Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/Second Discourse (3.2)

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IT is no long while agone since in a certain district of Guyenne a married dame, of very good station and descent, had a strange adventure. As she was overlooking her children's studies, lo! their tutor, by some madness or frenzy of the brain, or maybe from a fierce access of love that did suddenly master him, did take a sword belonging to her husband and which lay on the bed, and did assail her so furiously as that he did transpierce her two thighs and her two labia from the one part to the other. Whereof she did after all but die, and would have right out but for the help of an excellent surgeon. She might well say of her poor body how that it had been in two divers wars and assailed in two different ways. The sight thereof afterward was, I imagine, scarce agreeable, seeing it was so scarred and its wings so torn. I say wings, for while the Greeks do call these labia hymenaea, the Latins name the same alae (wings), the moderns labia, or lips, and sundry other names. For truly there is no beast or bird, be it falcon, raw and untrained, like that of our young girls, or hawk, whether haggard or well practised, as of our married women and widows, that doth go more nimbly or hath the wing so active.

Other women, for dread of colds and catarrhs, do smother themselves in bed with cape and mufflers about the head, till upon my word they do look more like old witches than young women. Yet once out of bed, they are as smart as dolls. Others again be all rouged and painted up like images, fine enough by day; but a-nights the paint is off, and they are as ugly as sin.

It were well to examine suchlike dames before loving, marrying and enjoying the same, as Octavius Caesar was used to do. For along with his friends he did have sundry great ladies and Roman matrons stripped naked, and even vigins of marriageable age, and did examine them from head to foot, as if they had been slave-women and purchased serfs. The said examination was carried out by a certain horse-jockey or dealer by name Toranus, and according as this man did approve and find them to his liking, and unspoiled, would the Emperor take his pleasure with them.

This is precisely what the Turks do in their slave-market at Constantinople and other great towns, when they buy slaves, whether male or female.

Well! I will say no more of all this; indeed methinks I have already said over much. So this is how we be sore deceived in many sights we at the first imagine and believe very admirable. But if we be thus deceived in some good ladies, no less are we edified and well satisfied in other some, the which are so fair and sweet and clean, so fresh and plump, so lovable and desirable, in one word so perfect in all their bodily parts, that after them all sights in this world are but mean and empty. Whence it cometh there be men, which at such a sight do so lose their wits they must at once to work. Moreover 'tis often the case that such fair dames do find pleasure in showing their persons and do make no difficulty so to do, knowing themselves as they do without spot or blemish, to the end they may the better rouse temptation and concupiscence in our manly bosoms.

One day when we were together at the siege of La Rochelle, the late unfortunate Duc de Guise,[1] which did me the honour to hold me in affection, did come and show me some tables he had just filched from Monsieur the King's brother,[2] our General in that enterprise, from out the pocket of his breeches, and said thus: "Monsieur hath done me a displeasure and mocked me concerning my love for a certain lady. Well I would fain now take my revenge; look at these tables of his, and read what I have writ therein." With this he did hand me the tables, and I saw writ therein in his hand these four verses following, which he had just made up,—only that the word was set down outright in the first line:

Si vous ne m'avez congeue,
Il n'a pas term à moy;
Car vous m'avez bien vue nue,
Et vous ay monstré de quoy.

(If you have not known me, this is no fault of mine. For indeed you have seen me naked, and I have shown you all you need.)

After, he did tell me the lady's name, an unmarried girl to say truth, which I did already suspect. I said I was greatly surprised the Prince had never touched or known her, seeing his opportunities had been very ample, and he was credited by common report with being her lover. But he did answer, 'twas not so, and that it was solely by his own fault. To which I replied, "Then it must needs, my Lord, have been, either that at the time he was so weary and so sated in other quarters he was unable to bear the brunt, or else that he was so entranced with the contemplation of her naked charms that he did give never a thought to the active part."—"Well! it may be," the Prince answered, "he was good to do it; but anyhow this time he failed to take his opportunity. So I am having my fun of him, and I am going to put his tables back in his pocket, which he will presently examine, as is his wont, and must needs read what I have writ. And so I have my revenge." This he did, and never after did they twain meet without having a good laugh over it, and a merry passage of arms. For at that period was great friendship and intimacy betwixt these two, though after so strangely altered.

A lady of the great world, or to speak strictly a young maid, was held in much love and close intimacy by a certain great Princess. The latter was one time in her bed, resting, as was her wont, when a gentleman did come to see the damsel, one which was deep in love with her, albeit he had naught at all but his love to aid his suit. Then the fair lady, being so well loved and on such intimate terms with her Mistress the Princess, did come to her as she lay, and nimbly, without any warning whatsoever, did suddenly drag away all the coverings from off her, in such wise that the gentleman, by no means slow to use his eyes, did instantly cast them on her, and beheld, as he did tell me the tale afterward, the fairest sight ever he saw or is like to see,—her beautiful body, and all her lovely, white, exquisite person, that did make him think he was gazing on the beauties of Paradise. But this scarce lasted an instant; for the moment the bed-clothes were thrown off, the lady did snatch back the same, the girl having meanwhile run off. Yet as luck would have it, the more the fair lady did struggle to pull back the coverings, the more she did display her charms. This in no wise spoiled the sight and the pleasure the gentleman had therein, who you may be sure did not put himself about to help her,—he had been a fool so to do. However, presently in one way or another she did get her coverings over her again as before, chiding her favourite, but gently withal, and telling her she should pay for her pranks. The damsel, who had slipped away a little out of her reach, did only reply, "Madam, you did play me a trick a while agone; forgive me if that I have paid you back in your own coin." And so saying, through the chamber-door and away! But peace was not long a-making.

Meanwhile the gentleman was so content with what he had seen, and so full of ecstasy, delight and satisfaction, I have heard him declare an hundred times over he did wish for naught else his life long but only to live and dream of this fair sight day by day. And in sooth he was right for to judge by the fair face that is without a rival and the beauteous bosom that hath so ravished mankind, there must indeed have been yet more exquisite dainties. And he did affirm that among these charms, the said lady did possess the finest figure, and the best developed, ever he did set eyes on. And it may well be so, for she was of a very rich and opulent figure, and this must needs be one of the chief of all a woman's beauties, and like a frontier fortress, one of the most necessary and indispensable.

When the said gentleman had told me all his tale, I could only bid him, "Live on, my friend, live on; with this divine sight to dream on and this happy contemplation, you should never die. And heaven grant me before I die, at least to see so fair a spectacle!"

The said gentleman did surely owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the damsel, and did ever after honour and love her with all his heart. And he did woo her right eagerly as lover, yet married her not at the last; for another suitor, richer than he, did carry her off, for truly 'tis the way of all women to run after the solid good things of life.

Sights like this be fair and right pleasant; yet must we beware they work not harm, as the view of the beauteous Diana in her nakedness did to poor Acteon, or yet another I am about to tell of.

A great King did in his day love fondly a very beautiful, honourable and great lady, a widow, so that men did esteem him bewitched of her charms. For little did he reck of other women, or even of his wife, except only now and again, for this fair lady did always have the pick of the flowers of his garden. This did sorely grieve the Queen, for she knew herself as fair and lovable, as well deserving of loyal service and as worthy to enjoy such dainty morsels as the other. All this did both anger and surprise her much; wherefore having made her moan to a great lady which was her chief favourite, she did plot with her and contrive if there were no way whereby she might e'en spy through some peep-hole the game her husband and the lady should play together. And accordingly she did contrive to make sundry holes in the ceiling of the said lady's chamber, for to see it all and the life they twain should lead with one another. So they did set them to view the sight; yet beheld naught but what was fair to see, for they did behold only a most beauteous, white and delicately made woman, tender and sweet, half muffled in her shift, entertaining of her lover with pretty, dainty caresses and most tricksome pranks, and her lover performing the like to her. Then presently the twain would lie and frolic together on the thick, soft carpet which was by the bed-side, so to escape the heat and the better to enjoy the cool. For it was then at the hottest of the year; and myself have also known another very great Prince which was used to take his amusement with his wife in this fashion, to avoid the heat brought on by the great warmth of the summer season, as himself did declare.

The unhappy Queen then, having seen and observed it all, did of very despite set to and weep, sob, sigh and make sore moan, thinking, and saying too, how that her husband did never the like with her, nor ever went through suchlike amorous follies as she had seen him perform with his mistress.

The other lady, which was with her, did what she could for to comfort her, and chided her for making so sad a moan, saying what was true enough, that as she had been so curious as to spy out such doings, she could scarce have expected else. To this the Queen did make no other answer but only this, "Alas! yes, I was wilful, and fain to see a thing I should never have beheld, for verily the sight thereof did hurt me very sore!" Natheless did she find some comfort anon and resolution of mind, and did leave off sorrowing.

I have heard yet another story of an honourable lady who when a girl was whipped by her mother twice every day, not that she had done aught wrong, but because, as she supposed, her mother did find a pleasure in seeing her so wriggle.

I have heard even a worse thing of a great Lord and Prince, more than eighty years agone, how that before going to cohabit with his wife, he was used to have himself whipped, not being able to be moved nor to do anything without this ridiculous remedy. I should greatly like some competent physician to tell me the reason hereof.

That great and distinguished author, Pico della Mirandola,[3] doth declare himself to have seen a gallant of his day, who the more he was thrashed with heavy blows of a stirrup-leather, the more was he thereby fierce after women. Never was he so valiant with them as after he had been so leathered, though \vhen it was once well done, he was as fierce as any man. Truly here be some strange and terrible caprices! At any rate to see others whipped is a more agreeable sort of humour than this last!