A French lady, whilst sojourning at Padua, was informed that there wasa Grey Friar in the Bishop's prison there, and finding that every onespoke jestingly about him, she inquired the reason. She was told thatthis Grey Friar, who was an old man, had been confessor to a veryhonourable and pious widow lady, mother of only one daughter, whom sheloved so dearly as to be at all pains to amass riches for her, and tofind her a good husband. Now, seeing that her daughter was grown up, shewas unceasingly anxious to find her a husband who might live with themin peace and quiet, a man, that is, of a good conscience, such as shedeemed herself to possess. And since she had heard some foolish preachersay that it were better to do evil by the counsel of theologians thanto do well through belief in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shehad recourse to her father confessor, a man already old, a doctor oftheology and one who was held to lead a holy life by the whole town,for she felt sure that, with his counsel and good prayers, she could notfail to find peace both for herself and for her daughter. After she hadearnestly begged him to choose for her daughter such a husband as heknew a woman that loved God and her honour ought to desire, he repliedthat first of all it was needful to implore the grace of the Holy Spiritwith prayer and fasting, and then, God guiding his judgment, he hoped tofind what she required.
So the Friar retired to think over the matter; and whereas he had heardfrom the lady that she had got five hundred ducats together to give toher daughter's husband, and that she would take upon herself the chargeof maintaining both husband and wife with lodgment, furniture andclothes, he bethought himself that he had a young comrade of handsomefigure and pleasing countenance, to whom he might give the fair maiden,the house, the furniture, maintenance and food, whilst he himself keptthe five hundred ducats to gratify his burning greed. And when he spoketo his comrade of the matter, he found that they were both of one mindupon it.
He therefore returned to the lady and said—"I verily believe that Godhas sent his angel Raphael to me as he did to Tobit, to enable me tofind a perfect husband for your daughter. I have in my house the mosthonourable gentleman in Italy, who has sometimes seen your daughter andis deeply in love with her. And so to-day, whilst I was at prayer,God sent him to me, and he told me of his desire for the marriage,whereupon, knowing his lineage and kindred and notable descent, Ipromised him to speak to you on the matter. There is, indeed, one defectin him, of which I alone have knowledge, and it is this. Wishing to saveone of his friends whom another man was striving to slay, he drew hissword in order to separate them; but it chanced that his friend slew theother, and thus, although he himself had not dealt a blow, yet inasmuchas he had been present at a murder and had drawn his sword, he becamea fugitive from his native town. By the advice of his kinsfolk he camehither in the garb of a scholar, and he dwells here unknown until hiskinsfolk shall have ended the matter; and this he hopes will shortlybe done. For this reason, then, it would be needful that the marriageshould be performed in secret, and that you should suffer him to go inthe daytime to the public lectures and return home every evening to supand sleep."
"Sir," replied the worthy woman, "I look upon what you tell me as ofgreat advantage to myself, for I shall at least have by me what I mostdesire in the world."
Thereupon the Grey Friar brought his comrade, bravely attired with acrimson satin doublet, and the lady was well pleased with him. And assoon as he was come the betrothal took place, and, immediately aftermidnight, a mass was said and they were married. Then they went tobed together until daybreak, when the bridegroom told his wife that toescape discovery he must needs return to the college.
After putting on his crimson satin doublet and his long robe, withoutforgetting his coif of black silk, he bade his wife, who was still inbed, good-bye, promising that he would come every evening to sup withher, but that at dinner they must not wait for him. So he went away andleft his wife, who esteemed herself the happiest woman alive to havefound so excellent a match. And the young wedded Friar returned to theold father and brought him the five hundred ducats, as had been agreedbetween them when arranging the marriage.
In the evening he failed not to return and sup with her, who believedhim to be her husband, and so well did he make himself liked by her andby his mother-in-law, that they would not have exchanged him for thegreatest Prince alive.
This manner of life continued for some time, but God in His kindnesstakes pity upon those that are deceived without fault of their own, andso in His mercy and goodness it came to pass that one morning the ladyand her daughter felt a great desire to go and hear mass at St. Francis,(1) and visit their good father confessor through whose means theydeemed themselves so well provided, the one with a son-in-law and theother with a husband.
It chanced that they did not find the confessor aforesaid nor any otherthat they knew, and, while waiting to see whether the father wouldcome, they were pleased to hear high mass, which was just beginning. Andwhilst the young wife was giving close heed to the divine service andits mystery, she was stricken with astonishment on seeing the Priestturn himself about to pronounce the Dominus vobiscum, for it seemedto her that it was her husband or else his very fellow. She uttered,however, not a word, but waited till he should turn round again, when,looking still more carefully at him, she had no doubt that it was indeedhe. Then she twitched her mother, who was deep in contemplation, andsaid—
"Alas! madam, what is it that I see?"
"What is it?" said her mother.
"That is my husband," she replied, "who is singing mass, or else 'tisone as like him as can be."
"I pray you, my daughter," replied the mother, who had not carefullyobserved him, "do not take such a thought into your head. It isimpossible that men who are so holy should have practised such deceit.You would sin grievously against God if you believed such a thing."
Nevertheless the mother did not cease looking at him, and when it cameto the Ite missa est she indeed perceived that no two sons of the samemother were ever so much alike. Yet she was so simple that she wouldfain have said, "O God, save me from believing what I see." Since herdaughter was concerned in the matter, however, she would not suffer itto remain in uncertainty, and resolved to learn the truth.
When evening was come, and the husband (who had perceived nothing ofthem) was about to return, the mother said to her daughter—
"We shall now, if you are willing, find out the truth concerning yourhusband. When he is in bed I will go to him, and then, while he is notthinking, you will pluck off his coif from behind, and we shall seewhether he be tonsured like the Friar who said mass."
As it was proposed, so was it done. As soon as the wicked husband was inbed, the old lady came and took both his hands as though in sport—herdaughter took off his coif, and there he was with his fine tonsure. Atthis both mother and daughter were as greatly astonished as might be,and forthwith they called their servants to seize him and bind him fasttill the morning, nor did any of his excuses or fine speeches avail himaught.
When day was come, the lady sent for her confessor, making as though shehad some great secret to tell him, whereupon he came with all speed, andthen, reproaching him for the deceit that he had practised on her, shehad him seized like the other. Afterwards she sent for the officers ofjustice, in whose hands she placed them both. It is to be supposed thatif the judges were honest men they did not suffer the offence to gounpunished. (2)
"From this story, ladies, you will see that those who have taken vows ofpoverty are not free from the temptation of covetousness, which is thecause of so many ills."
"Nay, of so many blessings," said Saffredent, "for with the five hundredducats that the old woman would have stored up there was made much goodcheer, while the poor maiden, who had been longing for a husband, wasthus enabled to have two, and to speak with more knowledge as to thetruth of all hierarchies."
"You always hold the falsest opinions," said Oisille, "that ever I knew.You think that all women are of your own temper."
"Not so, madam, with your good leave," said Saffredent. "I would givemuch that they were as easily satisfied as we are."
"That is a wicked speech," said Oisille, "and there is not one presentbut knows the contrary, and that what you say is untrue. The story thathas just been told proves the ignorance of poor women and the wickednessof those whom we regard as better than the rest of your sex; for neithermother nor daughter would do aught according to their own fancy, butsubjected desire to good advice."
"Some women are so difficult," said Longarine, "that they think theyought to have angels instead of men."
"And for that reason," said Simontault, "they often meet with devils,more especially those who, instead of trusting to God's grace, thinkby their own good sense, or that of others, that they may in this worldfind some happiness, though this is granted by none save God, from whomalone it can come."
"How now, Simontault!" said Oisille. "I did not think that you knew somuch good."
"Madam," said Simontault, "'tis a pity that I have not been proved, forI see that through lack of knowledge you have already judged ill of me.Yet I may well practise a Grey Friar's trade, since a Grey Friar hasmeddled with mine."
"So you call it your trade," said Parlamente, "to deceive women? Thusout of your mouth are you judged."
"Had I deceived a hundred thousand," said Simontault, "I should yet nothave avenged the woes that I have endured for the sake of one alone."
"I know," said Parlamente, "how often you complain of women; yet,for all that, we see you so merry and hearty that it is impossibleto believe that you have endured all the woes you speak of. But the'Compassionless Fair One' (3) replies that—
"You quote a truly notable theologian," said Simontault, "one who isnot only froward himself, but makes all the ladies so, who have read andfollowed his teaching."
"Yet his teaching," said Parlamente, "is as profitable for youthfuldames as any that I know."
"If it were indeed true," said Simontault, "that the ladies were withoutcompassion, we might as well let our horses rest and our armour growrusty until the next war, and think of nothing but household affairs.And, I pray you, tell me whether it is an excellence in a lady to havethe reputation of being without pity, or charity, or love, or mercy."
"Without charity or love," said Parlamente, "they should not be, but theword 'mercy' sounds so ill among women that they cannot use it withoutwounding their honour; for properly speaking 'mercy' means to grant afavour sought, and we well know what the favour is that men desire."
"May it please you, madam," said Simontault, "there are some men who areso reasonable that they crave nought but speech."
"You remind me," said Parlamente, "of one who was content with a glove."
"We must know who this easy lover was," said Hircan, "and so this time Igive my vote to you."
"It will give me pleasure to tell the tale," said Parlamente, "for it isfull of virtue."