"Oh! my love, whom I am compelled to love, although it is a mortal sin to do so, thou who art so good, so gentle to thy poor Bertha, if thou wouldst have her always think of thee with pleasure, and stop the torrent of her tears, whose source is so pretty and so pleasant (here, to show him that it was so, she let him steal a kiss)—Jehan, if thou wouldst that the memory of our celestial joys, angel music, and the fragrance of love should be a consolation to me in my loneliness rather than a torment, do that which the Virgin commanded me to order thee in a dream, in which I was beseeching her to direct me in the present case, for I had asked her to come to me, and she had come. Then I told her the horrible anguish I should endure, trembling for this little one, whose movements I already feel, and for the real father, who would be at the mercy of the other, and might expiate his paternity by a violent death, since it is possible that La Fallotte saw clearly into his future life. Then the beautiful Virgin told me, smiling, that the Church offered its forgiveness for our faults if we followed her commandments; that it was necessary to save one's self from the pains of hell, by reforming before Heaven became angry. Then with her finger she showed me a Jehan like thee, but dressed as thou shouldst be, and as thou wilt be, if thou does but love thy Bertha with a love eternal."
Jehan assured her of his perfect obedience, and raised her, seating her on his knee, and kissing her. The unhappy Bertha told him then that this garment was a monk's frock, and trembling besought him —almost fearing a refusal—to enter the Church, and retire to Marmoustier, beyond Tours, pledging him her word that she would grant him a last night, after which she would be neither for him nor for anyone else in the world again. And each year, as a reward for this, she would let him come to her one day, in order that he might see the child. Jehan, bound by his oath, promised to obey his mistress, saying that by this means he would be faithful to her, and would experience no joys of love but those tasted in her divine embrace, and would live upon the dear remembrance of them. Hearing these sweet words, Bertha declared to him that, however great might have been her sin, and whatever God reserved for her, this happiness would enable her to support it, since she believed she had not fallen through a man, but through an angel.
Then they returned to the nest which contained their love but only to bid a final adieu to all their lovely flowers. There can be but little doubt that Seigneur Cupid had something to do with this festival, for no woman ever experienced such joy in any part of the world before, and no man ever took as much. The especial property of true love is a certain harmony, which brings it about that the more one gives, the more the other receives, and vice-versa, as in certain cases in mathematics, where things are multiplied by themselves without end. This problem can only be explained to unscientific people, by asking them to look into their Venetian glasses, in which are to be seen thousands of faces produced by one alone. Thus, in the heart of two lovers, the roses of pleasure multiply within them in a manner which causes them to be astonished that so much joy can be contained, without anything bursting. Bertha and Jehan would have wished in this night to have finished their days, and thought, from the excessive languor which flowed in their veins, that love had resolved to bear them away on his wings with the kiss of death; but they held out in spite of these numerous multiplications.
On the morrow, as the return of Monsieur Imbert de Bastarnay was close at hand, the lady Sylvia was compelled to depart. The poor girl left her cousin, covering her with tears and with kisses; it was always her last, but the last lasted till evening. Then he was compelled to leave her, and he did leave her although the blood of his heart congealed, like the fallen wax of a Paschal candle. According to his promise, he wended his way towards Marmoustier, which he entered towards the eleventh hour of the day, and was placed among the novices. Monseigneur de Bastarnay was informed that Sylvia had returned to the Lord which is the signification of le Seigneur in the English language; and therefore in this Bertha did not lie.
The joy of her husband, when he saw Bertha without her waistband—she could not wear it, so much had she increased in size—commenced the martyrdom of this poor woman, who did not know how to deceive, and who, at each false word, went to her Prie-Dieu, wept her blood away from her eyes in tears, burst into prayers, and recommended herself to the graces of Messieurs the Saints in paradise. It happened that she cried so loudly to God that He heard her, because He hears everything; He hears the stones that roll beneath the waters, the poor who groan, and the flies who wing their way through the air. It is well that you should know this, otherwise you would not believe in what happened. God commanded the archangel Michael to make for this penitent a hell upon earth, so that she might enter without dispute into Paradise. Then St. Michael descended from the skies as far as the gate of hell, and handed over this triple soul to the devil, telling him that he had permission to torment it during the rest of her days, at the same time indicating to him Bertha, Jehan and the child.
The devil, who by the will of God, is lord of all evil, told the archangel that he would obey the message. During this heavenly arrangement life went on as usual here below. The sweet lady of Bastarnay gave the most beautiful child in the world to the Sire Imbert, a boy all lilies and roses, of great intelligence, like a little Jesus, merry and arch as a pagan love. He became more beautiful day by day, while the elder was turning into an ape, like his father, whom he painfully resembled. The younger boy was as bright as a star, and resembled his father and mother, whose corporeal and spiritual perfections had produced a compound of illustrious graces and marvellous intelligence. Seeing this perpetual miracle of body and mind blended with the essential conditions, Bastarnay declared that for his eternal salvation he would like to make the younger the elder, and that he would do with the king's protection. Bertha did not know what to do, for she adored the child of Jehan, and could only feel a feeble affection for the other, whom, nevertheless she protected against the evil intentions of the old fellow, Bastarnay.
Bertha, satisfied with the way things were going, quieted her conscience with falsehood, and thought that all danger was past, since twelve years had elapsed with no other alloy than the doubt which at times embittered her joy. Each year, according to her pledged faith, the monk of Marmoustier, who was unknown to everyone except the servant-maid, came to pass a whole day at the chateau to see his child, although Bertha had many times besought brother Jehan to yield his right. But Jehan pointed to the child, saying, "You see him every day of the year, and I only once!" And the poor mother could find no word to answer this speech with.
A few months before the last rebellion of the Dauphin Louis against his father, the boy was treading closely on the heels of his twelfth year, and appeared likely to become a great savant, so learned was he in all the sciences. Old Bastarnay had never been more delighted at having been a father in his life, and resolved to take his son with him to the Court of Burgundy, where Duke Charles promised to make for this well-beloved son a position, which should be the envy of princes, for he was not at all averse to clever people. Seeing matters thus arranged, the devil judged the time to be ripe for his mischiefs. He took his tail and flapped it right into the middle of this happiness, so that he could stir it up in his own peculiar way.
III HORRIBLE CHASTISEMENT OF BERTHA AND EXPIATION OF THE SAME, WHO DIED PARDONED
The servant of the lady of Bastarnay, who was then about five-and-thirty years old, fell in love with one of the master's men-at-arms, and was silly enough to let him take loaves out of the oven, until there resulted therefrom a natural swelling, which certain wags in these parts call a nine months' dropsy. The poor woman begged her mistress to intercede for her with the master, so that he might compel this wicked man to finish at the altar that which he had commenced elsewhere. Madame de Bastarnay had no difficulty in obtaining this favour from him, and the servant was quite satisfied. But the old warrior, who was always extremely rough, hastened into his pretorium, and blew him up sky-high, ordering him, under the pain of the gallows, to marry the girl; which the soldier preferred to do, thinking more of his neck than of his peace of mind.
Bastarnay sent also for the female, to whom he imagined, for the honour of his house, he ought to sing a litany, mixed with epithets and ornamented with extremely strong expressions, and made her think, by way of punishment, that she was not going to be married, but flung into one of the cells in the jail. The girl fancied that Madame wanted to get rid of her, in order to inter the secret of the birth of her beloved son. With this impression, when the old ape said such outrageous things to her—namely, that he must have been a fool to keep a harlot in his house—she replied that he certainly was a very big fool, seeing that for a long time past his wife had been played the harlot, and with a monk too, which was the worst thing that could happen to a warrior.
Think of the greatest storm you ever saw it in your life, and you will have a weak sketch of the furious rage into which the old man fell, when thus assailed in a portion of his heart which was a triple life. He seized the girl by the throat, and would have killed her there and then, but she, to prove her story, detailed the how, the why, and the when, and said that if he had no faith in her, he could have the evidence of his own ears by hiding himself the day that Father Jehan de Sacchez, the prior of Marmoustier, came. He would then hear the words of the father, who solaced herself for his year's fast, and in one day kissed his son for the rest of the year.
Imbert ordered this woman instantly to leave the castle, since, if her accusation were true, he would kill her just as though she had invented a tissue of lies. In an instant he had given her a hundred crowns, besides her man, enjoining them not to sleep in Touraine; and for greater security, they were conducted into Burgundy, by de Bastarnay's officers. He informed his wife of their departure, saying, that as her servant was a damaged article he had thought it best to get rid of her, but had given her a hundred crowns, and found employment for the man at the Court of Burgundy. Bertha was astonished to learn that her maid had left the castle without receiving her dismissal from herself, her mistress; but she said nothing. Soon afterwards she had other fish to fry, for she became a prey to vague apprehensions, because her husband completely changed in his manner, commenced to notice the likeness of his first-born to himself, and could find nothing resembling his nose, or his forehead, his this, or his that, in the youngest he loved so well.
"He is my very image," replied Bertha one day that he was throwing out these hints. "Know you not that in well regulated households, children are formed from the father and mother, each in turn, or often from both together, because the mother mingles her qualities with the vital force of the father? Some physicians declare that they have known many children born without any resemblance to either father or mother, and attribute these mysteries to the whim of the Almighty."
"You have become very learned, my dear," replied Bastarnay; "but I, who am an ignoramus, I should fancy that a child who resembles a monk—"
"Had a monk for a father!" said Bertha, looking at him with an unflinching gaze, although ice rather than blood was coursing through her veins.
The old fellow thought he was mistaken, and cursed the servant; but he was none the less determined to make sure of the affair. As the day of Father Jehan's visit was close at hand, Bertha, whose suspicions were aroused by this speech, wrote him that it was her wish that he should not come this year, without, however, telling him her reason; then she went in search of La Fallotte at Loches, who was to give her letter to Jehan, and believed everything was safe for the present. She was all the more pleased at having written to her friend the prior, when Imbert, who, towards the time appointed for the poor monk's annual treat, had always been accustomed to take a journey into the province of Maine, where he had considerable property, remained this time at home, giving as his reason the preparations for rebellion which monseigneur Louis was then making against his father, who as everyone knows, was so cut up at this revolt that it caused his death. This reason was so good a one, that poor Bertha was quite satisfied with it, and did not trouble herself. On the regular day, however, the prior arrived as usual. Bertha seeing him, turned pale, and asked him if he had not received her message.
"What message?" said Jehan.
"Ah! we are lost then; the child, thou, and I," replied Bertha.
"Why so?" said the prior.
"I know not," said she; "but our last day has come."
She inquired of her dearly beloved son where Bastarnay was. The young man told her that his father had been sent for by a special messenger to Loches, and would not be back until evening. Thereupon Jehan wished, is spite of his mistress, to remain with her and his dear son, asserting that no harm would come of it, after the lapse of twelve years, since the birth of their boy.
The days when that adventurous night you know of was celebrated, Bertha stayed in her room with the poor monk until supper time. But on this occasion the lovers—hastened by the apprehensions of Bertha, which was shared by Jehan directly she had informed him of them—dined immediately, although the prior of Marmoustier reassured Bertha by pointing out to her the privileges of the Church, and how Bastarnay, already in bad odour at court, would be afraid to attack a dignitary of Marmoustier. When they were sitting down to table their little one happened to be playing, and in spite of the reiterated prayers of his mother, would not stop his games, since he was galloping about the courtyard on a fine Spanish barb, which Duke Charles of Burgundy had presented to Bastarnay. And because young lads like to show off, varlets make themselves bachelors at arms, and bachelors wish to play the knight, this boy was delighted at being able to show the monk what a man he was becoming; he made the horse jump like a flea in the bedclothes, and sat as steady as a trooper in the saddle.
"Let him have his way, my darling," said the monk to Bertha. "Disobedient children often become great characters."
Bertha ate sparingly, for her heart was as swollen as a sponge in water. At the first mouthful, the monk, who was a great scholar, felt in his stomach a pain, and on his palette a bitter taste of poison that caused him to suspect that the Sire de Bastarnay had given them all their quietus. Before he had made this discovery Bertha had eaten. Suddenly the monk pulled off the tablecloth and flung everything into the fireplace, telling Bertha his suspicion. Bertha thanked the Virgin that her son had been so taken up with his sport. Retaining his presence of mind, Jehan, who had not forgotten the lesson he had learned as a page, leaped into the courtyard, lifted his son from the horse, sprang across it himself, and flew across the country with such speed that you would have thought him a shooting-star if you had seen him digging the spurs into the horse's bleeding flanks, and he was at Loches in Fallotte's house in the same space of time that only the devil could have done the journey. He stated the case to her in two words, for the poison was already frying his marrow, and requested her to give him an antidote.
"Alas," said the sorceress, "had I known that it was for you I was giving this poison, I would have received in my breast the dagger's point, with which I was threatened, and would have sacrificed my poor life to save that of a man of God, and of the sweetest woman that ever blossomed on this earth; for alas! my dear friend, I have only two drops of the counter-poison that you see in this phial."
"Is there enough for her?"
"Yes, but go at once," said the old hag.
The monk came back more quickly that he went, so that the horse died under him in the courtyard. He rushed into the room where Bertha, believing her last hour to be come, was kissing her son, and writhing like a lizard in the fire, uttering no cry for herself, but for the child, left to the wrath of Bastarnay, forgetting her own agony at the thought of his cruel future.
"Take this," said the monk; "my life is saved!"
Jehan had the great courage to say these words with an unmoved face, although he felt the claws of death seizing his heart. Hardly had Bertha drunk when the prior fell dead, not, however, without kissing his son, and regarding his dear lady with an eye that changed not even after his last sigh. This sight turned her as cold as marble, and terrified her so much that she remained rigid before this dead man, stretched at her feet, pressing the hand of her child, who wept, although her own eye was as dry as the Red Sea when the Hebrews crossed it under the leadership of Baron Moses, for it seemed to her that she had sharp sand rolling under her eyelids. Pray for her, ye charitable souls, for never was woman so agonised, in divining that her lover has saved her life at the expense of his own. Aided by her son, she herself placed the monk in the middle of the bed, and stood by the side of it, praying with the boy, whom she then told that the prior was his true father. In this state she waited her evil hour, and her evil hour did not take long in coming, for towards the eleventh hour Bastarnay arrived, and was informed at the portcullis that the monk was dead, and not Madame and the child, and he saw his beautiful Spanish horse lying dead. Thereupon, seized with a furious desire to slay Bertha and the monk's bastard, he sprang up the stairs with one bound; but at the sight of the corpse, for whom his wife and her son repeated incessant litanies, having no ears for his torrent of invective, having no eyes for his writhings and threats, he had no longer the courage to perpetrate this dark deed. After the first fury of his rage had passed, he could not bring himself to it, and quitted the room like a coward and a man taken in crime, stung to the quick by those prayers continuously said for the monk. The night was passed in tears, groans, and prayers.
By an express order from Madame, her servant had been to Loches to purchase for her the attire of a young lady of quality, and for her poor child a horse and the arms of an esquire; noticing which the Sieur de Bastarnay was much astonished. He sent for Madame and the monk's son, but neither mother nor child returned any answer, but quietly put on the clothes purchased by the servant. By Madame's order this servant made up the account of her effects, arranged her clothes, purples, jewels, and diamonds, as the property of a widow is arranged when she renounces her rights. Bertha ordered even her alms-purse be included, in order that the ceremony might be perfect. The report of these preparations ran through the house, and everyone knew then that the mistress was about to leave it, a circumstance that filled every heart with sorrow, even that of a little scullion, who had only been a week in the place, but to whom Madame had already given a kind word.
Frightened at these preparations, old Bastarnay came into her chamber, and found her weeping over the body of Jehan, for the tears had come at last; but she dried them directly she perceived her husband. To his numerous questions she replied briefly by the confession of her fault, telling him how she had been duped, how the poor page had been distressed, showing him upon the corpse the mark of the poniard wound; how long he had been getting well; and how, in obedience to her, and from penitence towards God, he had entered the Church, abandoning the glorious career of a knight, putting an end to his name, which was certainly worse than death; how she, while avenging her honour, had thought that even God himself would not have refused the monk one day in the year to see the son for whom he had sacrificed everything; how, not wishing to live with a murderer, she was about to quit his house, leaving all her property behind her; because, if the honour of the Bastarnays was stained, it was not she who had brought the shame about; because in this calamity she had arranged matters as best she could; finally, she added a vow to go over mountain and valley, she and her son, until all was expiated, for she knew how to expiate all.
Having with noble mien and a pale face uttered these beautiful words, she took her child by the hand and went out in great mourning, more magnificently beautiful than was Mademoiselle Hagar on her departure from the residence of the patriarch Abraham, and so proudly, that all the servants and retainers fell on their knees as she passed along, imploring her with joined hands, like Notre Dame de la Riche. It was pitiful to see the Sieur de Bastarnay following her, ashamed, weeping, confessing himself to blame, and downcast and despairing, like a man being led to the gallows, there to be turned off.
And Bertha turned a deaf ear to everything. The desolation was so great that she found the drawbridge lowered, and hastened to quit the castle, fearing that it might be suddenly raised again; but no one had the right or the heart to do it. She sat down on the curb of the moat, in view of the whole castle, who begged her, with tears, to stay. The poor sire was standing with his hand upon the chain of the portcullis, as silent as the stone saints carved above the door. He saw Bertha order her son to shake the dust from his shoes at the end of the bridge, in order to have nothing belonging to Bastarnay about him; and she did likewise. Then, indicating the sire to her son with her finger, she spoke to him as follows—
"Child, behold the murderer of thy father, who was, as thou art aware, the poor prior; but thou hast taken the name of this man. Give it him back here, even as thou leavest the dust taken by the shoes from his castle. For the food that thou hast had in the castle, by God's help we will also settle."
Hearing this, Bastarnay would have let his wife receive a whole monastery of monks in order not to be abandoned by her, and by a young squire capable of becoming the honour of his house, and remained with his head sunk down against the chains.
The heart of Bertha was suddenly filled with holy solace, for the banner of the great monastery turned the corner of a road across the fields, and appeared accompanied by the chants of the Church, which burst forth like heavenly music. The monks, informed of the murder perpetrated on their well-beloved prior, came in procession, assisted by the ecclesiastical justice, to claim his body. When he saw this, the Sire de Bastarnay had barely that time to make for the postern with his men, and set out towards Monseigneur Louis, leaving everything in confusion.
Poor Bertha, en croup behind her son, came to Montbazon to bid her father farewell, telling him that this blow would be her death, and was consoled by those of her family who endeavoured to raise her spirits, but were unable to do so. The old Sire de Rohan presented his grandson with a splendid suit of armour, telling him to acquire glory and honour that he might turn his mother's faults into eternal renown. But Madame de Bastarnay had implanted in the mind of her dear son no other idea than of atoning for the harm done, in order to save her and Jehan from eternal damnation. Both then set out for the places then in a state of rebellion, in order to render such service to Bastarnay that he would receive from them more than life itself.
Now the heat of the sedition was, as everyone knows, in the neighbourhood of Angouleme, and of Bordeaux in Guienne, and other parts of the kingdom, where great battles and severe conflicts between the rebels and the royal armies was likely to take place. The principal one which finished the war was given between Ruffec and Angouleme, where all the prisoners taken were tried and hanged. This battle, commanded by old Bastarnay, took place in the month of November, seven months after the poisoning of Jehan. Now the Baron knew that his head had been strongly recommended as one to be cut off, he being the right hand of Monsiegneur Louis. Directly his men began to fall back, the old fellow found himself surrounded by six men determined to seize him. Then he understood that they wished to take him alive, in order to proceed against his house, ruin his name, and confiscate his property. The poor sire preferred rather to die and save his family, and present the domains to his son. He defended himself like the brave old lion that he was. In spite of their number, these said soldiers, seeing three of their comrades fall, were obliged to attack Bastarnay at the risk of killing him, and threw themselves together upon him, after having laid low two of his equerries and a page.
In this extreme danger an esquire wearing the arms of Rohan, fell upon the assailants like a thunderbolt, and killed two of them, crying, "God save the Bastarnays!" The third man-at-arms, who had already seized old Bastarnay, was so hard pressed by this squire, that he was obliged to leave the elder and turn against the younger, to whom he gave a thrust with his dagger through a flaw in his armour. Bastarnay was too good a comrade to fly without assisting the liberator of his house, who was badly wounded. With a blow of his mace he killed the man-at-arms, seized the squire, lifted him on to his horse, and gained the open, accompanied by a guide, who led him to the castle of Roche-Foucauld, which he entered by night, and found in the great room Bertha de Rohan, who had arranged this retreat for him. But on removing the helmet of his rescuer, he recognised the son of Jehan, who expired upon the table, as by a final effort he kissed his mother, and saying in a loud voice to her—
"Mother, we have paid the debt we owed him!"
Hearing these words, the mother clasped the body of her loved child to her heart, and separated from him never again, for she died of grief, without hearing or heeding the pardon and repentance of Bastarnay.
The strange calamity hastened the last day of the poor old man, who did not live to see the coronation of King Louis the Eleventh. He founded a daily mass in the Church of Roche-Foucauld, where in the same grave he placed mother and son, with a large tombstone, upon which their lives are much honoured in the Latin language.
The morals which any one can deduce from this history are the most profitable for the conduct of life, since this shows how gentlemen should be courteous with the dearly beloveds of their wives. Further, it teaches us that all children are blessings sent by God Himself, and over them fathers, whether true or false, have no right of murder, as was formerly the case at Rome, owing to a heathen and abominable law, which ill became that Christianity which makes us all sons of God.
HOW THE PRETTY MAID OF PORTILLON CONVINCED HER JUDGE
The Maid of Portillon, who became as everyone knows, La Tascherette, was, before she became a dyer, a laundress at the said place of Portillon, from which she took her name. If any there be who do not know Tours, it may be as well to state that Portillon is down the Loire, on the same side as St. Cyr, about as far from the bridge which leads to the cathedral of Tours as said bridge is distant from Marmoustier, since the bridge is in the centre of the embankment between Portillon and Marmoustier. Do you thoroughly understand?
Yes? Good! Now the maid had there her washhouse, from which she ran to the Loire with her washing in a second and took the ferry-boat to get to St. Martin, which was on the other side of the river, for she had to deliver the greater part of her work in Chateauneuf and other places.
About Midsummer day, seven years before marrying old Taschereau, she had just reached the right age to be loved, without making a choice from any of the lads who pursued her with their intentions. Although there used to come to the bench under her window the son of Rabelais, who had seven boats on the Loire, Jehan's eldest, Marchandeau the tailor, and Peccard the ecclesiastical goldsmith, she made fun of them all, because she wished to be taken to church before burthening herself with a man, which proves that she was an honest woman until she was wheedled out of her virtue. She was one of those girls who take great care not to be contaminated, but who, if by chance they get deceived, let things take their course, thinking that for one stain or for fifty a good polishing up is necessary. These characters demand our indulgence.
A young noble of the court perceived her one day when she was crossing the water in the glare of the noonday sun, which lit up her ample charms, and seeing her, asked who she was. An old man, who was working on the banks, told him she was called the Pretty Maid of Portillon, a laundress, celebrated for her merry ways and her virtue. This young lord, besides ruffles to starch, had many precious draperies and things; he resolved to give the custom of his house to this girl, whom he stopped on the road. He was thanked by her and heartily, because he was the Sire du Fou, the king's chamberlain. This encounter made her so joyful that her mouth was full of his name. She talked about it a great deal to the people of St. Martin, and when she got back to the washhouse was still full of it, and on the morrow at her work her tongue went nineteen to the dozen, and all on the same subject, so that as much was said concerning my Lord du Fou in Portillon as of God in a sermon; that is, a great deal too much.
"If she works like that in cold water, what will she do in warm?" said an old washerwoman. "She wants du Fou; he'll give her du Fou!"
The first time this giddy wench, with her head full of Monsieur du Fou, had to deliver the linen at his hotel, the chamberlain wished to see her, and was very profuse in praises and compliments concerning her charms, and wound up by telling her that she was not at all silly to be beautiful, and therefore he would give her more than she expected. The deed followed the word, for the moment his people were out of the room, he began to caress the maid, who thinking he was about to take out the money from his purse, dared not look at the purse, but said, like a girl ashamed to take her wages—
"It will be for the first time."
"It will be soon," said he.
Some people say that he had great difficulty in forcing her to accept what he offered her, and hardly forced her at all; others that he forced her badly, because she came out like an army flagging on the route, crying and groaning, and came to the judge. It happened that the judge was out. La Portillone awaited his return in his room, weeping and saying to the servant that she had been robbed, because Monseigneur du Fou had given her nothing but his mischief; whilst a canon of the Chapter used to give her large sums for that which M. du Fou wanted for nothing. If she loved a man she would think it wise to do things for him for nothing, because it would be a pleasure to her; but the chamberlain had treated her roughly, and not kindly and gently, as he should have done, and that therefore he owed her the thousand crowns of the canon. Then the judge came in, saw the wench, and wished to kiss her, but she put herself on guard, and said she had come to make a complaint. The judge replied that certainly she could have the offender hanged if she liked, because he was most anxious to serve her. The injured maiden replied that she did not wish the death of her man, but that he should pay her a thousand gold crowns, because she had been robbed against her will.
"Ha! ha!" said the judge, "what he took was worth more than that."
"For the thousand crowns I'll cry quits, because I shall be able to live without washing."
"He who has robbed you, is he well off?"
"Then he shall pay dearly for it. Who is it?"
"Monseigneur du Fou."
"Oh, that alters the case," said the judge.
"But justice?" said she.
"I said the case, not the justice of it," replied the judge. "I must know how the affair occurred."
Then the girl related naively how she was arranging the young lord's ruffles in his wardrobe, when he began to play with her skirt, and she turned round saying—
"Go on with you!"
"You have no case," said the judge, "for by that speech he thought that you gave him leave to go on. Ha! ha!"
Then she declared that she had defended herself, weeping and crying out, and that that constitutes an assault.
"A wench's antics to incite him," said the judge.
Finally, La Portillone declared that against her will she had been taken round the waist and thrown, although she had kicked and cried and struggled, but that seeing no help at hand, she had lost courage.
"Good! good!" said the judge. "Did you take pleasure in the affair?"
"No," said she. "My anguish can only be paid for with a thousand crowns."
"My dear," said the judge, "I cannot receive your complaint, because I believe no girl could be thus treated against her will."
"Hi! hi! hi! Ask your servant," said the little laundress, sobbing, "and hear what she'll tell you."
The servant affirmed that there were pleasant assaults and unpleasant ones; that if La Portillone had received neither amusement nor money, either one or the other was due to her. This wise counsel threw the judge into a state of great perplexity.
"Jacqueline," said he, "before I sup I'll get to the bottom of this. Now go and fetch my needle and the red thread that I sew the law paper bags with."
Jacqueline came back with a big needle, pierced with a pretty little hole, and a big red thread, such as the judges use. Then she remained standing to see the question decided, very much disturbed, as was also the complainant at these mysterious preparations.
"My dear," said the judge, "I am going to hold the bodkin, of which the eye is sufficiently large, to put this thread into it without trouble. If you do put it in, I will take up your case, and will make Monseigneur offer you a compromise."
"What's that?" said she. "I will not allow it."
"It is a word used in justice to signify an agreement."
"A compromise is then agreeable with justice?" said La Portillone.
"My dear, this violence has also opened your mind. Are you ready?"
"Yes," said she.
The waggish judge gave the poor nymph fair play, holding the eye steady for her; but when she wished to slip in the thread that she had twisted to make straight, he moved a little, and the thread went on the other side. She suspected the judge's argument, wetted the thread, stretched it, and came back again. The judge moved, twisted about, and wriggled like a bashful maiden; still this cursed thread would not enter. The girl kept trying at the eye, and the judge kept fidgeting. The marriage of the thread could not be consummated, the bodkin remained virgin, and the servant began to laugh, saying to La Portillone that she knew better how to endure than to perform. Then the roguish judge laughed too, and the fair Portillone cried for her golden crowns.
"If you don't keep still," cried she, losing patience; "if you keep moving about I shall never be able to put the thread in."
"Then, my dear, if you had done the same, Monseigneur would have been unsuccessful too. Think, too, how easy is the one affair, and how difficult the other."
The pretty wench, who declared she had been forced, remained thoughtful, and sought to find a means to convince the judge by showing how she had been compelled to yield, since the honour of all poor girls liable to violence was at stake.
"Monseigneur, in order that the bet made the fair, I must do exactly as the young lord did. If I had only had to move I should be moving still, but he went through other performances."
"Let us hear them," replied the judge.
Then La Portillone straightens the thread, and rubs it in the wax of the candle, to make it firm and straight; then she looked towards the eye of the bodkin, held by the judge, slipping always to the right or to the left. Then she began making endearing little speeches, such as, "Ah, the pretty little bodkin! What a pretty mark to aim at! Never did I see such a little jewel! What a pretty little eye! Let me put this little thread into it! Ah, you will hurt my poor thread, my nice little thread! Keep still! Come, my love of a judge, judge of my love! Won't the thread go nicely into this iron gate, which makes good use of the thread, for it comes out very much out of order?" Then she burst out laughing, for she was better up in this game than the judge, who laughed too, so saucy and comical and arch was she, pushing the thread backwards and forwards. She kept the poor judge with the case in his hand until seven o'clock, keeping on fidgeting and moving about like a schoolboy let loose; but as La Portillone kept on trying to put the thread in, he could not help it. As, however, his joint was burning, and his wrist was tired, he was obliged to rest himself for a minute on the side of the table; then very dexterously the fair maid of Portillon slipped the thread in, saying—
"That's how the thing occurred."
"But my joint was burning."
"So was mine," said she.
The judge, convinced, told La Portillone that he would speak to Monseigneur du Fou, and would himself carry the affair through, since it was certain the young lord had embraced her against her will, but that for valid reasons he would keep the affair dark. On the morrow the judge went to the Court and saw Monseigneur du Fou, to whom he recounted the young woman's complaint, and how she had set forth her case. This complaint lodged in court, tickled the king immensely. Young du Fou having said that there was some truth in it, the king asked if he had had much difficulty, and as he replied, innocently, "No," the king declared the girl was quite worth a hundred gold crowns, and the chamberlain gave them to the judge, in order not to be taxed with stinginess, and said the starch would be a good income to La Portillone. The judge came back to La Portillone, and said, smiling, that he had raised a hundred gold crowns for her. But if she desired the balance of the thousand, there were at that moment in the king's apartments certain lords who, knowing the case, had offered to make up the sum for her, with her consent. The little hussy did not refuse this offer, saying, that in order to do no more washing in the future she did not mind doing a little hard work now. She gratefully acknowledged the trouble the good judge had taken, and gained her thousand crowns in a month. From this came the falsehoods and jokes concerning her, because out of these ten lords jealousy made a hundred, whilst, differently from young men, La Portillone settled down to a virtuous life directly she had her thousand crowns. Even a Duke, who would have counted out five hundred crowns, would have found this girl rebellious, which proves she was niggardly with her property. It is true that the king caused her to be sent for to his retreat of Rue Quinquangrogne, on the mall of Chardonneret, found her extremely pretty, exceedingly affectionate, enjoyed her society, and forbade the sergeants to interfere with her in any way whatever. Seeing she was so beautiful, Nicole Beaupertuys, the king's mistress, gave her a hundred gold crowns to go to Orleans, in order to see if the colour of the Loire was the same there as at Portillon. She went there, and the more willingly because she did not care very much for the king. When the good man came who confessed the king in his last hours, and was afterwards canonised, La Portillone went to him to polish up her conscience, did penance, and founded a bed in the leper-house of St. Lazare-aux-Tours. Many ladies whom you know have been assaulted by more than two lords, and have founded no other beds than those in their own houses. It is as well to relate this fact, in order to cleanse the reputation of this honest girl, who herself once washed dirty things, and who afterwards became famous for her clever tricks and her wit. She gave a proof of her merit in marrying Taschereau, who she cuckolded right merrily, as has been related in the story of The Reproach. This proves to us most satisfactorily that with strength and patience justice itself can be violated.
IN WHICH IT IS DEMONSTRATED THAT FORTUNE IS ALWAYS FEMININE
During the time when knights courteously offered to each other both help and assistance in seeking their fortune, it happened that in Sicily—which, as you are probably aware, is an island situated in the corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and formerly celebrated—one knight met in a wood another knight, who had the appearance of a Frenchman. Presumably, this Frenchman was by some chance stripped of everything, and was so wretchedly attired that but for his princely air he might have been taken for a blackguard. It was possible that his horse had died of hunger or fatigue, on disembarking from the foreign shore for which he came, on the faith of the good luck which happened to the French in Sicily, which was true in every respect.
The Sicilian knight, whose name was Pezare, was a Venetian long absent from the Venetian Republic, and with no desire to return there, since he had obtained a footing in the Court of the King of Sicily. Being short of funds in Venice, because he was a younger son, he had no fancy for commerce, and was for that reason eventually abandoned by his family, a most illustrious one. He therefore remained at this Court, where he was much liked by the king.
This gentleman was riding a splendid Spanish horse, and thinking to himself how lonely he was in this strange court, without trusty friends, and how in such cases fortune was harsh to helpless people and became a traitress, when he met the poor French knight, who appeared far worse off that he, who had good weapons, a fine horse, and a mansion where servants were then preparing a sumptuous supper.
"You must have come a long way to have so much dust on your feet," said the Venetian.
"My feet have not as much dust as the road was long," answered the Frenchman.
"If you have travelled so much," continued the Venetian, "you must be a learned man."
"I have learned," replied the Frenchman, "to give no heed to those who do not trouble about me. I have learnt that however high a man's head was, his feet were always level with my own; more than that, I have learnt to have no confidence in the warm days of winter, in the sleep of my enemies, or the words of my friends."
"You are, then, richer than I am," said the Venetian, astonished, "since you tell me things of which I never thought."
"Everyone must think for himself," said the Frenchman; "and as you have interrogated me, I can request from you the kindness of pointing to me the road to Palermo or some inn, for the night is closing in."
"Are you then, acquainted with no French or Sicilian gentlemen at Palermo?"
"Then you are not certain of being received?"
"I am disposed to forgive those who reject me. The road, sir, if you please."
"I am lost like yourself," said the Venetian. "Let us look for it in company."
"To do that we must go together; but you are on horseback, I am on foot."
The Venetian took the French knight on his saddle behind him, and said—
"Do you know with whom you are?"
"With a man, apparently."
"Do you think you are in safety?"
"If you were a robber, you would have to take care of yourself," said the Frenchman, putting the point of his dagger to the Venetian's heart.
"Well, now, my noble Frenchman, you appear to be a man of great learning and sound sense; know that I am a noble, established at the Court of Sicily, but alone, and I seek a friend. You seem to be in the same plight, and, judging from appearances, you do not seem friendly with your lot, and have apparently need of everybody."
"Should I be happier if everybody wanted me?"
"You are a devil, who turns every one of my words against me. By St. Mark! my lord knight, can one trust you?"
"More than yourself, who commenced our federal friendship by deceiving me, since you guide your horse like a man who knows his way, and you said you were lost."
"And did not you deceive me?" said the Venetian, "by making a sage of your years walk, and giving a noble knight the appearance of a vagabond? Here is my abode; my servants have prepared supper for us."
The Frenchman jumped off the horse, and entered the house with the Venetian cavalier, accepting his supper. They both seated themselves at the table. The Frenchman fought so well with his jaws, he twisted the morsels with so much agility, that he showed herself equally learned in suppers, and showed it again in dexterously draining the wine flasks without his eye becoming dimmed or his understanding affected. Then you may be sure that the Venetian thought to himself he had fallen in with a fine son of Adam, sprung from the right side and the wrong one. While they were drinking together, the Venetian endeavoured to find some joint through which to sound the secret depths of his friend's cogitations. He, however, clearly perceived that he would cast aside his shirt sooner than his prudence, and judged it opportune to gain his esteem by opening his doublet to him. Therefore he told him in what state was Sicily, where reigned Prince Leufroid and his gentle wife; how gallant was the Court, what courtesy there flourished, that there abounded many lords of Spain, Italy, France, and other countries, lords in high feather and well feathered; many princesses, as rich as noble, and as noble as rich; that this prince had the loftiest aspirations—such as to conquer Morocco, Constantinople, Jerusalem, the lands of Soudan, and other African places. Certain men of vast minds conducted his affairs, bringing together the ban and arriere ban of the flower of Christian chivalry, and kept up his splendour with the idea of causing to reign over the Mediterranean this Sicily, so opulent in times gone by, and of ruining Venice, which had not a foot of land. These designs had been planted in the king's mind by him, Pezare; but although he was high in that prince's favour, he felt himself weak, had no assistance from the courtiers, and desired to make a friend. In this great trouble he had gone for a little ride to turn matters over in his mind, and decide upon the course to pursue. Now, since while in this idea he had met a man of so much sense as the chevalier had proved herself to be, he proposed to fraternise with him, to open his purse to him, and give him his palace to live in. They would journey in company through life in search of honours and pleasure, without concealing one single thought, and would assist each other on all occasions as the brothers-in-arms did at the Crusades. Now, as the Frenchman was seeking his fortune, and required assistance, the Venetian did not for a moment expect that this offer of mutual consolation would be refused.
"Although I stand in need of no assistance," said the Frenchman, "because I rely upon a point which will procure me all that I desire, I should like to acknowledge your courtesy, dear Chevalier Pezare. You will soon see that you will yet be the debtor of Gauttier de Monsoreau, a gentleman of the fair land of Touraine."
"Do you possess any relic with which your fortune is wound up?" said the Venetian.
"A talisman given me by my dear mother," said the Touranian, "with which castles and cities are built and demolished, a hammer to coin money, a remedy for every ill, a traveller's staff always ready to be tried, and worth most when in a state of readiness, a master tool, which executes wondrous works in all sorts of forges, without making the slightest noise."
"Eh! by St. Mark you have, then, a mystery concealed in your hauberk?"
"No," said the French knight; "it is a perfectly natural thing. Here it is."
And rising suddenly from the table to prepare for bed, Gauttier showed to the Venetian the finest talisman to procure joy that he had ever seen.
"This," said the Frenchman, as they both got into bed together, according to the custom of the times, "overcomes every obstacle, by making itself master of female hearts; and as the ladies are the queens in this court, your friend Gauttier will soon reign there."
The Venetian remained in great astonishment at the sight of the secret charms of the said Gauttier, who had indeed been bounteously endowed by his mother, and perhaps also by his father; and would thus triumph over everything, since he joined to this corporeal perfection the wit of a young page, and the wisdom of an old devil. Then they swore an eternal friendship, regarding as nothing therein a woman's heart, vowing to have one and the same idea, as if their heads had been in the same helmet; and they fell asleep on the same pillow enchanted with this fraternity. This was a common occurrence in those days.
On the morrow the Venetian gave a fine horse to his friend Gauttier, also a purse full of money, fine silken hose, a velvet doublet, fringed with gold, and an embroidered mantle, which garments set off his figure so well, and showed up his beauties, that the Venetian was certain he would captivate all the ladies. The servants received orders to obey this Gauttier as they would himself, so that they fancied their master had been fishing, and had caught this Frenchman. Then the two friends made their entry into Palermo at the hour when the princes and princesses were taking the air. Pezare presented his French friend, speaking so highly of his merits, and obtaining such a gracious reception for him, that Leufroid kept him to supper. The knight kept a sharp eye on the Court, and noticed therein various curious little secret practices. If the king was a brave and handsome prince, the princess was a Spanish lady of high temperature, the most beautiful and most noble woman of his Court, but inclined to melancholy. Looking at her, the Touranian believed that she was sparingly embraced by the king, for the law of Touraine is that joy in the face comes from joy elsewhere. Pezare pointed out to his friend Gauttier several ladies to whom Leufroid was exceedingly gracious and who were exceedingly jealous and fought for him in a tournament of gallantries and wonderful female inventions. From all this Gauttier concluded that the prince went considerably astray with his court, although he had the prettiest wife in the world, and occupied himself with taxing the ladies of Sicily, in order that he might put his horse in their stables, vary his fodder, and learn the equestrian capabilities of many lands. Perceiving what a life Leufroid was leading, the Sire de Monsoreau, certain that no one in the Court had had the heart to enlighten the queen, determined at one blow to plant his halberd in the field of the fair Spaniard by a master stroke; and this is how. At supper-time, in order to show courtesy to the foreign knight, the king took care to place him near the queen, to whom the gallant Gauttier offered his arm, to take her into the room, and conducted her there hastily, to get ahead of those who were following, in order to whisper, first of all, a word concerning a subject which always pleases the ladies in whatever condition they may be. Imagine what this word was, and how it went straight through the stubble and weeds into the warm thicket of love.
"I know, your majesty, what causes your paleness of face."
"What?" said she.
"You are so loving that the king loves you night and day; thus you abuse your advantage, for he will die of love."
"What should I do to keep him alive?" said the queen.
"Forbid him to repeat at your altar more than three prayers a day."
"You are joking, after the French fashion, Sir Knight, seeing that the king's devotion to me does not extend beyond a short prayer a week."
"You are deceived," said Gauttier, seating himself at the table. "I can prove to you that love should go through the whole mass, matins, and vespers, with an Ave now and then, for queens as for simple women, and go through the ceremony every day, like the monks in their monastery, with fervour; but for you these litanies should never finish."
The queen cast upon the knight a glance which was far from one of displeasure, smiled at him, and shook her head.
"In this," said she, "men are great liars."
"I have with me a great truth which I will show you when you wish it." replied the knight. "I undertake to give you queen's fare, and put you on the high road to joy; by this means you will make up for lost time, the more so as the king is ruined through other women, while I shall reserve my advantage for your service."
"And if the king learns of our arrangement, he will put your head on a level with your feet."
"Even if this misfortune befell me it after the first night, I should believe I had lived a hundred years, from the joy therein received, for never have I seen, after visiting all Courts, a princess fit to hold a candle to your beauty. To be brief, if I die not by the sword, you will still be the cause of my death, for I am resolved to spend my life in your love, if life will depart in the place whence it comes."
Now this queen had never heard such words before, and preferred them to the most sweetly sung mass; her pleasure showed itself in her face, which became purple, for these words made her blood boil within her veins, so that the strings of her lute were moved thereat, and struck a sweet note that rang melodiously in her ears, for this lute fills with its music the brain and the body of the ladies, by a sweet artifice of their resonant nature. What a shame to be young, beautiful, Spanish, and queen, and yet neglected. She conceived an intense disdain for those of her Court who had kept their lips closed concerning this infidelity, through fear of the king, and determined to revenge herself with the aid of this handsome Frenchman, who cared so little for life that in his first words he had staked it in making a proposition to a queen, which was worthy of death, if she did her duty. Instead of this, however, she pressed his foot with her own, in a manner that admitted no misconception, and said aloud to him—
"Sir Knight, let us change the subject, for it is very wrong of you to attack a poor queen in her weak spot. Tell us the customs of the ladies of the Court of France."
Thus did the knight receive the delicate hint that the business was arranged. Then he commenced to talk of merry and pleasant things, which during supper kept the court, the king, the queen, and all the courtiers in a good humour; so much so that when the siege was raised, Leufroid declared that he had never laughed so much in his life. Then they strolled about the gardens, which were the most beautiful in the world, and the queen made a pretext of the chevalier's sayings to walk beneath a grove of blossoming orange trees, which yielded a delicious fragrance.
"Lovely and noble queen," said Gauttier, immediately, "I have seen in all countries the perdition of love have its birth in these first attentions, which we call courtesy; if you have confidence in me, let us agree, as people of high intelligence, to love each other without standing on so much ceremony; by this means no suspicion will be aroused, our happiness will be less dangerous and more lasting. In this fashion should queens conduct their amours, if they would avoid interference."
"Well said," said she. "But as I am new at this business, I did not know what arrangements to make."
"Have you are among your women one in whom you have perfect confidence?"
"Yes," said she; "I have a maid who came from Spain with me, who would put herself on a gridiron for me like St. Lawrence did for God, but she is always poorly."
"That's good," said her companion, "because you go to see her."
"Yes," said the queen, "and sometimes at night."
"Ah!" exclaimed Gauttier, "I make a vow to St. Rosalie, patroness of Sicily, to build her a gold altar for this fortune."
"O Jesus!" cried the queen. "I am doubly blessed in having a lover so handsome and yet so religious."
"Ah, my dear, I have two sweethearts today, because I have a queen to love in heaven above, and another one here below, and luckily these loves cannot clash one with the other."
This sweet speech so affected the queen, that for nothing she would have fled with this cunning Frenchman.
"The Virgin Mary is very powerful in heaven," said the queen. "Love grant that I may be like her!"
"Bah! they are talking of the Virgin Mary," said the king, who by chance had come to watch them, disturbed by a gleam of jealousy, cast into his heart by a Sicilian courtier, who was furious at the sudden favour which the Frenchman had obtained.
The queen and the chevalier laid their plans, and everything was secretly arranged to furnish the helmet of the king with two invisible ornaments. The knight rejoined the Court, made himself agreeable to everyone, and returned to the Palace of Pezare, whom he told that their fortunes were made, because on the morrow, at night, he would sleep with the queen. This swift success astonished the Venetian, who, like a good friend, went in search of fine perfumes, linen of Brabant, and precious garments, to which queens are accustomed, with all of which he loaded his friend Gauttier, in order that the case might be worthy the jewel.
"Ah, my friend," said he "are you sure not to falter, but to go vigorously to work, to serve the queen bravely, and give her such joys in her castle of Gallardin that she may hold on for ever to this master staff, like a drowning sailor to a plank?"
"As for that, fear nothing, dear Pezare, because I have the arrears of the journey, and I will deal with her as with a simple servant, instructing her in the ways of the ladies of Touraine, who understand love better than all others, because they make it, remake it, and unmake it to make it again and having remade it, still keep on making it; and having nothing else to do, have to do that which always wants doing. Now let us settle our plans. This is how we shall obtain the government of the island. I shall hold the queen and you the king; we will play the comedy of being great enemies before the eyes of the courtiers, in order to divide them into two parties under our command, and yet, unknown to all, we will remain friends. By this means we shall know their plots, and will thwart them, you by listening to my enemies and I to yours. In the course of a few days we will pretend to quarrel in order to strive one against the other. This quarrel will be caused by the favour in which I will manage to place you with the king, through the channel of the queen, and he will give you supreme power, to my injury."
On the morrow Gauttier went to the house of the Spanish lady, who before the courtiers he recognised as having known in Spain, and he remained there seven whole days. As you can imagine, the Touranian treated the queen as a fondly loved woman, and showed her so many terra incognita in love, French fashions, little tendernesses, etc., that she nearly lost her reason through it, and swore that the French were the only people who thoroughly understood love. You see how the king was punished, who, to keep her virtuous, had allowed weeds to grow in the grange of love. Their supernatural festivities touched the queen so strongly that she made a vow of eternal love to Montsoreau, who had awakened her, by revealing to her the joys of the proceeding. It was arranged that the Spanish lady should take care always to be ill; and that the only man to whom the lovers would confide their secret should be the court physician, who was much attached to the queen. By chance this physician had in his glottis, chords exactly similar to those of Gauttier, so that by a freak of nature they had the same voice, which much astonished the queen. The physician swore on his life faithfully to serve the pretty couple, for he deplored the sad desertion of this beautiful women, and was delighted to know she would be served as a queen should be—a rare thing.
A month elapsed and everything was going on to the satisfaction of the two friends, who worked the plans laid by the queen, in order to get the government of Sicily into the hands of Pezare, to the detriment of Montsoreau, whom the king loved for his great wisdom; but the queen would not consent to have him, because he was so ungallant. Leufroid dismissed the Duke of Cataneo, his principal follower, and put the Chevalier Pezare in his place. The Venetian took no notice of his friend the Frenchmen. Then Gauttier burst out, declaimed loudly against the treachery and abused friendship of his former comrade, and instantly earned the devotion of Cataneo and his friends, with whom he made a compact to overthrow Pezare. Directly he was in office the Venetian, who was a shrewd man, and well suited to govern states, which was the usual employment of Venetian gentlemen, worked wonders in Sicily, repaired the ports, brought merchants there by the fertility of his inventions and by granting them facilities, put bread into the mouths of hundreds of poor people, drew thither artisans of all trades, because fetes were always being held, and also the idle and rich from all quarters, even from the East. Thus harvests, the products of the earth, and other commodities, were plentiful; and galleys came from Asia, the which made the king much envied, and the happiest king in the Christian world, because through these things his Court was the most renowned in the countries of Europe. This fine political aspect was the result of the perfect agreement of the two men who thoroughly understood each other. The one looked after the pleasures, and was himself the delight of the queen, whose face was always bright and gay, because she was served according to the method of Touraine, and became animated through excessive happiness; and he also took care to keep the king amused, finding him every day new mistresses, and casting him into a whirl of dissipation. The king was much astonished at the good temper of the queen, whom, since the arrival of the Sire de Montsoreau in the island, he had touched no more than a Jew touches bacon. Thus occupied, the king and queen abandoned the care of their kingdom to the other friend, who conducted the affairs of government, ruled the establishment, managed the finances, and looked to the army, and all exceedingly well, knowing where money was to be made, enriching the treasury, and preparing all the great enterprises above mentioned.
The state of things lasted three years, some say four, but the monks of Saint Benoist have not wormed out the date, which remains obscure, like the reasons for the quarrel between the two friends. Probably the Venetian had the high ambition to reign without any control or dispute, and forgot the services which the Frenchman had rendered him. Thus do the men who live in Courts behave, for, according to the statements of the Messire Aristotle in his works, that which ages the most rapidly in this world is a kindness, although extinguished love is sometimes very rancid. Now, relying on the perfect friendship of Leufroid, who called him his crony, and would have done anything for him, the Venetian conceived the idea of getting rid of his friend by revealing to the king the mystery of his cuckoldom, and showing him the source of the queen's happiness, not doubting for a moment but that he would commence by depriving Monsoreau of his head, according to a practice common in Sicily under similar circumstances. By this means Pezare would have all the money that he and Gauttier had noiselessly conveyed to the house of a Lombard of Genoa, which money was their joint property on account of their fraternity. This treasure, increased on one side by the magnificent presents made to Montsoreau by the queen, who had vast estates in Spain, and other, by inheritance in Italy; on the other, by the king's gifts to his prime minister, to whom he also gave certain rights over the merchants, and other indulgences. The treacherous friend, having determined to break his vow, took care to conceal his intention from Gauttier, because the Touranian was an awkward man to tackle.
One night that Pezare knew that the queen was in bed with her lover, who loved him as though each night were a wedding one, so skilful was she at the business, the traitor promised the king to let him take evidence in the case, through a hole he had made in the wardrobe of the Spanish lady, who always pretended to be at death's door. In order to obtain a better view, Pezare waited until the sun had risen. The Spanish lady, who was fleet of foot, had a quick eye and a sharp ear, heard footsteps, peeped out, and perceiving the king, followed by the Venetian, through a crossbar in the closet in which she slept the night that the queen had her lover between two sheets, which is certainly the best way to have a lover. She ran to warn the couple of this betrayal. But the king's eye was already at the cursed hole, Leufroid saw—what?
That beautiful and divine lantern with burns so much oil and lights the world—a lantern adorned with the most lovely baubles, flaming, brilliantly, which he thought more lovely than all the others, because he had lost sight of it for so long a time that it appeared quite new to him; but the size of the hole prevented him seeing anything else except the hand of a man, which modestly covered the lantern, and he heard the voice of Montsoreau saying—
"How's the little treasure, this morning?" A playful expression, which lovers used jokingly, because this lantern is in all countries the sun of love, and for this the prettiest possible names are bestowed upon it, whilst comparing it to the loveliest things in nature, such as my pomegranate, my rose, my little shell, my hedgehog, my gulf of love, my treasure, my master, my little one; some even dared most heretically to say, my god! If you don't believe it, ask your friends.
At this moment the lady let him understand by a gesture that the king was there.
"Can he hear?" said the queen.
"Can he see?"
"Who brought him?"
"Fetch the physician, and get Gauttier into his own room." said the queen.
In less time than it takes a beggar to say "God bless you, sir!" the queen had swathed the lantern in linen and paint, so that you would have thought it a hideous wound in a state of grievous inflammation. When the king, enraged by what he overheard, burst open the door, he found the queen lying on the bed exactly as he has seen her through the hole, and the physician, examining the lantern swathed in bandages, and saying, "How it is the little treasure, this morning?" in exactly the same voice as the king had heard. A jocular and cheerful expression, because physicians and surgeons use cheerful words with ladies and treat this sweet flower with flowery phrases. This sight made the king look as foolish as a fox caught in a trap. The queen sprang up, reddening with shame, and asking what man dared to intrude upon her privacy at such a moment, but perceiving the king, she said to him as follows:—
"Ah! my lord, you have discovered that which I have endeavoured to conceal from you: that I am so badly treated by you that I am afflicted with a burning ailment, of which my dignity would not allow me to complain, but which needs secret dressing in order to assuage the influence of the vital forces. To save my honour and your own, I am compelled to come to my good Lady Miraflor, who consoles me in my troubles."
Then the physician commenced to treat Leufroid to an oration, interlarded with Latin quotations and precious grains from Hippocrates, Galen, the School of Salerno, and others, in which he showed him how necessary to women was the proper cultivation of the field of Venus, and that there was great danger of death to queens of Spanish temperament, whose blood was excessively amorous. He delivered himself of his arguments with great solemnity of feature, voice, and manner, in order to give the Sire de Montsoreau time to get to bed. Then the queen took the same text to preach the king a sermon as long as his arm, and requested the loan of that limb, that the king might conduct her to her apartment instead of the poor invalid, who usually did so in order to avoid calumny. When they were in the gallery where the Sire de Montsoreau resided, the queen said jokingly, "You should play a good trick on this Frenchman, who I would wager is with some lady, and not in his own room. All the ladies of Court are in love with him, and there will be mischief some day through him. If you had taken my advice he would not be in Sicily now."
Leufroid went suddenly into Gauttier's room, whom he found in a deep sleep, and snoring like a monk in Church. The queen returned with the king, whom she took to her apartments, and whispered to one of the guards to send to her the lord whose place Pezare occupied. Then, while she fondled the king, taking breakfast with him, she took the lord directly he came, into an adjoining room.
"Erect a gallows on the bastion," said she, "then seize the knight Pezare, and manage so that he is hanged instantly, without giving time to write or say a single word on any subject whatsoever. Such is our good pleasure and supreme command."
Cataneo made no remark. While Pezare was thinking to himself that his friend Gauttier would soon be minus his head, the Duke Cataneo came to seize and lead him on to bastion, from which he could see at the queen's window the Sire de Montsoreau in company with the king, the queen, and the courtiers, and came to the conclusion that he who looked after the queen had a better chance in everything than he who looked after the king.
"My dear," said the queen to her spouse, leading him to the window, "behold a traitor, who was endeavouring to deprive you of that which you hold dearest in the world, and I will give you the proofs when you have the leisure to study them."
Montsoreau, seeing the preparations for the final ceremony, threw himself at the king's feet, to obtain the pardon of him who was his mortal enemy, at which the king was much moved.
"Sire de Monsoreau," said the queen, turning towards him with an angry look, "are you so bold as to oppose our will and pleasure?"
"You are a noble knight," said the king, "but you do not know how bitter this Venetian was against you."
Pezare was delicately strangled between the head and the shoulders, for the queen revealed his treacheries to the king, proving to him, by the declaration of a Lombard of the town, the enormous sums which Pezare had in the bank of Genoa, the whole of which were given up to Montsoreau.
This noble and lovely queen died, as related in the history of Sicily, that is, in consequence of a heavy labour, during which she gave birth to a son, who was a man as great in himself as he was unfortunate in his undertakings. The king believed the physician's statement, that the said termination to this accouchement was caused by the too chaste life the queen had led, and believing himself responsible for it, he founded the Church of the Madonna, which is one of the finest in the town of Palermo. The Sire de Monsoreau, who was a witness of the king's remorse, told him that when a king got his wife from Spain, he ought to know that this queen would require more attention than any other, because the Spanish ladies were so lively that they equalled ten ordinary women, and that if he wished a wife for show only, he should get her from the north of Germany, where the women are as cold as ice. The good knight came back to Touraine laden with wealth, and lived there many years, but never mentioned his adventures in Sicily. He returned there to aid the king's son in his principal attempt against Naples, and left Italy when this sweet prince was wounded, as is related in the Chronicle.
Besides the high moralities contained in the title of this tale, where it is said that fortune, being female, is always on the side of the ladies, and that men are quite right to serve them well, it shows us that silence is the better part of wisdom. Nevertheless, the monkish author of this narrative seems to draw this other no less learned moral therefrom, that interest which makes so many friendships, breaks them also. But from these three versions you can choose the one that best accords with your judgment and your momentary requirement.
CONCERNING A POOR MAN WHO WAS CALLED LE VIEUX PAR-CHEMINS
The old chronicler who furnished the hemp to weave the present story, is said to have lived at the time when the affair occurred in the City of Rouen.
In the environs of this fair town, where at the time dwelt Duke Richard, an old man used to beg, whose name was Tryballot, but to whom was given the nickname of Le Vieux par-Chemins, or the Old Man of the Roads; not because he was yellow and dry as vellum, but because he was always in the high-ways and by-ways—up hill and down dale—slept with the sky for his counterpane, and went about in rags and tatters. Notwithstanding this, he was very popular in the duchy, where everyone had grown used to him, so much so that if the month went by without anyone seeing his cup held towards them, people would say, "Where is the old man?" and the usual answer was, "On the roads."
This said man had had for a father a Tryballot, who was in his lifetime a skilled artisan, so economical and careful, that he left considerable wealth to his son.
But the young lad soon frittered it away, for he was the very opposite of the old fellow, who, returning from the fields to his house, picked up, now here, now there, many a little stick of wood left right and left, saying, conscientiously, that one should never come home empty handed. Thus he warmed himself in the winter at the expense of the careless; and he did well. Everyone recognised what a good example this was for the country, since a year before his death no one left a morsel of wood on the road; he had compelled the most dissipated to be thrifty and orderly. But his son made ducks and drakes of everything, and did not follow his wise example. The father had predicted the thing. From the boy's earliest youth, when the good Tryballot set him to watch the birds who came to eat the peas, beans, and the grain, and to drive the thieves away, above all, the jays, who spoiled everything, he would study their habits, and took delight in watching with what grace they came and went, flew off loaded, and returned, watching with a quick eye the snares and nets; and he would laugh heartily at their cleverness in avoiding them. Tryballot senior went into a passion when he found his grain considerably less in a measure. But although he pulled his son's ears whenever he caught him idling and trifling under a nut tree, the little rascal did not alter his conduct, but continued to study the habits of the blackbirds, sparrows, and other intelligent marauders. One day his father told him that he would be wise to model himself after them, for that if he continued this kind of life, he would be compelled in his old age like them, to pilfer, and like them, would be pursued by justice. This came true; for, as has before been stated, he dissipated in a few days the crowns which his careful father had acquired in a life-time. He dealt with men as he did with the sparrows, letting everyone put a hand in his pocket, and contemplating the grace and polite demeanour of those who assisted to empty it. The end of his wealth was thus soon reached. When the devil had the empty money bag to himself, Tryballot did not appear at all cut up, saying, that he "did not wish to damn himself for this world's goods, and that he had studied philosophy in the school of the birds."
After having thoroughly enjoyed himself, of all his goods, there only remained to him a goblet bought at Landict, and three dice, quite sufficient furniture for drinking and gambling, so that he went about without being encumbered, as are the great, with chariots, carpets, dripping pans, and an infinite number of varlets. Tryballot wished to see his good friends, but they no longer knew him, which fact gave him leave no longer to recognise anyone. Seeing this, he determined to choose a profession in which there was nothing to do and plenty to gain. Thinking this over, he remembered the indulgences of the blackbirds and the sparrows. Then the good Tryballot selected for his profession that of begging money at people's houses, and pilfering. From the first day, charitable people gave him something, and Tryballot was content, finding the business good, without advance money or bad debts; on the contrary, full of accommodation. He went about it so heartily, that he was liked everywhere, and received a thousand consolations refused to rich people. The good man watched the peasants planting, sowing, reaping, and making harvest, and said to himself, that they worked a little for him as well. He who had a pig in his larder owed him a bit for it, without suspecting it. The man who baked a loaf in his oven often baked it for Tryballot without knowing it. He took nothing by force; on the contrary, people said to him kindly, while making him a present, "Here Vieux par-Chemins, cheer up, old fellow. How are you? Come, take this; the cat began it, you can finish it."
Vieux par-Chemins was at all the weddings, baptisms, and funerals, because he went everywhere where there was, openly or secretly, merriment and feasting. He religiously kept the statutes and canons of his order—namely, to do nothing, because if he had been able to do the smallest amount of work no one would ever give anything again. After having refreshed himself, this wise man would lay full length in a ditch, or against a church wall, and think over public affairs; and then he would philosophise, like his pretty tutors, the blackbirds, jays, and sparrows, and thought a great deal while mumping; for, because his apparel was poor, was that a reason his understanding should not be rich? His philosophy amused his clients, to whom he would repeat, by way of thanks, the finest aphorisms of his science. According to him, suppers produced gout in the rich: he boasted that he had nimble feet, because his shoemaker gave him boots that do not pinch his corns. There were aching heads beneath diadems, but his never ached, because it was touched neither by luxury nor any other chaplet. And again, that jewelled rings hinder the circulation of the blood. Although he covered himself with sores, after the manner of cadgers, you may be sure he was as sound as a child at the baptismal font.
The good man disported himself with other rogues, playing with his three dice, which he kept to remind him to spend his coppers, in order that he might always be poor. In spite of his vow, he was, like all the order of mendicants, so wealthy that one day at the Paschal feast, another beggar wishing to rent his profit from him, Vieux par-Chemins refused ten crowns for it; in fact, the same evening he spent fourteen crowns in drinking the health of the alms-givers, because it is the statutes of beggary that one should show one's gratitude to donors. Although he carefully got rid of that of which had been a source of anxiety to others, who, having too much wealth went in search of poverty, he was happier with nothing in the world than when he had his father's money. And seeing what are the conditions of nobility, he was always on the high road to it, because he did nothing except according to his fancy, and lived nobly without labour. Thirty crowns would not have got him out of a bed when he was in it. The morrow always dawned for him as it did for others, while leading this happy life; which, according to the statements of Plato, whose authority has more than once been invoked in these narratives, certain ancient sages had led before him. At last, Vieux par-Chemins reached the age of eighty-two years, having never been a single day without picking up money, and possessed the healthiest colour and complexion imaginable. He believed that if he had persevered in the race for wealth he would have been spoiled and buried years before. It is possible he was right.
In his early youth Vieux par-Chemins had the illustrious virtue of being very partial to the ladies; and his abundance of love was, it is said, the result of his studies among the sparrows. Thus it was that he was always ready to give the ladies his assistance in counting the joists, and this generosity finds its physical cause in the fact that, having nothing to do, he was always ready to do something. His secret virtues brought about, it is said, that popularity which he enjoyed in the provinces. Certain people say that the lady of Chaumont had him in her castle, to learn the truth about these qualities, and kept him there for a week, to prevent him begging. But the good man jumped over the hedges and fled in great terror of being rich. Advancing in age, this great quintessencer found himself disdained, although his notable faculties of loving were in no way impaired. This unjust turning away on the part of the female tribe caused the first trouble of Vieux par-Chemins, and the celebrated trial of Rouen, to which it is time I came.
In this eighty-second year of his age he was compelled to remain continent for about seven months, during which time he met no woman kindly disposed towards him; and he declared before the judge that that had caused the greatest astonishment of his long and honourable life. In this most pitiable state he saw in the fields during the merry month of May a girl, who by chance was a maiden, and minding cows. The heat was so excessive that this cowherdess had stretched herself beneath the shadow of a beech tree, her face to the ground, after the custom of people who labour in the fields, in order to get a little nap while her animals were grazing. She was awakened by the deed of the old man, who had stolen from her that which a poor girl could only lose once. Finding herself ruined without receiving from the process either knowledge or pleasure, she cried out so loudly that the people working in the fields ran to her, and were called upon by her as witnesses, at the time when that destruction was visible in her which is appropriate only to a bridal night. She cried and groaned, saying that the old ape might just as well have played his tricks on her mother, who would have said nothing.
He made answer to the peasants, who had already raised their hoes to kill him, that he had been compelled to enjoy himself. These people objected that a man can enjoy himself very well without enjoying a maiden—a case for the provost, which would bring him straight to the gallows; and he was taken with great clamour to the jail of Rouen.
The girl, interrogated by the provost, declared that she was sleeping in order to do something, and that she thought she was dreaming of her lover, with whom she was then at loggerheads, because before marriage he wished to take certain liberties: and jokingly, in this dream she let him reconnoiter to a certain extent, in order to avoid any dispute afterwards, and that in spite of her prohibitions he went further than she had given him leave to go, and finding more pain than pleasure in the affair, she had been awakened by Vieux par-Chemins, who had attacked her as a gray-friar would a ham at the end of lent.
This trial caused so great a commotion in the town of Rouen that the provost was sent for by the duke, who had an intense desire to know if the thing were true. Upon the affirmation of the provost, he ordered Vieux par-Chemins to be brought to his palace, in order that he might hear what defence he had to make. The poor old fellow appeared before the prince, and informed him naively of the misfortune which his impulsive nature brought upon him, declaring that he was like a young fellow impelled by imperious desires; that up to the present year he had sweethearts of his own, but for the last eight months he had been a total abstainer; that he was too poor to find favour with the girls of the town; that honest women who once were charitable to him, had taken a dislike to his hair, which had feloniously turned white in spite of the green youth of his love, and that he felt compelled to avail himself of the chance when he saw this maiden, who, stretched at full length under the beech tree, left visible the lining of her dress and two hemispheres, white as snow, which had deprived him of reason; that the fault was the girl's and not his, because young maidens should be forbidden to entice passers-by by showing them that which caused Venus to be named Callipyge; finally the prince ought to be aware what trouble a man had to control himself at the hour of noon, because that was the time of day at which King David was smitten with the wife of the Sieur Uriah, that where a Hebrew king, beloved of God, had succumbed, a poor man, deprived of all joy, and reduced to begging for his bread, could not expect to escape; that for that matter of that, he was quite willing to sing psalms for the remainder of his days, and play upon a lute by way of penance, in imitation of the said king, who had had the misfortune to slay a husband, while he had only done a trifling injury to a peasant girl. The duke listened to the arguments of Vieux par-Chemins, and said that he was a man of good parts. Then he made his memorable decree, that if, as this beggar declared, he had need of such gratification at his age he gave permission to prove it at the foot of the ladder which he would have to mount to be hanged, according to the sentence already passed on him by the provost; that if then, the rope being round his neck, between the priest and the hangman, a like desire seized him he should have a free pardon.