Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

A Confidant Without Knowing It; or the Stratagem

NO master sage, nor orator I know,

Who can success, like gentle Cupid show;

His ways and arguments are pleasing smiles,

Engaging looks, soft tears, and winning wiles.

Wars in his empire will at times arise,

And, in the field, his standard meet the eyes;

Now stealing secretly, with skilful lure.

He penetrates to hearts supposed secure,

O’erleaps the ramparts that protect around,

And citadels reduces, most renowned.

I DARE engage, two fortresses besiege

Leave one to Mars, and t’other to this liege.

And though the god of war should numbers bring,

With all the arms that can his thunders fling,

Before the fort he’ll vainly waste his time,

While Cupid, unattended, in shall climb,

Obtain possession perfectly at ease,

And grant conditions just as he shall please.

I NOW propose to give a fav’rite tale:—

The god of Love was never known to fail,

In finding stratagems, as I have read,

And many have I seen most nicely spread.

THE young Aminta was Gerontes’ wife,

With whom she lived, it seems, a wretched life.

Far better she deserved than what she had,

For he was jealous, and his temper bad:

An aged hunks, while she was in the hour

When hearts, that never felt LOVE’S mighty pow’r,

Are presently by tender objects caught,

Which ne’er before had entered in the thought.

WHEN first Aminta saw young Cleon’s face,

A lad possessing all engaging grace,

Much prudence then she ev’ry way displayed,

E’en more perhaps than necessary made.

For though we may suppose the lovely fair,

Would ev’ry effort use to ‘scape the snare,

Yet when the god of soft persuasion takes

The fatal moment, havock soon he makes,

In vain his duty, any thing opposed,

If once the tender sentiment’s disclosed.

Aminta consolation had in view

’Twas that alone the passion from her drew,

A meeting innocent, to vent her tears,

And, to a feeling friend, express her fears.

’Tis represented thus I cannot doubt;

But sight of meat brings appetite about;

And if you would avoid the tempting bit,

’Tis better far at table not to sit.

AMINTA hoped to render Cleon kind;

Poor innocent! as yet to dangers blind,

These conversations she was led to deem,

Mere friendly ways that raised sincere esteem;

And this alone she ardently desired,

Without supposing more would be required,

Or any thing improper be the case:

She’d rather die than suffer such disgrace.

’Twas difficult the business to commence;

A letter ’s often lost, or gives offence,

And many serious accidents arrive:

To have a confidant ’twere better strive;

But where could such a female friend be found?

Gerontes dreaded was by all around.

I’ve said already, Cupid will obtain,

One way or t’other, what he wants to gain;

And this will show the observation just

The maxim’s such as you may always trust.

A FEMALE relative young Cleon had,

A peevish prude, who looked upon the lad,

As one she had a right to rule and scold;

Her name was Mistress Alice: sour and old.

ONE summer’s day, Aminta to her said:

I cannot think how ’tis, your cousin’s led,

(Though quite indifferent he is to me,

And doubtless such will ever prove to be)

With various fond attentions, to pretend,

He loves me — much beyond a common friend.

My window oft he passes day and night;

I cannot move a step, but he’s in sight,

And in a moment at my heels appears;

Notes, letters full of soft expressions, dears,

To me are sent by one I will not name,

For known to you, she would be thought to blame:

Pray put an end to such a wild pursuit

It nothing can produce but wretched fruit;

My husband may take fire at things like these;

And as to Cleon. — me he’ll never please;

I’ll thank you to inform him what I say;

Such steps are useless: folly they betray.

MUCH praise Aminta from the dame received;

Who promised that the conduct, which aggrieved;

To Cleon she would mention, as desired,

And reprimand him, as the fault required:

So well would scold him, that she might be sure,

From him in future she would be secure.

THE foll’wing day our youth to Alice came;

To pay a visit solely was his aim;

She told him what Aminta had declared,

And, in her lecture, words by no means spared.

The lad, surprised, on oath the whole denied,

And vowed to gain her love, he never tried.

Old Alice called her cousin, imp of Hell;

Said she, in all that’s wicked, you excel;

You will not all your base designs confess;

The oaths are false on which you lay such stress,

And punishment most richly you deserve;

But false or true, from this I will not swerve,

That you should recollect, Aminta ’s chaste,

And never will submit to be disgraced;

Renounce her from this hour; no more pursue:—

That easily, said Cleon, I can do;

Away he went: the case considered o’er;

But still the myst’ry he could not explore.

THREE days had scarcely passed: Aminta came,

To pay a visit to our ancient dame;

Cried she I fear, you have not seen as yet,

This youth, who worse and worse appears to get.

Rage, Mistress Alice, instantly o’erspread,

And ev’ry thing that’s vile she of him said.

NO sooner had Aminta gone away,

But she for Cleon sent without delay.

He presently appeared; yet to detail

How Alice stormed, I certainly should fail;

Unless an iron tongue I could obtain:

All Hell was ransacked epithets to gain;

And Lucifer and Beelzebub were used:

No mortal ever was so much abused.

QUITE terrified, poor lad, he scarcely knew;

Her fury was so great, what best to do;

If he allowed that he had acted wrong,

‘Twould wound his conscience and defile his tongue.

He home repaired, and turning in his mind

What he had heard, at length his thoughts inclined,

To fancy that Aminta was disposed,

To play some cunning trick, which, not disclosed,

Would operate to bring her wish about;

I see, said he, the scheme I should not doubt;

It surely is my duty kind to be:

Methinks I hear her freely say to me,

O Cleon! show affection, I am yours;

I love her too, for beauty that secures;

And while her seraph charms my bosom fire;

I equally the stratagem admire.

Most freely howsoe’er I will confess,

At first I was so dull, I could not guess

At what she aimed, but now the object’s plain:

Aminta o’er my heart desires to reign.

THIS minute, if I durst, I’d thither go,

And, full of confidence, declare my woe,

The subtle flame that burns without controul;

What hurt to paint feelings of my soul?

From balance of accounts ’twill both exempt:

’Tis better far to love than show contempt.

But should the husband find me in the house? —

Ne’er think of that, and try the hunks to chouse.

THEIR course had hardly run three other days,

When fair Aminta, studious still of ways

To have her wish, again to Alice came,

To give dear Cleon notice of her flame.

My home, cried she, ’tis requisite I leave:

To ruin me, your cousin, I perceive,

Is still resolved, for presents now he sends;

But he mistakes, and blindly wealth expends;

I’m clearly not the woman he suspects:

See here, what jewels rare to please the sex!

Nice rubies, diamonds too, but what is more,

My portrait I have found among the store,

Which must have been from memory designed,

Since only with my husband that you’ll find.

WHEN I arose, this person known to you,

Whose name I must conceal (to honour true),

Arrived and brought me what I just have shown;

The whole should at your cousin’s head be thrown;

And were he present:— but I’ll curb my rage;

Allow me to proceed, and you engage

To hear the rest:— he word has also sent,

That as to-day he knew my husband went

On business to his cottage in the wood,

Where he would sleep the night, he understood,

No sooner should the servants be in bed,

And Morpheus’ robe be o’er their senses spread,

But to my dressing room he would repair:—

What can he hope, such project to declare?

A meeting place indeed! — he must be mad;

Were I not fearful ‘twould affliction add

To my old husband, I would set a watch,

Who, at the entrance, should the villain catch;

Or put him instantly to shame and flight;

This said, she presently was out of sight.

AN hour had passed when Cleon came anew;

The jewels at him in a moment flew;

And scarcely Mistress Alice could refrain,

From wreaking further vengeance on the swain.

Is this your plan? cried she; but what is worse,

I find you still desire a greater curse;

And then she told him all Aminta said,

When last to visit her the fair was led.

HIMSELF most fully warned the youth now thought;

I loved, cried he, ’tis true; but that is naught,

Since nothing from the belle I must expect:

In future her completely I’ll neglect.

That is the line, said Alice, you should take;

The lad howe’er was fully now awake,

And thoroughly resolved to seek the dame,

Whose cunning wiles had set him in a flame.

THE midnight hour the clock no sooner told;

Than Cleon ran the myst’ry to unfold,

And to the spot repaired, which he supposed,

Aminta meant, from what had been disclosed;

The place was well described, and there he found;

Awaiting at the door, this belle renowned,

Without attendants: sleep their eyes o’erspread:

Behind thick clouds the very stars had fled:

As all had been expected, in he went,

Most thoroughly they both appeared content;

Few words were used: in haste the pair withdrew,

Where ev’ry wish at ease they might pursue.

The smart gallant at once her beauty praised;

His admiration presently was raised;

Sweet kindness followed; charms were oft admired;

And all was managed as their hearts desired.

SAID youthful Cleon, now you’ll tell me why

This stratagem you were induced to try?

For such before in love was never seen;

’Tis excellent, and worthy Beauty’s queen.

A lovely blush o’erspread Aminta’s face,

And gave her lily-cheeks superior grace.

He praised her person, artifice, and wit,

And did whate’er the moments would admit.

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