Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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STORY 71: Woman on Her Death-Bed

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

When the eighth day arrives, the company discover that there will still be another day or two before the bridge will be repaired that will allow them to leave this place, so they begin telling more stories. Because the Heptameron was not finished, there are only two stories from the eighth day, and the story that you are about to read is one of them. As in Boccaccio's Decameron, each day is ruled by one of the characters in the company, and the eighth day is to be ruled by Parlamente, who proposes that they tell stories about the greatest follies they have ever heard of - provided that the story is true.

"In that case," said Oisille, "we must either remain here a long while, or one of us ladies, or one of you gentlemen, would have to go without his or her day."

"For my part," said Dagoucin, "had I been chosen, I would have ceded my place to Saffredent."

"And I mine to Parlamente," said Nomerfide, "for I am so accustomed to serve that I know not how to command."

The company agreed to this, and Parlamente began thus: "Such good and wise tales have been told on the past days, ladies, that I should recommend our employing this one in relating the greatest follies we can think of, the same being really true. To set you all going, then, I will begin that way."

THERE was at Amboise a saddler named Brimbaudier, who worked for the Queen of Navarre. It was enough to see the man's red nose to be assured that he was more a servant to Bacchus than to Diana. He had married a worthy woman, with whom he was very well satisfied, and who managed his children and his household with great discretion.

One day he was told that his good wife was very ill, at which he was greatly afflicted. He went home with speed, and found her so far gone that she had more need of a confessor than of a doctor, whereat he made the most doleful lamentations that ever were heard; but to report them properly one ought to speak thick like him; but it would be better still to paint one's face. After he had rendered her all the good offices he could, she asked for the cross, which was brought her.

The good man, seeing this, threw himself on a bed howling and crying, and ejaculating with his thick tongue: "O Lord, I am losing my poor wife. Was there ever such a misfortune? What shall I do?" and so forth. At last, there being no one in the room but a young servant, rather a good-looking girl, he called her to him in a faint voice, and said, "I am dying, my dear, and worse than if I was dead all out, to see your mistress dying. I know not what to say or do, only that I look for help to you, and beg you to take care of my house and my children. Take the keys that hang at my side; do everything in the house for the best, for I am not in a condition to attend to such things."

The poor girl pitied and tried to comfort him, begging him not to be so cast down, lest besides losing her mistress she should lose her good master also. "It can't be, my dear," said he, "for I am dying. See how cold my face is; put your cheeks to mine to warm them." As she did so he put his hand on her bosom, whereat she offered to make some difficulty, but he begged her not to be alarmed, for they must by all means see each other more closely.

Thereupon he laid hold of her and threw her on the bed. His wife, who was left alone with the cross and the holy water, and who had not spoken for two days, began to cry out as well as her feeble voice enabled her, "Ah! ah! ah! I am not dead yet!" And threatening them with her hand, she repeated, "Wicked wretches, I am not dead yet!"

The husband and the servant jumped up instantly, but the sick woman was so enraged with them that her anger consumed the catarrhal humor that hindered her from speaking, so that she poured out upon them all the abuse she could think of. From that moment she began to mend; but her husband had often to endure her reproaches for the little love he had shown for her.

You see, ladies, how hypocritical men are, and how little is needed to console them for the loss of their wives.

"How do you know," said Hircan, "but he had heard it was the best remedy for his wife's case? Not being able to cure her by his care and his kind offices, he wished to try if the contrary would not produced the desired effect. The experiment was a happy one; and I am astonished that, being a woman as you are, you have so frankly portrayed the spirit of your sex, who do for spite what they cannot be brought to do by kindness."

"Unquestionably, such provocation as that," said Longarine, "would make me rise not only from my bed but from my grave."

"What harm did he do her in consoling himself, since he thought she was dead?" said Saffredent. "Do we not know that marriage binds only as long as life lasts, and that death gives a man back his liberty?"

"Death releases a man from the obligation of his oath," said Oisille; "but a good heart never thinks itself dispensed from the obligation of loving. It was making great haste to console himself not to be able to wait until his wife had expired." [...]

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

  • how did the husband react to his wife's impending death?
  • where did he propose to make love to the servant girl?
  • what happened to his wife as a result?

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