There dwelt in a very handsome castle a high and mighty Princess, whohad in her train a very haughty lady called Jambicque. (1) The latterhad so deceived her mistress that the Princess did nothing save by heradvice, deeming her the discreetest and most virtuous lady of her day.
This Jambicque used greatly to inveigh against wanton passion, andwhenever she perceived any gentleman in love with one of her companions,she would chide them with much harshness, and, by making ill reportof them to her mistress, often cause them to be rebuked; hence she wasfeared far more than she was loved by all the household. As forherself, she never spoke to a man except in a loud voice, and withmuch haughtiness, and was therefore reputed a deadly enemy to all love.Nevertheless, it was quite otherwise with her heart, for there was agentleman in her mistress's service towards whom she entertained sostrong a passion that, at last, she could no longer endure it. (2)
The regard which she had for honour and good name caused her to concealher affection, but after she had been consumed by this passion for afull year, being unwilling to find relief as other lovers do in look andspeech, she felt her heart so aflame that, in the end, she sought thefinal cure. And she resolved that it were better to satisfy her desirewith none but God in the secret of her heart, rather than speak of it toa man who might some time make it known.
After taking this resolve, she chanced to be one day in her mistress'sapartment, when, looking out upon a terrace, she perceived walking therethe man whom she so dearly loved. She gazed upon him until the fallingdarkness was hiding him from her sight, when she called a little page ofhers, and pointing to the gentleman, said—
"Do you see yonder that gentleman who wears a crimson satin doublet andcloak of lynx fur? Go and tell him that one of his friends would speakwith him in the garden gallery."
As soon as the page was gone, she herself passed through her mistress'swardrobe and into the gallery, having first put on her low hood andhalf-mask. (3)
When the gentleman was come to where she was waiting, she immediatelyshut the two doors by which they might have been surprised, and then,without taking off her mask, embraced him very closely, and in thesoftest whisper imaginable said—
"For a long time, sweetheart, the love I bear you has made me desiretime and place for speaking with you, but fearfulness for my honour wasfor a while so strong as to oblige me, in my own despite, to conceal mypassion. Albeit, in the end, the strength of love has vanquished fear,and, in the knowledge that I have of your honour, I protest to you thatif you will promise to love me without ever speaking of the matter toany one, or asking of me who I am, I will be your true and faithfulsweetheart, and will never love any man but you. But I would rather diethan that you should know who I am."
The gentleman promised her what she asked, which made her very readyto do as much for him, namely, to refuse him nothing he might desireto have. It was between five and six o'clock in winter-time, so thathe could see nothing of the lady, but by the touch of her dress heperceived that it was of velvet, which at that time was not worn everyday except by ladies of high and mighty lineage. And so far as his handcould let him judge of what was beneath, there was nothing there thatwas not excellent, trim, and plump. Accordingly, he was at pains toentertain her as well as he was able. She on her part did no less, andthe gentleman readily perceived that she was a married woman.
She desired afterwards to return immediately to the place whence she hadcome, but the gentleman said to her—
"I esteem greatly the undeserved favour that you have shown me, but Ishall esteem still more that which you may bestow at my request. So wellpleased am I by this your kindness, that I would fain learn whether Imay not look for more of the same sort, and, also, in what manner youwould have me act; for, knowing you not, I shall be powerless to woo."
"Have no concern," said the lady, "about that. You may rest assured thatevery evening, before my mistress sups, I shall not fail to send foryou, and do you be in readiness on the terrace where you were just now.I shall merely send you word to remember what you have promised, and inthis way you will know that I am waiting for you here in the gallery.But if you hear talk of going to table, you may withdraw for that dayor else come into our mistress's apartment. Above all things, I prayyou will never seek to know me, if you would not forthwith bring ourfriendship to an end."
So the lady and the gentleman went their several ways. And althoughtheir love affair lasted for a great while, he could never learn who shewas. He pondered much upon the matter, wondering within himself who shemight be. He could not imagine that any woman in the world would fain beunseen and unloved; and, having heard some foolish preacher say that noone who had looked upon the face of the devil could ever love him, hesuspected that his mistress might be some evil spirit.
In this perplexity he resolved to try and find out who it was thatentertained him so well, and when next she sent for him he brought somechalk, and, while embracing her, marked the back of her shoulder withouther knowledge. Then, as soon as she was gone, the gentleman went withall speed to his mistress's apartment, and stood beside the door inorder to look from behind at the shoulders of those ladies that might goin.
He saw Jambicque enter among the rest, but with so haughty a bearingthat he feared to look at her as keenly as at the others, and felt quitesure that it could not have been she. Nevertheless, when her backwas turned, he perceived the chalk mark, whereat he was so greatlyastonished that he could hardly believe his eyes.
However, after considering both her figure, which was just such a one ashis hands had known, and her features, which he recognised in the sameway, he perceived that it was indeed none other than herself. And he waswell pleased to think that a woman who had never been reputed to have alover, and who had refused so many worthy gentlemen, should have chosenhimself alone.
But Love, which is ever changeful of mood, could not suffer him to livelong in such repose, but, filling him with self-conceit and hope, ledhim to make known his love, in the expectation that she would then holdhim still more dear.
One day, when the Princess was in the garden, the lady Jambicque went towalk in a pathway by herself. The gentleman, seeing that she was alone,went up to converse with her, and, as though he had never elsewhere mether, spoke as follows—
"Mistress, I have long borne towards you in my heart an affection which,through dread of displeasing you, I have never ventured to reveal. Butnow my pain has come to be such that I can no longer endure it and live,for I think that no man could ever have loved you as I do."
The Lady Jambicque would not allow him to finish his discourse, but saidto him in great wrath—
"Did you ever hear or see that I had sweetheart or lover? I trow not,and am indeed astonished to find you bold enough to address such wordsto a virtuous woman like me. You have lived in the same house longenough to know that I shall never love other than my husband; beware,then, of speaking further after this fashion."
At this hypocrisy the gentleman could not refrain from laughing andsaying to her—
"You are not always so stern, madam, as you are now. What boots it touse such concealment towards me? Is it not better to have a perfect thanan imperfect love?"
"I have no love for you," replied Jambicque, "whether perfect orimperfect, except such as I bear to the rest of my mistress's servants.But if you speak further to me as you have spoken now, I shall perhapshave such hatred for you as may be to your hurt."
However, the gentleman persisted in his discourse.
"Where," said he, "is the kindness that you show me when I cannot seeyou? Why do you withhold it from me now when the light suffers me tobehold both your beauty and your excellent and perfect grace?"
Jambicque, making a great sign of the cross, replied—
"Either you have lost your understanding or you are the greatest liaralive. Never in my life have I to my knowledge shown you more kindnessor less than I do at this moment, and I pray you therefore tell me whatit is you mean."
Then the unhappy gentleman, thinking to better his fortune with her,told her of the place where he had met her, and of the chalk-mark whichhe had made in order to recognise her, on hearing which she was sobeside herself with anger as to tell him that he was the wickedest ofmen, and that she would bring him to repent of the foul falsehood thathe had invented against her.
The gentleman, knowing how well she stood with her mistress, sought tosoothe her, but he found it impossible to do so; for, leaving him wherehe stood, she furiously betook herself to her mistress, who, lovingJambicque as she did herself, left all the company to come and speakwith her, and, on finding her in such great wrath, inquired of her whatthe matter was. Thereupon Jambicque, who had no wish to hide it, relatedall the gentleman's discourse, and this she did so much to the unhappyman's disadvantage, that on the very same evening his mistress commandedhim to withdraw forthwith to his own home without speaking with anyoneand to stay there until he should be sent for. And this he did rightspeedily, for fear of worse. (4)
So long as Jambicque dwelt with her mistress, the gentleman returnednot to the Princess's house, nor did he ever have tidings of her who hadvowed to him that he should lose her as soon as he might seek her out.(5)
"By this tale, ladies, you may see how one who preferred the world'sesteem to a good conscience lost both the one and the other. For nowmay the eyes of all men read what she strove to hide from those of herlover, and so, whilst fleeing the derision of one, she has incurred thederision of all. Nor can she be held excused on the score of simplicityand artless love, for which all men should have pity, but she mustbe condemned twice over for having concealed her wickedness with thetwofold cloak of honour and glory, and for making herself appear beforeGod and man other than she really was. He, however, who gives not Hisglory to another, took this cloak from off her and so brought her todouble shame."
"Her wickedness," said Oisille, "was without excuse. None can defend herwhen God, Honour, and even Love are her accusers."
"Nay," said Hircan, "Pleasure and Folly may; they are the true chiefadvocates of the ladies."
"If we had no other advocates," said Parlamente, "than those you name,our cause would indeed be ill supported; but those who are vanquishedby pleasure ought no longer to be called women but rather men, whosereputation is merely exalted by frenzy and lust. When a man takesvengeance upon his enemy and slays him for giving him the lie, he isdeemed all the more honourable a gentleman for it; and so, too, when heloves a dozen women besides his own wife. But the reputation of womenhas a different foundation, that, namely, of gentleness, patience andchastity."
"You speak of the discreet," said Hircan.
"Yes," returned Parlamente, "because I will know none others."
"If none were wanton," said Nomerfide, "those who would fain be believedby all the world must often have lied."
"Pray, Nomerfide," said Geburon, "receive my vote, and forget that youare a woman, in order that we may learn what some men that are accountedtruthful say of the follies of your sex."
"Since virtue compels me to it, and you have made it my turn, I willtell you what I know. I have not heard any lady or gentleman presentspeak otherwise than to the disadvantage of the Grey Friars, and out ofpity I have resolved to speak well of them in the story that I am nowabout to relate."