The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

the Lady Killing Herself on The Death of Her Lover
The Lady killing herself on the Death of her Lover

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Tale l.

Messire John Peter for a long time wooed in vain a neighbour of his by whom he was sorely smitten, and to divert his humour withdrew for a few days from the sight of her; but this brought so deep a melancholy upon him that the doctors ordered him to be bled. The lady, who knew whence his distemper proceeded, then thought to save his life, but did indeed hasten his death, by granting him that which she had always refused. Then, reflecting that she was herself the cause of the loss of so perfect a lover, she dealt herself a sword-thrust that made her a partner in his fate. 1

In the town of Cremona not long ago there lived a gentleman called Messire John Peter, 2 who had long loved a lady that dwelt near to his own house; but strive as he might he was never able to have of her the reply that he desired, albeit he loved her with his whole heart. Being greatly grieved and troubled at this, the poor gentleman withdrew into his lodging with the resolve that he would no longer vainly pursue the happiness the quest of which was devouring his life; and accordingly, to divert his humour, he passed a few days without seeing her. This caused him to fall into deep sadness, so that his countenance was no longer the same. His kinsfolk summoned the doctors, who, finding that his face was growing yellow, thought that he had some obstruction of the liver and ordered a blood-letting.

1 The incidents here narrated probably occurred in or about 1544. — L.

2 “Jehan Piètre” (Pietro) in the MSS. — Ed.

The lady, who had dealt so sternly with him, knew very well that his sickness was caused by her refusal alone, and she sent to him an old woman in whom she trusted, to tell him that, since she saw his love to be genuine and unfeigned, she was now resolved to grant him all that which she had refused him so long. She had therefore devised a means to leave her house and go to a place where he might privately see her.

The gentleman, who that same morning had been bled in the arm, found himself better cured by this message than by any medicine or bloodletting he could have had, and he sent word that he would be at the place without fail at the hour she had appointed. He added that she had wrought an evident miracle, since with one word she had cured a man of a sickness for which all the doctors were not able to find a remedy.

The longed-for evening being come, the gentleman repaired to the appointed place with such extreme joy as must needs come soon to an end, since increase of it were not possible. He had waited but a short time after his arrival, when she whom he loved more dearly than his own soul came to meet him. He did not occupy himself with making long speeches, for the fire that consumed him prompted him to seek with all speed that which he could scarcely believe to be at last within his power. But whilst, intoxicated beyond measure with love and joy, he was in one direction seeking a cure that would give him life, he brought to pass in another the hastening of his death; for, heedless of himself for his sweetheart’s sake, he perceived not that his arm became unbound, and that the newly-opened wound discharged so much blood that he was, poor gentleman, completely bathed in it. Thinking, however, that his weakness had been caused by his excess, he bethought himself of returning home.

Then love, which had too closely united them, so dealt with him that, as he was parting from his sweetheart, his soul parted from his body, and, by reason of his great loss of blood, he fell dead at his lady’s feet.

She, on her side, stood there in astonishment, contemplating the loss of so perfect a lover, of whose death she had herself been the sole cause. Reflecting, on the other hand, on the shame and sorrow that would be hers if the dead body were found in her house, she carried it, with a serving-woman whom she trusted, into the street in order that the matter might not be known. Nevertheless, she felt that she could not leave it there alone. Taking up the dead man’s sword, she was fain to share his fate, and, indeed, to punish her heart, which had been the cause of all his woe, she pierced it through and through, so that her dead body fell upon that of her lover.

When her father and mother came out of their house in the morning, they found this pitiful sight, and, after making such mourning as was natural, they buried the lovers together.

“Thus, ladies, may it be seen that excessive love brings with it other woe.”

“This is what I like to see,” said Simontault, “a love so equal that when one died the other could not live. Had I, by the grace of God, found such a mistress, I think that none could ever have ioved her more perfectly than I.”

“Yet am I of opinion,” said Parlamente, “that you would not have been so blinded by love as not to bind up your arm better than he did. The days are gone when men were wont to forget their lives for the ladies’ sake.”

“But those are not gone,” said Simontault, “when ladies are apt to forget their lovers’ lives for their pleasure’s sake.”

“I think,” said Ennasuite, “that there is no living woman that can take pleasure in the death of a man, no, not even though he were her enemy. Still, if men will indeed kill themselves, the ladies cannot prevent them.”

“Nevertheless,” said Saffredent, “she that denies the gift of bread to a poor starving man is held to be a murderess.”

“If your requests,” said Oisille, “were as reasonable as those of a poor man seeking to supply his needs, it would be over cruel of the ladies to refuse you. God be thanked, however, your sickness kills none but such as must of necessity die within the year.”

“I do not understand, madam,” said Saffredent, “that there can be any greater need than that which causes all others to be forgotten. When love is deep, no bread and no meat whatsoever can be thought of save the glance and speech of the woman whom one loves.”

“If you were allowed to fast,” said Oisille, “with no other meat but that, you would tell a very different tale.”

“I acknowledge,” he replied, “that the body might fail, but not so the heart and will.”

“Then,” said Parlamente, “God has dealt very mercifully with you in leading you to have recourse to a quarter where you find such little contentment that you must needs console yourself with eating and drinking. Methinks in these matters you acquit yourself so well, that you should praise God for the tenderness of His cruelty.”

“I have been so nurtured in torment,” he replied, “that I am beginning to be well pleased with woes of which other men complain.”

“Perhaps,” said Longarine, “our complaints debar you from company where your gladness makes you welcome; for nothing is so vexatious as an importunate lover.”

“Say, rather,” answered Simontault, “as a cruel lady ——— ’”

“I clearly see,” said Oisille, “now that the matter touches Simontault, that, if we stay until he brings his reasonings to an end, we shall find ourselves at complines 3 rather than vespers. Let us, therefore, go and praise God that this day has passed without graver dispute.”

3 The last division in the Roman Catholic breviary. — Ed.

She was the first to rise, and all the others followed her, but Simontault and Longarine ceased not to carry on their quarrel, yet so gently that, without drawing of sword, Simontault won the victory, and proved that the strongest passion was the sorest need.

At this point they entered the church, where the monks were waiting for them.

Having heard vespers, they went to sup as much off words as meat, for their converse lasted as long as they were at table, and throughout the evening also, until Oisille told them that they might well retire and give some rest to their minds. The five days that were past had been filled with such brave stories, that she had great fear lest the sixth should not be equal to them; for, even if they were to invent their tales, it was not possible to tell any better than those true ones which had already been related in the company.

Geburon, however, told her that, so long as the world lasted, things would happen worthy of remembrance.

“For,” said he, “the wickedness of wicked men is always what it has been, as also is the goodness of the good. So long as wickedness and good reign upon earth, they will ever fill it with fresh actions, although it be written that there is nothing new under the sun. 4 But we, who have not been summoned to the intimate counsels of God, and who are ignorant of first causes, deem all new things noteworthy in proportion as we would not or could not ourselves accomplish them. So, be not afraid that the days to come will not be in keeping with those that are past, and be sure that on your own part you perform well your duty.”

4 Ecclesiastes i. 9, 10. — M.

Oisille replied that she commended herself to God, and in His name she bade them good-night.

So all the company withdrew, thus bringing to an end the Fifth Day.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09