At the time when the Grand-Master of Chaumont was Governor of the Duchyof Milan, (1) there lived there a gentleman called the Lord of Bonnivet,who by reason of his merits was afterwards made Admiral of France. Beinggreatly liked by the Grand-Master and every one else on account of thequalities he possessed, he was a welcome guest at the banquets wherethe ladies of Milan assembled, and was regarded by them with more favourthan ever fell to a Frenchman's lot, either before or since; and thisas much on account of his handsome countenance, grace of manner, andpleasant converse, as by reason of the renown which he had gained amongall as being one of the most skilful and valorous soldiers of his time.(2)
One day during the carnival, when he was among the maskers, he dancedwith one of the most beautiful and bravely attired ladies to be foundin the whole city; and whenever a pause occurred in the music of thehautboys, he did not fail to address her with love speeches, in which heexcelled all others. But she (3) having no favourable reply to give him,suddenly checked his discourse by assuring him that she neither lovednor ever would love any man but her husband, and that he must by nomeans expect that she would listen to him.
The gentleman, however, would not take this answer for a refusal, andcontinued to press his suit with great energy until mid-Lent. But hefound her still firm in her declaration that she would love neitherhimself nor another, which he could not believe, however, seeing howill-favoured was her husband, and how great her own beauty. Convincedthat she was practising dissimulation, he resolved, on his own side, tohave recourse to deception, and accordingly he ceased to urge his suit,and inquired so closely concerning her manner of life that he discoveredshe was in love with a most discreet and honourable Italian gentleman.
Little by little the Lord of Bonnivet insinuated himself into thefriendship of this gentleman, and did so with so much discretion andskill, that the other remained ignorant of his motive, and became somuch attached to him that, after the lady of his heart, there was no onein the world whom he loved more. In order that he might pluck his secretfrom his breast, the Lord of Bonnivet pretended to tell him his own,declaring that he loved a certain lady to whom he had in truth nevergiven a thought, and begging that he would keep the matter secret, andthat they might have but one heart and one mind together. Wishing toshow in return a like affection, the poor Italian gentleman thereuponproceeded to disclose at length the love that he bore the lady on whomBonnivet wished to be revenged; and after this they would meet somewhereonce every day in order to recount the favours that had befallen themduring the past four and twenty hours; with this difference, however,that one lied, and the other spoke the truth. And the Italian confessedthat he had loved this lady for three years, but had never obtainedanything of her save fair words and the assurance of her love.
Bonnivet then gave him all the advice that he could to enable him toattain his end, and to such good purpose that in a few days the ladyconsented to grant all that was sought of her. It only remained todevise a plan for their meeting, and through the counsels of Bonnivetthis was soon accomplished. And so one day before supper the Italiansaid to him—
"I am more beholden to you, sir, than to any other man living, for,thanks to your good advice, I expect to obtain to-night that which Ihave coveted so many years."
"I pray you, my friend," thereupon said Bonnivet, "tell me the manner ofyour undertaking, so that if there be any risk in it, or craft required,I may serve you in all friendship."
The Italian gentleman then began to tell him that the lady had deviseda means of having the principal door of the house left open that night,availing herself as a pretext of the illness of one of her brothers forwhose requirements it was necessary to send into the town at all hours.He might enter the courtyard, but he was to be careful not to go up bythe principal staircase. Instead of this he was to take a small flighton his right hand, and enter the first gallery he came to, into whichthe rooms of the lady's father-in-law and brothers-in-law opened; andhe was to choose the third door from the head of the stairs, and if ontrying it gently he found that it was locked, he was to go away again,for in that case he might be sure that her husband had returned, thoughnot expected back for two days. If, however, he found that the door wasopen, he was to enter softly, and boldly bolt it behind him, for in thatcase there would be none but herself in the room. And above all, he wasto get himself felt shoes, in order that he might make no noise, and hewas to be careful not to come earlier than two hours after midnight,for her brothers-in-law, who were fond of play, never went to bed untilafter one of the clock.
"Go, my friend," replied Bonnivet, "and may God be with you and preserveyou from mischief. If my company can be of any service to you, I amwholly at your disposal."
The Italian gentleman thanked him warmly, but said that in an affair ofthis nature he could not be too much alone; and thereupon he went awayto set about his preparations.
Bonnivet, on his part, did not go to sleep, for he saw that the time hadcome for revenging himself upon his cruel love. Going home betimes, hehad his beard trimmed to the same length and breadth as the Italian's,and also had his hair cut, so that, on touching him, no differencebetween himself and his rival might be perceived. Nor did he forget thefelt shoes, nor garments such as the Italian was wont to wear. Beinggreatly liked by the lady's father-in-law, he was not afraid to go tothe house at an early hour, for he made up his mind that if he wereperceived, he would go straight to the chamber of the old gentleman,with whom he had some business on hand.
About midnight he entered the lady's house, and although there were agood many persons going to and fro, he passed them unnoticed and thusreached the gallery. Trying the first two doors, he found them shut; thethird, however, was not, and he softly pushed it open. And having thusentered the lady's room, he immediately bolted the door behind him. Hefound that the whole chamber was hung with white linen, the floor andceiling also being covered with the same; and there was a bed drapedwith cloth so fine and soft and so handsomely embroidered in white, thatnothing better were possible. And in the bed lay the lady alone, wearingher cap and night-gown, and covered with pearls and gems. This, beforehe was himself perceived by her, he was able to see by peeping round thecurtain; for there was a large wax candle burning, which made the roomas bright as day. And fearful lest he should be recognised by her, hefirst of all put out the light. Then he undressed himself and got intobed beside her.
The lady, taking him to be the Italian who had so long loved her, gavehim the best possible reception; but he, not forgetting that he wasthere in another's stead, was careful not to say a single word. Hisonly thought was to execute his vengeance at the cost of her honour andchastity without being beholden to her for any boon. And although thiswas contrary to her intention, the lady was so well pleased with thisvengeance that she deemed him rewarded for all she thought he hadendured. At last it struck one of the clock, and it was time to saygood-bye. Then, in the lowest tones he could employ, he asked her if shewere as well pleased with him as he was with her. She, believing himto be her lover, said that she was not merely pleased but amazed at thegreatness of his love, which had kept him an hour without answering her.
Then he began to laugh aloud, and said to her—
"Now, madam, will you refuse me another time, as you have hitherto beenwont to do?"
The lady, recognising him by his speech and laughter, was in suchdespair with grief and shame, that she called him villain, traitor, anddeceiver a thousand times over, and tried to throw herself out of bedto search for a knife in order to kill herself, since she was sounfortunate as to have lost her honour through a man whom she did notlove, and who to be revenged on her might publish the matter to thewhole world.
But he held her fast in his arms, and in fair soft words declared thathe would love her more than her lover, and would so carefully concealall that affected her honour that she should never be brought toreproach. This the poor foolish thing believed, and on hearing from himthe plan that he had devised and the pains that he had taken to win her,she swore to him that she would love him better than the other, who hadnot been able to keep her secret. She now knew, said she, how falsewas the repute in which the French were held; they were more sensible,persevering, and discreet than the Italians; wherefore she wouldhenceforward lay aside the erroneous opinions of her nation and holdfast to him. But she earnestly entreated him not to show himself forsome time at any entertainment or in any place where she might be unlesshe were masked; for she was sure she should feel so much ashamed thather countenance would betray her to every one.
This he promised to do, and he then begged that she would give herlover a good welcome when he came at two o'clock, getting rid of himafterwards by degrees. This she was very loth to do, and but for thelove she bore to Bonnivet would on no account have consented. However,when bidding her farewell, he gave her so much cause for satisfactionthat she would fain have had him stay with her some time longer.
Having risen and donned his garments again, he departed, leaving thedoor of the room slightly open, as he had found it. And as it was nownearly two o'clock, and he was afraid of meeting the Italian gentleman,he withdrew to the top of the staircase, whence he not long afterwardssaw the other pass by and enter the lady's room.
For his own part, he then betook himself home to rest, in such wise thatat nine of the clock on the following morning he was still in bed. Whilehe was rising, there arrived the Italian gentleman, who did not fail torecount his fortune, which had not been so great as he had hoped; foron entering the lady's chamber, said he, he had found her out of bed,wearing her dressing-gown, and in a high fever, with her pulse beatingquick and her countenance aflame, and a perspiration beginning to breakout upon her. She had therefore begged him to go away forthwith, forfearing a mishap, she had not ventured to summon her women, and wasin consequence so ill that she had more need to think of death thanof love, and to be told of God than of Cupid. She was distressed, sheadded, that he should have run such risk for her sake, since she waswholly unable to grant what he sought in a world she was so soon toleave. He had felt so astonished and unhappy on hearing this thatall his fire and joy had been changed to ice and sadness, and he hadimmediately gone away. However, he had sent at daybreak to inquire abouther, and had heard that she was indeed very ill. While recounting hisgriefs he wept so piteously that it seemed as though his soul must meltaway in his tears.
Bonnivet, who was as much inclined to laugh as the other was to weep,comforted him as well as he could, telling him that affections of longduration always had a difficult beginning, and that Love was causing himthis delay only that he might afterwards have the greater joy. And sothe two gentlemen parted. The lady remained in bed for some days, and onregaining her health dismissed her first suitor, alleging as herreason the fear of death that had beset her and the prickings of herconscience. But she held fast to my lord Bonnivet, whose love, as isusual, lasted no longer than the field flowers bloom.
"I think, ladies, that the gentleman's craftiness was a match for thehypocrisy of the lady, who, after playing the prude so long, showedherself such a wanton in the end."
"You may say what you please about women," said Ennasuite, "but thegentleman played an evil trick. Is it allowable that if a lady loves oneman, another may obtain her by craft?"
"You may be sure," said Geburon, "that when such mares are for salethey are of necessity carried off by the last and highest bidder. Do notimagine that wooers take such great pains for the ladies' sakes. It isfor their own sakes and their own pleasure."
"By my word," said Longarine, "I believe you; for, truth to tell, allthe lovers that I have ever had have always begun their speeches bytalking about me, declaring that they cherished my life, welfare, andhonour; but in the end they only thought of themselves, caring fornought but their own pleasure and vanity. The best plan, therefore,is to dismiss them as soon as the first portion of their discourse isended; for when they come to the second, there is not so much credit inrefusing them, seeing that vice when recognised must needs be rejected."
"So as soon as a man opens his mouth," said Ennasuite, "we ought torefuse him, without knowing what he is going to say?"
"Nay," replied Parlamente, "my friend does not mean that. We know thatat first a woman should never appear to understand what the man desires,or even to believe him when he has declared what it is; but when hecomes to strong protestations, I think it were better for ladies toleave him on the road rather than continue to the end of the journeywith him."
"That may be," said Nomerfide; "but are we to believe that they love usfor evil? Is it not a sin to judge our neighbours?"
"You may believe what you please," said Oisille; "but there is somuch cause for fearing it to be true, that as soon as you perceive thefaintest spark, you should flee from this fire, lest it should burn upyour heart before you even know it."
"Truly," said Hircan, "the laws you lay down are over harsh. If women,whom gentleness beseems so well, were minded to prove as rigorous asyou would have them be, we men, on our part, would exchange our gentleentreaties for craft and force."
"In my opinion," said Simontault, "the best advice is that each shouldfollow his natural bent. Whether he love or not, let him do so withoutdissimulation."
"Would to God," said Saffredent, "that such a rule would bring as muchhonour as it would give pleasure."
Dagoucin, however, could not refrain from saying—
"Those who would rather die than make their desire known could notcomply with your law."
"Die!" thereupon said Hircan; "the good knight has yet to be born thatwould die for the publishing of such a matter. But let us cease talkingof what is impossible, and see to whom Simontault will give his vote."
"I give it," said Simontault, "to Longarine, for I observed her justnow talking to herself. I imagine that she was recalling some excellentmatter, and she is not wont to conceal the truth, whether it be againstman or woman."
"Since you deem me so truthful," replied Longarine, "I will tell you atale which, though it be not so much to the praise of women as I couldwish it to be, will yet show you that there are some possessed of asmuch spirit, wit, and craft as men. If my tale be somewhat long, youwill bear with it in patience."