King Francis the First was once at a handsome and pleasant castle,whither he had gone with a small following, both for the purpose ofhunting and in order to take some repose. With him in his train was acertain Prince of Belhoste, (1) as worshipful, virtuous, discreet andhandsome a Prince as any at Court. The wife he had married did notbelong to a family of high rank, yet he loved her as dearly and treatedher as well as it were possible for a husband to do, and also trustedin her. And when he was in love with anybody he never concealed it fromher, knowing that she had no other will than his own.
Now this Prince conceived a deep affection for a widow lady calledMadame de Neufchastel, (2) who was reputed the most beautiful woman itwere possible to see; and if the Prince of Bel-hoste loved her well, hiswife loved her no less, and would often send and bid her to dinner,for she deemed her so discreet and honourable, that, instead of beinggrieved by her husband's love for her, she rejoiced to see him addresshis attentions to one so full of honour and virtue.
This affection lasted for a great while, the Prince of Belhoste caringfor all the lady's affairs as though they were his own, and his wifedoing no less. By reason, however, of her beauty many great lords andgentlemen earnestly sought the lady's favour, some only for love's sake,others for sake of the ring, for, besides being beautiful, she was alsovery rich.
Among the rest was a young gentleman, called the Lord des Cheriots, (3)who wooed her so ardently that he was never absent from her levee andcouchée, and was also with her as much as possible during the day. Thisdid not please the Prince of Belhoste, who thought that a man of suchpoor estate, and so lacking in grace, did not deserve an honourableand gracious reception, and he often made remonstrances about it to thelady. She, however, being one of Eve's daughters, (4) excused herselfby saying that she spoke with every one in general, and that their ownaffection was the better concealed, since she never spoke more with onethan with another.
Albeit, after some time, this Lord des Cheriots so pressed her that,more through his importunity than through love, she promised to marryhim, begging him, however, not to urge her to reveal the marriage untilher daughters were wedded. After this the gentleman was wont to go withuntroubled conscience to her chamber at whatsoever hour he chose, andnone but a waiting-woman and a serving-man had knowledge of the matter.
When the Prince perceived that the gentleman was growing more and morefamiliar in the house of her whom he so dearly loved, he took it inill-part, and could not refrain from saying to the lady—
"I have always prized your honour like that of my own sister, and youare aware of the honourable manner in which I have addressed you, andthe happiness that I have in loving a lady as discreet and virtuous asyourself; but did I think that another who deserves it not could win byimportunity that which I am not willing to crave, contrary to yourown desire, this would be unendurable to me, and in the like degreedishonouring to you. I tell you this because you are beautiful andyoung, and although hitherto of good repute, are now beginning to gaina very evil fame. Even though he be not your equal in birth or fortune,and have less influence, knowledge and address, yet it were better tohave married him than to give all men matter for suspicion. I pray you,therefore, tell me whether you are resolved to love him, for I will nothave him as fellow of mine. I would rather leave you altogether to him,and put away from me the feelings that I have hitherto borne you."
The poor lady, fearful of losing his affection, thereupon began to weep,and vowed to him that she would rather die than wed the gentleman ofwhom he had spoken, but (she added) he was so importunate that she couldnot help his entering her chamber at a time when every one else did so.
"Of such times as those," said the Prince, "I do not speak, for I can goas well as he, and see all what you are doing. But I have been told thathe goes after you are in bed, and this I look upon as so extraordinarythat, if you should continue in this mode of life without declaring himto be your husband, you will be disgraced more than any woman that everlived."
She swore to him with all the oaths she could utter that the other wasneither her husband nor her lover, but only as importunate a gentlemanas there well could be.
"Since he is troublesome to you," said the Prince, "I promise you that Iwill rid you of him."
"What!" asked the lady. "Would you kill him?"
"No, no," said the Prince, "but I will give him to understood that itis not in such a place as this, not in such a house as the King's, thatladies are to be put to shame. And I swear to you by the faith of thelover that I am, that if, after I have spoken with him, he does notcorrect himself, I will correct him in such a manner as to make him awarning to others."
So saying he went away, and on leaving the room failed not to meet theLord des Cheriots on his way in. To him he spoke after the fashion thatyou have heard, assuring him that the first time he was found thereafter an hour at which gentlemen might reasonably visit the ladies, hewould give him such a fright as he would ever remember. And he addedthat the lady was of too noble a house to be trifled with after such afashion.
The gentleman protested that he had never been in the room except in thesame manner as the rest, and, if the Prince should find him there, hegave him full leave to do his worst.
One day afterwards, when the gentleman believed the Prince's wordsto have been forgotten, he went to see his lady in the evening, andremained sufficiently late.
The Prince [that same evening] told his wife that Madame de Neufchastelhad a severe cold, upon hearing which the worthy lady begged that hewould visit her on behalf of them both, and make excuse for herself,since she could not go by reason of a certain matter that she must needsattend to in her room.
The Prince waited until the King was in bed, and then went to givethe lady good-evening, but as he was going up a stairway he met aserving-man coming down, who, on being asked how his mistress did, sworethat she was in bed and asleep.
The Prince went down the stairway, but, suspecting that the servanthad lied, looked behind and saw him going back again with all speed.He walked about the courtyard in front of the door to see whether theservant would return. A quarter of an hour later he perceived him comedown again and look all about to see who was in the courtyard.
Forthwith the Prince was convinced that the Lord des Cheriots was in thelady's chamber, but through fear of himself durst not come down, and hetherefore again walked about for a long-while.
At last, observing that the lady's room had a casement which was not atall high up, and which looked upon a little garden, he remembered theproverb which says, "When the door fails the window avails," and hethereupon called a servant of his own, and said to him—
"Go into the garden there behind, and, if you see a gentleman come downfrom the window, draw your sword as soon as he reaches the ground, clashit against the wall, and cry out, 'Slay! slay!' Be careful, however,that you do not touch him."
The servant went whither his master had sent him, and the Prince walkedabout until three hours after midnight.
When the Lord des Cheriots heard that the Prince was still in the yard,he resolved to descend by the window, and, having first thrown clown hiscloak, he then, by the help of his good friends, leapt into the garden.As soon as the servant saw him, he failed not to make a noise withhis sword, at the same time crying, "Slay! slay!" Upon this the poorgentleman, believing it was his [the servant's] master, was in suchgreat fear that, without thinking of his cloak, he fled as quickly as hewas able.
He met the archers of the watch, who wondered greatly to see him runningin this fashion, but he durst say nothing to them, except to beg them toopen him the gate [of the castle], or else to lodge him with themselvesuntil morning. And this, as they had not the keys, they did.
Then the Prince went to bed, and, finding his wife asleep, awoke hersaying—
"Guess, my wife, what hour it is.''
"I have not heard the clock strike since I went to bed," she replied.
"It is three hours after midnight," said he.
"If that be so," said his wife, "where have you been all this time? Igreatly fear that your health will be the worse for it."
"Sweetheart," said the Prince, "watching will never make me ill whenI am engaged in preventing those who try to deceive me from going tosleep."
So saying, he began to laugh so heartily that his wife begged him totell her of the matter. This he did at length, showing her the wolf'sskin (4) which his servant had brought him. After making merry atthe expense of the hapless lovers, they went to sleep in gentletranquillity, while the other two passed the night in torment, fearingand dreading lest the affair should be revealed.
However, the gentleman, knowing right well that he could not useconcealment with the Prince, came to him in the morning when he wasdressing to beg that he would not expose him, and would give orders forthe return of his cloak.
The Prince pretended that he knew nothing of the matter, and put such aface on it that the gentleman was wholly at a loss what to think. Butin the end he received a rating that he had not expected, for the Princeassured him that, if ever he went to the lady's room again, he wouldtell the King of it, and have him banished the Court.
"I pray you, ladies, judge whether it had not been better for this poorlady to have spoken freely to him who did her the honour of loving andesteeming her, instead of leading him by her dissimulation to prove herin a way that brought her so much shame."
"She knew," said Geburon, "that if she confessed the truth she wouldwholly lose his favour, and this she on no account desired to do."
"It seems to me," said Longarine, "that when she had chosen a husbandto her liking, she ought not to have feared the loss of any other man'saffection."
"I am sure," said Parlamente, "that if she had dared to reveal hermarriage, she would have been quite content with her husband; but shewished to hide it until her daughters were wed, and so she would notabandon so good a means of concealment."
"It was not for that reason," said Saffredent, "but because the ambitionof women is so great that they are never satisfied with having onlyone lover. I have heard that the discreetest of them are glad to havethree—one, namely, for honour, one for profit, and one for delight.Each of the three thinks himself loved the best, but the first two areas servants to the last."
"You speak," said Oisille, "of such women as have neither love norhonour."
"Madam," said Saffredent, "there are some of the kind that I describe,whom you reckon among the most honourable in the land."
"You may be sure," said Hircan, "that a crafty woman will be able tolive where all others die of hunger."
"And," said Longarine, "when their craftiness is discerned, 'tis death."
"Nay, 'tis life," said Simontault, "for they deem it no small gloryto be reputed more crafty than their fellows. And the reputation of'crafty,' gained thus at their own expense, brings lovers more readilyunder subjection to them than does their beauty, for one of the greatestdelights shared by those who are in love is to conduct the affairslyly."
"You speak," said Ennasuite, "of wanton love, for the honourable has noneed of concealment."
"Ah!" said Dagoucin, "I pray you put that thought out of your head.The more precious the drug, the less should it be exposed to the air,because of the perverseness of those who trust only to outward signs.These are not different in the case of honourable and faithful affectionthan in any other case, so they must none the less be hidden when thelove is virtuous than when it is the opposite, if one would avoid theevil opinion of those who cannot believe that a man may love a lady inall honour, and who, being themselves slaves to pleasure, think everyone else the same. If we were all of good faith, look and speech wouldbe without concealment, at least toward those who would rather die thantake them in an evil sense."
"I protest to you, Dagoucin," said Hircan, "that your philosophy is toodeep for any man here to understand or believe. You would have us thinkthat men are angels, or stones, or devils."
"I am well aware," said Dagoucin, "that men are men and subject to everypassion, but there are some, nevertheless, who would rather die thanthat their mistresses should, for their delight, do aught against theirconsciences."
"To die means a great deal," said Geburon. "I would not believe that ofthem were it uttered by the lips of the austerest monk alive."
"Nay, I believe," said Hircan, "that there is none but desires the veryopposite. But they make pretence of disliking the grapes when these hangtoo high to be gathered."
"Still," said Nomcrfide, "I am sure that the Prince's wife was very gladto find that her husband was learning to know women."
"I assure you it was not so," said Ennasuite. "She was very sorry onaccount of the love that she bore the lady."
"I would as soon," said Saffredent, "have the lady who laughed when herhusband kissed her maid."
"In sooth," said Ennasuite, "you shall tell us the story. I give placeto you."
"Although the story is very short," said Saffredent, "I will stillrelate it, for I would rather make you laugh than speak myself atlength."