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- The Tales and Novels, v25: The Nightingale &c. - 1/3 -


THE TALES AND NOVELS OF J. DE LA FONTAINE

Volume 25.

Contains: The Dress-maker The Gascon The Pitcher To Promise is One Thing, to Keep it, Another The Nightengale Epitaph of Fontaine

THE DRESS-MAKER

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."

THE GASCON

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 PITCHER

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


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