cande? I will know if I am childless from a constitutional defect, or through your fault. I will have handsome cavaliers, in order that I may have an heir. You can get the bastards, I the legitimate children."

"My dear," said the bewildered lord, "don't shout so."

"But," replied the lady, "I will shout, and shout to make myself heard, heard by the archbishop, heard by the legate, by the king, by my brothers, who will avenge this infamy for me."

"Do not dishonour your husband!"

"This is dishonour then? You are right; but, my lord, it is not brought about by you, but by this hussy, whom I will have sewn up in a sack, and thrown into the Indre; thus your dishonour will be washed away. Hi! there," she called out.

"Silence, madame!" said the sire, as shamefaced as a blind man's dog; because this great warrior, so ready to kill others, was like a child in the hands of his wife, a state of affairs to which soldiers are accustomed, because in them lies the strength and is found all the dull carnality of matter; while, on the contrary, in woman is a subtle spirit and a scintillation of perfumed flame that lights up paradise and dazzles the male. This is the reason that certain women govern their husbands, because mind is the master of matter.

(At this the ladies began to laugh, as did also the king).

"I will not be silent," said the lady of Cande (said the abbot, continuing his tale); "I have been too grossly outraged. This, then, is the reward of the wealth that I brought you, and of my virtuous conduct! Did I ever refuse to obey you even during Lent, and on fast days? Am I so cold as to freeze the sun? Do you think that I embrace by force, from duty, or pure kindness of heart! Am I too hallowed for you to touch? Am I a holy shrine? Was there need of a papal brief to kiss me? God's truth! have you had so much of me that you are tired? Am I not to your taste? Do charming wenches know more than ladies? Ha! perhaps it is so, since she has let you work in the field without sowing. Teach me the business; I will practice it with those whom I take into my service, for it is settled that I am free. That is as we should be. Your society was wearisome, and the little pleasure I derived from it cost me too dear. Thank God! I am quit of you and your whims, because I intend to retire to a monastery." . . . She meant to say a convent, but this avenging monk had perverted her tongue.

"And I shall be more comfortable in this monastery with my daughter, than in this place of abominable wickedness. You can inherit from your wench. Ha, ha! The fine lady of Cande! Look at her!"

"What is the matter?" said Amador, appearing suddenly upon the scene.

"The matter is, my father," replied she, "that my wrongs cry aloud for vengeance. To begin with, I shall have this trollop thrown into the river, sewn up in a sack, for having diverted the seed of the House of Cande from its proper channel. It will be saving the hangman a job. For the rest I will—"

"Abandon your anger, my daughter," said the monk. "It is commanded us by the Church to forgive those who trespass against us, if we would find favour in the side of Heaven, because you pardon those who also pardon others. God avenges himself eternally on those who have avenged themselves, but keeps in His paradise those who have pardoned. From that comes the jubilee, which is a day of great rejoicing, because all debts and offences are forgiven. Thus it is a source of happiness to pardon. Pardon! Pardon! To pardon is a most holy work. Pardon Monseigneur de Cande, who will bless you for your gracious clemency, and will henceforth love you much; This forgiveness will restore to you the flower of youth; and believe, my dear sweet young lady, that forgiveness is in certain cases the best means of vengeance. Pardon your maid-servant, who will pray heaven for you. Thus God, supplicated by all, will have you in His keeping, and will bless you with male lineage for this pardon."

Thus saying, the monk took the hand of the sire, placed it in that of the lady, and added—

"Go and talk over the pardon."

And then he whispered into the husband's ears this sage advice—

"My lord, use your best argument, and you will silence her with it, because a woman's mouth it is only full of words when she is empty elsewhere. Argue continually, and thus you will always have the upper hand of your wife."

"By the body of the Jupiter! There's good in this monk after all," said the seigneur, as he went out.

As soon as Amador found himself alone with Perrotte he spoke to her, as follows—

"You are to blame, my dear, for having wished to torment a poor servant of God; therefore are you now the object of celestial wrath, which will fall upon you. To whatever place you fly it will always follow you, will seize upon you in every limb, even after your death, and will cook you like a pasty in the oven of hell, where you will simmer eternally, and every day you will receive seven hundred thousand million lashes of the whip, for the one I received through you."

"Ah! holy Father," said the wench, casting herself at the monk's feet, "you alone can save me, for in your gown I should be sheltered from the anger of God."

Saying this, she raised the robe to place herself beneath it, and exclaimed—

"By my faith! monks are better than knights."

"By the sulphur of the devil! You are not acquainted with the monks?"

"No," said Perrotte.

"And you don't know the service that monks sing without saying a word?"

"No."

Thereupon the monk went through this said service for her, as it is sung on great feast days, with all the grand effects used in monasteries, the psalms well chanted in f major, the flaming tapers, and the choristers, and explained to her the Introit, and also the ite missa est, and departed, leaving her so sanctified that the wrath of heaven would have great difficulty in discovering any portion of the girl that was not thoroughly monasticated.

By his orders, Perrotte conducted him to Mademoiselle de Cande, the lord's sister, to whom he went in order to learn if it was her desire to confess to him, because monks came so rarely to the castle. The lady was delighted, as would any good Christian have been, at such a chance of clearing out her conscience. Amador requested her to show him her conscience, and she having allowed him to see that which he considered the conscience of old maids, he found it in a bad state, and told her that the sins of women were accomplished there; that to be for the future without sin it was necessary to have the conscience corked up by a monk's indulgence. The poor ignorant lady having replied that she did not know where these indulgences were to be had, the monk informed her that he had a relic with him which enabled him to grant one, that nothing was more indulgent than this relic, because without saying a word it produced infinite pleasures, which is the true, eternal and primary character of an indulgence. The poor lady was so pleased with this relic, the virtue of which she tried in various ways, that her brain became muddled, and she had so much faith in it that she indulged as devoutly in indulgences as the Lady of Cande had indulged in vengeances. This business of confession woke up the younger Demoiselle de Cande, who came to watch the proceedings. You may imagine that the monk had hoped for this occurrence, since his mouth had watered at the sight of this fair blossom, whom he also confessed, because the elder lady could not hinder him from bestowing upon the younger one, who wished it, what remained of the indulgences. But, remember, this pleasure was due to him for the trouble he had taken. The morning having dawned, the pigs having eaten their tripe, and the cats having become disenchanted with love, and having watered all the places rubbed with herbs, Amador went to rest himself in his bed, which Perrotte had put straight again. Every one slept, thanks to the monk, so long, that no one in the castle was up before noon, which was the dinner hour. The servants all believed the monk to be a devil who had carried off the cats, the pigs, and also their masters. In spite of these ideas however, every one was in the room at meal time.

"Come, my father," said the chatelaine, giving her arm to the monk, whom she put at her side in the baron's chair, to the great astonishment of the attendants, because the Sire of Cande said not a word. "Page, give some of this to Father Amador," said madame.

"Father Amador has need of so and so," said the Demoiselle de Cande.

"Fill up Father Amador's goblet," said the sire.

"Father Amador has no bread," said the little lady.

"What do you require, Father Amador?" said Perrotte.

It was Father Amador here, and Father Amador there. He was regaled like a little maiden on her wedding night.

"Eat, father," said madame; "you made such a bad meal yesterday."

"Drink, father," said the sire. "You are, s'blood! the finest monk I have ever set eyes on."

"Father Amador is a handsome monk," said Perrotte.

"An indulgent monk," said the demoiselle.

"A beneficent monk," said the little one.

"A great monk," said the lady.

"A monk who well deserves his name," said the clerk of the castle.

Amador munched and chewed, tried all the dishes, lapped up the hypocras, licked his chops, sneezed, blew himself out, strutted and stamped about like a bull in a field. The others regarded him with great fear, believing him to be a magician. Dinner over, the Lady of Cande, the demoiselle, and the little one, besought the Sire of Cande with a thousand fine arguments, to terminate the litigation. A great deal was said to him by madame, who pointed out to him how useful a monk was in a castle; by mademoiselle, who wished for the future to polish up her conscience every day; by the little one, who pulled her father's beard, and asked that this monk might always be at Cande. If ever the difference were arranged, it would be by the monk: the monk was of a good understanding, gentle and virtuous as a saint; it was a misfortune to be at enmity with a monastery containing such monks. If all the monks were like him, the abbey would always have everywhere the advantage of the castle, and would ruin it, because this monk was very strong. Finally, they gave utterance to a thousand reasons, which were like a deluge of words, and were so pluvially showered down that the sire yielded, saying, that there would never be a moment's peace in the house until matters were settled to the satisfaction of the women. Then he sent for the clerk, who wrote down for him, and also for the monk. Then Amador surprised them exceedingly by showing them the charters and the letters of credit, which would prevent the sire and his clerk delaying this agreement. When the Lady of Cande saw them about to put an end to this old case, she went to the linen chest to get some fine cloth to make a new gown for her dear Amador. Every one in the house had noticed how this old gown was worn, and it would have been a great shame to leave such a treasure in such a worn-out case. Everyone was eager to work at the gown. Madame cut it, the servant put the hood on, the demoiselle sewed it, and the little demoiselle worked at the sleeves. And all set so heartily to work to adorn the monk, that the robe was ready by supper time, as was also the charter of agreement prepared and sealed by the Sire de Cande.

"Ah, my father!" said the lady, "if you love us, you will refresh yourself after your merry labour by washing yourself in a bath that I have had heated by Perrotte."

Amador was then bathed in scented water. When he came out he found a new robe of fine linen and lovely sandals ready for him, which made him appear the most glorious monk in the world.

Meanwhile the monks of Turpenay fearing for Amador, had ordered two of their number to spy about the castle. These spies came round by the moat, just as Perrotte threw Amador's greasy old gown, with other rubbish, into it. Seeing which, they thought that it was all over with the poor madman. They therefore returned, and announced that it was certain Amador had suffered martyrdom in the service of the abbey. Hearing which the abbot ordered them to assemble in the chapel and pray to God, in order to assist this devoted servant in his torments. The monk having supped, put his charter into his girdle, and wished to return to Turpenay. Then he found at the foot of the steps madame's mare, bridled and saddled, and held ready for him by a groom. The lord had ordered his men-at-arms to accompany the good monk, so that no accident might befall him. Seeing which, Amador pardoned the tricks of the night before, and bestowed his benediction upon every one before taking his departure from this converted place. Madame followed him with her eyes, and proclaimed him a splendid rider. Perrotte declared that for a monk he held himself more upright in the saddle than any of the men-at-arms. Mademoiselle de Cande sighed. The little one wished to have him for her confessor.

"He has sanctified the castle," said they, when they were in the room again.

When Amador and his suite came to the gates of the abbey, a scene of terror ensued, since the guardian thought that the Sire de Cande had had his appetite for monks whetted by the blood of poor Amador, and wished to sack the abbey. But Amador shouted with his fine bass voice, and was recognised and admitted into the courtyard; and when he dismounted from madame's mare there was enough uproar to make the monks as a wild as April moons. They gave vent to shouts of joy in the refectory, and all came to congratulate Amador, who waved the charter over his head. The men-at-arms were regaled with the best wine in the cellars, which was a present made to the monks of Turpenay by those of Marmoustier, to whom belonged the lands of Vouvray. The good abbot having had the document of the Sieur de Cande read, went about saying—

"On these divine occasions there always appears the finger of God, to whom we should render thanks."

As the good abbot kept on at the finger of God, when thanking Amador, the monk, annoyed to see the instrument of their delivery thus diminished, said to him—

"Well, say that it is the arm, my father, and drop the subject."

The termination of the trial between the Sieur de Cande and the abbey of Turpenay was followed by a blessing which rendered him devoted to the Church, because nine months after he had a son. Two years afterwards Amador was chosen as abbot by the monks, who reckoned upon a merry government with a madcap. But Amador become an abbot, became steady and austere, because he had conquered his evil desires by his labours, and recast his nature at the female forge, in which is that fire which is the most perfecting, persevering, persistent, perdurable, permanent, perennial, and permeating fire that there ever was in the world. It is a fire to ruin everything, and it ruined so well the evil that was in Amador, that it left only that which it could not eat—that is, his wit, which was as clear as a diamond, which is, as everyone knows, a residue of the great fire by which our globe was formerly carbonised. Amador was then the instrument chosen by Providence to reform our illustrious abbey, since he put everything right there, watched night and day over his monks, made them all rise at the hours appointed for prayers, counted them in chapel as a shepherd counts his sheep, kept them well in hand, and punished their faults severely, that he made them most virtuous brethren.

This teaches us to look upon womankind more as the instruments of our salvation than of our pleasure. Besides which, this narrative teaches us that we should never attempt to struggle with the Churchmen.

The king and the queen had found this tale in the best taste; the courtiers confessed that they had never heard a better; and the ladies would all willingly have been the heroines of it.



BERTHA THE PENITENT

I HOW BERTHA REMAINED A MAIDEN IN THE MARRIED STATE

About the time of the first flight of the Dauphin, which threw our good Sire, Charles the Victorious, into a state of great dejection, there happened a great misfortune to a noble House of Touraine, since extinct in every branch; and it is owing to this fact that this most deplorable history may now be safely brought to light. To aid him in this work the author calls to his assistance the holy confessors, martyrs, and other celestial dominations, who, by the commandments of God, were the promoters of good in this affair.

From some defect in his character, the Sire Imbert de Bastarnay, one of the most landed lords in our land of Touraine, had no confidence in the mind of the female of man, whom he considered much too animated, on account of her numerous vagaries, and it may be he was right. In consequence of this idea he reached his old age without a companion, which was certainly not to his advantage. Always leading a solitary life, this said man had no idea of making himself agreeable to others, having only been mixed up with wars and the orgies of bachelors, with whom he did not put himself out of the way. Thus he remained stale in his garments, sweaty in his accoutrements, with dirty hands and an apish face. In short, he looked the ugliest man in Christendom. As far as regards his person only though, since so far as his heart, his head, and other secret places were concerned, he had properties which rendered him most praiseworthy. An angel (pray believe this) would have walked a long way without meeting an old warrior firmer at his post, a lord with more spotless scutcheon, of shorter speech, and more perfect loyalty.

Certain people have stated, they have heard that he gave sound advice, and was a good and profitable man to consult. Was it not a strange freak on the part of God, who plays sometimes jokes on us, to have granted so many perfections to a man so badly apparelled?

When he was sixty in appearance, although only fifty in years, he determined to take unto himself a wife, in order to obtain lineage. Then, while foraging about for a place where he might be able to find a lady to his liking, he heard much vaunted, the great merits and perfections of a daughter of the illustrious house of Rohan, which at that time had some property in the province. The young lady in question was called Bertha, that being her pet name. Imbert having been to see her at the castle of Montbazon, was, in consequence of the prettiness and innocent virtue of the said Bertha de Rohan, seized with so great a desire to possess her, that he determined to make her his wife, believing that never could a girl of such lofty descent fail in her duty. This marriage was soon celebrated, because the Sire de Rohan had seven daughters, and hardly knew how to provide for them all, at a time when people were just recovering from the late wars, and patching up their unsettled affairs. Now the good man Bastarnay happily found Bertha really a maiden, which fact bore witness to her proper bringing up and perfect maternal correction. So immediately the night arrived when it should be lawful for him to embrace her, he got her with a child so roughly that he had proof of the result two months after marriage, which rendered the Sire Imbert joyful to a degree. In order that we may here finish with this portion of the story, let us at once state that from this legitimate grain was born the Sire de Bastarnay, who was Duke by the grace of Louis the Eleventh, his chamberlain, and more than that, his ambassador in the countries of Europe, and well-beloved of this most redoubtable lord, to whom he was never faithless. His loyalty was an heritage from his father, who from his early youth was much attached to the Dauphin, whose fortunes he followed, even in the rebellions, since he was a man to put Christ on the cross again if it had been required by him to do so, which is the flower of friendship rarely to be found encompassing princes and great people. At first, the fair lady of Bastarnay comported herself so loyally that her society caused those thick vapours and black clouds to vanish, which obscured the mind of this great man, the brightness of the feminine glory. Now, according to the custom of unbelievers, he passed from suspicion to confidence so thoroughly, that he yielded up the government of his house to the said Bertha, made her mistress of his deeds and actions, queen of his honour, guardian of his grey hairs, and would have slaughtered without a contest any one who had said an evil word concerning this mirror of virtue, on whom no breath had fallen save the breath issued from his conjugal and marital lips, cold and withered as they were. To speak truly on all points, it should be explained, that to this virtuous behaviour considerably aided the little boy, who during six years occupied day and night the attention of his pretty mother, who first nourished him with her milk, and made of him a lover's lieutenant, yielding to him her sweet breasts, which he gnawed at, hungry, as often as he would, and was, like a lover, always there. This good mother knew no other pleasures than those of his rosy lips, had no other caresses that those of his tiny little hands, which ran about her like the feet of playful mice, read no other book than that in his clear baby eyes, in which the blue sky was reflected, and listened to no other music than his cries, which sounded in her ears as angels' whispers. You may be sure that she was always fondling him, had a desire to kiss him at dawn of day, kissed him in the evening, would rise in the night to eat him up with kisses, made herself a child as he was a child, educated him in the perfect religion of maternity; finally, behaved as the best and happiest mother that ever lived, without disparagement to our Lady the Virgin, who could have had little trouble in bringing up our Saviour, since he was God.

This employment and the little taste which Bertha had for the blisses of matrimony much delighted the old man, since he would have been unable to return the affection of a too amorous wife, and desired to practice economy, to have the wherewithal for a second child.

After six years had passed away, the mother was compelled to give her son into the hands of the grooms and other persons to whom Messire de Bastarnay committed the task to mould him properly, in order that his heir should have an heritage of the virtues, qualities and courage of the house, as well as the domains and the name. Then did Bertha shed many tears, her happiness being gone. For the great heart of this mother it was nothing to have this well-beloved son after others, and during only certain short fleeting hours. Therefore she became sad and melancholy. Noticing her grief, the good man wished to bestow upon her another child and could not, and the poor lady was displeased thereat, because she declared that the making of a child wearied her much and cost her dear. And this is true, or no doctrine is true, and you must burn the Gospels as a pack of stories if you have not faith in this innocent remark.

This, nevertheless, to certain ladies (I did not mention men, since they have a smattering of the science), will still seem an untruth. The writer has taken care here to give the mute reasons for this strange antipathy; I mean the distastes of Bertha, because I love the ladies above all things, knowing that for want of the pleasure of love, my face would grow old and my heart torment me. Did you ever meet a scribe so complacent and so fond of the ladies as I am? No; of course not. Therefore, do I love them devotedly, but not so often as I could wish, since I have oftener in my hands my goose-quill than I have the barbs with which one tickles their lips to make them laugh and be merry in all innocence. I understand them, and in this way.

The good man Bastarnay was not a smart young fellow of an amorous nature, and acquainted with the pranks of the thing. He did not trouble himself much about the fashion in which he killed a soldier so long as he killed him; that he would have killed him in all ways without saying a word in battle, is, of course, understood. The perfect heedlessness in the matter of death was in accordance with the nonchalance in the matter of life, the birth and manner of begetting a child, and the ceremonies thereto appertaining. The good sire was ignorant of the many litigious, dilatory, interlocutory and proprietary exploits and the little humourings of the little fagots placed in the oven to heat it; of the sweet perfumed branches gathered little by little in the forests of love, fondlings, coddlings, huggings, nursing, the bites at the cherry, the cat-licking, and other little tricks and traffic of love which ruffians know, which lovers preserve, and which the ladies love better than their salvation, because there is more of the cat than the woman in them. This shines forth in perfect evidence in their feminine ways. If you think it worth while watching them, examine them attentively while they eat: not one of them (I am speaking of women, noble and well-educated) puts her knife in the eatables and thrusts it into her mouth, as do brutally the males; no, they turn over their food, pick the pieces that please them as they would gray peas in a dovecote; they suck the sauces by mouthfuls; play with their knife and spoon as if they are only ate in consequence of a judge's order, so much do they dislike to go straight to the point, and make free use of variations, finesse, and little tricks in everything, which is the especial attribute of these creatures, and the reason that the sons of Adam delight in them, since they do everything differently to themselves, and they do well. You think so too. Good! I love you.

Now then, Imbert de Bastarnay, an old soldier, ignorant of the tricks of love, entered into the sweet garden of Venus as he would into a place taken by assault, without giving any heed to the cries of the poor inhabitants in tears, and placed a child as he would an arrow in the dark. Although the gentle Bertha was not used to such treatment (poor child, she was but fifteen), she believed in her virgin faith, that the happiness of becoming a mother demanded this terrible, dreadful bruising and nasty business; so during his painful task she would pray to God to assist her, and recite Aves to our Lady, esteeming her lucky, in only having the Holy Ghost to endure. By this means, never having experienced anything but pain in marriage, she never troubled her husband to go through the ceremony again. Now seeing that the old fellow was scarcely equal to it—as has been before stated—she lived in perfect solitude, like a nun. She hated the society of men, and never suspected that the Author of the world had put so much joy in that from which she had only received infinite misery. But she loved all the more her little one, who had cost her so much before he was born. Do not be astonished, therefore, that she held aloof from that gallant tourney in which it is the mare who governs her cavalier, guides him, fatigues him, and abuses him, if he stumbles. This is the true history of certain unhappy unions, according to the statement of the old men and women, and the certain reason of the follies committed by certain women, who too late perceive, I know not how, that they have been deceived, and attempt to crowd into a day more time than it will hold, to have their proper share of life. That is philosophical, my friends. Therefore study well this page, in order that you may wisely look to the proper government of your wives, your sweethearts, and all females generally, and particularly those who by chance may be under your care, from which God preserve you.

Thus a virgin in deed, although a mother, Bertha was in her one-and-twentieth year a castle flower, the glory of her good man, and the honour of the province. The said Bastarnay took great pleasure in beholding this child come, go, and frisk about like a willow-switch, as lively as an eel, as innocent as her little one, and still most sensible and of sound understanding; so much so that he never undertook any project without consulting her about it, seeing that if the minds of these angels have not been disturbed in their purity, they give a sound answer to everything one asks of them. At this time Bertha lived near the town of Loches, in the castle of her lord, and there resided, with no desire to do anything but look after her household duties, after the old custom of the good housewives, from which the ladies of France were led away when Queen Catherine and the Italians came with their balls and merry-makings. To these practices Francis the First and his successors, whose easy ways did as much harm to the State of France as the goings on of the Protestants lent their aid. This, however, has nothing to do with my story.

About this time the lord and lady of Bastarnay were invited by the king to come to his town of Loches, where for the present he was with his court, in which the beauty of the lady of Bastarnay had made a great noise. Bertha came to Loches, received many kind praises from the king, was the centre of the homage of all the young nobles, who feasted their eyes on this apple of love, and of the old ones, who warmed themselves at this sun. But you may be sure that all of them, old and young, would have suffered death a thousand times over to have at their service this instrument of joy, which dazzled their eyes and muddled their brains. Bertha was more talked about in Loches then either God or the Gospels, which enraged a great many ladies who were not so bountifully endowed with charms, and would have given all that was left of their honour to have sent back to her castle this fair gatherer of smiles.

A young lady having early perceived that one of her lovers was smitten with Bertha, took such a hatred to her that from it arose all the misfortunes of the lady of Bastarnay; but also from the same source came her happiness, and her discovery of the gentle land of love, of which she was ignorant. This wicked lady had a relation who had confessed to her, directly he saw Bertha, that to be her lover he would be willing to die after a month's happiness with her. Bear in mind that this cousin was as handsome as a girl is beautiful, had no hair on his chin, would have gained his enemy's forgiveness by asking for it, so melodious was his young voice, and was scarcely twenty years of age.

"Dear cousin," said she to him, "leave the room, and go to your house; I will endeavour to give you this joy. But do not let yourself be seen by her, nor by that old baboon-face by an error of nature on a Christian's body, and to whom belongs this beauteous fay."

The young gentleman out of the way, the lady came rubbing her treacherous nose against Bertha's, and called her "My friend, my treasure, my star of beauty"; trying every way to be agreeable to her, to make her vengeance more certain on the poor child who, all unwittingly, had caused her lover's heart to be faithless, which, for women ambitious in love, is the worst of infidelities. After a little conversation, the plotting lady suspected that poor Bertha was a maiden in matters of love, when she saw her eyes full of limpid water, no marks on the temples, no little black speck on the point of her little nose, white as snow, where usually the marks of the amusement are visible, no wrinkle on her brow; in short, no habit of pleasure apparent on her face—clear as the face of an innocent maiden. Then this traitress put certain women's questions to her, and was perfectly assured by the replies of Bertha, that if she had had the profit of being a mother, the pleasures of love had been denied to her. At this she rejoiced greatly on her cousin's behalf—like the good woman she was.

Then she told her, that in the town of Loches there lived a young and noble lady, of the family of a Rohan, who at that time had need of the assistance of a lady of position to be reconciled with the Sire Louis de Rohan; that if she had as much goodness as God had given her beauty, she would take her with her to the castle, ascertain for herself the sanctity of her life, and bring about a reconciliation with the Sire de Rohan, who refused to receive her. To this Bertha consented without hesitation, because the misfortunes of this girl were known to her, but not the poor young lady herself, whose name was Sylvia, and whom she had believed to be in a foreign land.

It is here necessary to state why the king had given this invitation to the Sire de Bastarnay. He had a suspicion of the first flight of his son the Dauphin into Burgundy, and wished to deprive him of so good a counsellor as was the said Bastarnay. But the veteran, faithful to young Louis, had already, without saying a word, made up his mind. Therefore he took Bertha back to his castle; but before they set out she told him she had taken a companion and introduced her to him. It was the young lord, disguised as a girl, with the assistance of his cousin, who was jealous of Bertha, and annoyed at her virtue. Imbert drew back a little when he learned that it was Sylvia de Rohan, but was also much affected at the kindness of Bertha, whom he thanked for her attempt to bring a little wandering lamb back to the fold. He made much of his wife, when his last night at home came, left men-at-arms about his castle, and then set out with the Dauphin for Burgundy, having a cruel enemy in his bosom without suspecting it. The face of the young lad was unknown to him, because he was a young page come to see the king's court, and who had been brought up by the Cardinal Dunois, in whose service he was a knight-bachelor.

The old lord, believing that he was a girl, thought him very modest and timid, because the lad, doubting the language of his eyes, kept them always cast down; and when Bertha kissed him on the mouth, he trembled lest his petticoat might be indiscreet, and would walk away to the window, so fearful was he of being recognised as a man by Bastarnay, and killed before he had made love to the lady.

Therefore he was as joyful as any lover would have been in his place, when the portcullis was lowered, and the old lord galloped away across the country. He had been in such suspense that he made a vow to build a pillar at his own expense in the cathedral at Tours, because he had escaped the danger of his mad scheme. He gave, indeed, fifty gold marks to pay God for his delight. But by chance he had to pay for it over again to the devil, as it appears from the following facts if the tale pleases you well enough to induce you to follow the narrative, which will be succinct, as all good speeches should be.

II HOW BERTHA BEHAVED, KNOWING THE BUSINESS OF LOVE

This bachelor was the young Sire Jehan de Sacchez, cousin of the Sieur de Montmorency, to whom, by the death of the said Jehan, the fiefs of Sacchez and other places would return, according to the deed of tenure. He was twenty years of age and glowed like a burning coal; therefore you may be sure that he had a hard job to get through the first day. While old Imbert was galloping across the fields, the two cousins perched themselves under the lantern of the portcullis, in order to keep him the longer in view, and waved him signals of farewells. When the clouds of dust raised by the heels of the horses were no longer visible upon the horizon, they came down and went into the great room of the castle.

"What shall we do, dear cousin?" said Bertha to the false Sylvia. "Do you like music? We will play together. Let us sing the lay of some sweet ancient bard. Eh? What do you say? Come to my organ; come along. As you love me, sing!"

Then she took Jehan by the hand and led him to the keyboard of the organ, at which the young fellow seated himself prettily, after the manner of women. "Ah! sweet coz," cried Bertha, as soon as the first notes tried, the lad turned his head towards her, in order that they might sing together. "Ah! sweet coz you have a wonderful glance in your eye; you move I know not what in my heart."

"Ah! cousin," replied the false Sylvia, "that it is which has been my ruin. A sweet milord of the land across the sea told me so often that I had fine eyes, and kissed them so well, that I yielded, so much pleasure did I feel in letting them be kissed."

"Cousin, does love then, commence in the eyes?"

"In them is the forge of Cupid's bolts, my dear Bertha," said the lover, casting fire and flame at her.

"Let us go on with our singing."

They then sang, by Jehan's desire, a lay of Christine de Pisan, every word of which breathed love.

"Ah! cousin, what a deep and powerful voice you have. It seems to pierce me."

"Where?" said the impudent Sylvia.

"There," replied Bertha, touching her little diaphragm, where the sounds of love are understood better than by the ears, but the diaphragm lies nearer the heart, and that which is undoubtedly the first brain, the second heart, and the third ear of the ladies. I say this, with all respect and with all honour, for physical reasons and for no others.

"Let us leave off singing," said Bertha; "it has too great an effect upon me. Come to the window; we can do needlework until the evening."

"Ah! dear cousin of my soul, I don't know how to hold the needle in my fingers, having been accustomed, to my perdition to do something else with them."

"Eh! what did you do then all day long?"

"Ah! I yielded to the current of love, which makes days seem Instants, months seem days, and years months; and if it could last, would gulp down eternity like a strawberry, seeing that it is all youth and fragrance, sweetness and endless joy."

Then the youth dropped his beautiful eyelids over his eyes, and remained as melancholy as a poor lady who has been abandoned by her lover, who weeps for him, wishes to kiss him, and would pardon his perfidy, if he would but seek once again the sweet path to his once-loved fold.

"Cousin, does love blossom in the married state?"

"Oh no," said Sylvia; "because in the married state everything is duty, but in love everything is done in perfect freedom of heart. This difference communicates an indescribable soft balm to those caresses which are the flowers of love."

"Cousin, let us change the conversation; it affects me more than did the music."

She called hastily to a servant to bring her boy to her, who came, and when Sylvia saw him, she exclaimed—

"Ah! the little dear, he is as beautiful as love."

Then she kissed him heartily upon the forehead.

"Come, my little one," said the mother, as the child clambered into her lap. "Thou art thy mother's blessing, her unclouded joy, the delight of her every hour, her crown, her jewel, her own pure pearl, her spotless soul, her treasure, her morning and evening star, her only flame, and her heart's darling. Give me thy hands, that I may eat them; give me thine ears, that I may bite them; give me thy head, that I may kiss thy curls. Be happy sweet flower of my body, that I may be happy too."

"Ah! cousin," said Sylvia, "you are speaking the language of love to him."

"Love is a child then?"

"Yes, cousin; therefore the heathen always portrayed him as a little boy."

And with many other remarks fertile in the imagery of love, the two pretty cousins amused themselves until supper time, playing with the child.

"Would you like to have another?" whispered Jehan, at an opportune moment, into his cousin's ear, which he touched with his warm lips.

"Ah! Sylvia! for that I would ensure a hundred years of purgatory, if it would only please God to give me that joy. But in spite of the work, labour, and industry of my spouse, which causes me much pain, my waist does not vary in size. Alas! It is nothing to have but one child. If I hear the sound of a cry in the castle, my heart beats ready to burst. I fear man and beast alike for this innocent darling; I dread volts, passes, and manual exercises; in fact, I dread everything. I live not in myself, but in him alone. And, alas! I like to endure these miseries, because when I fidget, and tremble, it is a sign that my offspring is safe and sound. To be brief—for I am never weary of talking on this subject—I believe that my breath is in him, and not in myself."

With these words she hugged him to her breasts, as only mothers know how to hug children, with a spiritual force that is felt only in their hearts. If you doubt this, watch a cat carrying her kittens in her mouth, not one of them gives a single mew. The youthful gallant, who had certain fears about watering this fair, unfertile plain, was reassured by this speech. He thought then that it would only be following the commandments of God to win this saint to love; and he thought right. At night Bertha asked her cousin—according to the old custom, to which the ladies of our day object—to keep her company in her big seigneurial bed. To which request Sylvia replied—in order to keep up the role of a well-born maiden—that nothing would give her greater pleasure. The curfew rang, and found the two cousins in a chamber richly ornamented with carpeting, fringes, and royal tapestries, and Bertha began gracefully to disarray herself, assisted by her women. You can imagine that her companion modestly declined their services, and told her cousin, with a little blush, that she was accustomed to undress herself ever since she had lost the services of her dearly beloved, who had put her out of conceit with feminine fingers by his gentle ways; that these preparations brought back the pretty speeches he used to make, and his merry pranks while playing the lady's-maid; and that to her injury, the memory of all these things brought the water into her mouth.

This discourse considerably astonished the lady Bertha, who let her cousin say her prayers, and make other preparations for the night beneath the curtains of the bed, into which my lord, inflamed with desire, soon tumbled, happy at being able to catch an occasional glimpse of the wondrous charms of the chatelaine, which were in no way injured. Bertha, believing herself to be with an experienced girl, did not omit any of the usual practices; she washed her feet, not minding whether she raised them little or much, exposed her delicate little shoulders, and did as all the ladies do when they are retiring to rest. At last she came to bed, and settled herself comfortably in it, kissing her cousin on the lips, which she found remarkably warm.

"Are you unwell, Sylvia, that you burn so?" said she.

"I always burn like that when I go to bed," replied her companion, "because at that time there comes back to my memory the pretty little tricks that he invented to please me, and which make me burn still more."

"Ah! cousin, tell me all about this he. Tell all the sweets of love to me, who live beneath the shadow of a hoary head, of which the snows keep me from such warm feelings. Tell me all; you are cured. It will be a good warning to me, and then your misfortunes will have been a salutary lesson to two poor weak women."

"I do not know I ought to obey you, sweet cousin," said the youth.

"Tell me, why not?"

"Ah! deeds are better than words," said the false maiden, heaving a deep sigh as the ut of an organ. "But I am afraid that this milord has encumbered me with so much joy that you may get a little of it, which would be enough to give you a daughter, since the power of engendering is weakened in me."

"But," said Bertha, "between us, would it be a sin?"

"It would be, on the contrary, a joy both here and in heaven; the angels would shed their fragrance around you, and make sweet music in your ears."

"Tell me quickly, then," said Bertha.

"Well, then, this is how my dear lord made my heart rejoice."

With these words Jehan took Bertha in his arms, and strained her hungering to his heart, for in the soft light of the lamp, and clothed with the spotless linen, she was in this tempting bed, like the pretty petals of a lily at the bottom of the virgin calyx.

"When he held me as I hold thee he said to me, with a voice far sweeter than mine, 'Ah, Bertha, thou art my eternal love, my priceless treasure, my joy by day and my joy by night; thou art fairer than the day is day; there is naught so pretty as thou art. I love thee more than God, and would endure a thousand deaths for the happiness I ask of thee!' Then he would kiss me, not after the manner of husbands, which is rough, but in a peculiar dove-like fashion."

To show her there and then how much better was the method of lovers, he sucked all the honey from Bertha's lips, and taught her how, with her pretty tongue, small and rosy as that of a cat, she could speak to the heart without saying a single word, and becoming exhausted at this game, Jehan spread the fire of his kisses from the mouth to the neck, from the neck to the sweetest forms that ever a woman gave a child to slake its thirst upon. And whoever had been in his place would have thought himself a wicked man not to imitate him.

"Ah!" said Bertha, fast bound in love without knowing it; "this is better. I must take care to tell Imbert about it."

"Are you in your proper senses, cousin? Say nothing about it to your old husband. How could he make his hands pleasant like mine? They are as hard as washerwoman's beetles, and his piebald beard would hardly please this centre of bliss, that rose in which lies our wealth, our substance, our loves, and our fortune. Do you know that it is a living flower, which should be fondled thus, and not used like a trombone, or as if it were a catapult of war? Now this was the gentle way of my beloved Englishman."

Thus saying, the handsome youth comported himself so bravely in the battle that victory crowned his efforts, and poor innocent Bertha exclaimed—

"Ah! cousin, the angels are come! but so beautiful is the music, that I hear nothing else, and so flaming are their luminous rays, that my eyes are closing."

And, indeed, she fainted under the burden of those joys of love which burst forth in her like the highest notes of the organ, which glistened like the most magnificent aurora, which flowed in her veins like the finest musk, and loosened the liens of her life in giving her a child of love, who made a great deal of confusion in taking up his quarters. Finally, Bertha imagined herself to be in Paradise, so happy did she feel; and woke from this beautiful dream in the arms of Jehan, exclaiming—

"Ah! who would not have been married in England!"

"My sweet mistress," said Jehan, whose ecstasy was sooner over, "you are married to me in France, where things are managed still better, for I am a man who would give a thousand lives for you if he had them."

Poor Bertha gave a shriek so sharp that it pierced the walls, and leapt out of bed like a mountebank of the plains of Egypt would have done. She fell upon her knees before her Prie-Dieu, joined her hands, and wept more pearls than ever Mary Magdalene wore.

"Ah! I am dead" she cried; "I am deceived by a devil who has taken the face of an angel. I am lost; I am the mother for certain of a beautiful child, without being more guilty than you, Madame the Virgin. Implore the pardon of God for me, if I have not that of men upon earth; or let me die, so that I may not blush before my lord and master."

Hearing that she said nothing against him, Jehan rose, quite aghast to see Bertha take this charming dance for two so to heart. But the moment she heard her Gabriel moving she sprang quickly to her feet, regarded him with a tearful face, and her eye illumined with a holy anger, which made her more lovely to look upon, exclaimed—

"If you advance a single step towards me, I will make one towards death!"

And she took her stiletto in her hand.

So heartrending was the tragic spectacle of her grief that Jehan answered her—

"It is not for thee but for me to die, my dear, beautiful mistress, more dearly loved than will ever woman be again upon this earth."

"If you had truly loved me you would not have killed me as you have, for I will die sooner than be reproached by my husband."

"Will you die?" said he.

"Assuredly," said she.

"Now, if I am here pierced with a thousand blows, you will have your husband's pardon, to whom you will say that if your innocence was surprised, you have avenged his honour by killing the man who had deceived you; and it will be the greatest happiness that could ever befall me to die for you, the moment you refuse to live for me."

Hearing this tender discourse spoken with tears, Bertha dropped the dagger; Jehan sprang upon it, and thrust it into his breast, saying—

"Such happiness can be paid for but with death."

And fell stiff and stark.

Bertha, terrified, called aloud for her maid. The servant came, and terribly alarmed to see a wounded man in Madame's chamber, and Madame holding him up, crying and saying, "What have you done, my love?" because she believed he was dead, and remembered her vanished joys, and thought how beautiful Jehan must be, since everyone, even Imbert, believed him to be a girl. In her sorrow she confessed all to her maid, sobbing and crying out, "that it was quite enough to have upon her mind the life of a child without having the death of a man as well." Hearing this the poor lover tried to open his eyes, and only succeeded in showing a little bit of the white of them.

"Ha! Madame, don't cry out," said the servant, "let us keep our senses together and save this pretty knight. I will go and seek La Fallotte, in order not to let any physician or surgeon into the secret, and as she is a sorceress she will, to please Madame, perform the miracle of healing this wound so not a trace of it shall remain.

"Run!" replied Bertha. "I will love you, and will pay you well for this assistance."

But before anything else was done the lady and her maid agreed to be silent about this adventure, and hide Jehan from every eye. Then the servant went out into the night to seek La Fallotte, and was accompanied by her mistress as far as the postern, because the guard could not raise the portcullis without Bertha's special order. Bertha found on going back that her lover had fainted, for the blood was flowing from the wound. At the sight she drank a little of his blood, thinking that Jehan had shed it for her. Affected by this great love and by the danger, she kissed this pretty varlet of pleasure on the face, bound up his wound, bathing it with her tears, beseeching him not to die, and exclaiming that if he would live she would love him with all her heart. You can imagine that the chatelaine became still more enamoured while observing what a difference there was between a young knight like Jehan, white, downy, and agreeable, and an old fellow like Imbert, bristly, yellow, and wrinkled. This difference brought back to her memory that which she had found in the pleasure of love. Moved by this souvenir, her kisses became so warm that Jehan came back to his senses, his look improved, and he could see Bertha, from whom in a feeble voice he asked forgiveness. But Bertha forbade him to speak until La Fallotte had arrived. Then both of them consumed the time by loving each other with their eyes, since in those of Bertha there was nothing but compassion, and on these occasions pity is akin to love.

La Fallotte was a hunchback, vehemently suspected of dealings in necromancy, and of riding to nocturnal orgies on a broomstick, according to the custom of witches. Certain persons had seen her putting the harness on her broom in the stable, which, as everyone knows is on the housetops. To tell the truth, she possessed certain medical secrets, and was of such great service to ladies in certain things, and to the nobles, that she lived in perfect tranquillity, without giving up the ghost on a pile of fagots, but on a feather bed, for she had made a hatful of money, although the physicians tormented her by declaring that she sold poisons, which was certainly true, as will be shown in the sequel. The servant and La Fallotte came on the same ass, making such haste that they arrived at the castle before the day had fully dawned.

The old hunchback exclaimed, as she entered the chamber, "Now then, my children, what is the matter?"

This was her manner, which was familiar with great people, who appeared very small to her. She put on her spectacles, and carefully examined the wound, saying—

"This is fine blood, my dear; you have tasted it. That's all right, he has bled externally."

Then she washed the wound with a fine sponge, under the nose of the lady and the servant, who held their breath. To be brief, Fallotte gave it as her medical opinion, that the youth would not die from this blow, "although," said she, looking at his hand, "he will come to a violent end through this night's deed."

This decree of chiromancy frightened considerably both Bertha and the maid. Fallotte prescribed certain remedies, and promised to come again the following night. Indeed, she tended the wound for a whole fortnight, coming secretly at night-time. The people about the castle were told by the servants that their young lady, Sylvia de Rohan, was in danger of death, through a swelling of the stomach, which must remain a mystery for the honour of Madame, who was her cousin. Each one was satisfied with this story, of which his mouth was so full that he told it to his fellows.

The good people believe that it was the malady which was fraught with danger; but it was not! it was the convalescence, for the stronger Jehan grew, the weaker Bertha became, and so weak that she allowed herself to drift into that Paradise the gates of which Jehan had opened for her. To be brief, she loved him more and more. But in the midst of her happiness, always mingled with apprehension at the menacing words of Fallotte, and tormented by her great religion, she was in great fear of her husband, Imbert, to whom she was compelled to write that he had given her a child, who would be ready to delight him on his return. Poor Bertha avoided her lover, Jehan, during the day on which she wrote the lying letter, over which she soaked her handkerchief with tears. Finding himself avoided (for they had previously left each other no more than fire leaves the wood it has bitten) Jehan believed that she was beginning to hate him, and straightway he cried too. In the evening Bertha, touched by his tears, which had left their mark upon his eyes, although he had well dried them, told him the cause of her sorrow, mingling therewith her confessions of her terrors for the future, pointing out to him how much they were both to blame, and discoursing so beautifully to him, gave utterance to such Christian sentences, ornamented with holy tears and contrite prayers, that Jehan was touched to the quick by the sincerity of his mistress. This love innocently united to repentance, this nobility in sin, this mixture of weakness and strength, would, as the old authors say, have changed the nature of a tiger, melting it to pity. You will not be astonished then, that Jehan was compelled to pledge his word as a knight-bachelor, to obey her in what ever she should command him, to save her in this world and in the next. Delighted at this confidence in her, and this goodness of heart, Bertha cast herself at Jehan's feet, and kissing them, exclaimed—

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse