Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

The Rhemese

NO city I to Rheims would e’er prefer:

Of France the pride and honour I aver;

The Holy Ampoule* and delicious wine,

Which ev’ry one regards as most divine,

We’ll set apart, and other objects take:

The beauties round a paradise might make!

I mean not tow’rs nor churches, gates, nor streets;

But charming belles with soft enchanting sweets:

Such oft among the fair Rhemese we view:

Kings might be proud those graces to pursue.

ONE ‘mong these belles had to the altar led,

A painter, much esteemed, and who had bread.

What more was requisite! — he lived at ease,

And by his occupation sought to please.

A happy woman all believed his wife;

The husband’s talents pleased her to the life:

For gallantry howe’er he was renowned,

And many am’rous dames, who dwelled around,

Would seek the artist with a double aim:

So all our chronicles record his fame.

But since much penetration ’s not my boast,

I just believe — what’s requisite at most.

WHENE’ER the painter had in hand a fair,

He’d jest his wife, and laugh with easy air;

But Hymen’s rights proceeding as they ought,

With jealous fears her breast was never fraught.

She might indeed repay his tricks in kind,

And gratify, in soft amours, her mind,

Except that she less confidence had shown,

And was not led to him the truth to own.

AMONG the men attracted by her smiles,

Two neighbours, much delighted with her wiles;

Were often tempted, by her sprightly wit,

To listen to her chat, and with her sit;

For she had far the most engaging mien,

Of any charmer that around was seen.

Superior understanding she possessed;

Though fond of laughter, frolick, fun, and jest.

She to her husband presently disclosed

The love these cit-gallants to her proposed;

Both known for arrant blockheads through the town,

And ever boasting of their own renown.

To him she gave their various speeches, tones,

Each silly air: their tears, and sighs, and groans;

They’d read, or rather heard, we may believe,

That, when in love, with sighs fond bosoms heave.

Their utmost to succeed these coxcombs tried,

And seemed convinced they should not be denied;

A common cause they would the business hold,

And what one knew the other must be told.

Whichever first a favour might obtain,

Should tell his happiness to t’other swain.

YE FAIR ’tis thus they oft your kindness treat:

The pleasure that he wished alone is sweet.

LOVE, is no more; of t’other, laid in earth,

We’ve here no traces scarcely from the birth.

You serve for sport and prey, to giddy youth,

Devoid of talents, principles, and truth.

’Tis right they should suppose, still two are found;

Who take their course continually round.

The first that in your pleasure grounds appears;

I’d have you, on his wings, to use the shears.

OUR lady then, her lovers to deceive,

One day observed — you shall, my friends, this eve;

Drink wine with me:— my husband will away,

And, what’s delightful, till to-morrow stay;

We shall ourselves be able to amuse,

And laugh, and sing, and talk as we may choose.

’Tis excellent, cried they: things well you frame;

And at the promised hour, the heroes came.

WHEN introduced, and all supposing clear,

A sudden knocking turned their joy to fear;

The door was barred; she to the window flew;

I think, said she, that’s to the master due;

And should it prove to be as I suspect:—

’Tis he, I vow:— fly, hide, he’ll you detect;

Some accident, suspicion, or design,

Has brought him back to sleep, I now divine:

OUR two gallants, when dangers round them pressed,

A closet entered, mightily distressed;

To get away ’twere folly to have tried;

The husband came, the roast he quickly spied;

With pigeons too, in diff’rent fashions cooked;

Why, hey! said he, as round about he looked:

What guests have you that supper you prepare?

The wife replied: two neighbours taste our fare:

Sweet Alice, and good Simonetta, mean

To-night, at table with us to be seen;

I’m quite rejoiced to think that you are here:

The company will more complete appear;

These dames will, by your presence, nothing lose;

I’ll run and hasten them: ’twill you amuse;

The whole is ready; I’ll at once away,

And beg, in coming, they’ll no more delay.

THE ladies named were wives of our gallants,

So fond of contraband, and smuggled grants,

Who, vexed to be confined, still praised the dame,

For skewing such address to ‘scape from blame.

She soon returned, and with her brought the FAIR,

Who, gaily singing, entered free from care.

The painter them received with bow and kiss;

To praise their beauty he was not remiss;

Their dress was charming; all he much admired;

Their presence frolick, fun, and jest inspired,

Which no way pleased the husbands in the cage,

Who saw the freaks with marks of bursting rage:

The door half open gave a view complete,

How freely he their wives was led to treat.

THINGS thus commenced, the supper next was served;

From playful tricks the painter never swerved,

But placed himself at table ‘twist the two,

And jest and frolicking would still pursue.

To women, wine, and fun, said he, I drink;

Put round the toast; none from it e’er must shrink;

The order was obeyed; the glass oft filled

The party soon had all the liquor swilled:

THE wife just then, it seems, no servant kept;

More wine to get, she to the cellar stept.

But dreading ghosts, she Simonetta prayed;

To light her down, she was so much afraid.

THE painter was alone with Alice left,

A country belle, of beauty not bereft:

Slight, nicely made, with rather pretty face,

She thought herself possessed of ev’ry grace,

And, in a country town, she well might get

The appellation of a gay coquette.

THE wily spark, perceiving no one near;

Soon ran from compliment to sweet and dear;

Her lips assailed; — the tucker drew aside,

And stole a kiss that hurt her husband’s pride,

Who all beheld; but spouses, that are sage,

No trifles heed, nor peccadillos page;

Though, doubtless, when such meetings are possessed,

The simple kiss gives room to dread the rest;

For when the devil whispers in the ear

Of one that sleeps, he wakes at once to fear.

THE husband, howsoe’er, at length perceived

Still more concessions, which his bosom grieved;

While on the neck a hand appeared to please,

The other wandered equally at ease;

Be not offended, love! was often said;

To frantick rage the sight her sposo led,

Who, beating in his hat, was on the move

To sally forth, his wrath to let them prove,

To thrash his wife, and force her spark to feel

his nervous arm could quickly make him reel.

BE not so silly, whispered t’other Wight;

To stir up noise could ne’er be reckoned right;

Be quiet now: consider where we are;

Keep close, or else you’ll all our pleasures mar;

Remember, written ’tis, By others do

The same as you would like they should by you;

’Tis proper in this place we should remain

Till all is hushed in sleep: then freedom gain;

That’s my opinion how we ought to act

Are you not half a cuckold now, in fact?

Fair Alice has consented:-that’s enough;

The rest is mere compliance, nonsense, stuff!

THE husband seemed the reasons to approve;

Some slight attempts the lady made to move;

No time for more. What then? you ask:— Why, then —

The lady put her cap to rights agen;

No mark appeared suspicion to awake,

Except her cheek a scarlet hue might take.

Mere trifle that; from talking it might spring;

And other causes, doubtless, we could bring.

ONE of the belles, howe’er, who went for wine,

Smiled, on returning, at the blushing sign:

The painter’s wife; but soon they filled each glass,

And briskly round the bottle seemed to pass;

They drank the host, the hostess, and the FAIR,

Who, ‘mong the three, should first her wishes share.

AT length, a second time the bottle failed;

The hostess’ fear of ghosts again prevailed,

And mistress Alice now for escort went,

Though much she wished the other to have sent;

With Simonetta she was forced to change,

And leave the painter at his ease to range.

THIS dame at first appeared to be severe

Would leave the room, and feigned to be sincere;

But when the painter seized her by the gown,

She prudence showed, and feared he’d pull her down;

Her clothes might tear, which led her to remain:

On this the husband scarcely could contain;

He seemed resolved his hiding place to leave;

But instantly the other pulled his sleeve;

Be easy friend, said he, it is but right,

That equal favours we should have to-night,

And cuckoldom should take you to his care,

That we alike in ev’ry thing may fare.

ARE we not brothers in adventure, pray?

And such our solemn promises, to-day.

Since one the painter clearly has disgraced,

The other equally should be embraced.

In spite of ev’ry thing you now advance,

Your wife as well as mine shall have a dance;

A hand I’ll lend, if wanting it be found;

Say what you will, I’ll see she has her round.

She had it then:— our painter tried to please;

The lady equally appeared at ease;

Full time the others gave, and when they came,

More wine was not required by spark nor dame;

’Twas late, and for the day enough he’d done;

Good night was said: their course the belles had run;

The painter, satisfied, retired to rest;

The gay gallants, who lay so long distressed,

The wily hostess from the closet drew,

Abashed, disconsolate, and cuckolds too;

Still worse to think, with all their care and pain;

That neither of them could his wish obtain,

Or e’en return the dame what she procured

Their wives, whom she so cleverly allured.

HERE ends our tale; the business is complete;

In soft amours success alone is sweet.

* The Saint Ampoule, or Holy Ampulla, a vial said to have descended from heaven, in which was oil for anointing the kings of France at the coronation, and formerly kept at Rheims.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38