Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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STORY 36: The President of Grenoble's Revenge, cont.

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

Like the story about the priest and his sister, this story begins in an almost comical mode. The cuckolded husband has very cleverly tricked the servant so that it seems as if the accusations made about his wife's infidelity are groundless. But that is not the end of the story, and things are going to turn out more seriously than you might expect!

"Thou art a very bad servant," said his master, "to want to put such division between my wife and me. Begone, I discharge thee, and for the services thou has rendered me, I will pay thee what I owe thee and more; but get thee gone quickly, and beware how thou art found in this city after twenty-four hours are past."

The president paid him his wages, and five or six years over; and as he had reason to be satisfied with his fidelity, he resolved within himself to reward him still more.

When the valet had gone away, with tears in his eyes, the president called the clerk out of the cabinet, and after having given him and his wife such a lecture as they deserved, he forbade them both to give the least hint of the matter to any one. His wife he ordered to dress more elegantly than she had been used to do, and to let herself be seen at all parties and entertainments. As to the clerk, he ordered him to make better cheer than before; but that as soon as he should whisper in his ear the words "Go away," he should take good care not to remain three hours longer in the city.

For a fortnight the president did nothing but feast his friends and neighbors, contrary to his previous custom, and after the repast he gave a ball to the ladies. One day, seeing that his wife did not dance, he ordered the clerk to dance with her. The clerk, thinking he had forgotten the past, danced gaily with the lady; but when the ball was over, the president, feigning to have some order to give him about household matters, whispered in his ear, "Begone, and never come back." Sore loth was Nicolas to leave the lady-president, but very glad to get off safe and sound.

After the president had fully impressed all his relations and friends, and all the inhabitants of Grenoble, with the belief that he was very fond of his wife, he went one fine day in the month of May into his garden to gather a salad. I do not know what herbs it was composed of; but I know that his wife did not live twenty-four hours after eating of it, whereat he appeared greatly afflicted, and played the disconsolate widower so well, that no one ever suspected him of having killed her. In this way he revenged himself and saved the honor of his house.

I do not pretend, ladies, to laud the president's conscience; but my design is to exhibit the levity of a woman, and the great patience and prudence of a man. Do not be offended, ladies, I beseech you, with the truth, which sometimes tells against you as well as against the men; for women, too, have their vices as well as their virtues.

"If all those who have intrigued with their valets were compelled to eat such salads," said Parlamente, "I know those who would not be so fond of their gardens as they are, but would pluck up all the herbs in them, to avoid those which save the honor of children at the expense of a wanton mother's life."

Hircan, who guessed for whom she meant this, replied with great warmth, "A woman of honor should never suspect another of things she would not do herself."

"To know is not to suspect," rejoined Parlamente. "However, this poor woman paid the penalty which many deserve. Moreover, I think that the president, being bent on avenging himself, could not set about it with more prudence and discretion."

"Nor with more malice, "Longarine subjoined. "It was a cold-blooded and cruel vengeance, which plainly showed that he respected neither God nor his conscience."

"What would you have had him do then," said Hircan, "to revenge the most intolerable outrage a wife can ever offer to her husband?"

"I would have had him kill her," she answered, "in the first transports of his indignation. The doctors say that such a sin is more pardonable, because a man is not master of such emotions; and consequently, the sin he commits in that state may be forgiven."

"Yes," said Geburon, "but his daughters and his descendants would have been disgraced for ever."

"He ought not to have poisoned her," said Longarine, "for since his first great wrath was past, she might have lived with him like an honest woman, and nothing would ever have been said about the matter."

"Do you suppose," said Saffredent, "that he was appeased, though he pretended to be so? For my part, I'm persuaded that the day he mixed his salad his wrath was as hot as on the very first day. There are people whose first emotions never subside until they have accomplished the dictates of their passion." [...]

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

  • what did the man do to the servant who told him about his wife's affair?
  • what did the man do to his wife's lover?
  • what did the man do to his wife?

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