Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by Ian Hodgson, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dagny, email@example.com
COLLECTED FROM THE ABBEYS OF TOURAINE
Volume I: THE FIRST TEN TALES
by HONORE DE BALZAC
THE FIRST TEN TALES
THE FAIR IMPERIA
THE VENIAL SIN
HOW THE GOOD MAN BRUYN TOOK A WIFE
HOW THE SENESCHAL STRUGGLED WITH HIS WIFE'S MODESTY
THAT WHICH IS ONLY A VENIAL SIN
HOW AND BY WHOM THE SAID CHILD WAS PROCURED
HOW THE SAID LOVE-SIN WAS REPENTED OF AND LED TO GREAT MOURNING
THE KING'S SWEETHEART
THE DEVIL'S HEIR
THE MERRIE JESTS OF KING LOUIS THE ELEVENTH
THE HIGH CONSTABLE'S WIFE
THE MAID OF THILOUSE
THE VICAR OF AZAY-LE-RIDEAU
When, in March, 1832, the first volume of the now famous Contes
Drolatiques was published by Gosselin of Paris, Balzac, in a short
preface, written in the publisher's name, replied to those attacks
which he anticipated certain critics would make upon his hardy
experiment. He claimed for his book the protection of all those to
whom literature was dear, because it was a work of art--and a work of
art, in the highest sense of the word, it undoubtedly is. Like
Boccaccio, Rabelais, the Queen of Navarre, Ariosto, and Verville, the
great author of The Human Comedy has painted an epoch. In the fresh
and wonderful language of the Merry Vicar Of Meudon, he has given us a
marvellous picture of French life and manners in the sixteenth
century. The gallant knights and merry dames of that eventful period
of French history stand out in bold relief upon his canvas. The
background in these life-like figures is, as it were, "sketched upon
the spot." After reading the Contes Drolatiques, one could almost find
one's way about the towns and villages of Touraine, unassisted by map
or guide. Not only is this book a work of art from its historical
information and topographical accuracy; its claims to that distinction
rest upon a broader foundation. Written in the nineteenth century in
imitation of the style of the sixteenth, it is a triumph of literary
archaeology. It is a model of that which it professes to imitate; the
production of a writer who, to accomplish it, must have been at once
historian, linguist, philosopher, archaeologist, and anatomist, and
each in no ordinary degree. In France, his work has long been regarded
as a classic--as a faithful picture of the last days of the moyen age,
when kings and princesses, brave gentlemen and haughty ladies laughed
openly at stories and jokes which are considered disgraceful by their
more fastidious descendants. In England the difficulties of the
language employed, and the quaintness and peculiarity of its style,
have placed it beyond the reach of all but those thoroughly acquainted
with the French of the sixteenth century. Taking into consideration
the vast amount of historical information enshrined in its pages, the
archaeological value which it must always possess for the student, and
the dramatic interest of its stories, the translator has thought that
an English edition of Balzac's chef-d'oeuvre would be acceptable to
many. It has, of course, been impossible to reproduce in all its
vigour and freshness the language of the original. Many of the quips
and cranks and puns have been lost in the process of Anglicising.
These unavoidable blemishes apart, the writer ventures to hope that he
has treated this great masterpiece in a reverent spirit, touched it
with no sacrilegious hand, but, on the contrary, given as close a
translation as the dissimilarities of the two languages permit. With
this idea, no attempt had been made to polish or round many of the
awkwardly constructed sentences which are characteristic of this
volume. Rough, and occasionally obscure, they are far more in keeping
with the spirit of the original than the polished periods of modern
romance. Taking into consideration the many difficulties which he has
had to overcome, and which those best acquainted with the French
edition will best appreciate, the translator claims the indulgence of
the critical reader for any shortcomings he may discover. The best
plea that can be offered for such indulgence is the fact that,
although Les Contes Drolatiques was completed and published in 1837,
the present is the first English version ever brought before the
London, January, 1874
FIRST TEN TALES
This is a book of the highest flavour, full of right hearty merriment,
spiced to the palate of the illustrious and very precious tosspots and
drinkers, to whom our worthy compatriot, Francois Rabelais, the
eternal honour of Touraine, addressed himself. Be it nevertheless
understood, the author has no other desire than to be a good
Touranian, and joyfully to chronicle the merry doings of the famous
people of this sweet and productive land, more fertile in cuckolds,
dandies and witty wags than any other, and which has furnished a good
share of men of renown in France, as witness the departed Courier of
piquant memory; Verville, author of Moyen de Parvenir, and others
equally well known, among whom we will specially mention the Sieur
Descartes, because he was a melancholy genius, and devoted himself
more to brown studies than to drinks and dainties, a man of whom all
the cooks and confectioners of Tours have a wise horror, whom they
despise, and will not hear spoken of, and say, "Where does he live?"
if his name is mentioned. Now this work is the production of the
joyous leisure of good old monks, of whom there are many vestiges
scattered about the country, at Grenadiere-les-St.-Cyr, in the village
of Sacche-les-Azay-le-Rideau, at Marmoustiers, Veretz, Roche-Cobon,
and the certain storehouses of good stories, which storehouses are the
upper stories of old canons and wise dames, who remember the good old
days when they could enjoy a hearty laugh without looking to see if
their hilarity disturbed the sit of your ruffle, as do the young women
of the present day, who wish to take their pleasure gravely--a custom
which suits our Gay France as much as a water jug would the head of a
queen. Since laughter is a privilege granted to man alone, and he has
sufficient causes for tears within his reach, without adding to them
by books, I have considered it a thing most patriotic to publish a
drachm of merriment for these times, when weariness falls like a fine
rain, wetting us, soaking into us, and dissolving those ancient
customs which make the people to reap public amusement from the
Republic. But of those old pantagruelists who allowed God and the king
to conduct their own affairs without putting of their finger in the
pie oftener than they could help, being content to look on and laugh,
there are very few left. They are dying out day by day in such manner
that I fear greatly to see these illustrious fragments of the ancient
breviary spat upon, staled upon, set at naught, dishonoured, and
blamed, the which I should be loath to see, since I have and bear
great respect for the refuse of our Gallic antiquities.
Bear in mind also, ye wild critics, you scrapers-up of words, harpies
who mangle the intentions and inventions of everyone, that as children
only do we laugh, and as we travel onward laughter sinks down and dies
out, like the light of the oil-lit lamp. This signifies, that to laugh
you must be innocent, and pure of a heart, lacking which qualities you
purse your lips, drop your jaws, and knit your brow, after the manner
of men hiding vices and impurities. Take, then, this work as you would
take a group of statue, certain features of which an artist could
omit, and he would be the biggest of all big fools if he puts leaves
upon them, seeing that these said works are not, any more than is this
book, intended for nunneries. Nevertheless, I have taken care, much to
my vexation, to weed from the manuscripts the old words, which, in
spite of their age, were still strong, and which would have shocked
the ears, astonished the eyes, reddened the cheeks and sullied the
lips of trousered maidens, and Madame Virtue with three lovers; for
certain things must be done to suit the vices of the age, and a
periphrase is much more agreeable than the word. Indeed, we are old,
and find long trifles, better than the short follies of our youth,
because at that time our taste was better. Then spare me your
slanders, and read this rather at night than in the daytime and give
it not to young maidens, if there be any, because this book is
inflammable. I will now rid you of myself. But I fear nothing from
this book, since it is extracted from a high and splendid source, from
which all that has issued has had a great success, as is amply proved
by the royal orders of the Golden Fleece, of the Holy Ghost, of the
Garter, of the Bath, and by many notable things which have been taken
therefrom, under shelter of which I place myself.
'Now make ye merry, my hearties, and gayly read with ease of body and
rest of reins, and may a cancer carry you if you disown me after
having read me.' These words are those of our good Master Rabelais,
before whom we must also stand, hat in hand, in token of reverence and
honour to him, prince of all wisdom, and king of Comedy.
THE FAIR IMPERIA
The Archbishop of Bordeaux had added to his suite when going to the
Council at Constance quite a good-looking little priest of Touraine
whose ways and manner of speech was so charming that he passed for a
son of La Soldee and the Governor. The Archbishop of Tours had
willingly given him to his confrere for his journey to that town,
because it was usual for archbishops to make each other presents, they
well knowing how sharp are the itchings of theological palms. Thus
this young priest came to the Council and was lodged in the
establishment of his prelate, a man of good morals and great science.
Philippe de Mala, as he was called, resolved to behave well and
worthily to serve his protector, but he saw in this mysterious Council
many men leading a dissolute life and yet not making less, nay--
gaining more indulgences, gold crowns and benefices than all the other
virtuous and well-behaved ones. Now during one night--dangerous to his
virtue--the devil whispered into his ear that he should live more
luxuriously, since every one sucked the breasts of our Holy Mother
Church and yet they were not drained, a miracle which proved beyond
doubt the existence of God. And the priest of Touraine did not
disappoint the devil. He promised to feast himself, to eat his
bellyful of roast meats and other German delicacies, when he could do
so without paying for them as he was poor. As he remained quite
continent (in which he followed the example of the poor old archbishop
who sinned no longer because he was unable to, and passed for a
saint,) he had to suffer from intolerable desires followed by fits of
melancholy, since there were so many sweet courtesans, well developed,
but cold to the poor people, who inhabited Constance, to enlighten the
understanding of the Fathers of the Council. He was savage that he did
not know how to make up to these gallant sirens, who snubbed
cardinals, abbots, councillors, legates, bishops, princes and
margraves just as if they have been penniless clerks. And in the
evening, after prayers, he would practice speaking to them, teaching
himself the breviary of love. He taught himself to answer all possible
questions, but on the morrow if by chance he met one of the aforesaid
princesses dressed out, seated in a litter and escorted by her proud
and well-armed pages, he remained open-mouthed, like a dog in the act
of catching flies, at the sight of sweet countenance that so much
inflamed him. The secretary of a Monseigneur, a gentleman of Perigord,
having clearly explained to him that the Fathers, procureurs, and
auditors of the Rota bought by certain presents, not relics or
indulgences, but jewels and gold, the favour of being familiar with
the best of these pampered cats who lived under the protection of the
lords of the Council; the poor Touranian, all simpleton and innocent
as he was, treasured up under his mattress the money given him by the
good archbishop for writings and copying--hoping one day to have
enough just to see a cardinal's lady-love, and trusting to God for the
rest. He was hairless from top to toe and resembled a man about as
much as a goat with a night-dress on resembles a young lady, but
prompted by his desires he wandered in the evenings through the
streets of Constance, careless of his life, and, at the risk of having
his body halberded by the soldiers, he peeped at the cardinals
entering the houses of their sweethearts. Then he saw the wax-candles
lighted in the houses and suddenly the doors and the windows closed.
Then he heard the blessed abbots or others jumping about, drinking,
enjoying themselves, love-making, singing Alleluia and applauding the
music with which they were being regaled. The kitchen performed
miracles, the Offices said were fine rich pots-full, the Matins sweet
little hams, the Vespers luscious mouthful, and the Lauhes delicate
sweetmeats, and after their little carouses, these brave priests were
silent, their pages diced upon the stairs, their mules stamped
restively in the streets; everything went well--but faith and religion
was there. That is how it came to pass the good man Huss was burned.
And the reason? He put his finger in the pie without being asked. Then
why was he a huguenot before the others?
To return, however to our sweet little Philippe, not unfrequently did
he receive many a thump and hard blow, but the devil sustained him,
inciting him to believe that sooner or later it would come to his turn
to play the cardinal to some lovely dame. This ardent desire gave him
the boldness of a stag in autumn, so much so that one evening he
quietly tripped up the steps and into one of the first houses in
Constance where often he had seen officers, seneschals, valets, and
pages waiting with torches for their masters, dukes, kings, cardinals
"Ah!" said he, "she must be very beautiful and amiable, this one."
A soldier well armed allowed him to pass, believing him to belong to
the suite of the Elector of Bavaria, who had just left, and that he
was going to deliver a message on behalf of the above-mentioned
nobleman. Philippe de Mala mounted the stairs as lightly as a
greyhound in love, and was guided by delectable odour of perfume to
certain chamber where, surrounded by her handmaidens, the lady of the
house was divesting herself of her attire. He stood quite dumbfounded
like a thief surprised by sergeants. The lady was without petticoat or
head-dress. The chambermaid and the servants, busy taking off her
stockings and undressing her, so quickly and dextrously had her
stripped, that the priest, overcome, gave vent to a long Ah! which had
the flavour of love about it.
"What want you, little one?" said the lady to him.
"To yield my soul to you," said he, flashing his eyes upon her.
"You can come again to-morrow," said she, in order to be rid of him.
To which Philippe replied, blushing, "I will not fail."
Then she burst out laughing. Philippe, struck motionless, stood quite
at his ease, letting wander over her his eyes that glowed and sparkled
with the flame of love. What lovely thick hair hung upon her ivory
white back, showing sweet white places, fair and shining between the
many tresses! She had upon her snow-white brow a ruby circlet, less
fertile in rays of fire than her black eyes, still moist with tears
from her hearty laugh. She even threw her slipper at a statue gilded
like a shrine, twisting herself about from very ribaldry and allowed
her bare foot, smaller than a swan's bill, to be seen. This evening
she was in a good humour, otherwise she would have had the little
shaven-crop put out by the window without more ado than her first
"He has fine eyes, Madame," said one of her handmaids.
"Where does he comes from?" asked another.
"Poor child!" cried Madame, "his mother must be looking for him. Show
him his way home."
The Touranian, still sensible, gave a movement of delight at the sight
of the brocaded bed where the sweet form was about to repose. This
glance, full of amorous intelligence, awoke the lady's fantasy, who,
half laughing and half smitten, repeated "To-morrow," and dismissed
him with a gesture which the Pope Jehan himself would have obeyed,
especially as he was like a snail without a shell, since the Council
had just deprived him of the holy keys.
"Ah! Madame, there is another vow of chastity changed into an amorous
desire," said one of her women; and the chuckles commenced again thick
Philippe went his way, bumping his head against a wall like a hooded
rook as he was. So giddy had he become at the sight of this creature,
even more enticing than a siren rising from the water. He noticed the
animals carved over the door and returned to the house of the
archbishop with his head full of diabolical longings and his entrails
Once in his little room he counted his coins all night long, but could
make no more than four of them; and as that was all his treasure, he
counted upon satisfying the fair one by giving her all he had in the
"What is it ails you?" said the good archbishop, uneasy at the groans
and "oh! oh's!" of his clerk.
"Ah! my Lord," answered the poor priest, "I am wondering how it is
that so light and sweet a woman can weigh so heavily upon my heart."
"Which one?" said the archbishop, putting down his breviary which he
was reading for others--the good man.
"Oh! Mother of God! You will scold me, I know, my good master, my
protector, because I have seen the lady of a cardinal at the least,
and I am weeping because I lack more than one crown to enable me to
The archbishop, knitting the circumflex accent that he had above his
nose, said not a word. Then the very humble priest trembled in his
skin to have confessed so much to his superior. But the holy man
directly said to him, "She must be very dear then--"
"Ah!" said he, "she has swallowed many a mitre and stolen many a
"Well, Philippe, if thou will renounce her, I will present thee with
thirty angels from the poor-box."
"Ah! my lord, I should be losing too much," replied the lad,
emboldened by the treat he promised himself.
"Ah! Philippe," said the good prelate, "thou wilt then go to the devil
and displease God, like all our cardinals," and the master, with
sorrow, began to pray St. Gatien, the patron saint of Innocents, to
save his servant. He made him kneel down beside him, telling him to
recommend himself also to St. Philippe, but the wretched priest
implored the saint beneath his breath to prevent him from failing if
on the morrow that the lady should receive him kindly and mercifully;
and the good archbishop, observing the fervour of his servant, cried
out him, "Courage little one, and Heaven will exorcise thee."
On the morrow, while Monsieur was declaiming at the Council against
the shameless behaviour of the apostles of Christianity, Philippe de
Mala spent his angels--acquired with so much labour--in perfumes,
baths, fomentations, and other fooleries. He played the fop so well,
one would have thought him the fancy cavalier of a gay lady. He
wandered about the town in order to find the residence of his heart's
queen; and when he asked the passers-by to whom belonged the aforesaid
house, they laughed in his face, saying--
"Whence comes this precious fellow that has not heard of La Belle
He was very much afraid he and his angels were gone to the devil when
he heard the name, and knew into what a nice mess he had voluntarily
Imperia was the most precious, the most fantastic girl in the world,
although she passed for the most dazzling and the beautiful, and the
one who best understood the art of bamboozling cardinals and softening
the hardiest soldiers and oppressors of the people. She had brave
captains, archers, and nobles, ready to serve her at every turn. She
had only to breathe a word, and the business of anyone who had
offended her was settled. A free fight only brought a smile to her
lips, and often the Sire de Baudricourt--one of the King's Captains--
would ask her if there were any one he could kill for her that day--a
little joke at the expense of the abbots. With the exception of the
potentates among the high clergy with whom Madame Imperia managed to
accommodate her little tempers, she ruled everyone with a high hand in
virtue of her pretty babble and enchanting ways, which enthralled the
most virtuous and the most unimpressionable. Thus she lived beloved
and respected, quite as much as the real ladies and princesses, and
was called Madame, concerning which the good Emperor Sigismund replied
to a lady who complained of it to him, "That they, the good ladies,
might keep to their own proper way and holy virtues, and Madame
Imperia to the sweet naughtiness of the goddess Venus"--Christian
words which shocked the good ladies, to their credit be it said.
Philippe, then thinking over it in his mind that which on the
preceding evening he had seen with his eyes, doubted if more did not
remain behind. Then was he sad, and without taking bite or sup,
strolled about the town waiting the appointed hour, although he was
well-favoured and gallant enough to find others less difficult to
overcome than was Madame Imperia.
The night came; the little Touranian, exalted with pride caparisoned
with desire, and spurred by his "alacks" and "alases" which nearly
choked him, glided like an eel into the domicile of the veritable
Queen of the Council--for before her bowed humbly all the authority,
science, and wisdom of Christianity. The major domo did not know him,
and was going to bundle him out again, when one of the chamber-women
called him from the top of the stairs--"Eh M. Imbert, it is Madame's
young fellow," and poor Philippe, blushing like a wedding night, ran
up the stairs, shaking with happiness and delight. The servant took
him by the hand and led into the chamber where sat Madame, lightly
attired like a brave woman who awaits her conqueror.
The dazzling Imperia was seated near a table covered with a shaggy
cloth ornamented with gold, and with all the requisites for a dainty
carouse. Flagons of wine, various drinking glasses, bottles of the
hippocras, flasks full of good wine of Cyprus, pretty boxes full of
spices, roast peacocks, green sauces, little salt hams--all that would
gladden the eyes of the gallant if he had not so madly loved Madame
She saw well that the eyes of the young priest were all for her.
Although accustomed to the curl-paper devotion of the churchmen, she
was well satisfied that she had made a conquest of the young priest
who all day long had been in her head.
The windows had been closed; Madame was decked out in a manner fit to
do honours to a prince of the Empire. Then the rogue, beatified by the
holy beauty of Imperia, knew that Emperor, burgraf, nay, even a
cardinal about to be elected pope, would willingly for that night have
changed places with him, a little priest who, beneath his gown, had
only the devil and love.
He put on a lordly air, and saluted her with a courtesy by no means
ungraceful; and then the sweet lady said to him, regaling with a
"Come and sit close to me, that I may see if you have altered since
"Oh yes," said he.
"And how?" said she.
"Yesterday," replied the artful fellow, "I loved you; today, we love
each other, and from a poor sinner I have become richer than a king."
"Oh, little one, little one!" cried she, merrily; "yes, you are indeed
changed, for from a young priest I see well you have turned into an
And side by side they sat down before a large fire, which helped to
spread their ecstasy around. They remained always ready to begin
eating, seeing that they only thought of gazing into each other's
eyes, and never touched a dish. Just as they were beginning to feel
comfortable and at their ease, there came a great noise at Madame's
door, as if people were beating against it, and crying out.
"Madame," cried the little servant hastily, "here's another of them."
"Who is it?" cried she in a haughty manner, like a tyrant, savage at
"The Bishop of Coire wishes to speak with you."
"May the devil take him!" said she, looking at Philippe gently.
"Madame he has seen the light through the chinks, and is making a
"Tell him I have the fever, and you will be telling him no lie, for I
am ill of this little priest who is torturing my brain."
But just as she had finished speaking, and was pressing with devotion
the hand of Philippe who trembled in his skin, appeared the fat Bishop
of Coire, indignant and angry. The officers followed him, bearing a
trout canonically dressed, fresh from the Rhine, and shining in a
golden platter, and spices contained in little ornamental boxes, and a
thousand dainties, such as liqueurs and jams, made by the holy nuns at
"Ah, ah!" said he, with his deep voice, "I haven't time to go to the
devil, but you must give me a touch of him in advance, eh! my little
"Your belly will one day make a nice sheath for a sword," replied she,
knitting her brows above her eyes, which from being soft and gentle
had become mischievous enough to make one tremble.
"And this little chorus singer is here to offer that?" said the
bishop, insolently turning his great rubicund face towards Philippe.
"Monseigneur, I'm here to confess Madame."
"Oh, oh, do you not know the canons? To confess the ladies at this
time of night is a right reserved to bishops, so take yourself off; go
and herd with simple monks, and never come back here again under pain
"Do not move," cried the blushing Imperia, more lovely with passion
than she was with love, because now she was possessed both with
passion and love. "Stop, my friend. Here you are in your own house."
Then he knew that he was really loved by her.
"It is it not in the breviary, and an evangelical regulation, that you
should be equal with God in the valley of Jehoshaphat?" asked she of
"'Tis is an invention of the devil, who has adulterated the holy
book," replied the great numskull of a bishop in a hurry to fall to.
"Well then, be equal now before me, who am here below your goddess,"
replied Imperia, "otherwise one of these days I will have you
delicately strangled between the head and shoulders; I swear it by the
power of my tonsure which is as good as the pope's." And wishing that
the trout should be added to the feast as well as the sweets and other
dainties, she added, cunningly, "Sit you down and drink with us." But
the artful minx, being up to a trick or two, gave the little one a
wink which told him plainly not to mind the German, whom she would
soon find a means to be rid of.
The servant-maid seated the Bishop at the table, and tucked him up,
while Philippe, wild with rage that closed his mouth, because he saw
his plans ending in smoke, gave the archbishop to more devils than
ever were monks alive. Thus they got halfway through the repast, which
the young priest had not yet touched, hungering only for Imperia, near
whom he was already seated, but speaking that sweet language which the
ladies so well understand, that has neither stops, commas, accents,
letters, figures, characters, notes, nor images. The fat bishop,
sensual and careful enough of the sleek, ecclesiastical garment of
skin for which he was indebted to his late mother, allowed himself to
be plentifully served with hippocras by the delicate hand of Madame,
and it was just at his first hiccough that the sound of an approaching
cavalcade was heard in the street. The number of horses, the "Ho, ho!"
of the pages, showed plainly that some great prince hot with love, was
about to arrive. In fact, a moment afterwards the Cardinal of Ragusa,
against whom the servants of Imperia had not dared to bar the door,
entered the room. At this terrible sight the poor courtesan and her
young lover became ashamed and embarrassed, like fresh cured lepers;
for it would be tempting the devil to try and oust the cardinal, the
more so as at that time it was not known who would be pope, three
aspirants having resigned their hoods for the benefit of Christianity.
The cardinal, who was a cunning Italian, long bearded, a great
sophist, and the life and soul of the Council, guessed, by the
feeblest exercise of the faculties of his understanding, the alpha and
omega of the adventure. He only had to weigh in his mind one little
thought before he knew how to proceed in order to be able to
hypothecate his manly vigour. He arrived with the appetite of a hungry
monk, and to obtain its satisfaction he was just the man to stab two
monks and sell his bit of the true cross, which were wrong.
"Hulloa! friend," said he to Philippe, calling him towards him. The
poor Tourainian, more dead than alive, and expecting the devil was
about to interfere seriously with his arrangements, rose and said,
"What is it?" to the redoubtable cardinal.
He taking him by the arm led him to the staircase, looked him in the
white of the eye and said without any nonsense--"Ventredieu! You are a
nice little fellow, and I should not like to have to let your master
know the weight of your carcass. My revenge might cause me certain
pious expenses in my old age, so choose to espouse an abbey for the
remainder of your days, or to marry Madame to-night and die tomorrow."
The poor little Tourainian in despair murmured, "May I come back when
your passion is over?"
The cardinal could scarcely keep his countenance, but he said sternly,
"Choose the gallows or a mitre."
"Ah!" said the priest, maliciously; "a good fat abbey."
Thereupon the cardinal went back into the room, opened an escritoire,
and scribbled upon a piece of parchment an order to the envoy of
"Monseigneur," said the Tourainian to him while he was spelling out
the order, "you will not get rid of the Bishop of Coire so easily as
you have got rid of me, for he has as many abbeys as the soldiers have
drinking shops in the town; besides, he is in the favour of his lord.
Now I fancy to show you my gratitude for this so fine Abbey I owe you
good piece of advice. You know how fatal has been and how rapidly
spread this terrible pestilence which has cruelly harassed Paris. Tell
him that you have just left the bedside of your old friend the
Archbishop of Bordeaux; thus you will make him scutter away like straw
before a whirl-wind.
"Oh, oh!" cried the cardinal, "thou meritest more than an abbey. Ah,
Ventredieu! my young friend, here are 100 golden crowns for thy
journey to the Abbey of Turpenay, which I won yesterday at cards, and
of which I make you a free gift."
Hearing these words, and seeing Philippe de Mala disappear without
giving her the amorous glances she expected, the beautiful Imperia,
puffing like a dolphin, denounced all the cowardice of the priest. She
was not then a sufficiently good Catholic to pardon her lover
deceiving her, by not knowing how to die for her pleasure. Thus the
death of Philippe was foreshadowed in the viper's glance she cast at
him to insult him, which glance pleased the cardinal much, for the
wily Italian saw he would soon get his abbey back again. The
Touranian, heeding not the brewing storm avoided it by walking out
silently with his ears down, like a wet dog being kicked out of a
Church. Madame drew a sigh from her heart. She must have had her own
ideas of humanity for the little value she held in it. The fire which
possessed her had mounted to her head, and scintillated in rays about
her, and there was good reason for it, for this was the first time
that she had been humbugged by priest. Then the cardinal smiled,
believing it was all to his advantage: was not he a cunning fellow?
Yes, he was the possessor of a red hat.
"Ah, ah! my friend," said he to the Bishop, "I congratulate myself on
being in your company, and I am glad to have been able to get rid of
that little wretch unworthy of Madame, the more so as if you had gone
near him, my lovely and amiable creature, you would have perished
miserably through the deed of a simple priest."
"He is the secretary of the Archbishop of Bordeaux. The good man was
seized this morning with the pestilence."
The bishop opened his mouth wide enough to swallow a Dutch cheese.
"How do you know that?" asked he.
"Ah!" said the cardinal, taking the good German's hand, "I have just
administered to him, and consoled him; at this moment the holy man has
a fair wind to waft him to paradise."
The Bishop of Coire demonstrated immediately how light fat man are;
for when men are big-bellied, a merciful providence, in the
consideration of their works, often makes their internal tubes as
elastic as balloons. The aforesaid bishop sprang backwards with one
bound, burst into a perspiration and coughed like a cow who finds
feathers mixed with her hay. Then becoming suddenly pale, he rushed
down the stairs without even bidding Madame adieu. When the door had
closed upon the bishop, and he was fairly in the street, the Cardinal
of Ragusa began laughing fit to split his sides.
"Ah! my fair one, am I not worthy to be Pope, and better than that,
thy lover this evening?"
But seeing Imperia thoughtful he approached her to take her in his
arms, and pet her after the usual fashion of cardinals, men who
embrace better than all others, even the soldiers, because they are
lazy, and do not spare their essential properties.
"Ha!" said she, drawing back, "you wish to cause my death, you
ecclesiastical idiot. The principal thing for you is to enjoy
yourself; my sweet carcass, a thing accessory. Your pleasure will be
my death, and then you'll canonise me perhaps? Ah, you have the
plague, and you would give it to me. Go somewhere else, you brainless
priest. Ah! touch me not," said she, seeing him about to advance, "or
I will stab you with this dagger."
And the clever hussy drew from her armoire a little dagger, which she
knew how to use with great skill when necessary.
"But my little paradise, my sweet one," said the other, laughing,
"don't you see the trick? Wasn't it necessary to be get rid of that
old bullock of Coire?"
"Well then, if you love me, show it" replied she. "I desire that you
leave me instantly. If you are touched with the disease my death will
not worry you. I know you well enough to know at what price you will
put a moment of pleasure at your last hour. You would drown the earth.
Ah, ah! you have boasted of it when drunk. I love only myself, my
treasures, and my health. Go, and if tomorrow your veins are not
frozen by the disease, you can come again. Today, I hate you, good
cardinal," said she, smiling.
"Imperia!" cried the cardinal on his knees, "my blessed Imperia, do
not play with me thus."
"No," said she, "I never play with blessed and sacred things."
"Ah! ribald woman, I will excommunicate thee tomorrow."
"And now you are out of your cardinal sense."
"Imperia, cursed daughter of Satan! Oh, my little beauty--my love--!"
"Respect yourself more. Don't kneel to me, fie for shame!"
"Wilt thou have a dispensation in articulo mortis? Wilt thou have my
fortune--or better still, a bit of the veritable true Cross?--Wilt
"This evening, all the wealth of heaven above and earth beneath would
not buy my heart," said she, laughing. "I should be the blackest of
sinners, unworthy to receive the Blessed Sacrament if I had not my
"I'll burn the house down. Sorceress, you have bewitched me. You shall
perish at the stake. Listen to me, my love,--my gentle Dove--I promise
you the best place in heaven. Eh? No. Death to you then--death to the
"Oh, oh! I will kill you, Monseigneur."
And the cardinal foamed with rage.
"You are making a fool of yourself," said she. "Go away, you'll tire
"I shall be pope, and you shall pay for this!"
"Then you are no longer disposed to obey me?"
"What can I do this evening to please you?"
And she sprang lightly like a wagtail into her room, and locked
herself in, leaving the cardinal to storm that he was obliged to go.
When the fair Imperia found herself alone, seated before the fire, and
without her little priest, she exclaimed, snapping angrily the gold
links of her chain, "By the double triple horn on the devil, if the
little one has made me have this row with the Cardinal, and exposed me
to the danger of being poisoned tomorrow, unless I pay him over to my
heart's content, I will not die till I have seen him burned alive
before my eyes. Ah!" said she, weeping, this time real tears, "I lead
a most unhappy life, and the little pleasure I have costs me the life
of a dog, let alone my salvation."
As she finished this jeremiad, wailing like a calf that is being
slaughtered, she beheld the blushing face of the young priest, who had
hidden himself, peeping at her from behind her large Venetian mirror.
"Ah!" said she, "Thou art the most perfect monk that ever dwelt in
this blessed and amorous town of Constance. Ah, ah! Come my gentle
cavalier, my dear boy, my little charm, my paradise of delectation,
let me drink thine eyes, eat thee, kill thee with my love. Oh! my
ever-flourishing, ever-green, sempiternal god; from a little monk I
would make a king, emperor, pope, and happier than either. There, thou
canst put anything to fire and sword, I am thine, and thou shalt see
it well; for thou shalt be all a cardinal, even when to redden thy
hood I shed all my heart's blood." And with her trembling hands all
joyously she filled with Greek wine the golden cup, brought by the
Bishop of Coire, and presented it to her sweetheart, whom she served
upon her knee, she whose slipper princes found more to their taste
than that of the pope.
But he gazed at her in silence, with his eye so lustrous with love,
that she said to him, trembling with joy " Ah! be quiet, little one.
Let us have supper."
THE VENIAL SIN
HOW THE GOOD MAN BRUYN TOOK A WIFE.
Messire Bruyn, he who completed the Castle of Roche-Corbon-les-
Vouvray, on the banks of the Loire, was a boisterous fellow in his
youth. When quite little, he squeezed young ladies, turned the house
out of windows, and played the devil with everything, when he was
called upon to put his Sire the Baron of Roche-Corbon some few feet
under the turf. Then he was his own master, free to lead a life of
wild dissipation, and indeed he worked very hard to get a surfeit of
enjoyment. Now by making his crowns sweat and his goods scarce,
draining his land, and a bleeding his hogsheads, and regaling frail
beauties, he found himself excommunicated from decent society, and had
for his friends only the plunderers of towns and the Lombardians. But
the usurers turned rough and bitter as chestnut husks, when he had no
other security to give them than his said estate of Roche-Corbon,
since the Rupes Carbonis was held from our Lord the king. Then Bruyn
found himself just in the humour to give a blow here and there, to
break a collar-bone or two, and quarrel with everyone about trifles.
Seeing which, the Abbot of Marmoustiers, his neighbour, and a man
liberal with his advice, told him that it was an evident sign of
lordly perfection, that he was walking in the right road, but if he
would go and slaughter, to the great glory of God, the Mahommedans who
defiled the Holy Land, it would be better still, and that he would
undoubtedly return full of wealth and indulgences into Touraine, or
into Paradise, whence all barons formerly came.
The said Bruyn, admiring the great sense of the prelate, left the
country equipped by the monastery, and blessed by the abbot, to the
great delight of his friends and neighbours. Then he put to the sack
enough many towns of Asia and Africa, and fell upon the infidels
without giving them warning, burning the Saracens, the Greeks, the
English, and others, caring little whether they were friends or
enemies, or where they came from, since among his merits he had that
of being in no way curious, and he never questioned them until after
he had killed them. At this business, agreeable to God, to the King
and to himself, Bruyn gained renown as a good Christian and loyal
knight, and enjoyed himself thoroughly in these lands beyond the seas,
since he more willingly gave a crown to the girls than to the poor,
although he met many more poor people than perfect maids; but like a
good Touranian he made soup of anything. At length, when he was
satiated with the Turks, relics, and other blessings of the Holy Land,
Bruyn, to the great astonishment of the people of Vouvrillons,
returned from the Crusades laden with crowns and precious stones;
rather differently from some who, rich when they set out, came back
heavy with leprosy, but light with gold. On his return from Tunis, our
Lord, King Philippe, made him a Count, and appointed him his seneschal
in our country and that of Poitou. There he was greatly beloved and
properly thought well of, since over and above his good qualities he
founded the Church of the Carmes-Deschaulx, in the parish of
Egrignolles, as the peace-offering to Heaven for the follies of his
youth. Thus was he cardinally consigned to the good graces of the
Church and of God. From a wicked youth and reckless man, he became a
good, wise man, and discreet in his dissipations and pleasures; rarely
was in anger, unless someone blasphemed God before him, the which he
would not tolerate because he had blasphemed enough for every one in
his wild youth. In short, he never quarrelled, because, being
seneschal, people gave up to him instantly. It is true that he at that
time beheld all his desires accomplished, the which would render even
an imp of Satan calm and tranquil from his horns to his heels. And
besides this he possessed a castle all jagged at the corners, and
shaped and pointed like a Spanish doublet, situated upon a bank from
which it was reflected in the Loire. In the rooms were royal
tapestries, furniture, Saracen pomps, vanities, and inventions which
were much admired by people of Tours, and even by the archbishop and
clerks of St. Martin, to whom he sent as a free gift a banner fringed
with fine gold. In the neighbourhood of the said castle abounded fair
domains, wind-mills, and forests, yielding a harvest of rents of all
kinds, so that he was one of the strongest knights-banneret of the
province, and could easily have led to battle for our lord the king a
thousand men. In his old days, if by chance his bailiff, a diligent
man at hanging, brought before him a poor peasant suspected of some
offence, he would say, smiling--
"Let this one go, Brediff, he will count against those I
inconsiderately slaughtered across the seas"; oftentimes, however, he
would let them bravely hang on a chestnut tree or swing on his
gallows, but this was solely that justice might be done, and that the
custom should not lapse in his domain. Thus the people on his lands
were good and orderly, like fresh veiled nuns, and peaceful since he
protected them from the robbers and vagabonds whom he never spared,
knowing by experience how much mischief is caused by these cursed
beasts of prey. For the rest, most devout, finishing everything
quickly, his prayers as well as good wine, he managed the processes
after the Turkish fashion, having a thousand little jokes ready for
the losers, and dining with them to console them. He had all the
people who had been hanged buried in consecrated ground like godly
ones, some people thinking they had been sufficiently punished by
having their breath stopped. He only persecuted the Jews now and then,
and when they were glutted with usury and wealth. He let them gather
their spoil as the bees do honey, saying that they were the best of
tax-gatherers. And never did he despoil them save for the profit and
use of the churchmen, the king, the province, or himself.
This jovial way gained for him the affection and esteem of every one,
great and small. If he came back smiling from his judicial throne, the
Abbot of Marmoustiers, an old man like himself, would say, "Ho, ha!
messire, there is some hanging on since you laugh thus!" And when
coming from Roche-Corbon to Tours he passed on horseback along the
Fauborg St. Symphorien, the little girls would say, "Ah! this is the
justice day, there is the good man Bruyn," and without being afraid
they would look at him astride on a big white hack, that he had
brought back with him from the Levant. On the bridge the little boys
would stop playing with the ball, and would call out, "Good day, Mr.
Seneschal" and he would reply, jokingly, "Enjoy yourselves, my
children, until you get whipped." "Yes, Mr. Seneschal."
Also he made the country so contented and so free from robbers that
during the year of the great over-flowing of the Loire there were only
twenty-two malefactors hanged that winter, not counting a Jew burned
in the Commune of Chateau-Neuf for having stolen a consecrated wafer,
or bought it, some said, for he was very rich.
One day, in the following year about harvest time, or mowing time, as
we say in Touraine, there came Egyptians, Bohemians, and other
wandering troupes who stole the holy things from the Church of St.
Martin, and in the place and exact situation of Madam the Virgin, left
by way of insult and mockery to our Holy Faith, an abandoned pretty
little girl, about the age of an old dog, stark naked, an acrobat, and
of Moorish descent like themselves. For this almost nameless crime it
was equally decided by the king, people, and the churchmen that the
Mooress, to pay for all, should be burned and cooked alive in the
square near the fountain where the herb market is. Then the good man
Bruyn clearly and dextrously demonstrated to the others that it would
be a thing most profitable and pleasant to God to gain over this
African soul to the true religion, and if the devil were lodged in
this feminine body the faggots would be useless to burn him, as said
the said order. To which the archbishop sagely thought most canonical
and conformable to Christian charity and the gospel. The ladies of the
town and other persons of authority said loudly that they were cheated
of a fine ceremony, since the Mooress was crying her eyes out in the
jail and would certainly be converted to God in order to live as long
as a crow, if she were allowed to do so, to which the seneschal
replied that if the foreigner would wholly commit herself to the
Christian religion there would be a gallant ceremony of another kind,
and that he would undertake that it should be royally magnificent,
because he would be her sponsor at the baptismal font, and that a
virgin should be his partner in the affair in order the better to
please the Almighty, while himself was reputed never to have lost the
bloom or innocence, in fact to be a coquebin. In our country of
Touraine thus are called the young virgin men, unmarried or so
esteemed to distinguish them from the husbands and the widowers, but
the girls always pick them without the name, because they are more
light-hearted and merry than those seasoned in marriage.
The young Mooress did not hesitate between the flaming faggots and the
baptismal water. She much preferred to be a Christian and live than be
Egyptian and be burned; thus to escape a moment's baking, her heart
would burn unquenched through all her life, since for the greater
surety of her religion she was placed in the convent of nuns near
Chardonneret, where she took the vow of sanctity. The said ceremony
was concluded at the residence of the archbishop, where on this
occasion, in honour of the Saviour or men, the lords and ladies of
Touraine hopped, skipped and danced, for in this country the people
dance, skip, eat, flirt, have more feasts and make merrier than any in
the whole world. The good old seneschal had taken for his associate
the daughter of the lord of Azay-le-Ridel, which afterwards became
Azay-le-Brusle, the which lord being a Crusader was left before Acre,
a far distant town, in the hands of a Saracen who demanded a royal
ransom for him because the said lord was of high position.
The lady of Azay having given his estate as security to the Lombards
and extortioners in order to raise the sum, remained, without a penny
in the the world, awaiting her lord in a poor lodging in the town,
without a carpet to sit upon, but proud as the Queen of Sheba and
brave as a mastiff who defends the property of his master. Seeing this
great distress the seneschal went delicately to request this lady's
daughter to be the godmother of the said Egyptian, in order that he
might have the right of assisting the Lady of Azay. And, in fact, he
kept a heavy chain of gold which he had preserved since the
commencement of the taking of Cyprus, and the which he determined to
clasp about the neck of his pretty associate, but he hung there at the
same time his domain, and his white hairs, his money and his horses;
in short, he placed there everything he possessed, directly he had
seen Blanche of Azay dancing a pavan among the ladies of Tours.
Although the Moorish girl, making the most of her last day, had
astonished the assembly by her twists, jumps, steps, springs, and
elevations and artistic efforts, Blanche had the advantage of her, as
everyone agreed, so virginally and delicately did she dance.
Now Bruyn, admiring this gentle maiden whose toes seemed to fear the
boards, and who amused herself so innocently for her seventeen years--
like a grasshopper trying her first note--was seized with an old man's
desire; a desire apoplectic and vigorous from weakness, which heated
him from the sole of foot to the nape of his neck--for his head had
too much snow on the top of it to let love lodge there. Then the good
man perceived that he needed a wife in his manor, and it appeared more
lonely to him than it was. And what then was a castle without a
chatelaine? As well have a clapper without its bell. In short, a wife
was the only thing that he had to desire, so he wished to have one
promptly, seeing that if the Lady of Azay made him wait, he had just
time to pass out of this world into the other. But during the
baptismal entertainment, he thought little of his severe wounds, and
still less of the eighty years that had stripped his head; he found
his eyes clear enough to see distinctly his young companion, who,
following the injunctions of the Lady of Azay, regaled him well with
glance and gesture, believing there could be no danger near so old a
fellow, in such wise that Blanche--naive and nice as she was in
contradistinction to the girls of Touraine, who are as wide-awake as a
spring morning--permitted the good man first to kiss her hand, and
afterwards her neck, rather low-down; at least so said the archbishop
who married them the week after; and that was a beautiful bridal, and
a still more beautiful bride.
The said Blanche was slender and graceful as no other girl, and still
better than that, more maidenly than ever maiden was; a maiden all
ignorant of love, who knew not why or what it was; a maiden who
wondered why certain people lingered in their beds; a maiden who
believed that children were found in parsley beds. Her mother had thus
reared her in innocence, without even allowing her to consider, trifle
as it was, how she sucked in her soup between her teeth. Thus she was
a sweet flower, and intact, joyous and innocent; an angel, who needed
but the wings to fly away to Paradise. When she left the poor lodging
of her weeping mother to consummate her betrothal at the cathedral of
St. Gatien and St. Maurice, the country people came to a feast their
eyes upon the bride, and on the carpets which were laid down all along
the the Rue de la Scellerie, and all said that never had tinier feet
pressed the ground of Touraine, prettier eyes gazed up to heaven, or a
more splendid festival adorned the streets with carpets and with
flowers. The young girls of St. Martin and of the boroughs of Chateau-
Neuf, all envied the long brown tresses with which doubtless Blanche
had fished for a count, but much more did they desire the gold
embroidered dress, the foreign stones, the white diamonds, and the
chains with which the little darling played, and which bound her for
ever to the said seneschal. The old soldier was so merry by her side,
that his happiness showed itself in his wrinkles, his looks, and his
movements. Although he was hardly as straight as a billhook, he held
himself so by the side of Blanche, that one would have taken him for a
soldier on parade receiving his officer, and he placed his hand on his
diaphragm like a man whose pleasure stifles and troubles him.
Delighted with the sound of the swinging bells, the procession, the
pomps, and the vanities of the said marriage, which was talked of long
after the episcopal rejoicings, the women desired a harvest of Moorish
girls, a deluge of old seneschals, and baskets full of Egyptian
baptisms. But this was the only one that ever happened in Touraine,
seeing that the country is far from Egypt and from Bohemia. The Lady
of Azay received a large sum of money after the ceremony, which
enabled her to start immediately for Acre to go to her spouse,
accompanied by the lieutenant and soldiers of the Count of Roche-
Corbon, who furnished them with everything necessary. She set out on
the day of the wedding, after having placed her daughter in the hands
of the seneschal, enjoining him to treat her well; and later on she
returned with the Sire d'Azay, who was leprous, and she cured him,
tending him herself, running the risk of being contaminated, the which
was greatly admired.
The marriage ceremony finished and at an end--for it lasted three
days, to the great contentment of the people--Messire Bruyn with great
pomp led the little one to his castle, and, according to the custom of
husbands, had her put solemnly to bed in his couch, which was blessed
by the Abbot of Marmoustiers; then came and placed himself beside her
in the great feudal chamber of Roche-Corbon, which had been hung with
green blockade and ribbon of golden wire. When old Bruyn, perfumed all
over, found himself side by side with his pretty wife, he kissed her
first upon the forehead, and then upon the little round, white breast,
on the same spot where she had allowed him to clasp the fastenings of
the chain, but that was all. The old fellow had too great confidence
in himself in fancying himself able to accomplish more; so then he
abstained from love in spite of the merry nuptial songs, the
epithalamiums and jokes which were going on in the rooms beneath where
the dancing was still kept up. He refreshed himself with a drink of
the marriage beverage, which according to custom, had been blessed and
placed near them in a golden cup. The spices warned his stomach well
enough, but not the heart of his dead ardour. Blanche was not at all
astonished at the demeanour of her spouse, because she was a virgin in
mind, and in marriage she saw only that which is visible to the eyes
of young girls--namely dresses, banquets, horses, to be a lady and
mistress, to have a country seat, to amuse oneself and give orders;
so, like the child that she was, she played with the gold tassels on
the bed, and marvelled at the richness of the shrine in which her
innocence should be interred. Feeling, a little later in the day, his
culpability, and relying on the future, which, however, would spoil a
little every day that with which he pretended to regale his wife, the
seneschal tried to substitute the word for the deed. So he entertained
his wife in various ways, promised her the keys of his sideboards, his
granaries and chests, the perfect government of his houses and domains
without any control, hanging round her neck "the other half of the
loaf," which is the popular saying in Touraine. She became like a
young charger full of hay, found her good man the most gallant fellow
in the world, and raising herself upon her pillow began to smile, and
beheld with greater joy this beautiful green brocaded bed, where
henceforward she would be permitted, without any sin, to sleep every
night. Seeing she was getting playful, the cunning lord, who had not
been used to maidens, but knew from experience the little tricks that
women will practice, seeing that he had much associated with ladies of
the town, feared those handy tricks, little kisses, and minor
amusements of love which formerly he did not object to, but which at
the present time would have found him cold as the obit of a pope. Then
he drew back towards the end of the bed, afraid of his happiness, and
said to his too delectable spouse, "Well, darling, you are a
seneschal's wife now, and very well seneschaled as well."
"Oh no!" said she.
"How no!" replied he in great fear; "are you not a wife?"
"No!" said she. "Nor shall I be till I have had a child."
"Did you while coming here see the meadows?" began again the old
"Yes," said she.
"Well, they are yours."
"Oh! Oh!" replied she laughing, "I shall amuse myself much there
"That's a good girl," says her lord. "And the woods?"
"Ah! I should not like to be there alone, you will take me there.
But," said she, "give me a little of that liquor which La Ponneuse has
taken such pains to prepare for us."
"And why, my darling? It would put fire in your body."
"Oh! That's what I should like," said she, biting her lip with
vexation, "because I desire to give you a child as soon as possible;
and I'm sure that liquor is good for the purpose."
"Ah! my little one," said the seneschal, knowing by this that Blanche
was a virgin from head to foot, "the goodwill of God is necessary for
this business, and women must be in a state of harvest."
"And when should I be in a state of harvest?" asked she, smiling.
"When nature so wills it," said he, trying to laugh.
"What is it necessary to do for this?" replied she.
"Ah! A cabalistical and alchemical operation which is very dangerous."
"Ah!" said she, with a dreamy look, "that's the reason why my mother
cried when thinking of the said metamorphosis; but Bertha de Breuilly,
who is so thankful for being made a wife, told me it was the easiest
thing in the world."
"That's according to the age," replied the old lord. "But did you see
at the stable the beautiful white mare so much spoken of in Touraine?"
"Yes, she is very gentle and nice."
"Well, I give her to you, and you can ride her as often as the fancy
"Oh, you are very kind, and they did not lie when they told me so."
"Here," continued he, "sweetheart; the butler, the chaplain, the
treasurer, the equerry, the farrier, the bailiff, even the Sire de
Montsoreau, the young varlet whose name is Gauttier and bears my
banner, with his men at arms, captains, followers, and beasts--all are
yours, and will instantly obey your orders under pain of being
incommoded with a hempen collar."
"But," replied she, "this mysterious operation--cannot it be performed
"Oh no!" replied the seneschal. "Because it is necessary above all
things that both the one and the other of us should be in a state of
grace before God; otherwise we should have a bad child, full of sin;
which is forbidden by the canons of the church. This is the reason
that there are so many incorrigible scapegraces in the world. Their
parents have not wisely waited to have their souls pure, and have
given wicked souls to their children. The beautiful and the virtuous
come of immaculate fathers; that is why we cause our beds to be
blessed, as the Abbot of Marmoustiers has done this one. Have you not
transgressed the ordinances of the Church?"
"Oh no," said she, quickly, "I received before Mass absolution for all
my faults and have remained since without committing the slightest
"You are very perfect," said the cunning lord, "and I am delighted to
have you for a wife; but I have sworn like an infidel."
"Oh! and why?"
"Because the dancing did not finish, and I could not have you to
myself to bring you here and kiss you."
Thereupon he gallantly took her hands and covered them with kisses,
whispering to her little endearments and superficial words of
affection which made her quite pleased and contented.
Then, fatigued with the dance and all the ceremonies, she settled down
to her slumbers, saying to the seneschal--
"I will take care tomorrow that you shall not sin," and she left the
old man quite smitten with her white beauty, amorous of her delicate
nature, and as embarrassed to know how he should be able to keep her
in her innocence as to explain why oxen chew their food twice over.
Although he did not augur to himself any good therefrom, it inflamed
him so much to see the exquisite perfections of Blanche during her
innocent and gentle sleep, that he resolved to preserve and defend
this pretty jewel of love. With tears in his eyes he kissed her sweet
golden tresses, the beautiful eyelids, and her ripe red mouth, and he
did it softly for fear of waking her. There was all his fruition, the
dumb delight which still inflamed his heart without in the least
affecting Blanche. Then he deplored the snows of his leafless old age,
the poor old man, that he saw clearly that God had amused himself by
giving him nuts when his teeth were gone.
HOW THE SENESCHAL STRUGGLED WITH HIS WIFE'S MODESTY.
During the first days of his marriage the seneschal imprinted many
fibs to tell his wife, whose so estimable innocence he abused.
Firstly, he found in his judicial functions good excuses for leaving
her at times alone; then he occupied himself with the peasants of the
neighbourhood, and took them to dress the vines on his lands at
Vouvray, and at length pampered her up with a thousand absurd tales.
At one time he would say that lords did not behave like common people,
that the children were only planted at certain celestial conjunctions
ascertained by learned astrologers; at another that one should abstain
from begetting children on feast days, because it was a great
undertaking; and he observed the feasts like a man who wished to enter
into Paradise without consent. Sometimes he would pretend that if by
chance the parents were not in a state of grace, the children
commenced on the date of St. Claire would be blind, of St. Gatien had
the gout, of St. Agnes were scaldheaded, of St. Roch had the plague;
sometimes that those begotten in February were chilly; in March, too
turbulent; in April, were worth nothing at all; and that handsome boys
were conceived in May. In short, he wished his child to be perfect, to
have his hair of two colours; and for this it was necessary that all
the required conditions should be observed. At other times he would
say to Blanche that the right of a man was to bestow a child upon his
wife according to his sole and unique will, and that if she pretended
to be a virtuous woman she should conform to the wishes of her
husband; in fact it was necessary to await the return of the Lady of
Azay in order that she should assist at the confinement; from all of
which Blanche concluded that the seneschal was annoyed by her
requests, and was perhaps right, since he was old and full of
experience; so she submitted herself and thought no more, except to
herself, of this so much-desired child, that is to say, she was always
thinking of it, like a woman who has a desire in her head, without
suspecting that she was behaving like a gay lady or a town-walker
running after her enjoyment. One evening, by accident, Bruyn spoke of
children, a discourse that he avoided as cats avoid water, but he was
complaining of a boy condemned by him that morning for great misdeeds,
saying for certain he was the offspring of people laden with mortal
"Alas!" said Blanche, "if you will give me one, although you have not
got absolution, I will correct so well that you will be pleased with
Then the count saw that his wife was bitten by a warm desire, and that
it was time to dissipate her innocence in order to make himself master
of it, to conquer it, to beat it, or to appease and extinguish it.
"What, my dear, you wish to be a mother?" said he; "you do not yet
know the business of a wife, you are not accustomed to being mistress
of the house."
"Oh! Oh!" said she, "to be a perfect countess, and have in my loins a
little count, must I play the great lady? I will do it, and
Then Blanche, in order to obtain issue, began to hunt the fawns and
stags, leaping the ditches, galloping upon her mare over valleys and
mountain, through the woods and the fields, taking great delight in
watching the falcons fly, in unhooding them and while hunting always
carried them gracefully upon her little wrist, which was what the
seneschal had desired. But in this pursuit, Blanche gained an appetite
of nun and prelate, that is to say, wished to procreate, had her
desires whetted, and could scarcely restrain her hunger, when on her
return she gave play to her teeth. Now by reason of reading the
legends written by the way, and of separating by death the embraces of
birds and wild beasts, she discovered a mystery of natural alchemy,
while colouring her complexion, and superagitating her feeble
imagination, which did little to pacify her warlike nature, and
strongly tickled her desire which laughed, played, and frisked
unmistakably. The seneschal thought to disarm the rebellious virtue of
his wife by making her scour the country; but his fraud turned out
badly, for the unknown lust that circulated in the veins of Blanche
emerged from these assaults more hardy than before, inviting jousts
and tourneys as the herald the armed knight.
The good lord saw then that he had grossly erred and that he was now
upon the horns of a dilemma; also he no longer knew what course to
adopt; the longer he left it the more it would resist. From this
combat, there must result one conquered and one contused--a diabolical
contusion which he wished to keep distant from his physiognomy by
God's help until after his death. The poor seneschal had already great
trouble to follow his lady to the chase, without being dismounted; he
sweated under the weight of his trappings, and almost expired in that
pursuit wherein his frisky wife cheered her life and took great
pleasure. Many times in the evening she wished to dance. Now the good
man, swathed in his heavy clothing, found himself quite worn out with
these exercises, in which he was constrained to participate either in
giving her his hand, when she performed the vaults of the Moorish
girl, or in holding the lighted fagot for her, when she had a fancy to
do the torchlight dance; and in spite of his sciaticas, accretions,
and rheumatisms, he was obliged to smile and say to her some gentle
words and gallantries after all the evolutions, mummeries, and comic
pantomimes, which she indulged in to divert herself; for he loved her
so madly that if she had asked him for an impossibility he would have
sought one for her immediately.
Nevertheless, one fine day he recognised the fact that his frame was
in a state of too great debility to struggle with the vigorous nature
of his wife, and humiliating himself before his wife's virtue he
resolved to let things take their course, relying a little upon the
modesty, religion, and bashfulness of Blanche, but he always slept
with one eye open, for he suspected that God had perhaps made
virginities to be taken like partridges, to be spitted and roasted.
One wet morning, when the weather was that in which the snails make
their tracks, a melancholy time, and suitable to reverie, Blanche was
in the house sitting in her chair in deep thought, because nothing
produces more lively concoctions of the substantive essences, and no
receipt, specific or philter is more penetrating, transpiercing or
doubly transpiercing and titillating than the subtle warmth which
simmers between the nap of the chair and a maiden sitting during
Now without knowing it the Countess was incommoded by her innocence,
which gave more trouble than it was worth to her brain, and gnawed her
all over. Then the good man, seriously grieved to see her languishing,
wished to drive away the thoughts which were ultra-conjugal principles
"Whence comes your sadness, sweetheart?" said he.
"What then affronts you?"
"The not being a good woman; because I am without a child, and you
without lineage! Is one a lady without progeny? Nay! Look! . . . All
my neighbours have it, and I was married to have it, as you to give it
to me; the nobles of Touraine are all amply furnished with children,
and their wives give them lapfuls, you alone have none, they laugh at
you there. What will become of your name and your fiefs and your
seigniories? A child is our natural company; it is a delight to us to
make a fright of it, to fondle it, to swaddle it, to dress and undress
it, to cuddle it, to sing it lullabies, to cradle it, to get it up, to
put it to bed, and to nourish it, and I feel that if I had only the
half of one, I would kiss it, swaddle it, and unharness it, and I
would make it jump and crow all day long, as the other ladies do."
"Were it not that in giving them birth women die, and that for this
you are still too delicate and too close in the bud, you would already
be a mother," replied the seneschal, made giddy with the flow of
words. "But will you buy one ready-made?--that will cost you neither
pain nor labour."
"But," said she, "I want the pain and labour, without which it will
not be ours. I know very well it should be the fruit of my body,
because at church they say that Jesus was the fruit of the Virgin's
"Very well, then pray God that it may be so," cried the seneschal,
"and intercede with the Virgin of Egrignolles. Many a lady has
conceived after the neuvaine; you must not fail to do one."
Then the same day Blanche set out towards Notre-Dame de l'Egrignolles,
decked out like a queen riding her beautiful mare, having on her a
robe of green velvet, laced down with fine gold lace, open at the
breast, having sleeves of scarlet, little shoes and a high hat
ornamented with precious stones, and a gold waistband that showed off
her little waist, as slim as a pole. She wished to give her dress to
Madame the Virgin, and in fact promised it to her, for the day of her
churching. The Sire de Montsoreau galloped before her, his eye bright
as that of a hawk, keeping the people back and guarding with his
knights the security of the journey. Near Marmoustiers the seneschal,
rendered sleepy by the heat, seeing it was the month of August,
waggled about in his saddle, like a diadem upon the head of a cow, and
seeing so frolicsome and so pretty a lady by the side of so old a
fellow, a peasant girl, who was squatting near the trunk of a tree and
drinking water out of her stone jug inquired of a toothless old hag,
who picked up a trifle by gleaning, if this princess was going to bury
"Nay," said the old woman, "it is our lady of Roche-Corbon, wife of
the seneschal of Poitou and Touraine, in quest of a child."
"Ah! Ah!" said the young girl, laughing like a fly just satisfied;
then pointing to the handsome knight who was at the head of the
procession--"he who marches at the head would manage that; she would
save the wax-candles and the vow."
"Ha! my little one," replied the hag, "I am rather surprised that she
should go to Notre-Dame de l'Egrignolles seeing that there are no
handsome priests there. She might very well stop for a short time
beneath the shadow the belfry of Marmoustiers; she would soon be
fertile, those good fathers are so lively."
"By a nun's oath!" said a tramp walking up, "look; the Sire de
Montsoreau is lively and delicate enough to open the lady's heart, the
more so as he is well formed to do so."
And all commenced a laugh. The Sire de Montsoreau wished to go to them
and hang them in lime-tree by the road as a punishment for their bad
words, but Blanche cried out quickly--
"Oh, sir, do not hang them yet. They have not said all they mean; and
we shall see them on our return."
She blushed, and the Sire de Montsoreau looked at her eagerly, as
though to shoot into her the mystic comprehensions of love, but the
clearing out of her intelligence had already been commenced by the
sayings of the peasants which were fructifying in her understanding--
her innocence was like touchwood, there was only need for a word to
Thus Blanche perceived now the notable and physical differences
between the qualities of her old husband and perfections of the said
Gauttier, a gentleman who was not over affected with his twenty-three
years, but held himself upright as a ninepin in the saddle, and as
wide-awake as the matin chimes, while in contrast to him, slept the
seneschal; he had courage and dexterity there where his master failed.
He was one of those smart fellows whom the jades would sooner wear at
night than a leathern garment, because they then no longer fear the
fleas; there are some who vituperate them, but no one should be
blamed, because every one should sleep as he likes.
So much did the seneschal's lady think, and so imperially well, that
by the time she arrived at the bridge of Tours, she loved Gauttier
secretly, as a maiden loves, without suspecting that it is love. From
that she became a proper woman, that is to say, she desired the good
of others, the best that men have, she fell into a fit of love-
sickness, going at the first jump to the depth of her misery, seeing
that all is flame between the first coveting and the last desire, and
she knew not how she then learned that by the eyes can flow in a
subtle essence, causing such powerful corrosions in all the veins of
the body, recesses of the heart, nerves of the members, roots of the
hair, perspiration of the substance, limbo of the brain, orifices of
the epidermis, windings of the pluck, tubes of the hypochondriac and
other channels which in her was suddenly dilated, heated, tickled,
envenomed, clawed, harrowed, and disturbed, as if she had a basketful
of needles in her inside. This was a maiden's desire, a well-
conditioned desire, which troubled her sight to such a degree that she
no longer saw her old spouse, but clearly the young Gauttier, whose
nature was as ample as the glorious chin of an abbot. When the good
man entered Tours the Ah! Ah! of the crowd woke him up, and he came
with great pomp with his suite to the Church of Notre-Dame de
l'Egrignolles, formerly called la greigneur, as if you said that which
has the most merit. Blanche went into the chapel where children are
asked to God and of the Virgin, and went there alone, as was the
custom, always however in the presence of the seneschal, of his
varlets and the loiterers who remained outside the grill. When the
countess saw the priest come who had charge of the masses said for
children, and who received the said vows, she asked him if there were
many barren women. To which the good priest replied, that he must not
complain, and that the children were good revenue to the Church.
"And do you often see," said Blanche, "young women with such old
husbands as my lord?"
"Rarely," said he.
"But have those obtained offspring?"
"Always," replied the priest smiling.
"And the others whose companions are not so old?"
"Oh! Oh!" said she, "there is more certainty then with one like the
"To be sure," said the priest.
"Why?" said she.
"Madame," gravely replied priest, "before that age God alone
interferes with the affair, after, it is the men."
At this time it was a true thing that all the wisdom had gone to the
clergy. Blanch made her vow, which was a very profitable one, seeing
that her decorations were worth quite two thousand gold crowns.
"You are very joyful!" said the old seneschal to her when on the home
journey she made her mare prance, jump, and frisk.
"Yes, yes!" said she. "There is no longer any doubt about my having a
child, because any one can help me, the priest said: I shall take
The seneschal wished to go and slay the monk, but he thought that was
a crime which would cost him too much, and he resolved cunningly to
arrange his vengeance with the help of the archbishop; and before the
housetops of Roche-Corbon came in sight he had ordered the Sire de
Montsoreau to seek a little retirement in his own country, which the
young Gauttier did, knowing the ways of the lord. The seneschal put in
the place of the said Gauttier the son of the Sire de Jallanges, whose
fief was held from Roche-Corbon. He was a young boy named Rene,
approaching fourteen years, and he made him a page, awaiting the time
when he should be old enough to be an equerry, and gave the command of
his men to an old cripple, with whom he had knocked about a great deal
in Palestine and other places. Thus the good man believed he would
avoid the horned trappings of cuckoldom, and would still be able to
girth, bridle, and curb the factious innocence of his wife, which
struggled like a mule held by a rope.
THAT WHICH IS ONLY A VENIAL SIN.
The Sunday following the arrival of Rene at the manor of Roche-Corbon,
Blanche went out hunting without her goodman, and when she was in the
forest near Les Carneaux, saw a monk who appeared to be pushing a girl
about more than was necessary, and spurred on her horse, saying to her
people, "Ho there! Don't let him kill her." But when the seneschal's
lady arrived close to them, she turned her horse's head quickly and
the sight she beheld prevented her from hunting. She came back
pensive, and then the lantern of her intelligence opened, and received
a bright light, which made a thousand things clear, such as church and
other pictures, fables, and lays of the troubadours, or the domestic
arrangements of birds; suddenly she discovered the sweet mystery of
love written in all languages, even in that of the Carps'. Is it not
silly thus to seal this science from maidens? Soon Blanche went to
bed, and soon said she to the seneschal--
"Bruyn, you have deceived me, you ought to behave as the monk of the
Carneaux behaved to the girl."
Old Bruyn suspected the adventure, and saw well that his evil hour was
at hand. He regarded Blanche with too much fire in his eyes for the
same ardour to be lower down, and answered her softly--
"Alas! sweetheart, in taking you for my wife I had more love than
strength, and I have taken advantage of your clemency and virtue. The
great sorrow of my life is to feel all my capability in my heart only.
This sorrow hastens my death little by little, so that you will soon
be free. Wait for my departure from this world. That is the sole
request that he makes of you, he who is your master, and who could
command you, but who wishes only to be your prime minister and slave.
Do not betray the honour of my white hairs! Under these circumstances
there have been lords who have slain their wives.
"Alas! you will not kill me?" said she.
"No," replied the old man, "I love thee too much, little one; why,
thou art the flower of my old age, the joy of my soul. Thou art my
well-beloved daughter; the sight of thee does good to mine eyes, and
from thee I could endure anything, be it a sorrow or a joy, provided
that thou does not curse too much the poor Bruyn who has made thee a
great lady, rich and honoured. Wilt thou not be a lovely widow? And
thy happiness will soften the pangs of death."
And he found in his dried-up eyes still one tear which trickled quite
warm down his fir-cone coloured face, and fell upon the hand of
Blanche, who, grieved to behold this great love of her old spouse who
would put himself under the ground to please her, said laughingly--
"There! there! don't cry, I will wait."
Thereupon the seneschal kissed her hands and regaled her with little
endearments, saying with a voice quivering with emotion--
"If you knew, Blanche my darling, how I devour thee in thy sleep with
caresses, now here, now there!" And the old ape patted her with his
two hands, which were nothing but bones. And he continued, "I dared
not waken the cat that would have strangled my happiness, since at
this occupation of love I only embraced with my heart."
"Ah!" replied she, "you can fondle me thus even when my eyes are open;
that has not the least effect upon me."
At these words the poor seneschal, taking the little dagger which was
on the table by the bed, gave it to her, saying with passion--
"My darling, kill me, or let me believe that you love me a little!"
"Yes, yes," said she, quite frightened, "I will try to love you much."
Behold how this young maidenhood made itself master of this old man
and subdued him, for in the name of the sweet face of Venus, Blanche,
endowed with the natural artfulness of women, made her old Bruyn come
and go like a miller's mule.
"My good Bruyn, I want this! Bruyn, I want that--go on Bruyn!" Bruyn!
Bruyn! And always Bruyn in such a way that Bruyn was more worn-out by
the clemency of his wife than he would have been by her unkindness.
She turned his brain wishing that everything should be in scarlet,
making him turn everything topsy-turvy at the least movement of her
eyebrow, and when she was sad the seneschal distracted, would say to
everything from his judicial seat, "Hang him!" Another would have died
like a fly at this conflict with the maid's innocence, but Bruyn was
of such an iron nature that it was difficult to finish him off. One
evening that Blanche had turned the house upside-down, upset the men
and the beasts, and would by her aggravating humour have made the
eternal father desperate--he who has such an infinite treasure of
patience since he endures us--she said to the seneschal while getting
into bed, "My good Bruyn, I have low down fancies, that bite and prick
me; thence they rise into my heart, inflame my brain, incite me
therein to evil deeds, and in the night I dream of the monk of the
"My dear," replied the seneschal, "these are devilries and temptations
against which the monks and nuns know how to defend themselves. If you
will gain salvation, go and confess to the worthy Abbot of
Marmoustiers, our neighbour; he will advise you well and will holily
direct you in the good way."
"Tomorrow I will go," said she.
And indeed directly it was day, she trotted off to the monastery of
the good brethren, who marvelled to see among them so pretty a lady;
committed more than one sin through her in the evening; and for the
present led her with great ceremony to their reverend abbot.
Blanche found the said good man in a private garden near the high rock
under a flower arcade, and remained stricken with respect at the
countenance of the holy man, although she was accustomed not to think
much of grey hairs.
"God preserve you, Madame; what can you have to seek of one so near
death, you so young?"
"Your precious advice," said she, saluting him with a courtesy; "and
if it will please you to guide so undutiful a sheep, I shall be well
content to have so wise a confessor."
"My daughter," answered the monk, with whom old Bruyn had arranged
this hypocrisy and the part to play, "if I had not the chills of a
hundred winters upon this unthatched head, I should not dare to listen
to your sins, but say on; if you enter paradise, it will be through
Then the seneschal's wife set forth the small fry of her stock in
hand, and when she was purged of her little iniquities, she came to
the postscript of her confession.
"Ah! my father!" said she, "I must confess to you that I am daily
exercised by the desire to have a child. Is it wrong?"
"No," said the abbot.
But she went on, "It is by nature commanded to my husband not to draw
from his wealth to bring about his poverty, as the old women say by
"Then," replied the priest, "you must live virtuously and abstain from
all thoughts of this kind."
"But I have heard it professed by the Lady of Jallanges, that it was
not a sin when from it one derived neither profit nor pleasure."
"There always is pleasure," said the abbot, "but don't count upon the
child as a profit. Now fix this in your understanding, that it will
always be a mortal sin before God and a crime before men to bring
forth a child through the embraces of a man to whom one is not
ecclesiastically married. Thus those women who offend against the holy
laws of marriage, suffer great penalties in the other world, are in
the power of horrible monsters with sharp and tearing claws, who
thrust them into flaming furnaces in remembrance of the fact that here
below they have warmed their hearts a little more than was lawful."
Thereupon Blanche scratched her ear, and having thought to herself for
a little while, she said to the priest, "How then did the Virgin
"Ah!" replied abbot, "that it is a mystery."
"And what is a mystery?"
"A thing that cannot be explained, and which one ought to believe
without enquiring into it."
"Well then," said she, "cannot I perform a mystery?"
"This one," said the Abbot, "only happened once, because it was the
Son of God."
"Alas! my father, is it then the will of God that I should die, or
that from wise and sound comprehension my brain should be turned? Of
this there is a great danger. Now in me something moves and excites
me, and I am no longer in my senses. I care for nothing, and to find a
man I would leap the walls, dash over the fields without shame and
tear my things into tatters, only to see that which so much excited
the monk of the Carneaux; and during these passions which work and
prick my mind and body, there is neither God, devil, nor husband. I
spring, I run, I smash up the wash-tubs, the pots, the farm
implements, a fowl-house, the household things, and everything, in a
way that I cannot describe. But I dare not confess to you all my
misdeeds, because speaking of them makes my mouth water, and the thing
with which God curses me makes me itch dreadfully. If this folly bites
and pricks me, and slays my virtue, will God, who has placed this
great love in my body, condemn me to perdition?"
At this question it was the priest who scratched his ear, quite
dumbfounded by the lamentations, profound wisdom, controversies and
intelligence that this virginity secreted.
"My daughter," said he, "God has distinguished us from the beasts and
made us a paradise to gain, and for this given us reason, which is a
rudder to steer us against tempests and our ambitious desires, and
there is a means of easing the imaginations of one's brain by fasting,
excessive labours, and other virtues; and instead of frisking and
fretting like a child let loose from school, you should pray to the
virgin, sleep on a hard board, attend to your household duties, and
never be idle."
"Ah! my father, when I am at church in my seat, I see neither the
priest nor the altar, only the infant Jesus, who brings the thing into
my head. But to finish, if my head is turned and my mind wanders, I am
in the lime-twigs of love."
"If thus you were," said the abbot, imprudently, "you would be in the
position of Saint Lidoire, who in a deep sleep one day, one leg here
and one leg there, through the great heat and scantily attired, was
approached by a young man full of mischief, who dexterously seduced
her, and as of this trick the saint was thoroughly ignorant, and much
surprised at being brought to bed, thinking that her unusual size was
a serious malady, she did penance for it as a venial sin, as she had
no pleasure in this wicked business, according to the statement of the
wicked man, who said upon the scaffold where he was executed, that the
saint had in nowise stirred."
"Oh, my father," said she, "be sure that I should not stir more than
With this statement she went away prettily and gracefully, smiling and
thinking how she could commit a venial sin. On her return from the
great monastery, she saw in the courtyard of her castle the little
Jallanges, who under the superintendence of an old groom was turning
and wheeling about on a fine horse, bending with the movements of the
animal, dismounting and mounting again with vaults and leaps most
gracefully, and with lissome thighs, so pretty, so dextrous, so
upright as to be indescribable, so much so, that he would have made
the Queen Lucrece long for him, she who killed herself from having
been contaminated against her will.
"Ah!" said Blanche, "if only this page were fifteen, I would go to
sleep comfortably very near to him."
Then, in spite of the too great youth of this charming servitor,
during the collation and supper, she eyed frequently the black hair,
the white skin, the grace of Rene, above all his eyes, where was an
abundance of limpid warmth and a great fire of life, which he was
afraid to shoot out--child that he was.
Now in the evening, as the seneschal's wife sat thoughtfully in her
chair in the corner of the fireplace, old Bruyn interrogated her as to
"I am thinking." said she, "that you must have fought the battles of
love very early, to be thus completely broken up."
"Oh!" smiled he, smiling like all old men questioned upon their
amorous remembrances, "at the age of thirteen and a half I had
overcome the scruples of my mother's waiting woman."
Blanche wished to hear nothing more, but believed the page Rene should
be equally advanced, and she was quite joyous and practised little
allurements on the good man, and wallowed silently in her desire, like
a cake which is being floured.
HOW AND BY WHOM THE SAID CHILD WAS PROCURED.
The seneschal's wife did not think long over the best way quickly to
awaken the love of the page, and had soon discovered the natural
ambuscade in the which the most wary are taken. This is how: at the
warmest hour of the day the good man took his siesta after the Saracen
fashion, a habit in which he had never failed, since his return from
the Holy Land. During this time Blanche was alone in the grounds,
where the women work at their minor occupations, such as broidering
and stitching, and often remained in the rooms looking after the
washing, putting the clothes tidy, or running about at will. Then she
appointed this quiet hour to complete the education of the page,
making him read books and say his prayers. Now on the morrow, when at
the mid-day hour the seneschal slept, succumbing to the sun which
warms with its most luminous rays the slopes of Roche-Corbon, so much
so that one is obliged to sleep, unless annoyed, upset, and
continually roused by a devil of a young woman. Blanche then
gracefully perched herself in the great seignorial chair of her good
man, which she did not find any too high, since she counted upon the
chances of perspective. The cunning jade settled herself dextrously
therein, like a swallow in its nest, and leaned her head maliciously
upon her arm like a child that sleeps; but in making her preparations
she opened fond eyes, that smiled and winked in advance of the little
secret thrills, sneezes, squints, and trances of the page who was
about to lie at her feet, separated from her by the jump of an old
flea; and in fact she advanced so much and so near the square of
velvet where the poor child should kneel, whose life and soul she
trifled with, that had he been a saint of stone, his glance would have
been constrained to follow the flexousities of the dress in order to
admire and re-admire the perfections and beauties of the shapely leg,
which moulded the white stocking of the seneschal's lady. Thus it was
certain that a weak varlet would be taken in the snare, wherein the
most vigorous knight would willingly have succumbed. When she had
turned, returned, placed and displaced her body, and found the
situation in which the page would be most comfortable, she cried,
gently. "Rene!" Rene, whom she knew well was in the guard-room, did
not fail to run in and quickly thrust his brown head between the
tapestries of the door.
"What do you please to wish?" said the page. And he held with great
respect in his hand his shaggy scarlet cap, less red than his fresh
"Come hither," replied she, under her breath, for the child attracted
her so strongly that she was quite overcome.
And forsooth there were no jewels so sparkling as the eyes of Rene, no
vellum whiter than his skin, no woman more exquisite in shape--and so
near to her desire, she found him still more sweetly formed--and was
certain that the merry frolics of love would radiate well from this
youth, the warm sun, the silence, et cetera.
"Read me the litanies of Madame the Virgin," said she to him, pushing
an open book him on her prieu-dieu. "Let me see if you are well taught
by your master."
"Do you not think the Virgin beautiful?" asked she of him, smiling
when he held the illuminated prayer-book in which glowed the silver
"It is a painting," replied he, timidly, and casting a little glance
upon his so gracious mistress.
Then Rene began to recite the so sweet and so mystic litanies; but you
may imagine that the "Ora pro nobis" of Blanche became still fainter
and fainter, like the sound of the horn in the woodlands, and when the
page went on, "Oh, Rose of mystery," the lady, who certainly heard
distinctly, replied by a gentle sigh. Thereupon Rene suspected that
his mistress slept. Then he commenced to cover her with his regard,
admiring her at his leisure, and had then no wish to utter any anthem
save the anthem of love. His happiness made his heart leap and bound
into his throat; thus, as was but natural, these two innocents burned
one against the other, but if they could have foreseen never would
have intermingled. Rene feasted his eyes, planning in his mind a
thousand fruitions of love that brought the water into his mouth. In
his ecstasy he let his book fall, which made him feel as sheepish as a
monk surprised at a child's tricks; but also from that he knew that
Blanche was sound asleep, for she did not stir, and the wily jade
would not have opened her eyes even at the greatest dangers, and
reckoned on something else falling as well as the book of prayer.
There is no worse longing than the longing of a woman in certain
condition. Now, the page noticed his lady's foot, which was delicately
slippered in a little shoe of a delicate blue colour. She had
angularly placed it on a footstool, since she was too high in the
seneschal's chair. This foot was of narrow proportions, delicately
curved, as broad as two fingers, and as long as a sparrow, tail
included, small at the top--a true foot of delight, a virginal foot
that merited a kiss as a robber does the gallows; a roguish foot; a
foot wanton enough to damn an archangel; an ominous foot; a devilishly
enticing foot, which gave one a desire to make two new ones just like
it to perpetuate in this lower world the glorious works of God. The
page was tempted to take the shoe from this persuasive foot. To
accomplish this his eyes glowing with the fire of his age, went
swiftly, like the clapper of a bell, from this said foot of
delectation to the sleeping countenance of his lady and mistress,
listening to her slumber, drinking in her respiration again and again,
it did not know where it would be sweetest to plant a kiss--whether on
the ripe red lips of the seneschal's wife or on this speaking foot. At
length, from respect or fear, or perhaps from great love, he chose the
foot, and kissed it hastily, like a maiden who dares not. Then
immediately he took up his book, feeling his red cheeks redder still,
and exercised with his pleasure, he cried like a blind man--"Janua
coeli,: gate of Heaven." But Blanche did not move, making sure that
the page would go from foot to knee, and thence to "Janua coeli,: gate
of Heaven." She was greatly disappointed when the litanies finished
without any other mischief, and Rene, believing he had had enough
happiness for one day, ran out of the room quite lively, richer from
this hardy kiss than a robber who has robbed the poor-box.
When the seneschal's lady was alone, she thought to herself that this
page would be rather a long time at his task if he amused himself with
the singing of the Magnificat at matins. Then she determined on the
morrow to raise her foot a little, and then to bring to light those
hidden beauties that are called perfect in Touraine, because they take
no hurt in the open air, and are always fresh. You can imagine that
the page, burned by his desire and his imagination, heated by the day
before, awaited impatiently the hour to read in this breviary of
gallantry, and was called; and the conspiracy of the litanies
commenced again, and Blanche did not fail to fall asleep. This time
the said Rene fondled with his hand the pretty limb, and even ventured
so far as to verify if the polished knee and its surroundings were
satin. At this sight the poor child, armed against his desire, so
great was his fear, dared only to make brief devotion and curt
caresses, and although he kissed softly this fair surface, he remained
bashful, the which, feeling by the senses of her soul and the
intelligence of her body, the seneschal's lady who took great care not
to move, called out to him--"Ah, Rene, I am asleep."
Hearing what he believed to be a stern reproach, the page frightened
ran away, leaving the books, the task, and all. Thereupon, the
seneschal's better half added this prayer to the litany--"Holy Virgin,
how difficult children are to make."
At dinner her page perspired all down his back while waiting on his
lady and her lord; but he was very much surprised when he received
from Blanche the most shameless of all glances that ever woman cast,
and very pleasant and powerful it was, seeing that it changed this
child into a man of courage. Now, the same evening Bruyn staying a
little longer than was his custom in his own apartment, the page went
in search of Blanche, and found her asleep, and made her dream a
He knocked off the chains that weighed so heavily upon her, and so
plentifully bestowed upon her the sweets of love, that the surplus
would have sufficed to render to others blessed with the joys of
maternity. So then the minx, seizing the page by the head and
squeezing him to her, cried out--"Oh, Rene! Thou hast awakened me!"
And in fact there was no sleep could stand against it, and it is
certain that saints must sleep very soundly. From this business,
without any other mystery, and by a benign faculty which is the
assisting principle of spouses, the sweet and graceful plumage,
suitable to cuckolds, was placed upon the head of the good husband
without his experiencing the slightest shock.
After this sweet repast, the seneschal's lady took kindly to her
siesta after the French fashion, while Bruyn took his according to the
Saracen. But by the said siesta she learned how the good youth of the
page had a better taste than that of the old seneschal, and at night
she buried herself in the sheets far away from her husband, whom she
found strong and stale. And from sleeping and waking up in the day,
from taking siestas and saying litanies, the seneschal's wife felt
growing within her that treasure for which she had so often and so
ardently sighed; but now she liked more the commencement than the
fructifying of it.
You may be sure that Rene knew how to read, not only in books, but in
the eyes of his sweet lady, for whom he would have leaped into a
flaming pile, had it been her wish he should do so. When well and
amply, more than a hundred times, the train had been laid by them, the
little lady became anxious about her soul and the future of her friend
the page. Now one rainy day, as they were playing at touch-tag, like
two children, innocent from head to foot, Blanche, who was always
caught, said to him--
"Come here, Rene; do you know that while I have only committed venial
sins because I was asleep, you have committed mortal ones?"
"Ah, Madame!" said he, "where then will God stow away all the damned
if that is to sin!"
Blanche burst out laughing, and kissed his forehead.
"Be quiet, you naughty boy; it is a question of paradise, and we must
live there together if you wish always to be with me."
"Oh, my paradise is here."
"Leave off," said she. "You are a little wretch--a scapegrace who does
not think of that which I love--yourself! You do not know that I am
with child, and that in a little while I shall be no more able to
conceal it than my nose. Now, what will the abbot say? What will my
lord say? He will kill you if he puts himself in a passion. My advice
is little one, that you go to the abbot of Marmoustiers, confess your
sins to him, asking him to see what had better be done concerning my
"Alas," said the artful page, "if I tell the secret of our joys, he
will put his interdict upon our love."
"Very likely," said she; "but thy happiness in the other world is a
thing so precious to me."
"Do you wish it my darling?"
"Yes," replied she rather faintly.
"Well, I will go, but sleep again that I may bid you adieu."
And the couple recited the litany of Farewells as if they had both
foreseen that their love must finish in its April. And on the morrow,
more to save his dear lady than to save himself, and also to obey her,
Rene de Jallanges set out towards the great monastery.
HOW THE SAID LOVE-SIN WAS REPENTED OF AND LED TO GREAT MOURNING.
"Good God!" cried the abbot, when the page had chanted the Kyrie
eleison of his sweet sins, "thou art the accomplice of a great felony,
and thou has betrayed thy lord. Dost thou know page of darkness, that
for this thou wilt burn through all eternity? and dost thou know what
it is to lose forever the heaven above for a perishable and changeful
moment here below? Unhappy wretch! I see thee precipitated for ever in
the gulfs of hell unless thou payest to God in this world that which
thou owest him for such offence."
Thereupon the good old abbot, who was of that flesh of which saints
are made, and who had great authority in the country of Touraine,
terrified the young man by a heap of representations, Christian
discourses, remembrances of the commandments of the Church, and a
thousand eloquent things--as many as a devil could say in six weeks to
seduce a maiden--but so many that Rene, who was in the loyal fervour
of innocence, made his submission to the good abbot. The said abbot,
wishing to make forever a good and virtuous man of this child, now in
a fair way to be a wicked one, commanded him first to go and prostrate
himself before his lord, to confess his conduct to him, and then if he
escaped from this confession, to depart instantly for the Crusades,
and go straight to the Holy Land, where he should remain fifteen years
of the time appointed to give battle to the Infidels.
"Alas, my reverend father," said he, quite unmoved, "will fifteen
years be enough to acquit me of so much pleasure? Ah! If you knew, I
have had joy enough for a thousand years."
"God will be generous. Go," replied the old abbot, "and sin no more.
On this account ego te absolvo."
Poor Rene returned thereupon with great contrition to the castle of
Roche-Corbon and the first person he met was the seneschal, who was
polishing up his arms, helmets, gauntlets, and other things. He was
sitting on a great marble bench in the open air, and was amusing
himself by making shine again the splendid trappings which brought
back to him the merry pranks in the Holy Land, the good jokes, and the
wenches, et cetera. When Rene fell upon his knees before him, the good
lord was much astonished.
"What is it?" said he.
"My lord," replied Rene, "order these people to retire."
Which the servants having done, the page confessed his fault,
recounting how he had assailed his lady in her sleep, and that for
certain he had made her a mother in imitation of the man and the
saint, and came by order of the confessor to put himself at the
disposition of the offended person. Having said which, Rene de
Jallanges cast down his lovely eyes, which had produced all the
mischief, and remained abashed, prostrate without fear, his arms
hanging down, his head bare, awaiting his punishment, and humbling
himself to God. The seneschal was not so white that he could not
become whiter, and now he blanched like linen newly dried, remaining
dumb with passion. And this old man who had not in his veins the vital
force to procreate a child, found in this moment of fury more vigour
than was necessary to undo a man. He seized with his hairy right hand
his heavy club, lifted it, brandished it and adjusted it so easily you
could have thought it a bowl at a game of skittles, to bring it down
upon the pale forehead of the said Rene, who knowing that he was
greatly in fault towards his lord, remained placid, and stretching his