The Heptameron

The Wife Reading to Her Husband on The Desert Island
The Wife Reading to Her Husband on The Desert Island

The Heptameron - Day 7 - Tale 67 - The Wife Reading to Her Husband on The Desert Island

Summary of the Seventh Tale Told on the Seventh of the Heptameron

A poor woman risked her own life to save that of her husband, whom she forsook not until death.

The Heptameron - Story 67

Heptameron Tale 67

The Captain Robertval aforesaid once made a voyage across the seasto the island of Canadas, (1) himself being chief in command by theappointment of the King, his master. And there, if the air of thecountry were good, he had resolved to dwell and to build towns andcastles. With this work he made such a beginning as is known to all;and to people the country with Christians he took with him all kinds ofartificers, among whom was a most wicked man, who betrayed his masterand put him in danger of being captured by the natives. But God willedthat his attempt should be discovered before any evil befell theCaptain, who, seizing the wicked traitor, was minded to punish him ashe deserved. And this he would have done but for the man's wife, who hadfollowed her husband through the perils of the deep and would not nowleave him to die, but with many tears so wrought upon the Captain andall his company that, for pity of her and for the sake of the servicesshe had done them, her request was granted. In consequence, husband andwife were left together on a small island in the sea, inhabited onlyby wild beasts, and were suffered to take with them such things as wereneedful.

The poor folk, finding themselves all alone and surrounded by wild andcruel beasts, had no recourse but to God, who had ever been this poorwoman's steadfast hope; and, since she found all her consolation in Him,she carried the New Testament with her for safeguard, nourishment andconsolation, and in it read unceasingly. Further, she laboured with herhusband to make them a little dwelling as best they might, and when thelions (2) and other animals came near to devour them, the husband withhis arquebuss and she with stones made so stout a defence that not onlywere the beasts afraid to approach, but often some were slain that werevery good for food. And on this flesh and the herbs of the land, theylived for some time after their bread failed them.

At last, however, the husband could no longer endure this nutriment,and by reason of the waters that they drank became so swollen that ina short while he died, and this without any service or consolation savefrom his wife, she being both his doctor and his confessor; and whenhe had joyously passed out of the desert into the heavenly country, thepoor woman, left now in solitude, buried him in the earth as deeply asshe was able. Nevertheless the beasts quickly knew of it, and came toeat the dead body; but the poor woman, firing with the arquebuss fromher cabin, saved her husband's flesh from finding such a grave.

Leading thus in regard to her body the life of a brute, and in regardto her soul the life of an angel, she passed her time in reading,meditations, prayers and orisons, having a glad and happy mind in awasted and half-dead body. But He who never forsakes His own, and whomanifests His power when others are in despair, did not suffer thevirtue that he had put into this woman to be unknown by men, but willedthat it should be made manifest to His own glory. He therefore broughtthings so to pass, that after some time, when one of the ships of thearmament was passing by the island, those that were looking that wayperceived some smoke, which reminded them of the persons who had beenleft there, and they resolved to go and see what God had done with them.

Story 67

Heptameron Story 67

The poor woman, seeing the ship draw nigh, dragged herself to the shore,and there they found her on their arrival. After giving praise to God,she brought them to her poor cottage and showed them on what she hadlived during her abode in that place. This would have seemed to themimpossible of belief, but for their knowledge that God is as powerful tofeed His servants in a desert as at the greatest banquet in the world.As the poor woman could not continue in such a spot, they took her withthem straight to La Rochelle, where, their voyage ended, they arrived.And when they had made known to the inhabitants the faithfulness andendurance of this woman, she was very honourably received by all theladies, who gladly sent their daughters to her to learn to read andwrite. In this honest calling she maintained herself for the rest ofher life, having no other desire save to admonish every one to love andtrust Our Lord, and setting forth as an example the great compassionthat He had shown towards her.

"Now, ladies, you cannot say I do not praise the virtues which Godhas given you, and which show the more when possessed by one of lowlycondition."

"Why, we are not sorry," said Oisille, "to hear you praise the merciesof Our Lord, for in truth all virtue comes from Him; but we must confessthat man assists in the work of God as little as women. Neither can byheart or will do more than plant. God alone giveth the increase."

"If you have studied Scripture," said Saffredent, "you know that St.Paul says that Apollos planted and he himself watered; (3) but he doesnot speak of women as having set hand to the work of God."

"You would follow," said Parlamente, "the opinion of those wicked menwho take a passage of Scripture that is in their favour and leave onethat is against them. If you had read St. Paul to the end, you wouldhave found that he commends himself to the ladies, who greatly labouredwith him in the work of the Gospel."

"However that may be," said Longarine, "the woman in the story is wellworthy of praise both for the love she bore her husband, on whose behalfshe risked her own life, and for the faith she had in God, who, as wesee, did not forsake her."

End Tale 67
"I think," said Ennasuite, "as far as the first is concerned, that thereis no woman present but would do as much to save her husband's life."

"I think," said Parlamente, "that some husbands are such brutes that thewomen who live with them should not find it strange to live among theirfellows."

Ennasuite, who took these words to herself, could not refrain fromsaying—

"Provided the beasts did not bite me, their company would be morepleasant to me than that of men, who are choleric and intolerable. But Iabide by what I have said, that, if my husband were in a like danger, Ishould not leave him to die."

"Beware," said Nomerfide, "of loving too fondly, for excess of love willdeceive both him and you. There is a medium in all things, and throughlack of knowledge love often gives birth to hate."

"Methinks," said Simontault, "you have not carried your discourse so farwithout having an instance to confirm it. If, then, you know such a one,I give you my place that you may tell it to us."

"Well," said Nomerfide, "the tale shall, as is my wont, be a short and amerry one."


  1. Canada had been discovered by Cabot in 1497; and in 1535 James Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence and, taking possession of the country in the name of Francis I., called it La Nouvelle France. Seven years later a gentleman of Picardy, named John Francis de La Roque, Lord of Robertval, accompanying Cartier, established a colony on the Isle Royale, and subsequently built the fort of Charlebourg. One of his pilots, named Alphonse of Saintonge, meanwhile reconnoitred the coasts both of Canada and Labrador. About this time (1542) the incidents related in the above tale must have occurred.—L.

  2. This mention of lions on a small desert island in the Canadian seas would be rather perplexing did we not know how great at that time was the general ignorance on most matters connected with natural history. Possibly the allusion may be to the lion marin, as the French call the leonine seal. This, however, is anything but an aggressive animal. Curiously enough, Florimond de Rémond, the sixteenth century writer, speaks of a drawing of a "marine lion" given to him "by that most illustrious lady Margaret Queen of Navarre, to whom it had been presented by a Spanish gentleman, who was taking a second copy of it to the Emperor Charles V., then in Spain."—Ed.

  3. The text is just the contrary: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase."—I Corinthians iii. 6.—Ed.

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