Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

The Muleteer

THE Lombard princes oft pervade my mind;

The present tale Boccace relates you’ll find;

Agiluf was the noble monarch’s name;

Teudelingua he married, beauteous dame,

The last king’s widow, who had left no heir,

And whose dominions proved our prince’s share.

No Beauty round compare could with the queen;

And ev’ry blessing on the throne was seen,

When Cupid, in a playful moment, came,

And o’er Agiluf’s stable placed his flame;

There left it carelessly to burn at will,

Which soon began a muleteer to fill,

With LOVE’S all-powerful, all-consuming fire,

That naught controls, and youthful breasts desire.

THE muleteer was pleasing to the sight:

Gallant, good-humoured, airy, and polite,

And ev’ry way his humble birth belied;

A handsome person, nor was sense denied;

He showed it well, for when the youth beheld,

With eyes of love, the queen, who all excelled,

And ev’ry effort anxiously had made,

To stop the flames that would his heart invade;

When vain it proved, he took a prudent part:—

WHO can, like Cupid, manage wily art?

Whate’er stupidity we may discern,

His pupils more within a day can learn,

Than MASTERS knowledge in the schools can gain,

Though they in study should ten years remain;

The lowest clown he presently inspires,

With ev’ry tendency that love requires;

Of this our present tale’s a proof direct,

And none that feel — its truths will e’er suspect:

THE am’rous muleteer his thoughts employed;

Consid’ring how his wish might be enjoyed.

Without success to certainty were brought,

Life seemed to him not worth a slender thought;

To hazard ev’ry thing; to live or die!

Possession have! — or in the grave to lie!

THE Lombard custom was, that when the king,

Who slept not with his queen, (a common thing

In other countries too), desired to greet

His royal consort, and in bed to meet,

A night-gown solely o’er his back he threw,

And then proceeded to the interview,

Knocked softly at the door, on which a fair,

Who waited on the queen with anxious care,

Allowed the prince to enter; took his light,

(Which only glimmered in the midst of night,)

Then put it out, and quickly left the room:—

A little lantern to dispel the gloom,

With waxen taper that emitted rays —

In diff’rent countries various are their ways!

OUR wily, prying, crafty muleteer,

Knew well these forms were current through the year:

He, like the king, at night himself equipped,

And to the queen’s superb apartment slipped.

His face concealed the fellow tried to keep;

The waiting dame was more than half asleep;

The lover got access:— soon all was clear;

The prince’s coming he had but to fear,

And, as the latter had, throughout the day,

The chase attended an extensive way,

’Twas more than probable he’d not be led,

(Since such fatigue he’d had,) to quit his bed.

PERFUMED, quite neat, and lively as a bird,

Our spark (safe entered) uttered not a word.

’Twas often customary with the king,

When state affairs, or other weighty thing,

Displeasure gave, to take of love his fill,

Yet let his tongue the while continue still.

A singularity we needs must own,

With this the wife was long familiar grown.

OUR am’rous wight more joys than one received,

If our narrator of the tale’s believed;

(In bed a muleteer is worth three kings,

And value oft is found in humble things.)

The queen began to think her husband’s rage

Had proved a stimulus such wars to wage,

And made him wond’rous stout in pleasure’s sport,

Though all the while his thoughts were-‘bout the court.

WITH perfect justice Heav’n its gifts bestows;

But equal talents all should not compose.

The prince’s virtues doubtless were designed,

To take command, and govern o’er mankind.

The lawyer, points of difficulty views,

Decides with judgment, and the truth pursues.

In Cupid’s scenes the muleteer succeeds:—

Each has his part:— none universal meeds.

WITH pleasures feasted, our gallant retired,

Before the morn fresh blushes had acquired.

But scarcely had he left the tender scene,

‘Ere king Agiluf came to see his queen,

Who much surprise expressed, and to him said:

My dear, I know your love, but from this bed,

You’ll recollect how recently you went,

And having wonders done, should be content.

For heav’n’s sake, consider more your health;

’Tis dearer far to me than Croesus’ wealth.

WITHIN the royal breast suspicions rose,

But nothing then the monarch would disclose.

He instantly withdrew without a word;

His sentiments to speak had been absurd,

And to the stable flew, since he believed

The circumstances, which his bosom grieved,

Whate’er mysterious doubts might then appear,

Proceeded from some am’rous muleteer.

WHEN round the dorture he began to creep,

The troop appeared as if dissolved in sleep,

And so they truly were, save our gallant,

Whose terrors made him tremble, sigh, and pant:

No light the king had got; it still was dark;

Agiluf groped about to find the spark,

Persuaded that the culprit might be known,

By rapid beating of the pulse alone.

The thought was good; to feel the prince began,

And at the second venture, found his man,

Who, whether from the pleasures he’d enjoyed,

Or fear, or dread discov’ry to avoid,

Experienced (spite of ev’ry wily art,)

At once quick beating of the pulse and heart.

In doubt how this adventure yet might end,

He thought to seem asleep would him befriend.

MEANWHILE the king, though not without much pains,

Obtained the scissors used for horses’ manes.

With these, he said, I’ll mark the fond gallant,

That I may know again the one I want.

THE monarch from the muleteer with care,

In front, snipt off a bulky lock of hair.

This having done, he suddenly withdrew;

But carelessly away the trophy threw;

Of which the sly gallant advantage took,

And thus the prince’s subtle project shook;

For instantly began our artful spark,

His fellow servants like himself to mark.

WHEN day arrived the monarch was surprised,

To see each muleteer alike disguised;

No hair in front of either now was seen;

Why, how is this? said he: What can it mean?

Fifteen or more, if I believe my sight,

My wife has satisfied this very night.

Well! well! he’ll now escape if mum he prove;

But there again I trust he ne’er shall move.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/la_fontaine/jean_de/tales/chapter6.html

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