In the city of Tours dwelt a man of shrewd and sound understanding, whowas upholsterer to the late Duke of Orleans, (1) son of King Francis theFirst; and although this upholsterer had, through sickness, become deaf,he had nevertheless lost nothing of his wit, which, in regard both tohis trade and to other matters, was as shrewd as any man's. And how hewas able to avail himself of it you shall hear.
He had married a virtuous and honourable woman, with whom he livedin great peace and quietness. He was very fearful of displeasing her,whilst she, on her part, sought in all things to obey him. But, for allthe affection that he bore her, he was so charitably inclined that hewould often give to his female neighbours that which by right belongedto his wife, though this he did as secretly as he was able.
There was in their house a very plump serving-maid with whom theupholsterer fell in love. Nevertheless, dreading lest his wife shouldknow this, he often made show of scolding and rebuking her, saying thatshe was the laziest wench he had ever known, though this was no wonder,seeing that her mistress never beat her. And thus it came to pass thatone day, while they were speaking about giving the Innocents, (2) theupholsterer said to his wife—
"It were a charity to give them to that lazy wench of yours, but itshould not be with your hand, for it is too feeble, and in like way yourheart is too pitiful for such a task. If, however, I were to make use ofmine, she would serve us better than she now does."
The poor woman, suspecting no harm, begged him to do execution upon thegirl, confessing that she herself had neither strength nor heart forbeating her.
The husband willingly accepted this commission, and, playing the part ofa stern executioner, had purchase made of the finest rods that could befound. To show, moreover, how anxious he was not to spare the girl, hecaused these rods to be steeped in pickle, so that his poor wife feltfar more pity for her maid than suspicion of her husband.
Innocents' Day being come, the upholsterer rose early in the morning,and, going up to the room where the maid lay all alone, he gave her theInnocents in a different fashion to that which he had talked of withhis wife. The maid wept full sore, but it was of no avail. Nevertheless,fearing lest his wife should come upon them, he fell to beating thebed-post with the rods which he had with him in such wise that he barkedand broke them; and in this condition he brought them back to his wife,saying—
"Methinks, sweetheart, your maid will remember the Innocents."
When the upholsterer was gone out of the house, the poor servant threwherself upon her knees before her mistress, telling her that her husbandhad done her the greatest wrong that was ever done to a serving-maid.The mistress, however, thinking that this merely had reference to theflogging which she believed to have been given, would not suffer thegirl to finish, but said to her—
"My husband did well, and only what I have for more than a month beenurging him to do. If you were hurt I am very glad to hear it. You maylay it all at my door, and, what is more, he did not even do as much ashe ought to have done."
The serving-maid, finding that her mistress approved of the matter,thought that it could not be so great a sin as she had imagined, themore so as it had been brought to pass by a woman whose virtue was heldin such high repute. Accordingly she never afterwards ventured to speakof it.
Her master, however, seeing that his wife was as content to be deceivedas he was to deceive her, resolved that he would frequently give herthis contentment, and so practised on the serving-maid, that she wept nomore at receiving the Innocents.
He continued this manner of life for a great while, without his wifebeing any the wiser, until there came a time of heavy snow, when, havingalready given the girl the Innocents on the grass in his garden, he wasminded to do the same in the snow. Accordingly, one morning before anyone in the house was awake, he took the girl clad in nothing but hershift to make the crucifix in the snow, and while they were pelting eachother in sport, they did not forget the game of the Innocents.
This sport, however, was observed by one of their female neighbours whohad gone to her window, which overlooked the garden, to see what mannerof weather it was, and so wrathful was she at the evil sight, that sheresolved to tell her good gossip of it, to the end that she might nolonger suffer herself to be deceived by a wicked husband or served by awanton jade.
After playing these fine pranks, the upholsterer looked about him tosee whether any one could perceive him, and to his exceeding annoyanceobserved his neighbour at her window. But just as he was able to giveany colour to his tapestry, so he bethought him to give such a colour towhat he had done, that his neighbour would be no less deceived than hiswife. Accordingly, as soon as he had gone back to bed again, he made hiswife rise in nothing but her shift, and taking her into the garden ashe had taken his serving-maid, he played with her for a long time inthe snow even as he had played with the other. And then he gave herthe Innocents in the same way as he had given them to the maid, andafterwards they returned to bed together.
When the good woman went to mass, her neighbour and excellent friendfailed not to be there, and, while unwilling to say anything further,zealously begged of her to dismiss her serving-maid, who was, she said,a very wicked and dangerous wench. This, however, the other would notdo without knowing why she thought so ill of the girl, and at last herneighbour related how she had seen the wench that morning in the gardenwith her husband.
At this the good woman fell to laughing heartily, and said—
"Eh! gossip dear, 'twas myself!"
"What, gossip? Why she wore naught but her shift, and it was only fiveo'clock in the morning."
"In faith, gossip," replied the good woman, "'twas myself."
"They pelted each other with snow," the other went on, "on the breastsand elsewhere, as familiarly as could be."
"Eh! gossip, eh!" the good woman replied, "'twas myself."
"Nay, gossip," said the other, "I saw them afterwards doing something inthe snow that to my mind is neither seemly nor right."
"Gossip," returned the good woman, "I have told you, and I tell youagain, that it was myself and none other who did all that you say, formy good husband and I play thus familiarly together. And, I pray you,be not scandalised at this, for you know that we are bound to please ourhusbands."
So the worthy gossip went away, more wishful to possess such a husbandfor herself than she had been to talk about the husband of her friend;and when the upholsterer came home again his wife told him the wholestory.
"Now look you, sweetheart," replied the upholsterer, "if you were nota woman of virtue and sound understanding we should long ago have beenseparated the one from the other. But I hope that God will continue topreserve us in our mutual love, to His own glory and our happiness."
"Amen to that, my dear," said the good woman, "and I hope that on mypart you will never find aught to blame." (3)
"Unbelieving indeed, ladies, must be the man who, after hearing thistrue story, should hold you to be as crafty as men are; though, if weare not to wrong either, and to give both man and wife the praise theytruly deserve, we must needs admit that the better of the two was worthnaught."
"The man," said Parlamente, "was marvellously wicked, for he deceivedhis servant on the one side and his wife on the other."
"Then you cannot have understood the story," said Hircan. "We are toldthat he contented them both in the same morning, and I consider it ahighly virtuous thing, both for body and mind, to be able to say and dothat which may make two opposites content."
"It was doubly wicked," said Parlamente, "to satisfy the simplicity ofone by falsehood and the wickedness of the other by vice. But I amaware that sins, when brought before such judges as you, will always beforgiven."
"Yet I promise you," said Hircan, "that for my own part I shall neveressay so great and difficult a task, for if I but render you contentmy day will not have been ill spent."
"If mutual love," said Parlamente, "cannot content the heart, nothingelse can."
"In sooth," said Simontault, "I think there is no greater grief in theworld than to love and not be loved."
"To be loved," said Parlamente, "it were needful to turn to such aslove. Very often, however, those women who will not love are loved themost, while those men who love most strongly are loved the least."
"You remind me," said Oisille, "of a story which I had not intended tobring forward among such good ones."
"Still I pray you tell it us," said Simontault. "That will I do rightwillingly," replied Oisille.