The lady of your story was wedded to a rich gentleman of high andancient lineage, and had married him on account of the great affectionthat they bore to one another.
Being a woman most pleasant of speech, she by no means concealed fromher husband that she had lovers whom she made game of for her pastime,and, at first, her husband shared in her pleasure. But at last thismanner of life became irksome to him, for on the one part he took it illthat she should hold so much converse with those that were no kinsfolkor friends of his own, and on the other, he was greatly vexed by theexpense to which he was put in sustaining her magnificence and infollowing the Court.
He therefore withdrew to his own house as often as he was able, but somuch company came thither to see him that the expenses of his householdbecame scarcely any less, for, wherever his wife might be, she alwaysfound means to pass her time in sports, dances, and all such matters asyouthful dames may use with honour. And when sometimes her husband toldher, laughing, that their expenses were too great, she would reply thatshe promised never to make him a "coqu" or cuckold, but only a "coquin,"that is, a beggar; for she was so exceedingly fond of dress, that shemust needs have the bravest and richest at the Court. (1) Her husbandtook her thither as seldom as possible, but she did all in her powerto go, and to this end behaved in a most loving fashion towards herhusband, who would not willingly have refused her a much harder request.
Now one day, when she had found that all her devices could not inducehim to make this journey to the Court, she perceived that he was verypleasant in manner with a chamber-woman (2) she had, and thereuponthought she might turn the matter to her own advantage. Taking the girlapart, she questioned her cleverly, using both wiles and threats, insuch wise that the girl confessed that, ever since she had been in thehouse, not a day had passed on which her master had not sought her love;but (she added) she would rather die than do aught against God and herhonour, more especially after the honour which the lady had done her intaking her into her service, for this would make such wickedness twiceas great.
On hearing of her husband's unfaithfulness, the lady immediately feltboth grief and joy. Her grief was that her husband, despite all his showof loving her, should be secretly striving to put her to so much shamein her own household, and this when she believed herself far morebeautiful and graceful than the woman whom he sought in her stead.But she rejoiced to think that she might surprise her husband in suchmanifest error that he would no longer be able to reproach her with herlovers, nor with her desire to dwell at Court; and, to bring this about,she begged the girl gradually to grant her husband what he sought uponcertain conditions that she made known to her.
The girl was minded to make some difficulty, but when her mistresswarranted the safety both of her life and of her honour, she consentedto do whatever might be her pleasure.
The gentleman, on continuing his pursuit of the girl, found hercountenance quite changed towards him, and therefore urged his suit moreeagerly than had been his wont; but she, knowing by heart the partshe had to play, made objection of her poverty, and said that, if shecomplied with his desire, she would be turned away by her mistress, inwhose service she looked to gain a good husband.
The gentleman forthwith replied that she need give no thought to anysuch matters, since he would bestow her in marriage more profitably thanher mistress would be able to do, and further, would contrive the matterso secretly that none would know of it.
Upon this they came to an agreement, and, on considering what placewould be most suited for such a fine business, the girl said that sheknew of none better or more remote from suspicion than a cottage in thepark, where there was a chamber and a bed suitable for the occasion.
The gentleman, who would not have thought any place unsuitable, wascontent with the one she named, and was very impatient for the appointedday and hour to come.
The girl kept her word to her mistress, and told her in full the wholestory of the plan, and how it was to be put into execution on the morrowafter dinner. She would not fail, said she, to give a sign when the timecame to go to the cottage, and she begged her mistress to be watchful,and in no wise fail to be present at the appointed hour, in order tosave her from the danger into which her obedience was leading her.
This her mistress swore, begging her to be without fear, and promisingthat she would never forsake her, but would protect her from herhusband's wrath.
When the morrow was come and dinner was over, the gentleman was morepleasant with his wife than ever, and although this was not veryagreeable to her, she dissembled so well that he did not perceive thetruth.
After dinner she asked him how he was minded to pass away the time, andhe answered that he knew of nothing better than to play at "cent." (3)Forthwith everything was made ready for the game, but the lady pretendedthat she did not care to take part in it, and would find diversionenough in looking at the players.
Just before he sat down to play, the gentleman failed not to ask thegirl to remember her promise to him, and while he was playing she passedthrough the room, making a sign to her mistress which signified thatshe was about to set out on the pilgrimage she had to make. The sign wasclearly seen by the lady, but her husband perceived nothing of it.
An hour later, however, one of his servants made him a sign from adistance, whereupon he told his wife that his head ached somewhat, andthat he must needs rest and take the air. She, knowing the nature of hissickness as well as he did himself, asked him whether she should playin his stead, and he consented, saying that he would very soon return.However, she assured him that she could take his place for a couple ofhours without weariness.
So the gentleman withdrew to his room, and thence by an alley into hispark.
The lady, who knew another and shorter way, waited for a little while,and then, suddenly feigning to be seized with colic, gave her hand atplay to another.
As soon as she was out of the room, she put off her high-heeled shoesand ran as quickly as she could to the place, where she had no desirethat the bargain should be struck without her. And so speedily did shearrive, that, when she entered the room by another door, her husband wasbut just come in. Then, hiding herself behind the door, she listened tothe fair and honest discourse that he held to her maid. But when shesaw that he was coming near to the criminal point, she seized him frombehind, saying—
"Nay, I am too near that you should take another."
It is needless to ask whether the gentleman was in extreme wrath, bothat being balked of the delight he had looked to obtain, and at havinghis wife, whose affection he now greatly feared to lose for ever, knowmore of him than he desired. He thought, however, that the plot had beencontrived by the girl, and (without speaking to his wife) he ran afterher with such fury that, had not his wife rescued her from his hands,he would have killed her. He declared that she was the wickedest jadehe had ever known, and that, if his wife had waited to see the end, shewould have found that he was only mocking her, for, instead of doingwhat she expected, he would have chastised her with rods.
But his wife, knowing what words of the sort were worth, set no valueupon them, and addressed such reproaches to him that he was in greatfear lest she should leave him. He promised her all that she asked,and, after her sage reproaches, confessed that it was wrong of him tocomplain that she had lovers; since a fair and honourable woman is nonethe less virtuous for being loved, provided that she do or say nothingcontrary to her honour; whereas a man deserves heavy punishment when heis at pains to pursue a woman that loves him not, to the wronging ofhis wife and his own conscience. He would therefore, said he, never moreprevent his wife from going to Court, nor take it ill that she shouldhave lovers, for he knew that she spoke with them more in jest than inaffection.
This talk was not displeasing to the lady, for it seemed to her thatshe had gained an important point. Nevertheless she spoke quite to thecontrary, pretending that she had no delight in going to Court, sinceshe no longer possessed his love, without which all assemblies weredispleasing to her; and saying that a woman who was truly loved by herhusband, and who loved him in return, as she did, carried with her asafe-conduct that permitted her to speak with one and all, and to bederided by none.
The poor gentleman was at so much pains to assure her of the love hebore her, that at last they left the place good friends. That they mightnot again fall into such trouble, he begged her to turn away the girlthrough whom he had undergone so much distress. This she did, but did itby bestowing her well and honourably in marriage, and at her husband'sexpense.
And, to make the lady altogether forget his folly, the gentleman soontook her to Court, in such style and so magnificently arrayed that shehad good reason to be content.
"This, ladies, was what made me say I did not find the trick she playedupon one of her lovers a strange one, knowing, as I did, the trick shehad played upon her husband."
"You have described to us a very cunning wife and a very stupidhusband," said Hircan. "Having advanced so far, he ought not to havecome to a standstill and stopped on so fair a road."
"And what should he have done?" said Longarine.
"What he had taken in hand to do," said Hircan, "for his wife was noless wrathful with him for his intention to do evil than she would havebeen had he carried the evil into execution. Perchance, indeed, shewould have respected him more if she had seen that he was a boldergallant."
"That is all very well," said Ennasuite, "but where will you find a manto face two women at once? His wife would have defended her rights andthe girl her virginity."
"True," said Hircan, "but a strong bold man does not fear to assail twothat are weak, nor will he ever fail to vanquish them."
"I readily understand," said Ennasuite, "that if he had drawn his swordhe might have killed them both, but otherwise I cannot see that he hadany means of escape. I pray you, therefore, tell us what you would havedone?"
"I should have taken my wife in my arms," said Hircan, "and have carriedher out. Then I should have had my own way with her maid by love or byforce."
"'Tis enough, Hircan," said Parlamente, "that you know how to do evil."
"I am sure, Parlamente," he replied, "that I do not scandalise theinnocence in whose presence I speak, and by what I have said I do notmean that I support a wicked deed. But I wonder at the attempt, whichwas in itself worthless, and at the attempter, who, for fear rather thanfor love of his wife, failed to complete it. I praise a man who loveshis wife as God ordains; but when he does not love her, I think littleof him for fearing her."
"Truly," replied Parlamente, "if love did not render you a good husband,I should make small account of what you might do through fear."
"You are quite safe, Parlamente," said Hircan, "for the love I bear youmakes me more obedient than could the fear of either death or hell."
"You may say what you please," said Parlamente, "but I have reason to becontent with what I have seen and known of you. As for what I have notseen, I have never wished to make guess or still less inquiry."
"I think it great folly," said Nomerfide, "for women to inquire socuriously concerning their husbands, or husbands concerning their wives.Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, without giving so much heedto the morrow."
"Yet it is sometimes needful," said Oisille, "to inquire into mattersthat may touch the honour of a house in order to set them right, thoughnot to pass evil judgment upon persons, seeing that there is none whodoes not fail."
"Many," said Geburon, "have at divers times fallen into trouble for lackof well and carefully inquiring into the errors of their wives."
"I pray you," said Longarine, "if you know any such instance, do notkeep it from us."
"I do indeed know one," said Geburon, "and since you so desire, I willrelate it."