The Gentleman on The Death of his Mistress
The Gentleman on The Death of his Mistress

The Heptameron - Day 7 - Tale 50 - The Gentleman on The Death of his Mistress

Summary of the Tenth Tale Told on the Fifth of the Heptameron

The Duchess of Burgundy, not content with the love that her husband bore her, conceived so great an affection for a young gentleman that, when looks and glances were not sufficient to inform him of her passion, she declared it to him in words which led to an evil ending. (1)

Tale 50 of the Heptameron

In the Duchy of Burgundy there was a Duke who was a very honourableand handsome Prince. He had married a wife whose beauty pleased him sogreatly that it kept him from knowledge of her character, and he tookthought only how he might please her, whilst she made excellent show ofreturning his affection. Now the Duke had in his household a gentlemanfilled with all the perfection that could be sought for in a man. Hewas loved by all, more especially by the Duke, who had reared himfrom childhood near his own person; and, finding him possessed of suchexcellent qualities, the Duke loved him exceedingly and trusted him withall such matters as one of his years could understand.

The Duchess, who had not the heart of a virtuous woman and Princess,and was not content with the love that her husband bore her and the goodtreatment that she had at his hands, often observed this gentleman,and so much to her liking did she find him, that she loved him beyondmeasure. This she strove unceasingly to make known to him, as well bysoft and piteous glances as by sighs and passionate looks.

But the gentleman, whose inclinations had ever been to virtue alone,could not perceive wickedness in a lady who had so little excuse for it,and so the glances and looks of the poor wanton bore no fruit save herown frenzied despair. This at last drove her to extremes, and forgettingthat she was a woman fit to be entreated and yet to refuse, and aPrincess made to be worshipped by such lovers and yet to hold them inscorn, she acted with the spirit of a man transported by passion, with aview to rid herself of the fire which she could no longer endure.

Accordingly, one day when her husband was gone to the council, at whichthe gentleman by reason of his youth was not present, she beckoned himto come to her, which he did, thinking that she had some command togive him. But leaning on his arm, like a woman wearied with repose, shebrought him to walk in a gallery, where she said to him—

"I marvel that you who are so handsome and young, and full of excellentgrace, have lived in this company, where are so many beautiful ladies,and yet have been lover or true knight to none." Then, looking at him asgraciously as she was able, she waited for his reply.

"Madam," he said, "if I were worthy that your Highness should stoop tothink of me, you would have still greater reason to marvel at seeing aman so little worthy of love as I am, offer his service where it wouldbe rejected or scorned."

On hearing this discreet reply, the Duchess felt she loved him morethan before. She vowed to him that there was not a lady at her Courtwho would not be only too happy to have such a knight, and that he mightwell make an adventure of the sort, since there was no danger but hewould come out of it with honour. The gentleman kept his eyes downcast,not daring to meet her looks, which were hot enough to melt ice; but,just as he was trying to excuse himself, the Duke sent for the Duchessto come to the council on some matter that concerned her, and thitherwith much regret she went. The gentleman never afterwards made theslightest sign of having understood a word of what she had said to him,at which she was exceedingly distressed and vexed; and she knew not towhat cause to impute her failure, unless it were to the foolish fear ofwhich she deemed the gentleman to be possessed.

A few days afterwards, finding that he gave no sign of understandingwhat she had said, she resolved on her part to set aside all fear orshame, and to tell him of her love. She felt sure that beauty such ashers could not be otherwise than well received, although she would fainhave had the honour of being wooed. However, she set her honour on oneside for her pleasure's sake, and after she had several times attemptedthe same fashion of discourse as at first, but without receiving anyreply to her liking, she one day plucked the gentleman by the sleeve,and told him that she must speak to him on certain matters of weight.The gentleman went with the humility and reverence that were her due toa deep window into which she had withdrawn; and, on perceiving thatno one in the room could see her, she began in a trembling voice,that halted between desire and fear, to continue her former discourse,rebuking him for not yet having chosen some lady in the company, andpromising him that, no matter who it might be, she would help him to winkindly treatment.

The gentleman, who was no less vexed than astonished by her words,replied—

"Madam, my heart is so tender, that, were I once refused, I should neveragain have joy in this world; and I know myself to be of such littleworth that no lady at this Court would deign to accept my suit."

The Duchess blushed, and, imagining that at last he was indeed won,vowed to him that she knew the most beautiful lady in the companywould, if he were willing, joyfully receive him, and afford him perfecthappiness.

"Alas! madam," he replied, "I do not think that there is any woman inthis company so unfortunate and so blind as to find me worthy of herlove."

The Duchess, finding that he would not understand her, drew the veilof her passion somewhat aside, and, by reason of the fears which thegentleman's virtue caused her, spoke to him in the form of a question.

"If fortune," she said, "had so far favoured you that it was myself whobore you this goodwill, what would you say?"

The gentleman, who thought that he was dreaming when he heard her speakin this wise, dropped on his knee, and replied—

"Madam, when God by His favour enables me to have both the favour ofthe Duke, my master, and your own, I shall deem myself the happiest manalive; for 'tis the reward I crave for the loyal service of one who,more than any other, is bound to give his life in the service of youboth. And I am sure, madam, that the love you bear my Lord aforesaid isattended with such chastity and nobleness that, apart from myself,who am but a worm of the earth, not even the greatest Prince and mostperfect man to be found could break the union that exists between you.For my own part, my Lord has brought me up from childhood, and made mewhat I am, and to save my life I could not entertain towards any wife,daughter, sister or mother of his any thought contrary to what is duefrom a loyal and faithful servant."

The Duchess would not allow him to continue, but finding that she wasin danger of obtaining a dishonourable refusal, she suddenly interruptedhim, and said—

"Wicked and boastful fool, who seeks any such thing from you? Do youthink that your good looks win you the love of the very flies in theair? Nay, if you were presumptuous enough to address yourself to me, Iwould show you that I love, and seek to love, none but my husband. WhatI have said to you was spoken only for my amusement, to try you andlaugh at you, as I do at all foolish lovers."

"Madam," said the gentleman, "I believed, and do still believe, that itis as you say."

Then, without listening further, she withdrew in haste to her ownapartment, and, finding that she was followed by her ladies, went intoher closet, where she sorrowed after a fashion that cannot be described.On the one part, the love wherein she had failed caused her mortalsadness; on the other, her anger, both against herself for havingentered upon such foolish talk and against the gentleman for hisdiscreet reply, drove her into such fury that at one moment she wishedto make away with herself, and at another, to live that she might avengeherself on one whom she now regarded as her deadly enemy.

When she had wept for a long while, she made pretence of being ill, inorder that she might not be present at the Duke's supper, at which thegentleman was commonly in waiting. The Duke, who loved his wife betterthan he did himself, came to see her; but the more effectually to workher end, she told him that she believed herself to be with child, andthat her pregnancy had caused a rheum to come upon her eyes, which gaveher much pain. So passed two or three days, during which the Duchesskept her bed in sadness and melancholy, until at last the Duke thoughtthat something further must be the matter. He therefore came at nightto sleep with her; but, finding that for all he could do he could in nosort check her sighs, he said to her—

"You know, sweetheart, that I love you as dearly as my life, and thatif yours were lacking I could not endure my own. If therefore you wouldpreserve my health, I pray you tell me what causes you to sigh afterthis manner; for I cannot believe that such unhappiness can come onlybecause you are with child."

The Duchess, finding that her husband was disposed to her just as shecould have wished him to be, thought that the time was come to seekvengeance for her affliction; and embracing the Duke, she began to weep,and said—

"Alas, my lord, my greatest unhappiness is to see you deceived bythose on whom is so deep an obligation to guard your substance and yourhonour."

The Duke, on hearing this, was very desirous of knowing why she spokein that manner, and earnestly begged her to make the truth known to himwithout fear. After refusing several times, she said—

"I shall never wonder, my lord, that foreigners make war on Princes,when those who are in duty most bound to them, wage upon them a war socruel that loss of territory were nothing in comparison. I say this,my lord, in reference to a certain gentleman" (naming her enemy) "who,though reared by your own hand and treated more like a son than aservant, has made a cruel and base attempt to ruin the honour of yourwife, in which is also bound up the honour of your house and yourchildren. Although for a long time he showed me such looks as pointed tohis wicked purpose, yet my heart, which only cares for you, understoodnothing of them; and so at last he declared himself in words to whichI returned a reply such as beseemed my condition and my chastity.Nevertheless, I now so hate him that I cannot endure to look at him,and for this cause I have continued in my own apartment and lost thehappiness of fellowship with you. I entreat you, my lord, keep not thispestilence near your person; for, after such a crime, he might fear lestI should tell you of it, and so attempt worse. This, my lord, is thecause of my sorrow, and methinks it were right and fitting that youshould deal with it forthwith."

The Duke, who on the one hand loved his wife and felt himself grievouslyaffronted, and on the other loved his servant, whose faithfulness he hadso fully tried that he could scarce believe this falsehood against him,was in great distress and filled with anger. Repairing to his own room,he sent word to the gentleman to come no more into his presence, but towithdraw to his lodging for a time. The gentleman, being ignorant of thecause of this, was grieved exceedingly, for he knew that he had deservedthe opposite of such unworthy treatment. Aware, then, of his owninnocence in heart and deed, he sent a comrade to speak to the Duke andtake him a letter, humbly entreating that if any evil report had causedhis banishment, his master would be pleased to suspend judgment until hehad heard from himself the truth of the matter, when it would be foundthat he had been guilty of no offence.

When the Duke saw this letter, his anger was somewhat abated. Hesecretly sent for the gentleman to his own room, and with wrathfulcountenance said—

"I could never have thought that the care I took to rear you as my ownchild would be changed into regret at having so highly advanced you;but you have attempted what was more hurtful to me than loss of lifeor substance, and have sought to assail the honour of one who is halfmyself, and so bring infamy on my house and name. You may be assuredthat this outrage is so wounding to my heart that, were it not for mydoubt whether it be true or not, you would have already been at thebottom of the water, and so have received in secret due punishment forthe wrong that in secret you intended against me."

The gentleman was in no wise dismayed by this discourse, but, ignorantas he was of the truth, spoke forth with confidence and entreated theDuke to name his accuser, since such a charge should be justified ratherwith the lance than with the tongue.

"Your accuser," said the Duke, "carries no weapon but chastity. Know,then, that none other but my wife has told me this, and she begged me totake vengeance upon you."

The poor gentleman, though he then perceived the lady's greatwickedness, would not accuse her.

"My lord," he replied, "my lady may say what she will. You know herbetter than I do, and you are aware if ever I saw her when out of yoursight, save only on one occasion, when she spoke but little with me.You have, moreover, as sound a judgment as any Prince alive; wherefore Ipray you, my lord, judge whether you have ever seen aught in me to causeany suspicion; and remember love is a fire that cannot be hidden so asnever to be known of by those who have had a like distemper. So I prayyou, my lord, to believe two things of me: first, that my loyalty to youis such that were my lady, your wife, the fairest being in the world,love would never avail to make me stain my honour and fidelity; andsecondly, that even were she not your wife, I should be least in lovewith her of all the women I have ever known, since there are many othersto whom I would sooner plight my troth."

On hearing these words of truth, the Duke began to be softened, andsaid—

"I assure you, on my part, that I did not believe it. Do, therefore,according to your wont, in the assurance that, if I find the truth to beon your side, I will love you yet better than before. But if it be notso, your life is in my hands."

The gentleman thanked him and offered to submit to any pain or penaltyif he were found guilty.

The Duchess, on seeing the gentleman again in waiting as had formerlybeen his wont, could not endure it in patience, but said to herhusband—

"'Twould be no more than you deserve, my lord, if you were poisoned,since you put more trust in your deadly enemies than in your friends."

"I pray you, sweetheart, do not torment yourself in this matter," saidthe Duke. "If I find that you have told me true, I promise you he shallnot live four and twenty hours. But he has sworn to the contrary, and Ihave myself never perceived any such fault, and so I cannot believe itwithout complete proof."

"In good sooth, my lord," she replied, "your goodness renders hiswickedness the greater. What more complete proof would you have thanthis, that no love affair has ever been imputed to him? Believe me, mylord, were it not for the lofty purpose that he took into his head ofbeing my lover, he would not have continued so long without a mistress;for never did a young man live solitary as he does in such good company,unless he had fixed his heart so high as to be content merely with hisown vain hope. Since, then, you think that he is not hiding the truthfrom you, put him, I beg you, on oath as regards his love. If he lovesanother, I am content that you should believe him, and if not, you willknow that what I say is true."

The Duke thought his wife's reasonings very good, and, taking thegentleman into the country with him, said—

"My wife continues still of the same mind, and has set before me anargument that causes me grave suspicion against you. It is deemedstrange that you who are so gallant and young have never been known tolove, and this makes me think that you have such affection for her asshe says, and that the hope it gives you renders you content to thinkof no other woman. As a friend, therefore, I pray you, and as a master Icommand you to tell me whether you are in love with any lady on earth."

Although the gentleman would have fain concealed his passion yet ashe loved his life, he was obliged, on seeing his master's jealousy, toswear to him that he did indeed love one whose beauty was so great, thatthe beauty of the Duchess or of any lady of the Court would be simplyugliness beside it. But he entreated that he might never be compelled toname her, since the agreement between himself and his sweetheart was ofsuch a nature that it could not be broken excepting by whichever of themshould be the first to make it known.

The Duke promised not to urge him, and being quite satisfied with him,treated him with more kindness than ever before. The Duchess perceivedthis, and set herself with her wonted craft to find out the reason.The Duke did not hide it from her; whereupon strong jealousy sprang upbeside her desire for vengeance, and she begged her husband to commandthe gentleman to name his sweetheart. She assured him that the story wasa lie, and that the course she urged was the best means of testingit. If the gentleman, said she, did not name her whom he deemed sobeautiful, and his master believed him on his mere word, he would indeedbe the most foolish Prince alive.

The poor Duke, whose wife directed his thoughts at her pleasure, went towalk alone with the gentleman, and told him that he was in even greatertrouble than before; for he was greatly minded to believe that he hadbeen given an excuse to keep him from suspecting the truth. This was agreater torment to him than ever; and he therefore begged the gentleman,as earnestly as he was able, to name her whom he loved so dearly. Thepoor gentleman entreated that he might not be made to commit so greatan offence against his mistress as to break the promise he had given herand had kept so long, and thus lose in a day all that he had preservedfor seven years. And he added that he would rather suffer death than inthis wise wrong one who had been true to him.

The Duke, finding that he would not tell him, became deeply jealous, andwith a wrathful countenance exclaimed—

"Well, choose one of two things: either tell me whom you love more thanany other, or else go into banishment from the territories over whichI rule, under pain of a cruel death if you be found within them after aweek is over."

If ever heart of loyal servant was torn with anguish, it was so withthat of this poor gentleman, who might well have said, Angustiæ suntmihi undique, for on the one part he saw that by telling the truthhe would lose his mistress, if she learned that he had failed in hispromise to her; while, if he did not confess it, he would be banishedfrom the land in which she dwelt, and be no more able to see her. Hardpressed in this manner on all sides, there came upon him a cold sweat,as on one whose sorrow was bringing him near to death. The Duke,observing his looks, concluded that he loved no other lady than theDuchess, and was enduring this suffering because he was able to namenone other. He therefore said to him with considerable harshness—

"If what you say were true, you would not have so much trouble intelling me; but methinks 'tis your crime that is tormenting you."

The gentleman, piqued by these words, and impelled by the love that hebore his master, resolved to tell him the truth, believing that he wastoo honourable a man ever, on any account, to reveal it. Accordingly,throwing himself upon his knees, and clasping his hands, he said—

"My lord, the duty that I owe to you and the love that I bear youconstrain me more than the fear of any death. I can see that you imagineand judge falsely concerning me, and, to take this trouble from you, Iam resolved to do that to which no torment had compelled me. But I prayyou, my lord, swear to me by the honour of God, and promise me by yourown faith as a Prince and a Christian, that you will never reveal thesecret which, since it so pleases you, I am obliged to tell."

Upon this the Duke swore to him with all the oaths he could think ofthat he would never reveal aught of it to any living being, whether byspeech, or writing, or feature. Then the young man, feeling confidencein so virtuous a Prince as he knew his master to be, began the buildingup of his misfortune, and said—

"It is now seven years, my lord, since knowing your niece, the Ladydu Vergier, to be a widow and without kindred, I set myself to win herfavour. But, since I was of too lowly a birth to wed her, I contentedmyself with being received by her as her true knight, as indeed I havebeen. And it has pleased God that the affair has hitherto been contrivedwith much discretion, so that neither man nor woman knows of it saveourselves alone, and now, my lord, you also. I place my life and honourin your hands, entreating you to keep the matter secret and to esteemyour niece none the less; for I think that under heaven there is no moreperfect being."

If ever man was rejoiced it was the Duke, for, knowing as he did theexceeding beauty of his niece, he now had no doubt that she was morepleasing than his wife. However, being unable to understand how so greata mystery could have been contrived, he begged the gentleman to tellhim how it was that he was able to see her. The gentleman related to himthen that his lady's chamber looked upon a garden, and that, on the dayswhen he was to visit her, a little gate was left open through which hewent in on foot until he heard the barking of a little dog which thelady used to loose in the garden when all her women were withdrawn. Thenhe went and conversed with her all night long, and, in parting fromher, would appoint a day on which he would return; and this appointment,unless for some weighty reason, he never failed to keep. The Duke, whowas the most inquisitive man alive, and who had made love in no smalldegree in his day, wished both to satisfy his suspicions and to fullyunderstand so strange a business; and he therefore begged the gentlemanto take him, not as a master but as a companion, the next time he wentthither. To this the gentleman, having gone so far already, consented,saying that he had an appointment for that very day; at which the Dukewas as glad as if he had gained a kingdom. Making pretence of retiringto rest in his closet, he caused two horses to be brought for himselfand the gentleman, and they travelled all night long from Argilly, wherethe Duke lived, to Le Vergier. (2)

Then they left their horses without the wall, and the gentleman broughtthe Duke into the garden through the little gate, begging him to remainbehind a walnut-tree, whence he might see whether he had been told thetruth or not.

They had been but a short time in the garden when the little dog beganto bark, and the gentleman walked towards the tower, where his ladyfailed not to come and meet him. She kissed him, saying that it seemeda thousand years since she had seen him, and then they went into thechamber and shut the door behind them.

Having seen the whole of the mystery, the Duke felt more than satisfied.Nor had he a great while to wait, for the gentleman told his mistressthat he must needs return sooner than was his wont, since the Duke wasto go hunting at four o'clock, and he durst not fail to attend him.

The lady, who set honour before delight, would not keep him fromfulfilling his duty; for what she prized most in their honourableaffection was that it was kept secret from all.

So the gentleman departed an hour after midnight, and his lady in cloakand kerchief went with him, yet not so far as she wished, for, fearinglest she should meet the Duke, he obliged her to return. Then hemounted with the Duke and returned to the castle of Argilly, his masterunceasingly swearing to him on the way that he would die rather thanever reveal his secret. Moreover, he then put so much trust in thegentleman, and had so much love for him, that no one in his Court stoodhigher in his favour. The Duchess grew furious at this, but the Dukeforbade her ever to speak to him about the gentleman again, saying thathe now knew the truth about him and was well pleased, since the ladyin question was more worthy of love than herself. These words deeplypierced the heart of the Duchess, and she fell into a sickness that wasworse than fever.

The Duke went to see her in order to comfort her, but there was nomeans of doing this except by telling her the name of this beautiful anddearly loved lady. She pressed him urgently to do this, until at lastthe Duke went out of the room, saying—

"If you speak to me again after this fashion, we shall part one from theother."

These words increased the sickness of the Duchess, and she pretendedthat she felt her infant stirring, at which the Duke was so rejoicedthat he came and lay beside her. But, just when she saw him most lovingtowards her, she turned away, and said—

"I pray you, my lord, since you have no love for either wife or child,leave us to die together."

With these words she gave vent to many tears and lamentations, and theDuke was in great fear lest she should lose her child. He therefore tookher in his arms and begged her to tell him what she would have, since hepossessed nothing that was not also hers.

"Ah, my lord," she replied, weeping, "what hope can I have that youwould do a hard thing for me, when you will not do the easiest and mostreasonable in the world, which is to name to me the mistress of thewickedest servant you ever had? I thought that you and I had but oneheart, one soul, and one flesh. But now I see that you look upon me asa stranger, seeing that your secrets, which should be known to me, arehidden from me as though I were a stranger. Alas! my lord, you have toldme many weighty and secret matters, of which you have never known me tospeak, you have proved my will to be like to your own, and you cannotdoubt but that I am less myself than you. And if you have sworn never totell the gentleman's secret to another, you will not break your oath intelling it to me, for I am not and cannot be other than yourself. I haveyou in my heart, I hold you in my arms, I have in my womb a child inwhom you live, and yet I may not have your heart as you have mine. Themore faithful and true I am to you, the more cruel and stern are you tome, so that a thousand times a day do I long by a sudden death to ridmy child of such a father and myself of such a husband. And I hope thatthis will be ere long, since you set a faithless servant before a wifesuch as 1 am to you, and before the life of the mother of your child,which will perish because I cannot have of you that which I most desireto know."

So saying, she embraced and kissed her husband, and watered his facewith her tears, uttering the while such lamentations and sighs that thegood Prince feared to lose wife and child together, and resolved to tellher all the truth of the matter. Nevertheless, he first swore to herthat if ever she revealed it to a living being she should die by hisown hand; and she agreed to and accepted this punishment. Then the poor,deceived husband told her all that he had seen from beginning to end,and she made show of being well pleased. In her heart she was mindedvery differently, but through fear of the Duke she concealed her passionas well as she was able.

Now on a certain great feast-day the Duke held his Court, to which hehad bidden all the ladies of that country, and among the rest hisniece. When the dances began, all did their duty save the Duchess, who,tormented by the sight of her niece's beauty and grace, could neithermake merry nor prevent her spleen from being perceived. At last shecalled all the ladies, and making them scat themselves around her, beganto talk of love; and seeing that the Lady du Vergier said nothing, sheasked her, with a heart which jealousy was rending—

"And you, fair niece, is it possible that your beauty has found no loveror true knight?"

"Madam," replied the Lady du Vergier, "my beauty has not yet made sucha conquest. Since my husband's death I have sought to love none but hischildren, with whom I deem myself happy."

"Fair niece, fair niece," replied the Duchess, with hateful spleen,"there is no love so secret that it is not known, and no little dog sowell broken in and trained that it cannot be heard to bark."

I leave you to imagine, ladies, what sorrow the poor Lady du Vergierfelt in her heart on finding a matter, so long concealed, thus madeknown to her great dishonour. Her honour, which had been so carefullyguarded and was now wofully lost, tortured her, but still more so hersuspicion that her lover had failed in his promise to her. This she didnot think he could have done, unless it were that he loved some ladyfairer than herself, to whom his love had constrained him to make thewhole matter known. Yet so great was her discretion that she gave nosign, but replied laughing to the Duchess that she did not understandthe language of animals. However, beneath this prudent concealment herheart was filled with sadness, so that she rose up, and, passing out ofthe chamber, entered a closet in sight of the Duke, who was walking upand down.

Having thus reached a place where she believed herself to be alone, thepoor lady let herself fall helplessly upon a bed, whereat a damsel, whohad sat down beside it to sleep, rose up and drew back the curtainsto see who this might be. Finding that it was the Lady du Vergier,who believed herself to be alone, she durst say nothing to her, butlistened, making as little noise as she was able. And in a stifled voicethe poor Lady du Vergier began to lament, saying—


Story 50

Heptameron Story 50

"O unhappy one, what words have I heard? to what decree of death have Ihearkened? what final sentence have I received? O best beloved of men,is this the reward of my chaste, honourable and virtuous love? O myheart, hast thou made so parlous an election, and chosen for themost loyal the most faithless, for the truest the most false, for thediscreetest the most slanderous? Alas! can it be that a thing hiddenfrom every human eye has been revealed to the Duchess? Alas, my littledog, so well taught and the sole instrument of my love and virtuousaffection, it was not you who betrayed me, it was he whose voice islouder than a dog's bark, and whose heart is more thankless than anybrute's. Tis he who, contrary to his oath and promise, has made knownthe happy life which, wronging none, we so long have led together. O mybeloved, the love of whom alone has entered into my heart, and preservedmy life, must you now be declared my deadly foe, while mine honour isgiven to the winds, my body to the dust, and my soul to its everlastingabode? Is the beauty of the Duchess so exceeding great that, like thebeauty of Circe, it has bewitched and transformed you? Has she turnedyou from virtue to vice, from goodness to wickedness, from being a manto be a beast of prey? O my beloved, though you have failed in yourpromise to me, yet will I keep mine to you, and, now that our love hasbeen revealed, will never see you more. Nevertheless, I cannot livewithout your presence, and so I gladly yield to my exceeding sorrow, andwill seek for it no cure either in reason or in medicine. Death aloneshall end it, and death will be sweeter to me than life on earth withoutlover, honour or happiness. Neither war nor death has robbed me of mylover; no sin or fault of mine has robbed me of my honour; neither errornor demerit of mine has made me lose my joy. 'Tis cruel fate thathas rendered the most favoured of men thankless, and has caused me toreceive the contrary of that which I deserved.

"Ah, my Lady Duchess, what delight it was to you to taunt me with mylittle dog! Rejoice, then, in the happiness you owe to me alone; taunther who thought by careful concealment and virtuous love to be free fromany taunt. Ah! how those words have bruised my heart! how they have mademe blush for shame and pale for jealousy! Alas, my heart, I feel thatthou art indeed undone! The wicked love that has discovered me burnsthee; jealousy of thee and evil intent towards thee are to thee as iceand death; while wrath and sorrow do not suffer me to comfort thee.Alas, poor soul, that in adoring the creature didst forget the Creator,thou must return into the hands of Him from whom vain love tore theeaway. Have trust, my soul, that thou wilt find in Him a Father kinderthan was the lover for whose sake thou hast so often forgotten Him. O myGod, my Creator, Thou who art the true and perfect love, by whose gracethe love I bore to my beloved has been stained by no blemish savethat of too great an affection, I implore Thee in mercy to receive thesoul-and spirit of one who repents that she has broken thy first andmost just commandment. And, through the merits of Him whose love passethall understanding, forgive the error into which excess of love has ledme, for in Thee alone do I put my perfect trust. And farewell, O mybeloved, whose empty name doth break my very heart."

With these words she fell backward, and her face grew pallid, her lipsblue, and her extremities cold.

Just at this moment the gentleman she loved came into the hall, and,seeing the Duchess dancing with the ladies, looked everywhere for hissweetheart. Not finding her, he went into the chamber of the Duchess,and there found the Duke, who was walking up and down, and who, guessinghis purpose, whispered in his ear—

"She went into that closet, and methought she was ill."

The gentleman asked whether he would be pleased to let him go in, andthe Duke begged him to do so. When he entered the closet he found theLady du Vergier, come to the last stage of her mortal life; whereat,throwing his arms about her, he said—

"What is this, sweetheart? Would you leave me?"

The poor lady, hearing the voice that she knew so well, recovered alittle strength and opened her eyes to look upon him who was the causeof her death; but at this look her love and anguish waxed so great that,with a piteous sigh, she yielded up her soul to God.

The gentleman, more dead than the dead woman herself, asked the damselwho was there how this sickness had come upon his sweetheart, and shetold him all the words that she had heard. Then the gentleman knew thatthe Duke had revealed the secret to his wife, and felt such frenzy that,whilst embracing his sweetheart's body, he for a long time watered itwith his tears, saying—

"O traitorous, wicked and unhappy lover that I am! why has not thepunishment of my treachery fallen upon me, and not upon her who isinnocent? Why was I not struck by a bolt from heaven on the day when mytongue revealed the secret and virtuous love between us? Why did notthe earth open to swallow up this traitor to his troth? O tongue, mayestthou be punished as was the tongue of the wicked rich man in hell!

"O heart, too fearful of death and banishment, mayest thou be torncontinually by eagles as was the heart of Ixion! (3)

"Alas, sweetheart, the greatest of all the greatest woes has fallen uponme! I thought to keep you, but I have lost you; I thought to see you fora long time and to abide with you in sweet and honourable content, yetnow I embrace your dead body, and you passed away in sore displeasurewith me, with my heart and with my tongue. O most loyal and faithful ofwomen, I do confess myself the most disloyal, fickle and faithless ofall men. Gladly would I complain of the Duke in whose promise I trusted,hoping thus to continue our happy life; but alas! I should have knownthat none could keep our secret better than I kept it myself. The Dukehad more reason in telling his secret to his wife than I in telling mineto him. I accuse none but myself of the greatest wickedness that wasever done between lovers. I ought to have submitted to be cast into themoat as he threatened to do with me; at least, sweetheart, you wouldthen have lived in widowhood and I have died a glorious death inobserving the law that true love enjoins. But through breaking it I amnow in life, and you, through perfectness of love, are dead; for yourpure, clear heart could not bear to know the wickedness of your lover.

"O my God! why didst Thou endow me with so light a love and so ignoranta heart? Why didst thou not create me as the little dog that faithfullyserved his mistress? Alas, my little friend, the joy your bark was wontto give me is turned to deadly sorrow, now that another than we twainhas heard your voice. Yet, sweetheart, neither the love of the Duchessnor of any living woman turned me aside, though indeed that wicked onedid often ask and entreat me. 'Twas by my ignorance, which thought tosecure our love for ever, that I was overcome. Yet for that ignorance amI none the less guilty; for I revealed my sweetheart's secret and brokemy promise to her, and for this cause alone do I see her lying deadbefore my eyes. Alas, sweetheart, death will to me be less cruel thanto you, whose love has ended your innocent life. Methinks it would notdeign to touch my faithless and miserable heart; for life with dishonourand the memory of that which I have lost through guilt would be harderto bear than ten thousand deaths. Alas, sweetheart, had any dared toslay you through mischance or malice, I should quickly have clapped handto sword to avenge you; 'tis therefore right that I should not pardonthe murderer who has caused your death by a more wicked act than anysword-thrust. Did I know a viler executioner than myself, I wouldentreat him to put your traitorous lover to death. O Love! I haveoffended thee from not having known how to love, and therefore thou wiltnot succour me as thou didst succour her who kept all thy laws. 'Tis notright that I should die after so honourable a manner; but 'tis well thatI should die by mine own hand. I have washed your face, sweet, with mytears, and with my tongue have craved your forgiveness; and now it onlyremains for my hand to make my body like unto yours, and send my soulwhither yours will go, in the knowledge that a virtuous and honourablelove can never end, whether in this world or in the next."

Rising up from the body he then, like a frenzied man beside himself,drew his dagger and with great violence stabbed himself to the heart.Then he again took his sweetheart in his arms, kissing her with suchpassion that it seemed as though he were seized rather with love thanwith death.

The damsel, seeing him deal himself the blow, ran to the door and calledfor help. The Duke, on hearing the outcry, suspected misfortune to thosehe loved, and was the first to enter the closet, where he beheld thepiteous pair. He sought to separate them, and, if it were possible, tosave the gentleman; but the latter clasped his sweetheart so fast thathe could not be taken from her until he was dead. Nevertheless he heardthe Duke speaking to him and saying—"Alas! what is the cause of this?"To which, with a glance of fury, he replied—"My tongue, my lord, andyours." So saying, he died, with his face close pressed to that of hismistress.

The Duke, wishing to know more of the matter, made the damsel tell himwhat she had seen and heard; and this she did at full length, sparingnothing. Then the Duke, finding that he was himself the cause of allthis woe, threw himself upon the two dead lovers, and, with greatlamentation and weeping, kissed both of them several times and askedtheir forgiveness. And after that he rose up in fury, and drew thedagger from the gentleman's body; and, just as a wild boar, wounded witha spear, rushes headlong against him that has dealt the blow, so did theDuke now seek out her who had wounded him to the bottom of his soul. Hefound her dancing in the hall, and more merry than was her wont atthe thought of the excellent vengeance she had wreaked on the Lady duVergier.

The Duke came upon her in the midst of the dance, and said—

"You took the secret upon your life, and upon your life shall fall thepunishment."

So saying, he seized her by the head-dress and stabbed her with thedagger in the breast. All the company were astonished, and it wasthought that the Duke was out of his mind; but, having thus worked hiswill, he brought all his retainers together in the hall and told themthe virtuous and pitiful story of his niece, and the evil that his wifehad wrought her. And those who were present wept whilst they listened.

Then the Duke ordered that his wife should be buried in an abbey whichhe founded partly to atone for the sin that he had committed in killingher; and he caused a beautiful tomb to be built, in which the bodies ofhis niece and the gentleman were laid together, with an epitaph settingforth their tragic story. And the Duke undertook an expedition againstthe Turks, in which God so favoured him, that he brought back bothhonour and profit. On his return, he found his eldest son now able togovern his possessions, and so left all to him, and went and became amonk in the abbey where his wife and the two lovers were buried. Andthere did he spend his old age happily with God.

"Such, ladies, is the story which you begged me to relate, and which,as I can see from your eyes, you have not heard without compassion. Itseems to me that you should take example by it, and beware of placingyour affections upon men; for, however honourable or virtuous theseaffections may be, in the end they have always an aftertaste of evil.You see how St. Paul would not that even married people should sodeeply love each other; (4) for the more our hearts are set upon earthlythings, the more remote are they from heavenly affection, and the harderis the tie to be broken. I therefore pray you, ladies, ask God for HisHoly Spirit, who will so fire your hearts with the love of God, thatwhen death comes, you will not be pained at leaving that which you lovetoo well in this world."

"If their love," said Geburon, "was as honourable as you describe, whywas it needful to keep it so secret?"

"Because," said Parlamente, "the wickedness of men is so great, thatthey can never believe deep love to be allied with honour, but judgemen and women to be wicked according to their own passions. Hence, if awoman has a dear friend other than one of her nearest kinsfolk, she mustspeak with him in secret if she would speak long with him; for a woman'shonour is attacked, whether she love virtuously or viciously, sincepeople judge only from appearances."

"But," said Geburon, "when a secret of that kind is revealed, peoplethink far worse of it."

"I grant you that," said Longarine; "and so it is best not to love atall."

"We appeal from that sentence," said Dagoucin, "for, did we believe theladies to be without love, we would fain be ourselves without life. Ispeak of those who live but to win love: and, even if they secure itnot, yet the hope of it sustains them and prompts them to do a thousandhonourable deeds, until old age changes their fair sufferings to otherpains. But, did we think that ladies were without love, it were needfulwe should turn traders instead of soldiers, and instead of winning fame,think only of hea'ping up riches."

"You would say, then," said Hircan, "that, were there no women, weshould all be dastards, as though we had no courage save such as theyput into us. But I am of quite the opposite opinion, and hold thatnothing weakens a man's courage so much as to consort with women or lovethem too much. For this reason the Jews would not suffer a man to go tothe war within a year after his marriage, lest love for his wife shoulddraw him back from the dangers that he ought to seek." (5)

"I consider that law," said Saffredent, "to have been without reason,for nothing will more readily make a man leave his home than marriage.The war without is not harder of endurance than the war within; and Ithink that, to make men desirous of going into foreign lands instead oflingering by their hearths, it were only needful to marry them."

"It is true," said Ennasuite, "that marriage takes from them the careof their houses; for they trust in their wives, and for their own partthink only of winning fame, feeling certain that their wives will givedue heed to the profit."

"However that may be," replied Saffredent, "I am glad that you are of myopinion."

"But," said Parlamente, "you are not discussing what is chiefly to beconsidered, and that is why the gentleman, who was the cause of all themisfortune, did not as quickly die of grief as she who was innocent."

Nomerfide replied—

"'Twas because women love more truly than men."

"Nay," said Simontault, "'twas because the jealousy and spitefulness ofwomen make them die without knowing the reason, whereas men are led bytheir prudence to inquire into the truth of the matter. When this hasbeen learnt through their sound sense, they display their courage, asthis gentleman did; for, as soon as he understood the reason of hissweetheart's misfortune, he showed how truly he loved her and did notspare his own life."

"Yet," said Ennasuite, "she died of true love, for her steadfast andloyal heart could not endure to be so deceived."

"It was her jealousy," said Simontault, "which would not yield toreason, so that she believed evil of her lover of which he was notguilty at all. Moreover, her death was matter of necessity, for shecould not prevent it, whilst her lover's death was voluntary, after hehad recognised his own wrongdoing."

"Still," said Nomerfide, "the love must needs be great that causes suchdeep sorrow."

"Have no fear of it," said Hircan, "for you will never die of that kindof fever."

"Nor," said Nomerfide, "will you ever kill yourself after recognisingyour error."

Here Parlamente, who suspected that the dispute was being carried on ather own expense, said, laughing—

"'Tis enough that two persons should have died of love, without twoothers fighting for the same cause. And there is the last bell soundingfor vespers, which will have us gone whether you be willing or not."

By her advice the whole company then rose and went to hear vespers, notforgetting in their fervent prayers the souls of those true lovers, forwhom, also, the monks, of their charity, said a De profundis. As longas supper lasted there was no talk save of the Lady du Vergier, andthen, when they had spent a little time together, they withdrew to theirseveral apartments, and so brought to an end the Seventh Day.

Footnotes:

  1. This story is borrowed from an old fabliau, known under the title of the Châtelaine de Vergy, which will be found in the Recueil de Barbazan (vol iv.) and in Legrand d'Aussy's Fabliaux (vol iii.). Margaret calls the lady Madame du Vergier (literally the lady of the orchard) in her tale. Bandello imitated the same fabliau in his Novelle (1554; part iv. nov. v.), but gave it a different ending. Belleforest subsequently adapted it for his Histoires Tragiques. Margaret's tale may also be compared with No. lxii. of the Cento Novelle antiche, p. 84 of the edition of Florence, 1825.—L. and M.

  2. At Argilly the Dukes of Burgundy had a castle, which was destroyed during the religious wars at the close of the sixteenth century. The place is now a small village in the arrondissement of Nuits, Côte d'Or. As the crow flies, it is some ten miles distant from the ruins of the castle of Vergy, which stands on a steep height, at an altitude of over 1600 ft., within five miles from Nuits. The castle, which can only be reached on one side of the hill, by a narrow, winding and precipitous pathway, is known to have been in existence already in the tenth century, when the Lords of Vergy were Counts of Chalons, Beaune, and Nuits. They appear to have engaged in a struggle for supremacy with the princes of the first Ducal house of Burgundy, but in 1193 Alix de Vergy espoused Duke Eudes III., to whom she brought, as dower, the greater part of the paternal inheritance. The castle of Vergy was dismantled by Henry IV., and the existing ruins are of small extent. Some antiquaries believe the fortress to have been originally built by the Romans.—B.J. and L.

  3. Queen Margaret's memory plainly failed her here.—Ed.

  4. I Corinthians vii. 32-5.—M.

  5. See Deuteronomy xx. 5, 6, 7; and the comments thereon of Rabelais (book iii. ch. vi.).—M.