Droll Stories, Volume 1
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 4
One morning Monsieur d'Armagnac having lots of leisure time in
consequence of the flight of the Duke of Burgundy, who was quitting
Lagny, thought he would go and wish his lady good day, and attempted
to wake her up in a pleasant enough fashion, so that she should not be
angry; but she sunk in the heavy slumbers of the morning, replied to
"Leave me alone, Charles!"
"Oh, oh," said the constable, hearing the name of a saint who was not
one of his patrons, "I have a Charles on my head!"
Then, without touching his wife, he jumped out of the bed, and ran
upstairs with his face flaming and his sword drawn, to the place where
slept the countess's maid-servant, convinced that the said servant had
a finger in the pie.
"Ah, ah, wench of hell!" cried he, to commence the discharge of his
passion, "say thy prayers, for I intend to kill thee instantly,
because of the secret practices of Charles who comes here."
"Ah, Monseigneur," replied the woman, "who told you that?"
"Stand steady, that I may rip thee at one blow if you do not confess
to me every assignation given, and in what manner they have been
arranged. If thy tongue gets entangled, if thou falterest, I will
pierce thee with my dagger!"
"Pierce me through!" replied the girl; "you will learn nothing."
The constable, having taken this excellent reply amiss, ran her
through on the spot, so mad was he with rage; and came back into his
wife's chamber and said to his groom, whom, awakened by the shrieks of
the girl, he met upon the stairs, "Go upstairs; I've corrected
Billette rather severely."
Before he reappeared in the presence of Bonne he went to fetch his
son, who was sleeping like a child, and led him roughly into her room.
The mother opened her eyes pretty widely, you may imagine--at the
cries of her little one; and was greatly terrified at seeing him in
the hands of her husband, who had his right hand all bloody, and cast
a fierce glance on the mother and son.
"What is the matter?" said she.
"Madame," asked the man of quick execution, "this child, is he the
fruit of my loins, or those of Savoisy, your lover?"
At this question Bonne turned pale, and sprang upon her son like a
frightened frog leaping into the water.
"Ah, he is really ours," said she.
"If you do not wish to see his head roll at your feet confess yourself
to me, and no prevarication. You have given me a lieutenant."
"Who is he?"
"It is not Savoisy, and I will never say the name of a man that I
Thereupon the constable rose, took his wife by the arm to cut her
speech with a blow of the sword, but she, casting upon him an imperial
"Kill me if you will, but touch me not."
"You shall live," replied the husband, "because I reserve you for a
chastisement more ample then death."
And doubting the inventions, snares, arguments, and artifices familiar
to women in these desperate situations, of which they study night and
day the variations, by themselves, or between themselves, he departed
with this rude and bitter speech. He went instantly to interrogate his
servants, presenting to them a face divinely terrible; so all of them
replied to him as they would to God the Father on the Judgment Day,
when each of us will be called to his account.
None of them knew the serious mischief which was at the bottom of
these summary interrogations and crafty interlocutions; but from all
that they said, the constable came to the conclusion that no male in
his house was in the business, except one of his dogs, whom he found
dumb, and to whom he had given the post of watching the gardens; so
taking him in his hands, he strangled him with rage. This fact incited
him by induction to suppose that the other constable came into his
house by the garden, of which the only entrance was a postern opening
on to the water side.
It is necessary to explain to those who are ignorant of it, the
locality of the Hotel d'Armagnac, which had a notable situation near
to the royal houses of St. Pol. On this site has since been built the
hotel of Longueville. Then as at the present time, the residence of
d'Armagnac had a porch of fine stone in Rue St. Antoine, was fortified
at all points, and the high walls by the river side, in face of the
Ile du Vaches, in the part where now stands the port of La Greve, were
furnished with little towers. The design of these has for a long time
been shown at the house of Cardinal Duprat, the king's Chancellor. The
constable ransacked his brains, and at the bottom, from his finest
stratagems, drew the best, and fitted it so well to the present case,
that the gallant would be certain to be taken like a hare in the trap.
"'Sdeath," said he, "my planter of horns is taken, and I have the time
now to think how I shall finish him off."
Now this is the order of battle which this grand hairy captain who
waged such glorious war against Duke Jean-sans-Peur commanded for the
assault of his secret enemy. He took a goodly number of his most loyal
and adroit archers, and placed them on the quay tower, ordering them
under the heaviest penalties to draw without distinction of persons,
except his wife, on those of his household who should attempt to leave
the gardens, and to admit therein, either by night or by day, the
favoured gentleman. The same was done on the porch side, in the Rue St
The retainers, even the chaplain, were ordered not to leave the house
under pain of death. Then the guard of the two sides of the hotel
having been committed to the soldiers of a company of ordnance, who
were ordered to keep a sharp lookout in the side streets, it was
certain that the unknown lover to whom the constable was indebted for
his pair of horns, would be taken warm, when, knowing nothing, he
should come at the accustomed hour of love to insolently plant his
standard in the heart of the legitimate appurtenances of the said lord
It was a trap into which the most expert man would fall unless he was
seriously protected by the fates, as was the good St. Peter by the
Saviour when he prevented him going to the bottom of the sea the day
when they had a fancy to try if the sea were as solid as terra firma.
The constable had business with the inhabitants of Poissy, and was
obliged to be in the saddle after dinner, so that, knowing his
intention, the poor Countess Bonne determined at night to invite her
young gallant to that charming duel in which she was always the
While the constable was making round his hotel a girdle of spies and
of death, and hiding his people near the postern to seize the gallant
as he came out, not knowing where he would spring from, his wife was
not amusing herself by threading peas nor seeking black cows in the
embers. First, the maid-servant who had been stuck, unstuck herself
and dragged herself to her mistress; she told her that her outraged
lord knew nothing, and that before giving up the ghost she would
comfort her dear mistress by assuring her that she could have perfect
confidence in her sister, who was laundress in the hotel, and was
willing to let herself be chopped up as small as sausage-meat to
please Madame. That she was the most adroit and roguish woman in the
neighbourhood, and renowned from the council chamber to the Trahoir
cross among the common people, and fertile in invention for the
desperate cases of love.
Then, while weeping for the decease of her good chamber woman, the
countess sent for the laundress, made her leave her tubs and join her
in rummaging the bag of good tricks, wishing to save Savoisy, even at
the price of her future salvation.
First of all the two women determined to let him know their lord and
master's suspicion, and beg him to be careful.
Now behold the good washerwoman who, carrying her tub like a mule,
attempts to leave the hotel. But at the porch she found a man-at-arms
who turned a deaf ear to all the blandishments of the wash-tub. Then
she resolved, from her great devotion, to take the soldier on his weak
side, and she tickled him so with her fondling that he romped very
well with her, although he was armour-plated ready for battle; but
when the game was over he still refused to let her go into the street
and although she tried to get herself a passport sealed by some of the
handsomest, believing them more gallant: neither the archers,
men-at-arms, nor others, dared open for her the smallest entrance of
the house. "You are wicked and ungrateful wretches," said she, "not to
render me a like service."
Luckily at this employment she learned everything, and came back in
great haste to her mistress, to whom she recounted the strange
machinations of the count. The two women held a fresh council and had
not considered, the time it takes to sing _Alleluia_, twice, these
warlike appearances, watches, defences, and equivocal, specious, and
diabolical orders and dispositions before they recognised by the sixth
sense with which all females are furnished, the special danger which
threatened the poor lover.
Madame having learned that she alone had leave to quit the house,
ventured quickly to profit by her right, but she did not go the length
of a bow-shot, since the constable had ordered four of his pages to be
always on duty ready to accompany the countess, and two of the ensigns
of his company not to leave her. Then the poor lady returned to her
chamber, weeping as much as all the Magdalens one sees in the church
pictures, could weep together.
"Alas!" said she, "my lover must then be killed, and I shall never see
him again! . . . he whose words were so sweet, whose manners were so
graceful, that lovely head that had so often rested on my knees, will
now be bruised . . . What! Can I not throw to my husband an empty and
valueless head in place of the one full of charms and worth . . . a
rank head for a sweet-smelling one; a hated head for a head of love."
"Ah, Madame!" cried the washerwoman, "suppose we dress up in the
garments of a nobleman, the steward's son who is mad for me, and
wearies me much, and having thus accoutered him, we push him out
through the postern."
Thereupon the two women looked at each other with assassinating eyes.
"This marplot," said she, "once slain, all those soldiers will fly
away like geese."
"Yes, but will not the count recognise the wretch?"
And the countess, striking her breast, exclaimed, shaking her head,
"No, no, my dear, here it is noble blood that must be spilt without
Then she thought a little, and jumping with joy, suddenly kissed the
laundress, saying, "Because I have saved my lover's life by your
counsel, I will pay you for his life until death."
Thereupon the countess dried her tears, put on the face of a bride,
took her little bag and a prayer-book, and went towards the Church of
St. Pol whose bells she heard ringing, seeing that the last Mass was
about to be said. In this sweet devotion the countess never failed,
being a showy woman, like all the ladies of the court. Now this was
called the full-dress Mass, because none but fops, fashionables, young
gentlemen and ladies puffed out and highly scented, were to be met
there. In fact no dresses was seen there without armorial bearings,
and no spurs that were not gilt.
So the Countess of Bonne departed, leaving at the hotel the laundress
much astonished, and charged to keep her eyes about her, and came with
great pomp to the church, accompanied by her pages, the two ensigns
and men-at-arms. It is here necessary to say that among the band of
gallant knights who frisked round the ladies in church, the countess
had more than one whose joy she was, and who had given his heart to
her, after the fashion of youths who put down enough and to spare upon
their tablets, only in order to make a conquest of at least one out of
a great number.
Among these birds of fine prey who with open beaks looked oftener
between the benches and the paternosters than towards the altar and
the priests, there was one upon whom the countess sometimes bestowed
the charity of a glance, because he was less trifling and more deeply
smitten than all the others.
This one remained bashful, always stuck against the same pillar, never
moving from it, but readily ravished with the sight alone of this lady
whom he had chosen as his. His pale face was softly melancholy. His
physiognomy gave proof of fine heart, one of those which nourish
ardent passions and plunge delightedly into the despairs of love
without hope. Of these people there are few, because ordinarily one
likes more a certain thing than the unknown felicities lying and
flourishing at the bottommost depths of the soul.
This said gentleman, although his garments were well made, and clean
and neat, having even a certain amount of taste shown in the
arrangement, seemed to the constable's wife to be a poor knight
seeking fortune, and come from afar, with his nobility for his
portion. Now partly from a suspicion of his secret poverty, partly
because she was well beloved by him and a little because he had a good
countenance, fine black hair, and a good figure, and remained humble
and submissive in all, the constable's wife desired for him the favour
of women and of fortune, not to let his gallantry stand idle, and from
a good housewifely idea, she fired his imagination according to her
fantasies, by certain small favours and little looks which serpented
towards him like biting adders, trifling with the happiness of this
young life, like a princess accustomed to play with objects more
precious than a simple knight. In fact, her husband risked the whole
kingdom as you would a penny at piquet. Finally it was only three days
since, at the conclusion of vespers, that the constable's wife pointed
out to the queen this follower of love, said laughingly--
"There's a man of quality."
This sentence remained in the fashionable language. Later it became a
custom so to designate the people of the court. It was to the wife of
the constable d'Armagnac, and to no other source, that the French
language is indebted for this charming expression.
By a lucky chance the countess had surmised correctly concerning this
gentleman. He was a bannerless knight, named Julien de Boys-Bourredon,
who not having inherited on his estate enough to make a toothpick, and
knowing no other wealth than the rich nature with which his dead
mother had opportunely furnished him, conceived the idea of deriving
therefrom both rent and profit at court, knowing how fond ladies are
of those good revenues, and value them high and dear, when they can
stand being looked at between two suns. There are many like him who
have thus taken the narrow road of women to make their way; but he,
far from arranging his love in measured qualities, spend funds and
all, as soon as he came to the full-dress Mass, he saw the triumphant
beauty of the Countess Bonne. Then he fell really in love, which was a
grand thing for his crowns, because he lost both thirst and appetite.
This love is of the worst kind, because it incites you to the love of
diet, during the diet of love; a double malady, of which one is
sufficient to extinguish a man.
Such was the young gentlemen of whom the good lady had thought, and
towards whom she came quickly to invite him to his death.
On entering she saw the poor chevalier, who faithful to his pleasure,
awaited her, his back against a pillar, as a sick man longs for the
sun, the spring-time, and the dawn. Then she turned away her eyes, and
wished to go to the queen and request her assistance in this desperate
case, for she took pity on her lover, but one of the captains said to
her, with great appearance of respect, "Madame, we have orders not to
allow you to speak with man or woman, even though it should be the
queen or your confessor. And remember that the lives of all of us are
"Is it not your business to die?" said she.
"And also to obey," replied the soldier.
Then the countess knelt down in her accustomed place, and again
regarding her faithful slave, found his face thinner and more deeply
lined than ever it had been.
"Bah!" said she, "I shall have less remorse for his death; he is half
dead as it is."
With this paraphrase of her idea, she cast upon the said gentleman one
of those warm ogles that are only allowable to princesses and harlots,
and the false love which her lovely eyes bore witness to, gave a
pleasant pang to the gallant of the pillar. Who does not love the warm
attack of life when it flows thus round the heart and engulfs
Madame recognised with a pleasure, always fresh in the minds of women,
the omnipotence of her magnificent regard by the answer which, without
saying a word, the chevalier made to it. And in fact, the blushes
which empurpled his cheeks spoke better than the best speeches of the
Greek and Latin orators, and were well understood. At this sweet
sight, the countess, to make sure that it was not a freak of nature,
took pleasure in experimentalising how far the virtue of her eyes
would go, and after having heated her slave more than thirty times,
she was confirmed in her belief that he would bravely die for her.
This idea so touched her, that from three repetitions between her
orisons she was tickled with the desire to put into a lump all the
joys of man, and to dissolve them for him in one single glance of
love, in order that she should not one day be reproached with having
not only dissipated the life, but also the happiness of this
gentleman. When the officiating priest turned round to sing the _Off
you go_ to this fine gilded flock, the constable's wife went out by the
side of the pillar where her courtier was, passed in front of him and
endeavoured to insinuate into his understanding by a speaking glance
that he was to follow her, and to make positive the intelligence and
significant interpretation of this gentle appeal, the artful jade
turned round again a little after passing him to again request his
company. She saw that he had moved a little from his place, and dared
not advance, so modest was he, but upon this last sign, the gentleman,
sure of not being over-credulous, mixed with the crowd with little and
noiseless steps, like an innocent who is afraid of venturing into one
of those good places people call bad ones. And whether he walked
behind or in front, to the right or to the left, my lady bestowed upon
him a glistening glance to allure him the more and the better to draw
him to her, like a fisher who gently jerks the lines in order to hook
the gudgeon. To be brief: the countess practiced so well the
profession of the daughters of pleasure when they work to bring grist
into their mills, that one would have said nothing resembled a harlot
so much as a woman of high birth. And indeed, on arriving at the porch
of her hotel the countess hesitated to enter therein, and again turned
her face towards the poor chevalier to invite him to accompany her,
discharging at him so diabolical a glance, that he ran to the queen of
his heart, believing himself to be called by her. Thereupon, she
offered him her hand, and both boiling and trembling from the contrary
causes found themselves inside the house. At this wretched hour,
Madame d'Armagnac was ashamed of having done all these harlotries to
the profit of death, and of betraying Savoisy the better to save him;
but this slight remorse was lame as the greater, and came tardily.
Seeing everything ready, the countess leaned heavily upon her vassal's
arm, and said to him--
"Come quickly to my room; it is necessary that I should speak with
And he, not knowing that his life was in peril, found no voice
wherewith to reply, so much did the hope of approaching happiness
When the laundress saw this handsome gentleman so quickly hooked,
"Ah!" said she, "these ladies of the court are best at such work."
Then she honoured this courtier with a profound salutation, in which
was depicted the ironical respect due to those who have the great
courage to die for so little.
"Picard," said the constable's lady, drawing the laundress to her by
the skirt, "I have not the courage to confess to him the reward with
which I am about to pay his silent love and his charming belief in the
loyalty of women."
"Bah! Madame: why tell him? Send him away well contented by the
postern. So many men die in war for nothing, cannot this one die for
something? I'll produce another like him if that will console you."
"Come along," cried the countess, "I will confess all to him. That
will be the punishment for my sins."
Thinking that this lady was arranging with her servant certain
trifling provisions and secret things in order not to be disturbed in
the interview she had promised him, the unknown lover kept at a
discreet distance, looking at the flies. Nevertheless, he thought that
the countess was very bold, but also, as even a hunchback would have
done, he found a thousand reasons to justify her, and thought himself
quite worthy to inspire such recklessness. He was lost in those good
thoughts when the constable's wife opened the door of her chamber, and
invited the chevalier to follow her in. There his noble lady cast
aside all the apparel of her lofty fortune, and falling at the feet of
this gentleman, became a simple woman.
"Alas, sweet sir!" said she, "I have acted vilely towards you. Listen.
On your departure from this house, you will meet your death. The love
which I feel for another has bewildered me, and without being able to
hold his place here, you will have to take it before his murderers.
This is the joy to which I have bidden you."
"Ah!" Replied Boys-Bourredon, interring in the depths of his heart a
dark despair, "I am grateful to you for having made use of me as of
something which belonged to you. . . . Yes, I love you so much that
every day you I have dreamed of offering you in imitation of the
ladies, a thing that can be given but once. Take, then, my life!"
And the poor chevalier, in saying this, gave her one glance to suffice
for all the time he would have been able to look at her through the
long days. Hearing these brave and loving words, Bonne rose suddenly.
"Ah! were it not for Savoisy, how I would love thee!" said she.
"Alas! my fate is then accomplished," replied Boys-Bourredon. "My
horoscope predicted that I should die by the love of a great lady. Ah,
God!" said he, clutching his good sword, "I will sell my life dearly,
but I shall die content in thinking that my decease ensures the
happiness of her I love. I should live better in her memory than in
reality." At the sight of the gesture and the beaming face of this
courageous man, the constable's wife was pierced to the heart. But
soon she was wounded to the quick because he seemed to wish to leave
her without even asking of her the smallest favour.
"Come, that I may arm you," said she to him, making an attempt to kiss
"Ha! my lady-love," replied he, moistening with a gentle tear the fire
of his eyes, "would you render my death impossible by attaching too
great a value to my life?"
"Come," cried she, overcome by this intense love, "I do not know what
the end of all this will be, but come--afterwards we will go and
perish together at the postern."
The same flame leaped in their hearts, the same harmony had struck for
both, they embraced each other with a rapture in the delicious excess
of that mad fever which you know well I hope; they fell into a
profound forgetfulness of the dangers of Savoisy, of themselves, of
the constable, of death, of life, of everything.
Meanwhile the watchman at the porch had gone to inform the constable
of the arrival of the gallant, and to tell him how the infatuated
gentleman had taken no notice of the winks which, during Mass and on
the road, the countess had given him in order to prevent his
destruction. They met their master arriving in great haste at the
postern, because on their side the archers of the quay had whistled to
him afar off, saying to him--
"The Sire de Savoisy has passed in."
And indeed Savoisy had come at the appointed hour, and like all the
lovers, thinking only of his lady, he had not seen the count's spies
and had slipped in at the postern. This collision of lovers was the
cause of the constable's cutting short the words of those who came
from the Rue St. Antoine, saying to them with a gesture of authority,
that they did not think wise to disregard--
"I know that the animal is taken."
Thereupon all rushed with a great noise through this said postern,
crying, "Death to him! death to him!" and men-at-arms, archers, the
constable, and the captains, all rushed full tilt upon Charles
Savoisy, the king's nephew, who they attacked under the countess's
window, where by a strange chance, the groans of the poor young man
were dolorously exhaled, mingled with the yells of the soldiers, at
the same time as passionate sighs and cries were given forth by the
two lovers, who hastened up in great fear.
"Ah!" said the countess, turning pale from terror, "Savoisy is dying
"But I will live for you," replied Boys-Bourredon, "and shall esteem
it a joy to pay the same price for my happiness as he has done."
"Hide yourself in the clothes chest," cried the countess; "I hear the
And indeed M. d'Armagnac appeared very soon with a head in his hand,
and putting it all bloody on the mantleshelf, "Behold, Madame," said
he, "a picture which will enlighten you concerning the duties of a
wife towards her husband."
"You have killed an innocent man," replied the countess, without
changing colour. "Savoisy was not my lover."
And with the this speech she looked proudly at the constable with a
face marked by so much dissimulation and feminine audacity, that the
husband stood looking as foolish as a girl who has allowed a note to
escape her below, before a numerous company, and he was afraid of
having made a mistake.
"Of whom were you thinking this morning?" asked he.
"I was dreaming of the king," said she.
"Then, my dear, why not have told me so?"
"Would you have believed me in the bestial passion you were in?"
The constable scratched his ear and replied--
"But how came Savoisy with the key of the postern?"
"I don't know," she said, curtly, "if you will have the goodness to
believe what I have said to you."
And his wife turned lightly on her heel like a weather-cock turned by
the wind, pretending to go and look after the household affairs. You
can imagine that D'Armagnac was greatly embarrassed with the head of
poor Savoisy, and that for his part Boys-Bourredon had no desire to
cough while listening to the count, who was growling to himself all
sorts of words. At length the constable struck two heavy blows over
the table and said, "I'll go and attack the inhabitants of Poissy."
Then he departed, and when the night was come Boys-Bourredon escaped
from the house in some disguise or other.
Poor Savoisy was sorely lamented by his lady, who had done all that a
woman could do to save her lover, and later he was more than wept, he
was regretted; for the countess having related this adventure to Queen
Isabella, her majesty seduced Boys-Bourredon from the service of her
cousin and put him to her own, so much was she touched with the
qualities and firm courage of this gentleman.
Boys-Bourredon was a man whom danger had well recommended to the
ladies. In fact he comported himself so proudly in everything in the
lofty fortune, which the queen had made for him, that having badly
treated King Charles one day when the poor man was in his proper
senses, the courtiers, jealous of favour, informed the king of his
cuckoldom. Boys-Bourredon was in a moment sewn in a sack and thrown
into the Seine, near the ferry at Charenton, as everyone knows. I have
no need add, that since the day when the constable took it into his
head to play thoughtlessly with knives, his good wife utilised so well
the two deaths he had caused and threw them so often in his face, that
she made him as soft as a cat's paw and put him in the straight road
of marriage; and he proclaimed her a modest and virtuous constable's
lady, as indeed she was. As this book should, according to the maxims
of great ancient authors, join certain useful things to the good
laughs which you will find therein and contain precepts of high taste,
I beg to inform you that the quintessence of the story is this: That
women need never lose their heads in serious cases, because the God of
Love never abandons them, especially when they are beautiful, young,
and of good family; and that gallants when going to keep an amorous
assignation should never go there like giddy young men, but carefully,
and keep a sharp look-out near the burrow, to avoid falling into
certain traps and to preserve themselves; for after a good woman the
most precious thing is, certes, a pretty gentleman.
THE MAID OF THILOUSE
The lord of Valennes, a pleasant place, of which the castle is not far
from the town of Thilouse, had taken a mean wife, who by reason of
taste or antipathy, pleasure or displeasure, health or sickness,
allowed her good husband to abstain from those pleasures stipulated
for in all contracts of marriage. In order to be just, it should be
stated that the above-mentioned lord was a dirty and ill-favoured
person, always hunting wild animals and not the more entertaining than
is a room full of smoke. And what is more, the said sportsman was all
sixty years of age, on which subject, however, he was a silent as a
hempen widow on the subject of rope. But nature, which the crooked,
the bandy-legged, the blind, and the ugly abuse so unmercifully here
below, and have no more esteem for her than the well-favoured,--since,
like workers of tapestry, they know not what they do,--gives the same
appetite to all and to all the same mouth for pudding. So every beast
finds a mate, and from the same fact comes the proverb, "There is no
pot, however ugly, that does not one day find a cover." Now the lord
of Valennes searched everywhere for nice little pots to cover, and
often in addition to wild, he hunted tame animals; but this kind of
game was scarce in the land, and it was an expensive affair to
discover a maid. At length however by reason of much ferreting about
and much enquiry, it happened that the lord of Valennes was informed
that in Thilouse was the widow of a weaver who had a real treasure in
the person of a little damsel of sixteen years, whom she had never
allowed to leave her apronstrings, and whom, with great maternal
forethought, she always accompanied when the calls of nature demanded
her obedience; she had her to sleep with her in her own bed, watched
over her, got her up in the morning, and put her to such a work that
between the twain they gained about eight pennies a day. On fete days
she took her to the church, scarcely giving her a spare moment to
exchange a merry word with the young people; above all was she strict
in keeping hands off the maiden.
But the times were just then so hard that the widow and her daughter
had only bread enough to save them from dying of hunger, and as they
lodged with one of their poor relations, they often wanted wood in
winter and clothes in summer, owing enough rent to frighten sergeants
of justice, men who are not easily frightened at the debts of others;
in short, while the daughter was increasing in beauty, the mother was
increasing in poverty, and ran into debt on account of her daughter's
virginity, as an alchemist will for the crucible in which his all is
cast. As soon as his plans were arranged and perfect, one rainy day
the said lord of Valennes by a mere chance came into the hovel of the
two spinners, and in order to dry himself sent for some fagots to
Plessis, close by. While waiting for them, he sat on a stool between
the two poor women. By means of the grey shadows and half light of the
cabin, he saw the sweet countenance of the maid of Thilouse; her arms
were red and firm, her breasts hard as bastions, which kept the cold
from her heart, her waist round as a young oak and all fresh and clean
and pretty, like the first frost, green and tender as an April bud; in
fact, she resembled all that is prettiest in the world. She had eyes
of a modest and virtuous blue, with a look more coy than that of the
Virgin, for she was less forward, never having had a child.
Had any one said to her, "Come, let us make love," she would have
said, "Love! What is that?" she was so innocent and so little open to
the comprehensions of the thing.
The good old lord twisted about upon his stool, eyeing the maid and
stretching his neck like a monkey trying to catch nuts, which the
mother noticed, but said not a word, being in fear of the lord to whom
the whole of the country belonged. When the fagot was put into the
grate and flared up, the good hunter said to the old woman, "Ah, ah!
that warms one almost as much as your daughter's eyes."
"But alas, my lord," said she, "we have nothing to cook on that fire."
"Oh yes," replied he.
"Ah, my good woman, lend your daughter to my wife, who has need of a
good handmaiden: we will give you two fagots every day."
"Oh, my lord, what could I cook at such a good fire?"
"Why," replied the old rascal, "good broth, for I will give you a
measure of corn in season."
"Then," replied the old hag, "where shall I put it?"
"In your dish," answered the purchaser of innocence.
"But I have neither dish nor flower-bin, nor anything."
"Well I will give you dishes and flower-bins, saucepans, flagons, a
good bed with curtains, and everything."
"Yes," replied the good widow, "but the rain would spoil them, I have
"You can see from here," replied the lord, "the house of La
Tourbelliere, where lived my poor huntsmen Pillegrain, who was ripped
up by a boar?"
"Yes," said the old woman.
"Well, you can make yourself at home there for the rest of your days."
"By my faith;" cried the mother, letting fall her distaff, "do you
mean what you say?"
"Well, then, what will you give my daughter?"
"All that she is willing to gain in my service."
"Oh! my lord, you are a joking."
"No," said he.
"Yes," said she.
"By St. Gatien, St. Eleuther, and by the thousand million saints who
are in heaven, I swear that--"
"Ah! Well; if you are not jesting I should like those fagots to pass
through the hands of the notary."
"By the blood of Christ and the charms of your daughter am I not a
gentleman? Is not my word good enough?"
"Ah! well I don't say that it is not; but as true as I am a poor
spinner I love my child too much to leave her; she is too young and
weak at present, she will break down in service. Yesterday, in his
sermon, the vicar said that we should have to answer to God for our
"There! There!" said the lord, "go and find the notary."
An old woodcutter ran to the scrivener, who came and drew up a
contract, to which the lord of Valennes then put his cross, not
knowing how to write, and when all was signed and sealed--
"Well, old lady," said he, "now you are no longer answerable to God
for the virtue of your child."
"Ah! my lord, the vicar said until the age of reason, and my child is
quite reasonable." Then turning towards her, she added, "Marie Fiquet,
that which is dearest to you is your honour, and there where you are
going everyone, without counting my lord, will try to rob you of it,
but you see well what it is worth; for that reason do not lose it save
willingly and in proper manner. Now in order not to contaminate your
virtue before God and before man, except for a legitimate motive, take
heed that your chance of marriage be not damaged beforehand, otherwise
you will go to the bad."
"Yes, dear mother," replied the maid.
And thereupon she left the poor abode of her relation, and came to the
chateau of Valennes, there to serve my lady, who found her both pretty
and to her taste.
When the people of Valennes, Sache, Villaines, and other places,
learned the high price given for the maid of Thilouse, the good
housewives recognising the fact that nothing is more profitable than
virtue, endeavoured to nourish and bring up their daughters virtuous,
but the business was as risky as that of rearing silkworms, which are
liable to perish, since innocence is like a medlar, and ripens quickly
on the straw. There were, however, some girls noted for it in
Touraine, who passed for virgins in the convents of the religious, but
I cannot vouch for these, not having proceeded to verify them in the
manner laid down by Verville, in order to make sure of the perfect
virtue of women. However, Marie Fiquet followed the wise counsel of
her mother, and would take no notice of the soft requests, honied
words, or apish tricks of her master, unless they were flavoured with
a promise of marriage.
When the old lord tried to kiss her, she would put her back up like a
cat at the approach of a dog, crying out "I will tell Madame!" In
short at the end of six months he had not even recovered the price of
a single fagot. From her labour Marie Fiquet became harder and firmer.
Sometimes she would reply to the gentle request of her master, "When
you have taken it from me will you give it me back again?"
Another time she would say, "If I were as full of holes as a sieve not
one should be for you, so ugly do I think you."
The good old man took these village sayings for flowers of innocence,
and ceased not make little signs to her, long harangues and a hundred
vows and sermons, for by reason of seeing the fine breasts of the
maid, her plump hips, which at certain movements came into prominent
relief, and by reason of admiring other things capable of inflaming
the mind of a saint, this dear men became enamoured of her with an old
man's passion, which augments in geometrical proportions as opposed to
the passions of young men, because the old men love with their
weakness which grows greater, and the young with their strength which
grows less. In order to leave this headstrong girl no loophole for
refusal, the old lord took into his confidence the steward, whose age
was seventy odd years, and made him understand that he ought to marry
in order to keep his body warm, and that Marie Fiquet was the very
girl to suit him. The old steward, who had gained three hundred pounds
by different services about the house, desired to live quietly without
opening the front door again; but his good master begged him to marry
to please him, assuring him that he need not trouble about his wife.
So the good steward wandered out of sheer good nature into this
marriage. The day of the wedding, bereft of all her reasons, and not
able to find objections to her pursuer, she made him give her a fat
settlement and dowry as the price of her conquest, and then gave the
old knave leave to wink at her as often as he could, promising him as
many embraces as he had given grains of wheat to her mother. But at
his age a bushel was sufficient.
The festivities over, the lord did not fail, as soon as his wife had
retired, to wend his way towards the well-glazed, well-carpeted, and
pretty room where he had lodged his lass, his money, his fagots, his
house, his wheat, and his steward. To be brief, know that he found the
maid of Thilouse the sweetest girl in the world, as pretty as
anything, by the soft light of the fire which was gleaming in the
chimney, snug between the sheets, and with a sweet odour about her, as
a young maiden should have, and in fact he had no regret for the great
price of this jewel. Not being able to restrain himself from hurrying
over the first mouthfuls of this royal morsel, the lord treated her
more as a past master than a young beginner. So the happy man by too
much gluttony, managed badly, and in fact knew nothing of the sweet
business of love. Finding which, the good wench said, after a minute
or two, to her old cavalier, "My lord, if you are there, as I think
you are, give a little more swing to your bells."
From this saying, which became spread about, I know not how, Marie
Fiquet became famous, and it is still said in our country, "She is a
maid of Thilouse," in mockery of a bride, and to signify a
"Fricquenelle" is said of a girl I do not wish you to find in your
arms on your wedding night, unless you have been brought up in the
philosophy of Zeno, which puts up with anything, and there are many
people obliged to be Stoics in this funny situation, which is often
met with, for Nature turns, but changes not, and there are always good
maids of Thilouse to be found in Touraine, and elsewhere. Now if you
asked me in what consists, or where comes in, the moral of this tale?
I am at liberty to reply to the ladies; that the Cent Contes
Drolatiques are made more to teach the moral of pleasure than to
procure the pleasure of pointing a moral. But if it were a used up old
rascal who asked me, I should say to him with all the respect due to
his yellow or grey locks; that God wishes to punish the lord of
Valennes, for trying to purchase a jewel made to be given.
At the commencement of the reign of King Henry, second of the name,
who loved so well the fair Diana, there existed still a ceremony of
which the usage has since become much weakened, and which has
altogether disappeared, like an infinity of the good things of the
olden times. This fine and noble custom was the choice which all
knights made of a brother-in-arms. After having recognised each other
as two loyal and brave men, each one of this pretty couple was married
for life to the other; both became brothers, the one had to defend the
other in battling against the enemies who threatened him, and at Court
against the friends who slandered him. In the absence of his companion
the other was expected to say to one who should have accused his good
brother of any disloyalty, wickedness or dark felony, "You have lied
by your throat," and so go into the field instantly, so sure was the
one of the honour of the other. There is no need to add, that the one
was always the second of the other in all affairs, good or evil, and
that they shared all good or evil fortune. They were better than the
brothers who are only united by the hazard of nature, since they were
fraternised by the bonds of an especial sentiment, involuntary and
mutual, and thus the fraternity of arms has produced splendid
characters, as brave as those of the ancient Greeks, Romans, or
others. . . . But this is not my subject; the history of these things
has been written by the historians of our country, and everyone knows
Now at this time two young gentlemen of Touraine, of whom one was the
Cadet of Maille, and the other Sieur de Lavalliere, became
brothers-in-arms on the day they gained their spurs. They were leaving
the house of Monsieur de Montmorency, where they had been nourished with
the good doctrines of this great Captain, and had shown how contagious
is valour in such good company, for at the battle of Ravenna they
merited the praises of the oldest knights. It was in the thick of this
fierce fight that Maille, saved by the said Lavalliere, with whom he
had had a quarrel or two, perceived that this gentleman had a noble
heart. As they had each received slashes in the doublets, they
baptised their fraternity with their blood, and were ministered to
together in one and the same bed under the tent of Monsieur de
Montmorency their master. It is necessary to inform you that, contrary
to the custom of his family, which was always to have a pretty face,
the Cadet of Maille was not of a pleasing physiognomy, and had
scarcely any beauty but that of the devil. For the rest he was lithe
as a greyhound, broad shouldered and strongly built as King Pepin, who
was a terrible antagonist. On the other hand, the Sieur de Lavalliere
was a dainty fellow, for whom seemed to have been invented rich laces,
silken hose, and cancellated shoes. His long dark locks were pretty as
a lady's ringlets, and he was, to be brief, a child with whom all the
women would be glad to play. One day the Dauphine, niece of the Pope,
said laughingly to the Queen of Navarre, who did not dislike these
little jokes, "that this page was a plaster to cure every ache," which
caused the pretty little Tourainian to blush, because, being only
sixteen, he took this gallantry as a reproach.
Now on his return from Italy the Cadet of Maille found the slipper of
marriage ready for his foot, which his mother had obtained for him in
the person of Mademoiselle d'Annebaut, who was a graceful maiden of
good appearance, and well furnished with everything, having a splendid
hotel in the Rue Barbette, with handsome furniture and Italian
paintings and many considerable lands to inherit. Some days after the
death of King Francis--a circumstance which planted terror in the
heart of everyone, because his said Majesty had died in consequence of
an attack of the Neapolitan sickness, and that for the future there
would be no security even with princesses of the highest birth--the
above-named Maille was compelled to quit the Court in order to go and
arrange certain affairs of great importance in Piedmont. You may be
sure that he was very loath to leave his good wife, so young, so
delicate, so sprightly, in the midst of the dangers, temptations,
snares and pitfalls of this gallant assemblage, which comprised so
many handsome fellows, bold as eagles, proud of mein, and as fond of
women as the people are partial to Paschal hams. In this state of
intense jealousy everything made him ill at ease; but by dint of much
thinking, it occurred to him to make sure of his wife in the manner
about to be related. He invited his good brother-in-arms to come at
daybreak on the morning of his departure. Now directly he heard
Lavalliere's horse in the courtyard, he leaped out of bed, leaving his
sweet and fair better-half sleeping that gentle, dreamy, dozing sleep
so beloved by dainty ladies and lazy people. Lavalliere came to him,
and the two companions, hidden in the embrasure of the window, greeted
each other with a loyal clasp of the hand, and immediately Lavalliere
said to Maille--
"I should have been here last night in answer to thy summons, but I
had a love suit on with my lady, who had given me an assignation; I
could in no way fail to keep it, but I quitted her at dawn. Shall I
accompany thee? I have told her of thy departure, she has promised me
to remain without any amour; we have made a compact. If she deceives
me--well a friend is worth more than a mistress!"
"Oh! my good brother" replied the Maille, quite overcome with these
words, "I wish to demand of thee a still higher proof of thy brave
heart. Wilt thou take charge of my wife, defend her against all, be
her guide, keep her in check and answer to me for the integrity of my
head? Thou canst stay here during my absence, in the green-room, and
be my wife's cavalier."
Lavalliere knitted his brow and said--
"It is neither thee nor thy wife that I fear, but evil-minded people,
who will take advantage of this to entangle us like skeins of silk."
"Do not be afraid of me," replied Maille, clasping Lavalliere to his
breast. "If it be the divine will of the Almighty that I should have
the misfortune to be a cuckold, I should be less grieved if it were to
your advantage. But by my faith I should die of grief, for my life is
bound up in my good, young, virtuous wife."
Saying which, he turned away his head, in order that Lavalliere should
not perceive the tears in his eyes; but the fine courtier saw this
flow of water, and taking the hand of Maille--
"Brother," said he to him, "I swear to thee on my honour as a man,
that before anyone lays a finger on thy wife, he shall have felt my
dagger in the depth of his veins! And unless I should die, thou shalt
find her on thy return, intact in body if not in heart, because
thought is beyond the control of gentlemen."
"It is then decreed above," exclaimed Maille, "that I shall always be
thy servant and thy debtor!"
Thereupon the comrade departed, in order not to be inundated with the
tears, exclamations, and other expressions of grief which ladies make
use of when saying "Farewell." Lavalliere having conducted him to the
gate of the town, came back to the hotel, waited until Marie
d'Annebaut was out of bed, informed her of the departure of her good
husband, and offered to place himself at her orders, in such a
graceful manner, that the most virtuous woman would have been tickled
with a desire to keep such a knight to herself. But there was no need
of this fine paternoster to indoctrinate the lady, seeing that she had
listened to the discourse of the two friends, and was greatly offended
at her husband's doubt. Alas! God alone is perfect! In all the ideas
of men there is always a bad side, and it is therefore a great science
in life, but an impossible science, to take hold of everything, even a
stick by the right end. The cause of the great difficulty there is in
pleasing the ladies is, that there is it in them a thing which is more
woman than they are, and but for the respect which is due to them, I
would use another word. Now we should never awaken the phantasy of
this malevolent thing. The perfect government of woman is a task to
rend a man's heart, and we are compelled to remain in perfect
submission to them; that is, I imagine, the best manner in which to
solve the most agonising enigma of marriage.
Now Marie d'Annebaut was delighted with the bearing and offers of this
gallant; but there was something in her smile which indicated a
malicious idea, and, to speak plainly, the intention of putting her
young guardian between honour and pleasure; to regale him so with
love, to surround him with so many little attentions, to pursue him
with such warm glances, that he would be faithless to friendship, to
the advantage of gallantry.
Everything was in perfect trim for the carrying out of her design,
because of the companionship which the Sire de Lavalliere would be
obliged to have with her during his stay in the hotel, and as there is
nothing in the world can turn a woman from her whim, at every turn the
artful jade was ready to catch him in a trap.
At times she would make him remain seated near her by the fire, until
twelve o'clock at night, singing soft refrains, and at every
opportunity showed her fair shoulders, and the white temptations of
which her corset was full, and casting upon him a thousand piercing
glances, all without showing in her face the thoughts that surged in
At times she would walk with him in the morning, in the gardens of the
hotel, leaning heavily upon his arm, pressing it, sighing, and making
him tie the laces of her little shoes, which were always coming undone
in that particular place. Then it would be those soft words and things
which the ladies understand so well, little attentions paid to a
guest, such as coming in to see if he were comfortable, if his bed
were well made, the room clean, if the ventilation were good, if he
felt any draughts in the night, if the sun came in during the day, and
asking him to forgo none of his usual fancies and habits, saying--
"Are you accustomed to take anything in the morning in bed, such as
honey, milk, or spice? Do the meal times suit you? I will conform mine
to yours: tell me. You are afraid to ask me. Come--"
She accompanied these coddling little attentions with a hundred
affected speeches; for instance, on coming into the room she would
"I am intruding, send me away. You want to be left alone--I will go."
And always was she graciously invited to remain.
And the cunning Madame always came lightly attired, showing samples of
her beauty, which would have made a patriarch neigh, even were he as
much battered by time as must have been Mr. Methusaleh, with his nine
hundred and sixty years.
That good knight being as sharp as a needle, let the lady go on with
her tricks, much pleased to see her occupy herself with him, since it
was so much gained; but like a loyal brother, he always called her
absent husband to the lady's mind.
Now one evening--the day had been very warm--Lavalliere suspecting the
lady's games, told her that Maille loved her dearly, that she had in
him a man of honour, a gentleman who doted on her, and was ticklish on
the score of his crown.
"Why then, if he is so ticklish in this manner, has he placed you
"Was it not a most prudent thing?" replied he. "Was it not necessary
to confide you to some defender of your virtue? Not that it needs one
save to protect you from wicked men."
"Then you are my guardian?" said she.
"I am proud of it!" exclaimed Lavalliere.
"Ah!" said she, "he has made a very bad choice."
This remark was accompanied by a little look, so lewdly lascivious
that the good brother-in-arms put on, by way of reproach, a severe
countenance, and left the fair lady alone, much piqued at this refusal
to commence love's conflict.
She remained in deep meditation, and began to search for the real
obstacle that she had encountered, for it was impossible that it
should enter the mind of any lady, that a gentleman could despise that
bagatelle which is of such great price and so high value. Now these
thoughts knitted and joined together so well, one fitting into the
other, that out of little pieces she constructed a perfect whole, and
found herself desperately in love; which should teach the ladies never
to play with a man's weapons, seeing that like glue, they always stick
to the fingers.
By this means Marie d'Annebaut came to a conclusion which she should
have known at the commencement--viz., that to keep clear of her
snares, the good knight must be smitten with some other lady, and
looking round her, to see where her young guest could have found a
needle-case to his taste, she thought of the fair Limeuil, one of
Queen Catherine's maids, of Mesdames de Nevers, d'Estree, and de Giac,
all of whom were declared friends of Lavalliere, and of the lot he
must love one to distraction.
From this belief, she added the motive of jealousy to the others which
tempted her to seduce her Argus, whom she did not wish to wound, but
to perfume, kiss his head, and treat kindly.
She was certainly more beautiful, young, and more appetising and
gentle than her rivals; at least, that was the melodious decree of her
imaginations. So, urged on by the chords and springs of conscience,
and physical causes which affect women, she returned to the charge, to
commence a fresh assault upon the heart of the chevalier, for the
ladies like that which is well fortified.
Then she played the pussy-cat, and nestled up close to him, became so
sweetly sociable, and wheedled so gently, that one evening when she
was in a desponding state, although merry enough in her inmost soul,
the guardian-brother asked her--
"What is the matter with you?"
To which she replied to him dreamily, being listened to by him as the
That she had married Maille against her heart's will, and that she was
very unhappy; that she knew not the sweets of love; that her husband
did not understand her, and that her life was full of tears. In fact,
that she was a maiden in heart and all, since she confessed in
marriage she had experienced nothing but the reverse of pleasure. And
she added, that surely this holy state should be full of sweetmeats
and dainties of love, because all the ladies hurried into it, and
hated and were jealous of those who out-bid them, for it cost certain
people pretty dear; that she was so curious about it that for one good
day or night of love, she would give her life, and always be obedient
to her lover without a murmur; but that he with whom she would sooner
than all others try the experiment would not listen to her; that,
nevertheless, the secret of their love might be kept eternally, so
great was her husband's confidence in him, and that finally if he
still refused it would kill her.
And all these paraphrases of the common canticle known to the ladies
at their birth were ejaculated between a thousand pauses, interrupted
with sighs torn from the heart, ornamented with quiverings, appeals to
heaven, upturned eyes, sudden blushings and clutchings at her hair. In
fact, no ingredient of temptation was lacking in the dish, and at the
bottom of all these words there was a nipping desire which embellished
even its blemishes. The good knight fell at the lady's feet, and
weeping took them and kissed them, and you may be sure the good woman
was quite delighted to let him kiss them, and even without looking too
carefully to see what she was going to do, she abandoned her dress to
him, knowing well that to keep it from sweeping the ground it must be
taken at the bottom to raise it; but it was written that for that
evening she should be good, for the handsome Lavalliere said to her
"Ah, madame, I am an unfortunate man and a wretch."
"Not at all," said she.
"Alas, the joy of loving you is denied to me."
"How?" said she.
"I dare not confess my situation to you!"
"Is it then very bad?"
"Ah, you will be ashamed of me!"
"Speak, I will hide my face in my hands," and the cunning madame hid
her face is such a way that she could look at her well-beloved between
"Alas!" said he, "the other evening when you addressed me in such
gracious words, I was so treacherously inflamed, that not knowing my
happiness to be so near, and not daring to confess my flame to you, I
ran to a Bordel where all the gentleman go, and there for love of you,
and to save the honour of my brother whose head I should blush to
dishonour, I was so badly infected that I am in great danger of dying
of the Italian sickness."
The lady, seized with terror, gave vent to the cry of a woman in
labour, and with great emotion, repulsed him with a gentle little
gesture. Poor Lavalliere, finding himself in so pitiable state, went
out of the room, but he had not even reached the tapestries of the
door, when Marie d'Annebaut again contemplated him, saying to herself,
"Ah! what a pity!" Then she fell into a state of great melancholy,
pitying in herself the gentleman, and became the more in love with him
because he was fruit three times forbidden.
"But for Maille," said she to him, one evening that she thought him
handsomer than unusual, "I would willingly take your disease. Together
we should then have the same terrors."
"I love you too well," said the brother, "not to be good."
And he left her to go to his beautiful Limeuil. You can imagine that
being unable to refuse to receive the burning glances of the lady,
during meal times, and the evenings, there was a fire nourished that
warmed them both, but she was compelled to live without touching her
cavalier, otherwise than with her eyes. Thus occupied, Marie
d'Annebaut was fortified at every point against the gallants of the
Court, for there are no bounds so impassable as those of love, and no
better guardian; it is like the devil, he whom it has in its clutches
it surrounds with flames. One evening, Lavalliere having escorted his
friend's wife to a dance given by Queen Catherine, he danced with the
fair Limeuil, with whom he was madly in love. At that time the knights
carried on their amours bravely two by two, and even in troops. Now
all the ladies were jealous of La Limeuil, who at that time was
thinking of yielding to the handsome Lavalliere. Before taking their
places in the quadrille, she had given him the sweetest of
assignations for the morrow, during the hunt. Our great Queen
Catherine, who from political motives fermented these loves and
stirred them up, like pastrycooks make the oven fires burn by poking,
glanced at all the pretty couples interwoven in the quadrille, and
said to her husband--
"When they combat here, can they conspire against you, eh?"
"Ah! but the Protestants?"
"Bah! have them here as well," said she, laughing. "Why, look at
Lavalliere, who is suspected to be a Huguenot; he is converted by my
dear little Limeuil, who does not play her cards badly for a young
lady of sixteen. He will soon have her name down in his list."
"Ah, Madame! do not believe it," said Marie d'Annebaut, "he is ruined
through that same sickness of Naples which made you queen."
At this artless confession, Catherine, the fair Diana, and the king,
who were sitting together, burst out laughing, and the thing ran round
the room. This brought endless shame and mockery upon Lavalliere. The
poor gentleman, pointed at by everyone, soon wished somebody else in
his shoes, for La Limeuil, who his rivals had not been slow laughingly
to warn of her danger, appeared to shrink from her lover, so rapid was
the spread, and so violent the apprehensions of this nasty disease.
Thus Lavalliere found himself abandoned by everyone like a leper. The
king made an offensive remark, and the good knight quitted the
ball-room, followed by poor Marie in despair at the speech. She had in
every way ruined the man she loved: she had destroyed his honour, and
marred his life, since the physicians and master surgeons advance as a
fact, incapable of contradiction, that persons Italianised by this
love sickness, lost through it their greatest attractions, as well as
their generative powers, and their bones went black.
Thus no woman would bind herself in legitimate marriage with the
finest gentlemen in the kingdom if he were only suspected of being one
of those whom Master Frances Rabelais named "his very precious scabby
ones. . . . ."
As the handsome knight was very silent and melancholy, his companion
said to him on the road home from Hercules House, where the fete had
"My dear lord, I have done you a great mischief."
"Ah, madame!" replied Lavalliere, "my hurt is curable; but into what a
predicament have you fallen? You should not have been aware of the
danger of my love."
"Ah!" said she, "I am sure now always to have you to myself; in
exchange for this great obloquy and dishonour, I will be forever your
friend, your hostess, and your lady-love--more than that, your
servant. My determination is to devote myself to you and efface the
traces of this shame; to cure you by a watch and ward; and if the
learned in these matters declare that the disease has such a hold of
you that it will kill you like our defunct sovereign, I must still
have your company in order to die gloriously in dying of your
complaint. Even then," said she, weeping, "that will not be penance
enough to atone for the wrong I have done you."
These words were accompanied with big tears; her virtuous heart waxed
faint, she fell to the ground exhausted. Lavalliere, terrified, caught
her and placed his hand upon her heart, below a breast of matchless
beauty. The lady revived at the warmth of this beloved hand,
experiencing such exquisite delights as nearly to make her again
"Alas!" said she, "this sly and superficial caress will be for the
future the only pleasure of our love. It will still be a hundred times
better than the joys which poor Maille fancies he is bestowing on me.
. . . Leave your hand there," said she; "verily it is upon my soul,
and touches it."
At these words the knight was in a pitiful plight, and innocently
confessed to the Lady that he experienced so much pleasure at this
touch that the pains of his malady increased, and that death was
preferable to this martyrdom.
"Let us die then," said she.
But the litter was in the courtyard of the hotel, and as the means of
death was not handy, each one slept far from the other, heavily
weighed down with love, Lavalliere having lost his fair Limeuil, and
Marie d'Annebaut having gained pleasures without parallel.
From this affair, which was quite unforeseen, Lavalliere found himself
under the ban of love and marriage and dared no longer appear in
public, and he found how much it costs to guard the virtue of a woman;
but the more honour and virtue he displayed the more pleasure did he
experience in these great sacrifices offered at the shrine of
brotherhood. Nevertheless, his duty was very bitter, very ticklish,
and intolerable to perform, towards the last days of his guard. And in
The confession of her love, which she believed was returned, the wrong
done by her to her cavalier, and the experience of an unknown
pleasure, emboldened the fair Marie, who fell into a platonic love,
gently tempered with those little indulgences in which there is no
danger. From this cause sprang the diabolical pleasures of the game
invented by the ladies, who since the death of Francis the First
feared the contagion, but wished to gratify their lovers. To these
cruel delights, in order to properly play his part, Lavalliere could
not refuse his sanction. Thus every evening the mournful Marie would
attach her guest to her petticoats, holding his hand, kissing him with
burning glances, her cheek placed gently against his, and during this
virtuous embrace, in which the knight was held like the devil by a
holy water brush, she told him of her great love, which was boundless
since it stretched through the infinite spaces of unsatisfied desire.
All the fire with which the ladies endow their substantial amours,
when the night has no other lights than their eyes, she transferred
into the mystic motions of her head, the exultations of her soul, and
the ecstasies of her heart. Then, naturally, and with the delicious
joy of two angels united by thought alone, they intoned together those
sweet litanies repeated by the lovers of the period in honour of
love--anthems which the abbot of Theleme has paragraphically saved
from oblivion by engraving them on the walls of his Abbey, situated,
according to master Alcofribas, in our land of Chinon, where I have
seen them in Latin, and have translated them for the benefit of
"Alas!" said Marie d'Annebaut, "thou art my strength and my life, my
joy and my treasure."
"And you," replied he "you are a pearl, an angel."
"Thou art my seraphim."
"You my soul."
"Thou my God."
"You my evening star and morning star, my honour, my beauty, my
"Thou my great my divine master."
"You my glory, my faith, my religion."
"Thou my gentle one, my handsome one, my courageous one, my dear one,
my cavalier, my defender, my king, my love."
"You my fairy, the flower of my days, the dream of my nights."
"Thou my thought at every moment."
"You the delights of my eyes."
"Thou the voice of my soul."
"You my light by day."
"Thou my glimmer in the night."
"You the best beloved among women."
"Thou the most adored of men."
"You my blood, a myself better than myself."
"Thou art my heart, my lustre."
"You my saint, my only joy."
"I yield thee the palm of love, and how great so'er mine be, I believe
thou lovest me still more, for thou art the lord."
"No; the palm is yours, my goddess, my Virgin Marie."
"No; I am thy servant, thine handmaiden, a nothing thou canst crush to
"No, no! it is I who am your slave, your faithful page, whom you see
as a breath of air, upon whom you can walk as on a carpet. My heart is
"No, dearest, for thy voice transfigures me."
"Your regard burns me."
"I see but thee."
"I love but you."
"Oh! put thine hand upon my heart--only thine hand--and thou will see
me pale, when my blood shall have taken the heat of thine."
Then during these struggles their eyes, already ardent, flamed still
more brightly, and the good knight was a little the accomplice of the
pleasure which Marie d'Annebaut took in feeling his hand upon her
heart. Now, as in this light embrace all their strength was put forth,
all their desires strained, all their ideas of the thing concentrated,
it happened that the knight's transport reached a climax. Their eyes
wept warm tears, they seized each other hard and fast as fire seizes
houses; but that was all. Lavalliere had promised to return safe and
sound to his friend the body only, not the heart.
When Maille announced his return, it was quite time, since no virtue
could avoid melting upon this gridiron; and the less licence the
lovers had, the more pleasure they had in their fantasies.
Leaving Marie d'Annebaut, the good companion in arms went as far as
Bondy to meet his friend, to help him to pass through the forest
without accident, and the two brothers slept together, according to
the ancient custom, in the village of Bondy.
There, in their bed, they recounted to each other, one of the
adventures of his journey, the other the gossip of the camp, stories
of gallantry, and the rest. But Maille's first question was touching
Marie d'Annebaut, whom Lavalliere swore to be intact in that precious
place where the honour of husbands is lodged; at which the amorous
Maille was highly delighted.
On the morrow, they were all three re-united, to the great disgust of
Marie, who, with the high jurisprudence of women, made a great fuss
with her good husband, but with her finger she indicated her heart in
an artless manner to Lavalliere, as one who said, "This is thine!"
At supper Lavalliere announced his departure for the wars. Maille was
much grieved at this resolution, and wished to accompany his brother;
that Lavalliere refused him point blank.
"Madame," said he to Marie d'Annebaut, "I love you more than life, but
not more than honour."
He turned pale saying this, and Madame de Maille blanched hearing him,
because never in their amorous dalliance had there been so much true
love as in this speech. Maille insisted on keeping his friend company
as far as Meaux. When he came back he was talking over with his wife
the unknown reasons and secret causes of this departure, when Marie,
who suspected the grief of poor Lavalliere said, "I know: he is
ashamed to stop here because he has the Neapolitan sickness."
"He!" said Maille, quite astonished. "I saw him when we were in bed
together at Bondy the other evening, and yesterday at Meaux. There's
nothing the matter with him; he is as sound as a bell."
The lady burst into tears, admiring this great loyalty, the sublime
resignation to his oath, and the extreme sufferings of this internal
passion. But as she still kept her love in the recesses of her heart,
she died when Lavalliere fell before Metz, as has been elsewhere
related by Messire Bourdeilles de Brantome in his tittle-tattle.
THE VICAR OF AZAY-LE-RIDEAU
In those days the priests no longer took any woman in legitimate
marriage, but kept good mistresses as pretty as they could get; which
custom has since been interdicted by the council, as everyone knows,
because, indeed, it was not pleasant that the private confessions of
people should be retold to a wench who would laugh at them, besides
the other secret doctrines, ecclesiastical arrangements, and
speculations which are part and parcel of the politics of the Church
of Rome. The last priest in our country who theologically kept a woman
in his parsonage, regaling her with his scholastic love, was a certain
vicar of Azay-le-Ridel, a place later on most aptly named as
Azay-le-Brule, and now Azay-le-Rideau, whose castle is one of the
marvels of Touraine. Now this said period, when the women were not
averse to the odour of the priesthood, is not so far distant as some
may think, Monsieur D'Orgemont, son of the preceding bishop, still
held the see of Paris, and the great quarrels of the Armagnacs had not
finished. To tell the truth, this vicar did well to have his vicarage
in that age, since he was well shapen, of a high colour, stout, big,
strong, eating and drinking like a convalescent, and indeed, was
always rising from a little malady that attacked him at certain times;
and, later on, he would have been his own executioner, had he
determined to observe his canonical continence. Add to this that he
was a Tourainian, id est, dark, and had in his eyes flame to light,
and water to quench all the domestic furnaces that required lighting
or quenching; and never since at Azay has been such vicar seen! A
handsome vicar was he, square-shouldered, fresh coloured, always
blessing and chuckling, preferred weddings and christenings to
funerals, a good joker, pious in Church, and a man in everything.
There have been many vicars who have drunk well and eaten well; others
who have blessed abundantly and chuckled consumedly; but all of them
together would hardly make up the sterling worth of this aforesaid
vicar; and he alone has worthily filled his post with benedictions,
has held it with joy, and in it has consoled the afflicted, all so
well, that no one saw him come out of his house without wishing to be
in his heart, so much was he beloved. It was he who first said in a
sermon that the devil was not so black as he was painted, and who for
Madame de Cande transformed partridges into fish saying that the perch
of the Indre were partridges of the river, and, on the other hand,
partridges perch in the air. He never played artful tricks under the
cloak of morality, and often said, jokingly, he would rather be in a
good bed then in anybody's will, that he had plenty of everything, and
wanted nothing. As for the poor and suffering, never did those who
came to ask for wool at the vicarage go away shorn, for his hand was
always in his pocket, and he melted (he who in all else was so firm)
at the sight of all this misery and infirmity, and he endeavoured to
heal all their wounds. There have been many good stories told
concerning this king of vicars. It was he who caused such hearty
laughter at the wedding of the lord of Valennes, near Sacche. The
mother of the said lord had a good deal to do with the victuals, roast
meats and other delicacies, of which there was sufficient quantity to
feed a small town at least, and it is true, at the same time, that
people came to the wedding from Montbazon, from Tours, from Chinon,
from Langeais, and from everywhere, and stopped eight days.
Now the good vicar, as he was going into the room where the company
were enjoying themselves, met the little kitchen boy, who wished to
inform Madame that all the elementary substances and fat rudiments,
syrups, and sauces, were in readiness for a pudding of great delicacy,
the secret compilation, mixing, and manipulation of which she wished
herself to superintend, intending it as a special treat for her
daughter-in-law's relations. Our vicar gave the boy a tap on the
cheek, telling him that he was too greasy and dirty to show himself to
people of high rank, and that he himself would deliver the said
message. The merry fellow pushes open the door, shapes the fingers of
his left hand into the form of a sheath, and moves gently therein the
middle finger of his right, at the same time looking at the lady of
Valennes, and saying to her, "Come, all is ready." Those who did not
understand the affair burst out laughing to see Madame get up and go
to the vicar, because she knew he referred to the pudding, and not to
that which the others imagined.
But a true story is that concerning the manner in which this worthy
pastor lost his mistress, to whom the ecclesiastical authorities
allowed no successor; but, as for that, the vicar did not want for
domestic utensils. In the parish everyone thought it an honour to lend
him theirs, the more readily because he was not the man to spoil
anything, and was careful to clean them out thoroughly, the dear man.
But here are the facts. One evening the good man came home to supper
with a melancholy face, because he had just put into the ground a good
farmer, whose death came about in a strange manner, and is still
frequently talked about in Azay. Seeing that he only ate with the end
of his teeth, and turned up his nose at a dish of tripe, which had
been cooked in his own special manner, his good woman said to him--
"Have you passed before the Lombard (see _Master Cornelius, passim_), met
two black crows, or seen the dead man turn in his grave, that you are
"Has anyone deceived you?"
"Come, tell me!"
"My dear, I am still quite overcome at the death of poor Cochegrue,
and there is not at the present moment a good housewife's tongue or a
virtuous cuckold's lips that are not talking about it."
"And what was it?"
"Listen! This poor Cochegrue was returning from market, having sold
his corn and two fat pigs. He was riding his pretty mare, who, near
Azay, commenced to caper about without the slightest cause, and poor
Cochegrue trotted and ambled along counting his profits. At the corner
of the old road of the Landes de Charlemagne, they came upon a
stallion kept by the Sieur de la Carte, in a field, in order to have a
good breed of horses, because the said animal was fleet of foot, as
handsome as an abbot, and so high and mighty that the admiral who came
to see it, said it was a beast of the first quality. This cursed horse
scented the pretty mare; like a cunning beast, neither neighed nor
gave vent to any equine ejaculation, but when she was close to the
road, leaped over forty rows of vines and galloped after her, pawing
the ground with his iron shoes, discharging the artillery of a lover
who longs for an embrace, giving forth sounds to set the strongest
teeth on edge, and so loudly, that the people of Champy heard it and
were much terrified thereat.
"Cochegrue, suspecting the affair, makes for the moors, spurs his
amorous mare, relying upon her rapid pace, and indeed, the good mare
understands, obeys, and flies--flies like a bird, but a bowshot off
follows the blessed horse, thundering along the road like a blacksmith
beating iron, and at full speed, his mane flying in the wind, replying
to the sound of the mare's swift gallop with his terrible pat-a-pan!
pat-a-pan! Then the good farmer, feeling death following him in the
love of the beast, spurs anew his mare, and harder still she gallops,
until at last, pale and half dead with fear, he reaches the outer yard
of his farmhouse, but finding the door of the stable shut he cries,
'Help here! Wife!' Then he turned round on his mare, thinking to avoid
the cursed beast whose love was burning, who was wild with passion,
and growing more amorous every moment, to the great danger of the
mare. His family, horrified at the danger, did not go to open the
stable door, fearing the strange embrace and the kicks of the
iron-shod lover. At last, Cochegrue's wife went, but just as the good
mare was half way through the door, the cursed stallion seized her,
squeezed her, gave her a wild greeting, with his two legs gripped her,
pinched her and held her tight, and at the same time so kneaded and
knocked about Cochegrue that there was only found of him a shapeless
mass, crushed like a nut after the oil has been distilled from it. It
was shocking to see him squashed alive and mingling his cries with the
loud love-sighs of the horse."
"Oh! the mare!" exclaimed the vicar's good wench.
"What!" said the priest astonished.
"Certainly. You men wouldn't have cracked a plumstone for us."
"There," answered the vicar, "you wrong me." The good man threw her so
angrily upon the bed, attacked and treated her so violently that she
split into pieces, and died immediately without either surgeons or
physicians being able to determine the manner in which the solution of
continuity was arrived at, so violently disjointed were the hinges and
mesial partitions. You can imagine that he was a proud man, and a
splendid vicar as has been previously stated.
The good people of the country, even the women, agreed that he was not
to blame, but that his conduct was warranted by the circumstances.
From this, perhaps, came the proverb so much in use at that time, Que
l'aze le saille! The which proverb is really so much coarser in its
actual wording, that out of respect for the ladies I will not mention
it. But this was not the only clever thing that this great and noble
vicar achieved, for before this misfortune he did such a stroke of
business that no robbers dare ask him how many angels he had in his
pocket, even had they been twenty strong and over to attack him. One
evening when his good woman was still with him, after supper, during
which he had enjoyed his goose, his wench, his wine, and everything,
and was reclining in his chair thinking where he could build a new
barn for the tithes, a message came for him from the lord of Sacche,
who was giving up the ghost and wished to reconcile himself with God,
receive the sacrament, and go through the usual ceremonies. "He is a
good man and loyal lord. I will go." said he. Thereupon he passed into
the church, took the silver box where the blessed bread is, rang the
little bell himself in order not to wake the clerk, and went lightly
and willingly along the roads. Near the Gue-droit, which is a valley
leading to the Indre across the moors, our good vicar perceived a high
toby. And what is a high toby? It is a clerk of St. Nicholas. Well,
what is that? That means a person who sees clearly on a dark night,
instructs himself by examining and turning over purses, and takes his
degrees on the high road. Do you understand now? Well then, the high
toby waited for the silver box, which he knew to be of great value.
"Oh! oh!" said the priest, putting down the sacred vase on a stone at
the corner of the bridge, "stop thou there without moving."
Then he walked up to the robber, tipped him up, seized his loaded
stick, and when the rascal got up to struggle with him, he gutted him
with a blow well planted in the middle of his stomach. Then he picked
up the viaticum again, saying bravely to it: "Ah! If I had relied upon
thy providence, we should have been lost." Now to utter these impious
words on the road to Sacche was mere waste of breath, seeing that he
addressed them not to God, but to the Archbishop of Tours, who have
once severely rebuked him, threatened him with suspension, and
admonished him before the Chapter for having publicly told certain
lazy people that a good harvest was not due to the grace of God, but
to skilled labour and hard work--a doctrine which smelt of the fagot.
And indeed he was wrong, because the fruits of the earth have need
both of one and the other; but he died in this heresy, for he could
never understand how crops could come without digging, if God so
willed it--a doctrine that learned men have since proved to be true,
by showing that formerly wheat grew very well without the aid of man.
I cannot leave this splendid model of a pastor without giving here one
of the acts of his life, which proves with what fervour he imitated
the saints in the division of their goods and mantles, which they gave
formerly to the poor and the passers-by. One day, returning from
Tours, where he had been paying his respects to the official, mounted
on his mule, he was nearing Azay. On the way, just out side Ballan, he
met a pretty girl on foot, and was grieved to see a woman travelling
like a dog; the more so as she was visibly fatigued, and could
scarcely raise one foot before the other. He whistled to her softly,
and the pretty wench turned round and stopped. The good priest, who
was too good a sportsman to frighten the birds, especially the hooded
ones, begged her so gently to ride behind him on his mule, and in so
polite a fashion, that the lass got up; not without making those
little excuses and grimaces that they all make when one invites them
to eat, or to take what they like. The sheep paired off with the
shepherd, the mule jogged along after the fashion of mules, while the
girl slipped now this way now that, riding so uncomfortably that the
priest pointed out to her, after leaving Ballan, that she had better
hold on to him; and immediately my lady put her plump arms around the
waist of her cavalier, in a modest and timorous manner.
"There, you don't slip about now. Are you comfortable?" said the
"Yes, I am comfortable. Are you?"
"I?" said the priest, "I am better than that."
And, in fact, he was quite at his ease, and was soon gently warmed in
the back by two projections which rubbed against it, and at last
seemed as though they wished to imprint themselves between his
shoulder blades, which would have been a pity, as that was not the
place for this white merchandise. By degrees the movement of mule
brought into conjunction the internal warmth of these two good riders,
and their blood coursed more quickly through their veins, seeing that
it felt the motion of the mule as well as their own; and thus the good
wench and the vicar finished by knowing each other's thoughts, but not
those of the mule. When they were both acclimatised, he with her and
she with him, they felt an internal disturbance which resolved itself
into secret desires.
"Ah!" said the vicar, turning round to his companion, "here is a fine
cluster of trees which has grown very thick."
"It is too near the road," replied the girl. "Bad boys have cut the
branches, and the cows have eaten the young leaves."
"Are you not married?" asked the vicar, trotting his animal again.
"No," said she.
"Not at all?"
"What a shame, at your age!"
"You are right, sir; but you see, a poor girl who has had a child is a
Then the good vicar taking pity on such ignorance, and knowing that
the canons say among other things that pastors should indoctrinate
their flock and show them the duties and responsibilities of this
life, he thought he would only be discharging the functions of his
office by showing her the burden she would have one day to bear. Then
he begged her gently not be afraid, for if she would have faith in his
loyalty no one should ever know of the marital experiment which he
proposed then and there to perform with her; and as, since passing
Ballan the girl had thought of nothing else; as her desire had been
carefully sustained, and augmented by the warm movements of the
animal, she replied harshly to the vicar, "if you talk thus I will get
down." Then the good vicar continued his gentle requests so well that
on reaching the wood of Azay the girl wished to get down, and the
priest got down there too, for it was not across a horse that this
discussion could be finished. Then the virtuous maiden ran into the
thickest part of the wood to get away from the vicar, calling out,
"Oh, you wicked man, you shan't know where I am."
The mule arrived in a glade where the grass was good, the girl tumbled
down over a root and blushed. The good vicar came to her, and there as
he had rung the bell for mass he went through the service for her, and
both freely discounted the joys of paradise. The good priest had it in
his heart to thoroughly instruct her, and found his pupil very docile,
as gentle in mind as soft in the flesh, a perfect jewel. Therefore was
he much aggrieved at having so much abridged the lessons by giving it
at Azay, seeing that he would have been quite willing to recommence
it, like all of precentors who say the same thing over and over again
to their pupils.
"Ah! little one," cried the good man, "why did you make so much fuss
that we only came to an understanding close to Azay?"
"Ah!" said she, "I belong to Bellan."
To be brief, I must tell you that when this good man died in his
vicarage there was a great number of people, children and others, who
came, sorrowful, afflicted, weeping, and grieved, and all exclaimed,
"Ah! we have lost our father." And the girls, the widows, the wives
and little girls looked at each other, regretting him more than a
friend, and said, "He was more than a priest, he was a man!" Of these
vicars the seed is cast to the winds, and they will never be
reproduced in spite of the seminaries.
Why, even the poor, to whom his savings were left, found themselves
still the losers, and an old cripple whom he had succoured hobbled
into the churchyard, crying "I don't die! I don't!" meaning to say,
"Why did not death take me in his place?" This made some of the people
laugh, at which the shade of the good vicar would certainly not have
The fair laundress of Portillon-les-Tours, of whom a droll saying has
already been given in this book, was a girl blessed with as much
cunning as if she had stolen that of six priests and three women at
least. She did not want for sweethearts, and had so many that one
would have compared them, seeing them around her, to bees swarming of
an evening towards their hive. An old silk dyer, who lived in the Rue
St. Montfumier, and there possessed a house of scandalous
magnificence, coming from his place at La Grenadiere, situated on the
fair borders of St. Cyr, passed on horseback through Portillon in
order to gain the Bridge of Tours. By reason of the warmth of the
evening, he was seized with a wild desire on seeing the pretty
washerwoman sitting upon her door-step. Now as for a very long time he
had dreamed of this pretty maid, his resolution was taken to make her
his wife, and in a short time she was transformed from a washerwoman
into a dyer's wife, a good townswoman, with laces, fine linen, and
furniture to spare, and was happy in spite of the dyer, seeing that
she knew very well how to manage him. The good dyer had for a crony a
silk machinery manufacturer who was small in stature, deformed for
life, and full of wickedness. So on the wedding-day he said to the
dyer, "You have done well to marry, my friend, we shall have a pretty
wife!"; and a thousand sly jokes, such as it is usual to address to a
In fact, this hunchback courted the dyer's wife, who from her nature,
caring little for badly built people, laughed to scorn the request of
the mechanician, and joked him about the springs, engines, and spools
of which his shop was full. However, this great love of the hunchback
was rebuffed by nothing, and became so irksome to the dyer's wife that
she resolved to cure it by a thousand practical jokes. One evening,
after the sempiternal pursuit, she told her lover to come to the back
door and towards midnight she would open everything to him. Now note,
this was on a winter's night; the Rue St. Montfumier is close to the
Loire, and in this corner there continually blow in winter, winds
sharp as a hundred needle-points. The good hunchback, well muffled up
in his mantle, failed not to come, and trotted up and down to keep
himself warm while waiting for the appointed hour. Towards midnight he
was half frozen, as fidgety as thirty-two devils caught in a stole,
and was about to give up his happiness, when a feeble light passed by
the cracks of the window and came down towards the little door.
"Ah, it is she!" said he.
And this hope warned him once more. Then he got close to the door, and
heard a little voice--
"Are you there?" said the dyer's wife to him.
"Cough, that I may see."
The hunchback began to cough.
"It is not you."
Then the hunchback said aloud--
"How do you mean, it is not I? Do you not recognise my voice? Open the
"Who's there?" said the dyer, opening the window.
"There, you have awakened my husband, who returned from Amboise
unexpectedly this evening."
Thereupon the dyer, seeing by the light of the moon a man at the door,
threw a big pot of cold water over him, and cried out, "Thieves!
thieves!" in such a manner that the hunchback was forced to run away;
but in his fear he failed to clear the chain stretched across the
bottom of the road and fell into the common sewer, which the sheriff
had not then replaced by a sluice to discharge the mud into the Loire.
In this bath the mechanician expected every moment to breathe his
last, and cursed the fair Tascherette, for her husband's name being
Taschereau, she was so called by way of a little joke by the people of
Carandas--for so was named the manufacturer of machines to weave, to
spin, to spool, and to wind the silk--was not sufficiently smitten to
believe in the innocence of the dyer's wife, and swore a devilish hate
against her. But some days afterwards, when he had recovered from his
wetting in the dyer's drain he came up to sup with his old comrade.
Then the dyer's wife reasoned with him so well, flavoured her words
with so much honey, and wheedled him with so many fair promises, that
he dismissed his suspicions.
He asked for a fresh assignation, and the fair Tascherette with the
face of a woman whose mind is dwelling on a subject, said to him,
"Come tomorrow evening; my husband will be staying some days at
Chinonceaux. The queen wishes to have some of her old dresses dyed and
would settle the colours with him. It will take some time."
Carandas put on his best clothes, failed not to keep the appointment,
appeared at the time fixed, and found a good supper prepared,
lampreys, wine of Vouvray, fine white napkins--for it was not
necessary to remonstrate with the dyer's wife on the colour of her
linen--and everything so well prepared that it was quite pleasant to
him to see the dishes of fresh eels, to smell the good odour of the
meats, and to admire a thousand little nameless things about the room,
and La Tascherette fresh and appetising as an apple on a hot day. Now,
the mechanician, excited to excess by these warm preparations, was on
the point of attacking the charms of the dyer's wife, when Master
Taschereau gave a loud knock at the street door.
"Ha!" said madame, "what has happened? Put yourself in the clothes
chest, for I have been much abused respecting you; and if my husband
finds you, he may undo you; he is so violent in his temper."
And immediately she thrust the hunchback into the chest, and went
quickly to her good husband, whom she knew well would be back from
Chinonceaux to supper. Then the dyer was kissed warmly on both his
eyes and on both his ears and he caught his good wife to him and
bestowed upon her two hearty smacks with his lips that sounded all
over the room. Then the pair sat down to supper, talked together and
finished by going to bed; and the mechanician heard all, though
obliged to remain crumpled up, and not to cough or to make a single
movement. He was in with the linen, crushed up as close as a sardine
in a box, and had about as much air as he would have had at the bottom
of a river; but he had, to divert him, the music of love, the sighs of
the dyer, and the little jokes of La Tascherette. At last, when he
fancied his old comrade was asleep, he made an attempt to get out of
"Who is there?" said the dyer.
"What is the matter my little one?" said his wife, lifting her nose
above the counterpane.
"I heard a scratching," said the good man.
"We shall have rain to-morrow; it's the cat," replied his wife.
The good husband put his head back upon the pillow after having been
gently embraced by his spouse. "There, my dear, you are a light
sleeper. It's no good trying to make a proper husband of you. There,
be good. Oh! oh! my little papa, your nightcap is on one side. There,
put it on the other way, for you must look pretty even when you are
asleep. There! are you all right?"
"Are you sleep?" said she, giving him a kiss.
In the morning the dyer's wife came softly and let out the
mechanician, who was whiter than a ghost.
"Give me air, give me air!" said he.
And away he ran cured of his love, but with as much hate in his heart
as a pocket could hold of black wheat. The said hunchback left Tours
and went to live in the town of Bruges, where certain merchants had
sent for him to arrange the machinery for making hauberks.
During his long absence, Carandas, who had Moorish blood in his veins,
since he was descended from an ancient Saracen left half dead after
the great battle which took place between the Moors and the French in
the commune of Bellan (which is mentioned in the preceding tale), in
which place are the Landes of Charlemagne, where nothing grows because
of the cursed wretches and infidels there interred, and where the
grass disagrees even with the cows--this Carandas never rose up or lay
down in a foreign land without thinking of how he could give strength
to his desires of vengeance; and he was dreaming always of it, and
wishing nothing less than the death of the fair washerwoman of
Portillon and often would cry out "I will eat her flesh! I will cook
one of her breasts, and swallow it without sauce!" It was a tremendous
hate of good constitution--a cardinal hate--a hate of a wasp or an old
maid. It was all known hates moulded into one single hate, which
boiled itself, concocted itself, and resolved self into an elixir of
wicked and diabolical sentiments, warmed at the fire of the most
flaming furnaces of hell--it was, in fact, a master hate.
Now one fine day, the said Carandas came back into Touraine with much
wealth, that he brought from the country of Flanders, where he had
sold his mechanical secrets. He bought a splendid house in Rue St.
Montfumier, which is still to be seen, and is the astonishment of the
passers-by, because it has certain very queer round humps fashioned
upon the stones of the wall. Carandas, the hater, found many notable
changes at the house of his friend, the dyer, for the good man had two
sweet children, who, by a curious chance, presented no resemblance
either to the mother or to the father. But as it is necessary that
children bear a resemblance to someone, there are certain people who
look for the features of their ancestors, when they are
good-looking--the flatters. So it was found by the good husband that
his two boys were like one of his uncles, formerly a priest at Notre
Dame de l'Egrignolles, but according to certain jokers, these two
children were the living portraits of a good-looking shaven crown
officiating in the Church of Notre Dame la Riche, a celebrated parish
situated between Tours and Plessis. Now, believe one thing, and
inculcate it upon your minds, and when in this book you shall only
have gleaned, gathered, extracted, and learned this one principle of
truth, look upon yourself as a lucky man--namely, that a man can never
dispense with his nose, id est, that a man will always be snotty--that
is to say, he will remain a man, and thus will continue throughout all
future centuries to laugh and drink, to find himself in his shirt
without feeling either better or worse there, and will have the same
occupations. But these preparatory ideas are to better to fix in the
understanding that this two-footed soul will always accept as true
those things which flatter his passions, caress his hates, or serve
his amours: from this comes logic. So it was that, the first day the
above-mentioned Carandas saw his old comrade's children, saw the
handsome priest, saw the beautiful wife of the dyer, saw La
Taschereau, all seated at the table, and saw to his detriment the best
piece of lamprey given with a certain air by La Tascherette to her
friend the priest, the mechanician said to himself, "My old friend is
a cuckold, his wife intrigues with the little confessor, and the
children have been begotten with his holy water. I'll show them that
the hunchbacks have something more than other men."
And this was true--true as it is that Tours has always had its feet in
the Loire, like a pretty girl who bathes herself and plays with the
water, making a flick-flack, by beating the waves with her fair white
hands; for the town is more smiling, merry, loving, fresh, flowery,
and fragrant than all the other towns of the world, which are not
worthy to comb her locks or to buckle her waistband. And be sure if
you go there you will find, in the centre of it, a sweet place, in
which is a delicious street where everyone promenades, where there is
always a breeze, shade, sun, rain, and love. Ha! ha! laugh away, but
go there. It is a street always new, always royal, always imperial--a
patriotic street, a street with two paths, a street open at both ends,
a wide street, a street so large that no one has ever cried, "Out of
the way!" there. A street which does not wear out, a street which
leads to the abbey of Grand-mont, and to a trench, which works very
well with the bridge, and at the end of which is a finer fair ground.
A street well paved, well built, well washed, as clean as a glass,
populous, silent at certain times, a coquette with a sweet nightcap on
its pretty blue tiles--to be short, it is the street where I was born;
it is the queen of streets, always between the earth and sky; a street
with a fountain; a street which lacks nothing to be celebrated among
streets; and, in fact, it is the real street, the only street of
Tours. If there are others, they are dark, muddy, narrow, and damp,
and all come respectfully to salute this noble street, which commands
them. Where am I? For once in this street no one cares to come out of
it, so pleasant it is. But I owed this filial homage, this descriptive
hymn sung from the heart to my natal street, at the corners of which
there are wanting only the brave figures of my good master Rabelais,
and of Monsieur Descartes, both unknown to the people of the country.
To resume: the said Carandas was, on his return from Flanders,
entertained by his comrade, and by all those by whom he was liked for
his jokes, his drollery, and quaint remarks. The good hunchback
appeared cured of his old love, embraced the children, and when he was
alone with the dyer's wife, recalled the night in the clothes-chest,
and the night in the sewer, to her memory, saying to her, "Ha, ha!
what games you used to have with me."
"It was your own fault," said she, laughing. "If you had allowed
yourself by reason of your great love to be ridiculed, made a fool of,
and bantered a few more times, you might have made an impression on
me, like the others." Thereupon Carandas commenced to laugh, though
inwardly raging all the time. Seeing the chest where he had nearly
been suffocated, his anger increased the more violently because the
sweet creature had become still more beautiful, like all those who are
permanently youthful from bathing in the water of youth, which waters
are naught less than the sources of love. The mechanician studied the
proceedings in the way of cuckoldom at his neighbour's house, in order
to revenge himself, for as many houses as there are so many varieties
of manner are there in this business; and although all amours resemble
each other in the same manner that all men resemble each other, it is
proved to the abstractors of true things, that for the happiness of
women, each love has its especial physiognomy, and if there is nothing
that resembles a man so much as a man, there is also nothing differs
from a man so much as a man. That it is, which confuses all things, or
explains the thousand fancies of women, who seek the best men with a
thousand pains and a thousand pleasures, perhaps more the one than the
other. But how can I blame them for their essays, changes, and
contradictory aims? Why, Nature frisks and wriggles, twists and turns
about, and you expect a woman to remain still! Do you know if ice is
really cold? No. Well then, neither do you know that cuckoldom is not
a lucky chance, the produce of brains well furnished and better made
than all the others. Seek something better than ventosity beneath the
sky. This will help to spread the philosophic reputation of this
eccentric book. Oh yes; go on. He who cries "vermin powder," is more
advanced than those who occupy themselves with Nature, seeing that she
is a proud jade and a capricious one, and only allows herself to be
seen at certain times. Do you understand? So in all languages does she
belong to the feminine gender, being a thing essentially changeable
and fruitful and fertile in tricks.
Now Carandas soon recognised the fact that among cuckoldoms the best
understood and the most discreet is ecclesiastical cuckoldom. This is
how the good dyer's wife had laid her plans. She went always towards
her cottage at Grenadiere-les-St.-Cyr on the eve of the Sabbath,
leaving her good husband to finish his work, to count up and check his
books, and to pay his workmen; then Taschereau would join her there on
the morrow, and always found a good breakfast ready and his good wife
gay, and always brought the priest with him. The fact is, this
damnable priest crossed the Loire the night before in a small boat, in
order to keep the dyer's wife warm, and to calm her fancies, in order
that she might sleep well during the night, a duty which young men
understand very well. Then this fine curber of phantasies got back to
his house in the morning by the time Taschereau came to invite him to
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