The Widow who was Comforted.

There was a knight, a rich sheriff, who was doatingly fond of his wife. One day as he sat with her, and they jested together, a knife which he had in his hand chanced to wound her slightly, at which he was so much grieved that he died the next day. His widow, distracted with grief, vowed that nothing should part her from her husband, and so took up her abode beside his grave. At nightfall she made a good fire, for it was the cold winter tide, and she continued to weep and wring her hands, lamenting the loss of her loving spouse. Now near this place were the bodies of three thieves that had been hanged, and a certain knight had to watch that they were not stolen, as quit­rent of his lands.

Than the knyght was both zong and bolde,
He was swith sore a-colde,
And at the chappel fyer he sawe light,
And rode thyderward ful ryght.

He dismounted from his steed and approached the fire, saying to the widow: “Dame, by thy leave I will warm myself.” The lady answered: “Yea, sir, welcome art thou, if thou thinkest no evil, but to sit and make thee warm.” This knight was without a wife, and he thought the lady would suit him very well, so he began forthwith to woo her, and her heart inclined towards him, for she saw he was a comely and a manly knight, and he soon won her love. After a while, the knight went to see whether the bodies of the three thieves were still on the gallows, when, behold, one of them was stolen; so he returned to the widow, and told her that in consequence of this he should lose his lands and heritage.

Sire, quod the lady, tho [then],
There-fore he nought wo,
Ne make thou dole there-fore,
Ne schal nouzt thy lond be lore.
To thys berial we wyl goone,
And dyggyn uppe the cors anone,
And hangye hym in his stede,
As fayer as the othyr dyde.

“But,” says the knight, “the thief had a great wound on his head, and if your husband's body were examined and found with­out such a wound, still should I lose my lands.” “Let not that trouble thee,” quoth she; “thou hast both sword and dagger: with either of them do thou give him such a wound as the thief had.” “Assuredly,” answers the knight, “I could never smite a dead man.” Then the lady drew a knife from her sheath, “that was keen and sharply ground,” and wounded the head of her husband, and putting up the knife, she said, “Now, sir, shall we be gone?” But the knight recollects that the thief had lost two of his front teeth, and the lady, without hesitation,

In hyr hond scho took a stoon,
And knockyd out twa teeth anoon!

She then advises the knight to hang her husband's body on the gallows, before day begins to dawn, which is done accordingly.

In the Septem Sapientum, and some other versions, the knight, after these proofs of the widow's affection for her dead husband, sternly upbraids her, saying that her husband had loved her so much that he died because he had inadvertently shed a little of her blood, but she had not scrupled to mutilate his body: he would therefore have nothing further to do with such a wanton— a more appropriate conclusion of the story, the sole object of the relator being to illustrate the levity and heartlessness of women.

This tale is identical with the episode of the Widow of Ephesus in Petronius Arbiter, which Dunlop had little doubt was originally a Milesian or Sybarite fable. However this may be, it is found in the Talmud, forming one of the supplementary paragraphs which are scattered through the Mishna and Gemara (see Hershon's Talmudic Miscellany, p. 28). It also occurs in the Cento Novelle Antiche (nov. 56), the author of which may have taken it either from the Liber de Septem Sapientibus or from the Fabliau De la Femme qui se fist Putain sur la fosse de son Mari. For many other parallels see Keller's Roman des Sept Sages, Einleitung, clix-clxvii.

Davis, in his work on the Chinese (ch. xiv), relates a some­what similar story, which he thought was the original of the tale of The Nose in Voltaire's Zadig: A philosopher observed a widow fanning the earth over her husband's grave, and, inquir­ing the reason for such a strange proceeding, was informed by the sorrowing lady that she had promised her dying husband not to marry again before the earth on his grave was perfectly dry: “And now, as it occurred to me that the surface of this ground, which has been newly tempered, would not very soon dry, I thought I would just fan it a little.” The philosopher approved of her plan, and obtained her fan as a souvenir. Returning home, he told his wife of this adventure, and showed her the fan, which she snatched from him and tore into shreds, declaring the woman to be a heartless hussy;—for her own part, were he to die, she should never marry again. Shortly after this the philo­sopher was taken suddenly ill, and died. The lady was incon­solable. Preparations were made for the funeral; friends and acquaintances assembled, amongst whom was a young and very handsome student, attended by his servant. He informs the lady that he had purposed becoming a disciple of the late philo­sopher, and had come to attend his obsequies. The widow falls in love with him, and conveys this to him through his old servant. After several objections which the student raised had been removed by the amorous widow, he consents to marry her, but suddenly falls into convulsions. His servant tells her the only remedy is the brain of a man, recently dead, dissolved in wine. Quoth the lady, readily: “My husband has been dead only a few days; open his coffin, and take the remedy from thence.” The coffin was immediately opened, when, to the con­sternation of the widow, the philosopher rose up, for he had only been pretending to be dead, and had created all the scene by magical arts.—In Voltaire's story, a lady had vowed not to marry a second husband so long as the rivulet continued to flow past the grave of her lately deceased spouse, and was now busy contriving to turn its course in a different direction. Zadig's wife tells him of this, and professes disgust at such heartlessness. Zadig, not long after, pretends to have died suddenly; his inti­mate friend visits the sorrowing widow, makes love to her, falls suddenly ill—the nose of a dead man applied to the part affected is the only cure; so the lady immediately takes a sharp knife, and repairs to her husband's tomb, intending to cut off his nose, but Zadig arises, and scoffs at his wife for her hollow professions of affection.

Our old English jest-books abound in satirical tales of “widows' tears, which shrink, like Arno, in the summer.” The tenth jest in Mery Tales and Quicke Answeres, a collection of facetiæ which has been more than once cited in these notes, is as follows:

“There was a yonge woman, the whiche for her husbande, that laye a dyenge, sorowed oute of all measure, wherfore her father came often to her and sayde: daughter, leaue your mourn-inge; for I haue prouyded for you an other husbande, a farre more goodly man. But she did not onely continue in her sorowe, but also was greatly displeased, that her father made any motion to her of an other husbande. As sone as she had buryed her husbande, and the soule mass was songe, and that they were at dyner, betwene sobbynge and wepynge she rowned [i.e. whispered] her father in the eare, and sayde: father, where is the same yonge man, that ye said shuld be min husband?— Lo, thus may ye se, that women sorowe ryght longe, after theyr husbandes be departed.”

Of the same class is the jest in A Hundred Mery Tales—the book referred to by Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, when she says to Benedick: “Will you tell me who told you that I was disdainful, and that I had my good wit out of the Hundred Merry Tales?”—of the woman who followed her fourth hus­band's bier and wept; not because of his death, as she told a gossip, but because she was not this time, as on former occa­sions, sure of a new husband; and another in the same collection, of the woman kneeling at the mass of requiem, while the corpse of her husband lay in the chapel, and a young man whispering “that he myght be her husbande,” she replied: “Syr, by my trowthe, I am sory that ye come so late, for I am sped all redy. For I was made sure yesterday to another man.”