At the Court of King Francis the First there was a lady (1) of excellentwit, who, by her grace, virtue and pleasantness of speech, had won thehearts of several lovers. With these she right well knew how to passthe time, but without hurt to her honour, conversing with them in suchpleasant fashion that they knew not what to think, for those who werethe most confident were reduced to despair, whilst those that despairedthe most became hopeful. Nevertheless, while fooling most of them, shecould not help greatly loving one whom she called her cousin, a namewhich furnished a pretext for closer fellowship.
However, as there is nothing in this world of firm continuance, theirfriendship often turned to anger and then was renewed in stronger sortthan ever, so that the whole Court could not but be aware of it.
One day the lady, both to let it be seen that she was wholly voidof passion, and to vex him, for love of whom she had endured muchannoyance, showed him a fairer countenance than ever she had donebefore. Thereupon the gentleman, who lacked boldness neither in love norin war, began hotly to press the suit that he many a time previously hadaddressed to her.
She, pretending to be wholly vanquished by pity, promised to grant hisrequest, and told him that she would with this intent go into her room,which was on a garret floor, where she knew there was nobody. And assoon as he should see that she was gone he was to follow her withoutfail, for he would find her ready to give proof of the good-will thatshe bore him.
The gentleman, believing what she said, was exceedingly well pleased,and began to amuse himself with the other ladies until he should seeher gone, and might quickly follow her. But she, who lacked naught ofwoman's craftiness, betook herself to my Lady Margaret, daughter of theKing, and to the Duchess of Montpensier, (2) to whom she said—
"I will if you are willing, show you the fairest diversion you have everseen."
They, being by no means enamoured of melancholy, begged that she wouldtell them what it was.
"You know such a one," she replied, "as worthy a gentleman as lives, andas bold. You are aware how many ill turns he has done me, and that, justwhen I loved him most, he fell in love with others, and so caused memore grief than I have ever suffered to be seen. Well, God has nowafforded me the means of taking revenge upon him.
"I am forthwith going to my own room, which is overhead, and immediatelyafterwards, if it pleases you to keep watch, you will see him follow me.When he has passed the galleries, and is about to go up the stairs, Ipray you come both to the window and help me to cry 'Thief!' You willthen see his rage, which, I am sure, will not become him badly, and,even if he does not revile me aloud, I am sure he will none the less doso in his heart."
This plan was not agreed to without laughter, for there was no gentlemanthat tormented the ladies more than he did, whilst he was so greatlyliked and esteemed by all, that for nothing in the world would any onehave run the risk of his raillery.
It seemed, moreover, to the two Princesses that they would themselvesshare in the glory which the other lady looked to win over thisgentleman.
Accordingly, as soon as they saw the deviser of the plot go out, theyset themselves to observe the gentleman's demeanour. But little timewent by before he shifted his quarters, and, as soon as he had passedthe door, the ladies went out into the gallery, in order that they mightnot lose sight of him.
Suspecting nothing, he wrapped his cloak about his neck, so as to hidehis face, and went down the stairway to the court, but, seeing some onewhom he did not desire to have for witness, he came back by anotherway, and then went down into the court a second time. The ladies saweverything without being perceived by him, and when he reached thestairway, by which he thought he might safely reach his sweetheart'schamber, they went to the window, whence they immediately perceivedthe other lady, who began crying out 'Thief!' at the top of her voice;whereupon the two ladies below answered her so loudly that their voiceswere heard all over the castle.
I leave you to imagine with what vexation the gentleman fled to hislodgings. He was not so well muffled as not to be known by those whowere in the mystery, and they often twitted him with it, as did eventhe lady who had done him this ill turn, saying that she had been wellrevenged upon him.
It happened, however, that he was so ready with his replies and evasionsas to make them believe that he had quite suspected the plan, and hadonly consented to visit the lady in order to furnish them with somediversion, for, said he, he would not have taken so much trouble forher sake, seeing that his love for her had long since flown. The ladieswould not admit the truth of this, so that the point is still in doubt;nevertheless, it is probable that he believed the lady. And since hewas so wary and so bold that few men of his age and time could matchand none could surpass him (as has been proved by his very brave andknightly death), (3) you must, it seems to me, confess that men ofhonour love in such wise as to be often duped, by placing too much trustin the truthfulness of the ladies.
"In good faith," said Ennasuite, "I commend this lady for the trick sheplayed; for when a man is loved by a lady and forsakes her for another,her vengeance cannot be too severe."
"Yes," said Parlamente, "if she is loved by him; but there are some wholove men without being certain that they are loved in return, and whenthey find that their sweethearts love elsewhere, they call them fickle.It therefore happens that discreet women are never deceived by suchtalk, for they give no heed or belief even to those people who speaktruly, lest they should prove to be liars, seeing that the true and thefalse speak but one tongue."
"If all women were of your opinion," said Simon-tault, "the gentlemenmight pack up their prayers at once; but, for all that you and thoselike you may say, we shall never believe that women are as unbelievingas they are fair. And in this wise we shall live as content as you wouldfain render us uneasy by your maxims."
"Truly," said Longarine, "knowing as I well do who the lady is thatplayed that fine trick upon the gentleman, it is impossible for me notto believe in any craftiness on her part. Since she did not spare herhusband, 'twere fitting she should not spare her lover."
"Her husband, say you?" said Simontault. "You know, then, more than Ido, and so, since you wish it, I give you my place that you may tell usyour opinion of the matter."
"And since you wish it," said Longarine, "I will do so."
The former is Margaret of France, Duchess of Savoy and Berry. Born in June 1523, she died in September 1574.— Queen Margaret was her godmother. When only three years old, she was promised in marriage to Louis of Savoy, eldest son of Duke Charles III., and he dying, she espoused his younger brother, Emmanuel Philibert, in July 1549. Graceful and pretty as a child (see ante, vol. i. p. xlviii.), she became, thanks to the instruction of the famous Michael de l' Hôpital, one of the most accomplished women of her time, and Brantôme devotes an article to her in his Dames Illustres (Lalanne, v. viii. pp. 328-37). See also Hilarion de Coste's Éloges et Vies des Reines, Princesses, &c., Paris, 1647, vol. ii. p. 278.
The Duchess of Montpensier, also referred to above, is Jacqueline de Longwick (now Longwy), Countess of Bar-sur- Seine, daughter of J. Ch. de Longwick, Lord of Givry, and of Jane, bâtarde of Angoulême. In 1538 Jacqueline was married to Louis II. de Bourbon, Duke of Montpensier. She gained great influence at the French Court, both under Francis I. and afterwards, and De Thou says of her that she was possessed of great wit and wisdom, far superior to the century in which she lived. She died in August 1561, and was the mother of Francis I., Duke of Montpensier, sometimes called the Dauphin of Auvergne, who fought at Jarnac, Moncontour, Arques, and Ivry, against Henry of Navarre.—L., B. J. and Ed.