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How And By Whom the Said Child Was Procured by Honore de Balzac

 

The seneschal's wife did not think long over the best way quickly to awaken the love of the page, and had soon discovered the natural ambuscade in the which the most wary are taken. This is how: at the warmest hour of the day the good man took his siesta after the Saracen fashion, a habit in which he had never failed, since his return from the Holy Land. During this time Blanche was alone in the grounds, where the women work at their minor occupations, such as broidering and stitching, and often remained in the rooms looking after the washing, putting the clothes tidy, or running about at will. Then she appointed this quiet hour to complete the education of the page, making him read books and say his prayers. Now on the morrow, when at the mid-day hour the seneschal slept, succumbing to the sun which warms with its most luminous rays the slopes of Roche-Corbon, so much so that one is obliged to sleep, unless annoyed, upset, and continually roused by a devil of a young woman. Blanche then gracefully perched herself in the great seignorial chair of her good man, which she did not find any too high, since she counted upon the chances of perspective. The cunning jade settled herself dextrously therein, like a swallow in its nest, and leaned her head maliciously upon her arm like a child that sleeps; but in making her preparations she opened fond eyes, that smiled and winked in advance of the little secret thrills, sneezes, squints, and trances of the page who was about to lie at her feet, separated from her by the jump of an old flea; and in fact she advanced so much and so near the square of velvet where the poor child should kneel, whose life and soul she trifled with, that had he been a saint of stone, his glance would have been constrained to follow the flexousities of the dress in order to admire and re-admire the perfections and beauties of the shapely leg, which moulded the white stocking of the seneschal's lady. Thus it was certain that a weak varlet would be taken in the snare, wherein the most vigorous knight would willingly have succumbed. When she had turned, returned, placed and displaced her body, and found the situation in which the page would be most comfortable, she cried, gently. “Rene!” Rene, whom she knew well was in the guard-room, did not fail to run in and quickly thrust his brown head between the tapestries of the door.

“What do you please to wish?” said the page. And he held with great respect in his hand his shaggy scarlet cap, less red than his fresh dimpled cheeks.

“Come hither,” replied she, under her breath, for the child attracted her so strongly that she was quite overcome.

And forsooth there were no jewels so sparkling as the eyes of Rene, no vellum whiter than his skin, no woman more exquisite in shape—and so near to her desire, she found him still more sweetly formed—and was certain that the merry frolics of love would radiate well from this youth, the warm sun, the silence, et cetera.

“Read me the litanies of Madame the Virgin,” said she to him, pushing an open book him on her prieu-dieu. “Let me see if you are well taught by your master.”

“Do you not think the Virgin beautiful?” asked she of him, smiling when he held the illuminated prayer-book in which glowed the silver and gold.

“It is a painting,” replied he, timidly, and casting a little glance upon his so gracious mistress.

“Read! read!”

Then Rene began to recite the so sweet and so mystic litanies; but you may imagine that the “Ora pro nobis” of Blanche became still fainter and fainter, like the sound of the horn in the woodlands, and when the page went on, “Oh, Rose of mystery,” the lady, who certainly heard distinctly, replied by a gentle sigh. Thereupon Rene suspected that his mistress slept. Then he commenced to cover her with his regard, admiring her at his leisure, and had then no wish to utter any anthem save the anthem of love. His happiness made his heart leap and bound into his throat; thus, as was but natural, these two innocents burned one against the other, but if they could have foreseen never would have intermingled. Rene feasted his eyes, planning in his mind a thousand fruitions of love that brought the water into his mouth. In his ecstasy he let his book fall, which made him feel as sheepish as a monk surprised at a child's tricks; but also from that he knew that Blanche was sound asleep, for she did not stir, and the wily jade would not have opened her eyes even at the greatest dangers, and reckoned on something else falling as well as the book of prayer.

There is no worse longing than the longing of a woman in certain condition. Now, the page noticed his lady's foot, which was delicately slippered in a little shoe of a delicate blue colour. She had angularly placed it on a footstool, since she was too high in the seneschal's chair. This foot was of narrow proportions, delicately curved, as broad as two fingers, and as long as a sparrow, tail included, small at the top—a true foot of delight, a virginal foot that merited a kiss as a robber does the gallows; a roguish foot; a foot wanton enough to damn an archangel; an ominous foot; a devilishly enticing foot, which gave one a desire to make two new ones just like it to perpetuate in this lower world the glorious works of God. The page was tempted to take the shoe from this persuasive foot. To accomplish this his eyes glowing with the fire of his age, went swiftly, like the clapper of a bell, from this said foot of delectation to the sleeping countenance of his lady and mistress, listening to her slumber, drinking in her respiration again and again, it did not know where it would be sweetest to plant a kiss—whether on the ripe red lips of the seneschal's wife or on this speaking foot. At length, from respect or fear, or perhaps from great love, he chose the foot, and kissed it hastily, like a maiden who dares not. Then immediately he took up his book, feeling his red cheeks redder still, and exercised with his pleasure, he cried like a blind man—“Janua coeli,: gate of Heaven.” But Blanche did not move, making sure that the page would go from foot to knee, and thence to “Janua coeli,: gate of Heaven.” She was greatly disappointed when the litanies finished without any other mischief, and Rene, believing he had had enough happiness for one day, ran out of the room quite lively, richer from this hardy kiss than a robber who has robbed the poor-box.

When the seneschal's lady was alone, she thought to herself that this page would be rather a long time at his task if he amused himself with the singing of the Magnificat at matins. Then she determined on the morrow to raise her foot a little, and then to bring to light those hidden beauties that are called perfect in Touraine, because they take no hurt in the open air, and are always fresh. You can imagine that the page, burned by his desire and his imagination, heated by the day before, awaited impatiently the hour to read in this breviary of gallantry, and was called; and the conspiracy of the litanies commenced again, and Blanche did not fail to fall asleep. This time the said Rene fondled with his hand the pretty limb, and even ventured so far as to verify if the polished knee and its surroundings were satin. At this sight the poor child, armed against his desire, so great was his fear, dared only to make brief devotion and curt caresses, and although he kissed softly this fair surface, he remained bashful, the which, feeling by the senses of her soul and the intelligence of her body, the seneschal's lady who took great care not to move, called out to him—“Ah, Rene, I am asleep.”

Hearing what he believed to be a stern reproach, the page frightened ran away, leaving the books, the task, and all. Thereupon, the seneschal's better half added this prayer to the litany—“Holy Virgin, how difficult children are to make.”

At dinner her page perspired all down his back while waiting on his lady and her lord; but he was very much surprised when he received from Blanche the most shameless of all glances that ever woman cast, and very pleasant and powerful it was, seeing that it changed this child into a man of courage. Now, the same evening Bruyn staying a little longer than was his custom in his own apartment, the page went in search of Blanche, and found her asleep, and made her dream a beautiful dream.

He knocked off the chains that weighed so heavily upon her, and so plentifully bestowed upon her the sweets of love, that the surplus would have sufficed to render to others blessed with the joys of maternity. So then the minx, seizing the page by the head and squeezing him to her, cried out—“Oh, Rene! Thou hast awakened me!”

And in fact there was no sleep could stand against it, and it is certain that saints must sleep very soundly. From this business, without any other mystery, and by a benign faculty which is the assisting principle of spouses, the sweet and graceful plumage, suitable to cuckolds, was placed upon the head of the good husband without his experiencing the slightest shock.

After this sweet repast, the seneschal's lady took kindly to her siesta after the French fashion, while Bruyn took his according to the Saracen. But by the said siesta she learned how the good youth of the page had a better taste than that of the old seneschal, and at night she buried herself in the sheets far away from her husband, whom she found strong and stale. And from sleeping and waking up in the day, from taking siestas and saying litanies, the seneschal's wife felt growing within her that treasure for which she had so often and so ardently sighed; but now she liked more the commencement than the fructifying of it.

You may be sure that Rene knew how to read, not only in books, but in the eyes of his sweet lady, for whom he would have leaped into a flaming pile, had it been her wish he should do so. When well and amply, more than a hundred times, the train had been laid by them, the little lady became anxious about her soul and the future of her friend the page. Now one rainy day, as they were playing at touch-tag, like two children, innocent from head to foot, Blanche, who was always caught, said to him—

“Come here, Rene; do you know that while I have only committed venial sins because I was asleep, you have committed mortal ones?”

“Ah, Madame!” said he, “where then will God stow away all the damned if that is to sin!”

Blanche burst out laughing, and kissed his forehead.

“Be quiet, you naughty boy; it is a question of paradise, and we must live there together if you wish always to be with me.”

“Oh, my paradise is here.”

“Leave off,” said she. “You are a little wretch—a scapegrace who does not think of that which I love—yourself! You do not know that I am with child, and that in a little while I shall be no more able to conceal it than my nose. Now, what will the abbot say? What will my lord say? He will kill you if he puts himself in a passion. My advice is little one, that you go to the abbot of Marmoustiers, confess your sins to him, asking him to see what had better be done concerning my seneschal.

“Alas,” said the artful page, “if I tell the secret of our joys, he will put his interdict upon our love.”

“Very likely,” said she; “but thy happiness in the other world is a thing so precious to me.”

“Do you wish it my darling?”

“Yes,” replied she rather faintly.

“Well, I will go, but sleep again that I may bid you adieu.”

And the couple recited the litany of Farewells as if they had both foreseen that their love must finish in its April. And on the morrow, more to save his dear lady than to save himself, and also to obey her, Rene de Jallanges set out towards the great monastery.

 
 
 

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