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Droll Stories, Complete by Honore de Balzac

Part 4 out of 9

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would meet, hungry one for the other, after some accidental
abstinence. This meeting took place very soon, and the curious
hunchback saw the boatman waiting below the square, at the Canal St.
Antoine, for the young priest, who was handsome, blonde, slender, and
well-shaped, like the gallant and cowardly hero of love, so celebrated
by Monsieur Ariosto. Then the mechanician went to find the old dyer,
who always loved his wife and always believed himself the only man who
had a finger in her pie.

"Ah! good evening, old friend," said Carandas to Taschereau; and
Taschereau made him a bow.

Then the mechanician relates to him all the secret festivals of love,
vomits words of peculiar import, and pricks the dyer on all sides.

At length, seeing he was ready to kill both his wife and the priest,
Carandas said to him, "My good neighbour, I had brought back from
Flanders a poisoned sword, which will instantly kill anyone, if it
only make a scratch upon him. Now, directly you shall have merely
touched your wench and her paramour, they will die."

"Let us go and fetch it," said the dyer.

Then the two merchants went in great haste to the house of the
hunchback, to get the sword and rush off to the country.

"But shall we find them in flagrante delicto?" asked Taschereau.

"You will see," said the hunchback, jeering his friend. In fact, the
cuckold had not long to wait to behold the joy of the two lovers.

The sweet wench and her well-beloved were busy trying to catch, in a
certain lake that you probably know, that little bird that sometimes
makes his nest there, and they were laughing and trying, and still

"Ah, my darling!" said she, clasping him, as though she wished to make
an outline of him on her chest, "I love thee so much I should like to
eat thee! Nay, more than that, to have you in my skin, so that you
might never quit me."

"I should like it too," replied the priest, "but as you can't have me
altogether, you must try a little bit at a time."

It was at this moment that the husband entered, he sword unsheathed
and flourished above him. The beautiful Tascherette, who knew her
lord's face well, saw what would be the fate of her well-beloved the
priest. But suddenly she sprang towards the good man, half naked, her
hair streaming over her, beautiful with shame, but more beautiful with
love, and cried to him, "Stay, unhappy man! Wouldst thou kill the
father of thy children?"

Thereupon the good dyer staggered by the paternal majesty of
cuckoldom, and perhaps also by the fire of his wife's eyes, let the
sword fall upon the foot of the hunchback, who had followed him, and
thus killed him.

This teaches us not to be spiteful.


Here endeth the first series of these Tales, a roguish sample of the
works of that merry Muse, born ages ago, in our fair land of Touraine,
the which Muse is a good wench, and knows by heart that fine saying of
her friend Verville, written in _Le Moyen de Parvenir_: It is only
necessary to be bold to obtain favours. Alas! mad little one, get thee
to bed again, sleep; thou art panting from thy journey; perhaps thou
hast been further than the present time. Now dry thy fair naked feet,
stop thine ears, and return to love. If thou dreamest other poesy
interwoven with laughter to conclude these merry inventions, heed not
the foolish clamour and insults of those who, hearing the carol of a
joyous lark of other days, exclaim: Ah, the horrid bird!





Certain persons have reproached the Author for knowing no more about
the language of the olden times than hares do of telling stories.
Formerly these people would have been vilified, called cannibals,
churls, and sycophants, and Gomorrah would have been hinted at as
their natal place. But the Author consents to spare them the flowery
epithets of ancient criticism; he contents himself with wishing not to
be in their skin, for he would be disgusted with himself, and esteem
himself the vilest of scribblers thus to calumniate a poor little book
which is not in the style of any spoil-paper of these times. Ah!
ill-natured wretches! you should save your breath to cool your own
porridge! The Author consoles himself for his want of success in not
pleasing everyone by remembering that an old Tourainian, of eternal
memory, had put up with such contumely, that losing all patience, he
declared in one of his prologues, that he would never more put pen to
paper. Another age, but the same manners. Nothing changes, neither God
above nor men below. Thereupon of the Author continues his task with a
light heart, relying upon the future to reward his heavy labours.

And certes, it is a hard task to invent _A Hundred Droll Tales_, since
not only have ruffians and envious men opened fire upon him, but his
friends have imitated their example, and come to him saying "Are you
mad? Do you think it is possible? No man ever had in the depths of his
imagination a hundred such tales. Change the hyperbolic title of your
budget. You will never finish it." These people are neither
misanthropes nor cannibals; whether they are ruffians I know not; but
for certain they are kind, good-natured friends; friends who have the
courage to tell you disagreeable things all your life along, who are
rough and sharp as currycombs, under the pretence that they are yours
to command, in all the mishaps of life, and in the hour of extreme
unction, all their worth will be known. If such people would only keep
these sad kindnesses; but they will not. When their terrors are proved
to have been idle, they exclaimed triumphantly, "Ha! ha! I knew it. I
always said so."

In order not to discourage fine sentiments, intolerable though they
be, the Author leaves to his friends his old shoes, and in order to
make their minds easy, assures them that he has, legally protected and
exempt from seizure, seventy droll stories, in that reservoir of
nature, his brain. By the gods! they are precious yarns, well rigged
out with phrases, carefully furnished with catastrophes, amply clothed
with original humour, rich in diurnal and nocturnal effects, nor
lacking that plot which the human race has woven each minute, each
hour, each week, month, and year of the great ecclesiastical
computation, commenced at a time when the sun could scarcely see, and
the moon waited to be shown her way. These seventy subjects, which he
gives you leave to call bad subjects, full of tricks and impudence,
lust, lies, jokes, jests, and ribaldry, joined to the two portions
here given, are, by the prophet! a small instalment on the aforesaid

Were it not a bad time for a bibliopolists, bibliomaniacs,
bibliographers, and bibliotheques which hinder bibliolatry, he would
have given them in a bumper, and not drop by drop as if he were
afflicted with dysury of the brain. He cannot possibly be suspected of
this infirmity, since he often gives good weight, putting several
stories into one, as is clearly demonstrated by several in this
volume. You may rely on it, that he has chosen for the finish, the
best and most ribald of the lot, in order that he may not be accused
of a senile discourse. Put then more likes with your dislikes, and
dislikes with your likes. Forgetting the niggardly behaviour of nature
to story-tellers, of whom there are not more than seven perfect in the
great ocean of human writers, others, although friendly, have been of
opinion that, at a time when everyone went about dressed in black, as
if in mourning for something, it was necessary to concoct works either
wearisomely serious or seriously wearisome; that a writer could only
live henceforward by enshrining his ideas in some vast edifice, and
that those who were unable to construct cathedrals and castles of
which neither stone nor cement could be moved, would die unknown, like
the Pope's slippers. The friends were requested to declare which they
liked best, a pint of good wine, or a tun of cheap rubbish; a diamond
of twenty-two carats, or a flintstone weighing a hundred pounds; the
ring of Hans Carvel, as told by Rabelais, or a modern narrative
pitifully expectorated by a schoolboy. Seeing them dumbfounded and
abashed, it was calmly said to them, "Do you thoroughly understand,
good people? Then go your ways and mind your own businesses."

The following, however, must be added, for the benefit of all of whom
it may concern:--The good man to whom we owe fables and stories of
sempiternal authority only used his tool on them, having taken his
material from others; but the workmanship expended on these little
figures has given them a high value; and although he was, like M.
Louis Ariosto, vituperated for thinking of idle pranks and trifles,
there is a certain insect engraved by him which has since become a
monument of perennity more assured than that of the most solidly built
works. In the especial jurisprudence of wit and wisdom the custom is
to steal more dearly a leaf wrested from the book of Nature and Truth,
than all the indifferent volumes from which, however fine they be, it
is impossible to extract either a laugh or a tear. The author has
licence to say this without any impropriety, since it is not his
intention to stand upon tiptoe in order to obtain an unnatural height,
but because it is a question of the majesty of his art, and not of
himself--a poor clerk of the court, whose business it is to have ink
in his pen, to listen to the gentleman on the bench, and take down the
sayings of each witness in this case. He is responsible for
workmanship, Nature for the rest, since from the Venus of Phidias the
Athenian, down to the little old fellow, Godenot, commonly called the
Sieur Breloque, a character carefully elaborated by one of the most
celebrated authors of the present day, everything is studied from the
eternal model of human imitations which belongs to all. At this honest
business, happy are the robbers that they are not hanged, but esteemed
and beloved. But he is a triple fool, a fool with ten horns on his
head, who struts, boasts, and is puffed up at an advantage due to the
hazard of dispositions, because glory lies only in the cultivation of
the faculties, in patience and courage.

As for the soft-voiced and pretty-mouthed ones, who have whispered
delicately in the author's ear, complaining to him that they have
disarranged their tresses and spoiled their petticoats in certain
places, he would say to them, "Why did you go there?" To these remarks
he is compelled, through the notable slanders of certain people, to
add a notice to the well-disposed, in order that they may use it, and
end the calumnies of the aforesaid scribblers concerning him.

These droll tales are written--according to all authorities--at that
period when Queen Catherine, of the house of Medici, was hard at work;
for, during a great portion of the reign, she was always interfering
with public affairs to the advantage of our holy religion. The which
time has seized many people by the throat, from our defunct Master
Francis, first of that name, to the Assembly at Blois, where fell M.
de Guise. Now, even schoolboys who play at chuck-farthing, know that
at this period of insurrection, pacifications and disturbances, the
language of France was a little disturbed also, on account of the
inventions of the poets, who at that time, as at this, used each to
make a language for himself, besides the strange Greek, Latin,
Italian, German, and Swiss words, foreign phrases, and Spanish jargon,
introduced by foreigners, so that a poor writer has plenty of elbow
room in this Babelish language, which has since been taken in hand by
Messieurs de Balzac, Blaise Pascal, Furetiere, Menage, St. Evremonde,
de Malherbe, and others, who first cleaned out the French language,
sent foreign words to the rightabout, and gave the right of
citizenship to legitimate words used and known by everyone, but of
which the Sieur Ronsard was ashamed.

Having finished, the author returns to his lady-love, wishing every
happiness to those by whom he is beloved; to the others misfortune
according to their deserts. When the swallows fly homeward, he will
come again, not without the third and fourth volume, which he here
promises to the Pantagruelists, merry knaves, and honest wags of all
degrees, who have a wholesome horror of the sadness, sombre meditation
and melancholy of literary croakers.


The _Inn of the Three Barbels_ was formerly at Tours, the best place
in the town for sumptuous fare; and the landlord, reputed the best of
cooks, went to prepare wedding breakfasts as far as Chatelherault,
Loches, Vendome, and Blois. This said man, an old fox, perfect in his
business, never lighted lamps in the day time, knew how to skin a
flint, charged for wool, leather, and feathers, had an eye to
everything, did not easily let anyone pay with chaff instead of coin,
and for a penny less than his account would have affronted even a
prince. For the rest, he was a good banterer, drinking and laughing
with his regular customers, hat in hand always before the persons
furnished with plenary indulgences entitled _Sit nomen Domini
benedictum_, running them into expense, and proving to them, if need
were, by sound argument, that wines were dear, and that whatever they
might think, nothing was given away in Touraine, everything had to be
bought, and, at the same time, paid for. In short, if he could without
disgrace have done so, he would have reckoned so much for the good
air, and so much for the view of the country. Thus he built up a tidy
fortune with other people's money, became as round as a butt, larded
with fat, and was called Monsieur. At the time of the last fair three
young fellows, who were apprentices in knavery, in whom there was more
of the material that makes thieves than saints, and who knew just how
far it was possible to go without catching their necks in the branches
of trees, made up their minds to amuse themselves, and live well,
condemning certain hawkers or others in all the expenses. Now these
limbs of Satan gave the slip to their masters, under whom they had
been studying the art of parchment scrawling, and came to stay at the
hotel of the Three Barbels, where they demanded the best rooms, turned
the place inside out, turned up their noses at everything, bespoke all
the lampreys in the market, and announced themselves as first-class
merchants, who never carried their goods with them, and travelled only
with their persons. The host bustled about, turned the spits, and
prepared a glorious repast, for these three dodgers, who had already
made noise enough for a hundred crowns, and who most certainly would
not even have given up the copper coins which one of them was jingling
in his pocket. But if they were hard up for money they did not want
for ingenuity, and all three arranged to play their parts like thieves
at a fair. Theirs was a farce in which there was plenty of eating and
drinking, since for five days they so heartily attacked every kind of
provision that a party of German soldiers would have spoiled less than
they obtained by fraud. These three cunning fellows made their way to
the fair after breakfast, well primed, gorged, and big in the belly,
and did as they liked with the greenhorns and others, robbing,
filching, playing, and losing, taking down the writings and signs and
changing them, putting that of the toyman over the jeweller's, and
that of the jeweller's outside the shoe maker's, turning the shops
inside out, making the dogs fight, cutting the ropes of tethered
horses, throwing cats among the crowd, crying, "Stop thief!" And
saying to every one they met, "Are you not Monsieur D'Enterfesse of
Angiers?" Then they hustled everyone, making holes in the sacks of
flour, looking for their handkerchiefs in ladies' pockets, raising
their skirts, crying, looking for a lost jewel and saying to them--

"Ladies, it has fallen into a hole!"

They directed the little children wrongly, slapped the stomachs of
those who were gaping in the air, and prowled about, fleecing and
annoying every one. In short, the devil would have been a gentleman in
comparison with these blackguard students, who would have been hanged
rather than do an honest action; as well have expected charity from
two angry litigants. They left the fair, not fatigued, but tired of
ill-doing, and spent the remainder of their time over dinner until the
evening when they recommenced their pranks by torchlight. After the
peddlers, they commenced operations on the ladies of the town, to
whom, by a thousand dodges, they gave only that which they received,
according to the axiom of Justinian: _Cuiqum jus tribuere_. "To every
one his own juice;" and afterwards jokingly said to the poor wenches--

"We are in the right and you are in the wrong."

At last, at supper-time, having nothing else to do, they began to
knock each other about, and to keep the game alive, complained of the
flies to the landlord, remonstrating with him that elsewhere the
innkeepers had them caught in order that gentleman of position might
not be annoyed by them. However, towards the fifth day, which is the
critical day of fevers, the host not having seen, although he kept his
eyes wide open, the royal surface of a crown, and knowing that if all
that glittered were gold it would be cheaper, began to knit his brows
and go more slowly about that which his high-class merchants required
of him. Fearing that he had made a bad bargain with them, he tried to
sound the depth of their pockets; perceiving which the three clerks
ordered him with the assurance of a Provost hanging his man, to serve
them quickly with a good supper as they had to depart immediately.
Their merry countenances dismissed the host's suspicions. Thinking
that rogues without money would certainly look grave, he prepared a
supper worthy of a canon, wishing even to see them drunk, in order the
more easily to clap them in jail in the event of an accident. Not
knowing how to make their escape from the room, in which they were
about as much at their ease as are fish upon straw, the three
companions ate and drank immoderately, looking at the situation of the
windows, waiting the moment to decamp, but not getting the
opportunity. Cursing their luck, one of them wished to go and undo his
waistcoat, on account of a colic, the other to fetch a doctor to the
third, who did his best to faint. The cursed landlord kept dodging
about from the kitchen into the room, and from the room into the
kitchen, watching the nameless ones, and going a step forward to save
his crowns, and going a step back to save his crown, in case they
should be real gentlemen; and he acted like a brave and prudent host
who likes halfpence and objects to kicks; but under pretence of
properly attending to them, he always had an ear in the room, and a
foot in the court; fancied he was always being called by them, came
every time they laughed, showing them a face with an unsettled look
upon it, and always said, "Gentlemen, what is your pleasure?" This was
an interrogatory in reply to which they would willingly have given him
ten inches of his own spit in his stomach, because he appeared as if
he knew very well what would please them at this juncture, seeing that
to have twenty crowns, full weight, they would each of them have sold
a third of his eternity. You can imagine they sat on their seats as if
they were gridirons, that their feet itched and their posteriors were
rather warm. Already the host had put the pears, the cheese, and the
preserves near their noses, but they, sipping their liquor, and
picking at the dishes, looked at each other to see if either of them
had found a good piece of roguery in his sack, and they all began to
enjoy themselves rather woefully. The most cunning of the three
clerks, who was a Burgundian, smiled and said, seeing the hour of
payment arrived, "This must stand over for a week," as if they had
been at the Palais de Justice. The two others, in spite of the danger,
began to laugh.

"What do we owe?" asked he who had in his belt the heretofore
mentioned twelve sols and he turned them about as though he would make
them breed little ones by this excited movement. He was a native of
Picardy, and very passionate; a man to take offence at anything in
order that he might throw the landlord out the window in all security
of conscience. Now he said these words with the air of a man of
immense wealth.

"Six crowns, gentlemen," replied the host, holding out his hand.

"I cannot permit myself to be entertained by you alone, Viscount,"
said the third student, who was from Anjou, and as artful as a woman
in love.

"Neither can I," said the Burgundian.

"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" replied the Picardian "you are jesting. I am
yours to command."

"Sambreguoy!" cried he of Anjou. "You will not let us pay three times;
our host would not suffer it."

"Well then," said the Burgundian, "whichever of us shall tell the
worst tale shall justify the landlord."

"Who will be the judge?" asked the Picardian, dropping his twelve sols
to the bottom of his pocket.

"Pardieu! our host. He should be capable, seeing that he is a man of
taste," said he of Anjou. "Come along, great chef, sit you down,
drink, and lend us both your ears. The audience is open."

Thereupon the host sat down, but not until he had poured out a
gobletful of wine.

"My turn first," said the Anjou man. "I commence."

"In our Duchy of Anjou, the country people are very faithful servants
to our Holy of Catholic religion, and none of them will lose his
portion of paradise for lack of doing penance or killing a heretic. If
a professor of heresy passed that way, he quickly found himself under
the grass, without knowing whence his death had proceeded. A good man
of Larze, returning one night from his evening prayer to the wine
flasks of Pomme-de-Pin, where he had left his understanding and
memory, fell into a ditch full of water near his house, and found he
was up to his neck. One of the neighbours finding him shortly
afterwards nearly frozen, for it was winter time, said jokingly to

"'Hulloa! What are you waiting for there?'

"'A thaw', said the tipsy fellow, finding himself held by the ice.

"Then Godenot, like a good Christian, released him from his dilemma,
and opened the door of the house to him, out of respect to the wine,
which is lord of this country. The good man then went and got into the
bed of the maid-servant, who was a young and pretty wench. The old
bungler, bemuddled with wine, went ploughing in the wrong land,
fancying all the time it was his wife by his side, and thanking her
for the youth and freshness she still retained. On hearing her
husband, the wife began to cry out, and by her terrible shrieks the
man was awakened to the fact that he was not in the road to salvation,
which made the poor labourer sorrowful beyond expression.

"'Ah! said he; 'God has punished me for not going to vespers at

"And he began to excuse himself as best he could, saying, that the
wine had muddled his understanding, and getting into his own bed he
kept repeating to his good wife, that for his best cow he would not
have had this sin upon his conscience.

"'My dear', said she, 'go and confess the first thing tomorrow
morning, and let us say no more about it.'

"The good man trotted to confessional, and related his case with all
humility to the rector of the parish, who was a good old priest,
capable of being up above, the slipper of the holy foot.

"'An error is not a sin,' said he to the penitent. 'You will fast
tomorrow, and be absolved.'

"'Fast!--with pleasure,' said the good man. 'That does not mean go
without drink.'

"'Oh!' replied the rector, 'you must drink water, and eat nothing but
a quarter of a loaf and an apple.'

"Then the good man, who had no confidence in his memory, went home,
repeating to himself the penance ordered. But having loyally commenced
with a quarter of a loaf and an apple, he arrived at home, saying, a
quarter of apples, and a loaf.

"Then, to purify his soul, he set about accomplishing his fast, and
his good woman having given him a loaf from the safe, and unhooked a
string of apples from the beam, he set sorrowfully to work. As he
heaved a sigh on taking the last mouthful of bread hardly knowing
where to put it, for he was full to the chin, his wife remonstrated
with him, that God did not desire the death of a sinner, and that for
lack of putting a crust of bread in his belly, he would not be
reproached for having put things in their wrong places.

"'Hold your tongue, wife!' said he. 'If it chokes me, I must fast.'"

"I've payed my share, it's your turn, Viscount," added he of Anjou,
giving the Picardian a knowing wink.

"The goblets are empty. Hi, there! More wine."

"Let us drink," cried the Picardian. "Moist stories slip out easier."

At the same time he tossed off a glassful without leaving a drop at
the bottom, and after a preliminary little cough, he related the

"You must know that the maids of Picardy, before setting up
housekeeping, are accustomed honestly to gain their linen, vessels,
and chests; in short, all the needed household utensils. To accomplish
this, they go into service in Peronne, Abbeville, Amiens, and other
towns, where they are tire-women, wash up glasses, clean plates, fold
linen, and carry up the dinner, or anything that there is to be
carried. They are all married as soon as they possess something else
besides that which they naturally bring to their husbands. These women
are the best housewives, because they understand the business and
everything else thoroughly. One belonging to Azonville, which is the
land of which I am lord by inheritance, having heard speak of Paris,
where the people did not put themselves out of the way for anyone, and
where one could subsist for a whole day by passing the cook's shops,
and smelling the steam, so fattening was it, took it into her head to
go there. She trudged bravely along the road, and arrived with a
pocket full of emptiness. There she fell in, at the Porte St. Denise,
with a company of soldiers, placed there for a time as a vidette, for
the Protestants had assumed a dangerous attitude. The sergeant seeing
this hooded linnet coming, stuck his headpiece on one side,
straightened his feather, twisted his moustache, cleared his throat,
rolled his eyes, put his hand on his hips, and stopped the Picardian
to see if her ears were properly pierced, since it was forbidden to
girls to enter otherwise into Paris. Then he asked her, by way of a
joke, but with a serious face, what brought her there, he pretending
to believe she had come to take the keys of Paris by assault. To which
the poor innocent replied, that she was in search of a good situation,
and had no evil intentions, only desiring to gain something.

"'Very well; I will employ you,' said the wag. 'I am from Picardy, and
will get you taken in here, where you will be treated as a queen would
often like to be, and you will be able to make a good thing of it.'

"Then he led her to the guard-house, where he told her to sweep the
floor, polish the saucepans, stir the fire, and keep a watch on
everything, adding that she should have thirty sols a head from the
men if their service pleased her. Now seeing that the squad was there
for a month, she would be able to gain ten crowns, and at their
departure would find fresh arrivals who would make good arrangements
with her, and by this means she would be able to take back money and
presents to her people. The girl cleaned the room and prepared the
meals so well, singing and humming, that this day the soldiers found
in their den the look of a monk's refectory. Then all being well
content, each of them gave a sol to their handmaiden. Well satisfied,
they put her into the bed of their commandant, who was in town with
his lady, and they petted and caressed her after the manner of
philosophical soldiers, that is, soldiers partial to that which is
good. She was soon comfortably ensconced between the sheets. But to
avoid quarrels and strife, my noble warriors drew lots for their turn,
arranged themselves in single file, playing well at Pique hardie,
saying not a word, but each one taking at least twenty-six sols worth
of the girl's society. Although not accustomed to work for so many,
the poor girl did her best, and by this means never closed her eyes
the whole night. In the morning, seeing the soldiers were fast asleep,
she rose happy at bearing no marks of the sharp skirmish, and although
slightly fatigued, managed to get across the fields into the open
country with her thirty sols. On the route to Picardy, she met one of
her friends, who, like herself, wished to try service in Paris, and
was hurrying thither, and seeing her, asked her what sort of places
they were.

"'Ah! Perrine; do not go. You want to be made of iron, and even if you
were it would soon be worn away,' was the answer.

"Now, big-belly of Burgundy," said he, giving his neighbour a hearty
slap, "spit out your story or pay!"

"By the queen of Antlers!" replied the Burgundian, "by my faith, by
the saints, by God! and by the devil, I know only stories of the Court
of Burgundy, which are only current coin in our own land."

"Eh, ventre Dieu! are we not in the land of Beauffremont?" cried the
other, pointing to the empty goblets.

"I will tell you, then, an adventure well known at Dijon, which
happened at the time I was in command there, and was worth being
written down. There was a sergeant of justice named Franc-Taupin, who
was an old lump of mischief, always grumbling, always fighting; stiff
and starchy, and never comforting those he was leading to the hulks,
with little jokes by the way; and in short, he was just the man to
find lice in bald heads, and bad behaviour in the Almighty. This said
Taupin, spurned by every one, took unto himself a wife, and by chance
he was blessed with one as mild as the peel of an onion, who, noticing
the peculiar humour of her husband, took more pains to bring joy to
his house than would another to bestow horns upon him. But although
she was careful to obey him in all things, and to live at peace would
have tried to excrete gold for him, had God permitted it, this man was
always surly and crabbed, and no more spared his wife blows, than does
a debtor promises to the bailiff's man. This unpleasant treatment
continuing in spite of the carefulness and angelic behaviour of the
poor woman, she being unable to accustom herself to it, was compelled
to inform her relations, who thereupon came to the house. When they
arrived, the husband declared to them that his wife was an idiot, that
she displeased him in every possible way, and made his life almost
unbearable; that she would wake him out of his first sleep, never came
to the door when he knocked, but would leave him out in the rain and
the cold, and that the house was always untidy. His garments were
buttonless, his laces wanted tags. The linen was spoiling, the wine
turning sour, the wood damp, and the bed was always creaking at
unreasonable moments. In short, everything was going wrong. To this
tissue of falsehoods, the wife replied by pointing to the clothes and
things, all in a state of thorough repair. Then the sergeant said that
he was very badly treated, that his dinner was never ready for him, or
if it was, the broth was thin or the soup cold, either the wine or the
glasses were forgotten, the meat was without gravy or parsley, the
mustard had turned, he either found hairs in the dish or the cloth was
dirty and took away his appetite, indeed nothing did she ever get for
him that was to his liking. The wife, astonished, contented herself
with stoutly denying the fault imputed to her. 'Ah,' said he, 'you
dirty hussy! You deny it, do you! Very well then, my friends, you come
and dine here to-day, you shall be witnesses of her misconduct. And if
she can for once serve me properly, I will confess myself wrong in all
I have stated, and will never lift my hand against her again, but will
resign to her my halberd and my breeches, and give her full authority

"'Oh, well,' said she, joyfully, 'I shall then henceforth be both wife
and mistress!'

"Then the husband, confident of the nature and imperfections of his
wife, desired that the dinner should be served under the vine arbor,
thinking that he would be able to shout at her if she did not hurry
quickly enough from the table to the pantry. The good housewife set to
work with a will. The plates were clean enough to see one's face in,
the mustard was fresh and well made, the dinner beautifully cooked, as
appetising as stolen fruit; the glasses were clear, the wine was cool,
and everything so nice, so clean and white, that the repast would have
done honour to a bishop's chatterbox. Just as she was standing before
the table, casting that last glance which all good housewives like to
give everything, her husband knocked at the door. At that very moment
a cursed hen, who had taken it into her head to get on top of the
arbor to gorge herself with grapes, let fall a large lump of dirt
right in the middle of the cloth. The poor woman was half dead with
fright; so great was her despair, she could think of no other way of
remedying the thoughtlessness of the fowl then by covering the
unseemly patch with a plate in which she put the fine fruits taken at
random from her pocket, losing sight altogether of the symmetry of the
table. Then, in order that no one should notice it, she instantly
fetched the soup, seated every one in his place, and begged them to
enjoy themselves.

"Now, all of them seeing everything so well arranged, uttered
exclamations of pleasure, except the diabolical husband, who remained
moody and sullen, knitting his brows and looking for a straw on which
to hang a quarrel with his wife. Thinking it safe to give him one for
himself, her relations being present, she said to him, 'Here's your
dinner, nice and hot, well served, the cloth is clean, the
salt-cellars full, the plates clean, the wine fresh, the bread well
baked. What is there lacking? What do you require? What do you desire?
What else do you want?'

"'Oh, filth!' said he, in a great rage.

"The good woman instantly lifted the plate, and replied--

"'There you are, my dear!'

"Seeing which, the husband was dumbfounded, thinking that the devil
was in league with his wife. He was immediately gravely reproached by
the relations, who declared him to be in the wrong, abused him, and
made more jokes at his expense than a recorder writes words in a
month. From that time forward the sergeant lived comfortably and
peaceably with his wife, who at the least appearance of temper on his
part, would say to him--

"'Do you want some filth?'"

"Who has told the worst now?" cried the Anjou man, giving the host a
tap on the shoulder.

"He has! He has!" said the two others. Then they began to dispute
among themselves, like the holy fathers in council; seeking, by
creating a confusion, throwing the glasses at each other, and jumping
about, a lucky chance, to make a run of it.

"I'll settle the question," cried the host, seeing that whereas they
had all three been ready with their own accounts, not one of them was
thinking of his.

They stopped terrified.

"I will tell you a better one than all, then you will have to give ten
sols a head."

"Silence for the landlord," said the one from Anjou.

"In our fauborg of Notre-dame la Riche, in which this inn is situated,
there lived a beautiful girl, who besides her natural advantages, had
a good round sum in her keeping. Therefore, as soon as she was old
enough, and strong enough to bear the matrimonial yoke, she had as
many lovers as there are sols in St. Gatien's money-box on the
Paschal-day. The girl chose one who, saving your presence, was as good
a worker, night and day, as any two monks together. They were soon
betrothed, and the marriage was arranged; but the joy of the first
night did not draw nearer without occasioning some slight
apprehensions to the lady, as she was liable, through an infirmity, to
expel vapours, which came out like bombshells. Now, fearing that when
thinking of something else, during the first night, she might give the
reins to her eccentricities, she stated the case to her mother, whose
assistance she invoked. That good lady informed her that this faculty
of engineering wind was inherent in the family; that in her time she
had been greatly embarrassed by it, but only in the earlier period of
her life. God had been kind to her, and since the age of seven, she
had evaporated nothing except on the last occasion when she had
bestowed upon her dead husband a farewell blow. 'But,' said she to her
daughter, 'I have ever a sure specific, left to me by my mother, which
brings these surplus explosions to nothing, and exhales them
noiselessly. By this means these sighs become odourless, and scandal
is avoided.'

"The girl, much pleased, learned how to sail close to the wind,
thanked her mother, and danced away merrily, storing up her flatulence
like an organ-blower waiting for the first note of mass. Entering the
nuptial chamber, she determined to expel it when getting into bed, but
the fantastic element was beyond control. The husband came; I leave
you to imagine how love's conflict sped. In the middle of the night,
the bride arose under a false pretext, and quickly returned again; but
when climbing into her place, the pent up force went off with such a
loud discharge, that you would have thought with me that the curtains
were split.

"'Ha! I've missed my aim!' said she.

"''Sdeath, my dear!' I replied, 'then spare your powder. You would
earn a good living in the army with that artillery.'

"It was my wife."

"Ha! ha! ha!" went the clerks.

And they roared with laughter, holding their sides and complimenting
their host.

"Did you ever hear a better story, Viscount?"

"Ah, what a story!"

"That is a story!"

"A master story!"

"The king of stories!"

"Ha, ha! It beats all the other stories hollow. After that I say there
are no stories like the stories of our host."

"By the faith of a Christian, I never heard a better story in my

"Why, I can hear the report."

"I should like to kiss the orchestra."

"Ah! gentlemen," said the Burgundian, gravely, "we cannot leave
without seeing the hostess, and if we do not ask to kiss this famous
wind-instrument, it is a out of respect for so good a story-teller."

Thereupon they all exalted the host, his story, and his wife's trumpet
so well that the old fellow, believing in these knaves' laughter and
pompous eulogies, called to his wife. But as she did not come, the
clerks said, not without frustrative intention, "Let us go to her."

Thereupon they all went out of the room. The host took the candle and
went upstairs first, to light them and show them the way; but seeing
the street door ajar, the rascals took to their heels, and were off
like shadows, leaving the host to take in settlement of his account
another of his wife's offerings.


Every one knows through what adventure King Francis, the first of that
name, was taken like a silly bird and led into the town of Madrid, in
Spain. There the Emperor Charles V. kept him carefully locked up, like
an article of great value, in one of his castles, in the which our
defunct sire, of immortal memory, soon became listless and weary,
seeing that he loved the open air, and his little comforts, and no
more understood being shut up in a cage than a cat would folding up
lace. He fell into moods of such strange melancholy that his letters
having been read in full council, Madame d'Angouleme, his mother;
Madame Catherine, the Dauphine, Monsieur de Montmorency, and those who
were at the head of affairs in France knowing the great lechery of the
king, determined after mature deliberation, to send Queen Marguerite
to him, from whom he would doubtless receive alleviation of his
sufferings, that good lady being much loved by him, and merry, and
learned in all necessary wisdom. But she, alleging that it would be
dangerous for her soul, because it was impossible for her, without
great danger to be alone with the king in his cell, a sharp secretary,
the Sieur de Fizes, was sent to the Court of Rome, with orders to beg
of the pontiff a papal brief of special indulgences, containing proper
absolutions for the petty sins which, looking at their consanguinity,
the said queen might commit with a view to cure the king's melancholy.

At this time, Adrian VI., the Dutchman, still wore the tiara, who, a
good fellow, for the rest did not forget, in spite of the scholastic
ties which united him to the emperor, that the eldest son of the
Catholic Church was concerned in the affair, and was good enough to
send to Spain an express legate, furnished with full powers, to
attempt the salvation of the queen's soul, and the king's body,
without prejudice to God. This most urgent affair made the gentleman
very uneasy, and caused an itching in the feet of the ladies, who,
from great devotion to the crown, would all have offered to go to
Madrid, but for the dark mistrust of Charles the Fifth, who would not
grant the king's permission to any of his subjects, nor even the
members of his family. It was therefore necessary to negotiate the
departure of the Queen of Navarre. Then, nothing else was spoken about
but this deplorable abstinence, and the lack of amorous exercise so
vexatious to a prince, who was much accustomed to it. In short, from
one thing to another, the women finished by thinking more of the
king's condition, than of the king himself. The queen was the first to
say that she wished she had wings. To this Monseigneur Odet de
Chatillon replied, that she had no need of them to be an angel. One
that was Madame l'Amirale, blamed God that it was not possible to send
by a messenger that which the poor king so much required; and every
one of the ladies would have lent it in her turn.

"God has done very well to fix it," said the Dauphine, quietly; "for
our husbands would leave us rather badly off during their absence."

So much was said and so much thought upon the subject, that at her
departure the Queen of all Marguerites was charged, by these good
Christians, to kiss the captive heartily for all the ladies of the
realm; and if it had been permissible to prepare pleasure like
mustard, the queen would have been laden with enough to sell to the
two Castiles.

While Madame Marguerite was, in spite of the snow, crossing the
mountains, by relays of mule, hurrying on to these consolations as to
a fire, the king found himself harder pressed by unsatisfied desire
than he had ever been before, or would be again. In this reverberation
of nature, he opened his heart to the Emperor Charles, in order that
he might be provided with a merciful specific, urging upon him that it
would be an everlasting disgrace to one king to let another die for
lack of gallantry. The Castilian showed himself to be a generous man.
Thinking that he would be able to recuperate himself for the favour
granted out of his guest's ransom, he hinted quietly to the people
commissioned to guard the prisoner, that they might gratify him in
this respect. Thereupon a certain Don Hiios de Lara y Lopez Barra di
Pinto, a poor captain, whose pockets were empty in spite of his
genealogy, and who had been for some time thinking of seeking his
fortune at the Court of France, fancied that by procuring his majesty
a soft cataplasm of warm flesh, he would open for himself an honestly
fertile door; and indeed, those who know the character of the good
king and his court, can decide if he deceived himself.

When the above mentioned captain came in his turn into the chamber of
the French king, he asked him respectfully if it was his good pleasure
to permit him an interrogation on a subject concerning which he was as
curious as about papal indulgences? To which the Prince, casting aside
his hypochondriacal demeanour, and twisting round on the chair in
which he was seated, gave a sign of consent. The captain begged him
not to be offended at the licence of his language, and confessed to
him, that he the king was said to be one of the most amorous men in
France, and he would be glad to learn from him if the ladies of the
court were expert in the adventures of love. The poor king, calling to
mind his many adventures, gave vent to a deep-drawn sigh, and
exclaimed, that no woman of any country, including those of the moon,
knew better than the ladies of France the secrets of this alchemy and
at the remembrance of the savoury, gracious, and vigorous fondling of
one alone, he felt himself the man, were she then within his reach, to
clasp her to his heart, even on a rotten plank a hundred feet above a

Say which, this good king, a ribald fellow, if ever there was one,
shot forth so fiercely life and light from his eyes, that the captain,
though a brave man, felt a quaking in his inside so fiercely flamed
the sacred majesty of royal love. But recovering his courage he began
to defend the Spanish ladies, declaring that in Castile alone was love
properly understood, because it was the most religious place in
Christendom, and the more fear the women had of damning themselves by
yielding to a lover, the more their souls were in the affair, because
they knew they must take their pleasure then against eternity. He
further added, that if the Lord King would wager one of the best and
most profitable manors in the kingdom of France, he would give him a
Spanish night of love, in which a casual queen should, unless he took
care, draw his soul from his body.

"Done," said the king, jumping from his chair. "I'll give thee, by
God, the manor of Ville-aux-Dames in my province of Touraine, with
full privilege of chase, of high and low jurisdiction."

Then, the captain, who was acquainted with the Donna of the Cardinal
Archbishop of Toledo requested her to smother the King of France with
kindness, and demonstrate to him the great advantage of the Castilian
imagination over the simple movement of the French. To which the
Marchesa of Amaesguy consented for the honour of Spain, and also for
the pleasure of knowing of what paste God made Kings, a matter in
which she was ignorant, having experience only of the princes of the
Church. Then she became passionate as a lion that has broken out of
his cage, and made the bones of the king crack in a manner that would
have killed any other man. But the above-named lord was so well
furnished, so greedy, and so will bitten, he no longer felt a bite;
and from this terrible duel the Marchesa emerged abashed, believing
she had the devil to confess.

The captain, confident in his agent, came to salute his lord, thinking
to do honour for his fief. Thereupon the king said to him, in a
jocular manner, that the Spanish ladies were of a passable
temperature, and their system a fair one, but that when gentleness was
required they substituted frenzy; that he kept fancying each thrill
was a sneeze, or a case of violence; in short, that the embrace of a
French woman brought back the drinker more thirsty than ever, tiring
him never; and that with the ladies of his court, love was a gentle
pleasure without parallel, and not the labour of a master baker in his
kneading trough.

The poor captain was strongly piqued at his language. In spite of the
nice sense of honour which the king pretended to possess, he fancied
that his majesty wished to bilk him like a student, stealing a slice
of love at a brothel in Paris. Nevertheless, not knowing for the
matter of that, if the Marchesa had not over-spanished the king, he
demanded his revenge from the captive, pledging him his word, that he
should have for certain a veritable fay, and that he would yet gain
the fief. The king was too courteous and gallant a knight to refuse
this request, and even made a pretty and right royal speech,
intimating his desire to lose the wager. Then, after vespers, the
guard passed fresh and warm into the king's chamber, a lady most
dazzlingly white--most delicately wanton, with long tresses and velvet
hands, filling out her dress at the least movement, for she was
gracefully plump, with a laughing mouth, and eyes moist in advance, a
woman to beautify hell, and whose first word had such cordial power
that the king's garment was cracked by it. On the morrow, after the
fair one had slipped out after the king's breakfast, the good captain
came radiant and triumphant into the chamber.

At sight of him the prisoner then exclaimed--

"Baron de la Ville-aux-Dames! God grant you joys like to mine! I like
my jail! By'r lady, I will not judge between the love of our lands,
but pay the wager."

"I was sure of it," said the captain.

"How so?" said the King.

"Sire, it was my wife."

This was the origin of Larray de la Ville-aux-Dames in our country,
since from corruption of the names, that of Lara-y-Lopez, finished by
becoming Larray. It was a good family, delighting in serving the kings
of France, and it multiplied exceedingly. Soon after, the Queen of
Navarre came in due course to the king, who, weary of Spanish customs,
wished to disport himself after the fashion of France; but remainder
is not the subject of this narrative. I reserve to myself the right to
relate elsewhere how the legate managed to sponge the sin of the thing
off the great slate, and the delicate remark of our Queen of
Marguerites, who merits a saint's niche in this collection; she who
first concocted such good stories. The morality of this one is easy to

In the first place, kings should never let themselves be taken in
battle any more than their archetype in the game of the Grecian chief
Palamedes. But from this, it appears the captivity of its king is a
most calamitous and horrible evil to fall on the populace. If it had
been a queen, or even a princess, what worse fate? But I believe the
thing could not happen again, except with cannibals. Can there ever be
a reason for imprisoning the flower of a realm? I think too well of
Ashtaroth, Lucifer, and others, to imagine that did they reign, they
would hide the joy of all the beneficent light, at which poor
sufferers warm themselves. And it was necessary that the worst of
devils, _id est_, a wicked old heretic woman, should find herself upon
a throne, to keep a prisoner sweet Mary of Scotland, to the shame of
all the knights of Christendom, who should have come without previous
assignation to the foot of Fotheringay, and have left thereof no
single stone.


The Abbey of Poissy has been rendered famous by old authors as a place
of pleasure, where the misconduct of the nuns first began, and whence
proceeded so many good stories calculated to make laymen laugh at the
expense of our holy religion. The said abbey by this means became
fertile in proverbs, which none of the clever folks of our day
understand, although they sift and chew them in order to digest them.

If you ask one of them what the _olives of Poissy_ are, they will
answer you gravely that it is a periphrase relating to truffles, and
that the _way to serve them_, of which one formerly spoke, when joking
with these virtuous maidens, meant a peculiar kind of sauce. That's
the way the scribblers hit on truth once in a hundred times. To return
to these good recluses, it was said--by way of a joke, of course--that
they preferred finding a harlot in their chemises to a good woman.
Certain other jokers reproached them with imitating the lives of the
saints, in their own fashion, and said that all they admired in Mary
of Egypt was her fashion of paying the boatmen. From whence the
raillery: To honour the saints after the fashion of Poissy. There is
still the crucifix of Poissy, which kept the stomachs warm; and the
matins of Poissy, which concluded with a little chorister. Finally, of
a hearty jade well acquainted with the ways of love, it was said--She
is a nun of Poissy. That property of a man which he can only lend, was
The key of the Abbey of Poissy. What the gate of the said abbey was
can easily be guessed. This gate, door, wicket, opening, or road was
always half open, was easier to open than to shut, and cost much in
repairs. In short, at that period, there was no fresh device in love
invented, that had not its origin in the good convent of Poissy. You
may be sure there is a good deal of untruth and hyperbolical emphasis,
in these proverbs, jests, jokes, and idle tales. The nuns of the said
Poissy were good young ladies, who now this way, now that, cheated God
to the profit of the devil, as many others did, which was but natural,
because our nature is weak; and although they were nuns, they had
their little imperfections. They found themselves barren in a certain
particular, hence the evil. But the truth of the matter is, all these
wickednesses were the deeds of an abbess who had fourteen children,
all born alive, since they had been perfected at leisure. The
fantastic amours and the wild conduct of this woman, who was of royal
blood, caused the convent of Poissy to become fashionable; and
thereafter no pleasant adventure happened in the abbeys of France
which was not credited to these poor girls, who would have been well
satisfied with a tenth of them. Then the abbey was reformed, and these
holy sisters were deprived of the little happiness and liberty which
they had enjoyed. In an old cartulary of the abbey of Turpenay, near
Chinon, which in those later troublous times had found a resting place
in the library of Azay, where the custodian was only too glad to
receive it, I met with a fragment under the head of The Hours of
Poissy, which had evidently been put together by a merry abbot of
Turpenay for the diversion of his neighbours of Usee, Azay, Mongaugar,
Sacchez, and other places of this province. I give them under the
authority of the clerical garb, but altered to my own style, because I
have been compelled to turn them from Latin into French. I commence:
--At Poissy the nuns were accustomed to, when Mademoiselle, the king's
daughter, their abbess, had gone to bed..... It was she who first
called it _faire la petite oie_, to stick to the preliminaries of
love, the prologues, prefaces, protocols, warnings, notices,
introductions, summaries, prospectuses, arguments, notices, epigraphs,
titles, false-titles, current titles, scholia, marginal remarks,
frontispieces, observations, gilt edges, bookmarks, reglets,
vignettes, tail pieces, and engravings, without once opening the merry
book to read, re-read, and study to apprehend and comprehend the
contents. And she gathered together in a body all those extra-judicial
little pleasures of that sweet language, which come indeed from the
lips, yet make no noise, and practised them so well, that she died a
virgin and perfect in shape. The gay science was after deeply studied
by the ladies of the court, who took lovers for _la petite oie_,
others for honour, and at times also certain ones who had over them
the right of high and low jurisdiction, and were masters of everything
--a state of things much preferred. But to continue: When this
virtuous princess was naked and shameless between the sheets, the said
girls (those whose cheeks were unwrinkled and their hearts gay) would
steal noiselessly out of their cells, and hide themselves in that of
one of the sisters who was much liked by all of them. There they would
have cosy little chats, enlivened with sweetmeats, pasties, liqueurs,
and girlish quarrels, worry their elders, imitating them grotesquely,
innocently mocking them, telling stories that made them laugh till the
tears came and playing a thousand pranks. At times they would measure
their feet, to see whose were the smallest, compare the white
plumpness of their arms, see whose nose had the infirmity of blushing
after supper, count their freckles, tell each other where their skin
marks were situated, dispute whose complexion was the clearest, whose
hair the prettiest colour, and whose figure the best. You can imagine
that among these figures sanctified to God there were fine ones, stout
ones, lank ones, thin ones, plump ones, supple ones, shrunken ones,
and figures of all kinds. Then they would quarrel amongst themselves
as to who took the least to make a girdle, and she who spanned the
least was pleased without knowing why. At times they would relate
their dreams and what they had seen in them. Often one or two, at
times all of them, had dreamed they had tight hold of the keys of the
abbey. Then they would consult each other about their little ailments.
One had scratched her finger, another had a whitlow; this one had
risen in the morning with the white of her eye bloodshot; that one had
put her finger out, telling her beads. All had some little thing the
matter with them.

"Ah! you have lied to our mother; your nails are marked with white,"
said one to her neighbour.

"You stopped a long time at confession this morning, sister," said
another. "You must have a good many little sins to confess."

As there is nothing resembles a pussy-cat so much as a tom-cat, they
would swear eternal friendship, quarrel, sulk, dispute and make it up
again; would be jealous, laugh and pinch, pinch and laugh, and play
tricks upon the novices.

At times they would say, "Suppose a gendarme came here one rainy day,
where should we put him?"

"With Sister Ovide; her cell is so big he could get into it with his
helmet on."

"What do you mean?" cried Sister Ovide, "are not all our cells alike?"

Thereupon the girls burst out laughing like ripe figs. One evening
they increased their council by a little novice, about seventeen years
of age, who appeared innocent as a new-born babe, and would have had
the host without confession. This maiden's mouth had long watered for
their secret confabulations, little feasts and rejoicings by which the
nuns softened the holy captivity of their bodies, and had wept at not
being admitted to them.

"Well," said Sister Ovide to her, "have you had a good night's rest,
little one?"

"Oh no!" said she, "I have been bitten by fleas."

"Ha! you have fleas in your cell? But you must get rid of them at
once. Do you know how the rules of our order enjoin them to be driven
out, so that never again during her conventional life shall a sister
see so much as the tail of one?"

"No," replied the novice.

"Well then, I will teach you. Do you see any fleas here? Do you notice
any trace of fleas? Do you smell an odour of fleas? Is there any
appearance of fleas in my cell? Look!"

"I can't find any," said the little novice, who was Mademoiselle de
Fiennes, "and smell no odour other than our own."

"Do as I am about to tell you, and be no more bitten. Directly you
feel yourself pricked, you must strip yourself, lift your chemise, and
be careful not to sin while looking all over your body; think only of
the cursed flea, looking for it, in good faith, without paying
attention to other things; trying only to catch the flea, which is a
difficult job, as you may easily be deceived by the little black spots
on your skin, which you were born with. Have you any, little one?"

"Yes," cried she. "I have two dark freckles, one on my shoulder and
one on my back, rather low down, but it is hidden in a fold of the

"How did you see it?" asked Sister Perpetue.

"I did not know it. It was Monsieur de Montresor who found it out."

"Ha, ha!" said the sister, "is that all he saw?"

"He saw everything," said she, "I was quite little; he was about nine
years old, and we were playing together...."

The nuns hardly being able to restrain their laughter, Sister Ovide
went on--

"The above-mentioned flea will jump from your legs to your eyes, will
try and hide himself in apertures and crevices, will leap from valley
to mountain, endeavouring to escape you; but the rules of the house
order you courageously to pursue, repeating aves. Ordinarily at the
third ave the beast is taken."

"The flea?" asked the novice.

"Certainly the flea," replied Sister Ovide; "but in order to avoid the
dangers of this chase, you must be careful in whatever spot you put
your finger on the beast, to touch nothing else.... Then without
regarding its cries, plaints, groans, efforts, and writhings, and the
rebellion which frequently it attempts, you will press it under your
thumb or other finger of the hand engaged in holding it, and with the
other hand you will search for a veil to bind the flea's eyes and
prevent it from leaping, as the beast seeing no longer clearly will
not know where to go. Nevertheless, as it will still be able to bite
you, and will be getting terribly enraged, you must gently open its
mouth and delicately insert therein a twig of the blessed brush that
hangs over your pillow. Thus the beast will be compelled to behave
properly. But remember that the discipline of our order allows you to
retain no property, and the beast cannot belong to you. You must take
into consideration that it is one of God's creatures, and strive to
render it more agreeable. Therefore, before all things, it is
necessary to verify three serious things--viz.: If the flea be a male,
if it be female, or if it be a virgin; supposing it to be a virgin,
which is extremely rare, since these beasts have no morals, are all
wild hussies, and yield to the first seducer who comes, you will seize
her hinder feet, and drawing them under her little caparison, you must
bind them with one of your hairs, and carry it to your superior, who
will decide upon its fate after having consulted the chapter. If it be
a male--"

"How can one tell that a flea is a virgin? asked the curious novice.

"First of all," replied Sister Ovide, "she is sad and melancholy, does
not laugh like the others, does not bite so sharp, has her mouth less
wide open, blushes when touched--you know where."

"In that case," replied the novice, "I have been bitten by a male."

At this the sisters burst out laughing so heartily that one of them
sounded a bass note and voided a little water and Sister Ovide
pointing to it on the floor, said--

"You see there's never wind without rain."

The novice laughed herself, thinking that these chuckles were caused
by the sister's exclamation.

"Now," went on Sister Ovide, "if it be a male flea, you take your
scissors, or your lover's dagger, if by chance he has given you one as
a souvenir, previous to your entry into the convent. In short,
furnished with a cutting instrument, you carefully slit open the
flanks of the flea. Expect to hear him howl, cough, spit, beg your
pardon; to see him twist about, sweat, make sheep's eyes, and anything
that may come into his head to put off this operation. But be not
astonished; pluck up your courage when thinking that you are acting
thus to bring a perverted creature into the ways of salvation. Then
you will dextrously take the reins, the liver, the heart, the gizzard,
and noble parts, and dip them all several times into the holy water,
washing and purifying them there, at the same time imploring the Holy
Ghost to sanctify the interior of the beast. Afterwards you will
replace all these intestinal things in the body of the flea, who will
be anxious to get them back again. Being by this means baptised, the
soul of the creature has become Catholic. Immediately you will get a
needle and thread and sew up the belly of the flea with great care,
with such regard and attention as is due to a fellow Christian; you
will even pray for it--a kindness to which you will see it is sensible
by its genuflections and the attentive glances which it will bestow
upon you. In short, it will cry no more, and have no further desire to
kill you; and fleas are often encountered who die from pleasure at
being thus converted to our holy religion. You will do the same to all
you catch; and the others perceiving it, after staring at the convert,
will go away, so perverse are they, and so terrified at the idea of
becoming Christians."

"And they are therefore wicked," said the novice. "Is there any
greater happiness than to be in the bosom of the Church?"

"Certainly!" answered sister Ursula, "here we are sheltered from the
dangers of the world and of love, in which there are so many."

"Is there any other danger than that of having a child at an
unseasonable time?" asked a young sister.

"During the present reign," replied Ursula, raising her head, "love
has inherited leprosy, St Anthony's fire, the Ardennes' sickness, and
the red rash, and has heaped up all the fevers, agonies, drugs and
sufferings of the lot in his pretty mortar, to draw out therefrom a
terrible compound, of which the devil has given the receipt, luckily
for convents, because there are a great number of frightened ladies,
who become virtuous for fear of this love."

Thereupon they huddled up close together, alarmed at these words, but
wishing to know more.

"And is it enough to love, to suffer?" asked a sister.

"Oh, yes!" cried Sister Ovide.

"You love just for one little once a pretty gentleman," replied
Ursula, "and you have the chance of seeing your teeth go one by one,
your hair fall off, your cheeks grow pallid, and your eyebrows drop,
and the disappearance of your prized charms will cost you many a sigh.
There are poor women who have scabs come upon their noses, and others
who have a horrid animal with a hundred claws, which gnaws their
tenderest parts. The Pope has at last been compelled to excommunicate
this kind of love."

"Ah! how lucky I am to have had nothing of that sort," cried the

Hearing this souvenir of love, the sisters suspected that the little
one had gone astray through the heat of a crucifix of Poissy, and had
been joking with the Sister Ovide, and drawing her out. All
congratulated themselves on having so merry a jade in their company,
and asked her to what adventure they were indebted for that pleasure.

"Ah!" said she, "I let myself be bitten by a big flea, who had already
been baptised."

At this speech, the sister of the bass note could not restrain a
second sign.

"Ah!" said Sister Ovide, "you are bound to give us the third. If you
spoke that language in the choir, the abbess would diet you like
Sister Petronille; so put a sordine in your trumpet."

"Is it true that you knew in her lifetime that Sister Petronille on
whom God bestowed the gift of only going twice a year to the bank of
deposit?" asked Sister Ursula.

"Yes," replied Ovide. "And one evening it happened she had to remain
enthroned until matins, saying, 'I am here by the will of God.' But at
the first verse, she was delivered, in order that she should not miss
the office. Nevertheless, the late abbess would not allow that this
was an especial favour, granted from on high, and said that God did
not look so low. Here are the facts of the case. Our defunct sister,
whose canonisation the order are now endeavouring to obtain at the
court of the Pope, and would have had it if they could have paid the
proper costs of the papal brief; this Petronille, then, had an
ambition to have her name included in the Calendar of Saints, which
was in no way prejudicial to our order. She lived in prayer alone,
would remain in ecstasy before the altar of the virgin, which is on
the side of the fields, and pretend so distinctly to hear the angels
flying in Paradise, that she was able to hum the tunes they were
singing. You all know that she took from them the chant Adoremus, of
which no man could have invented a note. She remained for days with
her eyes fixed like the star, fasting, and putting no more nourishment
into her body that I could into my eye. She had made a vow never to
taste meat, either cooked or raw, and ate only a crust of bread a day;
but on great feast days she would add thereto a morsel of salt fish,
without any sauce. On this diet she became dreadfully thin, yellow and
saffron, and dry as an old bone in a cemetery; for she was of an
ardent disposition, and anyone who had had the happiness of knocking
up against her, would have drawn fire as from a flint. However, little
as she ate, she could not escape an infirmity to which, luckily or
unluckily, we are all more or less subject. If it were otherwise, we
should be very much embarrassed. The affair in question, is the
obligation of expelling after eating, like all the other animals,
matter more or less agreeable, according to constitution. Now Sister
Petronille differed from all others, because she expelled matter such
as is left by a deer, and these are the hardest substances that any
gizzard produces, as you must know, if you have ever put your foot
upon them in the forest glade, and from their hardness they are called
bullets in the language of forestry. This peculiarity of Sister
Petronille's was not unnatural, since long fasts kept her temperament
at a permanent heat. According to the old sisters, her nature was so
burning, that when water touched her, she went frist! like a hot coal.
There are sisters who have accused her of secretly cooking eggs, in
the night, between her toes, in order to support her austerities. But
these were scandals, invented to tarnish this great sanctity of which
all the other nunneries were jealous. Our sister was piloted in the
way of salvation and divine perfection by the Abbot of St.
Germaine-des-Pres de Paris--a holy man, who always finished his
Injunctions with a last one, which was to offer to God all our
troubles, and submit ourselves to His will, since nothing happened
without His express commandment. This doctrine, which appears wise at
first sight, has furnished matter for great controversies, and has
been finally condemned on the statement of the Cardinal of Chatillon,
who declared that then there would be no such thing as sin, which
would considerably diminish the revenues of the Church. But Sister
Petronille lived imbued with this feeling, without knowing the danger
of it. After Lent, and the fasts of the great jubilee, for the first
time for eight months she had need to go to the little room, and to it
she went. There, bravely lifting her dress, she put herself into a
position to do that which we poor sinners do rather oftener. But
Sister Petronille could only manage to expectorate the commencement of
the thing, which kept her puffing without the remainder making up its
mind to follow. In spite of every effort, pursing of the lips and
squeezing of body, her guest preferred to remain in her blessed body,
merely putting his head out of the window, like a frog taking the air,
and felt no inclination to fall into the vale of misery among the
others, alleging that he would not be there in the odour of sanctity.
And his idea was a good one for a simple lump of dirt like himself.
The good saint having used all methods of coercion, having
overstretched her muscles, and tried the nerves of her thin face till
they bulged out, recognised the fact that no suffering in the world
was so great, and her anguish attaining the apogee of sphincterial
terrors, she exclaimed, 'Oh! my God, to Thee I offer it!' At this
orison, the stoney matter broke off short, and fell like a flint
against the wall of the privy, making a croc, croc, crooc, paf! You
can easily understand, my sisters, that she had no need of a
torch-cul, and drew back the remainder."

"Then did she see angels?" asked one.

"Have they a behind?" asked another.

"Certainly not," said Ursula. "Do you not know that one general
meeting day, God having ordered them to be seated, they answered Him
that they had not the wherewithal."

Thereupon they went off to bed, some alone, others nearly alone. They
were good girls, who harmed only themselves.

I cannot leave them without relating an adventure which took place in
their house, when Reform was passing a sponge over it, and making them
all saints, as before stated. At that time, there was in the episcopal
chair of Paris a veritable saint, who did not brag about what he did,
and cared for naught but the poor and suffering, whom the dear old
Bishop lodged in his heart, neglecting his own interests for theirs,
and seeking out misery in order that he might heal it with words, with
help, with attentions, and with money, according to the case: as ready
to solace the rich in their misfortunes as the poor, patching up their
souls and bringing them back to God; and tearing about hither and
thither, watching his troop, the dear shepherd! Now the good man went
about careless of the state of his cassocks, mantles, and breeches, so
that the naked members of the church were covered. He was so
charitable that he would have pawned himself to save an infidel from
distress. His servants were obliged to look after him carefully.
Ofttimes he would scold them when they changed unasked his tattered
vestments for new; and he used to have them darned and patched, as
long as they would hold together. Now this good archbishop knew that
the late Sieur de Poissy had left a daughter, without a sou or a rag,
after having eaten, drunk, and gambled away her inheritance. This poor
young lady lived in a hovel, without fire in winter or cherries in
spring; and did needlework, not wishing either to marry beneath her or
sell her virtue. Awaiting the time when he should be able to find a
young husband for her, the prelate took it into his head to send her
the outside case of one to mend, in the person of his old breeches, a
task which the young lady, in her present position, would be glad to
undertake. One day that the archbishop was thinking to himself that he
must go to the convent of Poissy, to see after the reformed inmates,
he gave to one of his servants, the oldest of his nether garments,
which was sorely in need of stitches, saying, "Take this, Saintot, to
the young ladies of Poissy," meaning to say, "the young lady of
Poissy." Thinking of affairs connected with the cloister, he did not
inform his varlet of the situation of the lady's house; her desperate
condition having been by him discreetly kept a secret. Saintot took
the breeches and went his way towards Poissy, gay as a grasshopper,
stopping to chat with friends he met on the way, slaking his thirst at
the wayside inns, and showing many things to the breeches during the
journey that might hereafter be useful to them. At last he arrived at
the convent, and informed the abbess that his master had sent him to
give her these articles. When the varlet departed, leaving with the
reverend mother, the garment accustomed to model in relief the
archiepiscopal proportions of the continent nature of the good man,
according to the fashion of the period, beside the image of those
things of which the Eternal Father had deprived His angels, and which
in the good prelate did not want for amplitude. Madame the abbess
having informed the sisters of the precious message of the good
archbishop they came in haste, curious and hustling, as ants into
whose republic a chestnut husk has fallen. When they undid the
breeches, which gaped horribly, they shrieked out, covering their eyes
with one hand, in great fear of seeing the devil come out, the abbess
exclaiming, "Hide yourselves my daughters! This is the abode of mortal

The mother of the novices, giving a little look between her fingers,
revived the courage of the holy troop, swearing by an Ave that no
living head was domiciled in the breeches. Then they all blushed at
their ease, while examining this habitavit, thinking that perhaps the
desire of the prelate was that they should discover therein some sage
admonition or evangelical parable. Although this sight caused certain
ravages in the hearts of those most virtuous maidens, they paid little
attention to the flutterings of their reins, but sprinkling a little
holy water in the bottom of the abyss, one touched it, another passed
her finger through a hole, and grew bolder looking at it. It has even
been pretended that, their first stir over, the abbess found a voice
sufficiently firm to say, "What is there at the bottom of this? With
what idea has our father sent us that which consummates the ruin of

"It's fifteen years, dear mother, since I have been permitted to gaze
upon the demon's den."

"Silence, my daughter. You prevent me thinking what is best to be

Then so much were these archiepiscopal breeches turned and twisted
about, admired and re-admired, pulled here, pulled there, and turned
inside out--so much were they talked about, fought about, thought
about, dreamed about, night and day, that on the morrow a little
sister said, after having sung the matins, to which the convent had a
verse and two responses--"Sisters, I have found out the parable of the
archbishop. He has sent us as a mortification his garment to mend, as
a holy warning to avoid idleness, the mother abbess of all the vices."

Thereupon there was a scramble to get hold of the breeches; but the
abbess, using her high authority, reserved to herself the meditation
over this patchwork. She was occupied during ten days, praying, and
sewing the said breeches, lining them with silk, and making double
hems, well sewn, and in all humility. Then the chapter being
assembled, it was arranged that the convent should testify by a pretty
souvenir to the said archbishop their delight that he thought of his
daughters in God. Then all of them, to the very youngest, had to do
some work on these blessed breeches, in order to do honour to the
virtue of the good man.

Meanwhile the prelate had had so much to attend to, that he had
forgotten all about his garment. This is how it came about. He made
the acquaintance of a noble of the court, who, having lost his wife--a
she-fiend and sterile--said to the good priest, that he had a great
ambition to meet with a virtuous woman, confiding in God, with whom he
was not likely to quarrel, and was likely to have pretty children.
Such a one he desired to hold by the hand, and have confidence in.
Then the holy man drew such a picture of Mademoiselle de Poissy, that
this fair one soon became Madame de Genoilhac. The wedding was
celebrated at the archiepiscopal palace, where was a feast of the
first quality and a table bordered with ladies of the highest lineage,
and the fashionable world of the court, among whom the bride appeared
the most beautiful, since it has certain that she was a virgin, the
archbishop guaranteeing her virtue.

When the fruit, conserves, and pastry were with many ornaments
arranged on the cloth, Saintot said to the archbishop, "Monseigneur,
your well-beloved daughters of Poissy send you a fine dish for the

"Put it there," said the good man, gazing with admiration at an
edifice of velvet and satin, embroidered with fine ribbon, in the
shape of an ancient vase, the lid of which exhaled a thousand
superfine odours.

Immediately the bride, uncovering it, found therein sweetmeats, cakes,
and those delicious confections to which the ladies are so partial.
But of one of them--some curious devotee--seeing a little piece of
silk, pulled it towards her, and exposed to view the habitation of the
human compass, to the great confusion of the prelate, for laughter
rang round the table like a discharge of artillery.

"Well have they made the centre dish," said the bridegroom. "These
young ladies are of good understanding. Therein are all the sweets of

Can there be any better moral than that deduced by Monsieur de
Genoilhac? Then no other is needed.


Jehan, son of Simon Fourniez, called Simonnin, a citizen of Tours
--originally of the village of Moulinot, near to Beaune, whence, in
imitation of certain persons, he took the name when he became steward
to Louis the Eleventh--had to fly one day into Languedoc with his
wife, having fallen into great disgrace, and left his son Jacques
penniless in Touraine. This youth, who possessed nothing in the world
except his good looks, his sword, and spurs, but whom worn-out old men
would have considered very well off, had in his head a firm intention
to save his father, and make his fortune at the court, then holden in
Touraine. At early dawn this good Tourainian left his lodging, and,
enveloped in his mantle, all except his nose, which he left open to
the air, and his stomach empty, walked about the town without any
trouble of digestion. He entered the churches, thought them beautiful,
looked into the chapels, flicked the flies from the pictures, and
counted the columns all after the manner of a man who knew not what to
do with his time or his money. At other times he feigned to recite his
paternosters, but really made mute prayers to the ladies, offered them
holy water when leaving, followed them afar off, and endeavoured by
these little services to encounter some adventure, in which at the
peril of his life he would find for himself a protector or a gracious
mistress. He had in his girdle two doubloons which he spared far more
than his skin, because that would be replaced, but the doubloons
never. Each day he took from his little hoard the price of a roll and
a few apples, with which he sustained life, and drank at his will and
his discretion of the water of the Loire. This wholesome and prudent
diet, besides being good for his doubloons, kept him frisky and light
as a greyhound, gave him a clear understanding and a warm heart for
the water of the Loire is of all syrups the most strengthening,
because having its course afar off it is invigorated by its long run,
through many strands, before it reaches Tours. So you may be sure that
the poor fellow imagined a thousand and one good fortunes and lucky
adventures, and what is more, almost believed them true. Oh! The good
times! One evening Jacques de Beaune (he kept the name although he was
not lord of Beaune) was walking along the embankment, occupied in
cursing his star and everything, for his last doubloon was with scant
respect upon the point of quitting him; when at the corner of a little
street, he nearly ran against a veiled lady, whose sweet odour
gratified his amorous senses. This fair pedestrian was bravely mounted
on pretty pattens, wore a beautiful dress of Italian velvet, with wide
slashed satin sleeves; while as a sign of her great fortune, through
her veil a white diamond of reasonable size shone upon her forehead
like the rays of the setting sun, among her tresses, which were
delicately rolled, built up, and so neat, that they must have taken
her maids quite three hours to arrange. She walked like a lady who was
only accustomed to a litter. One of her pages followed her, well
armed. She was evidently some light o'love belonging to a noble of
high rank or a lady of the court, since she held her dress high off
the ground, and bent her back like a woman of quality. Lady or
courtesan she pleased Jacques de Beaune, who, far from turning up his
nose at her, conceived the wild idea of attaching himself to her for
life. With this in view he determined to follow her in order to
ascertain whither she would lead him--to Paradise or to the limbo of
hell--to a gibbet or to an abode of love. Anything was a glean of hope
to him in the depth of his misery. The lady strolled along the bank of
the Loire towards Plessis inhaling like a fish the fine freshness of
the water, toying, sauntering like a little mouse who wishes to see
and taste everything. When the page perceived that Jacques de Beaune
persistently followed his mistress in all her movements, stopped when
she stopped, and watched her trifling in a bare-faced fashion, as if
he had a right so to do, he turned briskly round with a savage and
threatening face, like that of a dog whose says, "Stand back, sir!"
But the good Tourainian had his wits about him. Believing that if a
cat may look at king, he, a baptised Christian, might certainly look
at a pretty woman, he stepped forward, and feigning to grin at the
page, he strutted now behind and now before the lady. She said
nothing, but looked at the sky, which was putting on its nightcap, the
stars, and everything which could give her pleasure. So things went
on. At last, arrived outside Portillon, she stood still, and in order
to see better, cast her veil back over her shoulder, and in so doing
cast upon the youth the glance of a clever woman who looks round to
see if there is any danger of being robbed. I may tell you that
Jacques de Beaune was a thorough ladies' man, could walk by the side
of a princess without disgracing her, had a brave and resolute air
which please the sex, and if he was a little browned by the sun from
being so much in the open air, his skin would look white enough under
the canopy of a bed. The glance, keen as a needle, which the lady
threw him, appeared to him more animated than that with which she
would have honoured her prayer-book. Upon it he built the hope of a
windfall of love, and resolved to push the adventure to the very edge
of the petticoat, risking to go still further, not only his lips,
which he held of little count, but his two ears and something else
besides. He followed into the town the lady, who returned by the Rue
des Trois-Pucelles, and led the gallant through a labyrinth of little
streets, to the square in which is at the present time situated the
Hotel de la Crouzille. There she stopped at the door of a splendid
mansion, at which the page knocked. A servant opened it, and the lady
went in and closed the door, leaving the Sieur de Beaune open-mouthed,
stupefied, and as foolish as Monseigneur St. Denis when he was trying
to pick up his head. He raised his nose in the air to see if some
token of favour would be thrown to him, and saw nothing except a light
which went up the stairs, through the rooms, and rested before a fine
window, where probably the lady was also. You can believe that the
poor lover remained melancholy and dreaming, and not knowing what to
do. The window gave a sudden creak and broke his reverie. Fancying
that his lady was about to call him, he looked up again, and but for
the friendly shelter of the balcony, which was a helmet to him, he
would have received a stream of water and the utensil which contained
it, since the handle only remained in the grasp of the person who
delivered the deluge. Jacques de Beaune, delighted at this, did not
lose the opportunity, but flung himself against the wall, crying "I am
killed," with a feeble voice. Then stretching himself upon the
fragments of broken china, he lay as if dead, awaiting the issue. The
servants rushed out in a state of alarm, fearing their mistress, to
whom they had confessed their fault, and picked up the wounded man,
who could hardly restrain his laughter at being then carried up the

"He is cold," said the page.

"He is covered with blood," said the butler, who while feeling his
pulse had wetted his hand.

"If he revives," said the guilty one, "I will pay for a mass to St.

"Madame takes after her late father, and if she does not have thee
hanged, the least mitigation of thy penalty will be that thou wilt be
kicked out of her house and service," said another. "Certes, he's dead
enough, he is so heavy."

"Ah! I am in the house of a very great lady," thought Jacques.

"Alas! is he really dead?" demanded the author of the calamity. While
with great labour the Tourainian was being carried up the stairs, his
doublet caught on a projection, and the dead man cried, "Ah, my

"He groans," said the culprit, with a sigh of relief. The Regent's
servants (for this was the house of the Regent, the daughter of King
Louis XI. of virtuous memory) brought Jacques de Beaune into a room,
and laid him stiff and stark upon a table, not thinking for a moment
that he could be saved.

"Run and fetch a surgeon," cried Madame de Beaujeu. "Run here, run

The servants were down the stairs in a trice. The good lady Regent
dispatched her attendants for ointment, for linen to bind the wounds,
for goulard-water, for so many things, that she remained alone. Gazing
upon this splendid and senseless man, she cried aloud, admiring his
presence and his features, handsome even in death. "Ah! God wishes to
punish me. Just for one little time in my life has there been born in
me, and taken possession of me, a naughty idea, and my patron saint is
angry, and deprives me of the sweetest gentleman I have ever seen. By
the rood, and by the soul of my father, I will hang every man who has
had a hand in this!"

"Madame," cried Jacques de Beaune, springing from the table, and
falling at the feet of the Regent, "I will live to serve you, and am
so little bruised that that I promise you this night as many joys as
there are months in the year, in imitation of the Sieur Hercules, a
pagan baron. For the last twenty days," he went on (thinking that
matters would be smoothed by a little lying), "I have met you again
and again. I fell madly in love with you, yet dared not, by reason of
my great respect for your person, make an advance. You can imagine how
intoxicated I must have been with your royal beauties, to have
invented the trick to which I owe the happiness of being at your

Thereupon he kissed her amorously, and gave her a look that would have
overcome any scruples. The Regent, by means of time, which respects
not queens, was, as everyone knows, in her middle age. In this
critical and autumnal season, women formally virtuous and loveless
desire now here, now there, to enjoy, unknown to the world, certain
hours of love, in order that they may not arrive in the other world
with hands and heart alike empty, through having left the fruit of the
tree of knowledge untasted. The lady of Beaujeu, without appearing to
be astonished while listening to the promises of this young man, since
royal personages ought to be accustomed to having them by dozens, kept
this ambitious speech in the depths of her memory or of her registry
of love, which caught fire at his words. Then she raised the
Tourainian, who still found in his misery the courage to smile at his
mistress, who had the majesty of a full-blown rose, ears like shoes,
and the complexion of a sick cat, but was so well-dressed, so fine in
figure, so royal of foot, and so queenly in carriage, that he might
still find in this affair means to gain his original object.

"Who are you?" said the Regent, putting on the stern look of her

"I am your very faithful subject, Jacques de Beaune, son of your
steward, who has fallen into disgrace in spite of his faithful

"Ah, well!" replied the lady, "lay yourself on the table again. I hear
someone coming; and it is not fit that my people should think me your
accomplice in this farce and mummery."

The good fellow perceived, by the soft sound of her voice, that he was
pardoned the enormity of his love. He lay down upon the table again,
and remembered how certain lords had ridden to court in an old stirrup
--a thought which perfectly reconciled him to his present position.

"Good," said the Regent to her maid-servants, "nothing is needed. This
gentleman is better; thanks to heaven and the Holy Virgin, there will
have been no murder in my house."

Thus saying, she passed her hand through the locks of the lover who
had fallen to her from the skies, and taking a little reviving water
she bathed his temples, undid his doublet, and under pretence of
aiding his recovery, verified better than an expert how soft and young
was the skin on this young fellow and bold promiser of bliss, and all
the bystanders, men and women, were amazed to see the Regent act thus.
But humanity never misbecomes those of royal blood. Jacques stood up,
and appeared to come to his senses, thanked the Regent most humbly,
and dismissed the physicians, master surgeons, and other imps in
black, saying that he had thoroughly recovered. Then he gave his name,
and saluting Madame de Beaujeu, wished to depart, as though afraid of
her on account of his father's disgrace, but no doubt horrified at his
terrible vow.

"I cannot permit it," said she. "Persons who come to my house should
not meet with such treatment as you have encountered. The Sieur de
Beaune will sup here," she added to her major domo. "He who has so
unduly insulted him will be at his mercy if he makes himself known
immediately; otherwise, I will have him found out and hanged by the

Hearing this, the page who had attended the lady during her promenade
stepped forward.

"Madame," said Jacques, "at my request pray both pardon and reward
him, since to him I owe the felicity of seeing you, the favour of
supping in your company, and perhaps that of getting my father
re-established in the office to which it pleased your glorious
father to appoint him."

"Well said," replied the Regent. "D'Estouteville," said she, turning
towards the page, "I give thee command of a company of archers. But
for the future do not throw things out of the window."

Then she, delighted with de Beaune, offered him her hand, and led him
most gallantly into her room, where they conversed freely together
while supper was being prepared. There the Sieur Jacques did not fail
to exhibit his talents, justify his father, and raise himself in the
estimation of the lady, who, as is well known, was like a father in
disposition, and did everything at random. Jacques de Beaune thought
to himself that it would be rather difficult for him to remain all
night with the Regent. Such matters are not so easily arranged as the
amours of cats, who have always a convenient refuge upon the housetops
for their moments of dalliance. So he rejoiced that he was known to
the Regent without being compelled to fulfil his rash promise, since
for this to be carried out it was necessary that the servants and
others should be out of the way, and her reputation safe.
Nevertheless, suspecting the powers of intrigue of the good lady, at
times he would ask himself if he were equal to the task. But beneath
the surface of conversation, the same thing was in the mind of the
Regent, who had already managed affairs quite as difficult, and she
began most cleverly to arrange the means. She sent for one of her
secretaries, an adept in all arts necessary for the perfect government
of a kingdom, and ordered him to give her secretly a false message
during the supper. Then came the repast, which the lady did not touch,
since her heart had swollen like a sponge, and so diminished her
stomach, for she kept thinking of this handsome and desirable man,
having no appetite save for him. Jacques did not fail to make a good
meal for many reasons. The messenger came, madame began to storm, and
to knit her brows after the manner of the late king, and to say, "Is
there never to be peace in this land? Pasques Dieu! can we not have
one quiet evening?" Then she rose and strode about the room. "Ho
there! My horse! Where is Monsieur de Vieilleville, my squire? Ah, he
is in Picardy. D'Estouteville, you will rejoin me with my household at
the Chateau d'Amboise...." And looking at Jacques, she said, "You
shall be my squire, Sieur de Beaune. You wish to serve the state. The
occasion is a good one. Pasques Dieu! come! There are rebels to
subdue, and faithful knights are needed."

In less time than an old beggar would have taken to say thank you, the
horses were bridled, saddled, and ready. Madame was on her mare, and
the Tourainian at her side, galloping at full speed to her castle at
Amboise, followed by the men-at-arms. To be brief and come to the
facts without further commentary, the De Beaune was lodged not twenty
yards from Madame, far from prying eyes. The courtiers and the
household, much astonished, ran about inquiring from what quarter the
danger might be expected; but our hero, taken at his word, knew well
enough where to find it. The virtue of the Regent, well known in the
kingdom, saved her from suspicion, since she was supposed to be as
impregnable as the Chateau de Peronne. At curfew, when everything was
shut, both ears and eyes, and the castle silent, Madame de Beaujeu
sent away her handmaid, and called for her squire. The squire came.
Then the lady and the adventurer sat side by side upon a velvet couch,
in the shadow of a lofty fireplace, and the curious Regent, with a
tender voice, asked of Jacques "Are you bruised? It was very wrong of
me to make a knight, wounded by one on my servants, ride twelve miles.
I was so anxious about it that I would not go to bed without having
seen you. Do you suffer?"

"I suffer with impatience," said he of the dozen, thinking it would
not do to appear reluctant. "I see well," continued he, "my noble and
beautiful mistress, that your servant has found favour in your sight."

"There, there!" replied she; "did you not tell a story when you

"What?" said he.

"Why, that you had followed me dozens of times to churches, and other
places to which I went."

"Certainly," said he.

"I am astonished," replied the Regent, "never to have seen until today
a noble youth whose courage is so apparent in his countenance. I am
not ashamed of that which you heard me say when I believed you dead.
You are agreeable to me, you please me, and you wish to do well."

Then the hour of the dreaded sacrifice having struck, Jacques fell at
the knees of the Regent, kissed her feet, her hands, and everything,
it is said; and while kissing her, previous to retirement, proved by
many arguments to the aged virtue of his sovereign, that a lady
bearing the burden of the state had a perfect right to enjoy herself
--a theory which was not directly admitted by the Regent, who
determined to be forced, in order to throw the burden of this sin upon
her lover. This notwithstanding, you may be sure that she had highly
perfumed and elegantly attired herself for the night, and shone with
desire for embraces, for desire lent her a high colour which greatly
improved her complexion; and in spite of her feeble resistance she was,
like a young girl, carried by assault in her royal couch, where the
good lady and her young dozener, embraced each other. Then from play to
quarrel, quarrel to riot, from riot to ribaldry, from thread to needle,
the Regent declared that she believed more in the virginity of the Holy
Mary than in the promised dozen. Now, by chance, Jacques de Beaune did
not find this great lady so very old between the sheets, since
everything is metamorphosed by the light of the lamps of the night.
Many women of fifty by day are twenty at midnight, as others are
twenty at mid-day and a hundred after vespers. Jacques, happier at
this sight than at that of the King on a hanging day, renewed his
undertaking. Madame, herself astonished, promised every assistance on
her part. The manor of Azay-le-Brule, with a good title thereto, she
undertook to confer upon her cavalier, as well as the pardon of his
father, if from this encounter she came forth vanquished, then the
clever fellows said to himself, "This is to save my father from
punishment! this for the fief! this for the letting and selling! this
for the forest of Azay! item for the right of fishing! another for the
Isles of the Indre! this for the meadows! I may as well release from
confiscation our land of La Carte, so dearly bought by my father! Once
more for a place at court!" Arriving without hindrance at this point,
he believed his dignity involved, and fancied that having France under
him, it was a question of the honour of the crown. In short, at the
cost of a vow which he made to his patron, Monsieur St. Jacques, to
build him a chapel at Azay, he presented his liege homage to the
Regent eleven clear, clean, limpid, and genuine periphrases.
Concerning the epilogue of this slow conversation, the Tourainian had
the great self-confidence to wish excellently to regale the Regent,
keeping for her on her waking the salute of an honest man, as it was
necessary for the lord of Azay to thank his sovereign, which was
wisely thought. But when nature is oppressed, she acts like a spirited
horse, lays down, and will die under the whip sooner than move until
it pleases her to rise reinvigorated. Thus, when in the morning the
seignior of the castle of Azay desired to salute the daughter of King
Louis XI., he was constrained, in spite of his courtesy, to make the
salute as royal salutes should be made--with blank cartridge only.
Therefore the Regent, after getting up, and while she was breakfasting
with Jacques, who called himself the legitimate Lord of Azay, seized
the occasion of this insufficiency to contradict her esquire, and
pretend, that as he had not gained his wager, he had not earned the

"Ventre-Saint-Paterne! I have been near enough," said Jacques. "But my
dear lady and noble sovereign it is not proper for either you or me to
judge in this cause. The case being an allodial case, must be brought
before your council, since the fief of Azay is held from the crown."

"Pasques dieu!" replied the Regent with a forced laugh. "I give you
the place of the Sieur de Vieilleville in my house. Don't trouble
about your father. I will give you Azay, and will place you in a royal
office if you can, without injury to my honour, state the case in full
council; but if one word falls to the damage of my reputation as a
virtuous women, I--"

"May I be hanged," said Jacques, turning the thing into a joke,
because there was a shade of anger in the face of Madame de Beaujeu.

In fact, the daughter of King Louis thought more of her royalty than
of the roguish dozen, which she considered as nothing, since fancying
she had had her night's amusement without loosening her purse-strings,
she preferred the difficult recital of his claim to another dozen
offered her by the Tourainian.

"Then, my lady," replied her good companion, "I shall certainly be
your squire."

The captains, secretaries, and other persons holding office under the
regency, astonished at the sudden departure of Madame de Beaujeu,
learned the cause of her anxiety, and came in haste to the castle of
Amboise to discover whence preceded the rebellion, and were in
readiness to hold a council when her Majesty had arisen. She called
them together, not to be suspected of having deceived them, and gave
them certain falsehoods to consider, which they considered most
wisely. At the close of the sitting, came the new squire to accompany
his mistress. Seeing the councillors rising, the bold Tourainian
begged them to decide a point of law which concerned both himself and
the property of the Crown.

"Listen to him," said the Regent. "He speaks truly."

Then Jacques de Beaune, without being nervous at the sight of this
august court, spoke as follows, or thereabouts:--"Noble Lords, I beg
you, although I am about to speak to you of walnut shells, to give
your attention to this case, and pardon me the trifling nature of my
language. One lord was walking with another in a fruit garden, and
noticed a fine walnut tree, well planted, well grown, worth looking
at, worth keeping, although a little empty; a nut tree always fresh,
sweet-smelling, the tree which you would not leave if you once saw it,
a tree of love which seemed the tree of good and evil, forbidden by
the Lord, through which were banished our mother Eve and the gentleman
her husband. Now, my lords, this said walnut tree was the subject of a
slight dispute between the two, and one of those many wagers which are
occasionally made between friends. The younger boasted that he could
throw twelve times through it a stick which he had in his hand at the
time--as many people have who walk in a garden--and with each flight
of the stick he would send a nut to the ground--"

"That is, I believe the knotty point of the case," said Jacques
turning towards the Regent.

"Yes, gentlemen," replied she, surprised at the craft of her squire.

"The other wagered to the contrary," went on the pleader. "Now the
first named throws his stick with such precision of aim, so gently,
and so well that both derived pleasure therefrom, and by the joyous
protection of the saints, who no doubt were amused spectators, with
each throw there fell a nut; in fact, there fell twelve. But by chance
the last of the fallen nuts was empty, and had no nourishing pulp from
which could have come another nut tree, had the gardener planted it.
Has the man with the stick gained his wager? Judge."

"The thing is clear enough," said Messire Adam Fumee, a Tourainian,
who at that time was the keeper of the seals. "There is only one thing
for the other to do."

"What is that?" said the Regent.

"To pay the wager, Madame."

"He is rather too clever," said she, tapping her squire on the cheek.
"He will be hanged one of these days."

She meant it as a joke, but these words were the real horoscope of the
steward, who mounted the gallows by the ladder of royal favour,
through the vengeance of another old woman, and the notorious treason
of a man of Ballan, his secretary, whose fortune he had made, and
whose name was Prevost, and not Rene Gentil, as certain persons have
wrongly called him. The Ganelon and bad servant gave, it is said, to
Madame d'Angouleme, the receipt for the money which had been given him
by Jacques de Beaune, then become Baron of Samblancay, lord of La
Carte and Azay, and one of the foremost men in the state. Of his two
sons, one was Archbishop of Tours the other Minister of Finance and
Governor of Touraine. But this is not the subject of the present

Now that which concerns the present narrative, is that Madame de
Beaujeu, to whom the pleasure of love had come rather late in the day,
well pleased with the great wisdom and knowledge of public affairs
which her chance lover possessed, made him Lord of the Privy Purse, in
which office he behaved so well, and added so much to the contents of
it, that his great renown procured for him one day the handling of the
revenues which he superintended and controlled most admirably, and
with great profit to himself, which was but fair. The good Regent paid
the bet, and handed over to her squire the manor of Azay-le-Brule, of
which the castle had long before been demolished by the first
bombardiers who came from Touraine, as everyone knows. For this
powdery miracle, but for the intervention of the king, the said
engineers would have been condemned as heretics and abettors of Satan,
by the ecclesiastical tribune of the chapter.

At this time there was being built with great care by Messire Bohier,
Minister of Finance, the Castle of Chenonceaux, which as a curiosity
and novel design, was placed right across the river Cher.

Now the Baron de Samblancay, wishing to oppose the said Bohier,
determined to lay the foundation of this at the bottom of the Indre,
where it still stands, the gem of this fair green valley, so solidly
was it placed upon the piles. It cost Jacques de Beaune thirty
thousand crowns, not counting the work done by his vassals. You may
take it for granted this castle was one of the finest, prettiest, most
exquisite and most elaborate castles of our sweet Touraine, and laves
itself in the Indre like a princely creature, gayly decked with
pavilions and lace curtained windows, with fine weather-beaten
soldiers on her vanes, turning whichever way the wind blows, as all
soldiers do. But Samblancay was hanged before it was finished, and
since that time no one has been found with sufficient money to
complete it. Nevertheless, his master, King Francis the First, was
once his guest, and the royal chamber is still shown there. When the
king was going to bed, Samblancay, whom the king called "old fellow,"
in honour of his white hairs, hearing his royal master, to whom he was
devotedly attached, remark, "Your clock has just struck twelve, old
fellow!" replied, "Ah! sire, to twelve strokes of a hammer, an old one
now, but years ago a good one, at this hour of the clock do I owe my
lands, the money spent on this place, and honour of being in your

The king wished to know what his minister meant by these strange
words; and when his majesty was getting into bed, Jacques de Beaune
narrated to him the history with which you are acquainted. Now Francis
the First, who was partial to these spicy stories, thought the
adventure a very droll one, and was the more amused thereat because at
that time his mother, the Duchess d'Angouleme, in the decline of life,
was pursuing the Constable of Bourbon, in order to obtain of him one
of these dozens. Wicked love of a wicked woman, for therefrom
proceeded the peril of the kingdom, the capture of the king, and the
death--as has been before mentioned--of poor Samblancay.

I have here endeavoured to relate how the Chateau d'Azay came to be
built, because it is certain that thus was commenced the great fortune
of that Samblancay who did so much for his natal town, which he
adorned; and also spent such immense sums upon the completion of the
towers of the cathedral. This lucky adventure has been handed down
from father to son, and lord to lord, in the said place of
Azay-les-Ridel, where the story frisks still under the curtains of the
king, which have been curiously respected down to the present day. It is
therefore the falsest of falsities which attributes the dozen of the
Tourainian to a German knight, who by this deed would have secured the
domains of Austria to the House of Hapsburgh. The author of our days,
who brought this history to light, although a learned man, has allowed
himself to be deceived by certain chroniclers, since the archives of
the Roman Empire make no mention of an acquisition of this kind. I am
angry with him for having believed that a "braguette" nourished with
beer, could have been equal to the alchemical operations of the
Chinonian "braguettes," so much esteemed by Rabelais. And I have for
the advantage of the country, the glory of Azay, the conscience of the
castle, and renown of the House of Beaune, from which sprang the
Sauves and the Noirmoutiers, re-established the facts in all their
veritable, historical, and admirable beauty. Should any ladies pay a
visit to the castle, there are still dozens to be found in the
neighbourhood, but they can only be procured retail.


That which certain people do not know, is a the truth concerning the
decease of the Duke of Orleans, brother of King Charles VI., a death

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