STORY 43: The Haughty Lady, cont.
Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 1100 words.
The lady and the gentleman then went their several ways. Their intrigue lasted a long while without his ever being able to know who she was, though he had a marvellous longing to satisfy his curiosity on the point. He wearied his imagination in vain to guess who she might be, and could not conceive that there was a woman in the world who did not choose to be seen and loved. As he had heard some stupid preacher say that no one who had seen the face of the devil would ever love him, he imagined that she might possibly be some evil spirit.
To clear up his doubts, he resolved to know who she was who received him so graciously. The next time, therefore, that she sent for him, he took some chalk, and in the act of embracing her, marked her shoulder without her perceiving it. As soon as she had left him, he hastened to the princess's chamber, and stationed himself at the door to observe the shoulders of the ladies who entered. It was not long before he saw that same Jambicque advance to the door, with such an air of lofty disdain, that he durst not think of scrutinizing her like the others, feeling assured that she could not be the person he sought. But when her back was turned, he could not help seeing the mark of the chalk, though such was his astonishment he could hardly believe his own eyes. However, after having well considered her figure, which corresponded precisely to that he was in the habit of touching in the dark, he was convinced that it was she herself; and he was very glad to see that a woman who had never been suspected of having a gallant, and was renowned for having refused so many worthy gentlemen, had at last fixed upon him alone.
Love, who never remains in one mood, could not suffer him long to enjoy that satisfaction. The gentleman conceived such a good opinion of his own powers of pleasing, and flattered himself with such fair hopes, that he resolved to make his love known to her, imagining that when he had done so, he should have reason to love her still more passionately. One day, when the princess was walking in the garden, the Lady Jambicque turned into an alley by herself. The gentleman, seeing her alone, went to converse with her, and feigning not to have seen her elsewhere, said to her, "I have long loved you, mademoiselle, but durst not tell you so, for fear of offending you. This constraint is so irksome to me that I must speak or die; for I do not believe that any one can love you as I do."
Here the Lady Jambicque cut him short, and looking sternly upon him, "Have you ever heard," she said, "that I had a lover? I trow not; and I am amazed at your presumption in daring to address such language to a lady of my character. You have seen enough of me here to be aware that I shall never love any one but my husband. Beware, then, how you venture again to speak to me in any such way."
Astonished at such profound hypocrisy, the gentleman could not help laughing. "You have not always been so rigid, madam," he said. "What is the use of dissembling with me? Is it not better we should love perfectly than imperfectly?"
"I neither love you perfectly nor imperfectly," replied Jambicque, "but regard you just as I do my mistress's other servants. But if you continue to speak to me in this manner, I am very likely to hate you in such sort, that you will repent of having given me provocation."
The gentleman, pushing his point, rejoined, "Where are the caresses, mademoiselle, which you bestow upon me when I cannot see you? Why deprive me of them now that day reveals your exquisite beauty to me?"
"You are out of your senses," exclaimed Jambicque, making a great sign of the cross, "or you are the greatest liar in the world; for I don't believe I ever bestowed on you more or less caresses than I do this moment. What is it you mean, pray?"
The poor gentleman, thinking to force her from her subterfuges, named the place where he had met her, and told her of the mark he had put upon her with chalk in order to recognize her. Her exasperation was then so excessive, that instead of confessing, she told him he was the most wicked of men to have invented such an infamous lie against her, but that she would try to make him repent it. Knowing what influence she had with her mistress, he tried to appease her, but all in vain. She rushed from him in fury, and went to where her mistress was walking; who quitted the company with her to converse with Jambicque, whom she loved as herself.
The princess, seeing her so agitated, asked her what was the matter? Jambicque concealed nothing, but told her all the gentleman had said, putting it in so artful a manner and so much to the poor gentleman's disadvantage, that his mistress that very evening sent him orders to go home instantly, without saying a word to any one, and. to remain there until further orders. He obeyed for fear of worse. As long as Jambicque was with the princess he remained in exile, and never heard from Jambicque, who had warned him truly that he should lose her if ever he tried to know her.
You may see, ladies, how she, who preferred the world's respect to her conscience, lost both the one and the other; for everybody now knows what she wished to conceal from her lover; and through her desire to avoid being mocked by one alone, she has now become an object of derision to all the world. It cannot be said in her excuse that hers was an ingenuous love, the simplicity of which claims every one's pity; for what makes her doubly deserving of condemnation is that her design was to cover the wickedness of her heart with the mantle of glory and honor, and pass before God and man for what she was not. But He who will not give His glory to another was pleased to unmask her, and make her appear doubly infamous.
"Truly," said Oisille, "this woman was wholly inexcusable; for who can say a word for her, since God, honor, and love are her accusers?" [...]
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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.)
MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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