The Way of a Virgin/Foolish Fear
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Of a young man of Rouen, married to a fair girl of the age fifteen or thereabouts; and how the mother of the girl wished to have the marriage annuled by the Judge of Rouen, and of the sentence which the said Judge pronounced when he had heard the parties—as you will hear more plainly in the course of the said story.
IN the good town of Rouen, not long ago, a young man was married to a fair and tender virgin, aged fifteen, or thereabouts. On the day of the great feast—that is to say, the wedding—the mother of the young girl, as is customary in such places, instructed the bride in all the mysteries of wedlock, and taught her how to behave to her husband on the first night.
The young girl, who was looking forward to the time when she could put these doctrines into practice, took great pains and trouble to remember the lesson given her by her good mother, and it seemed to her that when the time came for her to put these counsels into execution, that she would perform her duties so well that her husband would would praise her, and be well pleased with her.
The wedding was performed with all honour and due solemnity, and the desired night came; and soon after the feast was ended, and the young people had withdrawn after having taken leave of the newly married couple, the mother, cousins, neighbours, and other lady friends led the bride to the chamber where she was to spend the night with her husband, where they joyfully divested her of her raiment, and put her to bed, as was right and proper. Then they wished her good-night, and one said:
"My dear, may God give thee joy and pleasure in thy husband, and mayst thou so live with him as to be for the salvation of both your souls."
"My dear, God give thee such peace and happiness with thy husband, that the heavens may be filled with your works."
And all, having expressed similar wishes, left. The bride's mother, who remained the last, questioned her daughter if perchance she had remembered the lesson she had been taught. And the girl, who, as the proverb goes, did not carry her tongue in her pocket, replied that she well remembered all that had been told her, and—thank God had—forgotten nothing.
"Well done," said the mother. "Now I will leave thee, recommending thee to God and praying that He may give thee good luck. Farewell, my good and wise mother."
And soon as the schoolmistress had finished, the husband, who was outside the door expecting something better came in. The mother closed the door, and told him that she hoped he would be gentle with her daughter. He promised that he would, and as soon as he had bolted the door, he—who had nothing on but his doublet—threw it off, jumped on the bed, drew as close as he might to his , and, lance in hand, prepared to give battle.
But when he approached the barrier where the skirmish was to take place, the girl laid hold of his lance, which was as straight and stiff as a cowkeeper's horn, and when she felt how hard and big it was, she was sore affrighted, and fell to crying aloud, saying that her shield was not of a strength to receive and bear the blows of so huge a weapon.
All his efforts nothwithstanding, the husband could not persuade her to joust with him, and this bickering endured throughout the night, without his being able to do aught, which much displeased our bridegroom. Nevertheless, he abode patient, hoping to make up for the time lost on the following night; but 'twas the same as on the first night, even so on the third, and so up to the fifteenth, matters remaining just as I have related.
And when fifteen days had passed since the young couple were wed, they still not having come together, the mother came to visit her pupil, and after a thousand questions, spoke to the girl of her husband, demanding what sort of a man he was and whether he did his duty well. And the girl answered that he was very well as a man, and was a quiet and a peaceable.
"But," said the mother, "doth he do what he ought to do?"
"Yea," quoth the girl, "but...."
"But what?" said the mother. "Thou art keeping something back, I am assured. Tell me forthwith and conceal naught; for I must know now. Is he a man capable of performing his marital duties in the way I taught thee?"
The poor girl, being thus pressed, was obliged to own that he had not yet done the business, but she did not say that she was the cause of the delay, and that she had always refused the combat.
When her mother heard this sad news, God knows what a disturbance she made, swearing by all her gods that she would soon find a remedy for that, for she was well acquainted with the Judge of Rouen, who was her friend, and would favour her cause.
"The marriage must be annulled," said she, "and I have no doubt but that I shall find a way, and thou mayst be sure, my child, that before two days are past thou wilt be divorced and married to another man, who will not let thee rest in peace all that time. Dost leave the business to me."
The good woman, half beside herself, went and related her wrong to her husband, the father of the girl, and told him that they had lost their daughter, and adducing many reasons why the marriage should be annulled.
She pleaded her cause so well that her husband took her side, and was content that the bridegroom (who knew no reason why a complaint should be lodged against him) should be cited before the Judge. But, at any rate, he was personally summoned to appear before the Judge, at his wife's demand, to show cause why he should not leave her, and permit her to marry again, or explain the the reason why, in so many days that he had lived with her, he had not demonstrated that he was a man, and performed the duties that a husband should.
When the day came, the parties presented themselves at the proper time and place, and they were called upon to state their case. The mother of the bride began to plead her daughter's cause, and God knoweth the laws concerning marriage which she quoted, none of which, she maintained, had her son-in-law fulfilled; therefore she demand that he should be divorced from her daughter forthwith without more ado.
The young man was much astonished to find himself thus attacked, but lost no time in replying to the allegations of his adversary, quietly stating his case, and relating in what wise his wife had always refused him leave to perform his marital duties.
The mother, when she heard this reply, was more wroth than ever, and could scarce bring herself to believe it; and she asked her daughter if that was true which her husband had said.
"Yea, truly, mother," replied the girl.
"Oh, wretched child," said her mother. "Wherefore didst thou refuse? Did I not teach thee thy lesson many times?"
The poor girl might not answer, so shamed was she.
"At any rate," said the mother, "I must know the reason why thou hast refused. Tell it me forthwith, lest I grow exceeding wroth."
The girl was forced to confess that she had not dared to present her shield lest he killed her; and so she still felt, nor was she reassured on that point, albeit her mother had bade her be without fear. Whereat the mother addressed the Judge, saying:
"Monseigneur, thou hast heard the confession of my daughter, and the defence of my son-in-law. I beg of thee give judgement forthwith."
The Judge gave orders for a bed to be prepared in his house, the couple to lie on it together; and he commanded the bride boldly to lay hold of the tilting staff, and put it where it was ordered to go. When this judgement was delivered, the mother said:
"I thank thee, my lord; thou hast judged well. Come, my child, do what thou shouldst, and take heed to obey the Judge, and put the lance where it should be put."
"I am satisfied," answered the daughter, "to put it where it ought to go, but it may rot there ere I take it out again." So they quitted the court, and went and carried out the sentence themselves, without the aid of any sergeants. By this means the young man enjoyed his joust, and was sooner weary of it than she who would not begin.
- Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles: R. B. Douglas' translation: Paris, Charles Carrington. C.f. note ante.
- Obviously a play on words, with reference to the lessons in marital duty given by the mother to the daughter.
- Mr. Douglas translates simply:..."stick or instrument." The word in the text, bourdon, signifies literally "a pilgrim's staff." It is followed by the word joustouer, "to tilt or joust," or "a tiller, a jouster," which Mr. Douglas ignores. The combination, however, seems to keep more faithfully to the spirit of the story. On the other hand, bourdon is a recognised erotic term for penis. Farmer, (Slang and its Analogues: vol. 5, p. 290), quotes Rabelais as employing the word in this sense. Landes, (Glossaire érotique de la langue française: Brussels, 1861), includes it in a list which comprises 212 slang terms for the male organ of generation. Le petit Citateur: Notes èrotiques et pornographiques: Paris, 1881: only 300 printed, a curious and valuable little work dealing with the lesser known expressions and metaphors of venry, and intended to serve as a complement to the ordinary erotic dictionary, describes bourdon as "the virile member, the grand chord which gives the note in the amorous duet." The Memoirs of Miss Fanny are quoted: "… enraptured, split open by the enormous size of my ravisher's bourdon, my thighs all bloodstained, I remained for some time overwhelmed by fatigue and pleasure..." The French text referred to in the foregoing not is that of Garnir Frères, Paris, n.d.
- This story, the 86th of Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, is singularly lacking in climax when compared with the majority of old fabliaux. The opening is very promising; but once the husband has stated his case, the fabric seems to fall to pieces, and the wife's final speech is as silly as it it unjustified. The author has tried to round off the story by dragging in the ages-old tag about the woman who, from hating the pleasures of love, becomes a veritable glutton for them. Compared with "Beyond the Mark", which is artistic and dramatic from the first to the last line, "Foolish Fear" is a poor thing. Nevertheless, we have thought fit to include it in this anthology because its opening is as characteristic as its finish is uncharacteristic of this type of fabliaux.