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- The Tales and Novels, v15: The Mandrake & The Rhemese - 1/4 -


[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]

THE TALES AND NOVELS OF J. DE LA FONTAINE

Volume 15.

Contains: The Mandrake The Rhemese

THE MANDRAKE

FLORENTINE we now design to show;-- A greater blockhead ne'er appeared below; It seems a prudent woman he had wed, With beauty that might grace a monarch's bed; Young, brisk, good-humoured, with engaging mien; None in the town, or round, the like was seen: Her praises every voice inclined to sing, And judged her worthy of a mighty king; At least a better husband she deserved: An arrant fool he looked, and quite unnerved. This Nicia Calfucci (for such his name) Was fully bent to have a father's fame, And thought his country honour he could do, Could he contrive his lineage to pursue. No holy saint in Paradise was blessed, But what this husband fervently addressed; From day to day, so oft he teazed for grace, They scarcely knew his off'rings where to place. No matron, quack, nor conjurer around, But what he tried their qualities profound; Yet all in vain: in spite of charm or book, No father he, whatever pains he took.

TO Florence then returned a youth from France; Where he had studied,--more than complaisance: Well trained as any from that polished court; To Fortune's favours anxious to resort; Gallant and seeking ev'ry FAIR to please; Each house, road, alley, soon he knew at ease; The husbands, good or bad, their whims and years, With ev'ry thing that moved their hopes or fears; What sort of fuel best their females charmed; What spies were kept by those who felt alarmed; The if's, for's, to's, and ev'ry artful wile, That might in love a confidant beguile, Or nurse, or father-confessor, or dog; When passion prompts, few obstacles can clog.

THE snares were spread, each stratagem was laid; And every thing arranged to furnish aid, When our gay spark determined to invest Old Nicia with the cuckold's branching crest. The plan no doubt was well conceived and bold; The lady to her friends appeared not cold; Within her husband's house she seemed polite; But ne'er familiarly was seen invite, No further could a lover dare proceed; Not one had hope the belle his flame would heed.

OUR youth, Calimachus, no sooner came, But he howe'er appeared to please the dame; His camp he pitched and entered on the siege Of fair Lucretia, faithful to her liege, Who presently the haughty tigress played, And sent him, like the rest, away dismayed.

HE, scarcely knew what saint he could invoke; When Nicia's folly served him for a cloak; However strange, no stratagem nor snare, But what the fool would willingly prepare With all his heart, and nothing fancy wrong; That might to others possibly belong. The lover and himself, as learned men, Had conversations ev'ry now and then; For Nicia was a doctor in the law: Degree, to him, not worth a single straw; Far better had he common prudence traced; And not his confidence so badly placed.

ONE day he to Calimachus complained, Of want of heirs, and wished they could be gained: Where lay the fault? He was a gay gallant; Lucretia young with features to enchant. When I at Paris was, replied our wight, There passed a clever man, a curious sight, His company with anxious care I sought, And was at length a hundred secrets taught; 'Mong others how, at will, to get an heir:-- A certain thing, he often would declare; The great Mogul had tried it on his queen, just two years since, the heir might then be seen; And many other princesses of fame, Had added by it to their husband's name. 'Twas very true; I've seen it fully proved: The remedy all obstacles removed; 'Tis from the root of certain tree expressed; A juice most potent ev'ry where confessed, And Mandrake called, which taken by a wife; More pow'r evinces o'er organick life, Than from conventual grace was e'er derived, Though in the cloister youthful friars hived.

TEN months from hence I'll you a father make; No longer time than that I ask to take; This period o'er, the child to church we'll bring,-- If true, said Nicia, what a glorious thing! You'll do me services I can't express.-- Don't doubt it, cried the spark of smart address: Must I the fact so oft to you repeat? I've seen it with my eyes; 'tis most complete; You mean to jest, assuredly my friend; Would you by doubts the great Mogul offend? So handsomely this traveller he paid, No sign of discontent he e'er betrayed.

'TIS excellent, the Florentine replied; Lucretia must be pleased to have it tried; What satisfaction! in her arms to view An infant that my lineage will renew. Now, worthy friend, you god-father shall stand; This very day pray take the thing in hand.

NOT quite so fast, rejoined our smart gallant, First know the plan, before consent you grant; There is an ill attends the whole affair; But what below, alas! is free from care; This juice, possessing virtues so divine, Has also pow'rs that prove the most malign: Whoe'er receives the patient's first embrace; Too fatally the dire effects will trace; Death oft succeeds the momentary joy; We scarcely good can find without alloy.

YOUR servant; sir, said Nicia with surprise; No more of this: the name will me suffice; Lucretia we will let remain at ease: What you propose can never truly please; If I must die by getting of a son, 'Tis better far the benefit to shun; Go find some other for your wondrous art; In fact I'm not inclined with life to part.

HOW strange your conduct, cried the sprightly youth: Extremes you seek, and overleap the truth; Just now the fond desire to have a boy Chased ev'ry care and filled your heart with joy; At present quite the contrary appears A moment changed your fondest hopes to fears; Come, hear the rest; no longer waste your breath: Kind Nature all can cure, excepting death. What's necessary pray, that things succeed? Some youthful clod for once should take the lead, And clear the way of ev'ry venom round Then you with safety may commence to sound; No time you'll lose, but instantly begin And you'll most certainly your object win. This step is necessary to the end; Some lad of little worth I recommend; But not ill made, nor savagely robust, To give your lady terror nor disgust. We know that, used to Nicia's soft caress, Lucretia would disrelish rude address; Indeed 'tis possible in such event, Her tender heart would never give consent; This led me to propose a man that's young; Besides, the more he proves for action strong, The less of venom will behind remain, And I'll engage that ev'ry drop he'll drain.

AT first the husband disapproved the plan, The infamy, and danger which they ran Perhaps the magistrate might have him sought, And he, of murder, guilty might be thought; The sudden death would mightily perplex; A fellow's creature's loss would sorely vex; Lucretia, who'd withstood each tempter's charms, Was now to be disgraced in rustick arms!

CALIMACHUS, with eagerness replied; I would a man of consequence provide, Or one, at all events, whose anxious aim Would be, aloud the myst'ry, to proclaim! But fear and folly would contain the clown, Or money at the worst would stop renown,


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