THE TALES AND NOVELS - V25
THE TALES AND NOVELS - V25
JEAN DE LA FONTAINE
THE TALES AND NOVELS
J. DE LA FONTAINE
To Promise is One Thing to Keep it Another
Epitaph of Fontaine
A CLOISTERED nun had a lover
Dwelling in the neighb'ring town;
Both racked their brains to discover
How they best their love might crown.
The swain to pass the convent-door!--
No easy matter!--Thus they swore
And wished it light.--I ne'er knew a nun
In such a pass to be outdone:--
In woman's clothes the youth must dress
And gain admission. I confess
The ruse has oft been tried before
But it succeeded as of yore.
Together in a close barred cell
The lovers were and sewed all day
Nor heeded how time flew away.--
"What's that I hear? Refection bell!
"'Tis time to part. Adieu!--Farewell!--
"How's this?" exclaimed the abbess "why
"The last at table?"--"Madam I
"Have had my dress-maker."--"The rent
"On which you've both been so intent
"Is hard to stop for the whole day
"To sew and mend you made her stay;
"Much work indeed you've had to do!
"--Madam 't would last the whole night through
"When in our task we find enjoyment
"There is no end of the employment."
I AM always inclined to suspect
The best story under the sun
As soon as by chance I detect
That teller and hero are one.
We're all of us prone to conceit
And like to proclaim our own glory
But our purpose we're apt to defeat
As actors in chief of our story.
To prove the truth of what I state
Let me an anecdote relate:
A Gascon with his comrade sat
At tavern drinking. This and that
He vaunted with assertion pat.
From gasconade to gasconade
Passed to the conquests he had made
In love. A buxom country maid
Who served the wine with due attention
Lent patient ear to each invention
And pressed her hands against her side
Her bursting merriment to hide.
To hear our Gascon talk no Sue
Nor Poll in town but that he knew;
With each he'd passed a blissful night
More to their own than his delight.
This one he loved for she was fair
That for her glossy ebon hair.
One miss to tame his cruel rigour
Had brought him gifts.--She owned his vigour
In short it wanted but his gaze
To set each trembling heart ablaze.
His strength surpassed his luck--the test--
In one short night ten times he'd blessed
A dame who gratefully expressed
Her thanks with corresponding zest.
At this the maid burst forth "What more?
"I never heard such lies before!
"Content were I if at that sport
"I had what that poor dame was short."
THE simple Jane was sent to bring
Fresh water from the neighb'ring spring;
The matter pressed no time to waste
Jane took her jug and ran in haste
The well to reach but in her flurry
(The more the speed the worse the hurry)
Tripped on a rolling stone and broke
Her precious pitcher--ah! no joke!
Nay grave mishap! 'twere better far
To break her neck than such a jar!
Her dame would beat and soundly rate her
No way could Jane propitiate her.
Without a sou new jug to buy!
'Twere better far for her to die!
O'erwhelmed by grief and cruel fears
Unhappy Jane burst into tears
"I can't go home without the delf"
Sobbed Jane "I'd rather kill myself;
"So here am I resolved to die."
A friendly neighbour passing by
O'erheard our damsel's lamentation;
And kindly offered consolation:
"If death sweet maiden be thy bent
"I'll aid thee in thy sad intent."
Throwing her down he drew his dirk
And plunged it in the maid--a work
You'll say was cruel--not so Jane
Who even seemed to like the pain
And hoped to be thus stabbed again.
Amid the weary world's alarms
For some e'en death will have its charms;
"If this my friend is how you kill
"Of breaking jugs I'll have my fill!"
TO PROMISE IS ONE THING
TO KEEP IT ANOTHER
JOHN courts Perrette; but all in vain;
Love's sweetest oaths and tears and sighs
All potent spells her heart to gain
The ardent lover vainly tries:
Fruitless his arts to make her waver
She will not grant the smallest favour:
A ruse our youth resolved to try
The cruel air to mollify:--
Holding his fingers ten outspread
To Perrette's gaze and with no dread
"So often" said he "can I prove
"My sweet Perrette how warm my love."
When lover's last avowals fail
To melt the maiden's coy suspicions
A lover's sign will oft prevail
To win the way to soft concessions:
Half won she takes the tempting bait;
Smiles on him draws her lover nearer
With heart no longer obdurate
She teaches him no more to fear her-
A pinch--a kiss--a kindling eye--
Her melting glances--nothing said.--
John ceases not his suit to ply
Till his first finger's debt is paid.
A second third and fourth he gains
Takes breath and e'en a fifth maintains.
But who could long such contest wage?
Not I although of fitting age
Nor John himself for here he stopped
And further effort sudden dropped.
Perrette whose appetite increased
just as her lover's vigour ceased
In her fond reckoning defeated
Considered she was greatly cheated--
If duty well discharged such blame
Deserve; for many a highborn dame
Would be content with such deceit.
But Perrette as already told
Out of her count began to scold
And call poor John an arrant cheat
For promising and not performing.
John calmly listened to her storming
And well content with work well done
Thinking his laurels fairly won
Cooly replied on taking leave:
"No cause I see to fume and grieve;
"Or for such trifle to dispute;
"To promise and to execute
"Are not the same be it confessed
"Suffice it to have done one's best;
"With time I'll yet discharge what's due;
"Meanwhile my sweet Perrette adieu!"
NO easy matter 'tis to hold
Against its owner's will the fleece
Who troubled by the itching smart
Of Cupid's irritating dart
Eager awaits some Jason bold
To grant release.
E'en dragon huge or flaming steer
When Jason's loved will cause no fear.
Duennas grating bolt and lock
All obstacles can naught avail;
Constraint is but a stumbling block;
For youthful ardour must prevail.
Girls are precocious nowadays
Look at the men with ardent gaze
And longings' an infinity;
Trim misses but just in their teens
By day and night devise the means
To dull with subtlety to sleep
The Argus vainly set to keep
In safety their virginity.
Sighs smiles false tears they'll fain employ
An artless lover to decoy.
I'll say no more but leave to you
Friend reader to pronounce if true
What I've asserted when you have heard
How artful Kitty caged her bird.
IN a small town in Italy
The name of which I do not know
Young Kitty dwelt gay pretty free
Omits her mother's name which not
To you or me imports a jot.
At fourteen years our Kitty's charms
Were all that could be wished--plump arms
A swelling bosom; on her cheeks
Roses' and lilies' mingled streaks
A sparkling eye--all these you know
Speak well for what is found below.
With such advantages as these
No virgin sure could fail to please
Or lack a lover; nor did Kate;
But little time she had to wait;
One soon appeared to seal her fate.
Young Richard saw her loved her wooed her--
What swain I ask could have withstood her?
Soft words caresses tender glances
The battery of love's advances
Soon lit up in the maiden's breast
The flame which his own heart possessed
Soon growing to a burning fire
Of love and mutual desire.
Desire for what? My reader knows
Or if he does not may suppose
And not be very wond'rous wise.
When youthful lovers mingle sighs
Believe me friend I am not wrong
For one thing only do they long.
One check deferred our lover's bliss
A thing quite natural 'twas this:
The mother loved so well her child
That fearful she might be beguiled
She would not let her out of sight
A single minute day or night.
At mother's apron string all day
Kate whiled the weary hours away
And shared her bed all night. Such love
In parents we must all approve
Though Catherine I must confess
In place of so much tenderness
More liberty would have preferred.
To little girls maternal care
In such excess is right and fair
But for a lass of fourteen years
For whom one need have no such fears
Solicitude is quite absurd
And only bores her. Kitty could
No moment steal do what she would
To see her Richard. Sorely vexed
She was and he still more perplexed.
In spite of all he might devise
A squeeze a kiss quick talk of eyes
Was all he could obtain no more.
Bread butterless a sanded floor
It seemed no better. Joy like this
Could not suffice more sterling bliss
Our lovers wished nor would stop short
Till they'd obtained the thing they sought.
And thus it came about. One day
By chance they met alone away
From jealous parents. "What's the use;"
Said Richard "of all our affection?
"Of love it is a rank abuse
"And yields me nothing but dejection
"I see you without seeing you
"Must always look another way
"And if we meet I dare not stay
"Must ev'ry inclination smother.
"I can't believe your love is true;
"I'll never own you really kind
"Unless some certain means you find
"For us to meet without your mother."
Kate answered: "Were it not too plain
"How warm my love another strain
"I would employ. In converse vain
"Let us not waste our moments few;
"But think what it were best to do."
"If you will please me" Robert said
"You must contrive to change your bed
"And have it placed--well let me see--
"Moved to the outer gallery
"Where you will be alone and free.
"We there can meet and chat at leisure
"While others sleep nor need we fear
"Of merry tales I have a treasure
"To tell but cannot tell them here."
Kate smiled at this for she knew well
What sort of tales he had to tell;
But promised she would do her best
And soon accomplish his request.
It was not easy you'll admit
But love lends foolish maidens wit;
And this is how she managed it.
The whole night long she kept awake
Snored sighed and kicked as one possessed
That parents both could get not rest
So much she made the settle shake.
This is not strange. A longing girl
With thoughts of sweetheart in her head
In bed all night will sleepless twirl.
A flea is in her ear 'tis said.
The morning broke. Of fleas and heat
Kitty complained. "Let me entreat
"O mother I may put my bed
"Out in the gallery" she said
"'Tis cooler there and Philomel
"Who warbles in the neigh'bring dell
"Will solace me." Ready consent
The simple mother gave and went
To seek her spouse. "Our Kate my dear
"Will change her bed that she may hear
"The nightingale and sleep more cool."
"Wife" said the good man "You're a fool
"And Kate too with her nightingale;
"Don't tell me such a foolish tale.
"She must remain. No doubt to-night
"Will fresher be. I sleep all right
"In spite of heat and so can she.
"Is she more delicate than me?"
Incensed was Kate by this denial
After so promising a trial
Nor would be beat but firmly swore
To give more trouble than before.
That night again no wink she slept
But groaned and fretted sighed and wept
Upon her couch so tossed and turned
The anxious mother quite concerned
Again her husband sought. "Our Kate
"To me seems greatly changed of late.
"You are unkind" she said to him
"To thwart her simple girlish whim.
"Why may she not her bed exchange
"In naught will it the house derange?
"Placed in the passage she's as near
"To us as were she lying here.
"You do not love your child and will
"With your unkindness make her ill."
"Pray cease" the husband cried "to scold
"And take your whim. I ne'er could hold
"My own against a screaming wife;
"You'll drive me mad upon my life.
"Her belly-full our Kate may get
"Of nightingale or of linnet."
The thing was settled. Kate obeyed
And in a trice her bed was made
And lover signalled. Who shall say
How long to both appeared that day
That tedious day! But night arrived
And Richard too; he had contrived
By ladder and a servant's aid
To reach the chamber of the maid.
To tell how often they embraced
How changed in form their tenderness
Would lead to nothing but a waste
Of time my readers will confess.
The longest most abstruse discourse
Would lack precision want the force
Their youthful ardour to portray.
To understand there's but one way--
Experience. The nightingale
Sang all night long his pleasing tale
And though he made but little noise
The lass was satisfied. Her joys
So exquisite that she averred
The other nightingale the bird
Who warbles to the woods his bliss
Was but an ass compared with this.
But nature could not long maintain
Of efforts such as these the strain;
Their forces spent the lovers twain
In fond embrace fell fast asleep
Just as the dawn began to peep:
The father as he left his bed
By curiosity was led
To learn if Kitty soundly slept
And softly to the passage crept.
"I'll see the influence" he said
"Of nightingale and change of bed."
With bated breath upon tip toes
Close to the couch he cautious goes
Where Kitty lay in calm repose.
Excessive heat had made all clothes
Unbearable. The sleeping pair
Had cast them off and lay as bare
As our first happy parents were
In Paradise. But in the place
Of apple in her willing hand
Kate firmly grasp the magic wand
Which served to found the human race
The which to name were a disgrace
Though dames the most refined employ it;
Desire it and much enjoy it
If good Catullus tells us true.
The father scarce believed his view
But keeping in his bosom pent
His anger to his wife he went
And said "Get up and come with me.
"At present I can plainly see
"Why Kate had such anxiety
"To hear the nightingale for she
"To catch the bird so well has planned
"That now she holds him in her hand."
The mother almost wept for glee.
"A nightingale oh! let me see.
"How large is he and can he sing