In the city of Paris there was a man who was so good-natured that hewould have scrupled to believe a man abed with his wife, even if he hadseen him with his own eyes. This poor man married a woman whose conductwas as bad as could be; nevertheless he perceived nothing of it, andtreated her as though she were the most virtuous woman alive. Oneday, however, when King Louis XII. came to Paris, his wife surrenderedherself to one of the choir-men of the aforesaid sovereign, and when shefound that the King was leaving Paris and that she would no longerbe able to see the singer, she resolved to follow him and forsake herhusband. To this the chanter agreed, and brought her to a house that hehad near Blois, (1) where for a long while they lived together. The poorhusband, finding that he had lost his wife, sought her everywhere; andat last it was told him that she was gone away with the chanter.
Wishing to recover the lost ewe which he had so badly watched, he wrotemany letters to her begging her to return to him, and saying that hewould take her back if she were willing to be a virtuous woman. But shetook such great delight in listening to the songs of the chanter, thatshe had forgotten her husband's voice, and gave no heed to all hisexcellent words, but mocked at them.
Therefore the husband, in great wrath, gave her to know that, sinceshe would return to him in no other way, he would demand her in legalfashion of the Church. (2) The wife, dreading that if the law shouldtake the matter in hand she and her chanter would fare badly, devised astratagem worthy of such a woman as herself. Feigning sickness, she sentfor some honourable women of the town to come and see her, and this theywillingly did, hoping that her illness might be a means of withdrawingher from her evil life, with which purpose they addressed the sagestadmonitions to her. Thereupon she, whilst pretending to be grievouslysick, made a show of weeping and acknowledging her sinfulness in suchsort that she gained the pity of the whole company, who quite believedthat she was speaking from the bottom of her heart. And, finding herthus subdued and sorry, they began to comfort her, telling her that Godwas in no wise so terrible as many preachers represented Him, and thatHe would never refuse to show her mercy.
After this excellent discourse, they sent for a virtuous man to comeand confess her, and on the morrow the priest of the parish came toadminister the Holy Sacrament. This she received so piously, thatall the virtuous women of the town who were present wept to see herdevoutness, praising God, who of His goodness had in this wise showncompassion upon this poor creature.
Afterwards she pretended that she could no longer take food, whereuponthe extreme unction was brought by the priest and received by her withmany pious signs; for (as they thought) she was scarcely able to speak.She continued thus for a great while, and it seemed as though she weregradually losing her sight, hearing and other senses, whereat there camefrom all a cry of "Jesus!" As night was at hand and the ladies were farfrom home, they all withdrew; and just as they were leaving the house itwas told them that she was dead, whereupon, saying their De profundisfor her, they returned to their houses.
The priest asked the chanter where he would have her buried, and theother replied that she had desired to be buried in the cemetery,and that it would be well to bring her there at night. So the poorunfortunate was shrouded by a serving-woman, who was careful not to hurther, and then by brave torchlight she was carried to the grave that thechanter had caused to be made.
When the body passed in front of the houses of those who had beenpresent when she received the extreme unction, they all came forthand followed her to the tomb; and there she was soon left by women andpriests alike. The chanter, however, did not go away, but, as soon as hesaw the company some distance off, he and the serving-woman opened thegrave wherein was his sweetheart more alive than ever, and he sent hersecretly to his house, where for a long time he kept her concealed.
The husband, who was in pursuit of her, came as far as Blois to demandjustice, when he found that she was dead and buried according to thetestimony of all the ladies of Blois. They told him, too, what a goodend she had made, and the worthy man was rejoiced to think that hiswife's soul was in Paradise, and himself rid of her wicked body.
In this wise well content, he betook himself back to Paris, where hemarried a beautiful and virtuous young woman, and a good housewife, bywhom he had several children, and with whom he lived for fourteen orfifteen years. But at last rumour, which can keep nothing hid, advisedhim that his wife was not dead, but was still dwelling with the wickedchanter. The poor man concealed the matter as well as he was able,pretending to know nothing about it, and hoping that it was a lie. Buthis wife, who was a discreet woman, was told of it, and such was heranguish at the tidings that she was like to die of grief. Had it beenpossible without offence to her conscience, she would gladly haveconcealed her misfortune, but it was not possible. The Churchimmediately took the affair in hand, and first of all separated themfrom each other until the truth of the matter should be known.
Then was this poor man obliged to leave the good and go after the bad,and in this wise he came to Blois shortly after Francis the First hadbecome king. Here he found Queen Claude and my Lady the Regent, (3) towhom he made his complaint, asking for her whom he would gladly not havefound, but whom, to the great compassion of the whole company, he wasnow obliged to see.
When his wife was brought before him, she strove for a long while tomaintain that he was not her husband, which he would willingly havebelieved had he been able. More disappointed than abashed, she told himthat she would rather die than go back with him, and at this he was wellpleased; but the ladies in whose presence she spoke in this unseemlyfashion condemned her to return, and so rated the chanter with many athreat, that he was obliged to tell his ugly sweetheart to go back withher husband, and to declare that he himself would never see her more.
Rejected thus on all sides, the poor unfortunate withdrew to a home inwhich she was fated to meet with better treatment from her husband thanshe had deserved.
"You see, ladies, why I say that if the poor husband had been morewatchful over his wife, he would not thus have lost her. A thing that iswell guarded is difficult to lose, but heedlessness makes the thief."
"'Tis a strange thing," said Hircan, "how strong love is just where itseems most unreasonable."
"I have heard," said Simontault, "that it were easier to break twomarriages than to sunder the love of a priest and his serving-maid."
"I believe it," said Ennasuite; "for those who bind others together inmarriage, are so well able to tie the knot that nought but death candestroy it. Theologians, moreover, hold that spiritual language is ofmore effect than any other, and in consequence spiritual love surpassesany other kind."
"It is a thing that I cannot forgive in ladies," said Dagoucin, "whenthey forsake an honourable husband or a lover for a priest, howeverhandsome and worthy the latter may be."
"I pray you, Dagoucin," said Hircan, "intermeddle not with our HolyMother Church. Be assured that 'tis a great delight for timorous andsecret-loving women to sin with those who can absolve them; for thereare some who are more ashamed to confess a thing than to do it."
"You speak," said Oisille, "of those who have no knowledge of God, andwho think not that secret matters are one day revealed in presence ofthe Company of Heaven. But I think that it is not for confession's sakethat they go after confessors; for the Enemy has so blinded them thatthey are more concerned to attach themselves where they think there ismost concealment and security, than anxious to obtain absolution for thewickedness of which they do not repent."
"Repent, say you?" said Saffredent. "Nay, they deem themselves holierthan other women. I am sure that there are some who deem it honourablein themselves that they are constant in such love."
"You speak in such a manner," said Oisille to Saffredent, "that I thinkyou know of some one of that kind. I pray you, therefore, begin the Daytomorrow by telling us what you know. But now the last bell for vespersis already ringing; for our friends the monks went off as soon as theyhad heard the tenth tale, and left us to finish our discussions amongourselves."
At these words they all rose and came to the church, where they foundthe monks awaiting them. Then, after hearing vespers, they all suppedtogether, talking the while of many excellent stories. After supper theywent, according to their wont, to disport themselves somewhat in themeadow, and then retired to rest, in order that their memories might bethe sounder on the morrow.