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Thus through a woman was the secret known ; Tell us, and, in effect, you tell the town. But to my tale : The knight, with heavy cheer, Wandering in vain, had now consumed the year; One day was only left to solve the doubt, Yet knew no more than when he first set out. But home he must; and, as the award had been, Yield up his body captive to the queen. In this despairing state he happ'd to ride, As fortune led him, by a forest side ; Lonely the vale, and full of horror stood, Brown with the shade of a religious wood; When full before him, at the noon of night, (The moon was up, and shot a gleamy light) He saw a quire of ladies in a round, That featly footing seem'd to skim the ground. Thus dancing hand in hand, so light they were, He knew not where they trod, on earth or air. At speed he drove, and came a sudden guest; In hope, where many women were, at least Some one, by chance, might answer his request. But faster than his horse the ladies flew, And in a trice were vanish'd out of view.
One only hag remain’d; but fouler far Than grandame apes in Indian forests are ; Against a wither'd oak she lean'd her weight, Propp'd on her trusty staff, not half upright, And dropp'd an awkward court'sy to the knight. Then said, What makes you, sir, so late abroad Without a guide, and this no beaten road ? Or want you aught that here you hope to find, Or travel for some trouble in your mind ? The last I guess; and if I read aright, Those of our sex are bound to serve a knight. Perhaps good counsel may your grief assuage, Then tell your pain, for wisdom is in age.
To this the knight: Good mother, would you know The secret cause and spring of all my woe? My life must with to-morrow's light expire, Unless I tell what women most desire. Now could you help me at this hard essay, Or for your inborn goodness, or for pay, , Yours is my life, redeemid by your advice, Ask what you please, and I will pay the price : The proudest kerchief of the court shall rest Well satisfied of what they love the best.Plight me thy faith, quoth she, that what I ask, Thy danger over, and perform'd the task, That shalt thou give for hire of thy demand, (Here take thy oath, and seal it on my hand,) I warrant thee, on peril of my life,
, Thy words shall please both widow,maid, and wife.
More words there needed not to move the knight, To take her offer, and his truth to plight. With that she spread her mantle on the ground, And, first inquiring whither he was bound, Bade him not fear, though long and rough the way, At court he should arrive ere break of day: His horse should find the way without a guide, She said : with fury they began to ride, He on the midst, the beldam at his side. The horse, what devil drove I cannot tell, But only this, they sped their journey well ; And all the way the crone inform’d the knight, How he should answer the demand aright.
To court they came; the news was quickly spread Of his returning to redeem his head. The female senate was assembled soon, With all the mob of women in the town : The queen sat lord chief-justice of the hall, And bade the crier cite the criminal. The knight appear'd, and silence they proclaim : Then first the culprit answer'd to his name;
And, after forms of law, was last required
The offender, taught his lesson by the way,
There was not one, or widow, maid, or wife, But said the knight had well deserved his life, Even fair Geneura, with a blush, confess'd, The man had found what women love the best.
Up starts the beldam, who was there unseen, And, reverence made, accosted thus the queen :My liege, said she, before the court arise, May I, poor wretch, find favour in your eyes, To grant my just request : 'twas I who taught The knight this answer, and inspired his thought. None but a woman could a man direct To tell us women what we most affect. But first I swore him on his knightly troth, (And here demand performance of his oath,) To grant the boon that next I should desire; He gave his faith, and I expect my hire. My promise is fulfillid : I saved his life, And claim his debt, to take me for his wife.
The knight was ask'd, nor could his oath deny, But hoped they would not force him to comply. The women, who would rather wrest the laws, Than let a sister-plaintiff lose the cause, (As judges on the bench more gracious are, And more attent to brothers of the bar,)
Cried one and all, the suppliant should have right, And to the grandame hag adjudged the knight.
In vain he sigh’d, and oft with tears desired, Some reasonable suit might be required. But still the crone was constant to her note; The more he spoke, the more she stretch'd herthroat. In vain he proffer'd all his goods, to save His body, destined to that living grave. The liquorish hag rejects the pelf with scorn, And nothing but the man would serve her turn. Not all the wealth of eastern kings, said she, Has power to part my plighted love, and me: And, old and ugly as I am, and poor, Yet never will I break the faith I swore ; For mine thou art by promise, during life, And I thy loving and obedient wife.
My love! nay rather my damnation thou, Said he: nor am I bound to keep my vow; The fiend thy sire has sent thee from below, Else how couldst thou my secret sorrows know? Avaunt, old witch, for I renounce thy bed : The queen may take the forfeit of my head, Ere any of
my race so foul a crone shall wed.Both heard, the judge pronouncedagainst the knight; So was he married in his own despite : And all day after hid him as an owl, Not able to sustain a sight so foul. Perhaps the reader thinks I do him wrong, To pass the marriage-feast, and nuptial song: Mirth there was none, the man was a-la-mort, And little courage had to make his court. To bed they went, the bridegroom and the bride : Was never such an ill-pair'd couple tied ! Restless he toss'd, and tumbled to and fro, And rolld, and wriggled further off, for woe. The good old wife lay smiling by his side, And caught him in her quivering arms, and cried,
When you my ravish'd predecessor saw,
Amends ! nay that's impossible, said he, What change of age or ugliness can be ? Or could Medea's magic mend thy face, Thou art descended from so mean a race, That neverknight was match'd with such disgrace. What wonder, madam, if I move my side, When, if I turn, I turn to such a bride ? -
And is this all that troubles you so sore ?And what the devil couldst thou wish me more? Ah, Benedicite! replied the crone: Then cause of just complaining have you none. The remedy to this were soon applied, Would you be like the bridegroom to the bride : sut, for you say a long-descended race, And wealth and dignity, and power, and place, Make gentlemen, and that your high degree Is much disparaged to be match'd with me, Know this, my lord, nobility of blood Is but a glittering and fallacious good :