Of Women, Who Not Only Betray Secrets, but Lie Fearfully

Gesta Romanorum

There were two brothers, of whom one was a layman and the other a parson. The former had often heard his brother declare that there never was a woman who could keep a secret. He had a mind to put this maxim to the test in the person of his own wife, and one night he addressed her in the following manner, "My dear wife, I have a secret to communicate to you, if I were certain that you would reveal it to nobody. Should you divulge it, it would cause me the greatest uneasiness and vexation."

"My lord," answered his wife, "fear not; we are one body, and your advantage is mine. In like manner, your injury must deeply affect me."

"Well, then," said he, "know that, my bowels being oppressed to an extraordinary degree, I fell very sick. My dear wife, what will you think? I actually voided a huge black crow, which instantly took wing, and left me in the greatest trepidation and confusion of mind."

"Is it possible?" asked the innocent lady; "but, husband, why should this trouble you? You ought rather to rejoice that you are freed from such a pestilent tenant." Here the conversation closed; in the morning, the wife hurried off to the house of a neighbor. "My best friend," said she, "may I tell you a secret?"

"As safely as to your own soul," answered the fair auditor.

"Why," replied the other, "a marvelous thing has happened to my poor husband. Being last night extremely sick, he voided two prodigious black crows, feathers and all, which immediately flew away. I am much concerned."

The other promised very faithfully -- and immediately told her neighbor that three black crows had taken this most alarming flight. The next edition of the story made it four; and in this way it spread, until it was very credibly reported that sixty black crows had been evacuated by one unfortunate varlet. But the joke had gone further than he dreamt of; he became much disturbed, and assembling his busy neighbors, explained to them that having wished to prove whether or not his wife could keep a secret, he had made such a communication. Soon after this, his wife, dying, he ended his days in a cloister, where he learned three letters; of which one was black; the second, red; and the third, white.


My beloved, the layman is any worldly minded man who, thinking to do one foolish thing without offense, falls into a thousand errors. But he assembles the people -- that is, past and present sins -- and by confession expurgates his conscience.

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Revised November 6, 2000.