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XV

VINCENT: Verily, good uncle, you have in my mind well declared these kinds of the night's fear.

ANTHONY: Surely, cousin, but yet are there many more than I can either remember or find. Howbeit, one yet cometh now to my mind, of which I thought not before, and which is yet in mine opinion. That is, cousin, where the devil tempteth a man to kill and destroy himself.

VINCENT: Undoubtedly this kind of tribulation is marvellous and strange. And the temptation is of such a sort that some men have the opinion that those who once fall into that fantasy can never fully cast it off.

ANTHONY: Yes, yes, cousin, many a hundred, and else God forbid. But the thing that maketh men so to say is that, of those who finally do destroy themselves, there is much speech and much wondering, as it is well worthy. But many a good man and woman hath sometime—yea, for some years, once after another—continually been tempted to do it, and yet hath, by grace and good counsel, well and virtuously withstood that temptation, and been in conclusion clearly delivered of it. And their tribulation is not known abroad and therefore not talked of.

But surely, cousin, a horrible sore trouble it is to any man or woman whom the devil tempteth with that temptation. Many have I heard of, and with some have I talked myself, who have been sore cumbered with it, and I have marked not a little the manner of them.

VINCENT: I pray you, good uncle, show me somewhat of such things as you perceive therein. For first, whereas you call the kind of temptation the daughter of pusillanimity and thereby so near of kin to the night's fear, methinketh on the other hand that it is rather a thing that cometh of a great courage and boldness. For they dare with their own hands to put themselves to death, from which we see almost every man shrink and flee, and many of them we know by good proof and plain experience for men of great heart and excellent bold courage.

ANTHONY: I said, Cousin Vincent, that of pusillanimity cometh this temptation, and very truth it is that indeed so it doth. But yet I meant not that only of faint heart and fear it cometh and growth always. For the devil tempteth sundry folk by sundry ways.

But I spoke of no other kind of that temptation save only that one which is the daughter that the devil begetteth upon pusillanimity, because those other kinds of temptation fall not under the nature of tribulation and fear, and therefore fall they far out of our matter here. They are such temptations as need only counsel, and not comfort or consolation, because the persons tempted with them are not troubled in their mind with that kind of temptation. but are very well content both in the tempting and in the following. For some have there been, cousin, such that they have been tempted to do it by means of a foolish pride, and some by means of anger, without any fear at all—and very glad to go thereto, I deny not. But if you think that none fall into it by fear, but that they have all a mighty strong stomach, that shall you well see to be the contrary. And that peradventure in those of whom you would think the stomach more strong and their heart and courage most bold.

VINCENT: Yet is it marvel to me, uncle, that it should be as you say it is—that this temptation is unto them that do it for pride or anger no tribulation, or that they should not need, in so great a distress and peril, both of body and soul to be lost, no manner of good ghostly comfort.

ANTHONY: Let us therefore, cousin, consider an example or two, for thereby shall we better perceive it.

There was here in Buda in King Ladilaus' days, a good poor honest man's wife. This woman was so fiendish that the devil, perceiving her nature, put her in the mind that she should anger her husband so sore that she might give him occasion to kill her, and then should he be hanged because of her.

VINCENT: This was a strange temptation indeed! What the devil should she be the better then?

ANTHONY: Nothing, but that it eased her shrewish stomach beforehand, to think that her husband should be hanged afterward. And peradventure, if you look about the world and consider it well, you shall find more such stomachs than a few. Have you never heard a furious body plainly say that, to see such-and-such man have a mischief, he would with good will be content to lie as long in hell as God liveth in heaven?

VINCENT: Forsooth, and some such have I heard.

ANTHONY: This mind of his was not much less mad than hers, but rather perhaps the more mad of the twain. For the woman peradventure did not cast so far peril therein.

But to tell you now to what good pass her charitable purpose came: As her husband (the man was a carpenter) stood hewing with his chip axe upon a piece of timber, she began after her old guise to revile him so that he waxed wroth at last, and bade her get herself in or he would lay the helm of his axe about her back. And he said also that it would be little sin even with that axe head to chop off the unhappy head of hers that carried such an ungracious tongue in it. At that word the devil took his time and whetted her tongue against her teeth. And when it was well sharpened she swore to him in very fierce anger, "By the mass, whoreson husband, I wish thou wouldst! Here lieth my head, lo," and with that down she laid her head upon the same timber log. "If thou smite it not off, I beshrew thine whoreson's heart!" With that, likewise as the devil stood at her elbow, so stood (as I heard say) his good angel at his, and gave him ghostly courage and bade him be bold and do it. And so the good man up with his chip axe and at a chop he chopped off her head indeed.

There were other folk standing by, who had a good sport to hear her chide, but little they looked for this chance, till it was done ere they could stop it. They said they heard her tongue babble in her head, and call, "Whoreson, whoreson!" twice after the head was off the body. At least, thus they all reported afterward unto the king, except only one, and that was a woman, and she said that she heard it not.

VINCENT: Forsooth, this was a wonderful work! What became, uncle, of the man?

ANTHONY: The king gave him his pardon.

VINCENT: Verily, he might in conscience do no less.

ANTHONY: But then was there almost made a statute that in such a case there should never after be granted a pardon, but (if the truth were able to be proved) no husband should need any pardon, but should have leave by the law to follow the example of that carpenter, and do the same.

VINCENT: How happed it, uncle, that that good law was left unmade?

ANTHONY: How happed it? As it happeth, cousin, that many more be left unmade as well as that one, and almost as good as it too, both here and in other countries—and sometimes some that are worse be made in their stead. But they say that the hindrance of that law was the queen's grace, God forgive her soul! It was the greatest thing, I daresay, that she had to answer for, good lady, when she died. For surely, save for that one thing, she was a full blessed woman.

But letting now that law pass, this temptation in procuring her own death was unto this carpenter's wife no tribulation at all, as far as men could ever perceive. For she liked well to think upon it, and she even longed for it. And therefore if she had before told you or me her intent, and that she would so fain bring it so to pass, we could have had no occasion to comfort her, as one that were in tribulation. But marry, counsel her we might, as I told you before, to refrain and amend that malicious devilish intent.

VINCENT: Verily, that is truth. But such as are well willing to do any purpose that is so shameful, they will never tell their intent to nobody, for very shame.

ANTHONY: Some will not, indeed. And yet are there some again who, be their intent never so shameful, find some yet whom their heart serveth them to make of their counsel therein.

Some of my folk here can tell you that no longer ago than even yesterday, someone who came out of Vienna told us, among other talking, that a rich widow (but I forgot to ask him where it happened), having all her life a high proud mind and a malicious one—as those two virtues are wont always to keep company together—was at dispute with another neighbour of hers in the town. And on a time she made of her counsel a poor neighbour of hers, whom she thought she might induce, for money, to follow her intent. With him she secretly spoke, and offered him ten ducats for his labour, to do so much for her as in a morning early to come to her house and with an axe unknown privily strike off her head. And when he had done so, he was to convey the bloody axe into the house of him with whom she was at dispute, in such manner as it might be thought that he had murdered her for malice. And then she thought she should be taken for a martyr. And yet had she farther devised that another sum of money should afterward be sent to Rome, and there should be measures made to the Pope that she might in all haste be canonized!

This poor man promised, but intended not to perform it. Howbeit, when he deferred it, she provided the axe herself. And he appointed with her the morning when he should come and do it, and thereupon into her house he came. But then set he such other folk as he wished should know of her mad fancy, in such place appointed as they might well hear her and him talk together. And after he had talked with her so much as he thought was enough, he made her lie down, and took up the axe in his own hand. And with the other hand he felt the edge, and found a fault that it was not sharp, and that therefore he would in no wise do it, till he had ground it sharp. He could not otherwise, he said, for pity, it would put her to so much pain. And so, full sore against her will, for that time she kept her head still. But because she would no more suffer any more to deceive her and put her off with delays, ere it was very long thereafter, she hung herself with her own hands.

VINCENT: Forsooth, here was a tragical story, whereof I never heard the like.

ANTHONY: Forsooth, the party who told it to me swore that he knew it for a truth. And he is, I promise you, such as I reckon for right honest and of substantial truth.

Now, here she forbore not, as shameful an intent as she had, to make someone of her counsel—and yet, I remember, another too, whom she trusted with the money that should procure her canonization. And here I believe that her temptation came not of fear but of high malice and pride. And then was she so glad in that pleasant device that, as I told you, she took it for no tribulation. And therefore comforting of her could have no place. But if men should give her anything toward her help, it must have been, as I told you, good counsel.

And therefore, as I said, this kind of temptation to a man's own destruction, which requireth counsel, and is outside tribulation, was outside of our matter, which is to treat of comfort in tribulation.

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