Jean de La Fontaine

The Quid Pro Quo; Or The Mistakes

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DAME FORTUNE often loves a laugh to raise,
And, playing off her tricks and roguish ways,
Instead of giving us what we desire,
Mere quid pro quo permits us to acquire.
I've found her gambols such from first to last,
And judge the future by experience past.
Fair Cloris and myself felt mutual flame;
And, when a year had run, the sprightly dame
Prepared to grant me, if I may be plain,
Some slight concessions that would ease my pain.
This was her aim; but whatsoe'er in view,
'Tis opportunity we should pursue;
The lover, who's discreet, will moments seize;
And ev'ry effort then will tend to please.

ONE eve I went this charming fair to see;
The husband happened (luckily for me)
To be abroad; but just as it was night
The master came, not doubting all was right;
No Cloris howsoe'er was in the way;
A servant girl, of disposition gay,
Well known to me, with pretty smiling face,
'Tis said, was led to take her lady's place.
The mistress' loss for once was thus repaid;
The barter mutual:--wife against the maid.

WITH many tales like this the books abound;
But able hands are necessary found,
To place the incidents, arrange the whole,
That nothing may be forced nor feel control.
The urchin blind, who sees enough to lay
His num'rous snares, such tricks will often play.
The CRADLE in Boccace excels the most,
As to myself I do not mean to boast,
But fear, a thousand places, spite of toil,
By him made excellent, my labours spoil.
'Tis time howe'er with preface to have done,
And show, by some new turn, or piece of fun,
(While easy numbers from my pencil flow,)
Of Fortune and of Love the quid pro quo.
In proof, we'll state what happened at Marseilles:
The story is so true, no doubt prevails.

THERE Clidamant, whose proper name my verse,
Prom high respect, refuses to rehearse,
Lived much at ease: not one a wife had got,
Throughout the realm, who was so nice a lot,
Her virtues, temper, and seraphick charms,
Should have secured the husband to her arms;
But he was not to constancy inclined;
The devil's crafty; snares has often twined
Around and round, with ev'ry subtle art,
When love of novelty he would impart.

THE lady had a maid, whose form and size,
Height, easy manners, action, lips, and eyes,
Were thought to be so very like her own,
That one from t'other scarcely could be known;
The mistress was the prettiest of the two;
But, in a mask where much escapes the view,
'Twas very difficult a choice to make,
And feel no doubts which better 'twere to take.

THE Marseillesian husband, rather gay,
With mistress Alice was disposed to play;
(For such was called the maid we just have named
To show coquettish airs the latter aimed,
And met his wishes with reproof severe;
But to his plan the lover would adhere,
And promised her at length a pretty sum:
A hundred crowns, if to his room she'd come.
To pay the girl with kindness such as this,
In my opinion, was not much amiss.
At that rate what should be the mistress' price?
Perhaps still less: she might not be so nice.
But I mistake; the lady was so coy,
No spark, whatever art he could employ,
How cleverly soe'er he laid the snare,
Would have succeeded, spite of ev'ry care.
Nor presents nor attentions would have swayed;
Should I have mentioned presents as an aid?
Alas! no longer these are days of old!
By Love both nymph and shepherdess are sold;
He sets the price of many beauties rare;
This was a god;--now nothing but a mayor.

O ALTERED times! O customs how depraved!
At first fair Alice frowardly behaved;
But in the sequel 'gan to change her way,
And said, her mistress, as the foll'wing day,
A certain remedy to take designed;
That, in the morning then, if so inclined,
They could at leisure in the cavern meet;--
The plan was pleasing: all appeared discreet.

THE servant, having to her mistress said,
What projects were in view: what nets were spread;
The females, 'tween themselves, a plot contrived,
Of Quid pro quo, against the hour arrived.
The husband of the trick was ne'er aware,
So much the mistress had her servant's air;
But if he had, what then? no harm of course;
She might have lectured him with double force.

NEXT day but one, gay Clidamant, whose joy
Appeared so great, 'twas free from all alloy,
By hazard met a friend, to whom he told
(Most indiscreetly) what to him was sold;
How Cupid favoured what he most required,
And freely granted all he had desired.
Though large the blessing, yet he grudged the cost;
The sum gave pain: a hundred crowns were lost!
The friend proposed they should at once decide,
The charge and pleasure 'tween them to divide.
Our husband thought his purse not over strong,
That saving fifty crowns would not be wrong.
But then, on t'other hand, to lend the fair,
In ev'ry view had got an awkward air;
Would she, as was proposed, consent to two?
To keep things secret would their lips be true?
Or was it fair to sacrifice her charms,
And lay her open thus to dire alarms?

THE friend this difficulty soon removed,
And represented that the cavern proved
So very dark, the girl would be deceived;
With one more shrewd the trick might be achieved.
Sufficient howsoever it would be,
If they by turns, and silent, could agree
To meet the belle, and leave to Love the rest,
From whom they hoped assistance if distressed.
Such silence to observe no hurt could do,
And Alice would suppose, a prudent view
Retained the tongue, since walls have often ears,
And, being mum, expressive was of fears.

WHEN thus the two gallants their plan had laid,
And ev'ry promised pleasure fully weighed,
They to the husband's mansion made their way,
Where yet the wife between the bed-clothes lay.
The servant girl was near her mistress found;
Her dress was plain: no finery around;
In short, 'twas such that, when the moment came;
To fail the meeting could not be her aim.

THE friends disputed which the lead should take,
And strong pretentions both appeared to make;
The husband, honours home would not allow:
Such compliments were out of fashion now.
To settle this, at length three dice they took;
The friend was highest placed in Fortune's book.
The both together to the cavern flew,
And for the servant soon impatient grew;
But Alice never came, and in her room
The mistress, softly treading 'mid the gloom,
The necessary signal gently gave,
On which she entered presently the cave,
And this so suddenly, no time was found
To make remarks on change or errors round,
Or any diff'rence 'tween the friend and spouse;
In short, before suspicions 'gan to rouse,
Or alteration lent the senses aid:--
To LOVE, a sacrifice was fully made.
The lucky wight more pleasure would have felt,
If sensible he'd been with whom he dealt:
The mistress rather more of beauty had,
And QUALITY of course must something add.

THIS scene just ended, t'other actor came,
Whose prompt arrival much surprised the dame,
For, as a husband, Clidamant had ne'er
Such ardour shown, he seemed beyond his sphere.
The lady to the girl imputed this,
And thought, to hint it, would not be amiss.

THE entertainment o'er, away they went
To quit the dark abode they were intent.
The partner in amour repaired above;
But when the husband saw his wedded love
Ascend the stairs, and she the friend perceived,
We well may judge how bosoms beat and heaved.

THE master of the house conceived it best
To keep the whole a secret in his breast.
But to discover ALL, his lovely rib
Appeared disposed, though wives can often fib;
The silliest of the throng (or high or low),
Most perfectly the science seem to know.

SOME will pretend that Alice, in her heart
Was sorry she had acted such a part,
And not a better method sought to gain
The money which had caused her master's pain;
Lamented much the case, and tried to please
By ev'ry means that might his trouble ease.
But this is merely with design to make
The tale a more impressive feature take.

TWO questions may agitate around;
The one, if 'mong the brotherhood renowned,
The husband, who thus felt disgraced,
Should (with the usual ornaments) be placed?
But I no grounds for such conclusion see:
Both friend and wife were from suspicion free;
Of one another they had never thought,
Though in the mystick scene together brought.
The other is:--Should she, who was misused,
Have sought revenge for being so abused?
Though this sufficiently I have maintained,
The lady inconsolable remained.

HEAV'N guard the FAIR, who meet with ills like these,
And nothing can their wounded minds appease:
I many know howe'er, who would but laugh,
And treat such accidents as light as chaff.
But I have done: no more of that or this;
May ev'ry belle receive her lot of bliss!

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Jean de La Fontaine