In the time of King Francis the First there lived a lady of the bloodroyal, who was endowed with honour, virtue and beauty, and well knew howto tell a story with grace and to laugh at such as might be told toher. (1) This lady being at one of her houses, all her subjects andneighbours came to see her; for she was as much liked as it werepossible for woman to be.
Among others there came a lady who hearkened whilst the rest told everystory they could think of in order to amuse the Princess. This lady thenresolved that she would not be behind the others, and accordingly said—
"Madam, I will tell you a fine story, but you must promise me not tospeak of it."
Then she forthwith continued—
"The story, madam, is on my conscience a perfectly true one, andconcerns a married lady who lived in all honour with her husband,although he was old and she was young. A gentleman who was herneighbour, seeing her married to this old man, fell in love with her,and importuned her for several years; but never received of her anyreply save such as a virtuous woman should make. One day the gentlemanbethought him that if he could take her at a disadvantage she mightperchance be less harsh towards him, and, after he had for a long whileweighed the danger that he might run, his love for the lady whollybanished his fears, and he resolved to find a time and place. He keptexcellent watch, and so one morning, when the lady's husband was goingto another of his houses, and leaving at daybreak by reason of the heat,the young gallant came to the house, where he found the lady asleep inher bed, and perceived that the serving-women were gone out of the room.
"Then, without having sense enough to fasten the door, he got into thelady's bed all booted and spurred as he was, and when she awoke, she wasas distressed as she could possibly be. But in spite of any remonstrancethat she could make to him, he took her by force, saying that if sheshould make the matter known he would tell every one that she had sentfor him; and at this the lady was so greatly afraid that she durst notcry out. Afterwards, on some of her women coming in, he rose in hasteand would have been perceived by none if his spur, which had becomefastened in the upper sheet, had not drawn it right off, leaving thelady quite naked in her bed."
So far the lady had told the story as if of another, but at the end sheinvoluntarily said—
"Never was a woman so confounded as I was, when I found myself lyingquite naked."
At these last words the lady, who had hitherto hearkened to the storywithout laughing, could not refrain from doing so, and said—
"By what I can see, you are well qualified to tell the tale."
The poor lady tried in every possible way to clear her honour, but itwas already flown so far away that she was never able to recall it.
"I assure you, ladies, that had she felt any deep displeasure in doingsuch a deed, she would have desired to forget it. But, as I have toldyou, sin will of itself be discovered before it could otherwise beknown, unless it be hidden by the mantle which, as David says, makes manblessed."
"In good sooth," said Ennasuite, "she was the greatest fool I have everheard of, to make the others laugh at her own expense."
"I do not deem it strange," said Parlamente, "that the word shouldfollow the deed, for it is easier to say than to do."
"Why," said Geburon, "what sin had she committed? She was asleep in herbed, he threatened her with shame and death; Lucrèce, who is so highlypraised, did just the same."
"That is true," said Parlamente, "and I confess that there is none toorighteous to fall. But when one has felt great offence in the deed, thesame holds good of the recollection; and whereas Lucrèce to efface thelatter killed herself, this foolish woman tried to make others laugh."
"Nevertheless," said Nomerfide, "it seems that she was a virtuous woman,seeing that she had been many times entreated but would never consent,so that the gentleman must needs resort to treachery and force in orderto wrong her."
"What!" said Parlamente. "Do you think that a woman has answered forher honour, when she gives herself up after refusing two or three times?There would then be many virtuous women among those that are deemed theopposite, for many of them have been known to refuse for a long whilethose to whom their hearts had been given, some doing this through fearfor their honour, and others in order to make themselves still moreardently loved and esteemed. No account, therefore, should be made of awoman unless she stands firm to the end. But if a man refuse a beautifulgirl, do you regard that as great virtue?"
"Truly," said Oisille, "if a young and lusty man so refused, I shouldhold it worthy of high praise, but none the less difficult of belief."
"Yet," said Dagoucin, "I know one who refused to partake in amours thatwere sought after by all his comrades."
"I pray you," said Longarine, "take my place and tell us the tale, yetremember that you must here utter the truth."
"I promise you," said Dagoucin, "that I will tell it in all itssimplicity, without any colouring or disguise."