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La Sorciere: The Witch of the Middle Ages
by Jules Michelet
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A shameful scene we may well imagine it to have been. As the young husband is leading his bride to the castle, fancy the laughter of cavaliers and footmen, the frolics of the pages around the wretched poor! But the presence of the great lady herself will check them? Not at all. The lady in whose delicate breeding the romances tell us to believe,[27] but who, in her husband's absence, ruled his men, judging, chastising, ordaining penalties, to whom her husband himself was bound by the fiefs she brought him,—such a lady would be in no wise merciful, especially towards a girl-serf who happened also to be good-looking. Since, according to the custom of those days, she openly kept her gentleman and her page, she would not be sorry to sanction her own libertinism by that of her husband.

[27] This delicacy appears in the treatment these ladies inflicted on their poet Jean de Meung, author of the Roman de la Rose.

Nothing will she do to hinder the fun, the sport they are making out of yon poor trembler who has come to redeem his bride. They begin by bargaining with him; they laugh at the pangs endured by "the miserly peasant;" they suck the very blood and marrow of him. Why all this fury? Because he is neatly clad; is honest, settled; is a man of mark in the village. Why, indeed? Because she is pious, chaste, and pure; because she loves him; because she is frightened and falls a-weeping. Her sweet eyes plead for pity.

In vain does the poor wretch offer all he has, even to her dowry: it is all too little. Angered at such cruel injustice, he will say perhaps that "his neighbour paid nothing." The insolent fellow! he would argue with us! Thereon they gather round him, a yelling mob: sticks and brooms pelt upon him like hail. They jostle him, they throw him down. "You jealous villain, you Lent-faced villain!" they cry; "no one takes your wife from you; you shall have her back to-night, and to enhance the honour done you ... your eldest child will be a baron!" Everyone looks out of window at the absurd figure of this dead man in wedding garments. He is followed by bursts of laughter, and the noisy rabble, down to the lowest scullion, give chase to the "cuckold."[28]

[28] The old tales are very sportive, but rather monotonous. They turn on three jokes only: the despair of the cuckold, the cries of the beaten, the wry faces of the hanged. The first is amusing, the second laughable, the third, as crown of all, makes people split their sides. And the three have one point in common: it is the weak and helpless who is ill-used.

* * * * *

The poor fellow would have burst, had he nothing to hope for from the Devil. By himself he returns: is the house empty as well as desolate? No, there is company waiting for him there: by the fireside sits Satan.

But soon his bride comes back, poor wretch, all pale and undone. Alas! alas! for her condition. At his feet she throws herself and craves forgiveness. Then, with a bursting heart, he flings his arms round her neck. He weeps, he sobs, he roars, till the house shakes again.

But with her comes back God. For all her suffering, she is pure, innocent, holy still. Satan for that nonce will get no profit: the treaty is not yet ripe.

Our silly Fabliaux, our absurd tales, assume with regard to this deadly outrage and all its further issues, that the woman sides with her oppressors against her husband; they would have us believe that her brutal treatment by the former makes her happy and transports her with delight. A likely thing indeed! Doubtless she might be seduced by rank, politeness, elegant manners. But no pains are ever taken to that end. Great would be the scoffing at anyone who made true-love's wooing towards a serf. The whole gang of men, to the chaplain, the butler, even the footmen, would think they honoured her by deeds of outrage. The smallest page thought himself a great lord, if he only seasoned his love with insolence and blows.

* * * * *

One day, the poor woman, having just been ill-treated during her husband's absence, begins weeping, and saying quite aloud, the while she is tying up her long hair, "Ah, those unhappy saints of the woods, what boots it to offer them my vows? Are they deaf, or have they grown too old? Why have I not some protecting spirit, strong and mighty—wicked even, if it need be? Some such I see in stone at the church-door; but what do they there? Why do they not go to their proper dwelling, the castle, to carry off and roast those sinners? Oh, who is there will give me power and might? I would gladly give myself in exchange. Ah, me, what is it I would give? What have I to give on my side? Nothing is left me. Out on this body, out on this soul, a mere cinder now! Why, instead of this useless goblin, have I not some spirit, great, strong, and mighty, to help me?"

"My darling mistress! If I am small, it is your fault; and bigger I cannot grow. And besides, if I were very big, neither you nor your husband would have borne with me. You would have driven me away with your priests and your holy water. I can be strong, however, if you please. For, mistress mine, the spirits in themselves are neither great nor small, neither weak nor strong. For him who wishes it, the smallest can become a giant."

"In what way?"

"Why, nothing can be simpler. To make him a giant, you must grant him only one gift."

"What is that?"

"A lovely woman-soul."

"Ah, wicked one! What then art thou, and what wouldst thou have?"

"Only what you give me every day.... Would you be better than the lady up yonder? She has pledged her soul to her husband and to her lover, and yet she yields it whole to her page. I am more than a page to you, more than a servant. In how many matters have I not been your little handmaid! Do not blush, nor be angry. Let me only say, that I am all about you, and already perhaps in you. Else, how could I know your thoughts, even those which you hide from yourself? Who am I, then? Your little soul, which speaks thus openly to the great one. We are inseparable. Do you know how long I have been with you? Some thousand years, for I belonged to your mother, to hers, to your ancestors. I am the Spirit of the Fireside."

"Tempter! What wilt thou do?"

"Why, thy husband shall be rich, thyself mighty, and men shall fear thee."

"Where am I? Surely thou art the demon of hidden treasures!"

"Why call me demon, if I do deeds of justice, of goodness, of piety? God cannot be everywhere—He cannot be always working. Sometimes He likes to rest, leaving us other spirits here to carry on the smaller husbandry, to remedy the ills which his providence passed over, which his justice forgot to handle.

"Of this your husband is an example. Poor, deserving workman, he is killing himself and gaining nought in return. Heaven has had no time to look after him. But I, though rather jealous of him, still love my kind host. I pity him: his strength is going, he can bear up no longer. He will die, like your children, already dead of misery. This winter he was ill; what will become of him the next?"

Thereon, her face in her hands, she wept two, three hours, and even more. And when she had poured out all her tears—her bosom still throbbing hard—the other said, "I ask nothing: only, I pray, save him."

She had promised nothing, but from that hour she became his.



CHAPTER V.

POSSESSION.

A dreadful age was the age of gold; for thus do I call that hard time when gold first came into use. This was in the year 1300, during the reign of that Fair King[29] who never spake a word; the great king who seemed to have a dumb devil, but a devil with mighty arm, strong enough to burn the Temple, long enough to reach Rome, and with glove of iron to deal the first good blow at the Pope.

[29] Philip the Fair of France, who put down the Templar in Paris, and first secured the liberties of the Gallican Church.—TRANS.

Gold thereupon becomes a great pope, a mighty god, and not without cause. The movement began in Europe with the Crusades: the only wealth men cared for was that which having wings could lend itself to their enterprise; the wealth, namely, of swift exchanges. To strike blows afar off the king wants nothing but gold. An army of gold, a fiscal army, spreads over all the land. The lord, who has brought back with him his dreams of the East, is always longing for its wonders, for damascened armour, carpets, spices, valuable steeds. For all such things he needs gold. He pushes away with his foot the serf who brings him corn. "That is not all; I want gold!"

On that day the world was changed. Theretofore in the midst of much evil there had always been a harmless certainty about the tax. According as the year was good or bad, the rent followed the course of nature and the measure of the harvest. If the lord said, "This is little," he was answered, "My lord, Heaven has granted us no more."

But the gold, alas! where shall we find it? We have no army to seize it in the towns of Flanders. Where shall we dig the ground to win him his treasure? Oh, that the spirit of hidden treasures would be our guide![30]

[30] The devils trouble the world all through the Middle Ages; but not before the thirteenth century does Satan put on a settled shape. "Compacts," says M. Maury, "are very rare before that epoch;" and I believe him. How could they treat with one who as yet had no real existence? Neither of the treating parties was yet ripe for the contract. Before the will could be reduced to the dreadful pass of selling itself for ever, it must be made thoroughly desperate. It is not the unhappy who falls into despair, but the truly wretched, who being quite conscious of his misery, and having yet more to suffer, can find no escape therefrom. The wretched in this way are the men of the fourteenth century, from whom they ask a thing so impossible as payments in gold. In this and the following chapter I have touched on the circumstances, the feelings, the growing despair, which brought about the enormity of compacts, and, worse still than these, the dreadful character of the Witch. If the name was freely used, the thing itself was then rare, being no less than a marriage and a kind of priesthood. For ease of illustration, I have joined together the details of so delicate a scrutiny by a thread of fiction. The outward body of it matters little. The essential point is to remember that such things were not caused, as they try to persuade us, by human fickleness, by the inconstancy of our fallen nature, by the chance persuasions of desire. There was needed the deadly pressure of an age of iron, of cruel needs: it was needful that Hell itself should seem a shelter, an asylum, by contrast with the hell below.

While all are desperate, the woman with the goblin is already seated on her sacks of corn in the little neighbouring village. She is alone, the rest being still at their debate in the village.

She sells at her own price. But even when the rest come up, everything favours her, some strange magical allurement working on her side. No one bargains with her. Her husband, before his time, brings his rent in good sounding coin to the feudal elm. "Amazing!" they all say, "but the Devil is in her!"

They laugh, but she does not. She is sorrowful and afraid. In vain she tries to pray that night. Strange prickings disturb her slumber. Fantastic forms appear before her. The small gentle sprite seems to have grown imperious. He waxes bold. She is uneasy, indignant, eager to rise. In her sleep she groans, and feels herself dependent, saying, "No more do I belong to myself!"

* * * * *

"Here is a sensible countryman," says the lord; "he pays beforehand! You charm me: do you know accounts?"—"A little."—"Well then, you shall reckon with these folk. Every Saturday you shall sit under the elm and receive their money. On Sunday, before mass, you shall bring it up to the castle."

What a change in their condition! How the wife's heart beats when of a Saturday she sees her poor workman, serf though he be, seated like a lordling under the baronial shades. At first he feels giddy, but in time accustoms himself to put on a grave air. It is no joking matter, indeed; for the lord commands them to show him due respect. When he has gone up to the castle, and the jealous ones look like laughing and designing to pay him off, "You see that battlement," says the lord, "the rope you don't see, but it is also ready. The first man who touches him shall be set up there high and quick."

* * * * *

This speech is repeated from one to another; until it has spread around these two as it were an atmosphere of terror. Everybody doffs his hat to them, bowing very low indeed. But when they pass by, folk stand aloof, and get out of the way. In order to shirk them they turn up cross roads, with backs bended, with eyes turned carefully down. Such a change makes them first savage, but afterwards sorrowful. They walk alone through all the district. The wife's shrewdness marks the hostile scorn of the castle, the trembling hate of those below. She feels herself fearfully isolated between two perils. No one to defend her but her lord, or rather the money they pay him: but then to find that money, to spur on the peasant's slowness, and overcome his sluggish antagonism, to snatch somewhat even from him who has nothing, what hard pressure, what threats, what cruelty, must be employed! This was never in the goodman's line of business. The wife brings him to the mark by dint of much pushing: she says to him, "Be rough; at need be cruel. Strike hard. Otherwise you will fall short of your engagements; and then we are undone."

This suffering by day, however, is a trifle in comparison with the tortures of the night. She seems to have lost the power of sleeping. She gets up, walks to and fro, and roams about the house. All is still; and yet how the house is altered; its old innocence, its sweet security all for ever gone! "Of what is that cat by the hearth a-thinking, as she pretends to sleep, and 'tweenwhiles opens her green eyes upon me? The she-goat with her long beard, looking so discreet and ominous, knows more about it than she can tell. And yon cow which the moon reveals by glimpses in her stall, why does she give me such a sidelong look? All this is surely unnatural!"

Shivering, she returns to her husband's side. "Happy man, how deep his slumber! Mine is over; I cannot sleep, I never shall sleep again." In time, however, she falls off. But oh, what suffering visits her then! The importunate guest is beside her, demanding and giving his orders. If one while she gets rid of him by praying or making the sign of the cross, anon he returns under another form. "Get back, devil! What durst thou? I am a Christian soul. No, thou shalt not touch me!"

In revenge he puts on a hundred hideous forms; twining as an adder about her bosom, dancing as a frog upon her stomach, anon like a bat, sharp-snouted, covering her scared mouth with dreadful kisses. What is it he wants? To drive her into a corner, so that conquered and crushed at last, she may yield and utter the word "Yes." Still she is resolute to say "No." Still she is bent on braving the cruel struggles of every night, the endless martyrdom of that wasting strife.

* * * * *

"How far can a spirit make himself withal a body? What reality can there be in his efforts and approaches? Would she be sinning in the flesh, if she allowed the intrusions of one who was always roaming about her? Would that be sheer adultery?" Such was the sly roundabout way in which sometimes he stayed and weakened her resistance. "If I am only a breath, a smoke, a thin air, as so many doctors call me, why are you afraid, poor fearful soul, and how does it concern your husband?"

It is the painful doom of the soul in these Middle Ages, that a number of questions which to us would seem idle, questions of pure scholastics, disturb, frighten, and torment it, taking the guise of visions, sometimes of devilish debatings, of cruel dialogues carried on within. The Devil, fierce as he shows himself in the demoniacs, remains always a spirit throughout the days of the Roman Empire, even in the time of St. Martin or the fifth century. With the Barbarian inroads he waxes barbarous, and takes to himself a body. So great a body does he become, that he amuses himself in breaking with stones the bell of the convent of St. Benedict. More and more fleshly is he made to appear, by way of frightening the plunderers of ecclesiastical goods. People are taught to believe that sinners will be tormented not in the spirit only, but even bodily in the flesh; that they will suffer material tortures, not those of ideal flames, but in very deed such exquisite pangs as burning coals, gridirons, and red-hot spits can awaken.

This conception of the torturing devils inflicting material agonies on the souls of the dead, was a mine of gold to the Church. The living, pierced with grief and pity, asked themselves "if it were possible to redeem these poor souls from one world to another; if to these, too, might be applied such forms of expiation, by atonement and compromise, as were practised upon earth?" This bridge between two worlds was found in Cluny, which from its very birth, about 900, became at once among the wealthiest of the monastic orders.

So long as God Himself dealt out his punishments, making heavy his hand, or striking with the sword of the Angel, according to the grand old phrase, there was much less of horror; if his hand was heavy as that of a judge, it was still the hand of a Father. The Angel who struck remained pure and clean as his own sword. Far otherwise is it when the execution is done by filthy demons, who resemble not the angel that burned up Sodom, but the angel that first went forth therefrom. In that place they stay, and their hell is a kind of Sodom, wherein these spirits, fouler than the sinners yielded into their charge, extract a horrible joy from the tortures they are inflicting. Such was the teaching to be found in the simple carvings hung out at the doors of churches. By these men learned the horrible lesson of the pleasures of pain. On pretence of punishing, the devils wreaked upon their victims the most outrageous whims. Truly an immoral and most shameful idea was this, of a sham justice that befriended the worse side, deepening its wickedness by the present of a plaything, and corrupting the Demon himself!

* * * * *

Cruel times indeed! Think how dark and low a heaven it was, how heavily it weighed on the head of man! Fancy the poor little children from their earliest years imbued with such awful ideas, and trembling within their cradles! Look at the pure innocent virgin believing herself damned for the pleasure infused in her by the spirit! And the wife in her marriage-bed tortured by his attacks, withstanding him, and yet again feeling him within her!—a fearful feeling known to those who have suffered from taenia. You feel in yourself a double life; you trace the monster's movements, now boisterous, anon soft and waving, and therein the more troublesome, as making you fancy yourself on the sea. Then you rush off in wild dismay, terrified at yourself, longing to escape, to die.

Even at such times as the demon was not raging against her, the woman into whom he had once forced his way would wander about as one burdened with gloom. For thenceforth she had no remedy. He had taken fast hold of her, like an impure steam. He is the Prince of the Air, of storms, and not least of the storms within. All this may be seen rudely but forcefully presented under the great doorway of Strasburg Cathedral. Heading the band of Foolish Virgins, the wicked woman who lures them on to destruction is filled, blown out by the Devil, who overflows ignobly and passes out from under her skirts in a dark stream of thick smoke.

This blowing-out is a painful feature in the possession; at once her punishment and her pride. This proud woman of Strasburg bears her belly well before her, while her head is thrown far back. She triumphs in her size, delights in being a monster.

To this, however, the woman we are following has not yet come. But already she is puffed up with him, and with her new and lofty lot. The earth has ceased to bear her. Plump and comely in these better days, she goes down the street with head upright, and merciless in her scorn. She is feared, hated, admired.

In look and bearing our village lady says, "I ought to be the great lady herself. And what does she up yonder, the shameless sluggard, amidst all those men, in the absence of her lord?" And now the rivalry is set on foot. The village, while it loathes her, is proud thereat. "If the lady of the castle is a baroness, our woman is a queen; and more than a queen,—we dare not say what." Her beauty is a dreadful, a fantastic beauty, killing in its pride and pain. The Demon himself is in her eyes.

* * * * *

He has her and yet has her not. She is still herself, and preserves herself. She belongs neither to the Demon nor to God. The Demon may certainly invade her, may encompass her like a fine atmosphere. And yet he has gained nothing at all; for he has no will thereto. She is possessed, bedevilled, and she does not belong to the Devil. Sometimes he uses her with dreadful cruelty, and yet gains nothing thereby. He places a coal of fire on her breast, or within her bowels. She jumps and writhes, but still says, "No, butcher, I will stay as I am."

"Take care! I will lash you with so cruel a scourge of vipers, I will smite you with such a blow, that you will afterwards go weeping and rending the air with your cries."

The next night he will not come. In the morning—it was Sunday—her husband went up to the castle. He came back all undone. The lord had said: "A brook that flows drop by drop cannot turn the mill. You bring me a halfpenny at a time, which is good for nought. I must set off in a fortnight. The king marches towards Flanders, and I have not even a war-horse, my own being lame ever since the tourney. Get ready for business: I am in want of a hundred pounds."

"But, my lord, where shall I find them?"

"You may sack the whole village, if you will; I am about to give you men enough. Tell your churls, if the money is not forthcoming they are lost men; yourself especially—you shall die. I have had enough of you: you have the heart of a woman; you are slack and sluggish. You shall die—you shall pay for your cowardice, your effeminacy. Stay; it makes but very small difference whether you go down now, or whether I keep you here. This is Sunday: right loudly would the folk yonder laugh to see you dangling your legs from my battlements."

All this the unhappy man tells again to his wife; and preparing hopelessly for death, commends his soul to God. She being just as frightened, can neither lie down nor sleep. What is to be done? How sorry she is now to have sent the spirit away! If he would but come back! In the morning, when her husband rises, she sinks crushed upon the bed. She has hardly done so, when she feels on her chest a heavy weight. Gasping for breath, she is like to choke. The weight falls lower till it presses on her stomach, and therewithal on her arms she feels the grasp as of two steel hands.

"You wanted me, and here I am. So, at last, stubborn one, I have your soul—at last!"

"But oh, sir, is it mine to give away? My poor husband! you used to love him—you said so: you promised——"

"Your husband! You forget. Are you sure your thoughts were always kept upon him? Your soul! I ask for it as a favour; but it is already mine."

"No, sir," she says—her pride once more returning to her, even in so dire a strait—"no, sir; that soul belongs to me, to my husband, to our marriage rites."

"Ah, incorrigible little fool! you would struggle still, even now that you are under the goad! I have seen your soul at all hours; I know it better than you yourself. Day by day did I mark your first reluctances, your pains, and your fits of despair. I saw how disheartened you were when, in a low tone, you said that no one could be held to an impossibility. And then I saw you growing more resigned. You were beaten a little, and you cried out not very loud. As for me, I ask for your soul simply because you have already lost it. Meanwhile, your husband is dying. What is to be done? I am sorry for you: I have you in my power; but I want something more. You must grant it frankly and of free will, or else he is a dead man."

She answered very low, in her sleep, "Ah me! my body and my miserable flesh, you may take them to save my husband; but my heart, never. No one has ever had it, and I cannot give it away."

So, all resignedly she waited there. And he flung at her two words: "Keep them, and they will save you." Therewith she shuddered, felt within her a horrible thrill of fire, and, uttering a loud cry, awoke in the arms of her astonished husband, to drown him in a flood of tears.

* * * * *

She tore herself away by force, and got up, fearing lest she should forget those two important words. Her husband was alarmed; for, without looking even at him, she darted on the wall a glance as piercing as that of Medea. Never was she more handsome. In her dark eye and the yellowish white around it played such a glimmer as one durst not face—a glimmer like the sulphurous jet of a volcano.

She walked straight to the town. The first word was "Green." Hanging at a tradesman's door she beheld a green gown—the colour of the Prince of the World—an old gown, which as she put it on became new and glossy. Then she walked, without asking anyone, straight to the door of a Jew, at which she knocked loudly. It was opened with great caution. The poor Jew was sitting on the ground, covered over with ashes. "My dear, I must have a hundred pounds."

"Oh, madam, how am I to get them? The Prince-bishop of the town has just had my teeth drawn to make me say where my gold lies.[31] Look at my bleeding mouth."

[31] This was a common way of extracting help from the Jews. King John Lackland often tried it.

"I know, I know; but I come to obtain from you the very means of destroying your Bishop. When the Pope gets a cuffing, the Bishop will not hold out long."

"Who says so?"

"Toledo."[32]

[32] Toledo seems to have been the holy city of Wizards, who in Spain were numberless. These relations with the civilized Moors, with the Jews so learned and paramount in Spain, as managers of the royal revenues, had given them a very high degree of culture, and in Toledo they formed a kind of University. In the sixteenth century, it was christianised, remodelled, reduced to mere white magic. See the Deposition of the Wizard Achard, Lord of Beaumont, a Physician of Poitou. Lancre, Incredulite, p. 781.

He hung his head. She spoke and blew: within her was her own soul and the Devil to boot. A wondrous warmth filled the room: he himself was aware of a kind of fiery fountain. "Madam," said he, looking at her from under his eyes, "poor and ruined as I am, I had some pence still in store to sustain my poor children."

"You will not repent of it, Jew. I will swear to you the great oath that kills whoso breaks it. What you are about to give me, you shall receive back in a week, at an early hour in the morning. This I swear by your great oath and by mine, which is yet greater: 'Toledo.'"

* * * * *

A year went by. She had grown round and plump; had made herself one mass of gold. Men were amazed at her power of charming. Every one admired and obeyed her. By some devilish miracle the Jew had grown so generous as to lend at the slightest signal. By herself she maintained the castle, both through her own credit in the town, and through the fear inspired in the village by her rough extortion. The all-powerful green gown floated to and fro, ever newer and more beautiful. Her own beauty grew, as it were, colossal with success and pride. Frightened at a result so natural, everyone said, "At her time of life how tall she grows!"

Meanwhile we have some news: the lord is coming home. The lady, who for a long time had not dared to come forth, lest she might meet the face of this other woman down below, now mounted her white horse. Surrounded by all her people, she goes to meet her husband; she stops and salutes him.

And, first of all, she says, "How long I have been looking for you! Why did you leave your faithful wife so long a languishing widow? And yet I will not take you in to-night, unless you grant me a boon."

"Ask it, ask it, fair lady," says the gentleman laughing; "but make haste, for I am eager to embrace you. How beautiful you have grown!"

She whispered in his ear, so that no one knew what she said. Before going up to the castle the worthy lord dismounts by the village church, and goes in. Under the porch, at the head of the chief people, he beholds a lady, to whom without knowing her he offers a low salute. With matchless pride she bears high over the men's heads the towering horned bonnet (hennin[33]) of the period; the triumphal cap of the Devil, as it was often called, because of the two horns wherewith it was embellished. The real lady, blushing at her eclipse, went out looking very small. Anon she muttered, angrily, "There goes your serf. It is all over: everything has changed places: the ass insults the horse."

[33] The absurd head-dress of the women, with its one and often two horns sloping back from the head, in the fourteenth century.—TRANS.

As they are going off, a bold page, a pet of the lady's, draws from his girdle a well-sharpened dagger, and with a single turn cleverly cuts the fine robe along her loins.[34] The crowd was astonished, but began to make it out when it saw the whole of the Baron's household going off in pursuit of her. Swift and merciless about her whistled and fell the strokes of the whip. She flies, but slowly, being already grown somewhat heavy. She has hardly gone twenty paces when she stumbles; her best friend having put a stone in her way to trip her up. Amidst roars of laughter she sprawls yelling on the ground. But the ruthless pages flog her up again. The noble handsome greyhounds help in the chase and bite her in the tenderest places. At last, in sad disorder, amidst the terrible crowd, she reaches the door of her house. It is shut. There with hands and feet she beats away, crying, "Quick, quick, my love, open the door for me!" There hung she, like the hapless screech-owl whom they nail up on a farm-house door; and still as hard as ever rained the blows. Within the house all is deaf. Is the husband there? Or rather, being rich and frightened, does he dread the crowd, lest they should sack his house?

[34] Such cruel outrages were common in those days. By the French and Anglo-Saxon laws, lewdness was thus punished. Grimm, 679, 711. Sternhook, 19, 326. Ducange, iii. 52. Michelet, Origines, 386, 389. By and by, the same rough usage is dealt out to honest women, to citizen's wives, whose pride the nobles seek to abase. We know the kind of ambush into which the tyrant Hagenbach drew the honourable ladies of the chief burghers in Alsace, probably in scorn of their rich and royal costume, all silks and gold. In my Origines I have also related the strange claim made by the Lord of Pace, in Anjou, on the pretty (and honest) women of the neighbourhood. They were to bring to the castle fourpence and a chaplet of flowers, and to dance with his officers: a dangerous trip, in which they might well fear some such affronts as those offered by Hagenbach. They were forced to obey by the threat of being stripped and pricked with a goad bearing the impress of the lord's arms.

And now she has borne such misery, such strokes, such sounding buffets, that she sinks down in a swoon. On the cold stone threshold she finds herself seated, naked, half-dead, her bleeding flesh covered with little else than the waves of her long hair. Some one from the castle says, "No more now! We do not want her to die."

They leave her alone, to hide herself. But in spirit she can see the merriment going on at the castle. The lord however, somewhat dazed, said that he was sorry for it. But the chaplain says, in his meek way, "If this woman is bedevilled, as they say, my lord, you owe it to your good vassals, you owe it to the whole country, to hand her over to Holy Church. Since all that business with the Templars and the Pope, what way the Demon is making! Nothing but fire will do for him." Upon which a Dominican says, "Your reverence has spoken right well. This devilry is a heresy in the highest degree. The bedevilled, like the heretic, should be burnt. Some of our good fathers, however, do not trust themselves now even to the fire. Wisely they desire that, before all things, the soul may be slowly purged, tried, subdued by fastings; that it may not be burnt in its pride, that it shall not triumph at the stake. If you, madam, in the greatness of your piety, of your charity, would take the trouble to work upon this woman, putting her for some years in pace in a safe cell, of which you only should have the key,—by thus keeping up the chastening process you might be doing good to her soul, shaming the Devil, and giving herself up meek and humble into the hands of the Church."



CHAPTER VI.

THE COVENANT.

Nothing was wanting but the victim. They knew that to bring this woman before her was the most charming present she could receive. Tenderly would she have acknowledged the devotion of anyone who would have given her so great a token of his love, by delivering that poor bleeding body into her hands.

But the prey was aware of the hunters. A few minutes later and she would have been carried off, to be for ever sealed up beneath the stone. Wrapping herself in some rags found by chance in the stable, she took to herself wings of some kind, and before midnight gained some out-of-the-way spot on a lonely moor all covered with briars and thistles. It was on the skirts of a wood, where by the uncertain light she might gather a few acorns, to swallow them like a beast. Ages had elapsed since evening; she was utterly changed. Beauty and queen of the village no more, she seemed with the change in her spirit to have changed her postures also. Among her acorns she squatted like a boar or a monkey. Thoughts far from human circled within her as she heard, or seemed to hear the hooting of an owl, followed by a burst of shrill laughter. She felt afraid, but perhaps it was the merry mockbird mimicking all those sounds, according to its wonted fashion.

But the laughter begins again: whence comes it? She can see nothing. Apparently it comes from an old oak. Distinctly, however, she hears these words: "So, here you are at last! You have come with an ill grace; nor would you have come now, if you had not tried the full depth of your last need. You were fain first to run the gauntlet of whips; to cry out and plead for mercy, haughty as you were; to be mocked, undone, forsaken, unsheltered even by your husband. Where would you have been this night, if I had not been charitable enough to show you the in pace getting ready for you in the tower? Late, very late, you are in coming to me, and only after they have called you the old woman. In your youth you did not treat me well, when I was your wee goblin, so eager to serve you. Now take your turn, if so I wish it, to serve me and kiss my feet.

"You were mine from birth through your inborn wickedness, through those devilish charms of yours. I was your lover, your husband. Your own has shut his door against you: I will not shut mine. I welcome you to my domains, my free prairies, my woods. How am I the gainer, you may say? Could I not long since have had you at any hour? Were you not invaded, possessed, filled with my flame? I changed your blood and renewed it: not a vein in your body where I do not flow. You know not yourself how utterly you are mine. But our wedding has yet to be celebrated with all the forms. I have some manners, and feel rather scrupulous. Let us be one for everlasting."

"Oh! sir, in my present state, what should I say? For a long, long while back have I felt, too truly felt, that you were all my fate. With evil intent you caressed me, loaded me with favours, and made me rich, in order at length to cast me down. Yesterday, when the black greyhound bit my poor naked flesh, its teeth scorched me, and I said, ''Tis he!' At night when that daughter of Herodias with her foul language scared the company, somebody put them up to the promising her my blood; and that was you!"

"True; but 'twas I who saved you and brought you hither. I did everything, as you have guessed. I ruined you, and why? That I might have you all to myself. To speak frankly, I was tired of your husband. You took to haggling and pettifogging: far otherwise do I go to work; I want all or none. This is why I have moulded and drilled you, polished and ripened you, for my own behoof. Such, you see, is my delicacy of taste. I don't take, as people imagine, those foolish souls who would give themselves up at once. I prefer the choicer spirits, who have reached a certain dainty stage of fury and despair. Stop: I must let you know how pleasant you look at this moment. You are a great beauty, a most desirable soul. I have loved you ever so long, but now I am hungering for you.

"I will do things on a large scale, not being one of those husbands who reckon with their betrothed. If you wanted only riches, you should have them in a trice. If you wanted to be queen in the stead of Joan of Navarre, that too, though difficult, should be done, and the King would not lose much thereby in the matter of pride and haughtiness. My wife is greater than a queen. But, come, tell me what you wish."

"Sir, I ask only for the power of doing evil."

"A delightful answer, very delightful! Have I not cause to love you? In reality those words contain all the law and all the prophets. Since you have made so good a choice, all the rest shall be thrown in, over and above. You shall learn all my secrets. You shall see into the depths of the earth. The whole world shall come and pour out gold at thy feet. See here, my bride, I give you the true diamond, Vengeance. I know you, rogue; I know your most hidden desires. Ay, our hearts on that point understand each other well! Therein at least shall I have full possession of you. You shall behold your enemy on her knees at your feet, begging and praying for mercy, and only too happy to earn her release by doing whatever she has made you do. She will burst into tears; and you will graciously say, No: whereon she will cry, 'Death and damnation!' ... Come, I will make this my special business."

"Sir, I am at your service. I was thankless indeed, for you have always heaped favours on me. I am yours, my master, my god! None other do I desire. Sweet are your endearments, and very mild your service."

And so she worships him, tumbling on all-fours. At first she pays him, after the forms of the Temple, such homage as betokens the utter abandonment of the will. Her master, the Prince of this World, the Prince of the Winds, breathes upon her in his turn, like an eager spirit. She receives at once the three sacraments, in reverse order—baptism, priesthood, and marriage. In this new Church, the exact opposite of the other, everything must be done the wrong way. Meekly, patiently, she endures the cruel initiation,[35] borne up by that one word, "Vengeance!"

[35] This will be explained further on. We must guard against the pedantic additions of the sixteenth century writers.

* * * * *

Far from being crushed or weakened by the infernal thunderbolt, she arose with an awful vigour and flashing eyes. The moon, which for a moment had chastely covered herself, took flight on seeing her again. Blown out to an amazing degree by the hellish vapour, filled with fire, with fury, and with some new ineffable desire, she grew for a while enormous with excess of fulness, and displayed a terrible beauty. She looked around her, and all nature was changed. The trees had gotten a tongue, and told of things gone by. The herbs became simples. The plants which yesterday she trod upon as so much hay, were now as people discoursing on the art of medicine.

She awoke on the morrow far, very far, from her enemies, in a state of thorough security. She had been sought after, but they had only found some scattered shreds of her unlucky green gown. Had she in her despair flung herself headlong into the torrent? Or had she been carried off alive by the Devil? No one could tell. Either way she was certainly damned, which greatly consoled the lady for having failed to find her.

Had they seen her they would hardly have known her again, she was so changed. Only the eyes remained, not brilliant, but armed with a very strange and a rather deterring glimmer. She herself was afraid of frightening: she never lowered them, but looked sideways, so that the full force of their beams might be lost by slanting them. From the sudden browning of her hue people would have said that she had passed through the flame. But the more watchful felt that the flame was rather in herself, that she bore about her an impure and scorching heat. The fiery dart with which Satan had pierced her was still there, and, as through a baleful lamp, shot forth a wild, but fearfully witching sheen. Shrinking from her, you would yet stand still, with a strange trouble filling your every sense.

She saw herself at the mouth of one of those troglodyte caves, such as you find without number in the hills of the Centre and the West of France. It was in the borderland, then wild, between the country of Merlin and the country of Melusina. Some moors stretching out of sight still bear witness to the ancient wars, the unceasing havoc, the many horrors, which prevented the country being peopled again. There the Devil was in his home. Of the few inhabitants most were his zealous worshippers. Whatever attractions he might have found in the rough brakes of Lorraine, the black pine-forests of the Jura, or the briny deserts of Burgos, his preferences lay, perhaps, in our western marches. There might be found not only the visionary shepherd, that Satanic union of the goat and the goatherd, but also a closer conspiracy with nature, a deeper insight into remedies and poisons, a mysterious connection, whose links we know not, with Toledo the learned, the University of the Devil.

The winter was setting in: its breath having first stripped the trees, had heaped together the leaves and small boughs of dead wood. All this she found prepared for her at the mouth of her gloomy den. By a wood and moor, half a mile across, you came down within reach of some villages, which had grown up beside a watercourse. "Behold your kingdom!" said the voice within her. "To-day a beggar, to-morrow you shall be queen of the whole land."



CHAPTER VII.

THE KING OF THE DEAD.

At first she was not much affected by promises like these. A lonely hermitage without God, amidst the great monotonous breezes of the West, amidst memories all the more ruthless for that mighty solitude, of such heavy losses, such sharp affronts; a widowhood so hard and sudden, away from the husband who had left her to her shame—all this was enough to bow her down. Plaything of fate, she seemed like the wretched weed upon the moor, having no root, but tossed to and fro, lashed and cruelly cut by the north-east winds; or rather, perhaps, like the grey, many-cornered coral, which only sticks fast to get more easily broken. The children trampled on her; the people said, with a laugh, "She is the bride of the winds."

Wildly she laughed at herself when she thought on the comparison. But, from the depth of her dark cave, she heard,—

"Ignorant and witless, you know not what you say. The plant thus tossing to and fro may well look down upon the rank and vulgar herbs. If it tosses, it is, at least, all self-contained—itself both flower and seed. Do thou be like it; be thine own root, and even in the whirlwind thou wilt still bear thy blossom: our own flowers for ourselves, as they come forth from the dust of tombs and the ashes of volcanoes.

"To thee, first flower of Satan, do I this day grant the knowledge of my former name, my olden power. I was, I am, the King of the Dead. Ay, have I not been sadly slandered? 'Tis I who alone can make them reappear; a boon untold, for which I surely deserved an altar."

* * * * *

To pierce the future and to call up the past, to forestal and to live again the swift-flying moments, to enlarge the present with that which has been and that which will be—these are the two things forbidden to the Middle Ages; but forbidden in vain. Nature is invincible; nothing can be gained in such a quarter. He who thus errs is a man. It is not for him to be rooted to his furrow, with eyes cast down, looking nowhere beyond the steps he takes behind his oxen. No: we will go forward with head upraised, looking further and looking deeper! This earth that we measure out with so much care, we kick our feet upon withal, and keep ever saying to it, "What dost thou hold in thy bowels? What secrets lie therein? Thou givest us back the grain we entrust to thee; but not that human seed, those beloved dead, we have lent into thy charge. Our friends, our loves, that lie there, will they never bud again? Oh, that we might see them, if only for one hour, if only for one moment!

"Some day we ourselves shall reach the unknown land, whither they have already gone. But shall we see them again there? Shall we dwell with them? Where are they, and what are they doing? They must be kept very close prisoners, these dear dead of mine, to give me not one token! And how can I make them hear me? My father, too, whose only hope I was, who loved me with so mighty a love, why comes he never to me? Ah, me! on either side is bondage, imprisonment, mutual ignorance; a dismal night, where we look in vain for one glimmer!"[36]

[36] The glimmer shines forth in Dumesnil's Immortalite, and La Foi Nouvelle, in the Ciel et Terre of Reynaud, Henry Martin, &c.

These everlasting thoughts of Nature, from having in olden times been simply mournful, became in the Middle Ages painful, bitter, weakening, and the heart thereby grew smaller. It seems as if they had reckoned on flattening the soul, on pressing and squeezing it down to the compass of a bier. The burial of the serf between four deal boards was well suited to such an end: it haunted one with the notion of being smothered. A person thus enclosed, if ever he returned in one's dreams, would no longer appear as a thin luminous shadow encircled by a halo of Elysium, but only as the wretched sport of some hellish griffin-cat. What a hateful and impious idea, that my good, kind father, my mother so revered by all, should become the plaything of such a beast! You may laugh now, but for a thousand years it was no laughing matter: they wept bitterly. And even now the heart swells with wrath, the very pen grates angrily upon the paper, as one writes down these blasphemous doings.

* * * * *

Moreover, it was surely a cruel device to transfer the Festival of the Dead from the Spring, where antiquity had placed it, to November. In May, where it fell at first, they were buried among the flowers. In March, wherein it was afterwards placed, it became the signal for labour and the lark. The dead and the seed of corn entered the earth together with the same hope. But in November, when all the work is done, the weather close and gloomy for many days to come; when the folk return to their homes; when a man, re-seating himself by the hearth, looks across on that place for evermore empty—ah, me! at such a time how great the sorrow grows! Clearly, in choosing a moment already in itself so funereal, for the obsequies of Nature, they feared that a man would not find cause enough of sorrow in himself!

The coolest, the busiest of men, however taken up they be with life's distracting cares, have, at least, their sadder moments. In the dark wintry morning, in the night that comes on so swift to swallow us up in its shadow, ten years, nay, twenty years hence, strange feeble voices will rise up in your heart: "Good morning, dear friend, 'tis we! You are alive, are working as hard as ever. So much the better! You do not feel our loss so heavily, and you have learned to do without us; but we cannot, we never can, do without you. The ranks are closed, the gap is all but filled. The house that was ours is full, and we have blessed it. All is well, is better than when your father carried you about; better than when your little girl said, in her turn, to you, 'Papa, carry me.' But, lo! you are in tears. Enough, till we meet again!"

Alas, and are they gone? That wail was sweet and piercing: but was it just? No. Let me forget myself a thousand times rather than I should forget them! And yet, cost what it will to say so, say it we must, that certain traces are fading off, are already less clear to see; that certain features are not indeed effaced, but grown paler and more dim. A hard, a bitter, a humbling thought it is, to find oneself so weak and fleeting, wavering as unremembered water; to feel that in time one loses that treasure of grief which one had hoped to preserve for ever. Give it me back, I pray: I am too much bounden to so rich a fountain of tears. Trace me again, I implore you, those features I love so well. Could you not help me at least to dream of them by night?

* * * * *

More than one such prayer is spoken in the month of November. And amidst the striking of the bells and the dropping of the leaves, they clear out of church, saying one to another in low tones: "I say, neighbour; up there lives a woman of whom folk speak well and ill. For myself, I dare say nothing; but she has power over the world below. She calls up the dead, and they come. Oh, if she might—without sin, you know, without angering God—make my friends come to me! I am alone, as you must know, and have lost everything in this world. But who knows what this woman is, whether of hell or heaven? I won't go (he is dying of curiosity all the while); I won't. I have no wish to endanger my soul: besides, the wood yonder is haunted. Many's the time that things unfit to see have been found on the moor. Haven't you heard about Jacqueline, who was there one evening looking for one of her sheep? Well, when she returned, she was crazy. I won't go."

Thus unknown to each other, many of the men at least went thither. For as yet the women hardly dared so great a risk. They remark the dangers of the road, ask many questions of those who return therefrom. The new Pythoness is not like her of Endor, who raised up Samuel at the prayer of Saul. Instead of showing you the ghosts, she gives you cabalistic words and powerful potions to bring them back in your dreams. Ah, how many a sorrow has recourse to these! The grandmother herself, tottering with her eighty years, would behold her grandson again. By an unwonted effort, yet not without a pang of shame at sinning on the edge of the grave, she drags herself to the spot. She is troubled by the savage look of a place all rough with yews and thorns, by the rude, dark beauty of that relentless Proserpine. Prostrate, trembling, grovelling on the ground, the poor old woman weeps and prays. Answer there is none. But when she dares to lift herself up a little, she sees that Hell itself has been a-weeping.

* * * * *

It is simply Nature recovering herself. Proserpine blushes self-indignantly thereat. "Degenerate soul!" she calls herself, "why this weakness? You came hither with the firm desire of doing nought but evil. Is this your master's lesson? How he will laugh at you for this!"

"Nay! Am I not the great shepherd of the shades, making them come and go, opening unto them the gate of dreams? Your Dante, when he drew my likeness, forgot my attributes. When he gave me that useless tail, he did not see that I held the shepherd's staff of Osiris; that from Mercury I had inherited his caduceus. In vain have they thought to build up an insurmountable wall between the two worlds; I have wings to my heels, I have flown over. By a kindly rebellion of that slandered Spirit, of that ruthless monster, succour has been given to those who mourned; mothers, lovers, have found comfort. He has taken pity on them in defiance of their new god."

The scribes of the Middle Ages, being all of the priestly class, never cared to acknowledge the deep but silent changes of the popular mind. It is clear that from thenceforth compassion goes over to Satan's side. The Virgin herself, ideal as she is of grace, makes no answer to such a want of the heart. Neither does the Church, who expressly forbids the calling up of the dead. While all books delight in keeping up either the swinish demon of earlier times, or the griffin butcher of the second period, Satan has changed his shape for those who cannot write. He retains somewhat of the ancient Pluto; but his pale nor wholly ruthless majesty, that permitted the dead to come back, the living once more to see the dead, passes ever more and more into the nature of his father, or his grandfather, Osiris, the shepherd of souls.

Through this one change come many others. Men with their mouths acknowledge the hell official and the boiling caldrons; but in their hearts do they truly believe therein? Would it be so easy to win these infernal favours for hearts beset with hateful traditions of a hell of torments? The one idea neutralizes without wholly effacing the other, and between them grows up a vague mixed image, resembling more and more nearly the hell of Virgil. A mighty solace was here offered to the human heart. Blessed above all was the relief thus given to the poor women, whom that dreadful dogma about the punishment of their loved dead had kept drowned in tears and inconsolable. The whole of their lifetime had been but one long sigh.

* * * * *

The Sibyl was musing over her master's words, when a very light step became audible. The day has scarcely dawned: it is after Christmas, about the first day of the new year. Over the crisp and rimy grass approaches a small, fair woman, all a-trembling, who has no sooner reached the spot, than she swoons and loses her breath. Her black gown tells plainly of her widowhood. To the piercing gaze of Medea, without moving or speaking, she reveals all: there is no mystery about her shrinking figure. The other says to her with a loud voice: "You need not tell me, little dumb creature, for you would never get to the end of it. I will speak for you. Well, you are dying of love!" Recovering a little, she clasps her hands together, and sinking almost on her knees, tells everything, making a full confession. She had suffered, wept, prayed, and would have silently suffered on. But these winter feasts, these family re-unions, the ill-concealed happiness of other women who, without pity for her, showed off their lawful loves, had driven the burning arrow again into her heart. Alas, what could she do? If he might but return and comfort her for one moment! "Be it even at the cost of my life; let me die, but only let me see him once more!"

"Go back to your house: shut the door carefully: put up the shutter even against any curious neighbour. Throw off your mourning, and put on your wedding-clothes; place a cover for him on the table; but yet he will not come. You will sing the song he made for you, and sang to you so often, but yet he will not come. Then you shall draw out of your box the last dress he wore, and, kissing it, say, 'So much the worse for thee if thou wilt not come!' And presently when you have drunk this wine, bitter, but very sleepful, you will lie down as a wedded bride. Then assuredly he will come to you."

The little creature would have been no woman, if next morning she had not shown her joy and tenderness by owning the miracle in whispers to her best friend. "Say nought of it, I beg. But he himself told me, that if I wore this gown and slept a deep sleep every Sunday, he would return."

A happiness not without some danger. Where would the rash woman be, if the Church learned that she was no longer a widow; that re-awakened by her love, the spirit came to console her?

But strange to tell, the secret is kept. There is an understanding among them all, to hide so sweet a mystery. For who has no concern therein? Who has not lost and mourned? Who would not gladly see this bridge created between two worlds? "O thou beneficent Witch! Blessed be thou, spirit of the nether world!"



CHAPTER VIII.

THE PRINCE OF NATURE.

Hard is the long sad winter of the North-west. Even after its departure it renews its visits, like a drowsy sorrow which ever and again comes back and rages afresh. One morning everything wakes up decked with bright needles. In this cruel mocking splendour that makes one shiver through and through, the whole vegetable world seems turned mineral, loses its sweet diversity, and freezes into a mass of rough crystals.

The poor Sibyl, as she sits benumbed by her hearth of leaves, scourged by the flaying north-east winds, feels at her heart a cruel pang, for she feels herself all alone. But that very thought again brings her relief. With returning pride returns a vigour that warms her heart and lights up her soul. Intent, quick, and sharp, her sight becomes as piercing as those needles; and the world, the cruel world that caused her suffering, is to her transparent as glass. Anon she rejoices over it, as over a conquest of her making.

For is she not a queen, a queen with courtiers of her own? The crows have clearly some connection with her. In grave, dignified body they come like ancient augurs, to talk to her of passing things. The wolves passing by salute her timidly with sidelong glances. The bear, then oftener seen than now, would sometimes, in his heavily good-natured way, seat himself awkwardly at the threshold of her den, like a hermit calling on a fellow-hermit, just as we often see him in the Lives of the Desert Fathers.

All those birds and beasts with whom men only made acquaintance in hunting or slaying them, were outlawed as much as she. With all these she comes to an understanding; for Satan as the chief outlaw, imparts to his own the pleasures of natural freedom, the wild delight of living in a world sufficient unto itself.

* * * * *

Rough freedom of loneliness, all hail! The whole earth seems still clothed in a white shroud, held in bondage by a load of ice, of pitiless crystals, so uniform, sharp, and agonizing. After the year 1200 especially, the world is shut in like a transparent tomb, wherein all things look terribly motionless, hard, and stiff.

The Gothic Church has been called a "crystallization;" and so it truly is. About 1300, architecture gave up all its old variety of form and living fancies, to repeat itself for evermore, to vie with the monotonous prisms of Spitzbergen, to become the true and awful likeness of that hard crystal city, in which a dreadful dogma thought to bury all life away.

But for all the props, buttresses, flying-buttresses, that keep the monument up, one thing there is that makes it totter. There is no loud battering from without, but a certain softness in the very foundations, which attacks the crystal with an imperceptible thaw. What thing do I mean? The humble stream of warm tears shed by a whole world, until they have become a very sea of wailings. What do I call it? A breath of the future, a stirring of the natural life, which shall presently rise again in irresistible might. The fantastic building of which more than one side is already sinking, says, not without terror, to itself, "It is the breath of Satan."

Beneath this Hecla-glacier lies a volcano which has no need of bursting out; a mild, slow, gentle heat, which caresses it from below, and, calling it nearer, says in a whisper, "Come down."

* * * * *

The Witch has something to laugh at, if from the gloom she can see how utterly Dante and St. Thomas,[37] in the bright light yonder, ignore the true position of things. They fancy that the Devil wins his way by cunning or by terror. They make him grotesque and coarse, as in his childhood, when Jesus could still send him into the herd of swine. Or else they make him subtle as a logician of the schools, or a fault-finding lawyer. If he had been no better than this compound of beast and disputant,—if he had only lived in the mire or on fine-drawn quibbles about nothing, he would very soon have died of hunger.

[37] St. Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelic Doctor," who died in 1274.—TRANS.

People were too ready to crow over him, when he was shewn by Bartolus[38] pleading against the woman—that is, the Virgin—who gets him nonsuited and condemned with costs. At that time, indeed, the very contrary was happening on earth. By a master-stroke of his he had won over the plaintiff herself, his fair antagonist, the Woman; had seduced her, not indeed by verbal pleadings, but by arguments not less real than they were charming and irresistible. He put into her hands the fruits of science and of nature.

[38] Bartolus or Bartoli, a lawyer and law-writer of the fourteenth century.—TRANS.

No need for controversies, for pleas of any kind: he simply shows himself. In the East, the new-found Paradise, he begins to work. From that Asian world, which men had thought to destroy, there springs forth a peerless day-dawn, whose beams travel afar until they pierce the deep winter of the West. There dawns on us a world of nature and of art, accursed of the ignorant indeed, but now at length come forward to vanquish its late victors in a pleasant war of love and motherly endearments. All are conquered, all rave about it; they will have nothing but Asia herself. With her hands full she comes to meet us. Her tissues, shawls, her carpets so agreeably soft, so wondrously harmonized, her bright and well-wrought blades, her richly damascened arms, make us aware of our own barbarism. Moreover, little as that may seem, these accursed lands of the "miscreant," ruled by Satan, are visibly blessed with the fairest fruits of nature, that elixir of the powers of God; with the first of vegetables, coffee; with the first of beasts, the Arab horse. What am I saying?—with a whole world of treasures, silk, sugar, and a host of herbs all-powerful to relieve the heart, to soothe and lighten our sufferings.

All this breaks upon our view about the year 1300. Spain herself, whose brain is wholly fashioned out of Moors and Jews, for all that she is again subdued by the barbarous children of the Goth, bears witness in behalf of those miscreants. Wherever the Mussulman children of the Devil are at work, all is prosperous, the springs well forth, the ground is covered with flowers. A right worthy and harmless travail decks it with those wondrous vineyards, through which men recruit themselves, drowning all care, and seeming to drink in draughts of very goodness and heavenly compassion.

* * * * *

To whom does Satan bring the foaming cup of life? In this fasting world, which has so long been fasting from reason, what man was there strong enough to take all this in without growing giddy, without getting drunken and risking the loss of his wits?

Is there yet a brain so far from being petrified or crystallized by the teaching of St. Thomas, as to remain open to the living world, to its vegetative forces? Three magicians, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, Arnaud of Villeneuve,[39] by strong efforts make their way to Nature's secrets; but those lusty intellects lack flexibility and popular power. Satan falls back on his own Eve. The woman is still the most natural thing in the world; still keeps her hold on those traits of roguish innocence one sees in a kitten or a child of very high spirit. Besides, she figures much better in that world-comedy, that mighty game wherewith the universal Proteus disports himself.

[39] Three eminent schoolmen of the thirteenth century, whose scientific researches pointed the way to future discoveries.—TRANS.

But being light and changeful, she is all the less liable to be carked and hardened by pain! This woman, whom we have seen outlawed from the world, and rooted on her wild moor, affords a case in point. Have we yet to learn whether, bruised and soured as she is, with her heart full of hate, she will re-enter the natural world and the pleasant paths of life? Assuredly her return thither will not find her in good tune, will happen mainly through a round of ill. In the coming and going of the storm she is all the more scared and violent for being so very weak.

When in the mild warmth of spring, from the air, the depths of the earth, from the flowers and their languages, a new revelation rises round her on every side, she is taken dizzy at the first. Her swelling bosom overflows. The Sibyl of science has her tortures, like her of Cumae or of Delphi. The schoolmen find their fun in saying, "It is the wind and nought else that blows her out. Her lover, the Prince of the Air, fills her with dreams and delusions, with wind, with smoke, with emptiness." Foolish irony! So far from this being the true cause of her drunkenness, it is nothing empty, it is a real, a substantial thing, which has loaded her bosom all too quickly.

* * * * *

Have you ever seen the agave, that hard wild African shrub, so sharp, bitter, and tearing, with huge bristles instead of leaves? Ten years through it loves and dies. At length one day the amorous shoot, which has so long been gathering in the rough thing, goes off with a noise like gunfire, and darts skyward. And this shoot becomes a whole tree, not less than thirty feet high, and bristling with sad flowers.

Some such analogy does the gloomy Sibyl feel, when one morning of a spring-time, late in coming, and therefore impetuous at the last, there takes place all around her a vast explosion of life.

And all things look at her, and all things bloom for her. For every thing that has life says softly, "Whoso understands me, I am his."

What a contrast! Here is the wife of the desert and of despair, bred up in hate and vengeance, and lo! all these innocent things agree to smile upon her! The trees, soothed by the south wind, pay her gentle homage. Each herb of the field, with its own special virtue of scent, or remedy, or poison—very often the three things are one—offers itself to her, saying, "Gather me."

All things are clearly in love. "Are they not mocking me? I had been readier for hell than for this strange festival. O spirit, art thou indeed that spirit of dread whom once I knew, the traces of whose cruelty I bear about me—what am I saying, and where are my senses?—the wound of whose dealing scorches me still?

"Ah, no! 'Tis not the spirit whom I hoped for in my rage; 'he who always says, No!' This other one utters a yes of love, of drunken dizziness. What ails him? Is he the mad, the dazed soul of life?

"They spoke of the great Pan as dead. But here he is in the guise of Bacchus, of Priapus, eager with long-delayed desire, threatening, scorching, teeming. No, no! Be this cup far from me! Trouble only should I drink from it,—who knows? A despair yet sharper than my past despairs."

Meanwhile wherever the woman appears, she becomes the one great object of love. She is followed by all, and for her sake all despise their own proper kind. What they say about the black he-goat, her pretended favourite, may be applied to all. The horse neighs for her, breaking everything and putting her in danger. The awful king of the prairie, the black bull, bellows with grief, should she pass him by at a distance. And, behold, yon bird despondingly turns away from his hen, and with whirring wings hastes to convince the woman of his love!

Such is the new tyranny of her master, who, by the funniest hap of all, foregoes the part accredited to him as king of the dead, to burst forth a very king of life.

"No!" she says; "leave me to my hatred: I ask for nothing more. Let me be feared and fearful! The beauty I would have, is only that which dwells in these black serpents of my hair, in this countenance furrowed with grief, and the scars of thy thunderbolt." But the Lord of Evil replies with cunning softness: "Oh, but you are only the more beautiful, the more impressible, for this fiery rage of yours! Ay, call out and curse on, beneath one and the same goad! 'Tis but one storm calling another. Swift and smooth is the passage from wrath to pleasure."

Neither her fury nor her pride would have saved her from such allurements. But she is saved by the boundlessness of her desire. There is nought will satisfy her. Each kind of life for her is all too bounded, wanting in power. Away from her, steed and bull and loving bird! Away, ye creatures all! for one who desires the Infinite, how weak ye are!

She has a woman's longing; but for what? Even for the whole, the great all-containing whole. Satan did not foresee that no one creature would content her.

That which he could not do, is done for her in some ineffable way. Overcome by a desire so wide and deep, a longing boundless as the sea, she falls asleep. At such a moment, all else forgot, no touch of hate, no thought of vengeance left in her, she slumbers on the plain, innocent in her own despite, stretched out in easy luxuriance like a sheep or a dove.

She sleeps, she dreams; a delightful dream! It seemed as if the wondrous might of universal life had been swallowed up within her; as if life and death and all things thenceforth lay fast in her bowels; as if in return for all her suffering, she was teeming at last with Nature herself.



CHAPTER IX.

THE DEVIL A PHYSICIAN.

That still and dismal scene of the Bride of Corinth, is repeated literally from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. While it was yet night, just before the daybreak, the two lovers, Man and Nature, meet again, embrace with rapture, and, at that same moment—horrible to tell!—behold themselves attacked by fearful plagues. We seem still to hear the loved one saying to her lover, "It is all over: thy hair will be white to-morrow. I am dead, and thou too wilt die."

Three dreadful blows happen in these three centuries. In the first we have a loathsome changing of the outer man, diseases of the skin, above all, leprosy. In the second, the evil turns inwards, becomes a grotesque excitement of the nerves, a fit of epileptic dancing. Then all grows calm, but the blood is changed, and ulcers prepare the way for syphilis, the scourge of the fifteenth century.

* * * * *

Among the chief diseases of the Middle Ages, so far as one can look therein, to speak generally, had been hunger, weakness, poverty of blood, that kind of consumption which is visible in the sculptures of that time. The blood was like clear water, and scrofulous ailments were rife everywhere. Barring the well-paid doctors, Jew or Arab, of the kings, the art of medicine was practised only with, holy water at the church door. Thither on Sundays, after the service, would come a crowd of sick, to whom words like these were spoken: "You have sinned and God has afflicted you. Be thankful: so much the less will you suffer in the next world. Resign yourselves to suffer and to die. The Church has prayers for the dead." Weak, languishing, hopeless, with no desire to live, they followed this counsel faithfully, and let life go its way.

A fatal discouragement, a wretched state of things, that would have prolonged without end these ages of lead, and debarred them from all progress! Worst of all things is it to resign oneself so readily, to welcome death with so much docility, to have strength for nothing, to desire nothing. Of more worth was that new era, that close of the Middle Ages, which at the cost of cruel sufferings first enabled us to regain our former energy; namely, the resurrection of desire.

* * * * *

Some Arab writers have asserted that the widespread eruption of skin-diseases which marks the thirteenth century, was caused by the taking of certain stimulants to re-awaken and renew the defaults of passion. Undoubtedly the burning spices brought over from the East, tended somewhat to such an issue. The invention of distilling and of divers fermented drinks may also have worked in the same direction.

But a greater and far more general fermentation was going on. During the sharp inward struggle between two worlds and two spirits, a third surviving silenced both. As the fading faith and the newborn reason were disputing together, somebody stepping between them caught hold of man. You ask who? A spirit unclean and raging, the spirit of sour desires, bubbling painfully within.

Debarred from all outlet, whether of bodily enjoyment, or the free flow of soul, the sap of life thus closely rammed together, was sure to corrupt itself. Bereft of light, of sound, of speech, it spoke through pains and ominous excrescences. Then happened a new and dreadful thing. The desire put off without being diminished, finds itself stopped short by a cruel enchantment, a shocking metamorphosis.[40] Love was advancing blindly with open arms. It recoils groaning; but in vain would it flee: the fire of the blood keeps raging; the flesh eats itself away in sharp titillations, and sharper within rages the coal of fire, made fiercer by despair.

[40] Leprosy has been traced to Asia and the Crusades; but Europe had it in herself. The war declared by the Middle Ages against the flesh and all cleanliness bore its fruits. More than one saint boasted of having never washed even his hands. And how much did the rest wash? To have stripped for a moment would have been sinful. The worldlings carefully follow the teaching of the monks. This subtle and refined society, which sacrificed marriage and seemed inspired only with the poetry of adultery, preserved a strange scruple on a point so harmless. It dreaded all cleansing, as so much defilement. There was no bathing for a thousand years!

What remedy does Christian Europe find for this twofold ill? Death and captivity; nothing more. When the bitter celibacy, the hopeless love, the passion irritable and ever-goading, bring you into a morbid state; when your blood is decomposing, then you shall go down into an In pace, or build your hut in the desert. You must live with the handbell in your hand, that all may flee before you. "No human being must see you: no consolation may be yours. If you come near, 'tis death."

* * * * *

Leprosy is the last stage, the apogee of this scourge; but a thousand other ills, less hideous but still cruel, raged everywhere. The purest and the most fair were stricken with sad eruptions, which men regarded as sin made visible, or the chastisement of God. Then people did what the love of life had never made them do: they forsook the old sacred medicine, the bootless holy water, and went off to the Witch. From habit and fear as well, they still repaired to church; but thenceforth their true church was with her, on the moor, in the forest, in the desert. To her they carried their vows.

Prayers for healing, prayers for pleasure. On the first effervescing of their heated blood, folk went to the Sibyl, in great secrecy, at uncertain hours. "What shall I do? and what is this I feel within me? I burn: give me some lenitive. I burn: grant me that which causes my intolerable desire."

A bold, a blamable journey, for which they reproach themselves at night. Let this new fatality be never so urgent, this fire be never so torturing, the Saints themselves never so powerless; still, have not the indictment of the Templars and the proceedings of Pope Boniface unveiled the Sodom lying hid beneath the altar? But a wizard Pope, a friend of the Devil, who also carried him away, effects a change in all their ideas. Was it not with the Demon's help that John XXII., the son of a shoemaker, a Pope no more of Rome, succeeded in amassing in his town of Avignon more gold than the Emperor and all the kings? As the Pope is, so is the bishop. Did not Guichard, Bishop of Troyes, procure from the Devil the death of the King's daughters? No death we ask for—we; but pleasant things—for life, for health, for beauty, and for pleasure: the things of God which God refuses. What shall we do? Might we but win them through the grace of the Prince of this World!

* * * * *

When the great and mighty doctor of the Renaissance, Paracelsus, cast all the wise books of ancient medicine into the fire, Latin, and Jewish, and Arabic, all at once, he declared that he had learned none but the popular medicine, that of the good women,[41] the shepherds, and the headsmen, the latter of whom made often good horse-doctors and clever surgeons, resetting bones broken or put out of joint.

[41] The name given in fear and politeness to the witches.

I make no doubt but that his admirable and masterly work on The Diseases of Women—the first then written on a theme so large, so deep, so tender—came forth from his special experience of those women to whom others went for aid; of the witches, namely, who always acted as the midwives: for never in those days was a male physician admitted to the woman's side, to win her trust in him, to listen to her secrets. The witches alone attended her, and became, especially for women, the chief and only physician.

* * * * *

What we know for surest with regard to their medicinal practice is, that for ends the most different, alike to stimulate and to soothe, they made use of one large family of doubtful and very dangerous plants, called, by reason of the services they rendered, The Comforters, or Solaneae.[42]

[42] Man's ingratitude is painful to see. A thousand other plants have come into use: a hundred exotic vegetables have become the fashion. But the good once done by these poor Comforters is clean forgotten!—Nay, who now remembers or even acknowledges the old debt of humanity to harmless nature? The Asclepias acida, Sarcostemma, or flesh-plant, which for five thousand years was the Holy Wafer of the East, its very palpable God, eaten gladly by five hundred millions of men,—this plant, in the Middle Ages called the Poison-queller (vince-venenum), meets with not one word of historical comment in our books of Botany. Perhaps two thousand years hence they will forget the wheat. See Langlois on the Soma of India and the Hom of Persia. Mem. de l'Academie des Inscriptions, xix. 326.

A vast and popular family, many kinds of which abound to excess under our feet, in the hedges, everywhere—a family so numerous that of one kind alone we have eight hundred varieties.[43] There is nothing easier, nothing more common, to find. But these plants are mostly dangerous in the using. It needs some boldness to measure out a dose, the boldness, perhaps, of genius.

[43] M. d'Orbigny's Dictionary of Natural History, article Morelles.

Let us, step by step, mount the ladder of their powers.[44] The first are simply pot-herbs, good for food, such as the mad-apples and the tomatoes, miscalled "love-apples." Other, of the harmless kinds, are sweetness and tranquillity itself, as the white mullens, or lady's fox-gloves, so good for fomentations.

[44] I have found this ladder nowhere else. It is the more important, because the witches who made these essays at the risk of passing for poisoners, certainly began with the weakest, and rose gradually to the strongest. Each step of power thus gives its relative date, and helps us in this dark subject to set up a kind of chronology. I shall complete it in the following chapters, when I come to speak of the Mandragora and the Datura. I have chiefly followed Pouchet's Solanees and Botanique Generale.

Going higher up, you come on a plant already suspicious, which many think a poison, a plant which at first seems like honey and afterwards tastes bitter, reminding one of Jonathan's saying, "I have eaten a little honey, and therefore shall I die." But this death is serviceable, a dying away of pain. The "bittersweet" should have been the first experiment of that bold homoeopathy which rose, little by little, up to the most dangerous poisons. The slight irritation and the tingling which it causes might point it out as a remedy for the prevalent diseases of that time, those, namely, of the skin.

The pretty maiden who found herself woefully adorned with uncouth red patches, with pimples, or with ringworm, would come crying for such relief. In the case of an elder woman the hurt would be yet more painful. The bosom, most delicate thing in nature, with its innermost vessels forming a matchless flower, becomes, through its injective and congestive tendencies, the most perfect instrument for causing pain. Sharp, ruthless, restless are the pains she suffers. Gladly would she accept all kinds of poison. Instead of bargaining with the Witch, she only puts her poor hard breast between her hands.

From the bittersweet, too weak for such, we rise to the dark nightshades, which have rather more effect. For a few days the woman is soothed. Anon she comes back weeping. "Very well, to-night you may come again. I will fetch you something, as you wish me; but it will be a strong poison."

It was a heavy risk for the Witch. At that time they never thought that poisons could act as remedies, if applied outwardly or taken in very weak doses. The plants they compounded together under the name of witches' herbs, seemed to be but ministers of death. Such as were found in her hands would have proved her, in their opinion, a poisoner or a dealer in accursed charms. A blind crowd, all the more cruel for its growing fears, might fell her with a shower of stones, or make her undergo the trial by water—the noyade. Or even—most dreadful doom of all!—they might drag her with a rope round her neck to the churchyard, where a pious festival was held and the people edified by seeing her thrown to the flames.

However, she runs the risk, and fetches home the dreadful plant. The other woman comes back to her abode by night or morning, whenever she is least afraid of being met. But a young shepherd, who saw her there, told the village, "If you had seen her as I did, gliding among the rubbish of the ruined hut, looking about her on all sides, muttering I know not what! Oh, but she has frightened me very much! If she had seen me, I was a lost man. She would have changed me into a lizard, a toad, or a bat. She took a paltry herb—the paltriest I ever saw—of a pale sickly yellow, with red and black marks, like the flames, as they say, of hell. The horror of the thing is, that the whole stalk was hairy like a man, with long, black, sticky hairs. She plucked it roughly, with a grunt, and suddenly I saw her no more. She could not have run away so quick; she must have flown. What a dreadful thing that woman is! How dangerous to the whole country!"

Certainly the plant inspires dread. It is the henbane, a cruel and dangerous poison, but a powerful emollient, a soft sedative poultice, which melts, unbends, lulls to sleep the pain, often taking it quite away.

Another of these poisons—the Belladonna, so called, undoubtedly, in thankful acknowledgment, had great power in laying the convulsions that sometimes supervened in childbirth, and added a new danger, a new fear, to the danger and the fear of that most trying moment. A motherly hand instilled the gentle poison, casting the mother herself into a sleep, and smoothing the infant's passage, after the manner of the modern chloroform, into the world.[45]

[45] Madame La Chapelle and M. Chaussier have renewed to good purpose these practices of the older medicine. Pouchet, Solanees.

Belladonna cures the dancing-fits while making you dance. A daring homoeopathy this, which at first must frighten: it is medicine reversed, contrary in most things to that which alone the Christians studied, which alone they valued, after the example of the Jews and Arabs.

How did men come to this result? Undoubtedly by the simple effect of the great Satanic principle, that everything must be done the wrong way, the very opposite way to that followed by the holy people. These latter have a dread of poisons. Satan uses them and turns them into remedies. The Church thinks by spiritual means, by sacraments and prayers, to act even on the body. Satan, on the other hand, uses material means to act even upon the soul, making you drink of forgetfulness, love, reverie, and every passion. To the blessing of the priest he opposes the magnetic passes made by the soft hands of women, who cheat you of your pains.

* * * * *

By a change of system, and yet more of dress, as in the substitution of linen for wool, the skin-diseases lost their intensity. Leprosy abated, but seemed to go inwards and beget deeper ills. The fourteenth century wavered between three scourges—the epileptic dancings, the plague, and the sores which, according to Paracelsus, led the way to syphilis.

The first danger was not the least. About 1350 it broke out in a frightful manner with the dance of St. Guy, and was singular especially in this, that it did not act upon each person separately. As if carried on by one same galvanic current, the sick caught each other by the hand, formed immense chains, and spun and spun round till they died. The spectators, who laughed at first, presently catching the contagion, let themselves go, fell into the mighty current, increased the terrible choir.

What would have happened if the evil had held on as long as leprosy did even in its decline?

It was the first step, as it were, towards epilepsy. If that generation of sufferers had not been cured, it would have begotten another decidedly epileptic. What a frightful prospect! Think of Europe covered with fools, with idiots, with raging madmen! We are not told how the evil was treated and checked. The remedy prescribed by most, the falling upon these jumpers with kicks and cuffings, was entirely fitted to increase the frenzy and turn it into downright epilepsy.[46] Doubtless there was some other remedy, of which people were loth to speak. At the time when witchcraft took its first great flight, the widespread use of the Solaneae, above all, of belladonna, vulgarized the medicine which really checked those affections. At the great popular gatherings of the Sabbath, of which we shall presently speak, the witches' herb, mixed with mead, beer, cider,[47] or perry (the strong drinks of the West), set the multitude dancing a dance luxurious indeed, but far from epileptic.

[46] We should think that few physicians would quite agree with M. Michelet.—TRANS.

[47] Cider was first made in the twelfth century.

* * * * *

But the greatest revolution caused by the witches, the greatest step the wrong way against the spirit of the Middle Ages, was what may be called the reenfeoffment of the stomach and the digestive organs. They had the boldness to say, "There is nothing foul or unclean." Thenceforth the study of matter was free and boundless. Medicine became a possibility.

That this principle was greatly abused, we do not deny; but the principle is none the less clear. There is nothing foul but moral evil. In the natural world all things are pure: nothing may be withheld from our studious regard, nothing be forbidden by an idle spiritualism, still less by a silly disgust.

It was here especially that the Middle Ages showed themselves in their true light, as anti-natural, out of Nature's oneness drawing distinctions of castes, of priestly orders. Not only do they count the spirit noble, and the body ignoble; but even parts of the body are called noble, while others are not, being evidently plebeian. In like manner heaven is noble, and hell is not; but why?—"Because heaven is high up." But in truth it is neither high nor low, being above and beneath alike. And what is hell? Nothing at all. Equally foolish are they about the world at large and the smaller world of men.

This world is all one piece: each thing in it is attached to all the rest. If the stomach is servant of the brain and feeds it, the brain also works none the less for the stomach, perpetually helping to prepare for it the digestive sugar.[48]

[48] This great discovery was made by Claude Bernard.

* * * * *

There was no lack of injurious treatment. The witches were called filthy, indecent, shameless, immoral. Nevertheless, their first steps on that road may be accounted as a happy revolution in things most moral, in charity and kindness. With a monstrous perversion of ideas the Middle Ages viewed the flesh in its representative, woman,—accursed since the days of Eve—as a thing impure. The Virgin, exalted as Virgin more than as Our Lady, far from lifting up the real woman, had caused her abasement, by setting men on the track of a mere scholastic puritanism, where they kept rising higher and higher in subtlety and falsehood.

Woman herself ended by sharing in the hateful prejudice and deeming herself unclean. She hid herself at the hour of childbed. She blushed at loving and bestowing happiness on others. Sober as she mostly was in comparison with man, living as she mostly did on herbs and fruits, sharing through her diet of milk and vegetables the purity of the most innocent breeds, she almost besought forgiveness for being born, for living, for carrying out the conditions of her life.

* * * * *

The medical art of the Middle Ages busied itself peculiarly about the man, a being noble and pure, who alone could become a priest, alone could make God at the altar. It also paid some attention to the beasts, beginning indeed with them; but of children it thought seldom: of women not at all.

The romances, too, with their subtleties pourtray the converse of the world. Outside the courts and highborn adulterers, which form the chief topic of these romances, the woman is always a poor Griselda, born to drain the cup of suffering, to be often beaten, and never cared for.

In order to mind the woman, to trample these usages under foot, and to care for her in spite of herself, nothing less would serve than the Devil, woman's old ally, her trusty friend in Paradise, and the Witch, that monster who deals with everything the wrong way, exactly contrariwise to that of the holier people. The poor creature set such little store by herself. She would shrink back, blushing, and loth to say a word. The Witch being clever and evil-hearted, read her to the inmost depths. Ere long she won her to speak out, drew from her her little secret, overcame her refusals, her modest, humble hesitations. Rather than undergo the remedy, she was willing almost to die. But the cruel sorceress made her live.



CHAPTER X.

CHARMS AND PHILTRES.

Let no one hastily conclude from the foregoing chapter that I attempt to whiten, to acquit entirely, the dismal bride of the Devil. If she often did good, she could also do no small amount of ill. There is no great power which is not abused. And this one had three centuries of actual reigning, in the interlude between two worlds, the older dying and the new struggling painfully to begin. The Church, which in the quarrels of the sixteenth century will regain some of her strength, at least for fighting, in the fourteenth is down in the mire. Look at the truthful picture drawn by Clemangis. The nobles, so proudly arrayed in their new armour, fall all the more heavily at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt. All who survive end by being prisoners in England. What a theme for ridicule! The citizens, the very peasants make merry and shrug their shoulders. This general absence of the lords gave, I fancy, no small encouragement to the Sabbath gatherings which had always taken place, but at this time might first have grown into vast popular festivals.

How mighty the power thus wielded by Satan's sweetheart, who cures, foretels, divines, calls up the souls of the dead; who can throw a spell upon you, turn you into a hare or wolf, enable you to find a treasure, and, best of all, ensure your being beloved! It is an awful power which combines all others. How could a stormy soul, a soul most commonly gangrened, and sometimes grown utterly wayward, have helped employing it to wreak her hate and revenge; sometimes even out of a mere delight in malice and uncleanness?

All that once was told the confessor, is now imparted to her: not only the sins already done, but those also which folk purpose doing. She holds each by her shameful secret, by the avowal of her uncleanest desires. To her they entrust both their bodily and mental ills; the lustful heats of a blood inflamed and soured; the ceaseless prickings of some sharp, urgent, furious desire.

To her they all come: with her there is no shame. In plain blunt words they beseech her for life, for death, for remedies, for poisons. Thither comes a young woman, to ask through her tears for the means of saving her from the fruits of her sin. Thither comes the step-mother—a common theme in the Middle Ages—to say that the child of a former marriage eats well and lives long. Thither comes the sorrowing wife whose children year by year are born only to die. And now, on the other hand, comes a youth to buy at any cost the burning draught that shall trouble the heart of some haughty dame, until, forgetful of the distance between them, she has stooped to look upon her little page.

* * * * *

In these days there are but two types, two forms of marriage, both of them extreme and outrageous.

The scornful heiress of a fief, who brings her husband a crown or a broad estate, an Eleanor of Guyenne for instance, will, under her husband's very eyes, hold her court of lovers, keeping herself under very slight control. Let us leave romances and poems, to look at the reality in its dread march onward to the unbridled rage of the daughters of Philip the Fair, of the cruel Isabella, who by the hands of her lovers impaled Edward II. The insolence of the feudal women breaks out diabolically in the triumphant two-horned bonnet and other brazen-faced fashions.

But in this century, when classes are beginning to mingle slightly, the woman of a lower rank, when she marries a lord, has to fear the hardest trials. So says the truthful history of the humble, the meek, the patient Griselda. In a more popular form it becomes the tale of Blue-Beard, a tale which seems to me quite earnest and historical. The wife so often killed and replaced by him could only have been his vassal. He would have reckoned wholly otherwise with the daughter or sister of a baron, who might avenge her. If I am not misled by a specious conjecture, we must believe that this tale is of the fourteenth century, and not of those preceding, in which the lord would never have deigned to take a wife below himself.

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