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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549)

A Lady’s Passion for a Cordelier Cured with a Stick

From “The Heptameron”

THERE was at Pampeluna a lady who was reputed fair and virtuous, and at the same time the most devout and chaste in the country. She loved her husband much, and was so obedient to him that he had entire confidence in her. She was wholly occupied with God’s service, and never missed a single sermon, and omitted nothing by which she could hope to persuade her husband and her children to be as devout as herself, who was but thirty years old, an age at which women commonly resign the pretensions of beauties for those of new she-sages.

On the first day of Lent this lady went to church to receive the ashes which are a memorial of death. A cordelier, whose austerity of life had gained him the reputation of a saint, and who, in spite of his austerity and his macerations, was neither so meager nor so pale but that he was one of the handsomest men in the world, was to preach the sermon. The lady listened to him with great devotion, and gazed no less intently on the preacher. Her ears and her eyes lost nothing that was presented to them, and both alike found wherewithal to be gratified. The preacher’s words penetrated to her heart through her ears; and the charms of his countenance passing through her eyes, insinuated themselves so deeply into her mind, that she felt, as it were, in an ecstasy. The sermon being ended, the cordelier celebrated Mass, at which the lady was present, and she took the ashes from his hand, which was as white and shapely as that of any lady’s. She paid much more attention to the monk’s hand than to the ashes he gave her, persuading herself that this spiritual love could not hurt her conscience, whatever pleasure she received from it. She failed not to go every day to the sermon, and to take her husband with her; and both so highly admired the preacher, that at table and elsewhere they talked of nothing but him.

This fire, for all its spirituality, at last became so carnal, that the heart of this poor lady, which was first kindled by it, consumed all the rest. Slow as she had been to feel the flame, she was equally prompt to take fire, and she felt the pleasure of her passion before she was aware that passion had possession of her. Love, which had rendered himself master of the lady, no longer encountered any resistance on her part; but the mischief was, that the physician who might have relieved her pain was not aware of her malady. Banishing, therefore, all fear, and the shame she ought to have felt in exposing her wild fantasy to so sober-minded a man, and her incontinence to one so saintly and virtuous, she resolved to acquaint him in writing of the love she cherished for him; which she did as modestly as she could, and gave her letter to a little page, with instructions as to what he was to do, especially enjoining him to take good care that her husband did not see him go to the cordelier’s.

The page, taking the shortest road, passed through a street where his master happened, by the merest chance, to be sitting in a shop. The gentleman seeing him pass, stepped forward to see which way he was going; and the page perceiving this, hid himself with some trepidation. His master saw this, followed him, and seizing him by the arm, asked him whither he was going. His embarrassed and unmeaning replies, and his manifest fright, aroused the suspicions of the gentleman, who threatened to beat him if he did not tell the truth. “Oh, sir,” said the little page, “if I tell you, my mistress will kill me.” The gentleman no longer doubted that his wife was making a bargain without him, encouraged the page, and assured him that nothing should befall him if he spoke the truth—on the contrary, he should be well rewarded; but if he told a lie, he should be imprisoned for life. Thus urged by fear and hope, the page acquainted him with the real fact, and showed him the letter his mistress had written to the preacher, whereat the husband was the more shocked, as he had been all his life assured of the fidelity of his wife, in whom he had never seen a fault.

Being a wise man, however, he dissembled his anger, and further to try his wife, he answered her letter in the preacher’s name, thanking her for her gracious inclination, and assuring her that it was fully reciprocated. The page, after being sworn by his master to manage the affair discreetly, carried this letter to his mistress, who was so transported with joy, that her husband perceived it by the change in her countenance; for instead of her fastings in Lent having emaciated her, she looked handsomer and fresher than ever. It was now mid-Lent, but the lady, without concerning herself about the Lord’s Passion or the Holy Week, wrote as usual to the preacher, the theme being always her amorous rage. When he turned his eyes in her direction, or spoke of the love of God, she always imagined that he addressed himself covertly to her, and so far as her eyes could explain what was passing in her heart, she did not suffer them to be idle.

The husband, who regularly replied to her in the name of the cordelier, wrote to her after Easter, begging she would contrive to give him a meeting in private; and she, impatiently longing for an opportunity to do so, advised her husband to go see some land they had near Pampeluna. He said he would do so, and went and concealed himself in the house of one of his friends, whereupon the lady wrote to the cordelier that her husband was in the country, and that he might come and see her.

The gentleman, wishing to prove his wife’s heart thoroughly, went and begged the preacher to lend him his robe. The cordelier, who was a good man, replied that his rule forbade him to do so, and that for no consideration would he lend his robe to go masking in. The gentleman assured him it was not for any idle diversion he wanted it, but for an important matter, and one necessary to his salvation; whereupon the cordelier, who knew him to be a worthy, pious man, lent him the robe. The gentleman then procured a false beard and a false nose, put cork in his shoes to make himself as tall as the monk, put on the robe, which covered the greater part of his face, so that his eyes were barely seen, and, in a word, dressed himself up so that he might easily be mistaken for the preacher. Thus disguised, he stole by night into his wife’s chamber, where she was expecting him in great devotion. The poor creature did not wait for him to come to her, but ran to embrace him like a woman out of her senses. Keeping his head down to avoid being recognized, he began to make the sign of the cross, pretending to shun her, and crying, “Temptation! Temptation!”

“Alas! you are right, father,” said she; “for there is no more violent temptation than that which proceeds from love. You have promised to afford me relief, and I pray you to have pity on me now that we have time and opportunity.”

So saying, she made great efforts to embrace him, while he kept dodging her in all directions, still making great signs of the cross, and crying, “Temptation! Temptation!” But when he found that she was pressing him too closely, he drew a stout stick from under his robe, and thrashed her so soundly that he put an end to the temptation. This done, he left the house without being known, and immediately returned his borrowed robe, assuring the owner that he had used it to great advantage. Next day he returned home as if from a journey, and found his wife in bed. Pretending not to know the nature of her malady, he asked her what ailed her. She replied that she was troubled with a kind of catarrh, and that she could neither move hand nor foot. The husband, who had a great mind to laugh, pretended to be very sorry, and by way of cheering her, said that he had invited the pious preacher to supper. “Oh, my dear!” said she, “don’t think of inviting such people, for they bring ill luck wherever they go.”

“Why, my love,” replied the husband, “you know how much you have said to me in praise of this good father. For my part, I believe if there is a holy man on earth, it is he.”

“They are all very well at church and in the pulpit,” she rejoined; “but in private houses they are antichrists. Don’t let me see him, my dear, I entreat you, for, ill as I am, it would be the death of me.”

“Well, you shall not see him, since you do not choose to do so; but I cannot help having him to supper.”

“Do as you please,” said she; “only, for mercy’s sake, let me not set eyes on him, for I cannot endure such folk.”

After entertaining the cordelier at supper, the husband said to him, “I look upon you, father, as a man so beloved by God, that I am sure He will grant any prayer of yours. I entreat you, then, to have pity on my poor wife. She has been possessed these eighteen days by an evil spirit, so that she wants to bite and scratch everybody, and neither cross nor holy water does she care for one bit; but I believe firmly that if you put your hand on her, the devil will go away. From my heart, I beseech you to do so.”

“All things are possible to him who believes, my son,” replied the good father. “Are you not well assured that God never refuses His grace to those who ask for it with faith?”

“I am assured of this, father.”

“Be assured also, my son, that He is able and willing, and that He is not less mighty than forgiving. Let us strengthen ourselves in faith to resist this roaring lion, and snatch from him his prey.”

Thereupon the gentleman conducted the excellent man into the room where his wife was resting on a couch. Believing that it was he who had beaten her, she was roused to a prodigious degree of fury at the sight of him, but her husband’s presence made her hang down her head and hold her tongue. “As long as I am present,” said the husband to the good father, “the devil does not torment; but as soon as I leave her, you will sprinkle her with holy water, and then you will see how violently the evil spirit works her.” So saying, the husband left him alone with his wife, and stopped outside the door to see what would ensue.

When she found herself alone with the cordelier, she began to scream at him like a mad woman, “Villain! Cheat! Monster! Murderer!” The cordelier, believing in good faith that she was possessed, wanted to take hold of her head, in order to pray over it; but she scratched and bit him so fiercely that he was obliged to stand farther off, throwing plenty of holy water over her, and saying many good prayers. The husband, seeing it was time to put an end to the farce, entered the room again, and thanked the cordelier for the pains he had taken. The moment he appeared there was an end to the wife’s termagent behavior, and she meekly kissed the cross for fear of her husband. The pious cordelier, who had seen her in such a fury, believed firmly that our Lord had expelled the devil at his prayer, and went away praising God for this miracle. The husband, seeing his wife so well cured of her folly, would never tell her what he had done, contenting himself with having brought her back to the right way by his prudence, and having put her into such a frame of mind that she mortally hated what she had so unwisely loved, and was filled with detestation for her own infatuation. Thenceforth she was weaned from all superstition, and devoted herself to her husband and her family in a very different way from what she had done before.