To the castle of Sedan once came a Grey Friar to ask my Lady of Sedan,who was of the house of Crouy, (2) for a pig, which she was wont to giveto his Order every year as alms.
My Lord of Sedan, who was a prudent man and a merry talker, had the goodfather to eat at his table, and in order to put him on his mettle saidto him, among other things—
"Good father, you do well to make your collection while you are yetunknown. I greatly fear that, if once your hypocrisy be found out, youwill no longer receive the bread of poor children, earned by the sweatof their fathers."
The Grey Friar was not abashed by these words, but replied—
"Our Order, my lord, is so securely founded that it will endure as longas the world exists. Our foundation, indeed, cannot fail so long asthere are men and women on the earth."
My Lord of Sedan, being desirous of knowing on what foundation theexistence of the Grey Friars was thus based, urgently begged the fatherto tell him.
After making many excuses, the Friar at last replied—
"Since you are pleased to command me to tell you, you shall hear. Know,then, my lord, that our foundation is the folly of women, and that solong as there be a wanton or foolish woman in the world we shall not dieof hunger."
My Lady of Sedan, who was very passionate, was in such wrath on hearingthese words, that, had her husband not been present, she would havedealt harshly with the Grey Friar; and indeed she swore roundly thathe should not have the pig that she had promised him; but the Lord ofSedan, finding that he had not concealed the truth, swore that he shouldhave two, and caused them to be sent to his monastery.
"You see, ladies, how the Grey Friar, being sure that the favour ofthe ladies could not fail him, contrived, by concealing nothing of thetruth, to win the favour and alms of men. Had he been a flatterer anddissembler, he would have been more pleasing to the ladies, but not soprofitable to himself and his brethren."
The tale was not concluded without making the whole company laugh,and especially such among them as knew the Lord and Lady of Sedan. AndHircan said—"The Grey Friars, then, should never preach with intent tomake women wise, since their folly is of so much service to the Order."
"They do not preach to them," said Parlamente, "with intent to makethem wise, but only to make them think themselves so. Women who arealtogether worldly and foolish do not give them much alms; nevertheless,those who think themselves the wisest because they go often tomonasteries, and carry paternosters marked with a death's head, and wearcaps lower than others, must also be accounted foolish, for they resttheir salvation on their confidence in the holiness of wicked men, whomthey are led by a trifling semblance to regard as demigods."
"But who could help believing them," said Ennasuite, "since they havebeen ordained by our prelates to preach the Gospel to us and rebuke oursins?"
"Those who have experienced their hypocrisy," said Parlamente, "and whoknow the difference between the doctrine of God and that of the devil."
"Jesus!" said Ennasuite. "Can you think that these men would dare topreach false doctrine?"
"Think?" replied Parlamente. "Nay, I am sure that they believe anythingbut the Gospel. I speak only of the bad among them; for I know manyworthy men who preach the Scriptures in all purity and simplicity, andlive without reproach, ambition, or covetousness, and in such chastityas is unfeigned and free. However, the streets are not paved with suchas these, but are rather distinguished by their opposites; and the goodtree is known by its fruit."
"In very sooth," said Ennasuite, "I thought we were bound on pain ofmortal sin to believe all they tell us from the pulpit as truth, thatis, when they speak of what is in the Holy Scriptures, or cite theexpositions of holy doctrines divinely inspired."
"For my part," said Parlamente, "I cannot but see that there are men ofvery corrupt faith among them. I know that one of them, a Doctor ofTheology and a Principal in their Order, (3) sought to persuade many ofthe brethren that the Gospel was no more worthy of belief than Cæsar'sCommentaries or any other histories written by learned men of authority;and from the hour I heard that I would believe no preacher's word unlessI found it in harmony with the Word of God, which is the true touchstonefor distinguishing between truth and falsehood."
"Be assured," said Oisille, "that those who read it constantly and withhumility will never be led into error by deceits or human inventions;for whosoever has a mind filled with truth cannot believe a lie."
"Yet it seems to me," said Simontault, "that a simple person is morereadily deceived than another."
"Yes," said Longarine, "if you deem foolishness to be the same thing assimplicity."
"I affirm," replied Simontault, "that a good, gentle and simple woman ismore readily deceived than one who is wily and wicked."
"I think," said Nomerfide, "that you must know of one overflowing withsuch goodness, and so I give you my vote that you may tell us of her."
"Since you have guessed so well," said Simontault, "I will indeed tellyou of her, but you must promise not to weep. Those who declare, ladies,that your craftiness surpasses that of men would find it hard to bringforward such an instance as I am now about to relate, wherein I proposeto show you not only the exceeding craftiness of a husband, but also thesimplicity and goodness of his wife."
In the city of Paris there lived two citizens of middling condition, ofwhom one had a profession, while the other was a silk mercer. These twowere very old friends and constant companions, and so it happened thatthe son of the former, a young man, very presentable in good company,and called James, used often by his father's favour to visit themercer's house. This, however, he did for the sake of the mercer'sbeautiful daughter named Frances, whom he loved; and so well did Jamescontrive matters with her, that he came to know her to be no less lovingthan loved.
Whilst matters were in this state, however, a camp was formed inProvence in view of withstanding the descent of Charles of Austria, (5)and James, being called upon the list, was obliged to betake himself tothe army. At the very beginning of the campaign his father passed fromlife into death, the tidings whereof brought him double sorrow, on theone part for the loss of his father, and on the other for the difficultyhe should have on his return in seeing his sweetheart as often as he hadhoped.
As time went on, the first of these griefs was forgotten and the otherincreased. Since death is a natural thing, and for the most partbefalls the father before the children, the sadness it causes graduallydisappears; but love, instead of bringing us death, brings us lifethrough the procreation of children, in whom we have immortality, andthis it is which chiefly causes our desires to increase.
James, therefore, when he had returned to Paris, thought or cared fornothing save how he might renew his frequent visits to the mercer'shouse, and so, under cloak of pure friendship for him, traffic in hisdearest wares. On the other hand, during his absence, Frances had beenurgently sought by others, both because of her beauty and of her wit,and also because she was long since come to marriageable years; butwhether it was that her father was avaricious, or that, since she washis only daughter, he was over anxious to establish her well, he failedto perform his duty in the matter. This, however, tended but little toher honour, for in these days people speak ill of one long before theyhave any reason to do so, and particularly in aught that concerns thechastity of a beautiful woman or maid. Her father did not shut his earsor eyes to the general gossip, nor seek resemblance with many otherswho, instead of rebuking wrongdoing, seem rather to incite their wivesand children to it, for he kept her with such strictness that even thosewho sought her with offers of marriage could see her but seldom, andthen only in presence of her mother.
It were needless to ask whether James found all this hard of endurance.He could not conceive that such rigour should be without weighty reason,and therefore wavered greatly between love and jealousy. However, heresolved at all risks to learn the cause, but wished first of all toknow whether her affection was the same as before; he therefore setabout this, and coming one morning to church, he placed himself near herto hear mass, and soon perceived by her countenance that she was no lessglad to see him than he was to see her. Accordingly, knowing that themother was less stern than the father, he was sometimes, when he metthem on their way to church, bold enough to accost them as though bychance, and with a familiar and ordinary greeting; all, however, beingdone expressly so that he might the better work his ends.
To be brief, when the year of mourning for his father was drawing to anend, he resolved, on laying aside his weeds, to cut a good figure anddo credit to his forefathers; and of this he spoke to his mother, whoapproved his design; for having but two children, himself and a daughteralready well and honourably mated, she greatly desired to see himsuitably married. And, indeed, like the worthy lady that she was, shestill further incited his heart in the direction of virtue by countlessinstances of other young men of his own age who were making their wayunaided, or at least were showing themselves worthy of those from whomthey sprang.
It now only remained to determine where they should equip themselves,and the mother said—
"I am of opinion, James, that we should go to our friend MasterPeter,"—that is, to the father of Frances—"for, knowing us, he willnot cheat us."
His mother was indeed tickling him where he itched; however, he heldfirm and replied—
"We will go where we may find the cheapest and the best. Still," headded, "for the sake of his friendship with my departed father, I amwilling that we should visit him first."
Matters being thus contrived, the mother and son went one morning to seeMaster Peter, who made them welcome; for traders, as you know, are neverbackward in this respect. They caused great quantities of all kinds ofsilk to be displayed before them, and chose what they required; but theycould not agree upon the price, for James haggled on purpose, becausehis sweetheart's mother did not come in. So at last they went awaywithout buying anything, in order to see what could be done elsewhere.But James could find nothing so handsome as in his sweetheart's house,and thither after a while they returned.
The mercer's wife was now there and gave them the best receptionimaginable, and after such bargaining as is common in shops of the kind,during which Peter's wife proved even harder than her husband, Jamessaid to her—
"In sooth, madam, you are very hard to deal with. I can see how it is;we have lost my father, and our friends recognise us no longer."
So saying, he pretended to weep and wipe his eyes at thought of hisdeparted father; but 'twas done in order to further his design.
The good widow, his mother, took the matter in perfect faith, and on herpart said—
"We are as little visited since his death as if we had never been known.Such is the regard in which poor widows are held!"
Upon this the two women exchanged fresh declarations of affection,and promised to see each other oftener than ever. While they were thusdiscoursing, there came in other traders, whom the master himself ledinto the back shop. Then the young man perceived his opportunity, andsaid to his mother—
"I have often on feast days seen this good lady going to visit the holyplaces in our neighbourhood, and especially the convents. Now if, whenpassing, she would sometimes condescend to take wine with us, she woulddo us at once pleasure and honour."
The mercer's wife, who suspected no harm, replied that for more than afortnight past she had intended to go thither, that, if it were fair,she would probably do so on the following Sunday, and that she wouldthen certainly visit the lady at her house. This affair being concluded,the bargain for the silk quickly followed, since, for the sake of alittle money, 'twould have been foolish to let slip so excellent anopportunity.
When matters had been thus contrived, and the merchandise takenaway, James, knowing that he could not alone achieve so difficult anenterprise, was constrained to make it known to a faithful friendnamed Oliver, and they took such good counsel together that nothing nowremained but to put their plan into execution.
Accordingly, when Sunday was come, the mercer's wife and her daughter,on returning from worship, failed not to visit the widow, whom theyfound talking with a neighbour in a gallery that looked upon the garden,while her daughter was walking in the pathways with James and Oliver.
When James saw his sweetheart, he so controlled himself that hiscountenance showed no change, and in this sort went forward to receivethe mother and her daughter. Then, as the old commonly seek the old,the three ladies sat down together on a bench with their backs to thegarden, whither the lovers gradually made their way, and at last reachedthe place where were the other two. Thus meeting, they exchanged somecourtesies and then began to walk about once more, whereupon the youngman related his pitiful case to Frances, and this so well that, whileunwilling to grant, she yet durst not refuse what he sought; and hecould indeed see that she was in a sore strait. It must, however, beunderstood that, while thus discoursing, they often, to take away allground for suspicion, passed and repassed in front of the shelter-placewhere the worthy dames were seated—talking the while on commonplace andordinary matters, and at times disporting themselves through the garden.
At last, in the space of half-an-hour, when the good women had becomewell accustomed to this behaviour, James made a sign to Oliver, whoplayed his part with the girl that was with him so cleverly, that shedid not perceive the two lovers going into a close rilled with cherrytrees, and well shut in by tall rose trees and gooseberry bushes. (6)They made show of going thither in order to gather some almonds whichwere in a corner of the close, but their purpose was to gather plums.
Accordingly, James, instead of giving his sweetheart a green gown, gaveher a red one, and its colour even came into her face through findingherself surprised sooner than she had expected. And these plums oftheirs being ripe, they plucked them with such expedition that Oliverhimself had not believed it possible, but that he perceived the girl todroop her gaze and look ashamed. This taught him the truth, for she hadbefore walked with head erect, with no fear lest the vein in her eye,which ought to be red, should take an azure hue. However, when Jamesperceived her perturbation, he recalled her to herself by fittingremonstrances.
Nevertheless, while making the next two or three turns about the garden,she would not refrain from tears and sighs, or from saying againand again—"Alas! was it for this you loved me? If only I could haveimagined it! Heavens! what shall I do? I am ruined for life. What willyou now think of me? I feel sure you will respect me no longer, if, atleast, you are one of those that love but for their own pleasure. Alas,why did I not die before falling into such an error?"
She shed many tears while uttering these words, but James comforted herwith many promises and oaths, and so, before they had gone thrice againround the garden, or James had signalled to his comrade, they once moreentered the close, but by another path. And there, in spite of all, shecould not but receive more delight from the second green gown than fromthe first; from which moment her satisfaction was such that they tookcounsel together how they might see each other with more frequency andconvenience until her father should see fit to consent.
In this matter they were greatly assisted by a young woman, who wasneighbour to Master Peter; she had some kinship with James, and was agood friend to Frances. And in this way, from what I can understand,they continued without scandal until the celebration of the marriage,when Frances, being an only child, proved to be very rich for a trader'sdaughter. James had, however, to wait for the greater part of hisfortune until the death of his father-in-law, for the latter was sograsping a man that he seemed to think one hand capable of robbing himof that which he held in the other. (7)
"In this story, ladies, you see a love affair well begun, well carriedon, and better ended. For although it is a common thing among you men toscorn a girl or woman as soon as she has freely given what you chieflyseek in her, yet this young man was animated by sound and sincere love;and finding in his sweetheart what every husband desires in the girl heweds, and knowing, moreover, that she was of good birth, and discreet inall respects, save for the error into which he himself had led her,he would not act the adulterer or be the cause of an unhappy marriageelsewhere. And for this I hold him worthy of high praise."
"Yet," said Oisille, "they were both to blame, ay, and the third partyalso who assisted or at least concurred in a rape."
"Do you call that a rape," said Saffredent, "in which both parties areagreed? Is there any marriage better than one thus resulting from secretlove? The proverb says that marriages are made in heaven, but this doesnot hold of forced marriages, nor of such as are made for money or aredeemed to be completely sanctioned as soon as the parents have giventheir consent."
"You may say what you will," said Oisille, "but we must recognise thatobedience is due to parents, or, in default of them, to other kinsfolk.Otherwise, if all were permitted to marry at will, how many hornedmarriages should we not find? Is it to be presumed that a young man anda girl of twelve or fifteen years can know what is good for them? If weexamined into the happiness of marriages on the whole, we should findthat at least as many love-matches have turned out ill as those thatwere made under compulsion. Young people, who do not know what is goodfor them, attach themselves heedlessly to the first that comes; then bydegrees they find out their error and fall into others that are stillgreater. On the other hand, most of those who act under compulsionproceed by the advice of people who have seen more and have morejudgment than the persons concerned, and so when these come to feel thegood that was before unknown to them, they rejoice in it and embrace itwith far more eagerness and affection."
"True, madam," said Hircan, "but you have forgotten that the girl wasof full age and marriageable, and that she was aware of her father'sinjustice in letting her virginity grow musty rather than rub the rustoff his crown pieces. And do you not know that nature is a jade? Sheloved and was loved; she found her happiness close to her hand, and shemay have remembered the proverb, 'She that will not when she may, whenshe will she shall have nay.' All these things, added to her wooer'sdespatch, gave her no time to resist. Further, you have heard thatimmediately afterwards her face showed that some noteworthy change hadbeen wrought in her. She was perhaps annoyed at the shortness of thetime afforded her to decide whether the thing were good or bad, for nogreat pressing was needed to make her try a second time."
"Now, for my part," said Longarine, "I can find no excuse for suchconduct, except that I approve the good faith shown by the youth who,comporting himself like an honest man, would not forsake her, but tookher such as he had made her. In this respect, considering the corruptionand depravity of the youth of the present day, I deem him worthy of highpraise. I would not for all that seek to excuse his first fault, which,in fact, amounted to rape in respect to the daughter, and subornationwith regard to the mother."
"No, no," said Dagoucin, "there was neither rape nor subornation.Everything was done by mere consent, both on the part of the mothers,who did not prevent it (though, indeed, they were deceived), and on thatof the daughter, who was pleased by it, and so never complained."
"It was all the result," said Parlamente, "of the great kindliness andsimplicity of the mercer's wife, who unwittingly led the maiden to theslaughter."
"Nay, to the wedding," said Simontault, "where such simplicity was noless profitable to the girl than it once was hurtful to one who sufferedherself to be readily duped by her husband."
"Since you know such a story," said Nomerfide, "I give you my vote thatyou may tell it to us."
"I will indeed do so," said Simontault, "but you must promise not toweep. Those who declare, ladies, that your craftiness surpasses that ofmen, would find it hard to bring forward such an instance as I will nowrelate, wherein I propose to show you not only the great craftiness of ahusband, but the exceeding simplicity and goodness of his wife."