To the town of Dijon, in the Duchy of Burgundy, there came a GermanCount to take service with King Francis. He was named William, (2) andwas of the House of Saxony, which is so closely allied with that ofSavoy that formerly they were but one. This Count, who was held for ashandsome and valiant a gentleman as Germany ever knew, was right wellreceived by the King, who not only took him into his service, but kepthim close to himself as a groom of the chamber.
Now the Lord de la Trémoille, (3) Governor of Burgundy, an old knightand a loyal servant to the King, was ever jealous and anxious for hismaster's safety, and was wont to have spies at all points to learn whatthe King's enemies were doing; and so prudently did he contrive matters,that but few things were hidden from him. Among his informations therecame to him one day a letter from a friend telling him that CountWilliam had received a sum of money, with promise of more, for puttingthe King to death in any such manner as he might find possible. (4)
The Lord de la Trémoille failed not to give speedy notice of the affairto the King, and further made it known to the King's mother, Louise ofSavoy, who, forgetting that she and this German were akin, begged theKing to banish him forthwith. But the King bade her speak no more ofit, saying that it was impossible so upright and honourable a gentlemanwould undertake so vile a deed.
Some time afterwards a second warning arrived in confirmation of thefirst, and the Governor, burning with love for his master, soughtpermission either to banish the Count or else take him in hand in someother fashion; but the King charged him expressly to keep the affairsecret, being persuaded that he might discover the truth by some othermeans.
One day when going a-hunting, the King, as his sole weapon, buckled onthe finest sword it were possible to see, and took Count William alongwith him, desiring that he would follow him close. After hunting thestag for some time, seeing that all his people save the Count were faroff, he turned out of all the roads and tracks, till he found himselfalone with the Count in the deepest part of the forest, (5) when,drawing his sword, he said:—
"Think you that this sword be handsome and trusty?"
The Count took it by the point, and answered that he had never seen onethat he liked better.
"You are right," said the King; "and I think that, if a gentleman hadresolved to slay me, he would think twice before he attacked me ifhe knew the strength of my arm, the stoutness-of my heart, and theexcellence of this sword. Yet, for all that, I should count him but acraven scoundrel if, when we were face to face and alone, he durst notexecute what he had dared to undertake."
"Sire," replied Count William, with astonished countenance, "thewickedness of the undertaking would be very great, but the folly ofseeking to execute it would be no less."
The King laughed, sheathed his sword again, and hearing the hunt hardby, spurred after it with all speed. When he reached his train he spoketo none of what had passed, but he felt convinced that, although CountWilliam was as brave and ready a gentleman as might be, he was not theman to carry out so high an enterprise.
However, Count William, fearing that he had been discovered or was atleast suspected, repaired the next morning to Robertet, Secretaryfor the King's Finances, (6) and told him that he had considered theprivileges and pay offered him to continue in the King's service, andthat they would not suffice to support him for half the year. Unlesstherefore it pleased the King to give him double, he would be forced todepart; and he accordingly begged the said Robertet to acquaint himas soon as might be with the will of the King. To this the Secretaryreplied that he could not better advance the business than by going tothe King straightway; and he undertook the mission right willingly, forhe had seen the warnings that the Governor had received.
As soon, therefore, as the King was awake he failed not to lay thematter before him in the presence of the Lord de la Trémoille and theAdmiral de Bonnivet, who were ignorant of the trick that the King hadplayed the Count the day before.
Then the King laughed, and said to them—"You desired to banish CountWilliam, and you see he is banishing himself. Wherefore, tell himthat if he be not content with the establishment which he accepted onentering my service, and which many men of good families have deemedthemselves fortunate to have, he must e'en seek a better fortuneelsewhere. For my part, I will in no wise hinder him, but shall be wellpleased if he can find some condition wherein to live according to hisdeserts."
Robertet was as prompt to bear this answer to the Count as he had beento prefer his request to the King. The Count replied that with theKing's permission he was resolved to depart, and, like one whom fearurges to flight, he did not tarry even four and twenty hours; but,just as the King was sitting down to table, came to take leave of him,feigning much sorrow that his need should force him from the Royalpresence.
He also went to take leave of the King's mother, who parted from himno less joyfully than she had formerly received him as a kinsman andfriend. And thus he returned to his own country; and the King, seeinghis mother and courtiers in amazement at his sudden departure, toldthem of the fright he had given him, saying that, even if the Countwere innocent of that which was laid against him, his fear had beensufficiently great to constrain him to leave a master whose temper hehad not yet come to know.
"For my part, ladies, I can see no reason why the King should have beenmoved to risk himself thus against so famous a captain, except that,forsaking the company and places where Kings find no inferiors ready togive them battle, he desired to place himself on an equal footing withone whom he suspected to be his enemy; and this that he might have thesatisfaction of testing the stoutness and valour of his own heart."
"Without a doubt," said Parlamente, "he was in the right; for all thepraise of man cannot so well satisfy a noble heart as its own particularknowledge and experience of the virtues that God has placed in it."
"The ancients," said Geburon, "long ago showed us that to reach theTemple of Fame it was necessary to pass through the Temple of Virtue,and I, who am acquainted with the two persons in your tale, knowright well that the King is indeed one of the most valiant men in hiskingdom."
"By my word," said Hircan, "at the time when Count William came toFrance, I should have feared his [the King's] sword more than those ofthe four most accomplished Italian gentlemen at Court."
"We well know," said Ennasuite, "that he is too famous for our praisesto equal his merit, and that the day would be spent before we each couldsay all the good we think of him. And so, madam, I pray you, give yourvote to one who will tell us some further good of men, if such therebe."
Then said Oisille to Hircan—
"It seems to me that, as you are so wont to speak ill of women, you willfind it easy to tell us some good story in praise of a man. I thereforegive you my vote."
"That can I easily do," said Hircan, "for but a little while since I wastold a story in praise of a gentleman whose love, constancy and patienceare so meritorious that I must not suffer them to be forgotten."