Droll Stories, Complete
Honore de Balzac
Part 8 out of 9
About this time the lord and lady of Bastarnay were invited by the
king to come to his town of Loches, where for the present he was with
his court, in which the beauty of the lady of Bastarnay had made a
great noise. Bertha came to Loches, received many kind praises from
the king, was the centre of the homage of all the young nobles, who
feasted their eyes on this apple of love, and of the old ones, who
warmed themselves at this sun. But you may be sure that all of them,
old and young, would have suffered death a thousand times over to have
at their service this instrument of joy, which dazzled their eyes and
muddled their brains. Bertha was more talked about in Loches then
either God or the Gospels, which enraged a great many ladies who were
not so bountifully endowed with charms, and would have given all that
was left of their honour to have sent back to her castle this fair
gatherer of smiles.
A young lady having early perceived that one of her lovers was smitten
with Bertha, took such a hatred to her that from it arose all the
misfortunes of the lady of Bastarnay; but also from the same source
came her happiness, and her discovery of the gentle land of love, of
which she was ignorant. This wicked lady had a relation who had
confessed to her, directly he saw Bertha, that to be her lover he
would be willing to die after a month's happiness with her. Bear in
mind that this cousin was as handsome as a girl is beautiful, had no
hair on his chin, would have gained his enemy's forgiveness by asking
for it, so melodious was his young voice, and was scarcely twenty
years of age.
"Dear cousin," said she to him, "leave the room, and go to your house;
I will endeavour to give you this joy. But do not let yourself be seen
by her, nor by that old baboon-face by an error of nature on a
Christian's body, and to whom belongs this beauteous fay."
The young gentleman out of the way, the lady came rubbing her
treacherous nose against Bertha's, and called her "My friend, my
treasure, my star of beauty"; trying every way to be agreeable to her,
to make her vengeance more certain on the poor child who, all
unwittingly, had caused her lover's heart to be faithless, which, for
women ambitious in love, is the worst of infidelities. After a little
conversation, the plotting lady suspected that poor Bertha was a
maiden in matters of love, when she saw her eyes full of limpid water,
no marks on the temples, no little black speck on the point of her
little nose, white as snow, where usually the marks of the amusement
are visible, no wrinkle on her brow; in short, no habit of pleasure
apparent on her face--clear as the face of an innocent maiden. Then
this traitress put certain women's questions to her, and was perfectly
assured by the replies of Bertha, that if she had had the profit of
being a mother, the pleasures of love had been denied to her. At this
she rejoiced greatly on her cousin's behalf--like the good woman she
Then she told her, that in the town of Loches there lived a young and
noble lady, of the family of a Rohan, who at that time had need of the
assistance of a lady of position to be reconciled with the Sire Louis
de Rohan; that if she had as much goodness as God had given her
beauty, she would take her with her to the castle, ascertain for
herself the sanctity of her life, and bring about a reconciliation
with the Sire de Rohan, who refused to receive her. To this Bertha
consented without hesitation, because the misfortunes of this girl
were known to her, but not the poor young lady herself, whose name was
Sylvia, and whom she had believed to be in a foreign land.
It is here necessary to state why the king had given this invitation
to the Sire de Bastarnay. He had a suspicion of the first flight of
his son the Dauphin into Burgundy, and wished to deprive him of so
good a counsellor as was the said Bastarnay. But the veteran, faithful
to young Louis, had already, without saying a word, made up his mind.
Therefore he took Bertha back to his castle; but before they set out
she told him she had taken a companion and introduced her to him. It
was the young lord, disguised as a girl, with the assistance of his
cousin, who was jealous of Bertha, and annoyed at her virtue. Imbert
drew back a little when he learned that it was Sylvia de Rohan, but
was also much affected at the kindness of Bertha, whom he thanked for
her attempt to bring a little wandering lamb back to the fold. He made
much of his wife, when his last night at home came, left men-at-arms
about his castle, and then set out with the Dauphin for Burgundy,
having a cruel enemy in his bosom without suspecting it. The face of
the young lad was unknown to him, because he was a young page come to
see the king's court, and who had been brought up by the Cardinal
Dunois, in whose service he was a knight-bachelor.
The old lord, believing that he was a girl, thought him very modest
and timid, because the lad, doubting the language of his eyes, kept
them always cast down; and when Bertha kissed him on the mouth, he
trembled lest his petticoat might be indiscreet, and would walk away
to the window, so fearful was he of being recognised as a man by
Bastarnay, and killed before he had made love to the lady.
Therefore he was as joyful as any lover would have been in his place,
when the portcullis was lowered, and the old lord galloped away across
the country. He had been in such suspense that he made a vow to build
a pillar at his own expense in the cathedral at Tours, because he had
escaped the danger of his mad scheme. He gave, indeed, fifty gold
marks to pay God for his delight. But by chance he had to pay for it
over again to the devil, as it appears from the following facts if the
tale pleases you well enough to induce you to follow the narrative,
which will be succinct, as all good speeches should be.
HOW BERTHA BEHAVED, KNOWING THE BUSINESS OF LOVE
This bachelor was the young Sire Jehan de Sacchez, cousin of the Sieur
de Montmorency, to whom, by the death of the said Jehan, the fiefs of
Sacchez and other places would return, according to the deed of
tenure. He was twenty years of age and glowed like a burning coal;
therefore you may be sure that he had a hard job to get through the
first day. While old Imbert was galloping across the fields, the two
cousins perched themselves under the lantern of the portcullis, in
order to keep him the longer in view, and waved him signals of
farewells. When the clouds of dust raised by the heels of the horses
were no longer visible upon the horizon, they came down and went into
the great room of the castle.
"What shall we do, dear cousin?" said Bertha to the false Sylvia. "Do
you like music? We will play together. Let us sing the lay of some
sweet ancient bard. Eh? What do you say? Come to my organ; come along.
As you love me, sing!"
Then she took Jehan by the hand and led him to the keyboard of the
organ, at which the young fellow seated himself prettily, after the
manner of women. "Ah! sweet coz," cried Bertha, as soon as the first
notes tried, the lad turned his head towards her, in order that they
might sing together. "Ah! sweet coz you have a wonderful glance in
your eye; you move I know not what in my heart."
"Ah! cousin," replied the false Sylvia, "that it is which has been my
ruin. A sweet milord of the land across the sea told me so often that
I had fine eyes, and kissed them so well, that I yielded, so much
pleasure did I feel in letting them be kissed."
"Cousin, does love then, commence in the eyes?"
"In them is the forge of Cupid's bolts, my dear Bertha," said the
lover, casting fire and flame at her.
"Let us go on with our singing."
They then sang, by Jehan's desire, a lay of Christine de Pisan, every
word of which breathed love.
"Ah! cousin, what a deep and powerful voice you have. It seems to
"Where?" said the impudent Sylvia.
"There," replied Bertha, touching her little diaphragm, where the
sounds of love are understood better than by the ears, but the
diaphragm lies nearer the heart, and that which is undoubtedly the
first brain, the second heart, and the third ear of the ladies. I say
this, with all respect and with all honour, for physical reasons and
for no others.
"Let us leave off singing," said Bertha; "it has too great an effect
upon me. Come to the window; we can do needlework until the evening."
"Ah! dear cousin of my soul, I don't know how to hold the needle in my
fingers, having been accustomed, to my perdition to do something else
"Eh! what did you do then all day long?"
"Ah! I yielded to the current of love, which makes days seem Instants,
months seem days, and years months; and if it could last, would gulp
down eternity like a strawberry, seeing that it is all youth and
fragrance, sweetness and endless joy."
Then the youth dropped his beautiful eyelids over his eyes, and
remained as melancholy as a poor lady who has been abandoned by her
lover, who weeps for him, wishes to kiss him, and would pardon his
perfidy, if he would but seek once again the sweet path to his
"Cousin, does love blossom in the married state?"
"Oh no," said Sylvia; "because in the married state everything is
duty, but in love everything is done in perfect freedom of heart. This
difference communicates an indescribable soft balm to those caresses
which are the flowers of love."
"Cousin, let us change the conversation; it affects me more than did
She called hastily to a servant to bring her boy to her, who came, and
when Sylvia saw him, she exclaimed--
"Ah! the little dear, he is as beautiful as love."
Then she kissed him heartily upon the forehead.
"Come, my little one," said the mother, as the child clambered into
her lap. "Thou art thy mother's blessing, her unclouded joy, the
delight of her every hour, her crown, her jewel, her own pure pearl,
her spotless soul, her treasure, her morning and evening star, her
only flame, and her heart's darling. Give me thy hands, that I may eat
them; give me thine ears, that I may bite them; give me thy head, that
I may kiss thy curls. Be happy sweet flower of my body, that I may be
"Ah! cousin," said Sylvia, "you are speaking the language of love to
"Love is a child then?"
"Yes, cousin; therefore the heathen always portrayed him as a little
And with many other remarks fertile in the imagery of love, the two
pretty cousins amused themselves until supper time, playing with the
"Would you like to have another?" whispered Jehan, at an opportune
moment, into his cousin's ear, which he touched with his warm lips.
"Ah! Sylvia! for that I would ensure a hundred years of purgatory, if
it would only please God to give me that joy. But in spite of the
work, labour, and industry of my spouse, which causes me much pain, my
waist does not vary in size. Alas! It is nothing to have but one
child. If I hear the sound of a cry in the castle, my heart beats
ready to burst. I fear man and beast alike for this innocent darling;
I dread volts, passes, and manual exercises; in fact, I dread
everything. I live not in myself, but in him alone. And, alas! I like
to endure these miseries, because when I fidget, and tremble, it is a
sign that my offspring is safe and sound. To be brief--for I am never
weary of talking on this subject--I believe that my breath is in him,
and not in myself."
With these words she hugged him to her breasts, as only mothers know
how to hug children, with a spiritual force that is felt only in their
hearts. If you doubt this, watch a cat carrying her kittens in her
mouth, not one of them gives a single mew. The youthful gallant, who
had certain fears about watering this fair, unfertile plain, was
reassured by this speech. He thought then that it would only be
following the commandments of God to win this saint to love; and he
thought right. At night Bertha asked her cousin--according to the old
custom, to which the ladies of our day object--to keep her company in
her big seigneurial bed. To which request Sylvia replied--in order to
keep up the role of a well-born maiden--that nothing would give her
greater pleasure. The curfew rang, and found the two cousins in a
chamber richly ornamented with carpeting, fringes, and royal
tapestries, and Bertha began gracefully to disarray herself, assisted
by her women. You can imagine that her companion modestly declined
their services, and told her cousin, with a little blush, that she was
accustomed to undress herself ever since she had lost the services of
her dearly beloved, who had put her out of conceit with feminine
fingers by his gentle ways; that these preparations brought back the
pretty speeches he used to make, and his merry pranks while playing
the lady's-maid; and that to her injury, the memory of all these
things brought the water into her mouth.
This discourse considerably astonished the lady Bertha, who let her
cousin say her prayers, and make other preparations for the night
beneath the curtains of the bed, into which my lord, inflamed with
desire, soon tumbled, happy at being able to catch an occasional
glimpse of the wondrous charms of the chatelaine, which were in no way
injured. Bertha, believing herself to be with an experienced girl, did
not omit any of the usual practices; she washed her feet, not minding
whether she raised them little or much, exposed her delicate little
shoulders, and did as all the ladies do when they are retiring to
rest. At last she came to bed, and settled herself comfortably in it,
kissing her cousin on the lips, which she found remarkably warm.
"Are you unwell, Sylvia, that you burn so?" said she.
"I always burn like that when I go to bed," replied her companion,
"because at that time there comes back to my memory the pretty little
tricks that he invented to please me, and which make me burn still
"Ah! cousin, tell me all about this he. Tell all the sweets of love to
me, who live beneath the shadow of a hoary head, of which the snows
keep me from such warm feelings. Tell me all; you are cured. It will
be a good warning to me, and then your misfortunes will have been a
salutary lesson to two poor weak women."
"I do not know I ought to obey you, sweet cousin," said the youth.
"Tell me, why not?"
"Ah! deeds are better than words," said the false maiden, heaving a
deep sigh as the _ut_ of an organ. "But I am afraid that this milord
has encumbered me with so much joy that you may get a little of it,
which would be enough to give you a daughter, since the power of
engendering is weakened in me."
"But," said Bertha, "between us, would it be a sin?"
"It would be, on the contrary, a joy both here and in heaven; the
angels would shed their fragrance around you, and make sweet music in
"Tell me quickly, then," said Bertha.
"Well, then, this is how my dear lord made my heart rejoice."
With these words Jehan took Bertha in his arms, and strained her
hungering to his heart, for in the soft light of the lamp, and clothed
with the spotless linen, she was in this tempting bed, like the pretty
petals of a lily at the bottom of the virgin calyx.
"When he held me as I hold thee he said to me, with a voice far
sweeter than mine, 'Ah, Bertha, thou art my eternal love, my priceless
treasure, my joy by day and my joy by night; thou art fairer than the
day is day; there is naught so pretty as thou art. I love thee more
than God, and would endure a thousand deaths for the happiness I ask
of thee!' Then he would kiss me, not after the manner of husbands,
which is rough, but in a peculiar dove-like fashion."
To show her there and then how much better was the method of lovers,
he sucked all the honey from Bertha's lips, and taught her how, with
her pretty tongue, small and rosy as that of a cat, she could speak to
the heart without saying a single word, and becoming exhausted at this
game, Jehan spread the fire of his kisses from the mouth to the neck,
from the neck to the sweetest forms that ever a woman gave a child to
slake its thirst upon. And whoever had been in his place would have
thought himself a wicked man not to imitate him.
"Ah!" said Bertha, fast bound in love without knowing it; "this is
better. I must take care to tell Imbert about it."
"Are you in your proper senses, cousin? Say nothing about it to your
old husband. How could he make his hands pleasant like mine? They are
as hard as washerwoman's beetles, and his piebald beard would hardly
please this centre of bliss, that rose in which lies our wealth, our
substance, our loves, and our fortune. Do you know that it is a living
flower, which should be fondled thus, and not used like a trombone, or
as if it were a catapult of war? Now this was the gentle way of my
Thus saying, the handsome youth comported himself so bravely in the
battle that victory crowned his efforts, and poor innocent Bertha
"Ah! cousin, the angels are come! but so beautiful is the music, that
I hear nothing else, and so flaming are their luminous rays, that my
eyes are closing."
And, indeed, she fainted under the burden of those joys of love which
burst forth in her like the highest notes of the organ, which
glistened like the most magnificent aurora, which flowed in her veins
like the finest musk, and loosened the liens of her life in giving her
a child of love, who made a great deal of confusion in taking up his
quarters. Finally, Bertha imagined herself to be in Paradise, so happy
did she feel; and woke from this beautiful dream in the arms of Jehan,
"Ah! who would not have been married in England!"
"My sweet mistress," said Jehan, whose ecstasy was sooner over, "you
are married to me in France, where things are managed still better,
for I am a man who would give a thousand lives for you if he had
Poor Bertha gave a shriek so sharp that it pierced the walls, and
leapt out of bed like a mountebank of the plains of Egypt would have
done. She fell upon her knees before her _Prie-Dieu_, joined her
hands, and wept more pearls than ever Mary Magdalene wore.
"Ah! I am dead" she cried; "I am deceived by a devil who has taken the
face of an angel. I am lost; I am the mother for certain of a
beautiful child, without being more guilty than you, Madame the
Virgin. Implore the pardon of God for me, if I have not that of men
upon earth; or let me die, so that I may not blush before my lord and
Hearing that she said nothing against him, Jehan rose, quite aghast to
see Bertha take this charming dance for two so to heart. But the
moment she heard her Gabriel moving she sprang quickly to her feet,
regarded him with a tearful face, and her eye illumined with a holy
anger, which made her more lovely to look upon, exclaimed--
"If you advance a single step towards me, I will make one towards
And she took her stiletto in her hand.
So heartrending was the tragic spectacle of her grief that Jehan
"It is not for thee but for me to die, my dear, beautiful mistress,
more dearly loved than will ever woman be again upon this earth."
"If you had truly loved me you would not have killed me as you have,
for I will die sooner than be reproached by my husband."
"Will you die?" said he.
"Assuredly," said she.
"Now, if I am here pierced with a thousand blows, you will have your
husband's pardon, to whom you will say that if your innocence was
surprised, you have avenged his honour by killing the man who had
deceived you; and it will be the greatest happiness that could ever
befall me to die for you, the moment you refuse to live for me."
Hearing this tender discourse spoken with tears, Bertha dropped the
dagger; Jehan sprang upon it, and thrust it into his breast, saying--
"Such happiness can be paid for but with death."
And fell stiff and stark.
Bertha, terrified, called aloud for her maid. The servant came, and
terribly alarmed to see a wounded man in Madame's chamber, and Madame
holding him up, crying and saying, "What have you done, my love?"
because she believed he was dead, and remembered her vanished joys,
and thought how beautiful Jehan must be, since everyone, even Imbert,
believed him to be a girl. In her sorrow she confessed all to her
maid, sobbing and crying out, "that it was quite enough to have upon
her mind the life of a child without having the death of a man as
well." Hearing this the poor lover tried to open his eyes, and only
succeeded in showing a little bit of the white of them.
"Ha! Madame, don't cry out," said the servant, "let us keep our senses
together and save this pretty knight. I will go and seek La Fallotte,
in order not to let any physician or surgeon into the secret, and as
she is a sorceress she will, to please Madame, perform the miracle of
healing this wound so not a trace of it shall remain.
"Run!" replied Bertha. "I will love you, and will pay you well for
But before anything else was done the lady and her maid agreed to be
silent about this adventure, and hide Jehan from every eye. Then the
servant went out into the night to seek La Fallotte, and was
accompanied by her mistress as far as the postern, because the guard
could not raise the portcullis without Bertha's special order. Bertha
found on going back that her lover had fainted, for the blood was
flowing from the wound. At the sight she drank a little of his blood,
thinking that Jehan had shed it for her. Affected by this great love
and by the danger, she kissed this pretty varlet of pleasure on the
face, bound up his wound, bathing it with her tears, beseeching him
not to die, and exclaiming that if he would live she would love him
with all her heart. You can imagine that the chatelaine became still
more enamoured while observing what a difference there was between a
young knight like Jehan, white, downy, and agreeable, and an old
fellow like Imbert, bristly, yellow, and wrinkled. This difference
brought back to her memory that which she had found in the pleasure of
love. Moved by this souvenir, her kisses became so warm that Jehan
came back to his senses, his look improved, and he could see Bertha,
from whom in a feeble voice he asked forgiveness. But Bertha forbade
him to speak until La Fallotte had arrived. Then both of them consumed
the time by loving each other with their eyes, since in those of
Bertha there was nothing but compassion, and on these occasions pity
is akin to love.
La Fallotte was a hunchback, vehemently suspected of dealings in
necromancy, and of riding to nocturnal orgies on a broomstick,
according to the custom of witches. Certain persons had seen her
putting the harness on her broom in the stable, which, as everyone
knows is on the housetops. To tell the truth, she possessed certain
medical secrets, and was of such great service to ladies in certain
things, and to the nobles, that she lived in perfect tranquillity,
without giving up the ghost on a pile of fagots, but on a feather bed,
for she had made a hatful of money, although the physicians tormented
her by declaring that she sold poisons, which was certainly true, as
will be shown in the sequel. The servant and La Fallotte came on the
same ass, making such haste that they arrived at the castle before the
day had fully dawned.
The old hunchback exclaimed, as she entered the chamber, "Now then, my
children, what is the matter?"
This was her manner, which was familiar with great people, who
appeared very small to her. She put on her spectacles, and carefully
examined the wound, saying--
"This is fine blood, my dear; you have tasted it. That's all right, he
has bled externally."
Then she washed the wound with a fine sponge, under the nose of the
lady and the servant, who held their breath. To be brief, Fallotte
gave it as her medical opinion, that the youth would not die from this
blow, "although," said she, looking at his hand, "he will come to a
violent end through this night's deed."
This decree of chiromancy frightened considerably both Bertha and the
maid. Fallotte prescribed certain remedies, and promised to come again
the following night. Indeed, she tended the wound for a whole
fortnight, coming secretly at night-time. The people about the castle
were told by the servants that their young lady, Sylvia de Rohan, was
in danger of death, through a swelling of the stomach, which must
remain a mystery for the honour of Madame, who was her cousin. Each
one was satisfied with this story, of which his mouth was so full that
he told it to his fellows.
The good people believe that it was the malady which was fraught with
danger; but it was not! it was the convalescence, for the stronger
Jehan grew, the weaker Bertha became, and so weak that she allowed
herself to drift into that Paradise the gates of which Jehan had
opened for her. To be brief, she loved him more and more. But in the
midst of her happiness, always mingled with apprehension at the
menacing words of Fallotte, and tormented by her great religion, she
was in great fear of her husband, Imbert, to whom she was compelled to
write that he had given her a child, who would be ready to delight him
on his return. Poor Bertha avoided her lover, Jehan, during the day on
which she wrote the lying letter, over which she soaked her
handkerchief with tears. Finding himself avoided (for they had
previously left each other no more than fire leaves the wood it has
bitten) Jehan believed that she was beginning to hate him, and
straightway he cried too. In the evening Bertha, touched by his tears,
which had left their mark upon his eyes, although he had well dried
them, told him the cause of her sorrow, mingling therewith her
confessions of her terrors for the future, pointing out to him how
much they were both to blame, and discoursing so beautifully to him,
gave utterance to such Christian sentences, ornamented with holy tears
and contrite prayers, that Jehan was touched to the quick by the
sincerity of his mistress. This love innocently united to repentance,
this nobility in sin, this mixture of weakness and strength, would, as
the old authors say, have changed the nature of a tiger, melting it to
pity. You will not be astonished then, that Jehan was compelled to
pledge his word as a knight-bachelor, to obey her in what ever she
should command him, to save her in this world and in the next.
Delighted at this confidence in her, and this goodness of heart,
Bertha cast herself at Jehan's feet, and kissing them, exclaimed--
"Oh! my love, whom I am compelled to love, although it is a mortal sin
to do so, thou who art so good, so gentle to thy poor Bertha, if thou
wouldst have her always think of thee with pleasure, and stop the
torrent of her tears, whose source is so pretty and so pleasant (here,
to show him that it was so, she let him steal a kiss)--Jehan, if thou
wouldst that the memory of our celestial joys, angel music, and the
fragrance of love should be a consolation to me in my loneliness
rather than a torment, do that which the Virgin commanded me to order
thee in a dream, in which I was beseeching her to direct me in the
present case, for I had asked her to come to me, and she had come.
Then I told her the horrible anguish I should endure, trembling for
this little one, whose movements I already feel, and for the real
father, who would be at the mercy of the other, and might expiate his
paternity by a violent death, since it is possible that La Fallotte
saw clearly into his future life. Then the beautiful Virgin told me,
smiling, that the Church offered its forgiveness for our faults if we
followed her commandments; that it was necessary to save one's self
from the pains of hell, by reforming before Heaven became angry. Then
with her finger she showed me a Jehan like thee, but dressed as thou
shouldst be, and as thou wilt be, if thou does but love thy Bertha
with a love eternal."
Jehan assured her of his perfect obedience, and raised her, seating
her on his knee, and kissing her. The unhappy Bertha told him then
that this garment was a monk's frock, and trembling besought him
--almost fearing a refusal--to enter the Church, and retire to
Marmoustier, beyond Tours, pledging him her word that she would grant
him a last night, after which she would be neither for him nor for
anyone else in the world again. And each year, as a reward for this,
she would let him come to her one day, in order that he might see the
child. Jehan, bound by his oath, promised to obey his mistress, saying
that by this means he would be faithful to her, and would experience
no joys of love but those tasted in her divine embrace, and would live
upon the dear remembrance of them. Hearing these sweet words, Bertha
declared to him that, however great might have been her sin, and
whatever God reserved for her, this happiness would enable her to
support it, since she believed she had not fallen through a man, but
through an angel.
Then they returned to the nest which contained their love but only to
bid a final adieu to all their lovely flowers. There can be but little
doubt that Seigneur Cupid had something to do with this festival, for
no woman ever experienced such joy in any part of the world before,
and no man ever took as much. The especial property of true love is a
certain harmony, which brings it about that the more one gives, the
more the other receives, and vice-versa, as in certain cases in
mathematics, where things are multiplied by themselves without end.
This problem can only be explained to unscientific people, by asking
them to look into their Venetian glasses, in which are to be seen
thousands of faces produced by one alone. Thus, in the heart of two
lovers, the roses of pleasure multiply within them in a manner which
causes them to be astonished that so much joy can be contained,
without anything bursting. Bertha and Jehan would have wished in this
night to have finished their days, and thought, from the excessive
languor which flowed in their veins, that love had resolved to bear
them away on his wings with the kiss of death; but they held out in
spite of these numerous multiplications.
On the morrow, as the return of Monsieur Imbert de Bastarnay was close
at hand, the lady Sylvia was compelled to depart. The poor girl left
her cousin, covering her with tears and with kisses; it was always her
last, but the last lasted till evening. Then he was compelled to leave
her, and he did leave her although the blood of his heart congealed,
like the fallen wax of a Paschal candle. According to his promise, he
wended his way towards Marmoustier, which he entered towards the
eleventh hour of the day, and was placed among the novices.
Monseigneur de Bastarnay was informed that Sylvia had returned to the
Lord which is the signification of le Seigneur in the English
language; and therefore in this Bertha did not lie.
The joy of her husband, when he saw Bertha without her waistband--she
could not wear it, so much had she increased in size--commenced the
martyrdom of this poor woman, who did not know how to deceive, and
who, at each false word, went to her Prie-Dieu, wept her blood away
from her eyes in tears, burst into prayers, and recommended herself to
the graces of Messieurs the Saints in paradise. It happened that she
cried so loudly to God that He heard her, because He hears everything;
He hears the stones that roll beneath the waters, the poor who groan,
and the flies who wing their way through the air. It is well that you
should know this, otherwise you would not believe in what happened.
God commanded the archangel Michael to make for this penitent a hell
upon earth, so that she might enter without dispute into Paradise.
Then St. Michael descended from the skies as far as the gate of hell,
and handed over this triple soul to the devil, telling him that he had
permission to torment it during the rest of her days, at the same time
indicating to him Bertha, Jehan and the child.
The devil, who by the will of God, is lord of all evil, told the
archangel that he would obey the message. During this heavenly
arrangement life went on as usual here below. The sweet lady of
Bastarnay gave the most beautiful child in the world to the Sire
Imbert, a boy all lilies and roses, of great intelligence, like a
little Jesus, merry and arch as a pagan love. He became more beautiful
day by day, while the elder was turning into an ape, like his father,
whom he painfully resembled. The younger boy was as bright as a star,
and resembled his father and mother, whose corporeal and spiritual
perfections had produced a compound of illustrious graces and
marvellous intelligence. Seeing this perpetual miracle of body and
mind blended with the essential conditions, Bastarnay declared that
for his eternal salvation he would like to make the younger the elder,
and that he would do with the king's protection. Bertha did not know
what to do, for she adored the child of Jehan, and could only feel a
feeble affection for the other, whom, nevertheless she protected
against the evil intentions of the old fellow, Bastarnay.
Bertha, satisfied with the way things were going, quieted her
conscience with falsehood, and thought that all danger was past, since
twelve years had elapsed with no other alloy than the doubt which at
times embittered her joy. Each year, according to her pledged faith,
the monk of Marmoustier, who was unknown to everyone except the
servant-maid, came to pass a whole day at the chateau to see his
child, although Bertha had many times besought brother Jehan to yield
his right. But Jehan pointed to the child, saying, "You see him every
day of the year, and I only once!" And the poor mother could find no
word to answer this speech with.
A few months before the last rebellion of the Dauphin Louis against
his father, the boy was treading closely on the heels of his twelfth
year, and appeared likely to become a great savant, so learned was he
in all the sciences. Old Bastarnay had never been more delighted at
having been a father in his life, and resolved to take his son with
him to the Court of Burgundy, where Duke Charles promised to make for
this well-beloved son a position, which should be the envy of princes,
for he was not at all averse to clever people. Seeing matters thus
arranged, the devil judged the time to be ripe for his mischiefs. He
took his tail and flapped it right into the middle of this happiness,
so that he could stir it up in his own peculiar way.
HORRIBLE CHASTISEMENT OF BERTHA AND EXPIATION OF THE SAME,
WHO DIED PARDONED
The servant of the lady of Bastarnay, who was then about
five-and-thirty years old, fell in love with one of the master's
men-at-arms, and was silly enough to let him take loaves out of the
oven, until there resulted therefrom a natural swelling, which certain
wags in these parts call a nine months' dropsy. The poor woman begged
her mistress to intercede for her with the master, so that he might
compel this wicked man to finish at the altar that which he had
commenced elsewhere. Madame de Bastarnay had no difficulty in obtaining
this favour from him, and the servant was quite satisfied. But the old
warrior, who was always extremely rough, hastened into his pretorium,
and blew him up sky-high, ordering him, under the pain of the gallows,
to marry the girl; which the soldier preferred to do, thinking more of
his neck than of his peace of mind.
Bastarnay sent also for the female, to whom he imagined, for the
honour of his house, he ought to sing a litany, mixed with epithets
and ornamented with extremely strong expressions, and made her think,
by way of punishment, that she was not going to be married, but flung
into one of the cells in the jail. The girl fancied that Madame wanted
to get rid of her, in order to inter the secret of the birth of her
beloved son. With this impression, when the old ape said such
outrageous things to her--namely, that he must have been a fool to
keep a harlot in his house--she replied that he certainly was a very
big fool, seeing that for a long time past his wife had been played
the harlot, and with a monk too, which was the worst thing that could
happen to a warrior.
Think of the greatest storm you ever saw it in your life, and you will
have a weak sketch of the furious rage into which the old man fell,
when thus assailed in a portion of his heart which was a triple life.
He seized the girl by the throat, and would have killed her there and
then, but she, to prove her story, detailed the how, the why, and the
when, and said that if he had no faith in her, he could have the
evidence of his own ears by hiding himself the day that Father Jehan
de Sacchez, the prior of Marmoustier, came. He would then hear the
words of the father, who solaced herself for his year's fast, and in
one day kissed his son for the rest of the year.
Imbert ordered this woman instantly to leave the castle, since, if her
accusation were true, he would kill her just as though she had
invented a tissue of lies. In an instant he had given her a hundred
crowns, besides her man, enjoining them not to sleep in Touraine; and
for greater security, they were conducted into Burgundy, by de
Bastarnay's officers. He informed his wife of their departure, saying,
that as her servant was a damaged article he had thought it best to
get rid of her, but had given her a hundred crowns, and found
employment for the man at the Court of Burgundy. Bertha was astonished
to learn that her maid had left the castle without receiving her
dismissal from herself, her mistress; but she said nothing. Soon
afterwards she had other fish to fry, for she became a prey to vague
apprehensions, because her husband completely changed in his manner,
commenced to notice the likeness of his first-born to himself, and
could find nothing resembling his nose, or his forehead, his this, or
his that, in the youngest he loved so well.
"He is my very image," replied Bertha one day that he was throwing out
these hints. "Know you not that in well regulated households, children
are formed from the father and mother, each in turn, or often from
both together, because the mother mingles her qualities with the vital
force of the father? Some physicians declare that they have known many
children born without any resemblance to either father or mother, and
attribute these mysteries to the whim of the Almighty."
"You have become very learned, my dear," replied Bastarnay; "but I,
who am an ignoramus, I should fancy that a child who resembles a
"Had a monk for a father!" said Bertha, looking at him with an
unflinching gaze, although ice rather than blood was coursing through
The old fellow thought he was mistaken, and cursed the servant; but he
was none the less determined to make sure of the affair. As the day of
Father Jehan's visit was close at hand, Bertha, whose suspicions were
aroused by this speech, wrote him that it was her wish that he should
not come this year, without, however, telling him her reason; then she
went in search of La Fallotte at Loches, who was to give her letter to
Jehan, and believed everything was safe for the present. She was all
the more pleased at having written to her friend the prior, when
Imbert, who, towards the time appointed for the poor monk's annual
treat, had always been accustomed to take a journey into the province
of Maine, where he had considerable property, remained this time at
home, giving as his reason the preparations for rebellion which
monseigneur Louis was then making against his father, who as everyone
knows, was so cut up at this revolt that it caused his death. This
reason was so good a one, that poor Bertha was quite satisfied with
it, and did not trouble herself. On the regular day, however, the
prior arrived as usual. Bertha seeing him, turned pale, and asked him
if he had not received her message.
"What message?" said Jehan.
"Ah! we are lost then; the child, thou, and I," replied Bertha.
"Why so?" said the prior.
"I know not," said she; "but our last day has come."
She inquired of her dearly beloved son where Bastarnay was. The young
man told her that his father had been sent for by a special messenger
to Loches, and would not be back until evening. Thereupon Jehan
wished, is spite of his mistress, to remain with her and his dear son,
asserting that no harm would come of it, after the lapse of twelve
years, since the birth of their boy.
The days when that adventurous night you know of was celebrated,
Bertha stayed in her room with the poor monk until supper time. But on
this occasion the lovers--hastened by the apprehensions of Bertha,
which was shared by Jehan directly she had informed him of them--dined
immediately, although the prior of Marmoustier reassured Bertha by
pointing out to her the privileges of the Church, and how Bastarnay,
already in bad odour at court, would be afraid to attack a dignitary
of Marmoustier. When they were sitting down to table their little one
happened to be playing, and in spite of the reiterated prayers of his
mother, would not stop his games, since he was galloping about the
courtyard on a fine Spanish barb, which Duke Charles of Burgundy had
presented to Bastarnay. And because young lads like to show off,
varlets make themselves bachelors at arms, and bachelors wish to play
the knight, this boy was delighted at being able to show the monk what
a man he was becoming; he made the horse jump like a flea in the
bedclothes, and sat as steady as a trooper in the saddle.
"Let him have his way, my darling," said the monk to Bertha.
"Disobedient children often become great characters."
Bertha ate sparingly, for her heart was as swollen as a sponge in
water. At the first mouthful, the monk, who was a great scholar, felt
in his stomach a pain, and on his palette a bitter taste of poison
that caused him to suspect that the Sire de Bastarnay had given them
all their quietus. Before he had made this discovery Bertha had eaten.
Suddenly the monk pulled off the tablecloth and flung everything into
the fireplace, telling Bertha his suspicion. Bertha thanked the Virgin
that her son had been so taken up with his sport. Retaining his
presence of mind, Jehan, who had not forgotten the lesson he had
learned as a page, leaped into the courtyard, lifted his son from the
horse, sprang across it himself, and flew across the country with such
speed that you would have thought him a shooting-star if you had seen
him digging the spurs into the horse's bleeding flanks, and he was at
Loches in Fallotte's house in the same space of time that only the
devil could have done the journey. He stated the case to her in two
words, for the poison was already frying his marrow, and requested her
to give him an antidote.
"Alas," said the sorceress, "had I known that it was for you I was
giving this poison, I would have received in my breast the dagger's
point, with which I was threatened, and would have sacrificed my poor
life to save that of a man of God, and of the sweetest woman that ever
blossomed on this earth; for alas! my dear friend, I have only two
drops of the counter-poison that you see in this phial."
"Is there enough for her?"
"Yes, but go at once," said the old hag.
The monk came back more quickly that he went, so that the horse died
under him in the courtyard. He rushed into the room where Bertha,
believing her last hour to be come, was kissing her son, and writhing
like a lizard in the fire, uttering no cry for herself, but for the
child, left to the wrath of Bastarnay, forgetting her own agony at the
thought of his cruel future.
"Take this," said the monk; "my life is saved!"
Jehan had the great courage to say these words with an unmoved face,
although he felt the claws of death seizing his heart. Hardly had
Bertha drunk when the prior fell dead, not, however, without kissing
his son, and regarding his dear lady with an eye that changed not even
after his last sigh. This sight turned her as cold as marble, and
terrified her so much that she remained rigid before this dead man,
stretched at her feet, pressing the hand of her child, who wept,
although her own eye was as dry as the Red Sea when the Hebrews
crossed it under the leadership of Baron Moses, for it seemed to her
that she had sharp sand rolling under her eyelids. Pray for her, ye
charitable souls, for never was woman so agonised, in divining that
her lover has saved her life at the expense of his own. Aided by her
son, she herself placed the monk in the middle of the bed, and stood
by the side of it, praying with the boy, whom she then told that the
prior was his true father. In this state she waited her evil hour, and
her evil hour did not take long in coming, for towards the eleventh
hour Bastarnay arrived, and was informed at the portcullis that the
monk was dead, and not Madame and the child, and he saw his beautiful
Spanish horse lying dead. Thereupon, seized with a furious desire to
slay Bertha and the monk's bastard, he sprang up the stairs with one
bound; but at the sight of the corpse, for whom his wife and her son
repeated incessant litanies, having no ears for his torrent of
invective, having no eyes for his writhings and threats, he had no
longer the courage to perpetrate this dark deed. After the first fury
of his rage had passed, he could not bring himself to it, and quitted
the room like a coward and a man taken in crime, stung to the quick by
those prayers continuously said for the monk. The night was passed in
tears, groans, and prayers.
By an express order from Madame, her servant had been to Loches to
purchase for her the attire of a young lady of quality, and for her
poor child a horse and the arms of an esquire; noticing which the
Sieur de Bastarnay was much astonished. He sent for Madame and the
monk's son, but neither mother nor child returned any answer, but
quietly put on the clothes purchased by the servant. By Madame's order
this servant made up the account of her effects, arranged her clothes,
purples, jewels, and diamonds, as the property of a widow is arranged
when she renounces her rights. Bertha ordered even her alms-purse be
included, in order that the ceremony might be perfect. The report of
these preparations ran through the house, and everyone knew then that
the mistress was about to leave it, a circumstance that filled every
heart with sorrow, even that of a little scullion, who had only been a
week in the place, but to whom Madame had already given a kind word.
Frightened at these preparations, old Bastarnay came into her chamber,
and found her weeping over the body of Jehan, for the tears had come
at last; but she dried them directly she perceived her husband. To his
numerous questions she replied briefly by the confession of her fault,
telling him how she had been duped, how the poor page had been
distressed, showing him upon the corpse the mark of the poniard wound;
how long he had been getting well; and how, in obedience to her, and
from penitence towards God, he had entered the Church, abandoning the
glorious career of a knight, putting an end to his name, which was
certainly worse than death; how she, while avenging her honour, had
thought that even God himself would not have refused the monk one day
in the year to see the son for whom he had sacrificed everything; how,
not wishing to live with a murderer, she was about to quit his house,
leaving all her property behind her; because, if the honour of the
Bastarnays was stained, it was not she who had brought the shame
about; because in this calamity she had arranged matters as best she
could; finally, she added a vow to go over mountain and valley, she
and her son, until all was expiated, for she knew how to expiate all.
Having with noble mien and a pale face uttered these beautiful words,
she took her child by the hand and went out in great mourning, more
magnificently beautiful than was Mademoiselle Hagar on her departure
from the residence of the patriarch Abraham, and so proudly, that all
the servants and retainers fell on their knees as she passed along,
imploring her with joined hands, like Notre Dame de la Riche. It was
pitiful to see the Sieur de Bastarnay following her, ashamed, weeping,
confessing himself to blame, and downcast and despairing, like a man
being led to the gallows, there to be turned off.
And Bertha turned a deaf ear to everything. The desolation was so
great that she found the drawbridge lowered, and hastened to quit the
castle, fearing that it might be suddenly raised again; but no one had
the right or the heart to do it. She sat down on the curb of the moat,
in view of the whole castle, who begged her, with tears, to stay. The
poor sire was standing with his hand upon the chain of the portcullis,
as silent as the stone saints carved above the door. He saw Bertha
order her son to shake the dust from his shoes at the end of the
bridge, in order to have nothing belonging to Bastarnay about him; and
she did likewise. Then, indicating the sire to her son with her
finger, she spoke to him as follows--
"Child, behold the murderer of thy father, who was, as thou art aware,
the poor prior; but thou hast taken the name of this man. Give it him
back here, even as thou leavest the dust taken by the shoes from his
castle. For the food that thou hast had in the castle, by God's help
we will also settle."
Hearing this, Bastarnay would have let his wife receive a whole
monastery of monks in order not to be abandoned by her, and by a young
squire capable of becoming the honour of his house, and remained with
his head sunk down against the chains.
The heart of Bertha was suddenly filled with holy solace, for the
banner of the great monastery turned the corner of a road across the
fields, and appeared accompanied by the chants of the Church, which
burst forth like heavenly music. The monks, informed of the murder
perpetrated on their well-beloved prior, came in procession, assisted
by the ecclesiastical justice, to claim his body. When he saw this,
the Sire de Bastarnay had barely that time to make for the postern
with his men, and set out towards Monseigneur Louis, leaving
everything in confusion.
Poor Bertha, en croup behind her son, came to Montbazon to bid her
father farewell, telling him that this blow would be her death, and
was consoled by those of her family who endeavoured to raise her
spirits, but were unable to do so. The old Sire de Rohan presented his
grandson with a splendid suit of armour, telling him to acquire glory
and honour that he might turn his mother's faults into eternal renown.
But Madame de Bastarnay had implanted in the mind of her dear son no
other idea than of atoning for the harm done, in order to save her and
Jehan from eternal damnation. Both then set out for the places then in
a state of rebellion, in order to render such service to Bastarnay
that he would receive from them more than life itself.
Now the heat of the sedition was, as everyone knows, in the
neighbourhood of Angouleme, and of Bordeaux in Guienne, and other
parts of the kingdom, where great battles and severe conflicts between
the rebels and the royal armies was likely to take place. The
principal one which finished the war was given between Ruffec and
Angouleme, where all the prisoners taken were tried and hanged. This
battle, commanded by old Bastarnay, took place in the month of
November, seven months after the poisoning of Jehan. Now the Baron
knew that his head had been strongly recommended as one to be cut off,
he being the right hand of Monsiegneur Louis. Directly his men began
to fall back, the old fellow found himself surrounded by six men
determined to seize him. Then he understood that they wished to take
him alive, in order to proceed against his house, ruin his name, and
confiscate his property. The poor sire preferred rather to die and
save his family, and present the domains to his son. He defended
himself like the brave old lion that he was. In spite of their number,
these said soldiers, seeing three of their comrades fall, were obliged
to attack Bastarnay at the risk of killing him, and threw themselves
together upon him, after having laid low two of his equerries and a
In this extreme danger an esquire wearing the arms of Rohan, fell upon
the assailants like a thunderbolt, and killed two of them, crying,
"God save the Bastarnays!" The third man-at-arms, who had already
seized old Bastarnay, was so hard pressed by this squire, that he was
obliged to leave the elder and turn against the younger, to whom he
gave a thrust with his dagger through a flaw in his armour. Bastarnay
was too good a comrade to fly without assisting the liberator of his
house, who was badly wounded. With a blow of his mace he killed the
man-at-arms, seized the squire, lifted him on to his horse, and gained
the open, accompanied by a guide, who led him to the castle of
Roche-Foucauld, which he entered by night, and found in the great room
Bertha de Rohan, who had arranged this retreat for him. But on
removing the helmet of his rescuer, he recognised the son of Jehan,
who expired upon the table, as by a final effort he kissed his mother,
and saying in a loud voice to her--
"Mother, we have paid the debt we owed him!"
Hearing these words, the mother clasped the body of her loved child to
her heart, and separated from him never again, for she died of grief,
without hearing or heeding the pardon and repentance of Bastarnay.
The strange calamity hastened the last day of the poor old man, who
did not live to see the coronation of King Louis the Eleventh. He
founded a daily mass in the Church of Roche-Foucauld, where in the
same grave he placed mother and son, with a large tombstone, upon
which their lives are much honoured in the Latin language.
The morals which any one can deduce from this history are the most
profitable for the conduct of life, since this shows how gentlemen
should be courteous with the dearly beloveds of their wives. Further,
it teaches us that all children are blessings sent by God Himself, and
over them fathers, whether true or false, have no right of murder, as
was formerly the case at Rome, owing to a heathen and abominable law,
which ill became that Christianity which makes us all sons of God.
HOW THE PRETTY MAID OF PORTILLON CONVINCED HER JUDGE
The Maid of Portillon, who became as everyone knows, La Tascherette,
was, before she became a dyer, a laundress at the said place of
Portillon, from which she took her name. If any there be who do not
know Tours, it may be as well to state that Portillon is down the
Loire, on the same side as St. Cyr, about as far from the bridge which
leads to the cathedral of Tours as said bridge is distant from
Marmoustier, since the bridge is in the centre of the embankment
between Portillon and Marmoustier. Do you thoroughly understand?
Yes? Good! Now the maid had there her washhouse, from which she ran to
the Loire with her washing in a second and took the ferry-boat to get
to St. Martin, which was on the other side of the river, for she had
to deliver the greater part of her work in Chateauneuf and other
About Midsummer day, seven years before marrying old Taschereau, she
had just reached the right age to be loved, without making a choice
from any of the lads who pursued her with their intentions. Although
there used to come to the bench under her window the son of Rabelais,
who had seven boats on the Loire, Jehan's eldest, Marchandeau the
tailor, and Peccard the ecclesiastical goldsmith, she made fun of them
all, because she wished to be taken to church before burthening
herself with a man, which proves that she was an honest woman until
she was wheedled out of her virtue. She was one of those girls who
take great care not to be contaminated, but who, if by chance they get
deceived, let things take their course, thinking that for one stain or
for fifty a good polishing up is necessary. These characters demand
A young noble of the court perceived her one day when she was crossing
the water in the glare of the noonday sun, which lit up her ample
charms, and seeing her, asked who she was. An old man, who was working
on the banks, told him she was called the Pretty Maid of Portillon, a
laundress, celebrated for her merry ways and her virtue. This young
lord, besides ruffles to starch, had many precious draperies and
things; he resolved to give the custom of his house to this girl, whom
he stopped on the road. He was thanked by her and heartily, because he
was the Sire du Fou, the king's chamberlain. This encounter made her
so joyful that her mouth was full of his name. She talked about it a
great deal to the people of St. Martin, and when she got back to the
washhouse was still full of it, and on the morrow at her work her
tongue went nineteen to the dozen, and all on the same subject, so
that as much was said concerning my Lord du Fou in Portillon as of God
in a sermon; that is, a great deal too much.
"If she works like that in cold water, what will she do in warm?" said
an old washerwoman. "She wants du Fou; he'll give her du Fou!"
The first time this giddy wench, with her head full of Monsieur du
Fou, had to deliver the linen at his hotel, the chamberlain wished to
see her, and was very profuse in praises and compliments concerning
her charms, and wound up by telling her that she was not at all silly
to be beautiful, and therefore he would give her more than she
expected. The deed followed the word, for the moment his people were
out of the room, he began to caress the maid, who thinking he was
about to take out the money from his purse, dared not look at the
purse, but said, like a girl ashamed to take her wages--
"It will be for the first time."
"It will be soon," said he.
Some people say that he had great difficulty in forcing her to accept
what he offered her, and hardly forced her at all; others that he
forced her badly, because she came out like an army flagging on the
route, crying and groaning, and came to the judge. It happened that
the judge was out. La Portillone awaited his return in his room,
weeping and saying to the servant that she had been robbed, because
Monseigneur du Fou had given her nothing but his mischief; whilst a
canon of the Chapter used to give her large sums for that which M. du
Fou wanted for nothing. If she loved a man she would think it wise to
do things for him for nothing, because it would be a pleasure to her;
but the chamberlain had treated her roughly, and not kindly and
gently, as he should have done, and that therefore he owed her the
thousand crowns of the canon. Then the judge came in, saw the wench,
and wished to kiss her, but she put herself on guard, and said she had
come to make a complaint. The judge replied that certainly she could
have the offender hanged if she liked, because he was most anxious to
serve her. The injured maiden replied that she did not wish the death
of her man, but that he should pay her a thousand gold crowns, because
she had been robbed against her will.
"Ha! ha!" said the judge, "what he took was worth more than that."
"For the thousand crowns I'll cry quits, because I shall be able to
live without washing."
"He who has robbed you, is he well off?"
"Then he shall pay dearly for it. Who is it?"
"Monseigneur du Fou."
"Oh, that alters the case," said the judge.
"But justice?" said she.
"I said the case, not the justice of it," replied the judge. "I must
know how the affair occurred."
Then the girl related naively how she was arranging the young lord's
ruffles in his wardrobe, when he began to play with her skirt, and she
turned round saying--
"Go on with you!"
"You have no case," said the judge, "for by that speech he thought
that you gave him leave to go on. Ha! ha!"
Then she declared that she had defended herself, weeping and crying
out, and that that constitutes an assault.
"A wench's antics to incite him," said the judge.
Finally, La Portillone declared that against her will she had been
taken round the waist and thrown, although she had kicked and cried
and struggled, but that seeing no help at hand, she had lost courage.
"Good! good!" said the judge. "Did you take pleasure in the affair?"
"No," said she. "My anguish can only be paid for with a thousand
"My dear," said the judge, "I cannot receive your complaint, because I
believe no girl could be thus treated against her will."
"Hi! hi! hi! Ask your servant," said the little laundress, sobbing,
"and hear what she'll tell you."
The servant affirmed that there were pleasant assaults and unpleasant
ones; that if La Portillone had received neither amusement nor money,
either one or the other was due to her. This wise counsel threw the
judge into a state of great perplexity.
"Jacqueline," said he, "before I sup I'll get to the bottom of this.
Now go and fetch my needle and the red thread that I sew the law paper
Jacqueline came back with a big needle, pierced with a pretty little
hole, and a big red thread, such as the judges use. Then she remained
standing to see the question decided, very much disturbed, as was also
the complainant at these mysterious preparations.
"My dear," said the judge, "I am going to hold the bodkin, of which
the eye is sufficiently large, to put this thread into it without
trouble. If you do put it in, I will take up your case, and will make
Monseigneur offer you a compromise."
"What's that?" said she. "I will not allow it."
"It is a word used in justice to signify an agreement."
"A compromise is then agreeable with justice?" said La Portillone.
"My dear, this violence has also opened your mind. Are you ready?"
"Yes," said she.
The waggish judge gave the poor nymph fair play, holding the eye
steady for her; but when she wished to slip in the thread that she had
twisted to make straight, he moved a little, and the thread went on
the other side. She suspected the judge's argument, wetted the thread,
stretched it, and came back again. The judge moved, twisted about, and
wriggled like a bashful maiden; still this cursed thread would not
enter. The girl kept trying at the eye, and the judge kept fidgeting.
The marriage of the thread could not be consummated, the bodkin
remained virgin, and the servant began to laugh, saying to La
Portillone that she knew better how to endure than to perform. Then
the roguish judge laughed too, and the fair Portillone cried for her
"If you don't keep still," cried she, losing patience; "if you keep
moving about I shall never be able to put the thread in."
"Then, my dear, if you had done the same, Monseigneur would have been
unsuccessful too. Think, too, how easy is the one affair, and how
difficult the other."
The pretty wench, who declared she had been forced, remained
thoughtful, and sought to find a means to convince the judge by
showing how she had been compelled to yield, since the honour of all
poor girls liable to violence was at stake.
"Monseigneur, in order that the bet made the fair, I must do exactly
as the young lord did. If I had only had to move I should be moving
still, but he went through other performances."
"Let us hear them," replied the judge.
Then La Portillone straightens the thread, and rubs it in the wax of
the candle, to make it firm and straight; then she looked towards the
eye of the bodkin, held by the judge, slipping always to the right or
to the left. Then she began making endearing little speeches, such as,
"Ah, the pretty little bodkin! What a pretty mark to aim at! Never did
I see such a little jewel! What a pretty little eye! Let me put this
little thread into it! Ah, you will hurt my poor thread, my nice
little thread! Keep still! Come, my love of a judge, judge of my love!
Won't the thread go nicely into this iron gate, which makes good use
of the thread, for it comes out very much out of order?" Then she
burst out laughing, for she was better up in this game than the judge,
who laughed too, so saucy and comical and arch was she, pushing the
thread backwards and forwards. She kept the poor judge with the case
in his hand until seven o'clock, keeping on fidgeting and moving about
like a schoolboy let loose; but as La Portillone kept on trying to put
the thread in, he could not help it. As, however, his joint was
burning, and his wrist was tired, he was obliged to rest himself for a
minute on the side of the table; then very dexterously the fair maid
of Portillon slipped the thread in, saying--
"That's how the thing occurred."
"But my joint was burning."
"So was mine," said she.
The judge, convinced, told La Portillone that he would speak to
Monseigneur du Fou, and would himself carry the affair through, since
it was certain the young lord had embraced her against her will, but
that for valid reasons he would keep the affair dark. On the morrow
the judge went to the Court and saw Monseigneur du Fou, to whom he
recounted the young woman's complaint, and how she had set forth her
case. This complaint lodged in court, tickled the king immensely.
Young du Fou having said that there was some truth in it, the king
asked if he had had much difficulty, and as he replied, innocently,
"No," the king declared the girl was quite worth a hundred gold
crowns, and the chamberlain gave them to the judge, in order not to be
taxed with stinginess, and said the starch would be a good income to
La Portillone. The judge came back to La Portillone, and said,
smiling, that he had raised a hundred gold crowns for her. But if she
desired the balance of the thousand, there were at that moment in the
king's apartments certain lords who, knowing the case, had offered to
make up the sum for her, with her consent. The little hussy did not
refuse this offer, saying, that in order to do no more washing in the
future she did not mind doing a little hard work now. She gratefully
acknowledged the trouble the good judge had taken, and gained her
thousand crowns in a month. From this came the falsehoods and jokes
concerning her, because out of these ten lords jealousy made a
hundred, whilst, differently from young men, La Portillone settled
down to a virtuous life directly she had her thousand crowns. Even a
Duke, who would have counted out five hundred crowns, would have found
this girl rebellious, which proves she was niggardly with her
property. It is true that the king caused her to be sent for to his
retreat of Rue Quinquangrogne, on the mall of Chardonneret, found her
extremely pretty, exceedingly affectionate, enjoyed her society, and
forbade the sergeants to interfere with her in any way whatever.
Seeing she was so beautiful, Nicole Beaupertuys, the king's mistress,
gave her a hundred gold crowns to go to Orleans, in order to see if
the colour of the Loire was the same there as at Portillon. She went
there, and the more willingly because she did not care very much for
the king. When the good man came who confessed the king in his last
hours, and was afterwards canonised, La Portillone went to him to
polish up her conscience, did penance, and founded a bed in the
leper-house of St. Lazare-aux-Tours. Many ladies whom you know have
been assaulted by more than two lords, and have founded no other beds
than those in their own houses. It is as well to relate this fact, in
order to cleanse the reputation of this honest girl, who herself once
washed dirty things, and who afterwards became famous for her clever
tricks and her wit. She gave a proof of her merit in marrying
Taschereau, who she cuckolded right merrily, as has been related in the
story of The Reproach. This proves to us most satisfactorily that with
strength and patience justice itself can be violated.
IN WHICH IT IS DEMONSTRATED THAT FORTUNE IS ALWAYS FEMININE
During the time when knights courteously offered to each other both
help and assistance in seeking their fortune, it happened that in
Sicily--which, as you are probably aware, is an island situated in the
corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and formerly celebrated--one knight
met in a wood another knight, who had the appearance of a Frenchman.
Presumably, this Frenchman was by some chance stripped of everything,
and was so wretchedly attired that but for his princely air he might
have been taken for a blackguard. It was possible that his horse had
died of hunger or fatigue, on disembarking from the foreign shore for
which he came, on the faith of the good luck which happened to the
French in Sicily, which was true in every respect.
The Sicilian knight, whose name was Pezare, was a Venetian long absent
from the Venetian Republic, and with no desire to return there, since
he had obtained a footing in the Court of the King of Sicily. Being
short of funds in Venice, because he was a younger son, he had no
fancy for commerce, and was for that reason eventually abandoned by
his family, a most illustrious one. He therefore remained at this
Court, where he was much liked by the king.
This gentleman was riding a splendid Spanish horse, and thinking to
himself how lonely he was in this strange court, without trusty
friends, and how in such cases fortune was harsh to helpless people
and became a traitress, when he met the poor French knight, who
appeared far worse off that he, who had good weapons, a fine horse,
and a mansion where servants were then preparing a sumptuous supper.
"You must have come a long way to have so much dust on your feet,"
said the Venetian.
"My feet have not as much dust as the road was long," answered the
"If you have travelled so much," continued the Venetian, "you must be
a learned man."
"I have learned," replied the Frenchman, "to give no heed to those who
do not trouble about me. I have learnt that however high a man's head
was, his feet were always level with my own; more than that, I have
learnt to have no confidence in the warm days of winter, in the sleep
of my enemies, or the words of my friends."
"You are, then, richer than I am," said the Venetian, astonished,
"since you tell me things of which I never thought."
"Everyone must think for himself," said the Frenchman; "and as you
have interrogated me, I can request from you the kindness of pointing
to me the road to Palermo or some inn, for the night is closing in."
"Are you then, acquainted with no French or Sicilian gentlemen at
"Then you are not certain of being received?"
"I am disposed to forgive those who reject me. The road, sir, if you
"I am lost like yourself," said the Venetian. "Let us look for it in
"To do that we must go together; but you are on horseback, I am on
The Venetian took the French knight on his saddle behind him, and
"Do you know with whom you are?"
"With a man, apparently."
"Do you think you are in safety?"
"If you were a robber, you would have to take care of yourself," said
the Frenchman, putting the point of his dagger to the Venetian's
"Well, now, my noble Frenchman, you appear to be a man of great
learning and sound sense; know that I am a noble, established at the
Court of Sicily, but alone, and I seek a friend. You seem to be in the
same plight, and, judging from appearances, you do not seem friendly
with your lot, and have apparently need of everybody."
"Should I be happier if everybody wanted me?"
"You are a devil, who turns every one of my words against me. By St.
Mark! my lord knight, can one trust you?"
"More than yourself, who commenced our federal friendship by deceiving
me, since you guide your horse like a man who knows his way, and you
said you were lost."
"And did not you deceive me?" said the Venetian, "by making a sage of
your years walk, and giving a noble knight the appearance of a
vagabond? Here is my abode; my servants have prepared supper for us."
The Frenchman jumped off the horse, and entered the house with the
Venetian cavalier, accepting his supper. They both seated themselves
at the table. The Frenchman fought so well with his jaws, he twisted
the morsels with so much agility, that he showed herself equally
learned in suppers, and showed it again in dexterously draining the
wine flasks without his eye becoming dimmed or his understanding
affected. Then you may be sure that the Venetian thought to himself he
had fallen in with a fine son of Adam, sprung from the right side and
the wrong one. While they were drinking together, the Venetian
endeavoured to find some joint through which to sound the secret
depths of his friend's cogitations. He, however, clearly perceived
that he would cast aside his shirt sooner than his prudence, and
judged it opportune to gain his esteem by opening his doublet to him.
Therefore he told him in what state was Sicily, where reigned Prince
Leufroid and his gentle wife; how gallant was the Court, what courtesy
there flourished, that there abounded many lords of Spain, Italy,
France, and other countries, lords in high feather and well feathered;
many princesses, as rich as noble, and as noble as rich; that this
prince had the loftiest aspirations--such as to conquer Morocco,
Constantinople, Jerusalem, the lands of Soudan, and other African
places. Certain men of vast minds conducted his affairs, bringing
together the ban and arriere ban of the flower of Christian chivalry,
and kept up his splendour with the idea of causing to reign over the
Mediterranean this Sicily, so opulent in times gone by, and of ruining
Venice, which had not a foot of land. These designs had been planted
in the king's mind by him, Pezare; but although he was high in that
prince's favour, he felt himself weak, had no assistance from the
courtiers, and desired to make a friend. In this great trouble he had
gone for a little ride to turn matters over in his mind, and decide
upon the course to pursue. Now, since while in this idea he had met a
man of so much sense as the chevalier had proved herself to be, he
proposed to fraternise with him, to open his purse to him, and give
him his palace to live in. They would journey in company through life
in search of honours and pleasure, without concealing one single
thought, and would assist each other on all occasions as the
brothers-in-arms did at the Crusades. Now, as the Frenchman was seeking
his fortune, and required assistance, the Venetian did not for a moment
expect that this offer of mutual consolation would be refused.
"Although I stand in need of no assistance," said the Frenchman,
"because I rely upon a point which will procure me all that I desire,
I should like to acknowledge your courtesy, dear Chevalier Pezare. You
will soon see that you will yet be the debtor of Gauttier de
Monsoreau, a gentleman of the fair land of Touraine."
"Do you possess any relic with which your fortune is wound up?" said
"A talisman given me by my dear mother," said the Touranian, "with
which castles and cities are built and demolished, a hammer to coin
money, a remedy for every ill, a traveller's staff always ready to be
tried, and worth most when in a state of readiness, a master tool,
which executes wondrous works in all sorts of forges, without making
the slightest noise."
"Eh! by St. Mark you have, then, a mystery concealed in your hauberk?"
"No," said the French knight; "it is a perfectly natural thing. Here
And rising suddenly from the table to prepare for bed, Gauttier showed
to the Venetian the finest talisman to procure joy that he had ever
"This," said the Frenchman, as they both got into bed together,
according to the custom of the times, "overcomes every obstacle, by
making itself master of female hearts; and as the ladies are the
queens in this court, your friend Gauttier will soon reign there."
The Venetian remained in great astonishment at the sight of the secret
charms of the said Gauttier, who had indeed been bounteously endowed
by his mother, and perhaps also by his father; and would thus triumph
over everything, since he joined to this corporeal perfection the wit
of a young page, and the wisdom of an old devil. Then they swore an
eternal friendship, regarding as nothing therein a woman's heart,
vowing to have one and the same idea, as if their heads had been in
the same helmet; and they fell asleep on the same pillow enchanted
with this fraternity. This was a common occurrence in those days.
On the morrow the Venetian gave a fine horse to his friend Gauttier,
also a purse full of money, fine silken hose, a velvet doublet,
fringed with gold, and an embroidered mantle, which garments set off
his figure so well, and showed up his beauties, that the Venetian was
certain he would captivate all the ladies. The servants received
orders to obey this Gauttier as they would himself, so that they
fancied their master had been fishing, and had caught this Frenchman.
Then the two friends made their entry into Palermo at the hour when
the princes and princesses were taking the air. Pezare presented his
French friend, speaking so highly of his merits, and obtaining such a
gracious reception for him, that Leufroid kept him to supper. The
knight kept a sharp eye on the Court, and noticed therein various
curious little secret practices. If the king was a brave and handsome
prince, the princess was a Spanish lady of high temperature, the most
beautiful and most noble woman of his Court, but inclined to
melancholy. Looking at her, the Touranian believed that she was
sparingly embraced by the king, for the law of Touraine is that joy in
the face comes from joy elsewhere. Pezare pointed out to his friend
Gauttier several ladies to whom Leufroid was exceedingly gracious and
who were exceedingly jealous and fought for him in a tournament of
gallantries and wonderful female inventions. From all this Gauttier
concluded that the prince went considerably astray with his court,
although he had the prettiest wife in the world, and occupied himself
with taxing the ladies of Sicily, in order that he might put his horse
in their stables, vary his fodder, and learn the equestrian
capabilities of many lands. Perceiving what a life Leufroid was
leading, the Sire de Monsoreau, certain that no one in the Court had
had the heart to enlighten the queen, determined at one blow to plant
his halberd in the field of the fair Spaniard by a master stroke; and
this is how. At supper-time, in order to show courtesy to the foreign
knight, the king took care to place him near the queen, to whom the
gallant Gauttier offered his arm, to take her into the room, and
conducted her there hastily, to get ahead of those who were following,
in order to whisper, first of all, a word concerning a subject which
always pleases the ladies in whatever condition they may be. Imagine
what this word was, and how it went straight through the stubble and
weeds into the warm thicket of love.
"I know, your majesty, what causes your paleness of face."
"What?" said she.
"You are so loving that the king loves you night and day; thus you
abuse your advantage, for he will die of love."
"What should I do to keep him alive?" said the queen.
"Forbid him to repeat at your altar more than three prayers a day."
"You are joking, after the French fashion, Sir Knight, seeing that the
king's devotion to me does not extend beyond a short prayer a week."
"You are deceived," said Gauttier, seating himself at the table. "I
can prove to you that love should go through the whole mass, matins,
and vespers, with an _Ave_ now and then, for queens as for simple
women, and go through the ceremony every day, like the monks in their
monastery, with fervour; but for you these litanies should never
The queen cast upon the knight a glance which was far from one of
displeasure, smiled at him, and shook her head.
"In this," said she, "men are great liars."
"I have with me a great truth which I will show you when you wish it."
replied the knight. "I undertake to give you queen's fare, and put you
on the high road to joy; by this means you will make up for lost time,
the more so as the king is ruined through other women, while I shall
reserve my advantage for your service."
"And if the king learns of our arrangement, he will put your head on a
level with your feet."
"Even if this misfortune befell me it after the first night, I should
believe I had lived a hundred years, from the joy therein received,
for never have I seen, after visiting all Courts, a princess fit to
hold a candle to your beauty. To be brief, if I die not by the sword,
you will still be the cause of my death, for I am resolved to spend my
life in your love, if life will depart in the place whence it comes."
Now this queen had never heard such words before, and preferred them
to the most sweetly sung mass; her pleasure showed itself in her face,
which became purple, for these words made her blood boil within her
veins, so that the strings of her lute were moved thereat, and struck
a sweet note that rang melodiously in her ears, for this lute fills
with its music the brain and the body of the ladies, by a sweet
artifice of their resonant nature. What a shame to be young,
beautiful, Spanish, and queen, and yet neglected. She conceived an
intense disdain for those of her Court who had kept their lips closed
concerning this infidelity, through fear of the king, and determined
to revenge herself with the aid of this handsome Frenchman, who cared
so little for life that in his first words he had staked it in making
a proposition to a queen, which was worthy of death, if she did her
duty. Instead of this, however, she pressed his foot with her own, in
a manner that admitted no misconception, and said aloud to him--
"Sir Knight, let us change the subject, for it is very wrong of you to
attack a poor queen in her weak spot. Tell us the customs of the
ladies of the Court of France."
Thus did the knight receive the delicate hint that the business was
arranged. Then he commenced to talk of merry and pleasant things,
which during supper kept the court, the king, the queen, and all the
courtiers in a good humour; so much so that when the siege was raised,
Leufroid declared that he had never laughed so much in his life. Then
they strolled about the gardens, which were the most beautiful in the
world, and the queen made a pretext of the chevalier's sayings to walk
beneath a grove of blossoming orange trees, which yielded a delicious
"Lovely and noble queen," said Gauttier, immediately, "I have seen in
all countries the perdition of love have its birth in these first
attentions, which we call courtesy; if you have confidence in me, let
us agree, as people of high intelligence, to love each other without
standing on so much ceremony; by this means no suspicion will be
aroused, our happiness will be less dangerous and more lasting. In
this fashion should queens conduct their amours, if they would avoid
"Well said," said she. "But as I am new at this business, I did not
know what arrangements to make."
"Have you are among your women one in whom you have perfect
"Yes," said she; "I have a maid who came from Spain with me, who would
put herself on a gridiron for me like St. Lawrence did for God, but
she is always poorly."
"That's good," said her companion, "because you go to see her."
"Yes," said the queen, "and sometimes at night."
"Ah!" exclaimed Gauttier, "I make a vow to St. Rosalie, patroness of
Sicily, to build her a gold altar for this fortune."
"O Jesus!" cried the queen. "I am doubly blessed in having a lover so
handsome and yet so religious."
"Ah, my dear, I have two sweethearts today, because I have a queen to
love in heaven above, and another one here below, and luckily these
loves cannot clash one with the other."
This sweet speech so affected the queen, that for nothing she would
have fled with this cunning Frenchman.
"The Virgin Mary is very powerful in heaven," said the queen. "Love
grant that I may be like her!"
"Bah! they are talking of the Virgin Mary," said the king, who by
chance had come to watch them, disturbed by a gleam of jealousy, cast
into his heart by a Sicilian courtier, who was furious at the sudden
favour which the Frenchman had obtained.
The queen and the chevalier laid their plans, and everything was
secretly arranged to furnish the helmet of the king with two invisible
ornaments. The knight rejoined the Court, made himself agreeable to
everyone, and returned to the Palace of Pezare, whom he told that
their fortunes were made, because on the morrow, at night, he would
sleep with the queen. This swift success astonished the Venetian, who,
like a good friend, went in search of fine perfumes, linen of Brabant,
and precious garments, to which queens are accustomed, with all of
which he loaded his friend Gauttier, in order that the case might be
worthy the jewel.
"Ah, my friend," said he "are you sure not to falter, but to go
vigorously to work, to serve the queen bravely, and give her such joys
in her castle of Gallardin that she may hold on for ever to this
master staff, like a drowning sailor to a plank?"
"As for that, fear nothing, dear Pezare, because I have the arrears of
the journey, and I will deal with her as with a simple servant,
instructing her in the ways of the ladies of Touraine, who understand
love better than all others, because they make it, remake it, and
unmake it to make it again and having remade it, still keep on making
it; and having nothing else to do, have to do that which always wants
doing. Now let us settle our plans. This is how we shall obtain the
government of the island. I shall hold the queen and you the king; we
will play the comedy of being great enemies before the eyes of the
courtiers, in order to divide them into two parties under our command,
and yet, unknown to all, we will remain friends. By this means we
shall know their plots, and will thwart them, you by listening to my
enemies and I to yours. In the course of a few days we will pretend to
quarrel in order to strive one against the other. This quarrel will be
caused by the favour in which I will manage to place you with the
king, through the channel of the queen, and he will give you supreme
power, to my injury."
On the morrow Gauttier went to the house of the Spanish lady, who
before the courtiers he recognised as having known in Spain, and he
remained there seven whole days. As you can imagine, the Touranian
treated the queen as a fondly loved woman, and showed her so many
terra incognita in love, French fashions, little tendernesses, etc.,
that she nearly lost her reason through it, and swore that the French
were the only people who thoroughly understood love. You see how the
king was punished, who, to keep her virtuous, had allowed weeds to
grow in the grange of love. Their supernatural festivities touched the
queen so strongly that she made a vow of eternal love to Montsoreau,
who had awakened her, by revealing to her the joys of the proceeding.
It was arranged that the Spanish lady should take care always to be
ill; and that the only man to whom the lovers would confide their
secret should be the court physician, who was much attached to the
queen. By chance this physician had in his glottis, chords exactly
similar to those of Gauttier, so that by a freak of nature they had
the same voice, which much astonished the queen. The physician swore
on his life faithfully to serve the pretty couple, for he deplored the
sad desertion of this beautiful women, and was delighted to know she
would be served as a queen should be--a rare thing.
A month elapsed and everything was going on to the satisfaction of the
two friends, who worked the plans laid by the queen, in order to get
the government of Sicily into the hands of Pezare, to the detriment of
Montsoreau, whom the king loved for his great wisdom; but the queen
would not consent to have him, because he was so ungallant. Leufroid
dismissed the Duke of Cataneo, his principal follower, and put the
Chevalier Pezare in his place. The Venetian took no notice of his
friend the Frenchmen. Then Gauttier burst out, declaimed loudly
against the treachery and abused friendship of his former comrade, and
instantly earned the devotion of Cataneo and his friends, with whom he
made a compact to overthrow Pezare. Directly he was in office the
Venetian, who was a shrewd man, and well suited to govern states,
which was the usual employment of Venetian gentlemen, worked wonders
in Sicily, repaired the ports, brought merchants there by the
fertility of his inventions and by granting them facilities, put bread
into the mouths of hundreds of poor people, drew thither artisans of
all trades, because fetes were always being held, and also the idle
and rich from all quarters, even from the East. Thus harvests, the
products of the earth, and other commodities, were plentiful; and
galleys came from Asia, the which made the king much envied, and the
happiest king in the Christian world, because through these things his
Court was the most renowned in the countries of Europe. This fine
political aspect was the result of the perfect agreement of the two
men who thoroughly understood each other. The one looked after the
pleasures, and was himself the delight of the queen, whose face was
always bright and gay, because she was served according to the method
of Touraine, and became animated through excessive happiness; and he
also took care to keep the king amused, finding him every day new
mistresses, and casting him into a whirl of dissipation. The king was
much astonished at the good temper of the queen, whom, since the
arrival of the Sire de Montsoreau in the island, he had touched no
more than a Jew touches bacon. Thus occupied, the king and queen
abandoned the care of their kingdom to the other friend, who conducted
the affairs of government, ruled the establishment, managed the
finances, and looked to the army, and all exceedingly well, knowing
where money was to be made, enriching the treasury, and preparing all
the great enterprises above mentioned.
The state of things lasted three years, some say four, but the monks
of Saint Benoist have not wormed out the date, which remains obscure,
like the reasons for the quarrel between the two friends. Probably the
Venetian had the high ambition to reign without any control or
dispute, and forgot the services which the Frenchman had rendered him.
Thus do the men who live in Courts behave, for, according to the
statements of the Messire Aristotle in his works, that which ages the
most rapidly in this world is a kindness, although extinguished love
is sometimes very rancid. Now, relying on the perfect friendship of
Leufroid, who called him his crony, and would have done anything for
him, the Venetian conceived the idea of getting rid of his friend by
revealing to the king the mystery of his cuckoldom, and showing him
the source of the queen's happiness, not doubting for a moment but
that he would commence by depriving Monsoreau of his head, according
to a practice common in Sicily under similar circumstances. By this
means Pezare would have all the money that he and Gauttier had
noiselessly conveyed to the house of a Lombard of Genoa, which money
was their joint property on account of their fraternity. This
treasure, increased on one side by the magnificent presents made to
Montsoreau by the queen, who had vast estates in Spain, and other, by
inheritance in Italy; on the other, by the king's gifts to his prime
minister, to whom he also gave certain rights over the merchants, and
other indulgences. The treacherous friend, having determined to break
his vow, took care to conceal his intention from Gauttier, because the
Touranian was an awkward man to tackle.
One night that Pezare knew that the queen was in bed with her lover,
who loved him as though each night were a wedding one, so skilful was
she at the business, the traitor promised the king to let him take
evidence in the case, through a hole he had made in the wardrobe of
the Spanish lady, who always pretended to be at death's door. In order
to obtain a better view, Pezare waited until the sun had risen. The
Spanish lady, who was fleet of foot, had a quick eye and a sharp ear,
heard footsteps, peeped out, and perceiving the king, followed by the
Venetian, through a crossbar in the closet in which she slept the
night that the queen had her lover between two sheets, which is
certainly the best way to have a lover. She ran to warn the couple of
this betrayal. But the king's eye was already at the cursed hole,
That beautiful and divine lantern with burns so much oil and lights
the world--a lantern adorned with the most lovely baubles, flaming,
brilliantly, which he thought more lovely than all the others, because
he had lost sight of it for so long a time that it appeared quite new
to him; but the size of the hole prevented him seeing anything else
except the hand of a man, which modestly covered the lantern, and he
heard the voice of Montsoreau saying--
"How's the little treasure, this morning?" A playful expression, which
lovers used jokingly, because this lantern is in all countries the sun
of love, and for this the prettiest possible names are bestowed upon
it, whilst comparing it to the loveliest things in nature, such as my
pomegranate, my rose, my little shell, my hedgehog, my gulf of love,
my treasure, my master, my little one; some even dared most
heretically to say, my god! If you don't believe it, ask your friends.
At this moment the lady let him understand by a gesture that the king
"Can he hear?" said the queen.
"Can he see?"
"Who brought him?"
"Fetch the physician, and get Gauttier into his own room." said the
In less time than it takes a beggar to say "God bless you, sir!" the
queen had swathed the lantern in linen and paint, so that you would
have thought it a hideous wound in a state of grievous inflammation.
When the king, enraged by what he overheard, burst open the door, he
found the queen lying on the bed exactly as he has seen her through
the hole, and the physician, examining the lantern swathed in
bandages, and saying, "How it is the little treasure, this morning?"
in exactly the same voice as the king had heard. A jocular and
cheerful expression, because physicians and surgeons use cheerful
words with ladies and treat this sweet flower with flowery phrases.
This sight made the king look as foolish as a fox caught in a trap.
The queen sprang up, reddening with shame, and asking what man dared
to intrude upon her privacy at such a moment, but perceiving the king,
she said to him as follows:--
"Ah! my lord, you have discovered that which I have endeavoured to
conceal from you: that I am so badly treated by you that I am
afflicted with a burning ailment, of which my dignity would not allow
me to complain, but which needs secret dressing in order to assuage
the influence of the vital forces. To save my honour and your own, I
am compelled to come to my good Lady Miraflor, who consoles me in my
Then the physician commenced to treat Leufroid to an oration,
interlarded with Latin quotations and precious grains from
Hippocrates, Galen, the School of Salerno, and others, in which he
showed him how necessary to women was the proper cultivation of the
field of Venus, and that there was great danger of death to queens of
Spanish temperament, whose blood was excessively amorous. He delivered
himself of his arguments with great solemnity of feature, voice, and
manner, in order to give the Sire de Montsoreau time to get to bed.
Then the queen took the same text to preach the king a sermon as long
as his arm, and requested the loan of that limb, that the king might
conduct her to her apartment instead of the poor invalid, who usually
did so in order to avoid calumny. When they were in the gallery where
the Sire de Montsoreau resided, the queen said jokingly, "You should
play a good trick on this Frenchman, who I would wager is with some
lady, and not in his own room. All the ladies of Court are in love
with him, and there will be mischief some day through him. If you had
taken my advice he would not be in Sicily now."
Leufroid went suddenly into Gauttier's room, whom he found in a deep
sleep, and snoring like a monk in Church. The queen returned with the
king, whom she took to her apartments, and whispered to one of the
guards to send to her the lord whose place Pezare occupied. Then,
while she fondled the king, taking breakfast with him, she took the
lord directly he came, into an adjoining room.
"Erect a gallows on the bastion," said she, "then seize the knight
Pezare, and manage so that he is hanged instantly, without giving time
to write or say a single word on any subject whatsoever. Such is our
good pleasure and supreme command."
Cataneo made no remark. While Pezare was thinking to himself that his
friend Gauttier would soon be minus his head, the Duke Cataneo came to
seize and lead him on to bastion, from which he could see at the
queen's window the Sire de Montsoreau in company with the king, the
queen, and the courtiers, and came to the conclusion that he who
looked after the queen had a better chance in everything than he who
looked after the king.
"My dear," said the queen to her spouse, leading him to the window,
"behold a traitor, who was endeavouring to deprive you of that which
you hold dearest in the world, and I will give you the proofs when you
have the leisure to study them."
Montsoreau, seeing the preparations for the final ceremony, threw
himself at the king's feet, to obtain the pardon of him who was his
mortal enemy, at which the king was much moved.
"Sire de Monsoreau," said the queen, turning towards him with an angry
look, "are you so bold as to oppose our will and pleasure?"
"You are a noble knight," said the king, "but you do not know how
bitter this Venetian was against you."
Pezare was delicately strangled between the head and the shoulders,
for the queen revealed his treacheries to the king, proving to him, by
the declaration of a Lombard of the town, the enormous sums which
Pezare had in the bank of Genoa, the whole of which were given up to
This noble and lovely queen died, as related in the history of Sicily,
that is, in consequence of a heavy labour, during which she gave birth
to a son, who was a man as great in himself as he was unfortunate in
his undertakings. The king believed the physician's statement, that
the said termination to this accouchement was caused by the too chaste
life the queen had led, and believing himself responsible for it, he
founded the Church of the Madonna, which is one of the finest in the
town of Palermo. The Sire de Monsoreau, who was a witness of the
king's remorse, told him that when a king got his wife from Spain, he
ought to know that this queen would require more attention than any
other, because the Spanish ladies were so lively that they equalled
ten ordinary women, and that if he wished a wife for show only, he
should get her from the north of Germany, where the women are as cold
as ice. The good knight came back to Touraine laden with wealth, and
lived there many years, but never mentioned his adventures in Sicily.
He returned there to aid the king's son in his principal attempt
against Naples, and left Italy when this sweet prince was wounded, as
is related in the Chronicle.
Besides the high moralities contained in the title of this tale, where
it is said that fortune, being female, is always on the side of the
ladies, and that men are quite right to serve them well, it shows us
that silence is the better part of wisdom. Nevertheless, the monkish
author of this narrative seems to draw this other no less learned
moral therefrom, that interest which makes so many friendships, breaks
them also. But from these three versions you can choose the one that
best accords with your judgment and your momentary requirement.
CONCERNING A POOR MAN WHO WAS CALLED LE VIEUX PAR-CHEMINS
The old chronicler who furnished the hemp to weave the present story,
is said to have lived at the time when the affair occurred in the City
In the environs of this fair town, where at the time dwelt Duke
Richard, an old man used to beg, whose name was Tryballot, but to whom
was given the nickname of Le Vieux par-Chemins, or the Old Man of the
Roads; not because he was yellow and dry as vellum, but because he was
always in the high-ways and by-ways--up hill and down dale--slept with
the sky for his counterpane, and went about in rags and tatters.
Notwithstanding this, he was very popular in the duchy, where everyone
had grown used to him, so much so that if the month went by without
anyone seeing his cup held towards them, people would say, "Where is
the old man?" and the usual answer was, "On the roads."
This said man had had for a father a Tryballot, who was in his
lifetime a skilled artisan, so economical and careful, that he left
considerable wealth to his son.
But the young lad soon frittered it away, for he was the very opposite
of the old fellow, who, returning from the fields to his house, picked
up, now here, now there, many a little stick of wood left right and
left, saying, conscientiously, that one should never come home empty
handed. Thus he warmed himself in the winter at the expense of the
careless; and he did well. Everyone recognised what a good example
this was for the country, since a year before his death no one left a
morsel of wood on the road; he had compelled the most dissipated to be
thrifty and orderly. But his son made ducks and drakes of everything,
and did not follow his wise example. The father had predicted the
thing. From the boy's earliest youth, when the good Tryballot set him
to watch the birds who came to eat the peas, beans, and the grain, and
to drive the thieves away, above all, the jays, who spoiled
everything, he would study their habits, and took delight in watching
with what grace they came and went, flew off loaded, and returned,
watching with a quick eye the snares and nets; and he would laugh
heartily at their cleverness in avoiding them. Tryballot senior went
into a passion when he found his grain considerably less in a measure.
But although he pulled his son's ears whenever he caught him idling
and trifling under a nut tree, the little rascal did not alter his
conduct, but continued to study the habits of the blackbirds,
sparrows, and other intelligent marauders. One day his father told him
that he would be wise to model himself after them, for that if he
continued this kind of life, he would be compelled in his old age like
them, to pilfer, and like them, would be pursued by justice. This came
true; for, as has before been stated, he dissipated in a few days the
crowns which his careful father had acquired in a life-time. He dealt
with men as he did with the sparrows, letting everyone put a hand in
his pocket, and contemplating the grace and polite demeanour of those
who assisted to empty it. The end of his wealth was thus soon reached.
When the devil had the empty money bag to himself, Tryballot did not
appear at all cut up, saying, that he "did not wish to damn himself
for this world's goods, and that he had studied philosophy in the
school of the birds."
After having thoroughly enjoyed himself, of all his goods, there only
remained to him a goblet bought at Landict, and three dice, quite
sufficient furniture for drinking and gambling, so that he went about
without being encumbered, as are the great, with chariots, carpets,
dripping pans, and an infinite number of varlets. Tryballot wished to
see his good friends, but they no longer knew him, which fact gave him
leave no longer to recognise anyone. Seeing this, he determined to
choose a profession in which there was nothing to do and plenty to
gain. Thinking this over, he remembered the indulgences of the
blackbirds and the sparrows. Then the good Tryballot selected for his
profession that of begging money at people's houses, and pilfering.
From the first day, charitable people gave him something, and
Tryballot was content, finding the business good, without advance
money or bad debts; on the contrary, full of accommodation. He went
about it so heartily, that he was liked everywhere, and received a
thousand consolations refused to rich people. The good man watched the
peasants planting, sowing, reaping, and making harvest, and said to
himself, that they worked a little for him as well. He who had a pig
in his larder owed him a bit for it, without suspecting it. The man
who baked a loaf in his oven often baked it for Tryballot without
knowing it. He took nothing by force; on the contrary, people said to
him kindly, while making him a present, "Here Vieux par-Chemins, cheer
up, old fellow. How are you? Come, take this; the cat began it, you
can finish it."
Vieux par-Chemins was at all the weddings, baptisms, and funerals,
because he went everywhere where there was, openly or secretly,
merriment and feasting. He religiously kept the statutes and canons of
his order--namely, to do nothing, because if he had been able to do
the smallest amount of work no one would ever give anything again.
After having refreshed himself, this wise man would lay full length in
a ditch, or against a church wall, and think over public affairs; and
then he would philosophise, like his pretty tutors, the blackbirds,
jays, and sparrows, and thought a great deal while mumping; for,
because his apparel was poor, was that a reason his understanding
should not be rich? His philosophy amused his clients, to whom he
would repeat, by way of thanks, the finest aphorisms of his science.
According to him, suppers produced gout in the rich: he boasted that
he had nimble feet, because his shoemaker gave him boots that do not
pinch his corns. There were aching heads beneath diadems, but his
never ached, because it was touched neither by luxury nor any other
chaplet. And again, that jewelled rings hinder the circulation of the
blood. Although he covered himself with sores, after the manner of
cadgers, you may be sure he was as sound as a child at the baptismal
The good man disported himself with other rogues, playing with his
three dice, which he kept to remind him to spend his coppers, in order
that he might always be poor. In spite of his vow, he was, like all
the order of mendicants, so wealthy that one day at the Paschal feast,
another beggar wishing to rent his profit from him, Vieux par-Chemins
refused ten crowns for it; in fact, the same evening he spent fourteen
crowns in drinking the health of the alms-givers, because it is the
statutes of beggary that one should show one's gratitude to donors.
Although he carefully got rid of that of which had been a source of
anxiety to others, who, having too much wealth went in search of
poverty, he was happier with nothing in the world than when he had his
father's money. And seeing what are the conditions of nobility, he was
always on the high road to it, because he did nothing except according
to his fancy, and lived nobly without labour. Thirty crowns would not
have got him out of a bed when he was in it. The morrow always dawned
for him as it did for others, while leading this happy life; which,
according to the statements of Plato, whose authority has more than
once been invoked in these narratives, certain ancient sages had led
before him. At last, Vieux par-Chemins reached the age of eighty-two
years, having never been a single day without picking up money, and
possessed the healthiest colour and complexion imaginable. He believed
that if he had persevered in the race for wealth he would have been
spoiled and buried years before. It is possible he was right.
In his early youth Vieux par-Chemins had the illustrious virtue of
being very partial to the ladies; and his abundance of love was, it is
said, the result of his studies among the sparrows. Thus it was that
he was always ready to give the ladies his assistance in counting the
joists, and this generosity finds its physical cause in the fact that,
having nothing to do, he was always ready to do something. His secret
virtues brought about, it is said, that popularity which he enjoyed in
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