Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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STORY 16: The Lady from Milan and Her Lover, cont.

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

The Frenchman has finally convinced the widow to see him - but the adventure is not yet over just because he has finally managed to make his way into her bedroom!

He found her alone in a handsome bed; but as he was undressing in eager haste he heard whisperings outside the chamber door, and the noise of swords clashing against the walls. "We are undone," cried the widow, more dead than alive. "Your life and my honor are in mortal peril. My brothers are coming to kill you. Hide yourself under the bed, I beseech you; for then they will not find you, and I shall have a right to complain of their alarming me without cause."

The gentleman, who was not easily frightened, coolly replied, "What are your brothers that they should make a man of honor afraid? If their whole race was assembled at the door, I am confident they would not stand the fourth lunge of my sword. Remain quietly in bed therefore, and leave me to guard the door."

Then, wrapping his cloak around his left arm, and with his sword in his hand, he opened the door, and saw that the threatening weapons were brandished by two servant maids. "Forgive us, monsieur," they said. "It is by our mistress's orders we do this; but you shall have no more annoyance from us." The gentleman, seeing that his supposed antagonists were women, contented himself with bidding them go the devil, and slamming the door in their faces. He then jumped into bed to his mistress without delay. Fear had not cooled his ardor, and without wasting time in asking the meaning of the sham alarm, he thought only of satisfying his passion.

Towards daylight he asked his bedfellow why she had so long delayed his happiness, and what was her reason for making her servants behave so oddly? "I had resolved," she said, laughing, "never to love; and I have adhered to that resolution ever since I became a widow. But the first time you spoke to me, I saw so much to admire in you, that I changed my mind, and began from that hour to love you as much as you loved me. It is true that honor, which has always been the ruling principle of my conduct, would not suffer love to make me do anything which might blemish my reputation. But as the stricken deer thinks to change its pain by change of place, so did I go from church to church, hoping to fly from him whom I carried in my heart, the proof of whose perfect love has reconciled honor with love. But to be thoroughly assured that I gave my heart to a man who was perfectly worthy of it, I ordered my women to do as they have done. I can assure you, if you had been frightened enough to hide under the bed, my intention was to have got up and gone into another room, and never have had anything more to do with you. But as I have found you not only comely and pleasing, but also full of valor and intrepidity to a degree even beyond what fame had reported you; as I have seen that fear could not appal you, nor in the least degree cool the ardor of your passion for me, I have resolved to attach myself to you for the rest of my days; being well assured that I cannot place my life and my honor in better hands than in those of him whom of all men in the world I believe to be the bravest and the best."

And if human will could be immutable, they mutually promised and vowed a thing which was not in their power-I mean, perpetual affection-which can neither grow up nor abide in the hearts of men, as those ladies know who have learned by experience what is the duration of such engagements.

Therefore, ladies, if you are wise, you will be on your guard against us, as the stag would be against the hunter if the animal had reason; for our felicity, our glory, and delight, is to see you captured, and to despoil you of what ought to be dearer to you than life.

"Since when have you turned preacher, Geburon?" said Hircan. "You did not always talk in that fashion."

"It is true," replied Geburon, "that I have all my life long held a quite different language; but as my teeth are bad, and I can no longer chew venison, I warn the poor deer against the hunters, that I may make amends in my old age for the mischiefs I have desired in my youth." [...]

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the woman test the man when he came to her bedroom?
  • how did the man react to the test?
  • what do we learn about the kind of life Geburon himself had led in his youth?

Source: The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. Translated by Walter K. Kelly. Website: A Celebration of Women Writers. (Kelly's translated is not dated; it is based on a French edition published in 1853.)

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM