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Bisclaveret

from The Old-fashioned Fairy Book - ROMANCES OF THE MIDDLE AGES





(From one of Marie's Lays.)


Once upon a time there lived in Brittany a baron who was handsome, wise,
courteous, and brave. Although admired and beloved by his neighbors, he
remained single until late in life, when he fell desperately in love
with a young lady, who did not hesitate long in accepting the offer of
so distinguished a suitor for her hand. They were married, and the bride
returned from her honeymoon to take up her abode in her husband's fine
castle.

For a little while all went well, until the lady discovered that her
husband was regularly absent from home during three days of every week.
Overwhelmed with curiosity to know where he went, and how he was
occupied during this time, she used every means in her power to coax the
secret from him.

"Do not ask me," said her kind lord; "rest assured that I have good
reasons for my conduct. If you know what takes me from you, it will only
be to hate and scorn your husband, and to ruin the happiness of our
life."

The lady persisted, going from coaxings to prayers and tears. At last
the poor baron gave way, and confided to her that, owing to a cruel
spell cast on him at birth, he was during half the week a Bisclaveret,
or Man-Wolf, taking on the body of a wolf, but keeping his own feelings
and intelligence as a man. Upon hearing this dreadful story, the lady
fainted away. Henceforth, although her husband was more loving than
ever, she was filled with horror and loathing of him; and soon she
secretly resolved to destroy the monster and enjoy his wealth.

By watching his movements she ascertained that when the baron became a
wolf he left his clothing in a deserted chapel on the edge of a certain
wood; and she formed a plan to seize and hide the garments. So long as
the Bisclaveret was without his man's clothes, he was condemned to
remain a brute.

Accordingly, when, after his melancholy ramble through the woods, the
Bisclaveret went one night to resume his clothes, they were gone; and,
in agony of spirit, he knew that he was betrayed by his wife. He took
himself off to the forest, and was there lost to human sight.

Meanwhile the wicked wife, announcing that her husband had died while on
a journey to some foreign land, enjoyed his wealth and his castle. A
year later, the king went hunting in the forest, and, after a stout
chase, had nearly run down the unhappy Bisclaveret, when that persecuted
beast, bounding from his thicket, fawned upon the king's feet, shedding
real tears and uttering almost human cries for mercy. The king, struck
with compassion, ordered his dogs to be whipped off, and had the strange
animal conveyed with care to his palace. Bisclaveret soon became the
royal favorite. He slept on a couch of soft furs, ate from a golden
dish, and returned with gratitude the caresses of all who noticed him.

His gentleness and sagacity won for the man-wolf the right to roam
wherever he desired to go, unchained. One day the king gave a splendid
entertainment, to which were invited all the lords and ladies of the
land. Among them, dressed in silks and satins, and sparkling with
jewels, came the false wife. No sooner did Bisclaveret espy her chatting
with the king's guests, than, to the surprise of all present, the
usually mild creature rose up, growling horribly and, springing upon the
lady, bit off her nose. Bisclaveret was seized, and would have been
speedily killed, but that he again fawned upon the king's feet, moaning
and weeping as though he longed to speak. The king ordered him to be put
into a cage, and consulted with the oldest and wisest man in his
kingdom, as to what could be the meaning of the wolf's sudden fury
toward this lady.

"Brittany is a land of wonders, sire," said the aged man. "The lady who
was attacked is as well known for a bad name as your favorite animal is
for a good one. Who knows what became of her late husband, the baron?
Perhaps this poor brute was beloved by that gentleman, and has some
secret wrong to avenge. At any rate, you should at once shut the lady in
prison until she is made to tell all she knows about the matter.
Mayhap it is more than we suspect."

The king followed his counsellor's advice; and, when the lady found
herself likely to be kept a prisoner, she preferred speech to silence.
With tears of professed penitence, she confessed all, and the king lost
no time in sending for the clothes of the late baron, and placing them
in the cage of Bisclaveret. At first the animal seemed indifferent, and
surveyed them listlessly. "Leave him to himself, sire," said the wise
man. "Above all, set him at liberty in a chamber suitable to his rank.
Then we shall see a wonderful change, I promise you."

This was done, and in the morning the king ran impatiently to the
chamber of Bisclaveret. There, on the bed, dressed in his clothes and
sleeping sweetly, lay the baron. When his royal master entered, the
sleeper woke and, bending his knee before his sovereign, poured forth
his joy and gratitude.

As for the wicked wife, her estates were taken from her and restored to
her husband, while she herself was sent into perpetual banishment. Most
people would think she had been sufficiently punished by the loss of her
nose, which never grew again!





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Previous: The Trials Of Sir Isumbras



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