"She has got the best part of all religions if she does her best for the people about her," said the Whaup.
"Thomas," remonstrated the minister severely, "you are not competent to judge of these things."
Coquette's second error was to play the piano on a Sabbath morning. She was stopped in this hideous offence by the housekeeper, Leezibeth.
"Is the Manse to be turned topsalteery, and made a byword a' because o' a foreign hussy?" asked Leezibeth.
"Look here," said the Whaup, trying to comfort his weeping cousin, "you can depend on me. When you get into trouble, send for me, and if any man or woman in Airlie says a word to you, by jingo I'll punch their head!"
The discovery of a crucifix over the head of the maiden's bed filled full the cup of Leezibeth's wrath and indignation.
"I thought the Cross was a symbol of all religions," said Coquette humbly. "If it annoys you, I will take it down. My mother gave it to me—I cannot put it away altogether."
"You shall not part with it," said the Whaup. "Let me see the man or woman who will touch that crucifix, though it had on it the woman o' Babylon herself!"
But the Whaup himself was troubled by the acquaintance of Coquette with Lord Earlshope, which, from a casual meeting, developed with startling rapidity.
His lordship's reputation in the parish was far from good. He never attended the kirk; was seen walking about with his dogs and smoking on the Sabbath; and even, it was said, read novels on that holy day. His appearance in church on the first Sunday after Coquette's arrival in Airlie was not difficult to explain, and it was followed by interchanges of visits between the Manse and Earlshope House.
Soon the young lord and Coquette began to meet when she was taking her early walk, a form of "carrying on" which outraged the sentiments of the parish, and caused the Whaup to announce his intention of "giving her up" and going to sea.
The alienation of the Whaup made Coquette very miserable, and when her uncle discovered her walking alone with Lord Earlshope, she tearfully requested to be allowed to go back to France.
"I am suspected," she sobbed, in her foreign English; "I do hear they talk of me as dangerous. Is it wrong for me to speak to Lord Earlshope when I do see him kind to me? Since I left France I did meet no one so courteous as he has been. He does not think me wicked because I have a crucifix my mother gave me, and he does not suspect me."
Her second conquest—for the Whaup, on seeing her dejection, had relented and returned to his allegiance—was Leezibeth, and it was by music she was won. Coquette was playing and singing "The Flowers o' the Forest," when Leezibeth crept in, and said shamefacedly:
"Will ye sing that again, miss? Maybe ye'll no ken that me and Andrew had a boy—a bit laddie that dee'd when he was but seven years auld—and he used to sing the 'Flowers o' the Forest' afore a' the ither songs, and ye sing it that fine it makes a body amaist like to greet."
And from that day Leezibeth was the slave of Coquette; but, for the most part, the thoughts of her neighbours were no kinder to the gay and spontaneous "daughter of Heth" from the sunny South than were the grey and dreary skies of Scotland.
II.—The Lovers of Coquette
When Sir Peter and Lady Drum returned to Castle Cawmil, their home in the neighbourhood of Airlie, Lady Drum, whose joy it was to doctor her friends, prescribed at once a cruise for the drooping Coquette. And Lord Earlshope lent his yacht, and accompanied the party as a visitor. The minister, looking back anxiously at his parish, Coquette, and the Whaup, joined the party from the Manse.
On Coquette the cruise worked wonders. She recovered her spirits, and her cheeks flushed with happiness.
"You're a pretty invalid," said the Whaup to Coquette as they went ashore for a scramble. "Give me your hand if you want climbing, and I'll give you enough of it."
"No," said Coquette, "I will not be pulled by a big, rough boy; but when you are gentle like Lord Earlshope, I like you." Then, lest Tom should be hurt, she added: "You are a very good boy, Tom, and somebody will get very fond of you some day."
From that moment the Whaup grew more serious, and ceased his boyish tricks.
"I think your cousin is very fond of you," said the good-natured Lady Drum to Coquette. "Don't you think that some day or other he will ask you to marry him?"
"It may be," replied Coquette dubiously. "I do not know, because my uncle has not spoken to me of any such thing; but he may think it a good marriage, and arrange it." A French view of marriage that greatly astonished Lady Drum.
The new sense of responsibility that had come to the Whaup determined him to return at once to Glasgow, and resume his studies. When Coquette heard this she became sad and wistful.
"I hope," she said, "I shall be always the same to you, if you come back in one year—two years—ten years."
And the Whaup thought that, if she would only wait two years he would work to such purpose as to be able to ask her to marry him.
Before the cruise was ended, Lord Earlshope, who had the lonely man's habit of playing spectator to his own emotions, informed Coquette, in an impersonal way, that he had fallen in love with her.
"You are not responsible," said he, shrugging his shoulders and speaking without bitterness. "All I ask is that you give me the benefit of your sympathy. I have been flying my kite too near the thunder-cloud. And what business had a man of my age with a kite?"
"I am very sorry," she said softly.
After this confession Coquette tried to avoid him as much as possible; but one evening while she was sitting alone on deck, watching the sunset on wild Loch Scavaig, he came to her and told her he was going away. He held out his hand, but she made no response. What was it he heard in the stillness of the night? Moved by a great fear he knelt down, and looked into her drooping face. She was sobbing bitterly. Then there broke on him a revelation more terrible than his own sorrow.
"Why are you distressed? It is nothing to you—my going away? It cannot be anything to you surely?"
"It is very much," she said, with a calmness of despair that startled him. "I cannot bear it."
"What have I done! What have I done!" he exclaimed. "Coquette, Coquette, tell me you do not mean this! You do not understand my position. What you say would be to any other man a joy unspeakable—the beginning of a new life to him; but to me——" And he turned away with a shudder.
It was she who was the comforter in the presence of an impossible love. Taking his hand gently, she said in a quiet voice: "I do not know what you mean; but you must not accuse yourself for me. I have made a confession—it was right to do that for you were going away. Now you will go away knowing I am still your friend, that I shall think of you sometimes: though I shall pray never to see you any more until we are old people, and may meet and laugh at the old stupid folly."
"It shall not end thus!" he cried. "Let the past be past, Coquette, and the future ours. Let us seek a new country for ourselves. Let me take you away, and make for you a new world. Why should we two be for ever miserable? Coquette——"
"I am afraid of you now," she said, drawing back in fear. "What are you? Ah, I do see another face!" And, staggering, she fell insensible on the deck as the minister approached.
That night Lord Earlshope left the yacht, and this was his parting message, written on a slip of paper: "I was mad last night. I do not know what I said. Forgive me, for I cannot forgive myself."
A winter's illness followed the strain of these emotional scenes, but with the spring Coquette resumed her morning moorland walks, and drank in new life from the warm, sweet breezes. One morning, she came face to face with Lord Earlshope. With only a second's pause she stepped forward and offered him her hand.
"Have you really forgiven me?" he asked.
"That is all over," she said, "and forgotten. It does no good to bring it back."
"How very good you are! I have wandered all over Europe, feeling as though I had the brand of Cain on my forehead."
"That is nonsense," said Coquette. "Your talk of Cain, your going away, your fears—I do not understand it at all."
"No," said he. "Nor would you ever understand without a series of explanations I have not the courage to make."
"I do not understand," she replied; "why all this secrecy—all this mystery?"
"And I cannot tell you now," he said.
"I wish not to have any more whys," she said impatiently. "Explanations, they never do good between friends. I am satisfied if you come to the Manse and become as you were once. That is sufficient."
She tried hard to keep the conversation on the level of friendship; but when at last she turned to leave him, ere she knew, his arms were around her, and kisses were being showered on her forehead and on her lips.
"Let me go—let me go!" she pleaded piteously. "Oh, what have we done?"
"We have sealed our fate," said he, with a haggard look. "I have fought against this for many a day; but now, Coquette, won't you look up and give me one kiss before we part?"
But her downcast face was pale and deathlike, and finally she said: "I cannot speak to you now. To-morrow, or next day—perhaps we shall meet."
The next day she met him again, and told him she was going to Glasgow with Lady Drum to see her cousin, the Whaup.
"I wonder," said Earlshope, "if he hopes to win your love, and is working there with the intention of coming back and asking you to be his wife."
"And if that will make him happy," she said slowly and with absent eyes, "I will do that if he demands it."
"You will marry him, and make him fancy that you love him?"
"No, I should tell him everything. I should tell him he deserves to marry a woman who has never loved anyone but himself, and yet that I will be his wife if his marrying me will alone make him happy."
"But, Coquette—don't you see it cannot end here?" he said almost desperately. "You do not know the chains in which I am bound; and I dare not tell you."
"No; I do not wish to know. It is enough for me to be beside you now, and if it should all prove bad and sorrowful, I shall remember that once I walked with you here, and we had no thought of ill, and were for a little while happy."
Talk of Glasgow being a sombre, grey city! To the Whaup it seemed that the empty pavements were made of gold; that the fronts of the houses were shining with a happy light; and the air full of a delicious tingling. For did not the great city hold in it Coquette? And as he sped his boots clattered "Coquette! Coquette! Coquette!" And presently he was taking her out for a walk, and cunningly drawing near to a trysting well.
"Coquette," he said suddenly, "do you know that lovers used to meet here, and join their hands over the well, and swear they would marry each other some day? Coquette, if you would only give me your hand now! I will wait any time—I have waited already, Coquette."
"Oh, do not say any more. I will do anything for you, but not that—not that." And then, a moment afterwards, she added: "Or see; I will promise to marry you, if you like, after many, many years—only not now—not within a few years."
"What is the matter, Coquette? Does it grieve you to think of what I ask?"
"No, no!" she said, hurriedly, "it is right of you to ask it—and I—I must say Yes. My uncle does expect it, does he not? And you yourself, Tom, you have been very good to me, and if only this will make you happy I will be your wife, but not until after many years."
"If you only knew how proud and happy you have made me!" exclaimed Tom, gaily. "I call upon the leaves of the trees, and all the drops in the river, and all the light in the air to bear witness that I have won Coquette for my wife."
"Ah, you foolish boy!" she said sadly. "You have given me a dangerous name. But no matter; if it pleases you to-day to think I shall be your wife, I am glad."
III.—The Opening of the Gates
Coquette, who loved the sunshine as a drunkard loves drink, was seated in the park in Glasgow, reading a book under her sunshade, when Lord Earlshope walked up to the place where she sat.
"Ah, it is you! I do wish much to see you for a few moments," she said. "First, I must tell you I have promised to my cousin to be his wife. I did tell you I should do that; now it is done, and he is glad. And so, as I am to be his wife, I do not think it is right I should see you any more."
"Coquette," he said, "have you resolved to make your life miserable? What have you done?"
"I have done what I ought to do. My cousin is very good; he is very fond of me; he will break his heart if I do not marry him. And I do like him very well, too. Perhaps in some years it will be a pleasure to me to be his wife."
"Coquette," he interrupted, "you do not blame me for being unable to help you. I am going to tell you why I cannot. Many a time have I determined to cell you."
"Ah, I know," she said. "You will tell me something you have done. I do not wish to hear it. I have often seen you about to tell me a secret, and sometimes I have wondered, too, and wished to know; but then I did think there was enough trouble in the world without adding to it."
Someone came along the road, came as if to sit on the seat with them—a woman with a coarse, red face and unsteady black eyes, full of mischievous amusement.
Lord Earlshope rose and faced the stranger.
"You had better go home," he said to her. "I give you fair warning, you had better go home."
"Why," said the woman, with a loud laugh. "You have not said as much to me for six years back! My dear," she added, looking at Coquette, "I am sorry to have disturbed you; but do you know who I am? I am Lady Earlshope!"
"Coquette," said Earlshope, "that is my wife."
When the woman had walked away, laughing and kissing her hand in tipsy fashion, Coquette came a step nearer, and held out her hand.
"I know it all now," she said, "and am very sorry for you. I do now know the reason of many things, and I cannot be angry when we are going away from each other. Good-bye. I will hear of you sometimes through Lady Drum."
"Good-bye, Coquette," he said, "and God bless you for your gentleness, and your sweetness, and your forgiveness."
It was to Lady Drum that Coquette made her confession that day.
"I do love him better than everything in the world—and I cannot help it. And now he is gone, and I shall never see him again, and I would like to see him only once to say I am sorry for him."
Coquette returned to Airlie, and tried to find peace in homely duties in the village. As time went on the Whaup pressed for the marriage day to be named, but he could not awake in her hopes for the future. Then, one dull morning in March, as she walked by herself over the Moor, Lord Earlshope was by her side, saying: "Coquette, have you forgotten nothing, as I have forgotten nothing?" And she was saying: "I love you, dearest, more than ever."
"Listen, Coquette, listen!" he said. "A ship passes here in the morning for America; I have taken two berths in it for you and me; to-morrow we shall be sailing away to a new world, and leaving all these troubles behind. You remember that woman—nothing has been heard of her for two years. I have sought her everywhere. She must be dead. And so we shall be married when we get there. The yacht will be waiting off Saltcoats to-night; you must go down by yourself, and the gig shall come for you, and we shall intercept the ship."
A little while thereafter Coquette was on her way back to the Manse alone. She had promised to go down to Saltcoats that night, and had sealed her sin with a kiss.
It was a wild, strange night that she stole out of the house, leaving behind her all the sweet consciousness of rectitude and the purity and innocence which had enabled her to meet trials with a courageous heart—leaving behind the crown of womanhood, the treasure of a stainless name. Every moment the storm grew in intensity, till the rain-clouds were blown upon the land in hissing torrents. At last, just as she saw before her the lights of Saltcoats, she sank down by the roadside with a faint cry of "Uncle! Uncle!"
When she came to herself, in a neighbour's house, a letter was given her from Lord Earlshope, saying that he could not exact from her the sacrifice he had proposed, and incur for both the penalty of remorse and misery; so he would leave for America alone.
Even as she was reading the letter, the report reached Saltcoats that the yacht had gone down in the storm, and Lord Earlshope was beyond the reach of accusation and defence.
She married the Whaup, but was never again the old Coquette, and though Tom tried hopefully to charm her back to cheerfulness, she faded month by month. It was not till the end was drawing near that she was told of the death of Lord Earlshope, and her last journey was to Saltcoats to see the wild waste of waters that were his grave.
There came a night when she beckoned her husband to her and asked him in a scarcely audible voice: "Tom, am I going to die?" And when in answer he could only look at her sad eyes, she said: "I am not sorry. It will be better for you and everyone; and you will not blame me because I could not make your life more happy for you—it was all a misfortune, my coming to this country."
"Coquette, Coquette," he said, beside himself with grief, "if you are going to die, I will go with you, too—see, I will hold your hand, and when the gates are open, I will not let you go—I will go with you, Coquette."
Scarce half an hour afterwards the gates opened, and she silently passed through, while a low cry broke from his lips: "So near—so near! And I cannot go with her, too!"
* * * * *
R. D. BLACKMORE
Richard Doddridge Blackmore, one of the most famous English novelists of the last generation, was born on June 9, 1825, at Longworth, Berkshire, of which parish his father was vicar. Like John Ridd, the hero of "Lorna Doone," he was educated at Blundell's School, Tiverton. An early marriage with a beautiful Portuguese girl, and a long illness, forced him to live for some years in hard and narrow circumstances. Happily, in 1860, he came, unexpectedly, into a considerable fortune. Settling down at Teddington, he divided his life between the delights of gardening and the pleasures of literature; cultivating his vines, peaches, nectarines, pears, and strawberries, and writing, first, sensational stories, and then historical romances. In 1869, with his third attempt in fiction, "Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor," he suddenly became famous as a novelist, and acted as the pioneer of the new romantic movement in fiction which R. L. Stevenson and other brilliant writers afterwards carried on. Lorna Doone is the most famous of his heroines, but in "Cradock Nowell," a fine tale of the New Forest, in "Alice Lorraine," a story of the South Downs, and in "The Maid of Sker," he has depicted womanly types equal in charm to Lorna. He died at Teddington on January 20, 1900.
I.—An Adventure in Glen Doone
Two miles below our farm at Oare, the Bagworthy water runs into the Lynn, but though I fished nearly every stream in our part of Exmoor in my boyhood, it was a long time before I dared go those two miles. For the water flowed out of Glen Doone, where the Doones had settled, and I had good reason to be afraid of this wild band of outlaws. It was an unhappy day for everybody on Exmoor when Sir Ensor Doone was outlawed by good King Charles, and came with his tall sons and wild retainers to the Bagworthy water.
This befell in 1640. At first, the newcomers were fairly quiet, and what little sheep-stealing they did was overlooked. But in the troublous times of the Great Rebellion they grew bolder and fiercer; they attacked men and burnt farms and carried off women, and all Exmoor stood in fear and terror of them. None of the Doones was under six feet, and there were forty and more of them, and they were all true marksmen. The worst thing they did was to murder my father, John Ridd, in the year 1673, when I was twelve years of age.
That was why I was afraid to fish the Bagworthy water. But I spent a good deal of time in learning to shoot straight with my father's gun; I sent pretty well all the lead gutter round our little church into our best barn door, a thing which has often repented me since, especially as churchwarden. When, however, I was turned fourteen years old, and put into small clothes, and worsted hosen knitted by my dear mother, I set out with a loach-fork to explore the Bagworthy water. It was St. Valentine's day, 1676, as I well remember. After wading along Lynn stream, I turned into the still more icy-cold current of Bagworthy water, where I speared an abundance of loaches. I was stopped at last by a great black whirlpool, into which a slide of water came thundering a hundred yards down a cliff. My bare legs were weak and numbed with cold, and twilight was falling in the wild, narrow glen. So I was inclined to turn back. But then I said to myself: "John Ridd, the place is making a coward of thee."
With that, I girt up my breeches anew, and slung the fish tighter round my neck, and began to climb up through the water-slide. The green wave came down on me and my feet gave way, but I held with my loach-fork to a rock, and got my footing. How I got up, I cannot remember, but I fainted on reaching the top of the cliff.
When I came to, a little girl was kneeling by me, and rubbing my forehead tenderly with a dock-leaf.
"Oh, I am glad!" she said. "Now you will try to be better, won't you?"
I had never heard so sweet a sound as came from her red lips; neither had I ever seen anything so beautiful as the large, dark eyes intent upon me, in pity and wonder. Her long black hair fell on the grass, and among it—like an early star—was the first primrose of the year. And since that day, I think of her whenever I see an early primrose.
"How you are looking at me!" I said. "I have never seen anyone like you before. My name is John Ridd. What is your name?"
"My name is Lorna Doone," she replied, in a low voice, and hanging her head.
Young and harmless as she was, her name made guilt of her. Yet I could not help looking at her tenderly. And when she began to cry, what did I do but kiss her. This made her angry, but we soon became friends again, and fell to talking about ourselves. Suddenly a shout rang through the valley, and Lorna trembled, and put her cheek close to mine.
"Oh, they will find us together and kill us," she said.
"Come with me," I whispered. "I can carry you down the waterfall."
"No, no!" she cried, as I took her up. "You see that hole in the rock there? There is a way out from the top of it."
I hid myself just in time, and a dozen tall, fierce-looking men found Lorna seemingly lying asleep on the grass. One of them took her tenderly in his arms and carried her away. I then waited until it was full dark, and crept to the hole that Lorna had pointed out.
The fright I had taken that night satisfied me for a long time thereafter; not that I did not think of Lorna and wish very often to see her. But I was only a boy, and inclined, therefore, to despise young girls. Besides, our farm of five hundred acres was the largest in Oare, and I had to work very hard on it. But the work did me good; I grew four inches longer every year, and two inches wider, until there was no man of my size to be seen elsewhere upon Exmoor, and I also won the belt of the championship for wrestling in the West Counties.
II.—John Ridd Goes A-Wooing
Seven years went by before I climbed up Glen Doone again. The occasion was a strange one. My uncle, Ben Huckaback, was robbed by the Doones on his way to our farm, and he was mighty vexed with their doings. This time the outlaws met their match, for Uncle Ben was one of the richest men in the West Counties, and, moreover, he was well acquainted with the most powerful and terrible man in England. I mean the famous Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys.
"I am going to London, my boy," he said to me, "to get these scoundrel Doones shot or hanged. I want you, while I am gone, to go to the place where they live, and see how the troops I shall bring can best attack them."
This put other thoughts in my head. I waited till St. Valentine's day, and then I dressed myself in my best clothes, and went up the Bagworthy water. The stream, which once had taken my knees, now came only to my ankles, and with no great difficulty I climbed to the top of the cliff. Here I beheld the loveliest sight, one glimpse of which was enough to make me kneel in the coldest water. Lorna was coming singing towards me! I could not see what her face was, my heart so awoke and trembled; only that her hair was flowing from a wreath of white violets. She turned to fly, frightened, perhaps, at my great size; but I fell on the grass, as I had fallen seven years agone that day, and just said: "Lorna Doone!"
"Master Ridd, are you mad," she said. "The patrol will be here presently."
She led me, with many timid glances, to the hole in the rock which she had shown me before; by the right of this was a crevice, hung with green ivy, which opened into a mossy cave about twenty feet across.
"We shall be safe from interruption here," said Lorna, "for I begged Sir Ensor that this place might be looked on as my bower."
I had much ado, however, to get through the crevice, and, instead of being proud of my size, as it seemed to me she ought to be, Lorna laughed at me. Thereupon it went hard with me not to kiss her, only it smote me that this would be a low advantage of her trust and helplessness. She seemed to know what I would be at, and she liked me for my forbearance, because she was not in love with me yet. As we sat in her bower, she talked about her dear self, and her talk was sad.
"Ah, Master Ridd," she said, "you have a mother who loves you, and sisters, and a quiet home. You do not know what loneliness is. I get so full of anger at the violence and wickedness around me that I dare not give way to speech. It is scarcely a twelvemonth since my cousin, Lord Alan Brandir, came from London and tried to rescue me. Carver Doone killed him before my eyes. Ah, you know Carver!"
Ay, I did. It was he who slew my father. I would not tell Lorna this, but in my slow way I began, to look forward to meeting Carver Doone, not for my father's sake—I had forgiven that—but for Lorna's. I boded some harm to her, and before I left I arranged that if she were ever in need of help she should hang a black mantle on a stone that I could see from a neighbouring hill.
When I got home, I found a king's messenger waiting for me, and, to the alarm of my dear mother and my sisters, I was taken to London to be examined by Chief Justice Jeffreys touching the Doone. He was a fierce-looking man, with a bull-head, but he used me kindly—maybe for Uncle Ben's sake—and I got back to Exmoor, none the worse for my journey to the great city of London. But I lost all delight in my homecoming when I went to the hill overlooking Glen Doone, and saw that the stone was covered with a mantle. Off I set to climb the cliff above the Bagworthy water, and there I found Lorna in a sad state of mind.
"Oh, John," she said, "Carver Doone is trying to force me to marry him. Where have you been? Tis two months since I gave the signal."
Thereupon I told her of my travels to London, and when she learnt that my seeming negligence of her was nothing but my wretched absence far away, the tears fell from her eyes, and she came and sat so close beside me that I trembled like a folded sheep at the bleating of her lamb.
"Dearest darling of my life!" I whispered through her clouds of hair, "I love you more than heart can hold in silence! I have waited long and long, and, though I am so far below you, I can wait no longer!"
"You have been very faithful, John," she murmured to the fern and moss. "You are the bravest and the kindest and the simplest of all men, and I like you very much."
"That will not do for me!" I said. "I will not have liking! I must have your heart of hearts, even as you have mine, Lorna!"
She glanced up shyly through her fluttering lashes. Then she opened wide upon me all the glorious depth and softness of her eyes, and flung both arms around my neck.
"Darling," she cried, "you have won it all! I shall never be my own again. I am yours for ever and ever!"
I am sure I know not what I did or said thereafter, being overcome with transport by her words and her eyes.
"Hush!" said Lorna suddenly, drawing me away from the entrance to her bower. "Here is Carver Doone!"
A great man was coming leisurely down the valley, and the light was still good enough for me to descry his features through the ivy screen. Though I am not a good judge of men's faces, there was something in his which gave me a feeling of horror. Not that it was an ugly face; nay, rather; it seemed a handsome one, full of strength and vigour and resolution; but there was a cruel hankering in his steel-blue eyes. Yet, he did not daunt me. Here, I saw, was a man of strength yet for me to encounter, such as I had never met, but would be glad to meet, having found no man of late who needed not my mercy at wrestling or singlestick. My heart was hot against him. And, though he carried a carbine, I would have been at him, maybe ere he could use it, but for the presence of Lorna. So I crouched down until Carver Doone departed, and then, because she feared for my safety, I returned home.
III.—Love Amid the Snows
I found the king's messenger waiting again for me. He was a small, but keen-witted man called Jeremy Stickler, and I liked his company. He now came upon a graver business than conducting me to London. He held a royal commission to raise the train-bands of Somerset and Devon, and he brought a few troops with him, and made our farm his headquarters. He had been sent in hot haste by Chief Justice Jeffreys to destroy the Doones who were likely now to pay dearly for robbing my Uncle Ben. I was not, however, as pleased with the arrival of Jeremy Stickler as he expected, for I bethought myself how Lorna would fare in the wild fighting.
The next evening, I went to her bower to tell her of the matter, but she was not there. Then the snow began to fall, and still I clambered up the cliff, and waited at the end of the valley every hour of the day and far into the night. But no light footstep came to meet me, and no sweet voice was in the air. At last I resolved upon a desperate and difficult enterprise, for I was well-nigh mad with anxiety. I would go to Lorna's house, and find out at all costs what had befallen her. But though I knew fairly well where her house was in Doone village, I was perplexed how to get there. I could not even get to her bower; for in the night a great snow-storm broke over the country—the worst since 1625. Our farm was drifted up, and in some places the snow was thirty and fifty feet deep. Travel of any sort seemed impossible. But my elder sister, Lizzie, whom I looked down on because she was always reading books instead of helping my mother as Annie did, came to my help. She had a wonderful lot of book learning—much more than I ever got, though father had sent me to the famous grammar school at Tiverton founded by Master Blundell. She now showed me how to make some strange contrivances called snowshoes, which men use in very cold countries. Having learnt how to glide about in them, I set off to find Lorna.
By good fortune, when I got to Glen Doone, where the waterfall had frozen into rough steps, easy to climb, the snow came on again, thick enough to blind a man who had not spent his time among it as I had for days and days. The weather drove all the Doones indoors, and I found Lorna's house almost drifted up like our farm, but got at last to the door and knocked. I was not sure but that the answer might not be the mouth of a carbine; but Gwenny Carfax, a little Cornish maid attached to my Lorna, opened it, and said when she saw me:
"Master Ridd! I wish you was good to eat. Us be shut in here and starving."
The look of wolfish hunger in her eyes frightened me, and I strode in and found Lorna fainting for want of food. Happily, I had a good loaf of bread and a large mince pie, which I had brought in case I had to bide out all night. When Lorna and her maid had eaten these, I heard the tale of their sufferings. Sir Ensor Doone was dead, and Carver Doone was now the leader; and he was trying to starve Lorna into agreeing to marry him.
"If I warrant to bring you safe and sound to our farm, Lorna, will you come with me?" I said.
"To be sure I will, dear," said my darling. "I must either starve or go with you, John."
Our plans were soon made. I went home with the utmost speed, and got out our light pony-sled and dragged it to the top of the waterfall near my darling's bower. It was well I returned quickly. When I entered Lorna's house I saw, by the moonlight flowing in, a sight which drove me beyond sense. Lorna was crouching behind a chair in utter terror, and a drunken Doone was trying to draw the chair away. I bore him out of the house as lightly as I would a baby, but I squeezed his throat a little more than I would an infant's; then I pitched him into a snow-drift, and he did not move.
It was no time to linger. I ran with Lorna in my arms to the sled, and Gwenny followed. Then, with my staff from rock to rock, I broke the sled's too rapid way down the frozen waterfall, and brought my darling safely out of Glen Doone by the selfsame path which first led me up to her. In an hour's time she was under my roof, and my dear mother and my sisters were tending her and Gwenny, for they both were utterly worn out by their cruel privations.
IV.—A Night of Fire and Blood
It gave me no little pleasure to think how mad Carver Doone must be with me for robbing him of the lovely bride whom he was trying to starve into marriage. However, I was not pleased with the prospect of the consequences; but set all hands to work to prepare for the attack on the farm which I saw would follow when the paths were practicable. By the time the rain fell and cleared the snow away, I had everything ready. The outlaws waited till the moon was risen, as it was dangerous to cross the flooded valley in the darkness, and then they rode into our farmyard as coolly as if they had been invited. Jeremy Stickler and his troopers were waiting in the shadow of the house, and I stood with a club and a gun in the mow-yard, for I knew the Doones would begin by firing our ricks.
"Two of you go"—it was the deep voice of Carver Doone—"and make us a light to cut their throats by."
As he spoke I set my gun against his breast. Yet—will you believe me?—I could not pull the trigger. Would to God I had done so! But I had never taken human life. I dropped my carbine, and grasped my club, which seemed a more straightforward implement. With this I struck down the first man that put a torch to the rick, and broke the collar-bone of the second. Then a blaze of light came from the house, and two of the Doones fell under the fire of the troopers, and the rest hung back. They were not used to this kind of reception from farmers; they thought it neither kind nor courteous. Unable any longer to contain myself, I came across the yard. But no one shot at me; and I went up to Carver Doone and took him by the beard, and said: "Do you call yourself a man?"
He was so astonished that he could not speak. He saw he had met his equal, or perhaps his master. He held a pistol at me; but I was too quick for him, and I laid him flat upon his back.
"Now, Carver Doone, take warning," I said to him. "You have shown yourself a fool by your contempt of me. I may not be your match in craft; but I am in manhood. Lay low there in your native muck."
Seeing him down, the others broke and ran, but one had a shot at me. And while I was feeling my wound—which was nothing much—Carver arose and strode away with a train of curses.
But he had his revenge in a short time. Jeremy Stickler brought up two train-bands to storm Glen Doone, and they were beaten off with considerable loss. Then I took the matter up, just when the Doones were emboldened by their victory to commit fresh crimes; or rather, the leadership was thrust upon me. Carver Doone and one of his men entered the house of Kit Badcock, one of my neighbours, and killed his baby and carried off his wife. Kit wandered about half crazy, and the people came flocking about me, and asked me to lead them against the Doones. I resolved on a night-assault, and divided the men into two parties. The Doone-gate was, I knew, impregnable, and it was there that the train- bands had failed. I pretended to attack it, but led my best fighters up the waterfall. The earliest notice the Doones had of our presence was the blazing of the logwood house where lived that villain Carver.
By the time they came from Doone-gate all the village was burning, and as soon as they got into easy distance we shot them down in the light of the flaming houses. I did not fire. I cared to meet none but Carver, and he did not appear. He was the only Doone that escaped. Every man I had with me had some wrong to avenge; some had lost their wives, others their daughters; the more fortunate had had all their sheep and cattle carried off, and every man avenged his wrong. I was vexed at the escape of Carver. It was no light thing to have a man of such power and resource and desperation left at large and furious. When he saw all the houses in the valley flaming with a handsome blaze, and throwing a fine light around, such as he had often revelled in when he was the attacker, he turned his great black horse, and spurred it through Doone-gate, and he passed into the darkness before the yeomen I had posted there could bring him down.
V.—The Duel at Wizard's Slough
The only thing which pleased me was that Lorna was taken to London before I led the assault on Glen Doone. Jeremy Stickler, a man with much knowledge of the law, discovered that she was a great heiress, and that her true title was Lady Lorna Dugal. She was related to the Doones, and they had carried her off when a little child, and on her all the ambition of Sir Ensor Doone had turned. The marriage he designed between her and Carver would have brought the outlaws the wealth necessary to retrieve their fortunes and recover their position in the world. This strange news explained many things in their conduct towards Lorna, but it made me feel rather sad. For it seemed to me that there was too great a difference between John Ridd, the yeoman farmer, and Lady Lorna, the heiress of the Earl of Lome. Besides, she was now a ward of chancery, under the care of the great Lord Jeffreys, and I much doubted if he would consent to our marriage, even if she still remembered me amid the courtly splendour in which she moved. Judge then of my joy when Lorna returned in the spring to our farm, as glad as a bird to get back to its nest.
"Oh, I love it all," she said. "The scent of the gorse on the moors drove me wild, and the primroses under the hedges. I am sure I was meant to be a farmer's wife."
This, with a tender, playful look at me. Then she told the good news. Lord Jeffreys had, for a certain round sum, given his ward permission to marry me. There was a great to-do throughout the country about our wedding on Whit-Monday. People came from more than thirty miles around, upon excuse of seeing Lorna's beauty and my stature; but in good truth out of curiosity and a love of meddling.
It is impossible for any, who have not loved as I have, to conceive my joy and pride when, after the ring and all was done, and the parson had blessed us, she turned and gazed on me. Her eyes were so full of faith and devotion that I was amazed, thoroughly as I knew them. But when I stooped to kiss her, as the bridegroom is allowed to do, a shot rang through the church. My darling fell across my knees, and her blood flowed out on the altarsteps. She sighed a long sigh to my breast, and grew cold. I laid her in my mother's arms, and went forth for my revenge.
The men fell back before me. Who showed me the course, I cannot tell. I only know that I leaped upon a horse and took it. Weapon of no sort had I. Unarmed, and wondering at my strange attire, I rode out to discover this: whether in this world there be or be not a God of justice. Putting my horse at a furious speed, I came upon Black Burrow Down, and there, a furlong before me, rode a man on a great black horse. I knew that man was Carver Doone, bearing his child, little Ensie, before him. I knew he was strong. I knew he was armed with gun, pistol, and sword. Nevertheless, I had no more doubt of killing him than a cook has of spitting a headless fowl.
I came up with him at Wizard's Slough. A bullet struck me somewhere, but I took no heed of that. With an oak stick I felled his horse. Carver Doone lay on the ground, stunned. Leaping from my steed, I waited, and bared my arms as if in the ring for wrestling. Then the boy ran towards me, clasped my leg, and looked up at me.
"Ensie, dear," I said, "run and try to find a bunch of bluebells for the pretty lady."
Presently Carver Doone gathered together his mighty limbs, and I closed with him. He caught me round the waist with such a grip as had never been laid upon me. I heard a rib go where the bullet had broken it. But God was with me that day. I grasped Carver Doone's arm, and tore the muscle out of it; then I had him by the throat, and I left him sinking, joint by joint, into the black bog.
I returned to the farm in a dream, and only the thought of Lorna's death, like a heavy knell, was tolling in the belfry of my brain. Into the old farmhouse I tottered, like a weakling child, with mother helping me along, yet fearing, except by stealth, to look at me.
"I have killed him," was all I said, "even as he killed Lorna."
"Lorna is still living, John," said my mother, very softly.
"Is there any chance for her?" I cried, awaking out of my dream. "For me, I mean; for me?"
Well, my darling is sitting by me now as I write, and I am now Sir John Ridd, if you please. Year by year, Lorna's beauty grows, with the growth of goodness, kindness, and true happiness—above all, with loving. For change, she makes a joke of this, and plays with it, and laughs at it. Then, when my slow nature marvels, back she comes to the earnest thing. If I wish to pay her out—as may happen once or twice, when we become too galdsome—I bring her to sadness, and to me for the cure of it, by the two words, "Lorna Doone."
* * * * *
The Decameron Or Ten Days' Entertainment
Giovanni Boccaccio, the father of Italian prose literature, was born in 1313, probably at Certaldo, a small town about twenty miles from Florence, where he was brought up. In 1341 he fell in love with the daughter of King Robert of Naples, and the lady, whom he made famous under the name of Fiammetta, seems to have loved him in return. It was for her amusement, and for the amusement of the Queen of Naples, that he composed many of the stories in "The Decameron." He returned to Florence in 1350, after the great plague, which he has described in so vivid a manner in the opening chapter of his great work, had abated; and three years afterwards he published "The Decameron," the title being derived from the Greek words signifying "ten days." This collection of a hundred stories is certainly one of the world's great books. Many English writers of the first order have gone to it for inspiration. Boccaccio's friend, Petrarch, was so delighted with the tale of Griselda, with which the work concludes, that he learnt it off by heart. Chaucer developed it into the finest of all his stories. Dryden, Keats, and Tennyson have also been inspired by Boccaccio; while Lessing has made the Italian story-teller's allegory of "The Three Rings" the jeweled point on which turns his masterly play. "Nathan the Wise" (see Vol. XVII). Boccaccio, after filling many high posts at Florence, retired to Certaldo, where he died on December 21, 1375.
The Seven Beautiful Maidens
In the year of our Lord 1348 a terrible plague broke out in Florence, which, from being the finest city in Italy, became the most desolate. It was a strange malady that no drugs could cure; and it was communicated, not merely by conversing with those strickened by the pestilence, but even by touching their clothes, or anything they had worn. As soon as the purple spots, which were the sign of the disease, appeared on the body, death was certain to ensue within three days.
So great were the terror and disorder and distress, that all laws, human and divine, were disregarded. Everybody in Florence did just as he pleased. The wilder sort broke into the houses of rich persons, and gave themselves over to riotous living, exclaiming that, since it was impossible to avoid dying from the plague, they would at least die merrily. Others shut themselves up from the rest of the world, and lived on spare diet, and many thousands fled from their houses into the open country, leaving behind them all their goods and wealth, and all their relatives and friends. Brother fled from brother, wife from husband, and, what was more cruel, even parents forsook their own children. It was perilous to walk the streets, for they were strewn with the bodies of plague-strickened wretches, and I have seen with my own eyes the very dogs perish that touched their rags.
Between March and July a hundred thousand persons died in Florence, though, before the calamity, the city was not supposed to have contained so many inhabitants. But I am weary of recounting out late miseries, and, passing by everything that I can well omit, I shall only observe that, when the city was almost depopulated, seven beautiful young ladies, in deep mourning, met one Tuesday evening in Saint Mary's Church, where indeed they composed the whole of the congregation. They were all related to each other, either by the ties of birth, or by the more generous bonds of friendship. Pampinea, the eldest, was twenty-eight years of age; Fiammetta was a little younger; Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, and Neifile were still more youthful; and Elisa was only eighteen years old.
After the service was over, they got into a corner of the church, and began to devise what they should do, for they were now alone in the world.
"I would advise," said Pampinea, "that we should leave Florence, for the city is now dangerous to live in, not merely by reason of the plague, but because of the lawless men that prowl about the streets and break into our houses. Let us retire together into the country, where the air is pleasanter, and the green hills and the waving corn-fields afford a much more agreeable prospect than these desolate walls."
"I doubt," said Filomena, "if we could do this unless we got some man to help us."
"But how can we?" exclaimed Elisa. "Nearly all the men of our circle are dead, and the rest have gone away."
While they were talking, three handsome young cavaliers—Pamfilo, Filostrato, and Dioneo—came into the church, looking for their sweethearts, who by chance were Neifile, Pampinea, and Filomena.
"See," said Pampinea with a smile, "fortune is on our side. She has thrown in our way three worthy gentlemen, who, I am sure, will come with us if we care to invite them."
She then acquainted the cavaliers with her design, and begged them to help her to carry it out. At first they took it all for a jest; but when they found that the ladies were in earnest, they made arrangements to accompany them. So the next morning, at the break of day, the ladies and their maids, and the cavaliers and their men-servants, set out from Florence, and after travelling for two miles they came to the appointed place. It was a little wooded hill, remote from the highway, on the top of which was a stately palace with a beautiful court, and fine galleries, and splendid rooms adorned with excellent paintings. And around it were fair green meadows, a delightful garden, fountains of water, and pleasant trees.
Finding that everything in the palace had been set in order for their reception, the ladies and their cavaliers took a walk in the garden, and diverted themselves by singing love-songs, and weaving garlands of flowers. At three o'clock, dinner was laid in the banqueting hall, and when this was over, Dioneo took a lute and Fiammetta a viol, and played a merry air, while the rest of the company danced to the music. When the dance was ended, they began to sing, and so continued dancing and singing until nightfall. The cavaliers then retired to their chambers, and the ladies to theirs, after arranging that Pampinea should be the queen of their company for the following day, and direct all their feasts and amusements.
The next morning Queen Pampinea called them all up at nine o'clock, saying it was unwholesome to sleep in the daytime, and led them into a meadow of deep grass shadowed by tall trees.
"As the sun is high and hot," she continued, "and nothing is to be heard but the chirping of grasshoppers among the olives, it would be folly to think of walking. So let us sit down in a circle and tell stories. By the time the tales have gone round, the heat of the sun will have abated, and we can then divert ourselves as best we like. Now, Pamfilo," she said, turning to the cavalier on her right hand, "pray begin."
Cymon and Iphigenia: A Tale of Love
Of all the stories that have come into my mind, said Pamfilo, there is one which I am sure you will all like, for it shows how strange and wonderful is the power of love. Some time ago, there lived in the island of Cyprus a man of great rank and wealth, called Aristippus, who was very unhappy because his son Cymon, though very tall and handsome, was feeble in intellect. Finding that the most skilful teacher could not beat the least spark of knowledge into the head of his son, Aristippus made Cymon live out of his sight, among the slaves in his country-house.
There Cymon used to drudge like one of the slaves, whom, indeed, he resembled in the harshness of his voice and the uncouthness of his manners. But one day as he was tramping round the farm, with his staff upon his shoulder, he came upon a beautiful maiden sleeping in the deep grass of a meadow, with two women and a manservant slumbering at her feet. Cymon had never seen the face of a woman before, and, leaning upon his staff, he gazed in blank wonder at the lovely girl, and strange thoughts and feelings began to work within him. After watching her for a long time, he saw her eyes slowly open, and there was a sweetness about them that filled him with joy.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" she said. "Please go away. You frighten me!"
"I will not go away," he answered; "I cannot!"
And though she was afraid of him, he would not leave her until he had led her to her own house. He then went to his father and said he wanted to live like a gentleman, and not like a slave. His father was surprised to find that his voice had grown soft and musical, and his manners winning and courteous. So he dressed him in clothes suitable to his high station, and let him go to school. Four years after he had fallen in love, Cymon became the most accomplished young gentleman in Cyprus. He then went to the father of Iphigenia, for such was her name, and asked for her in marriage. But her father replied that she was already promised to Pasimondas, a young nobleman of Rhodes, and that their nuptials were about to be celebrated.
"O Iphigenia," said Cymon to himself, on hearing the unhappy news, "it is now time for me to show you how I love you! Love for you has made a man of me, and marriage with you would make me as happy and as glorious as a god! Have you I will, or else I will die!"
He at once prevailed upon some young noblemen, who were his friends, to help him in fitting out a ship of war. With this he waylaid the vessel in which Iphigenia embarked for Rhodes. Throwing a grappling iron upon this ship, Cymon drew it close to his own. Then, without waiting for anyone to second him, he jumped among his enemies, and drove them like sheep before him, till they threw down their arms.
"I have not come to plunder you," said Cymon, "but to win the noble maiden, Iphigenia, whom I love more than aught else in the world. Resign her to me, and I will do you no harm!"
Iphigenia came to him all in tears.
"Do not weep, my sweet lady," he said to her tenderly. "I am your Cymon, and my long and constant love is worth more than all Pasimondas's promises."
She smiled at him through her tears, and he led her on board his ship, and sailed away to Crete, where he and his friends had relations and acquaintances. But in the night a violent tempest arose, and blotted out all the stars of heaven, and whirled the ship about, and drove it into a little bay upon the island of Rhodes, a bow-shot from the place where the Rhodian ship had just arrived.
Before they could put out to sea again, Pasimondas came with an armed host and took Cymon a prisoner, and led him to the chief magistrate of the Rhodians for that year, Lysimachus, who sentenced him and his friends to perpetual imprisonment, on the charge of piracy and abduction.
While Cymon was languishing in prison, with no hope of ever obtaining his liberty, Pasimondas prepared for his nuptials with Iphigenia. Now Pasimondas had a younger brother called Hormisdas, who wanted to marry a beautiful lady, Cassandra, with whom the chief magistrate Lysimachus was also in love. Pasimondas thought it would save a good deal of trouble and expense if he and his brother were to marry at the same time. So he arranged that this should be done. Thereupon Lysimachus was greatly angered. After a long debate with himself, honour gave way to love, and he resolved at all hazards to carry off Cassandra.
But whom should he get as companions in this wild enterprise? He at once thought of Cymon and his friends, and he fetched them out of prison and armed them, and concealed them in his house. On the wedding-day he divided them into three parties. One went down to the shore and secured a ship; one watched at the gate of Pasimondas's house; and the third party, headed by Cymon and Lysimachus, rushed with drawn swords into the bridal chamber and killed the two bridegrooms, and bore the tearful but by no means unwilling brides to the ship, and sailed joyfully away for Crete.
There they espoused their ladies, amidst the congratulations of their relatives and friends; and though, by reason of their actions, a great quarrel ensued between the two islands of Cyprus and Rhodes, everything was at last amicably adjusted. Cymon then returned with Iphigenia to Cyprus, and Lysimachus carried Cassandra back to Rhodes, and all of them lived very happily to the end of their days.
Gisippus and Titus: A Tale of Friendship
As Pamfilo has told us so excellent a tale about the force of love, said Filomena, I will now relate a story showing the great power of friendship.
At the time when Octavius Caesar, who afterwards became the Emperor Augustus, was governing Rome as a triumvir, a young Roman gentleman, Titus Quintius Fulvus, went to Athens to study philosophy. There he became acquainted with a noble young Athenian named Gisippus, and a brotherly affection sprang up between them, and for three years they studied together and lived under the same roof.
In the meantime, Gisippus fell in love with a young and beautiful Athenian maiden named Sophronia, and a marriage was arranged between them. Some days before the marriage, Gisippus took his friend with him on a visit to his lady. It was the first time that Titus had seen Sophronia, and as he looked upon her beauty he grew as much enamoured as ever a man in the world was with a woman. So great was his passion that he could neither eat nor sleep, and he grew so sick that at last he was unable to rise from his bed. Gisippus was extremely grieved at his illness, and knowing that it must have been caused by some secret malady of the mind, he pressed him to reveal the cause of his grief. At length Titus, unable to restrain himself any longer, said, with his face streaming with tears:
"O Gisippus, I am unworthy of the name of friend! I have fallen in love with Sophronia, and it is killing me. How base I am! But pardon me, my dear friend, for I feel that I shall soon be punished for my disloyalty by death!"
Gisippus stood for some time in suspense by the bed side of Titus, divided between the claims of love and the claims of friendship. But at last he resolved to save his friend's life at the cost of his own happiness. Some days afterwards, Sophronia was brought to his house for the bridal ceremony to be consummated. Going softly into the bridal chamber where the bride was lying, he put out the candles, and then went silently to Titus, and told him that he might be the bridegroom. Titus was so overcome with shame that he refused to go; but Gisippus so passionately entreated him, that at last he consented. Going into the dark bridal chamber, he softly asked Sophronia if she would be his wife. She, thinking it was Gisippus, replied, "Yes." Then, taking a ring of value, and putting it upon her finger, Titus said: "And I will be your husband."
In the morning, Sophronia discovered the trick that had been put upon her. Stealing out of the house, she went to her father and mother, and told them that Gisippus had deceived her, and married her to Titus. Great was the resentment against Gisippus throughout Athens, for Sophronia came of a very ancient and noble family.
But seeing that what had been done could not be undone, the parents of the bride at last allowed Titus to lead her to Rome, where the scandal would not be known. But when Titus was gone, they resolved to take vengeance upon Gisippus. A powerful party was formed against him, who succeeded in getting him stripped of all his possessions, driven from Athens, and condemned to perpetual exile.
Friendless and beggared, Gisippus slowly travelled on foot to Rome, intending to ask Titus to help him. He found that his friend was now a rich and powerful man, enjoying the favour of the young Prince Octavius, and living in a splendid palace. Gisippus did not dare to enter it, as his clothes were now worn to rags, so he stood humbly by the gate like a beggar, hoping that his friend would recognise him and speak to him. But Titus came out in a hurry, and never even stopped to look at him; and Gisippus, thinking that he was now despised, went away confounded with grief and despair.
Wandering at random about the streets, he came at nightfall to a cavern where thieves were wont to gather, and laid down on the hard ground and wept himself to sleep. While he was sleeping, two thieves entered with their booty and began to quarrel about it, whereupon one killed the other and fled. In the morning some watchmen found Gisippus sleeping beside the dead body, and arrested him.
"Yes, I killed him," said Gisippus, who was now resolved to die, and thought that this would be a better way than taking his own life. Thereupon, the judge sentenced him to be crucified, which was the usual manner of death in these cases. By a strange chance, however, Titus came into the hall to defend a poor client. He instantly recognised Gisippus, and, wondering greatly at the sad change of his fortune, he determined at all costs to save him. But the case had gone so far that there was only one way of doing this. And Titus took it. Stepping resolutely up to the judge, he greatly astonished everyone by exclaiming:
"Recall thy sentence. This person is innocent; I killed the man!"
Gisippus turned round in astonishment, and seeing Titus, he concluded that he was trying to save him for friendship's sake. But he was determined that he would not accept the sacrifice.
"Do not believe him, sir. I was the murderer. Let the punishment fall on me," he said to the judge.
The judge was amazed to see two men contending for the torture of crucifixion with as much eagerness as if it had been the highest honour in the world; and suddenly a notorious thief, who had been standing in the court, came forward and made this surprising declaration:
"This strange debate has so moved me that I will confess everything," he said. "You cannot believe, sir, that either of these men committed the murder. What should a man of the rank and wealth of Titus have to do in a thieves' cavern? He was never there. But this poor, ragged stranger was sleeping in a corner when I and my fellow entered. Thieves, you know, sometimes fall out, especially over their booty. This was what happened last night; and, to put an end to the quarrel, I used a knife."
The appearance of a third self-accuser so perplexed the judge that he put the case before Octavius Caesar, and Caesar called the three men up before him. Thereupon Titus and Gisippus related to him at length the strange story of their friendship, and he set the two friends at liberty, and even pardoned the thief for their sakes.
Titus then took Gisippus to his house and forced him to accept a half of his great wealth, and married him to his sister Fulvia, a very charming and lovely young noblewoman.
For the rest of their lives Titus and Sophronia, and Gisippus and Fulvia, lived very happily together in the same palace in Rome, and every day added something to their contentment and felicity.
The Three Rings: A Tale of Ingenuity
It was now Neifile's turn to tell a story, and she said that as there had been much controversy at Florence during the plague concerning religion, this had put her in mind of the tale of Melchizedeck.
This man was a very rich Jew, who lived at Alexandria in the reign of great Sultan Saladin. Saladin, being much impoverished by his wars, had a mind to rob Melchizedeck. In order to get a pretext for plundering the Jew, he sent for him.
"I hear that thou art very wise in religious matters," said Saladin, "and I wish to know which religion thou judgest to be the true one—the Jewish, the Mohammedan, or the Christian?"
The Jew saw that Saladin wanted to trap him. If he said that the Jewish or the Christian faith was the true one, he would be condemned as an infidel. If, on the other hand, he agreed that the Mohammedan religion was preferable to the others, the sultan would say that a wealthy believer ought to contribute largely to the expenses of the state. After considering how best to avoid the snare, the wise Jew replied:
"Some time ago, your majesty, there was a man who had a ring of great beauty and value. And he declared in his will that the son to whom this ring was bequeathed should be the head of the family, and that his descendants should rule over the descendants of the other sons. For many generations his wishes were carried out; but at last the ring came into the possession of a man who had three sons, all virtuous and dutiful to their father, and equally beloved by him.
"Being at a loss which son to prefer above the others, the good man got a skilful craftsman to make two rings, which were so like the first that he himself scarcely knew the true one. On his deathbed he gave one of these rings privately to each of his sons. Each of them afterwards laid claim to the government of the family, and produced the ring which his father had given him. But the rings were so much alike that it was impossible to tell which was the true one, and even to this day no one has been able to decide upon the matter. Thus has it happened, sire, in regard to the three laws of faith derived from God—Jew, Mohammedan, and Christian. Each believes that he is the true heir of the Almighty; but it is just as uncertain which has received the true law as it is which has received the true ring."
Saladin was mightily pleased at the ingenious way in which Melchizedeck escaped from the snare that had been spread for him. Instead of taking by force the money that he wanted from the Jew, he desired him to advance it on loan. This Melchizedeck did, and Saladin soon afterwards repaid the money and gave him presents, besides maintaining him nobly at court and making him his life-long friend.
For some days the ladies and cavaliers entertained one another with dancing and singing and story-telling. And then, as the plague had abated in Florence, they returned to the city. But before they went Dioneo told them a very strange and moving tale.
Griselda: A Tale of Wifely Patience
Men, said Dioneo, are wont to charge women with fickleness and inconstancy; but there comes into my mind a story of a woman's constancy and a man's cruelty which, I think you will agree, is worth the telling. Gualtieri, the young Marquis of Saluzzo, was a man who did not believe that any woman could be true and constant all her life. And for this reason he would not marry, but spent his whole time in hawking and hunting. His subjects, however, did not want him to die without an heir, and leave them without a lord, and they were always pressing him to marry. They went so far at last as to offer to provide a lady for him. This made him very angry.
"If I want a wife, my friends," he said, "I will choose one myself. And, look you, whatever her birth and upbringing are, pay her the respect due to her as my lady, or you shall know to your cost how grievous it is to me to have taken a wife when I did not want one."
A few days afterwards he was riding through a village, not far from his palace, when he saw a comely shepherd girl carrying water from a well to her father's house.
"What is your name?" said the young marquis.
"Griselda," said the shepherd girl.
"Well, Griselda," said the Marquis of Saluzzo, "I am looking for a wife. If I marry you, will you study to please me and carry out all my demands, whatever they are, without a murmur or a sullen look?"
"Yes, my lord," said Griselda.
Thereupon, the marquis sent his servants to fetch some rich and costly robes, and, leading Griselda out by the hand, he clothed her in gorgeous apparel, and set a coronet upon her head, and putting her on a palfrey, he led her to his palace. And there he celebrated his nuptials with as much pomp and grandeur as if he had been marrying the daughter of the King of France.
Griselda proved to be a good wife. She was so sweet-natured, and so gentle and kind in her manners, that her husband thought himself the happiest man in the world; and her subjects honoured her and loved her very dearly. In a very short time, her winning behaviour and her good works were the common subject of talk throughout the country, and great were the rejoicings when a daughter was born to her.
Unfortunately, her husband got a strange fancy into his head. He imagined she was good and gentle merely because everything went well with her; and, with great harshness, he resolved to try her patience by suffering. So he told her that the people were greatly displeased with her by reason of her mean parentage, and murmured because she had given birth to a daughter.
"My lord," said Griselda, "I know I am meaner than the meanest of my subjects, and that I am unworthy of the dignity to which you have advanced me. Deal with me, I pray, as you think best for your honour and happiness, and waste no thought upon me."
Soon afterwards one of his servants came to Griselda, and said: "Madam, I must either lose my own life, or obey my lord's commands. He has ordered me to take your daughter, and—"
He would not say anything more, and Griselda thought that he had orders to kill the child. Taking it out of the cradle, she kissed it, and tenderly laid it in the servant's arms. The marquis sent the little girl to one of his relatives at Bologna, to be brought up and educated. Some years afterwards Griselda gave birth to a boy. The marquis, naturally enough, was mightily pleased to have an heir; but he took also this child away from his wife.
"I am not able to live any longer with my people," he said. "They say they will not have a grandson of a poor shepherd as their future lord. I must dispose of this child as I did the other."
"My lord," replied Griselda, "study your own ease and happiness without the least care for me. Nothing is pleasing to me that is not pleasing to you."
The next day the marquis sent for his son in the same way as he had sent for his daughter, and had him brought up with her at Bologna. His people thought that the children had been put to death, and blamed him for his cruelty, and showed great pity for his wife. But Griselda would not allow them to attack her husband, but found excuses for him.
In spite of this, the marquis did not yet believe in the constancy and fidelity of his wife, and about sixteen years after their marriage he resolved to put her to a test.
"Woman," he said, "I am going to take another wife. I shall send you back to your father's cottage in the same state as I brought you from it, and choose a young lady of my own rank in life."
With the utmost difficulty Griselda kept back her tears, and humbly consented to be divorced. The marquis stripped her of her fine raiment, and sent her back to her father's hut dressed in a smock. Her husband then gave it out that he was about to espouse the daughter of the Count of Panago; and, sending for Griselda, he said:
"I am about to bring home my new bride, but I have no woman with me to set out the rooms and order the ceremony. As you are well acquainted with the government of my palace, I wish you to act as mistress for a day or two. Get everything in order, and invite what ladies you will to the festival. When the marriage is over, you must return to your father's hut."
These words pierced like daggers to the heart of Griselda. She was unable to part with her love for her husband as easily as she had parted with her high rank and great fortune.
"My lord," said Griselda, "I swore that I would be obedient to you, and I am ready to fulfil all your commands."
She went into the palace in her coarse attire and worked with the servants, sweeping the rooms and cleaning the furniture. After this was done, she invited all the ladies in the country to come to the festival. And on the day appointed for the marriage she received them, still clad in her coarse attire, but with smiling and gentle looks. At dinner-time the marquis arrived with his new lady—who was indeed a very beautiful girl. After presenting her to all the guests, many of whom congratulated him on making so good an exchange, he said, with a smile, to Griselda:
"What do you think of my bride?"
"My lord," she replied, "I like her extremely well. If she is as wise as she is fair, you may be the happiest man in the world with her. But I very humbly beg that you will not take with this lady the same heart- breaking measures you took with your last wife, because she is young and tenderly educated, while the other was from a child used to hardship.
"Pardon me! Pardon me! Pardon me!" said the marquis. "I know I have tried you harshly, Griselda. But I did not believe in the goodness and constancy of woman, and I would not believe in them until you proved me in the wrong. Let me restore, in one sweet minute, all the happiness that I have spent years in taking away from you. This young lady, my dear Griselda, is your daughter and mine! And look! Here is our son waiting behind her."
He led Griselda, weeping for joy, to her children. Then all the ladies in the hall rose up from the tables, and taking Griselda into a chamber, they clothed her in fine and noble raiment, and stayed with her many days, feasting and rejoicing. And the marquis sent for Griselda's father, the poor shepherd, and gave him a suite of rooms in the palace, where he lived in great happiness with his daughter and his grandchildren and his noble son-in-law.