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The misdeeds of the wife of a certain proctor, who had a bishop for her gallant.
Fair ladies, I have had such a poor reward for all my long service that, to avenge me on Love, and her whose heart is so hard toward me, I am about to recount to you the misdeeds done of women on us poor men; and I will tell you nothing but the whole truth.
In the town of Alençon, in the time of the last Duke Charles, there was a proctor named St. Aignan, who had for wife a gentlewoman of the country. And she, having more beauty than virtue, and being of a fickle disposition, was courted by the Bishop of Séez, who, to gain his ends, handled the husband in such fashion that he not only did not perceive the wickedness of the Bishop, but did even forget the love he had for his master and mistress, and at last had dealings with wizards, that thereby he might compass the death of the duchess. For a long while did the Bishop have dalliance with this evil woman, who received him not for the love she bore him, but because her husband, being greedy of money, so charged her. But her love she gave to a young man of Alençon, son of the lieutenant-general, and him she loved to madness; often obtaining of the Bishop to send her husband away, that she might see Du Mesnil, the son of the lieutenant, at her ease. And this fashion of life lasted a long while, she having the Bishop for profit, and Du Mesnil for pleasure, for she told the last that all the pleasaunce she did to the Bishop was but for his sake, and that from her the Bishop only got words, and he might rest assured that no man beside himself got aught else.
One day when her husband had to go on some charges of the Bishop, she asked him to let her go into the country, saying that the town air was hurtful to her; and having got to her farmstead, she straightway wrote to Du Mesnil, enjoining him not to fail in coming to her at nine in the evening. This the poor gallant did; but at the porch he found the maid who was wont to let him in, who thus addressed him: "Go farther, friend, for here your place is taken." And he, thinking the proctor was come, asked her how they fared. The serving-maid, having pity on him, for that he loved so much, and was so little loved in return, and seeing, moreover, that he was comely, young, and of an honourable address, showed to him the frailty of her mistress, believing that when he heard this the flame of his love would be somewhat quenched. And she told him how the Bishop of Séez was hardly come, and was now in bed with her mistress, though it was appointed that he should not come till the morrow; but having kept the proctor at his palace, he had stole away by night to privily visit her. Who then was in despair but Du Mesnil; yet scarcely could he believe the tale, and hid himself in a house hard by, where, remaining till three hours after midnight, he then saw the Bishop come out, not so well disguised as not to be more easily recognized than he desired.
And in this despair he made his way back to Alençon, whither this evil woman having returned, she came to speak to him, and would fain have fooled him in her old fashion. But he told her that she was too good, since she had touched holy things, to speak to a poor sinner like himself, whose repentance, nevertheless, was so great that he hoped ere long his sin would be forgiven. So when she perceived that her case was known to him, and that excuses, oaths, and promises availed nothing, she made complaint of him to her Bishop. And after having well pondered the matter with him, this woman came to her husband and told him that she could no longer live in Alençon, since the son of the lieutenant, whom he had accounted for a friend, did incessantly lay assault to her honour, wherefore she entreated him to take her to Argentan, to do away with all suspicion. To this her husband, who let himself be ruled by her, agreed. But they had been but a short while at Argentan when this evil one sent to Du Mesnil, saying that of all men in the world he was most wicked, and that she was well advised of his publicly speaking ill of her and the Bishop of Séez, for which she would labour to call him to account.
The young man, who had spoken to her alone on the matter, yet fearing to get into disfavour with the Bishop, went forthwith to Argentan with two of his servants, and found his mistress at evensong at the Jacobins. He, kneeling by her side, spoke thus: "Mistress, I am come to this place to swear to you before God that I have spoken against your honour to no one save you yourself; and so evilly have you entreated me that what I told you was not the half of what you deserved. And if there be man or woman who will say that I have so spoken, here am I to give them the lie before your face." She, seeing that much folk were in the church, and that he had for companions two stout serving-men, constrained herself to speak to him in the most gracious sort she could, saying she made no manner of doubt but that he spoke the truth, and that she esteemed him too honourable to speak evil of any man, much less of her who had for him so great a love; but some tales had got to her husband's ears, on which account she would have him make declaration before her husband, that he had not told them, and believed them not at all. This he freely granted, and thinking to accompany her home, he would have taken her by the arm, but she told him that it would not be well for him to come with her, since her husband might suppose she had put the words into his mouth. And taking one of his servants by the sleeve of his doublet, she said, "Leave this man with me, and when it is time I will presently send him for you, but meanwhile do you go and rest in your lodging." And he, who knew not that she conspired against him, did as he was ordered.
To the servant she had taken with her, she gave supper, and when he often asked her if it was not time to look for his master, she told him that it would shortly come. And when night had fallen she privily sent one of her own serving-men to seek Du Mesnil, who, not knowing the evil that was to befall him, went with bold face to the house of the aforesaid St. Aignan, where his mistress still kept his servant, so that he had only one with him. And when he came to the door of the house, the man who had brought him told him the lady wished much to speak with him before he came into the presence of her husband, and that she awaited him in a room with only his own servant with her, and that he would do well to send the other to the door in front. This he did, and whilst he was going up a small and gloomy stair, the proctor, who had laid an ambush in a closet, hearing the noise of his steps, called out, "What is that?" And they told him that it was a man privily endeavouring to enter his house. Whereupon a fellow called Thomas Guerin, an assassin by trade, who to this intent had been hired by St. Aignan, rushed forth and dealt the young man such blows with his sword that, for all the defence he might make, he fell dead between their hands. His servant who was with the lady said to her, "I hear my master talking on the stairs, and will go to him." But she held him back, saying, "Be not troubled, he will shortly be here." And a little after, hearing these words in his master's voice, "I am gone, and may God receive my soul," he would fain have succoured him. But she held him back, saying, "Be not troubled, my husband does but chastise him for these follies of his youth; come, let us go and see what is being done." And leaning against the balustrade of the stairs, she asked of her husband, "Is it finished?" And he said to her, "Come and see, for in this hour I have avenged you on him who has done you so much shame." So saying he gave with his dagger ten or twelve strokes into the body of him whom, when alive, he durst not have encountered.
After that the murder was done, and the two servants had fled to carry the news to the poor father, the aforesaid St. Aignan considered how the thing might best be kept secret, and perceived that the two servants could not be admitted to bear witness, and that none in his house had seen it done, save the murderers, an old serving-woman, and a young girl of fifteen. The old woman he was fain privily to put away, but she, finding means to escape, took refuge in the liberties of the Jacobins. And her witness was the best on the matter of the murder. The young girl stayed some days in his house, but he, having caused one of the murderers to bribe her, put her in a stew in Paris, to the end that her witness might not be received. And, better to hide the murder, he had the body of the dead man burnt; and the bones which the fire had not consumed he made mingle with the mortar that was being used in building. This done he sent with great speed to court to ask for pardon, letting it be understood that he had many times forbidden a man whom he suspected to enter his house. And this man, who would have dishonoured his wife notwithstanding that he was forbidden, had come secretly by night to speak to her, wherefore having found him at the door of her room, and wrath casting out reason, he had slain him. But for all his haste he was not able to dispatch this letter to the chancellor's before the Duke and Duchess, who had been advised of what had taken place by the father of the murdered man, likewise sent to the chancellor, that pardon might not be granted him. This wretch, seeing that he could not obtain pardon, fled beyond seas to England, and his wife with him, and many of his kinsfolk. Yet before he set out, he made known to the murderer who had dealt the blow that he had seen express letters from the King, to take him and put him to death. And since, in return for the service he had done him he would gladly save his life, he gave him ten crowns for him to fly the realm. This he did, and has not been found to this day.
This murder was so confirmed by the servants of the dead man, by the old woman who had fled to the Jacobins, and by the bones which were found in the mortar, that the case was begun and brought to an end in the absence of St. Aignan and his wife. Judgment went by default, they were condemned to death, to pay fifteen hundred crowns to the father of the murdered man, and the rest of their goods were escheated to the crown. St. Aignan, seeing that though he was living in England, in France the law accounted him dead, accomplished so much by his services to some great lords, and by the favour of the kinsfolk of his wife, that the King of England entreated the King of France to grant him a free pardon, and to restore to him his goods and his offices. But the King of France being assured of the enormity of his crime, sent the case to the King of England, asking him if such a deed deserved pardon, and saying that to the Duke of Alençon alone it pertained to grant pardon for offences done in his duchy. But for all these excuses he could not satisfy the King of England, who so earnestly entreated him that at last the proctor gained what he desired and returned to his home. And there, to fill up the measure of his wickedness, he called to him a wizard, named Gallery, hoping by this means to escape the paying of the fifteen hundred crowns to the father of the dead man.
And to this end, he and his wife with him, went up to Paris in disguise. And she, perceiving him closeted for a long while with the enchanter Gallery, and not being told the reason of this, on one morning played the spy and saw Gallery showing to him five wooden images, of which three had their hands hanging down, and of the two others the hands were raised. And she heard the wizard: "We must have images made of wax like these, and they that have the hands drooping shall be made in the likeness of those that are to die, but they that have the hands uplifted shall be made in the likeness of those whose love and favour we desire." To whom the proctor: "This one shall be for the King whose grace I would gain, and this for my Lord Brinon, the chancellor of Alençon." And Gallery said to him, "We must lay these images beneath the altar, where they may hear mass, together with the words that you shall presently say after me." And speaking of them that had the drooping arms, the proctor said that one should be Master Gilles du Mesnil, father of him who was murdered, for he knew well that as long as he was alive he would not cease from pursuing him. And another, that was made in the likeness of a woman, should be for my lady the Duchess of Alençon, the sister of the King; since so well did she love Du Mesnil, her old servant, and had so great a knowledge of the proctor's wickedness in other matters, that unless she died, he could not live. And the last image, that was also made in the likeness of a woman, should be his wife, since she was the beginning of all his evil hap, and he knew well that she would never amend the wickedness of her ways. But when this wife of his, who saw through a chink in the door all that was done, heard that she was numbered among the dead, it was her humour to send her husband on before her. And pretending to go and borrow money of an uncle of hers, named Neaufle, Master of Requests to the Duke of Alençon, she told him of her husband, and all that she had seen and heard him do. This Neaufle aforesaid, like a good old servant, went forthwith to the chancellor of the Duchy of Alençon, and showed him the whole of the matter. And since the Duke and Duchess chanced not to be at court on that day, the chancellor went and told this strange case to the Regent, mother of the King and of the Duchess, who straightway sought out La Barre, Provost of Paris; and such good diligence did he make that he clapped up the proctor and his wizard Gallery, who confessed freely the crime, without being put to the question, or in any way constrained. And the matter of their accusation was made out and brought to the King, whereupon some, willing to save the lives of these men, would fain persuade him that by their enchantments they sought nothing but his grace. But the King, being as tender of his sister's life as of his own, commanded that sentence should be given as if they had attempted his own peculiar person. Nevertheless, the Duchess of Alençon made entreaty for the life of this proctor, and for the doom of death to be changed to some other punishment. So this was granted her, and the proctor, together with the wizard, were sent to the galleys of St. Blancart at Marseilles, where they ended their days in close imprisonment, having time wherein to consider their sins, how great they had been. And the wife, when her husband was removed, sinned more wickedly than before, and so died miserably.
Excerpted from The Heptameron by Marguerite, STANLEY APPELBAUM, Arthur Machen. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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