In the year when the Duke of Vendôme married the Princess of Navarre,(1) the King and Queen, their parents, after feasting at Vendôme, wentwith them into Guienne, and, visiting a gentleman's house where therewere many honourable and beautiful ladies, the newly married pairdanced so long in this excellent company that they became weary, and,withdrawing to their chamber, lay down in their clothes upon the bed andfell asleep, doors and windows being shut and none remaining with them.
Just, however, when their sleep was at its soundest, they were awakenedby their door being opened from without, and the Duke drew the curtainand looked to see who it might be, suspecting indeed that it was one ofhis friends who was minded to surprise him. But he perceived a tall, oldbed-chamber woman come in and walk straight up to their bed, where, forthe darkness of the room, she could not recognise them. Seeing them,however, quite close together, she began to cry out—
"Thou vile and naughty wanton! I have long suspected thee to be whatthou art, yet for lack of proof spoke not of it to my mistress. But nowthy vileness is so clearly shown that I shall in no sort conceal it; andthou, foul renegade, who hast wrought such shame in this house by theundoing of this poor wench, if it were not for the fear of God, I woulde'en cudgel thee where thou liest. Get up, in the devil's name, get up,for methinks even now thou hast no shame."
The Duke of Vendôme and the Princess hid their faces against each otherin order to have the talk last longer, and they laughed so heartily thatthey were not able to utter a word. Finding that for all her threatsthey were not willing to rise, the serving-woman came closer in order topull them by the arms. Then she at once perceived both from their facesand from their dress that they were not those whom she sought, and,recognising them, she flung herself upon her knees, begging them topardon her error in thus robbing them of their rest.
But the Duke of Vendôme was not content to know so little, and risingforthwith, he begged the old woman to say for whom she had taken them.This at first she was not willing to do; but at last, after he had swornto her never to reveal it, she told him that there was a girl in thehouse with whom a prothonotary (2) was in love, and that she had longkept a watch on them, since it pleased her little to see her mistresstrusting in a man who was working this shame towards her. She then leftthe Prince and Princess shut in as she had found them, and they laughedfor a long while over their adventure. And, although they afterwardstold the story they would never name any of the persons concerned.
"You see, ladies, how the worthy dame, whilst thinking to do a fine deedof justice, made known to strange princes a matter of which the servantsof the house had never heard."
"I think I know," said Parlamente, "in whose house it was, and who theprothonotary is; for he has governed many a lady's house, and when hecannot win the mistress's favour he never fails to have that of one ofthe maids. In other matters, however, he is an honourable and worthyman."
"Why do you say 'in other matters'?" said Hircan. "Tis for that verybehaviour that I deem him so worthy a man."
"I can see," said Parlamente, "that you know the sickness and thesufferer, and that, if he needed excuse, you would not fail him asadvocate. Yet I would not trust myself to a man who could not contrivehis affairs without having them known to the serving-women."
"And do you imagine," said Nomerfide, "that men care whether such amatter be known if only they can compass their end? You may be surethat, even if none spoke of it but themselves, it would still ofnecessity be known."
"They have no need," said Hircan angrily, "to say all that they know."
"Perhaps," she replied, blushing, "they would not say it to their ownadvantage."
"Judging from your words," said Simontault, "it would seem that mendelight in hearing evil spoken about women, and I am sure that youreckon me among men of that kind. I therefore greatly wish to speak wellof one of your sex, in order that I may not be held a slanderer by allthe rest."
"I give you my place," said Ennasuite, "praying you withal to controlyour natural disposition, so that you may acquit yourself worthily inour honour."
Forthwith Simontault began—
"Tis no new thing, ladies, to hear of some virtuous act on your partwhich, methinks, should not be hidden but rather written in lettersof gold, that it may serve women as an example, and give men cause foradmiration at seeing in the weaker sex that from which weakness is proneto shrink. I am prompted, therefore, to relate something that I heardfrom Captain Robertval and divers of his company."