Near the town of Alençon there lived a gentleman called the Lord of La Tireliere, who one morning came from his house to the town afoot, both because the distance was not great and because it was freezing hard. (1) When he had done his business, he sought out a crony of his, an advocate named Anthony Bacheré, and, after speaking with him of his affairs, he told him that he should much like to meet with a good breakfast, but at somebody else's expense. While thus discussing, they sat themselves down in front of an apothecary's shop, where there was a varlet who listened to them, and who forthwith resolved to give them their breakfast.
He went out from his shop into a street whither all repaired on needful occasions, (2) and there found a large lump of ordure standing on end, and so well frozen that it looked like a small loaf of fine sugar. Forthwith he wrapped it in handsome white paper, in the manner he was wont to use for the attraction of customers, and hid it in his sleeve.
Afterwards he came and passed in front of the gentleman and the advocate, and, letting the sugar-loaf (3) fall near them, as if by mischance, went into a house whither he had pretended to be carrying it.
The Lord of La Tirelière (4) hastened back with all speed to pick up what he thought to be a sugar-loaf, and just as he had done so the apothecary's man also came back looking and asking for his sugar everywhere.
The gentleman, thinking that he had cleverly tricked him, then went in haste to a tavern with his crony, to whom he said—
"Our breakfast has been paid for at the cost of that varlet."
When he was come to the tavern he called for good bread, good wine and good meat, for he thought that he had wherewith to pay. But whilst he was eating, as he began to grow warm, his sugar-loaf in its turn began to thaw and melt, and filled the whole room with the smell peculiar to it, whereupon he, who carried it in his bosom, grew wroth with the waiting-woman, and said to her—
"You are the filthiest folks that ever I knew in this town, for either you or your children have strewn all this room with filth."
"By St. Peter!" replied the woman, "there is no filth here unless you have brought it in yourselves."
Thereupon they rose, by reason of the great stench that they smelt, and went up to the fire, where the gentleman drew out of his bosom a handkerchief all dyed with the melted sugar, and on opening his robe, lined with fox-skin, found it to be quite spoiled.
And all that he was able to say to his crony was this—
"The rogue whom we thought to deceive has deceived us instead."
Then they paid their reckoning and went away as vexed as they had been merry on their arrival, when they fancied they had tricked the apothecary's varlet. (5)
"Often, ladies, do we see the like befall those who delight in using such cunning. If the gentleman had not sought to eat at another's expense, he would not have drunk so vile a beverage at his own. It is true, ladies, that my story is not a very clean one, but you gave me license to speak the truth, and I have done so in order to show you that no one is sorry when a deceiver is deceived."
"It is commonly said," replied Hircan, "that words have no stink, yet those for whom they are intended do not easily escape smelling them."
"It is true," said Oisille, "that such words do not stink, but there are others which are spoken of as nasty, and which are of such evil odour that they disgust the soul even more than the body is disgusted when it smells such a sugar-loaf as you described in the tale."
"I pray you," said Hircan, "tell me what words you know of so foul as to sicken both the heart and soul of a virtuous woman."
"It would indeed be seemly," replied Oisille, "that I should tell you words which I counsel no woman to utter."
"By that," said Saffredent, "I quite understand what those terms are. They are such as women desirous of being held discreet do not commonly employ. But I would ask all the ladies present why, when they dare not utter them, they are so ready to laugh at them when they are used in their presence."
Then said Parlamente—
"We do not laugh because we hear such pretty expressions, though it is indeed true that every one is disposed to laugh on seeing anybody stumble or on hearing any one utter an unfitting word, as often happens. The tongue will trip and cause one word to be used for another, even by the discreetest and most excellent speakers. But when you men talk viciously, not from ignorance, but by reason of your own wickedness, I know of no virtuous woman who does not feel a loathing for such speakers, and who would not merely refuse to hearken to them, but even to remain in their company."
"That is very true," responded Geburon. "I have frequently seen women make the sign of the cross on hearing certain words spoken, and cease not in doing so after these words had been uttered a second time."
"But how many times," said Simontault, "have they put on their masks (6) in order to laugh as freely as they pretended to be angry?"
"Yet it were better to do this," said Parlamente, "than to let it be seen that the talk pleased them."
"Then," said Dagoucin, "you praise a lady's hypocrisy no less than her virtue?"
"Virtue would be far better," said Longarine, "but, when it is lacking, recourse must be had to hypocrisy, just as we use our slippers (7) to disguise our littleness. And it is no small matter to be able to conceal our imperfections."
"By my word," said Hircan, "it were better sometimes to show some slight imperfection than to cover it so closely with the cloak of virtue."
"It is true," said Ennasuitc, "that a borrowed garment brings the borrower as much dishonour when he is constrained to return it as it brought him honour whilst it was being worn, and there is a lady now living who, by being too eager to conceal a small error, fell into a greater."
"I think," said Hircan, "that I know whom you mean; in any case, however, do not pronounce her name."
"Ho! ho!" said Geburon [to Ennasuite], "I give you my vote on condition that when you have related the story you will tell us the names. We will swear never to mention them."
"I promise it," said Knnasuite, "for there is nothing that may not be told in all honour."