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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And Partenopeus has actually consented


Et moi aures cascune nuit

says Melior, with the exquisite simplicity which is the charm of the whole piece.

One must be very inquisitive, exceedingly virtuous (the mediaeval value of consummated betrothal being reckoned), superfluously fond of the company of one's miscellaneous fellow-creatures, and a person of very bad taste[68] to boot, in order to decline the bargain. Partenopeus does not dream of doing so, and for a whole year thinks of nothing but his fairy love and her bounties to him. Then he remembers his uncle-king and his country, and asks leave to visit them, but not with the faintest intention of running away. Melior gives it with the same frankness and kindness with which she has given herself--informing him, in fact, that he _ought_ to go, for his uncle is dead and his country in danger. Only, she reminds him of his pledges, and warns him of the misfortunes which await his breach of them. He is then magically wafted back on ship-board as he came.

He has, once more, no intention of playing the truant or traitor, and does his duty bravely and successfully. But the new King has a niece and the Count himself has a mother, who, motherlike, is convinced that her son's mysterious love is a very bad person, if not an actual _maufes_ or devil, and is very anxious that he shall marry the niece. She has clerical and chemical resources to help her, and Partenopeus has

actually consented, in a fit of aberration, when, with one of the odd Wemmick-like flashes of reflection,[69] not uncommon with knights, he remembers Melior, and unceremoniously makes off to her. He confesses (for he is a good creature though foolish) and is forgiven, Melior being, though not in the least insipid or of a put-up-with-anything disposition, full of "loving _mercy_" in every sense. But the situation is bound to recur, and now, though the time of probation (probation very much tempered!) is nearly over, the mother wins her way. Partenopeus is deluded into accepting an enchanted lantern, which he tries on his unsuspecting mistress at the first possible moment. What he sees, of course, is only a very lovely woman--a woman in the condition best fitted to show her loveliness--whom he has offended irreparably, and lost.

Melior is no scold, but she is also no milksop. She will have nothing more to do with him, for he has shamed her with her people (who now appear), broken her magic power, and, above all, been false to her wish and his word. The entreaties of her sister Urraca (whose gracious figure is now elaborately introduced) are for the time useless, and Partenopeus is only saved from the vengeance of the courtiers and the household by Urraca's protection.[70]

To halt for a moment, the scene of the treason and discovery is another of those singular vividnesses which distinguish this poem and story. The long darkness suddenly flashing into light, and the startled Melior's beauty framed in the splendour of the couch and the bedchamber--the offender at once realising his folly and his crime, and dashing the instrument of his treachery (useless, for all is daylight now, the charm being counter-charmed) against the wall--the half-frightened, half-curious Court ladies and Court servants thronging in--the apparition of Urraca,--all this gives a picture of extraordinarily dramatic power. It reminds one a little of Spenser's famous portrayal of Britomart disturbed at night, and the comparison of the two brings out all sorts of "excellent differences."


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