(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,
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!