That Ends Well
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2011 by Paul W. Collins
All’s Well That Ends Well
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of All’s Well That Ends Well. But All’s Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
Summoned to Paris
Despite the fine summer weather, the Countess of Rousillon, dressed in black, is solemn and tearful. “In sending my son from me, I bury a second husband!”
“And I, in going, madam,” says young Bertram, the new count, “weep o’er my father’s death anew. But I must attend his majesty’s command—to whom I am now in ward, even more in subjection.” Still, he is quite eager to leave home.
Lord Lafeu, a long-time friend of the late Count Rousillon, reassures them. “You shall find in the king a husband, madam; you, sir, a father! He that so generally is at all times good must of necessity hold his virtue out to you—his worthiness would stir it up where it lacked, rather than lack it when there is such abundance!”
The conservative courtier, sixty, has traveled here from Paris to escort Bertram from the family’s southern estate to the capital, there to introduce him to the royal court.
“What hope is there of his majesty’s amendment?” asks the countess, of the ailing king.
“He hath abandoned his physicians, madam, under whose practises he hath troubled time with hope, but finds no other advantage in the process than the losing of hope by time.”
The countess looks at Helen—the daughter of a physician. “This young gentlewoman had a father—oh, that ‘had;’ how sad a passage ’tis!—whose skill was almost as great as his honesty—had it stretched so far, would have made Nature immortal, and Death should have to play for lack of work! Would, for the king’s sake, he were living; I think it would be the death of the king’s disease!”
“How called you the man you speak of, madam?” asks Lafeu.
“He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his great right to be so: Gerard de Narbon!”
“He was excellent indeed, madam! The king very lately spoke of him, admiringly and mourningly. He was skilful enough to have lived still, if knowledge could be set up against mortality.”
Bertram is brushing his hat. “What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?” he asks Lafeu.
“A fistula, my lord.”
Bertram yawns. “I heard not of it before.”
“I would it were not notorious,” says Lafeu dryly. He turns back to the countess. “Was this gentlewoman the daughter of Gerard de Narbon?”
“His sole child, my lord, and bequeathed to my overseeing.”
The countess smiles; she is proud of Helen—at seventeen, lovely, if diffident—whom she took into her stately home during the past winter. “I have those hopes for her good that her education promises. Her disposition, she inherits—which makes fair gifts fairer; for while an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, they are traitorous, too. Her competencies go with piety; in her, they are the better for their simpleness. She derives her honesty, but achieves her goodness!”
Lafeu can see that the young woman is upset. “Your commendations, madam, get from her tears.”
“’Tis the best brine a maiden can season her praise with,” says the countess. “The remembrance of her father never approaches her heart but that the tyranny of her sorrows takes all livelihood from her cheek.
“No more of this, Helen; go to. No more, lest it be thought you affect sorrow, rather than have it,” she says, gently.
I do affect a sorrow indeed, thinks Helen, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, but I have it, too! She has kept others unaware of her feelings for Bertram.
“Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead; excessive grief the enemy to the living,” old Lafeu tells her.
Adds the countess, “If living be enemy to grief, the exercise makes it soon mortal.”
Her son, who is about to begin life on his own—and in Paris—is not thinking about grief. “Madam, I desire your holy wishes”—blessing, says Bertram impatiently.
Lafeu frowns. How understand we that? The new Count Rousillon’s tone implies that her hopes may not be her son’s.
The countess regards the handsome young man, recently turned eighteen. “Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy father in manners, as in shape. Thy blood”—spiritedness—“and virtue contend for empire in thee; may thy goodness share with thy birthrights!
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. Be able for thine enemy rather in power than use, and keep thy friend under thine own life’s key! Be checkèd for silence, but never taxed for speech”—be reserved, but ready to reply. “May whatever more Heaven wills to furnish thee—and that which my prayers pluck down—fall upon thy head!”
The lady pauses to wipe away tears. “Farewell, my lord!” she tells Lafeu. “’Tis an unseasonèd courtier, good my lord; advise him!”
“He cannot want the best that shall attend his love,” Lafeu assures her. He means will not lack counsel; Bertram concurs only wryly: the old nobleman’s righteous advice is unwanted.
“Heaven bless him!” says the countess, as a footman comes to the white front doors of the sprawling mansion. “Farewell, Bertram!” she says, kissing his cheek, tears welling again at their parting. As he leaves, the proud lady hurries up the stairs.
Outside, Bertram uses both hands to position, carefully, his new, broad-brimmed hat, assuring that its long purple plume is properly positioned to exhibit a sprightly bounce as he walks. He has no idea what to say. “The best wishes that can be forgèd in your thoughts be servants to you,” he tells Helen, wishing for a mirror.
To the headstrong youth, she has seemed a quiet, household cipher; her unspoken thoughts hold no interest for him. “Be comforting to my mother, your mistress, and make much of her,” he says, pulling on elegant new gloves.
“Farewell, pretty lady!” say Lafeu, bowing. He pats her hand kindly. “You must uphold the credit of your father.”
Oh, were that all! thinks Helen, standing alone at the door, distraught. I think not on my father; and these great tears grace his remembrance more than those I shed for him. What was he like? I have forgotten him—my imagination carries no face in’t but Bertram’s!
The two noblemen stride down toward the road and Lafeu’s waiting carriage, which is still being burdened with string-tied packages filled with new and fashionable coats, doublets, hats and shoes.
Helen, watching, feels stricken. I am undone! There is no living—none!—if Bertram be away!
And yet it hardly matters where he is, she muses, returning to the house. ’Twere all one that I should love a particular star, and think to wed it, he is above me so far! In his bright radiance and collateral light must I be comforted, not in his sphere. The ambition in my love thus plagues itself: the deer that would be mated by the lion must die for love!
’Twas pretty though plague to see him every hour, to sit and draw his archèd brows, his hawking eye, his curls in our heart’s table—heart too capable of every line and trick of his sweet favour!
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy must sanctify his relics.
There is a noise at the front. Who comes here?
Bertram’s longtime companion in boyish mischief, his servant Parolles, two years older, approaches the door. He is lugging an old portmanteau stuffed with his wardrobe, including many colorful scarves to complement his red military coat; he has only recently returned from brief service begun as a volunteer officer in the war in Tuscany.
One who goes with him! Helen’s smile is affectionate. I love him for Bertram’s sake, and yet I know him a notorious liar, in great way a fool—and think him solidly a coward! Withal, these fixèd evils sit so fitly in him that they take place —assume a standing— when Virtue’s steely bones look bleak i’ the cold wind. Full oft we see cold wisdom waiting on superfluous folly!
Parolles, teasing, gives her a leer. “’Save you, fair queen!”
“And you, mon arch!”—a jest on monarch.
“And no!” She laughs.
Parolles shrugs, then grins. “Are you meditating on virginity?”
“Aye!” Helen regards his newest attire, conspicuously, almost laughably, martial. “You have some stain of soldier on you,” she says dryly. “Let me ask you a question. Man is enemy to virginity; how may we barricado it against him?”
“Keep him out.”
“But he assails!—and our virginity, though valiant, in the defence is yet weak! Unfold to us some warlike resistance.”
“There is none! Man, sitting down before you, will undermine you and blow you up!” The soldier’s terms are for tunneling with bombs, but the youth’s look suggests other meanings.
“Bless our poor virginity from underminers and blowers-up! Is there no military policy how virgins might blow up men?”
Now Parolles laughs. “Their virginity being blown down, men will quicklier be blown up!” As she blushes, he persists. “Marry, in blowing them down again, within the breaches”—or breeches—“yourselves make you lose your city!”
He propounds: “It is not in nature politic for the commonwealth to preserve virginity: loss of virginity is national increase! There was never virgin begot till virginity was first lost—what you were made of is metal to make virgins! And virginity, by being once lost, may be ten times found!”—created. “By being ever kept, it is ever lost.
“’Tis too cold a companion—away with ’t!” he urges.
Helen laughs. “I will stand by’t a little, though therefore I die a virgin.”
“There’s little can be said for’t,” insists Parolles. “’Tis against the rule of Nature!
“To speak on the part of virginity is to accuse your mothers—which is, most infallibly, disobedience!
“Virginity murders itself: she who is a virgin hangs up herself; and should be buried on highways out of all sanctified limit, as a desperate offendress against nature!
“Virginity breeds mites; much like a cheese, consumes itself to the very paring,”—coating of wax, “and so dies with feeding on its own stomach!
“Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle—made in self-love,”—satisfaction of oneself, “which is the most prohibited sin in the canon!
“Keep it not; you cannot choose but lose by’t! Out with’t!
“Within ten years it will make of itself none, which is no goodly increase—and the ‘principal’ itself not much the better! Away with ’t!”
Helen seems to consider. “How might one do, sir, to lose it to her own liking?”
“Let me see,” says Parolles, stroking his chin. “Marry, ill to like him that ne’er it liked!”—opposed her chastity, he admits. But he continues: “’Tis a commodity will lose the gloss with lying: the longer kept, the less worth! Off with ’t while ’tis vendible!—answer the time of request!
“Virginity wears her cap out of fashion, like an old courtier: richly suited, but unsuitable!—just like the tooth-pick of ivory, and the brooch which we wear not now. Your date is better seen in your pie and your porridge than in your cheek; and your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French pears: it looks ill, it eats dryly. Marry, ’tis a withered pear; it was formerly better!”
He laughs at himself: “Marry, ’tis yet a weathered pair! Will you do anything with it?” he asks, facetiously hopeful.
“Not my virginity—yet!” she laughs. But she thinks fondly of Bertram: There shall your master have a thousand loves: a mother, and a friend, and a mistress—a phoenix—a captain and an enemy; a guide, a sovereign, and a goddess; a counsellor, a traitress—and a dear!
She glances at the open door, and pictures paradoxes at the royal court: His humble ambition, proud humility; his jarring concord and his dulcet discord!—his fidelity his sweet disaster, in the world of pretty, foolish, complying christenings —women— that blind Cupid gossips of!
The thought of Parisian ladies is disturbing. Now shall he— I know not what he shall do! God send him well!
“The court’s a learning place,” she allows, “and he is one….”
“What one, in faith?” asks Parolles, struggling to tighten a strap on his bulging baggage.
“That I wish well.” Her heart sinks, thinking of the temptations Paris will offer. “’Tis a pity….”
“What’s a pity?”
“That wishing well has not body in’t which might be felt,” she sighs. “That we, the poorer-born, whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes, might with effects of them follow our friends—and show what we must think alone—which never returns us thanks.”
A boy runs up to the open door. “Monsieur Parolles, my lord calls for you!” he says, and trots back to the waiting carriage, now laden with all of Bertram’s fine accoutrements.
“Little Helen, farewell! says Parolles merrily. “I will think of thee at court—if I can remember thee.”
Helen laughs. “Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star!”
“Under Mars, I!” cries the soldier boldly.
Helen nods, smiling. “Under Mars especially, I think.”
Parolles is suspicious. “Why under Mars?”
“The wars have so kept you under that you must needs be born under Mars!”—the astrological sign.
“When he was predominant!”
“When he was retrograde, I think, rather.”
“Why think you so?”
“You go so much backward when you fight!”—retreat. Mars sometimes circles the globe east to west—backward, in relation to other stars.
“That’s for advantage!”—retreat is a tactical move, he protests, flushing.
Helen laughs. “So is running away when Fear proposes safety! But the composition that valour and fear make in you is a virtue—a good wing!—and it likely will wear well.”
“I am so full of businesses, I cannot answer thee acutely,” Parolles tells her. “I will return as a perfected courtier,” he says haughtily, pulling on his traveling gloves, “and my instruction shall serve to naturalize thee!—so thou wilt be capable of a courtier’s counsel, and understand what advice shall thrust upon thee! Else thou diest in thine unthankfulness, and thine ignorance makes away with thee!
“Farewell! When thou hast leisure, say thy prayers; when thou hast none, remember thy friends!
“Get thee a good husband—and use him as he uses thee!”—screw him.
Parolles grips his portmanteau’s worn handle and drags it to the entrance.
He pauses at the door, looking back to smile. “So, fare well,” he says softly, as he hefts the scuffed leather case and leaves.
Helen watches as the carriage finally starts away, followed by several attendants on horseback, with dogs yelping along in the dust at the rear.
Soon, all have passed out of sight down the road to the highway that leads north across France, even to the king’s palace.
Alone, she ponders. Our remedies, which we ascribe to heaven, oft in ourselves do lie. The fated sky gives us free scope!—it only doth backward pull our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.
What power is it which mounts my love so high—that makes me see, yet cannot feed mine eye?
She watches the drifting clouds, imagining—and she rallies, enjoying the fullest hope of youth. Fortune to the mightiest space in Nature brings likes and likes to kiss like native things.
Impossible be strange attempts to those who weigh their pains in the senses—and do assume what hath been seen cannot be!
Who ever strove to show her merit that did miss in her love?
She decides to strive—and a scheme is already forming. The king’s disease….
My projection may deceive me, but my intents are fixèd, and will not leave me!
“The Florentines and Senoys are by the ears,”—locked in close combat, “have fought with equal fortune, and continue braving the war,” notes the aging king, seated on his throne at the palace in Paris, examining several recent letters.
“So ’tis reported, sir,” says a nobleman who counsels the sovereign.
A persistent conflict between two powerful and defiant Tuscan duchies has meant political concern in France.
“Nay, ’tis most credible,” says the king. “We here received it as certainty, avouchèd by our cousin Austria,”—the king there, “with caution that the Florentines will move us for speedy aid; wherein our dearest friend”—he speaks wryly; Austria, deeply engaged in commerce with Siena, is a keen competitor—“prejudicates the business, and would, it seems, have us make denial.”
The old lord only nods; in his view, France should stay out of the conflict more than five hundred miles to the east. “His love and wisdom, so approvèd to Your Majesty, may plead for amplest credence….”
“He hath armèd our answer,” the king he tells the counselor, “and Florence”—its duke—“is denied before he comes.
“But as for our gentlemen that mean to see Tuscan service, freely have they leave to stand on either part.”
An even older peer is pleased with that. “It well may serve as nursery to our gentry who are sick for breathing and exploit”—gentlemen craving excitement and experience in adventures.
The king sees Lord Lafeu enter the throne room, bringing a young gentleman and an attendant. “What’s he comes here?”
“It is the Count Rousillon, my good lord, young Bertram.”
The king greets the lad warmly. “Youth, thou bear’st thy father’s face!—frank Nature, carefully, rather than in haste, hath well composèd thee! Thy father’s moral parts mayst thou inherit, too. Welcome to Paris!”
Bertram bows. “My thanks and duty are Your Majesty’s.”
The king starts to rise—but he groans, and sinks back onto the throne. “I would I had that corporeal soundness now as when thy father and myself in friendship first tried our soldiership! He did go far in the service of the time, and was discipled by the bravest! He lasted long; but upon us both did haggish age steal, and it wore us out of act.
“It much repairs me to talk of your good father! In his youth he had the wit which I can well observe today in our young lords—but they may jest till their own scorn return to them, unnoted, ere they can ride their levity in honour.”
The king remembers his noble friend’s kindly use of cleverness. “So like a courtier! Contempt nor bitterness were in his pride.
“Nor sharpness; if ever they were, his equal had awaked them, and his honour, clock unto itself, knew the true minute when exception bade him speak—and at that time his tongue obeyed his hand!”—already on the sword-hilt. “Who were below him he used as creatures of another place,”—guests, “and bowed his eminent top to their low ranks, making them proud through his humility, he, humbled in their poor praise.
“Such a man might be a model to these younger times which, followed well, would demonstrate them now to be but goers-backward!”
Says Bertram, eyes glistening, “His good remembrance, sir, lives richer in your thoughts than on his tomb; in his epitaph lies not such approof as in your royal speech!”
The king is in considerable pain. “Would I were with him!” he moans. “He would always say—methinks I hear him now; his plausive words he scattered not in ears, but grafted them, to grow there, and to bear—‘Let me not live,’—thus his good melancholy oft began, on the catastrophe and heel of pastime, when it was out—‘Let me not live,’ quoth he, ‘after my flame lacks oil, to be the snuff of younger spirits whose apprehensive senses all but new things disdain, whose judgments are merely fathers of their garments—whose constancies expire before their fashions!’
“Thus he wishèd. I, after him, do after him wish so too,” he says sadly. “Since I neither wax nor honey can bring home, I would I were quickly dissolvèd from my hive, to give some labourers room.”
“You are lovèd, sir!” says Bertram earnestly. “They that least lend it, you shall lack first!”—the less-devoted will precede him in death.
But the king is despondent. “I fill a place; I know’t.” He regards the new courtier. “How long is’t, count, since the physician at your father’s died? He was much famèd….”
“Some six months since, my lord.”
“If he were living, I would try him yet. Lend me an arm,” he asks, of the younger advisor. “The rest have worn me out with several applications; nature and sickness debate it at their leisure.” Assisted, he rises.
“Welcome, count; my son is no dearer!” the king tells Count Rousillon.
Bertram bows deeply. “I thank Your Majesty.”
With help, the king shuffles his way back to bed.
Two Lovers’ Plans
“I will now hear,” the countess tells her stuffy steward in the mansion at Rousillon. “What say you of this gentlewoman?”
“Madam, the care I have had to even your contentment”—assure her serenity—“I wish might be found in the calendar of my past endeavours,” says Rynaldo quietly, “for then we wound our modesty, and make foul the clearness of our deservings, when of ourselves we publish them—”
The countess interrupts: “What does this knave here?” She frowns as a serving-man, Lavatch, enters the room, looking miserable, as usual. “Get you gone, sirrah!” she tells him. “The complaints I have heard of you I do not all believe: ’tis my slowness that I do not, for I know you lack not folly to commit them, and have ability enough to make such knaveries yours!”
The domestic approaches her, beseeching. “’Tis not unknown to you, madam, I am a poor fellow….”
“No, madam, ’tis not so well that I am poor though many of the rich are damned!
“But, if I may have Your Ladyship’s good will to go into the world,”—be released from service, “Is’bel, the woman, and I will do as we may.”
“Wilt thou needs be a beggar?”
“I do beg: your good will in this case.”
“In what case?”
“In Is’bel’s case, and mine own. In service is no heritage; and I think I shall never have the blessing of God till I have issue o’ my body; for they say barnes”—children—“are blessings.”
The countess eyes him dubiously. “Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.” She thinks it likely that, despite his sour sanctimony, a blessing is already on the way.
“My poor body, madam, requires it! I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the Devil drives!”
The countess frowns at his pastoral postulate. “Is this all Your Worship’s reason?”
“’Faith, madam, I have other holy reasons, such as they are.”
“May the world know them?”
He shrugs. “I have been, madam, a wicked creature, as you and all flesh and blood are; and, indeed, I do marry so that I may repent.”
“Thy marriage, sooner than thy wickedness!”
“I am out o’ friends, madam,” says the wag, trying another tack, “and I hope to have friends for my wife’s sake.”
She laughs. “Such friends are thine enemies, knave!”
Lavatch is unabashed by the idea. “You’re shallow, madam, on great friends; for the knaves come to do that for me which I am a-weary of!
“He that plows my land spares my team, and gives me leave to take in the crop! If I be his cuckold, he’s my drudge!
“He that comforts my wife is the cherisher of my flesh and blood; he that cherishes my flesh and blood loves my flesh and blood; he that loves my flesh and blood is my friend. Ergo, he that kisses my wife is my friend!
“If men could be contented to be what they are,”—born cuckolds, “there were no fear in marriage!
“For young Char-bone the Puritan and Old Poison the papist,”—digs at dueling Christian factions: a burner at the stake and a scheming assassin, “howsome’er their hearts are severed in religion, their heads are one,”—penises are alike, “and both have horns. Together,”—between the two, “they may jowl and lick any dear i’ the herd!”
Despite her disapproval, the countess must laugh. “Wilt thou always be a foul-mouthed and calumnious knave?”
“A prophet!—aye, madam! And I speak the truth the simplest way—for I the ballad will repeat which men full-true shall find: ‘Your marriage comes by destiny; your cuckoo”—the word echoes cuckold—“sings by kind!’”
With a scolding frown the countess motions him away. “Get you gone, sir; I’ll talk with you more anon.”
The steward asks, with dignity, “May it please you, madam, that he bid Helen come to you? Of her I am to speak….”
The countess tells Lavatch, “Sirrah, tell my gentlewoman I would speak with her—Helen, I mean.”
The servant, prompted by the name, pauses to recite a ribald rhyme:
“‘Was this fair face the cause,’ quoth she,
‘Why the Grecians sackèd Troy?
‘Fond done—done fond!’” Recklessly stolen from her husband, she became Prince Paris’s lover.
“‘Was this King Priam’s joy?’”—the Trojan ruler’s pride.
“‘With that she sighèd, as she stood.
‘With that she sighèd, as she stood,
‘And gave this sentence then:
‘Among nine bad, if one be good,
‘Among nine bad, if one be good—’”
The countess smiles, expecting a pious, There’s yet one good in ten.
But Lavatch says, wryly, “‘There’s yet one bad in ten!”
“What? One good in ten!’ You corrupt the song, sirrah!” she laughs.
Argues the cynic, “One good woman in ten, madam—which is a purifying o’ the song. I would that God would serve the world so all the year! We’d find no fault with the tithe-woman if I were the parson!—one in ten, quoth I!
“If we might have a good woman born but once every blazing star, or at an earthquake, ’twould mend the lottery well! A man may draw his heart out ere he pluck one!”
The countess waves him away. “You’ll be gone, Sir Knave, and do as I command you!”
Lavatch sighs. “That Man should be at Woman’s command.” He bows with facetious resignation. “And yet no hurt done. Though Honesty”—he means himself—“be no Puritan, yet it will do no hurt—it will wear the surplice of humility over the black gown of a big heart.” He sees her scowl. “I am going, forsooth!” She raises her eyebrows in question. “The business is for Helen to come hither.” He ambles away.
The countess straightens her gown and tsks. “Well, now!”
The patient steward begins again. “I know, madam, you love your gentlewoman entirely—”
“’Faith, I do! Her father bequeathed her to me, but she herself, without other advantage, may lawfully make title to as much love as she finds! There is more owing to her than is paid; and more shall be paid her than she’d demand!”
The slender steward pauses, then proceeds cautiously. “Madam, I was very lately more near her than I think she wished me: alone she was, and did communicate to herself—her own words to her own ears. She thought, I dare vow for her, they touched not any other’s sense.
“Her matter was: she loves your son!
“Fortune, she said, who had put such difference betwixt their two estates, was no goddess; Love,”—Cupid, “who would extend his might where qualities were not level, no god; Diana, who would suffer her poor knight to be surprisèd without rescue in the first assault, nor ransom him afterward, no queen for virgins!
“This she delivered,” he continues, “in the most bitter tone of sorrow that e’er I heard virgin exclaim in! Which I held my duty speedily to acquaint you withal, sith hence, in the loss that may happen, it concerns you somewhat to know it.”
“You have discharged this honestly,” the countess tells him. “Keep it to yourself. Many likelihoods informèd me before of this, which hung so tottering in the balance that I could neither believe nor doubt!
“Pray you, leave me. Stall this in your bosom, and I thank you for your honest care. I will speak with you further anon.” The steward bows and goes.
The dowager lady paces, thinking of the forlorn gentlewoman’s woe. Even so was it with me when I was young. If ever we are Nature’s, these are ours: this thorn doth to our rose of youth as rightly belong as our blood —desire— to us! This to our blood is born; it is the show and seal of Nature’s truth, where love’s strong passion is impressèd in youth!
In our remembrances of days foregone, such were our faults, even if then we thought them none. She watches as Helen comes to her. Her eye is sick from it! I’ll observe her now….
In the countess’s eye is a mischievous twinkle.
Helen curtseys. “What is your pleasure, madam?”
“You know, Helen, I am a mother to you.”
Helen pales; she doesn’t wish to be Bertram’s sister. “Mine… honourable mistress.”
“Nay, a mother!—why not a mother? When I said ‘a mother,’ methought you saw a serpent! What’s in ‘mother’ that you start at it? I say I am your mother; and put you in the catalogue of those that were enwombèd mine! ’Tis often seen: adoption strives with nature, and choice breeds a native slip to us from foreign seeds. You ne’er oppressed me with a mother’s groan, yet I express to you a mother’s care.”
The young woman merely stares, tears forming.
“God’s mercy, maiden!—does it curdle thy blood to say I am thy mother? What’s the matter, that this distempered messenger of wet, the many-coloured Iris,”—the rainbow goddess, “rounds thine eye? Why? That you are my daughter?”
Helen blinks. “That I am not!”
“I say I am your mother!”
“Pardon, madam,” pleads Helen, “the Count Rousillon cannot be my brother. I am from humble, he from honoured name; no note upon my parents, his all noble! My master, my dear lord, he is; and I his servant live, and will his vassal die!” She blushes. “He must not be my brother!”
“Nor I your mother?”
Helen wrings her little hands. “You are my mother, madam—would that you were, if my lord your son were not my brother! Indeed my mother…. Were you both my mothers, I would care for you no less than I do for heaven—so long as I were not his sister! Yet it can be no other but that if I am your daughter, he must be my brother!”
The older lady counters, casually, “But, Helen, you might be my daughter-in-law.” She hears a gasp and sees the girl blanch. “God shield you, I meant not ‘daughter, mother’ so to strive upon your pulse!
“What, pale again?” The countess smiles. “My fear hath catchèd your fondness! Now I see the mystery of your loneliness, and find your salt tears’ source! Now ’tis gross to all senses: you love my son!
“Against the proclamation of thy passion, Invention is ashamèd to say thou dost not! Therefore tell me true—tell me then ’tis so! For, look you, thy cheeks confess it, th’ one to th’ other!—and thine eyes see it so grossly shown in thy ’haviors that, in their kind, they speak it! Even if sin and hellish obstinacy tied thy tongue, that truth would be suspected!
“Speak—is’t so? If it be so, you have wound a goodly clew!”—rolled up a fine ball of yarn. “If it be not, forswear’t!
“Howe’er, I charge thee, as heaven shall work in me for thine avail, tell me truly!”
Helen is very flustered. “Good madam, pardon me!”
“Do you love my son?”
“Your pardon, noble mistress!”
“Love you my son?”
Helen, distraught, equivocates. “Do not you love him, madam?”
“Go not about! My love hath in’t a bond whereof the world takes note! Come, come, disclose the state of your affection—for your passions have to the full a-peachèd!”—tattled.
Helen kneels. “Then I confess, here on my knee, before high heaven and you, that before you, and next unto high heaven, I love your son!
“My friends were poor, but honest; so’s my love! Be not offended; for it hurts not him that he is belovèd by me! I follow him not by any token of presumptuous suit. Nor would I have him till I do deserve him—yet never know how that desert could be.
“I know I love in vain, strive against hope; yet into this capacious and unholding sieve I still pour the waters of my love—and lack not to continue losing! Thus, heathen-like, religious in mine error, I adore the sun—who looks upon his worshipper, but knows of him no more.”
Helen rises, and pleads, “My dearest madam, let not my love encounter with your hate, for loving where you do! And if yourself, whose agèd honour cites a virtuous youth, did ever, in so true a flame of liking, love dearly, and wish chastely that your Diana was both herself and Love—oh, then, give pity to her whose state is such that she cannot choose but lend, and give where she is sure to lose—who seeks not to find what her search implies, but riddle-like, lives sweetly where she dies!”
The countess regards her closely. “Had you not lately an intent—speak truly!—to go to Paris?”
“Madam, I had.”
“Wherefore? Tell true.”
“I will tell truth; by grace itself I swear!” says Helen. “You know my father left me some prescriptions of rare and proven effects, such as his reading and manifold experience had collected for general suitability, and that he willed me in heedfull’st reservation to bestow them, as means whose inclusive faculties were more than they were in note!” Their full powers exceeded their reputation.
“Amongst the rest, there is a remedy set down proven to cure the desperate languishings whereof the king is rendered lost!”
“That was your motive for Paris, was it? Speak.”
“My lord your son made me to think of this,” Helen admits, “else Paris and the medicine and the king had from the conversation of my thoughts haply been absent then.”
The countess considers. “But think you, Helen, if you should tender your supposèd aid, that he would receive it? He and his physicians are of a mind: he, that they cannot help him; they, that they cannot help! How shall they credit a poor, unlearnèd virgin, when the schools, embowelled of their doctrine, have left off the danger to itself?”
“There’s something in’t more: that my father’s skill, which was the greatest of his profession, and his good formulary shall, through my legacy, be sanctified by the luckiest stars in heaven!” says Helen earnestly. “And, would Your Honour but give me leave to try for success, I’d venture this well-lost life of mine on his grace’s cure by such a day and hour!”
“Dost thou believe ’t?”
“Aye, madam, knowingly!”
The countess smiles, and embraces her. “Well, Helen, thou shalt have my leave—and love, means, and attendants, and my loving greetings to those of mine now at the court!
“I’ll stay at home, and pray God’s blessing unto thy attempt!
“Be gone tomorrow—and be sure of this: what I can help thee to, thou shalt not miss!”
Striving for Betterment
The king has given his advice and benediction to noblemen who are taking their leave. Having again pledged continuing loyalty to him, they will now try their fortunes as volunteer officers in yet-kingless Tuscany. “Farewell, young lords; these warlike principles do not throw from you!”
He turns to two, both called Dumaine and always found together, who are politely presumed to be brothers. By entering the Duke of Florence’s service, they hope to gain reputation—and reward—as military advisors. “And you, my lords, farewell! Share the advice betwixt you,” the avuncular monarch says mischievously. “If both gain, all of the gift doth stretch itself as ’tis received—and is enough for both!”
The older man, thirty-one, laughs, and replies in kind—and kindly: “’Tis our hope, sir, as well-entered soldiers,”—duly enrolled ones, “to return and find Your Grace in health!”
The afflicted king moans, “No, no, it cannot be. And yet my heart will not confess it owns the malady that doth my life besiege.
“Farewell, young lords!” the king calls to the assembly. “Whether I live or die, be you the sons of worthy French men! Let higher Italy—those debaters who inherit but the fall of the last monarchy—see that you come not to woo honour, but to wed it! When their bravest questant shrinks, find what you seek, so that Fame may cry you loud!
“I say, fare well!” He starts to turn away.
“May Health, at your bidding, serve Your Majesty!” says the younger Dumaine, twenty-five, as the other courtiers begin to leave the hall.
“Those girls of Italy—take heed of them,” the king warns. “They say our French lack language to deny, if they demand! Beware of being captives before you serve!”
Both Dumaines laugh. “Our hearts receive your warnings,” says the elder.
“Farewell.” The monarch summons attendants to help him: “Come hither to me.” He moves slowly toward the throne.
The older Dumaine approaches Count Bertram. He purrs, sadly, “Oh, my sweet lord, that you will stay behind us!”—provoking a disapproving look from his companion.
Parolles teases his friend about being kept back. “’Tis not his fault—the spark!”—youngster.
“Oh, ’tis brave wars!” effuses the eager younger Dumaine.
Parolles concurs. “Most admirable! I have seen those wars!” he points out.
Bertram is sullen. “I am commanded here, and kept a-coil with ‘too young’ and ‘next year,’ and ‘’tis too early!’”
Suggests Parolles, “If thy mind stand to’t, boy, bravely steal away!”
Bertram grumbles, “I shall stay here as the forehorse to a smock,”—lead a team reined in by a woman, “creaking my shoes on the flat masonry till all the honours be bought up!—and no sword worn but one to dance with!
“By heaven, I will steal away!” he cries rebelliously.
“There’s honour in that theft!” says the older Dumaine.
“Commit it, count!” urges Parolles.
“I am your accessory!” beams the younger Dumaine, embracing Bertram warmly, “and so, fare well!”
Bertram teases, amused: “I grow to you, and our parting is a tortured body,” he says, pulling free.
The elder Dumaine give Parolles a bow—one so deep as to be ironical. “Farewell, captain!” In Florence, the duke commissions each French volunteer as a captain, regardless of his status at home.
“Sweet Monsieur Parolles!” says the younger, smiling and bowing.
“Noble heroes, my sword and yours are kin!” declares Parolles—ignoring how they might take that. “Good sparks and lustrous, a word, good metals,” he says, urging their attention. “You shall find in the regiment of the Spinii one Captain Spurio, with his cicatrice, an emblem of war”—a scar—“here, on his left cheek! It was this very sword entrenchèd it!” he boasts. “Say to him, I live!—and observe his reports of me!”
“We shall, noble captain,” says Dumaine the elder—annoyed by Italians who switch sides during their civil war.
The pair of peers joins the other courtiers in preparing for the ride south to Marseilles, and the subsequent voyage east to Italy.
Captain Parolles, eager to please, calls to the lords as they go, “May Mars dote on you as his novices!” He turns to Bertram. “What will ye do?”
But the count nods toward the throne. “Stay—the king….” Bertram and Parolles see that the sovereign is being helped to sit, slowly, painfully, upon his throne.
Parolles, glancing back at the Dumaines, whispers to Bertram. “Use a more spacious ceremony to the noble lords!—you have restrained yourself within the list of too cold an adieu!
“Be more expressive to them—for they wear themselves in the cap of the time!—there do muster in true gait!—eat, speak, and move under the influence of the most-receivèd star! And though the devil lead the measure,”—calls the tune, “such are to be followed!
“After them,” he urges, “and take a more dilated farewell!”
Bertram nods. “Then I will do so.” Both bow politely to the king.
“Worthy fellows,” says the older youth, as they leave the throne room, hurrying after the Dumaines, “and likely to prove most sinewy sword-men!” Bertram believes it; his hand is still tingling from the fervid farewells.
At the front, the king, now ready to hold court, sees the approach of an old friend, Lord Lafeu.
Not wanting to look down on his sovereign. Lafeu kneels before the throne, “Pardon, my lord, for me and for my tidings.”
The king frowns. “I’ll fee thee to stand up,” he says gruffly.
Smiling, Lafeu rises. “Then here stands a man who has bought his pardon.” His look expresses sympathy. “I would you had kneeled, my lord, to ask me mercy, and that at my bidding you could so stand up.”
The monarch chafes at being pitied. “I would I had—and broken thy pate, then asked thee mercy for’t!”
“Across, ’good faith!” laughs Lafeu, sweeping off his hat to offer, briefly, a balding head. “But, my good lord ’tis this: would you be cured of your infirmity?”
“No,” mutters the king.
“Oh, will you eat no grapes, my royal fox?” says Lafeu, alluding to the fable’s sour ones. “Yes, but you will my noble grapes!—if Your Royal Fox would reach for them!” Lafeu moves closer. “I have seen a medicine that’s able to breathe life into a stone!—quicken a rock!—and make you dance the canary with spritely fire and motion!—whose simple touch is powerful enough to a-raise King Pippen—nay, to give great Charlemagne a pen in’s hand to write her a love-line!”
“What ‘her’ is this?” asks the king.
“Why, Doctor She!” cries Lafeu. “My lord, here’s one arrivèd, if you will see her!
“Now, by my faith and honour, if seriously I may convey my thoughts in this, my light delivery: I have spoken with one who, in her years, her sex, profession, wisdom and constancy, hath amazèd me more than I dare blame on my weakness!
“Will you see her—for that is her request—and know her business?” Lafeu sees his friend’s doubtful look. “That done, laugh well at me!” he offers.
The king nods grudging consent. “Now good Lafeu, bring in this admiration, that we with thee may spend our wonder, too—or take off thine, by wondering how thou took’st it on!”
The nobleman is pleased. “Nay, I’ll fit you,” he promises, “and not be all day, neither!” He hurries away, happily, to a room at the side.
The king waits. Afraid to be hopeful, he thinks, Thus he his special nothings ever prologues.
Lafeu quickly returns, with an awed young Helen in tow. “Nay, come your ways!” he says, urging her forward.
The king smiles. This haste hath wings indeed! he thinks, at the sight of the angelic blonde gentlewoman.
“Come your ways,” says Lafeu leading the way. “This is his majesty; say your mind to him!”
She stands stiffly—stunned at having come so suddenly into the royal presence.
“You do look like a traitor,” laughs Lafeu, “but such traitors his majesty seldom fears!
“I am Cressid’s uncle”—Pandarus, the notorious matchmaker of lore—“that dares leave two together; fare you well!” He bows and takes his leave.
“Now, fair one,” says the king graciously, “does your business follow us?”
Helen curtseys. “Aye, my good lord. Gerard de Narbon was my father: in what he did profess, well found.”
The king nods. “I knew him.”
“Then will I rather spare my praises towards him; knowing him is enough.
“On’s bed of death, many recipes he gave me—chiefly, one which was the dearest issue of his practise, and of his old experience, the only darling. He bade me store it under a triple eye, safer than mine own two, more dear!
“I have so; but hearing that Your High Majesty is touchèd with that same malignant cause wherein the power of my dear father’s chief gift stands, I come in order to tender it, and my appliance, with all bound humbleness.”
“We thank you, maiden,” the king says kindly, “but I may not be so credulous of cure, when our most learnèd doctors leave us, and their congregated colleagues have concluded that labouring art can never ransom an unaidible nature from its estate.
“I say we must not so strain our judgment, nor corrupt our hope, nor so dissever our great self and our credit, as to prostrate our past-cure malady to empirics—as to esteem an unsensèd help, when we deem help past senses.”
Helen, very disappointed, again curtseys. “Then my duty shall pay me for my pains. I will no more press mine office upon you, humbly entreating from your royal thoughts a modest one to bear me back again.”
The king laughs. “I cannot give thee less and be called grateful! Thou thought’st to help me; and such thanks I give, as one near death, to those that wish him to live.
“But what in full I know, thou know’st no part, I knowing all my peril, thou no art.”
Helen is tremulous, but she speaks anyway. “What I can do can does no hurt to try, since you’ve set up your rest ’gainst remedy”—accepted dying. “He that of greatest works is finisher”—the Lord God—“oft does them by the weakest minister!” she argues. “So Holy Writ hath shown judgment in babes, when judges have seen as babes!
“Great floods have flowed from simple sources, and great seas have dried when miracles have by the greatest been denied!
“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises! And oft it hits where hope is coldest, and despair most shifts!”
Still, the king demurs. “I must not hear thee. Fare thee well, kind maid; thy pains, not usèd, must by thyself be paid; proffers not taken reap thanks as their reward.”
“Inspirèd merit so by breath is barred!” protests Helen fearlessly—with irony: inspiration is breathed in. “It is not so with Him that all things knows as ’tis with us, who square our guess by shows”—evidence. “But it is most presumptuous in us when the help of Heaven we count as the act of men!
“Dear sir, to my endeavours give consent!” she pleads. “Of Heaven, not me, make an experiment! I am not an impostor who myself proclaim above the level of mine aim! Know what I think, and think what I know most sure: my art is not past power, nor you past cure!”
“Are thou so confident?” The king muses for a moment. “Within what space hopest thou my cure?”
“The great’st Grace lending grace, ere twice the horses of the sun shall bring their fiery torcher his diurnal ring! Ere twice in murk and occidental damp”—the western sea—“moist Hesperus”—the evening star—“hath quenchèd his sleepy lamp, or four and twenty times the pilot’s glass hath told the thievish minutes how they pass, what is infirm from your sound parts shall fly! Health shall live free, and sickness freely die!”
In spite of himself, the king is encouraged; still, he challenges: “Upon thy certainty and confidence, what darest thou venture?”
Helen has considered the peril of failure. “To be taxèd for impudence of a strumpet’s boldness; a divulgèd shame; traduced by odious ballads, my maiden’s name seared otherwise—nay, worse, if worse there be! Extended with vilest torture, let my life be ended!”
The benevolent king raises a soothing palm as he ponders; he admires her resolve. “Methinks in thee some blessèd spirit doth speak, sound his power within an organ weak. And what ‘impossibility’ would slay by common senses, sense saves another way.
“Thy life is dear; for all that Life can rate worth the name of life hath esteem in thee—youth, beauty, wisdom, courage, and all that happiness in prime can haply call. For thou this to hazard must needs intimate skill infinite—or monstrously desperate!
“Sweet practiser, thy physic I will try, that ministers thine own death if I die.”
Says Helen. “If I break time, or flinch in property of what I spoke, unpitied let me die, and well deservèd! Not helping, death’s my fee.” She steps forward, chin up. “But if I help you, what do you promise me?”
“Make thy demand.”
“But will you make it even?”—meet it.
“Aye, by my sceptre, and my hopes of help!”
“Then shalt thou give me, with thy kingly hand, what husband in thy power I will command!
“Exempted be from me the arrogance to choose from forth the royal blood of France, my low and humble name to propagate with any branch or image of thy state—but such a one as thy vassal, whom I know is free for me to ask thee to bestow.”
“Here is my hand,” says the king. “The premises observèd, thy will by my performance shall be servèd!
“So make the choice at thine own time, for I, thy resolvèd patient, on thee will rely. More should I question thee, and more I must, though more to know could not be more to trust—from whence thou camest, how atttended on. But rest unquestionèd, welcome and undoubted blest!”
He calls his attendants. “Give me some help here, ho!”
He smiles at Helen. “If thou proceed as high as word, my deed shall match thy meed!”
“Come on, sir,” the countess tells Lavatch, whom she has summoned. “I shall now put you to the height of your breeding,” she says—dryly; she has a simple errand for him.
“I will show myself highly fed and lowly taught,” retorts the rotund clown, with dignity. “I know that my business is but to the court,” he adds disdainfully.
“But to the court! Why, what place make you special, when you put that off with such contempt? ‘But to the court!’”
Lavatch explains. “Truly, madam, if God have lent a man any manners, he may easily pull it off at court. He that cannot make a leg, pull off’s cap, kiss his hand, and say nothing”—kneel, bow, and silently simper—“has neither leg, cap, hand nor lip!—and indeed such a fellow, to say precisely, were not for the court.
“But as for me: I have an answer that will serve all men!”
The countess laughs. “Marry, that’s a bountiful answer, that fits all questions!”
The man nods. “It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks: the pinnèd buttock, the squashed buttock, the brawny buttock, or any buttock.”
“Will your answer serve fit to all questions?”
“As fit as ten groats”—forty pennies—“is for the hand of an attorney—as your French crown for your taffeta punk”—venereal ailment for a loose lady, “as Tib’s rush for Tom’s forefinger”—a peasant girl’s grass ring, “as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday, as a morris-dance for May-day, as the nail to its hole, a cuckold to his horn; as a scolding quean”—whore—“to a wrangling knave, as the nun’s lip to the friar’s mouth—nay, as the pudding to its skin!”
But the countess is not to be put off, even by her own laughter. “Have you, I say, an answer of such fitness for all questions?”
The clown is confident: “From below your duke to beneath your constable, it will fit any question!” His answer, he implies, will fit as a penis does females so situated.
She scoffs. “It must be an answer of most monstrous size, that must fit all demands!”
“But neither a trifle, in good faith,” insists the man, “if the learnèd”—the women who know—“should speak truth of it!
“Here it is, and all that belongs to’t! Ask me if I am a courtier! It shall do you no harm to learn—”
“—to be young again, if we could!” laughs the countess. But she nods. “I will be a fool with questions, hoping to be the wiser by your answer! ‘I pray you, sir, are you a courtier?’”
“‘Oh, Lord, sir!’”—a mere exclamation. “There’s a simple putting off! More, more!” he demands, “a hundred of them!”
She begins to ask for a loan. “‘Sir, I am a poor friend of yours, that loves you—’”
He says quickly, “‘Oh, Lord, sir!’ He motions, inviting more: “Thick, thick, spare not me!”
“‘I think, sir, you can eat none of this homely meat!’”
As if reaching eagerly: “‘Oh, Lord, sir!’ Nay, put me to’t—I warrant you!”
The countess finds his jest a bit lame. “You were lately whipped, sir, as I think….”
Sadly: “‘Oh, Lord, sir!’” He is ready for more. “Spare not me!”
But the countess has had enough. “At your whipping you may cry, ‘Oh, Lord, sir!’—and ‘Spare not me!’ Indeed, your ‘Oh, Lord, sir!’ is very sequent to your whipping; you would answer very well to a whipping—if you were but bound to’t!”
Lavatch shakes his head in frustration. “I ne’er had worse luck in my life with my ‘Oh, Lord, sir!’ I see that things may serve long, but not serve forever.”
“I play a noble housewife with the time,” says the countess crossly, “to entertain’t so merrily with a fool!”
“‘Oh, Lord, sir!’” says Lavatch. He raises his eyebrows. “Why, there it serves well again!”
Despite her intention, the countess laughs. “An end, sir! To your business!”
She hands him a letter. “Give Helen this, and urge her to an immediate answer back. Commend me to my kinsmen and my son. This is not much,” she tells the useless knave.
He asks, “Not much commendation to them?”
“Not much employment for you!” she frowns. “You understand me?”
“Most fruitfully!” Lavatch bows quickly and hurries away. “I am there before my legs!”
“Haste you here again!” calls the countess
Chosen, and Denied
In Paris, the irascible Lord Lafeu, attended by Bertram and Parolles, walks down a long palace corridor toward the throne room this morning; they pass through broad beams of sunlight that slant down in a row from the tall windows.
Lafeu has been annoyed by popular perception of the king’s surprisingly sudden recovery. “They say miracles are past,” says the religious nobleman, “and we have our philosophical persons making modern and familiar things beyond Nature, but without cause.” He laments the ascendancy of temporal learning over faith, and pontificates: “Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear!”
But Parolles has been moved by the day’s startling news. “Why, ’tis the rarest argument for wonder that hath shot out in our latter times!” A surreptitious glance summons Bertram to join in courtly comportment—and to suck up.
“And so ’tis,” says Bertram, ambling a pace behind.
Still, Lafeu worries about the decline of old authority. “To be relinquished of the arts—”
- “So I say!” nods Parolles.
“—of both Galen and Paracelsus!”—in medicine the ancient authority and the modern.
“So I say.”
“Of all the learned and authentic fellows—”
- “Right,” says Parolles, “so I say!”
“—that gave him out as incurable,—”
- “Why, there ’tis! So say I, too!”
“—not to be helped!”
“Right!” notes Parolles. “As ’twere, a man assured of an—”
“Uncertain life, and sure death,” says Lafeu sternly.
“Just!” rules Parolles. “You say well; so would I have said.”
Lafeu muses on the cure. “I may truly say, it is a novelty to the world.”
“It is, indeed!” says Parolles. “If you will have it a ‘showing,’ you shall read in it a—what-do-you-call-it, there?”
“A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor,” says Lafeu firmly.
“That’s it!—I would have said the very same!”
Lafeu has been amazed by the king’s change. “Why, your dauphin”—a term for the king’s son, the young French prince—“is not lustier!” Startled by his own candor, he glances around. “Afore me”—a tame oath—“I speak in respect!”
“Nay, ’tis strange, ’tis very strange!” says Parolles, “that’s the brief and the tedious of it. And he’s of a most firmly erroneous spirit who will not acknowledge it to be the—”
“—very hand of Heaven!” says Lafeu devoutly.
Parolles agrees, vigorously. “Aye, so I say!”
Lafeu pictures the humble healer. “In a most weak—”
“—and debile minister, great power, great transcendence!” affirms Parolles. “Which should, indeed, give us a further cause, than alone the recovery of the king, to be—”
“—generally thankful!” pronounces the nobleman reverently.
Parolles beams. “I would have said it; you say well!” He sees the far doors opening. “Here comes the king!”
The smiling monarch, striding happily beside the gentlewoman who effected his striking cure, is followed by royal attendants.
Says Lafeu, watching the king walk with the lovely visitor, “Lustique! As the Dutchman says: I like a maid the better whilst I have tooth in my head!”—while young, and erect. “Why, he’s able to lead her in a coranto!”—a sprightly dance.
Parolles gasps in surprise. “Mort et vinaigre! Is this not Helen?”
“’Fore God, I think so!” smiles Lafeu, alluding to the Trojans’ beautiful trophy.
The royal procession stops at the entrance to the throne room. “Go, call before me all the lords in court,” the monarch tells an attendant, of the summoned visitors.
The king leads Helen into the high-ceilinged hall and escorts her to the front. “Sit, my preserver, by thy patient’s side,” he tells her, “and from this healthful hand, whose banishèd sense thou hast returned, a second time receive the confirmation of my promised gift, which attends but thy naming!”
As they watch, a dozen powerful and wealthy lords of the realm enter the long, vaulted chamber and stand before the king.
Their sovereign turns to Helen. “Fair maid, send forth thine eye! This youthful parcel of noble bachelors stands at my bestowing, o’er whom both sovereign power and father’s voice I have to use. Thy frank election make; thou hast power to choose, and they none to forsake.”
Helen rises and curtseys before the noblemen. “To each of you, may one fair and virtuous mistress fall, when Love please.”
They smile, waiting expectantly.
“Marry,” she adds, “to each but one!”
- Lafeu cannot but admire the maiden’s poise and beauty. Watching the lords, he quietly confides to Parolles, “I’d give bay Curtal and his furnishings,”—his most-prized, best equipped stallion—“were my mouth no more broken”—to the bridle—“than these boys’, and writ as little in beard!”
The king surveys the young males of French aristocracy. “Peruse them well! Not one of those but had a noble father!”
“Gentlemen,” Helen begins, “Heaven hath, through me, restored the king to health.” Smiles confirm their gratitude. “I am a simple maid—and wealthiest in protesting I am simply a maiden”—a virgin.
She turns to the king. “Please it Your Majesty, I have chosen already.
“The blushes in my cheeks thus whisper to me: ‘We flush that thou shouldst choose—but be refused, let the white death sit on thy cheek forever: we’ll ne’er come there again!’”
Says the king jovially, “Make choice and see. Who shuns thy love shuns all his love in me!” No one, he is sure, could be so imprudent.
“Now, Diana, from thine altar do I fly,” says Helen, “and to imperial Love, that god most high, do stream my sighs!”
She asks the eldest lord. “Sir, will you hear of my suit?”
“And grant it!” says the duke—too eagerly.
“Thanks, sir; the rest is mute,” says Helen pointedly, quickly moving away.
- At the back Lafeu whispers to Bertram, the youngest and newest courtier, “For my life, I had rather be in this choice than a toss of the dice!” A magnificent prize is about to be awarded.
Helen speaks to another peer—one who obviously disdains her. “The honour, sir, that flames in your fair eyes before I speak replies too threateningly.” She tells him, “May Love make your fortunes twenty times above hers that wishes them… and her love humble.”
The marquis bows, curtly. “No better, if you please.”
Helen curtseys. “My wish receive, which great Love grant! And so, I take my leave,” she says, stepping away.
- Lafeu cannot hear what’s being said. “Do all they deny her?” he whispers, incredulous. “If they were sons of mine, I’d have them whipped!—or I would send them to the Turk, to make eunuchs of!”
Helen comes to a painfully shy baron, whose face immediately reddens. “Be not afraid that I your hand should take; I’d never do you wrong—for your own sake! Blessing upon your vows, and in your bed find fairer fortune, if ever you wed!”
- At the back, Lafeu can see the man’s bow, but not his relief. “These boys are toys of ice,” he hisses to his companions. “They’ll none have her! Surely they are bastards of the English—we French ne’er begot ’em!”
Helen goes to a handsome and elegantly dressed earl. “You are too young, too happy, and too good, to make for yourself a son out of my blood!”
He smiles—but only tenuously, because he agrees. “Fair one, I think not so….” he protests feebly.
- Lafeu is disgusted with him. “There’s one grape yet!” he mutters—implying that the other of a pair is missing. “I am sure thy father drank wine—but if thou be’st not an ass,”—suited only to carry it, “I am a youth of fourteen!” He waves a hand in dismissal. “I have known thee already.”
And now Helen has reached Count Bertram of Rousillon. “I dare not say I take you; but I give me and my service, ever whilst I live, into your guiding power.”
She turns to tell the king, “This is the man.”
The sovereign is surprised, but pleased. “Why, then, young Bertram, take her!—she’s thy wife!”
“My wife, my liege!” cries Bertram—who has been judged too young for military service. To the others’ astonishment, he is utterly taken aback. “I shall beseech Your Highness, in such a business give me leave to use the help of mine own eyes!”
The king frowns. “Know’st thou not, Bertram, what she has done for me?”
“Yes, my good lord!—but never hope to know why I should marry her!”
“Thou know’st she has raised me from my sickly bed?”
Bertram moves forward. “But follows it, my lord, that bringing me down must answer for your raising? I know her well!—she had her breeding at my father’s charge!
“A poor physician’s daughter my wife?—disdain corrupt me ever after!”
The king is annoyed. “’Tis only title thou disdain’st in her—the which I can build up!
“Strange is it that our bloods, all together pourèd, in colour, weight and heat would quite confound distinction—yet stand off in differences so mightily!
“If she be all that is virtuous save what thou dislikest, ‘a poor physician’s daughter,’ thou dislikest virtue for a name!
“But do not so! From lowest place, when virtuous things proceed, the place is dignified by the doer’s deed! Where great additions”—rises in rank—“swell us, and virtue none, it is a dropsied honour,” he tells the new count pointedly. “Goodness itself is good, without a name; vileness is so. A property by what it is should go, not by the title.
“She is young, wise, fair—in these to Nature she’s immediate heir, and those breed honour! That is to honour’s scorn which challenges itself as Honour’s born, but is not like that sire!
“Honours thrive when from our acts we them derive, rather than from our foregoers!
“The mere word ‘honour’ on every tomb debauchèd, on every grave a lying trophy, is a damnèd slave!—and as oft is silent where dust in oblivion is the tomb of bones honourèd in deed.
“What should be said? If thou canst like this creature as a maid, I can create the rest!”—bestow a title. “Virtue and she are her own dower; honour and wealth from me!”
But the youth sees a sometime sister—and not a wife. “I cannot love her,” he protests, “nor will I strive to do’t!”
“Thou wrong’st thyself,” the king warns, “if thou shouldst strive to choose!”
Helen returns, disappointed, to the ruler. She wants a partner, not a prisoner. “That you are well restorèd, my lord, I’m glad!” she tells him. “Let the rest go.”
The sovereign, however, has commanded—and even deigned to explain. “My honour’s at the stake,”—under attack like a bear being baited, he says, rising. “Which to defeat, I must produce my power!
“Here, take her hand, proud, scornful boy, unworthy of this good gift,” he demands angrily, “who dost in vile misprision shackle up my love, and her desert!—who wilt not know it is in us to plant thine honour where we please to have it grow!
”Thou canst not dream how we, poising us with her on the scales, shall outweigh thee to the beam!”
He is amazed to see that Bertram still balks. “Check thy contempt!—obey our will, which travails for thy good! Believe not thy disdain, but instantly do thine own fortunes that obedient right which both thy duty owes and our power claims!—or I will throw thee from my care forever, to thy staggers in the careless laps of Youth and Ignorance!—loosing upon thee, in the name of Justice, both my revenge and hate, beyond all terms of pity!
“Speak thine answer!” he demands.
Bertram flushes—and now he bows courteously. “Pardon, my gracious lord—for I submit my fancy to your eyes. When I consider what great creation, and what a dole of honour flies where you bid it, I find that she—who lately was in my nobler thoughts most base—is now the praisèd by the king—and so ennobled is, as ’twere, born so.”
“Take her by the hand,” insists the king, “and tell her she is thine!—to whom I promise a counterpoise—if not to thine estate, a balance more replete!”—worth even more.
“I take her hand,” says Bertram, doing so.
The monarch seems satisfied. “Good fortune smile upon this new-born contract—and the favour of the king, whose ceremony shall be expedient and brief—performèd tonight!
“Expecting absent friends, a more solemn feast shall attend upon the coming space,” he says, regarding wedding celebrations.
“As thou lovest her, thy love’s to me religious; else,” he notes with a warning look, “it does err.” He turns and leads his attendants away to the royal chambers.
The lords and ladies of the French court watch as Count Bertram stiffly follows his affianced from the throne room. Soon all but Lord Lafeu and Parolles have left the huge, now-silent room.
Lafew is fuming. “Do you hear, monsieur!—a word with you!”
“Your pleasure, sir?”
“Your lord and master did well to make his recantation!” he cries angrily.
The startled young captain—formerly a servant—protests: “‘Recantation!’ My ‘lord,’ my ‘master?’”
“Aye!—is it not language I speak?”
“A most harsh one!—and not to be understood without bloody succeeding!”—a challenge to duel. “My ‘master!’”
Old Lafeu scoffs. “Are you a companion to the Count Rousillon?”
“To any count—to all counts—to what is Man!”
“To what is counted a man!” sniffs Lafeu contemptuously. “The count’s master”—the king—“is of another style!”—the real thing.
“You are too old, sir! Let it satisfy you: you are too old!”
“I must tell thee, sirrah,” cries Lafeu, scarlet with indignation, “I write a man!—to which titling cannot bring thee!”
“What I do too well, I dare not do!” warns the soldier.
Lafeu regards him with scorn. “I did think thee, for two ordinaries,”—two meals’ time, “to be a pleasant, wise fellow”—a good table guest. “Thou didst make tolerable vent of thy travel; it might pass—yet the scarfs and the bannerets about thee did manifoldly dissuade me from believing thee a vessel of too great a burthen!”
He glares at Parolles. “I have now found thee; when I lose thee again, I care not! Thou art good for nothing but taking up!”—bawling out, “and yet thou’rt scarcely worth that!”
Parolles pales. “Hadst thou not the privilege of antiquity upon thee—”
“Do not plunge thyself too far in anger,” growls Lafeu, moving closer, “lest thou hasten thy trial!—which if—” He wags his head at the boy in disgust. “Lord have mercy on thee for a hen!”
Lafeu turns to go. “So, my good window of lattice, fare thee well; thy casement I need not open, for I look through thee!”
But having so excoriated the youth, and seeing how taken aback he is, the Christian nobleman relents—somewhat. “Give me thy hand,” he demands.
The captain declines the offer. “My lord, you’ve given me most egregious indignity!”
“Aye, with all my heart; and thou art worthy of it.”
“I have not, my lord, deserved it!”
“Yes, good faith, every dram of it—and I will not abate thee a bit!”
“Well, I shall be wiser,” says poor Parolles.
“Even as soon as thou canst!” urges Lafeu angrily, “for thou hast to pull against a smack o’ the contrary!
“If ever thou be’st bound with thy scarf and beaten, thou shalt find what is thine to be proud of in thy bondage! I have a desire to hold my acquaintance with thee—or rather my knowledge, so that I may say, in the default, ‘He is a man I know!’” adds Lafeu with lewd sarcasm.
“My lord, you do me most insupportable vexation!”
“I would it were hell-pains for thy sake—and my poor doing so eternal!” cries Lafeu. “As for doing, I am past, yet I will go by thee in what motion age will give me leave!” He shoves Parolles brusquely aside as he stalks away.
Parolles ponders legal action. Thou hast a sum that shall take this disgrace off me!—scurvy, old, filthy, scurvy lord!
Well, I must be patient; there is no fettering of authority.
But, in safety now, he allows his anger to rise. I’ll beat him, by my life, if I can meet him with any convenience! Were he double and triple a lord, I’ll have no more pity of his age than I would of—
He paces. I’d beat him, an if I could but meet him again!
Lafeu returns. “Sirrah,” he scowls, “your lord and master’s married!—there’s news for you! You have a new mistress!”
“I most unfeignedly beseech Your Lordship to make some reservation of your wrongs!” pleads the captain. “He is ‘my good lord;’ He whom I serve above is my master!”
“The Devil it is that’s thy master!” He regards Parolles’ elaborately banded coat. “Why dost thou garter up thine arms o’ this fashion? Dost make hose of sleeves? Do other servants so?
“Thou wert best set thy nose where my lower port stands!”—kiss my ass. “By mine honour, if I were but two hours younger, I’d beat thee! Methinks thou art a general offence, and every man should beat thee! I think thou wast created for men to exercise themselves upon thee!”
“This is hard and undeservèd measure, my lord!” protests Parolles.
“Go to, sir!” says Lafeu. “You were beaten in Italy for picking a seed out of a pomegranate! You are a vagabond, and no true traveller! You are more saucy with lords and honourable personages than the commission of your birth and virtue gives you heraldry! You are not worth another word, else I’d call you ‘knave!’” He turns his back. “I leave you!”
“Good, very good—it is so then!” mutters Parolles, as the old man stamps away. Lafeu turns briefly to make a rude gesture. “Good, very good,” calls Parolles. “Let it be concealèd awhile!”—a crude suggestion for stowing the raised middle digit.
As the captain paces in frustration, very upset, Count Bertram returns, groaning with disbelief. “Undone!—and forfeited to cares forever!”
“What’s the matter, good heart?”
Bertram is shaking his head angrily. “Although before a solemn priest I have sworn, I will not bed her!”
“Oh, my Parolles, they have married me!” wails Bertram. But his friend’s military ribbons and scarves bring sudden inspiration: “I’ll to the Tuscan wars!—and never bed her!”
Parolles, too, now seeks escape. “France is a dog-hole, and it no more merits the tread of a man’s foot! To the wars!”
Bertram resolutely thrusts his hands into his coat pockets—and finds a packet. “There’s letters from my mother,” he sighs, pulling out the unopened missives. “What the import is, I know not yet.”
“Aye, that would be known,” mumbles Parolles, his thoughts elsewhere. “To the wars, my boy, to the wars!” he cries. “He wears his honour in a box, unseen, who hugs his ‘Kicky-wicky’ here at home, spending in her arms his manly marrow—which should sustain the bound and high curvet of Mars’s fiery steed!
“To other regions! France is a stable—we that dwell in’t jades! Therefore, to the war!”
Bertram heartily agrees. “It shall be so!
“I’ll send her to my home, acquaint my mother with my hate for her, and wherefore I am fled—write to the king that which I durst not speak! His present gift”—gold already given to the groom—“shall furnish me to those Italian fields, where noble fellows strike!
“War is no strife,” cries the young man, “compared to the dark house and the detested wife!”
“Will this capriccio hold in thee? Art sure?”
Bertram has no doubt. “Go with me to my chamber, and advise me.
“I’ll send her away straight! Tomorrow, I’ll to the wars, she to her single sorrow!”
“Why, these balls bound!” cries Parolles—thinking, perhaps, of cannon-fire. “There’s noise in it! ’Tis hard—a young man married is a man that’s marred! Therefore away, and leave her bravely! Go!—the king has done you wrong!
“But, hush!” he says, looking fearfully toward the doors. “’Tis so!” whispers the older lad as they steal, warily, out of the throne room.
Upstairs in the palace, Helen, a glowing new bride, is surprised by a visitor from Rousillon, one who has brought a letter. “My mother-in-law greets me kindly,” she tells Lavatch, looking up from it. “Is she well?”
“She is not well, but yet she has her health; she’s merry; but yet she is not well. But, thanks be given, she’s very well, and wants nothing i’ the world—but yet she is not well.”
“If she be very well, what does ail her so that she’s not well?”
“Truly, she’s very well indeed, but for two things….”
“What two things?”
“One, that she’s not in heaven—whither God send her quickly! The other, that she’s on earth—from whence God send her quickly!”
Captain Parolles joins them, and bows. “God bless you, my fortunate lady!”—the term reflects her new station.
“I hope, sir,” says Helen, smiling, “having mine own good fortunes, I have your good will!”
“You had my prayers to lead them on,” Parolles points out, “and to keep them on, have them still!”
He grins at the stout clown. “O my knave, how does my old lady?”
“So that you’d have her wrinkles, and I her money,” replies Lavatch, “I would that she did as you say.”
Parolles is puzzled. “Why, I say nothing.”
“Marry, you are the wiser man!—for many a man’s tongue shakes out its master’s undoing!” He regards the sometime-soldier. “Saying nothing, doing nothing, knowing nothing, and having nothing are a great part of your little!—which is within a very little of”—nearly, “nothing!”
“Away!” laughs Parolles. “Thou’rt a knave!”
Lavatch quibbles. “You should, sir, have said ‘Before a knave, thou’rt a knave!’—that’s ‘Before me thou’rt a knave.’ That had been truth, sir.”
“Go to!” says Parolles, catching his gibe. “Thou art a witty fool!”—clever clown. “I have found thee!”
“Did you find me in yourself, sir? Or were you taught to find me out?”—sent on a fool’s errand. “The search, sir, was profitable—and much fool may you find in you, even to the world’s pleasure, and the increase of laughter!”
“A good knave, i’ faith!—and well fed!” laughs Parolles, noting the man’s ample girth.
But now he turns to face Helen. “Madam, my lord will go away tonight. A very serious business calls him on. The great prerogative and rite of love which is your due the time claims; he does acknowledge it, but puts it off, under a compellèd restraint.”
Parolles suffers a pang, seeing her hurt expression; he adds, “—whose want and whose delay is strewed with sweets!
“—which distil now, in the curbèd time, to make the coming hour o’erflow with joy, and drown the brim with pleasure!”
But Helen is clearly taken aback. “What’s his will else?”
“That you will take your instant leave of the king—and make this haste seem as your own good proceeding, strengthened with what apology you think may make it a probable need.” Bertram does not want to anger the ruler.
Her eyes, searching his face, glisten with tears. “What more commands he?”
“That, having this obtained, you presently await his further pleasure.”
“In every thing, I wait upon his will,” the young bride says dutifully.
Parolles bows. “I shall report it so.”
She says, very quietly, curtseying, “I pray you.
“Come, sirrah,” she tells Lavatch, and goes to find the king—to bid him farewell.
Parolles watches as she leaves, surprised by an unfamiliar feeling: his face burns with shame.
Lord Lafeu disapproves of Bertram’s bolting to Florence. He tells Parolles, as they wait in front of the stable, “But I hope ‘Your Lordship’ thinks not him a soldier!”
“Yes, my lord,” says the lad, “and of very valiant approof!”
Lafeu snorts at the source of that opinion: “You have it from his own deliverance!”
“And by other warranted testimony—”
“Then my dial goes not true,” says Lafeu. “I took this lark for a finch!”
“I do assure you, my lord, he is very great in knowledge, and accordingly valiant!”
“Then I have sinned against his experience, and transgressed against his valour, and my state that way is dangerous—since I cannot yet find it in my heart to repent!” Still, Lafeu will try to exercise charity. “Here he comes. I pray you, make us friends; I will pursue the amity.”
Parolles reports progress to Bertram. “Those things shall be done, sir.”
Lafeu regards Parolles, barely containing his disdain for upstarts. “Pray you, sir,” he asks Bertram, “who’s his tailor?”
“Sir?” says Parolles.
Mutters Lafeu, “Oh, I know him well!—aye, sir!” Slowly circling, he looks the soldier up and down. “He has a good workman, sir—a very good tailor!” The young officer, he implies, is but a mannequin.
Bertram asks Parolles, “Is she gone to the king?”
“Will she away tonight?”
Parolles nods. “As you’d have her.”
Bertram tells Lord Lafeu, resolutely, “I have writ my letters, casketed my treasure, given order for our horses; and tonight, when I should take possession of the bride, end ere I do begin!”
Lafeu blames Parolles—and fixes him with a stare. “A good traveller is something at the latter end of a dinner,” he allows. “But one that lies three-thirds, and uses a known truth to pass a thousand nothings with, should be once heard—and thrice beaten!
“God save you, captain!” he adds, sharply.
Bertram is surprised. “Is there any unkindness between my lord and you, monsieur?”
Parolles protests: “I know not how I have deservèd to run into my lord’s displeasure!”
Cries Lafeu angrily, “You have made shift to run into it!—boots and spurs and all, like him that leaped into the giant custard!”—a comical feature of an annual festival in London. “And out of it you’ll run again, rather than suffer question for your residence!”
Bertram tries to soothe. “It may be you have mistaken him, my lord….”
“And shall do so ever!” declares Lafeu, as in taken him ill, “even if I took him at ’s prayers! Fare you well, my lord—and believe this of me: there can be no kernel in this light nut!—the soul of this man is his clothes! Trust him not in matter of heavy consequence!
“I have kept some of them, tame,” he say, of flighty domestic servants, “and know their natures!
“Farewell, monsieur!” he growls at Parolles. “I have spoken better of you than you have, or will deserve, at my hand!
“But we must do good against evil,” he grumbles, regarding his religious duty—and walks away.
Parolles watches for Bertram’s response. “An idle lord, I swear!” he says.
“I think so,” nods his friend—surprising Parolles.
“Why… do you not know him?”
“Yes, I do know him—well,” says the youth, of the contentious peer. “But common speech gives him a pass as worthy.” Now he winces, seeing the approach of his bride. “Here comes my clog!”
Helen has found her new husband. She curtseys. “I have, sir, as I was commanded from you, spoken with the king, and have procured his leave for immediate parting; only, he desires some private speech with you.”
“I shall obey his will,” claims Bertram. “You must not marvel, Helen, at my course, which… holds not colour with the time….
“Nor does the ministration and requirèd office of my particular state! Preparèd I was not for such a business!—therefore am I found so much unsettled!
“This drives me to entreat you that you presently make your way for home, and rather muse than ask why I entreat you. For my respects are better than they seem, and my appointments have in them a need greater than shows itself at the first view to you, who know them not.”
He hands her a letter. “This is to my mother. ’Twill be two days ere I shall see you,” he lies, “so I leave you to your wisdom.”
A tear runs down each of her cheeks. “Sir, I can nothing say but that I am your most obedient servant—”
“Come, come, no more of that,” says Bertram, feeling quite flustered.
“—and ever shall with true observance seek out that in me wherein my homely starts have failed to equal my great fortune.” Helen wipes her eyes with a kerchief.
“Let that go,” says Bertram, guiltily. He turns away quickly. “My haste is very great! Farewell; hie home.” Two stable hands have brought horses, and he starts toward them.
Helen gently touches his arm. “Pray, sir, your pardon….”
Bertram looks at her lovely, upturned face. “Well, what would you say?”
“I am not worthy of the wealth I own, nor dare I say ’tis mine; and yet it is! But, like a timorous thief, most happily would I steal what law does vouch mine own….”
“What would you have?”
“Something—but scarce so much!—a nothing, indeed.” She blushes. “I would not tell you what I would, my lord….” She decides. “’Faith, yes!—strangers and foes do sunder and not kiss!”
Bertram is highly alarmed at that prospect: the kiss would be his first. He turns, panicked, to Parolles. “I pray you, stay not, but in haste to horse!”
“I shall not break your bidding, good my lord,” Helen tells him sadly. The young bride heads, unkissed, toward her quarters in the palace.
Calls Bertram, mounting his steed, “Farewell!
“Where are my other men, monsieur?” He thinks, glancing back at Helen, Go thou toward home—where I will never come whilst I can shake my sword or hear the drum!
His attendants ride up to join him. “Away!—and to our fight!” cries Bertram, spurring the stallion.
“Bravely!” shouts Parolles, as the two lads ride away. “Coragio!”
The Duke of Florence stands on the portico at the southern entrance to his palace. As a new battalion of his soldiers assembles on the grounds before him, he finishes a conversation with two elegant French courtiers—who are joining these forces at a highly opportune time. “So now you have heard, from point to point, the fundamental reasons of this war, whose great decision hath much blood let forth, and thirsts after more.”
“Holy seems the quarrel upon Your Grace’s part,” says the younger Dumaine, “black and fearful on the opposer’s!”
The duke raises an eyebrow. “Therefore we marvel much that our cousin France would in so just a business shut his bosom against our borrowing prayers!” Despite the Florentine’s requests for support, the king has been unwilling to ally the French with a distant duchy. The duke looks expectantly at the other new captain.
“Good my lord, the reasons of our state I cannot yield but like a common and an outside man,” that Parisian confesses. “The great figure of the Council frames by self-enabled motion; therefore I dare not say what I think of it, since I have found myself, on my incertain grounds, to fail as often as I guessed.”
The duke frowns, annoyed by the French king’s balking. “Be it his pleasure.”
The taller Dumaine assures him, “But I am sure the younger of our nation, who surfeit on their ease, will day by day come here for physic!”
“Welcome shall they be,” says the duke, “and all the honours that can fly from us shall on them settle.”
But he regards the ambitious foreigners, who are bowing too low, sourly. You know your places well; when betters fall, for your avails they fell!
Still, he motions for them to take command of the troops. “Tomorrow to the field!”
At Rousillon, the countess has just heard Lavatch’s account of the king’s wonderful cure in Paris—and of her son’s sudden marriage to Helen.
“It hath happened all as I would have had it, save that he comes not along with her!” she says.
“By my troth, I take my young lord to be a very melancholy man,” the clown tells her.
“By what observance, I pray you?”
“Why, he will look upon his boot and sing; mend a ruff and sing; ask questions and sing; pick his teeth and sing. I know that the man who hath this trick of melancholy sold a goodly manner for a song!”
The countess unfolds a letter. “Let me see what he writes, and when he means to come.”
The clown sighs. “I have no mind for Is’bel since I was at court. Our oldlings and our Is’bels o’ the country are nothing like your old ling”—salted fish; lusty ladies—“and your ‘is belle’ o’ the court! The brain’s knocked out of my Cupid, and I begin to love as an old man loves money, with no stomach”—without acting on it.
The countess is stunned by what she reads in Bertram’s message. “What have we here?”
“E’en that you have there.” The clown hears voices at the front, and goes to see who has arrived.
The countess reads: ‘I have sent you a daughter-in-law: she hath recovered the king—and undone me!
‘I have wedded her, not bedded her—and sworn to make the “not” eternal!’ His sarcasm regarding the traditional marriage “knot” irks the lady.
‘You shall hear I am run away; know it before the report come.
‘If there be breadth enough in the world, I will hold a long distance!
‘My duty to you.
‘Your unfortunate son, Bertram.’
She shakes her head, much vexed. This is not well, rash and unbridled boy! To fly the favours of so good a king!—to pluck his indignation onto thy head by the misprising of a maid too virtuous for the contemptible empire! —the ordinary world.
Lavatch comes to her, alarmed. “Oh, madam, yonder is heavy news within, between two soldiers and my young lady!”
“What is the matter?”
“Nay, there is some comfort in the news—comfort that your son will not be killed so soon as I thought he would!”
“Why should he be killed?”
“So ask I, madam—if he run away as I hear he does; the danger is in standing to’t! That’s the loss of men,”—in war, “though it be the begetting of children. Here come they who will tell you more. As for my part, I only hear your son has run away….”
Helen enters the room, and, weeping, embraces the dowager. The brothers Dumaine have come with her. “’Save you, good madam,” says the taller, as they bow.
“Madam, my lord is gone!” cries Helen, “gone for ever!”
“Do not say so!” urges the younger lord compassionately.
“Think upon patience,” the countess tells her sobbing daughter-in-law, gently patting her back. She sees the officers’ surprise at her calm demeanor. “Pray you, gentlemen, I have felt so many quirks of joy and grief that the first face of neither, at the start, can woman me unto’t.
“Where is my son, I pray you?”
“Madam, he’s gone to serve the Duke of Florence,” the younger captain informs her. “We met him thitherward, as from thence we came; and, after some dispatch in hand at the court, thither we bend again.”
“Look on his letter, madam,” says Helen, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. “Here’s my passport!”
The older lady reads, aloud, from Bertram’s note to his wife: “‘When thou canst obtain the ring upon my finger—which never shall come off!—and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to!—then call me husband. But such a ‘then’ I write as ‘never!’
“This is a dreadful sentence!”
Lavatch laughs; he considers the summary ineloquent, however earnest.
“Brought you this letter, gentlemen?” asks the countess, as Helen looks over it again.
“Aye, madam—and, for the contents’ sake, are sorry for our pain!”
She touches Helen’s hand. “I prithee, lady,” she says kindly, “have a better cheer; if thou engrossest all the griefs as thine, thou robb’st me of a moiety!”—half. “He was my son, but I do wash his name out of my blood!” she declares angrily, “and thou art all my child!”
The dowager regards the officers. “Towards Florence is he?”
“And to be a soldier?”
“Such is his noble purpose,” says the older officer, “and believe’t: the duke will lay upon him all the honour that good convenience claims!”
“Return you thither?”
“Aye, madam, with the swiftest wing of speed.”
Helen reads aloud a further line of Bertram’s newer letter: “‘Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France!’” She shakes her head. “’Tis bitter!”
The countess is disgusted. “Find you that there?”
The older Dumaine has observed many young officers. “’Tis but the boldness of his hand, haply, which his heart was not consenting to.” His companion thinks, wryly, that the hand has indeed trumped the heart.
“Nothing in France until he have no wife!” mutters the countess. “There’s nothing here… which is too good for him!” She nods toward the beautiful lady. “But only she!—and she deserves such a lord as twenty rude boys might attend upon, calling her, hourly, ‘Mistress!’
“Who was with him?” she asks, a suspicion rising.
“A servant only—now a gentleman whom I have some time known.”
“Parolles, was it not?”
“Aye, my good lady, he,” says the older lord.
“A very tainted fellow, and full of wickedness!” scowls the countess. “My son corrupts a well-derivèd nature with his inducement!”
The younger Dumaine finds irony in that; he has seen the reverse of her meaning: Bertram employs Parolles for ill purposes.
Says the senior officer, “Indeed, good lady, the fellow has a deal of that ‘too much’ which holds him much to have”—Parolles’ affectations are intended to imply affluence.
“You’re well come, gentlemen,” says the countess. “I will entreat you, when you see my son, to tell him that his sword can never win the honour that he loses! More I’ll entreat you to bear along, written.”
“We’ll serve you, madam, in that and all your worthiest affairs,” the taller captain assures her.
“Now so; and as we exchange our courtesies, will you draw near?” She leads them to the dining hall, where supper has been waiting. Lavatch, always ready to eat, goes with them.
Helen, alone, considers the state of her marriage. ‘Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.’ Nothing in France, until he has no wife!
Thou shalt have none, Rousillon!—none in France! Then hast thou all again.
Poor lord! Is’t I that chase thee from thy country, and expose those tender limbs of thine to the events of the none-sparing war? And is it I that drive thee from the sportive court, where thou wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark for smoky muskets?
O you leaden messengers, that ride upon the violent speed of fire, fly with false aim!—move the still, peering air that sings with piercing! Do not touch my lord!
Whoever shoots at him, I set him there; whoever charges at his forward breast, I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t; and, though I kill him not, I am the cause that his death was so effected!
Better ’twere I met a ravening lion when it roars with sharp constraint of hunger! Better ’twere that all the miseries which nature owns were mine at once!
Now come thou home, Rousillon, from whence Honour by danger wins only a scar, and oft it loses all! I will be gone!—my being here it is that holds thee hence!
She had considered entering seclusion. Shall I stay here to do’t? No, no!—although the air of paradise did fan the house, and angels officed all! I will be gone, so that pitying Rumour may report my flight, to consolate thine ear!
Come, night! End, day! For with the dark, as a poor thief I’ll steal away!
A flourish of trumpets hails the Duke of Florence when he emerges from his palace. Two French volunteers on horseback ride to the front of the waiting battalion of new troops, Italians and mercenaries. The visitors dismount and bow before the duke.
“The general of our horse”—commander of horsemen—“thou art!” proclaims the sovereign, confirming his commission of the recently arrived Count of Rousillon. “And we, great in our hope, lay our best love and credence upon thy promising fortune!”
“Sir, it is a charge too heavy for my strength,” says the count, “but yet will I strive to bear it for your worthy sake to the extreme edge of hazard!”
“Then go thou forth!—and may Fortune shimmer upon thy prosperous helm as thine auspicious mistress!”
“This very day, great Mars, I put myself into thy file!” cries Count Bertram. “Make me but like my thoughts, and I shall prove a lover of thy drum, hater of love!”
He nods to Captain Parolles; they mount their steeds, and, as drum-rolls pound and trumpets blare, he prepares to lead the duke’s cavalry into battle against their southern countrymen.
In the study at Rousillon the countess is perturbed. “Alas! And why would you take the letter from her?—might you not know she would do as she has done, in sending me a letter?
“Read it again!”
The steward reads aloud: “‘I am Saint Jacques’s pilgrim, thither gone.’” The shrine to the Apostle James, patron saint of Spain, is two hundred leagues to the west, at Compostela.
“‘Ambitious love hath so in me offended that barefoot I plod upon the cold ground, with sainted vow —pledge to the saint— my faults to have amended.
“‘Write!—write so that from the bloody course of war my dearest master, your dear son, may hie! Bless him at home in peace, whilst I from afar his name with zealous fervor sanctify!
“‘His taken labours bid him me forgive! I, his despiteful Juno,” —the goddess who assigned Hercules his twelve labors— “sent him forth from courtly friends, with camping foes to live, where death and danger dog the heels of worth!
“‘He is too good and fair for me—and for Death, whom I’d myself embrace, to set him free!’”
Cries the countess, “Ah, what sharp stings are in her mildest words! Rynaldo, you did never lack advice so much as in letting her pass so! Had I spoken with her, I could well have diverted her intents, which thus she hath predicted!”
“Pardon me, madam!” pleads the steward. “If I had given you this last night, she might have been o’erta’en.” But Rynaldo, charmed as ever by Helen’s kindly grace, acted under her direction—and knows that she has reasons for the deception. “But as for now, she writes that pursuit would be but vain.”
The widow paces across the stone floor, picturing Helen, kneeling at the distant shrine. “What angel shall bless this unworthy husband? He cannot thrive unless her prayers, which heaven delights to hear and loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath of Greatest Justice!
“Write, write, Rynaldo, to this husband unworthy of his wife! Let every word weigh heavily of her worth, that he does weigh too light! My greatest grief, though little he do feel it, set down sharply!
“Dispatch the most convenient messenger!” she says, as he takes a seat and prepares to write. “When, haply, he shall hear that she is gone, he will return—and hope I may that she, hearing so much, will speed her foot again, led hither by pure love!”
She confesses, tearfully, “Which of them both is dearer to me, I have no skill in sense to make distinction!
“Provide this message,” she tells the steward. “My heart is heavy, and mine age is weak; grief would have tears, but sorrow bids me speak.”
As Rynaldo writes down her words, he hopes he has done the right thing.
From afar, a military trumpet’s tucket echoes off the towers of old Florence, as the mounted soldiers’ combat rages on, across the fields beyond.
Atop the town’s high, gated walls, a widow is among the citizens observing the conflict. “Nay, come,” she urges her daughter, “for they do approach the city!—we shall lose all the sight!” She heads toward the stone steps down to the unbarred entrance into the town.
“They say the French count has done most honourable service!” says Diana, a dark-haired beauty of twenty, following her.
Her mother, too, has heard such accounts of the fighting against troops sent here by the Duke of Siena. “It is reported that he has taken their greatest commander—and that with his own hand he slew the duke’s brother!” Another tucket sounds, and they move past the entrance. “We have lost our labour!—they are gone a contrary way! Hark!—you may know by their trumpets.”
Lady Mariana, walking beside them, has wearied of looking out over the fertile plain along the river, watching the disorder in both sides’ forces as, again and again, they press forward, then fall back. “Come, let’s return again, and suffice ourselves with the report of it.”
The three turn homeward.
“Well, Diana, take heed of this French earl,” Lady Mariana warns Diana. “The honour of a maid is in her name; and no legacy is so rich as honesty.” The young woman and her mother are not poor, but they are hardly rich.
“I have told my neighbour how you have been solicited by the gentleman, his companion,” the widow informs her daughter—oblivious to having thus put Diana’s good name in jeopardy.
The word gentleman irks the older lady. “I know that knave, hang him!” says Lady Mariana. “One Parolles! A filthy officer he is, for making those suggestions on behalf of the young earl!
“Beware of them, Diana!—their promises, enticements, oaths, tokens, and all these engines of lust are not the things they go under!”—purport to be. “Many a maid hath been seducèd by them! And the misery is that the example, so terribly seen in the wreck of maidenhood, cannot, for all that, dissuade succession!”—further instances. “They are but limed”—stuck, like birds trapped on coated branches—“by the twigs that threaten them!
“I hope I need not advise you further—I hope your own grace will keep you where you are, though there were no further danger than the modesty which is lost, so known.”
Diana is confident. “You shall not need to fear for me!”
“I hope so,” says the widow, adjusting the scarf over her graying hair. She sees the approach of a traveler, one with the staff and dark, hooded cloak of a penitent, striding up the road toward the city gate.
“Look, here comes a pilgrim. I know she will lie at my house; thither they send one another. I’ll question her.” As the woman nears, the widow nods. “God save you, pilgrim! Whither are you bound?”
“To… Saint Jacques le Grand. Where do the palmers lodge, I do beseech you?”
“At the Saint Francis, here beside the entrance.”
“Is this the way?”
“Aye, marry, is’t.” They sense the heavy pounding of hooves. “Hark you!—they come this way! If you will tarry, holy pilgrim, but till the troops come by, I will conduct you where you shall rather be lodged,” she says, smiling, “for I think I know your hostess as amply as myself!”
“Is it yourself?”
The widow curtseys. “If you shall please so, pilgrim.”
The traveler nods. “I thank you, and will stay upon your leisure.”
The widow notes her accent. “You came, I think, from France?”
“I did so.”
“Here you shall see a countryman of yours who has done worthy service!”
“His name, I pray you?”
Young Diana replies: “The Count Rousillon. Know you such a one?”
“But by the ear, that hears most nobly of him; his force I know not.”
“Whatsome’er he is, he’s bravely taken, here,” says the bright-eyed girl. “He stole away from France, as ’tis reported, for the king had him married against his liking! Think you it is so?”
“Aye, surely the mere truth; I know his lady.”
Diana wonders about the abandoned bride. “There is a gentleman that serves the count reports but coarsely of her.”
“What’s his name?”
“Oh, I believe him, in argument of praise, to be worthy of the great count himself,” says the penitent—dryly. “She is too lowly to have her name repeated; all her deserving is a reservèd honesty—but that I have not heard questioned.”
“Alas, poor lady!” says Diana. “’Tis a hard bondage to become the wife of a detesting lord!”
Her mother concurs. “Aye, right; good creature, wheresoe’er she is, her heart weighs sadly.” She nods toward Diana. “This young maid might do her a harsh turn, if she pleasèd….”
“How do you mean?” asks the penitent. “Might it be that the amorous count solicits her in the unlawful purpose?”
“He does indeed!” says the widow angrily, “and brokers with all that in such a suit can corrupt the tender honour of a maid! But she is armèd for him, and keeps her guard in honestest defence!”
“The gods forbid else!” says French visitor sincerely.
The widow looks away. Florentine troops are approaching on horseback, following a rider who holds their colors aloft. “So, now they come!
“That is Antonio, the duke’s eldest son,” the widow notes, pointing. “That, Escalus!”
“Which is the Frenchman?” asks the pale pilgrim.
“He—that with the plume,” says Diana. “’Tis a most gallant fellow! I would he loved his wife; if he were honester he were much goodlier. Is’t not a handsome gentleman?”
The hooded traveler nods. “I like him well.”
“’Tis pity he is not honest,” says Diana. She points at Parolles. “Yond’s that same knave that leads him to these places! Were I his lady, I would poison that vile rascal!”
“Which is he?”
“That jackanapes with scarfs.” She frowns, noticing his expression. “Why is he melancholy?”
The pilgrim is concerned. “Perchance he’s hurt i’ the battle….”
- Just down the road, approaching on horseback, Parolles is indeed pained—by the enemy’s capture of a battalion symbol. “Lose our drum!—well!” he complains angrily.
“He’s sharply vexed by something,” observes Lady Mariana. “Look, he has spied us!”
Despite the captain’s smiling nod and wave, the widow scowls, muttering. “Marry, hang you!”
Lady Mariana, too, glares at him. “And your courtesy as a ring-carrier!”—a pander.
The dusty, weary riders—who have survived today’s fighting, at least—plod by on their way to their encampment southwest of town.
“The troop is past,” the widow notes, heading through the wide entrance, back into the city. “Come, pilgrim, I will bring you where you shall be guest. Of enjoinèd penitents there’s four or five to great Saint Jacques bound, already at my house.”
“I humbly thank you,” says the traveler. “Please it this matron and this gentle maid to eat with us tonight, the charge and thanking shall be from me! And, to requite you further,” she tells the others, “I will bestow some precepts on this virgin worthy the note.”
The widow is pleased. “We’ll take your kindly offer!”
In the Florentine battalion’s camp outside the town, Count Rousillon has heard two fastidious French noblemen’s complaints; they have again been irritated by Parolles’ presumption.
“Nay, good my lord, put him to’t,” urges the older Dumaine. “Let him have his way!”
“If Your Lordship find him not a hilding, hold me no more in your respect!” says the younger.
“On my life, my lord, a bubble!” insists the first.
Bertram frowns. “Do you think I am so far deceivèd in him?”
“Believe it, my lord! In mine own direct knowledge—without any malice, but to speak of him as my kinsman—he’s a most notable coward!—an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker!—the owner of not one good quality worthy Your Lordship’s toleration!”
“It were fit you knew him,” the older officer warns, “lest, reposing too far in his virtue—which he hath not!—he might at some great and trusty business in a main danger”—combat—“fail you!”
“I would I knew in what particular action to try him….”
The two captains have a scheme. “None better than to let him fetch off his drum,”—recapture it, “which you hear him so confidently undertake to do!”
“I with a troop of Florentines will suddenly surprise him!” the younger Dumaine proposes. “Such I will have whom I am sure he knows not from the enemy. We will bind and hoodwink”—blindfold—“him, so that he shall suppose no other but that he is carried into the league of the adversaries, when we bring him to our own tents!
“Be Your Lordship but present at his examination! If he do not, for the promise of his life, and in the highest compulsion of base fear, offer to betray you and deliver all the intelligence in his power against you—and that upon oath with the forfeit of his divine soul!—never trust my judgment in anything!”
“Oh, let him fetch his drum!” urges the older lord. “He says he has a ‘stratagem’ for’t! When Your Lordship sees the bottom of his success in’t, and into what metal this counterfeit lump of yours will be melted, if you give him not John Drum’s entertainment,”—drumming out, dismissal, “your inclining cannot be removed!” He spots Parolles. “Here he comes….”
“Oh, for the love of laughter,” the younger captain whispers to Bertram, as Parolles approaches, “hinder not the honouring of this design; in any event let him fetch off his drum!”
Bertram greets Parolles merrily: “How now, monsieur! This drum sticks sorely in your disposition!”
The older Dumaine seems to scoff. “A pox on’t. Let it go; ’tis but a drum.”
“‘But a drum!’” cries Parolles. “Is’t but a drum?—a drum so lost!
“There was excellent command,” he growls, his harsh sarcasm aimed at the Duke’s two advisors. “To charge in with our horse upon our own wings, and to rend our own soldiers!”
“That was not to be blamed in the command of the service!” exclaims the older officer—the one who gave the order. “It was a disaster of war that Caesar himself could not have prevented, if he had been there to command!”
“Well, we cannot greatly condemn our success,” says Bertram, content, overall, with the day. “Some dishonour we had in the loss of that drum; but it is not to be recovered.”
“It might have been recovered!” says Parolles, glaring at the other officers.
Bertram shrugs. “It might; but it is not now.”
“It is to be recovered!” cries Parolles boldly. “But that the merit of service is seldom attributed to the true and exact performer, I would have that drum or no other—or ‘hic jacet!’” Here lies—a phase that precedes, on a gravestone, the deceased’s name; M. Parolles, however, is ill advised to use a term summoning up “lies.”
With a wave, Bertram signals approval. “Why, if you have the stomach, to it, monsieur! If you think your ability in stratagem can bring this instrument of honour again into its native quarter, be magnanimous in the enterprise, and go on! I will grace the attempt as a worthy exploit!
“If you speed well in it, the duke shall both speak of it and extend to you what further becomes his greatness, even to the utmost syllable of your worthiness!”
Declares Parolles, “By this hand of a soldier, I will undertake it!”
“But you must not now slumber in it,” warns Bertram.
“I’ll about it this evening!” his friend pledges, “and I will immediately pen down my dilemmas, encourage myself in my certainty, put myself into my mortal preparation—and by midnight, look to hear further from me!”
“May I be bold to acquaint his grace”—their patron, the Duke of Florence—“that you are gone about it?”
“I know not what the success will be, my lord, but the attempt I vow!” says Parolles gallantly.
“I know thou’rt valiant,” says Bertram, “and to the possibilities of thy soldiership will endorse thee! Fare well!”
Says Parolles, sternly, as he strides toward his tent to prepare for the adventure. “I love not many words!”
The younger Dumaine laughs, watching him go. “No more than a fish loves water!
“Is not this a strange fellow, my lord, that so confidently seems to undertake this business—which he knows is not to be done—dares himself to do’t—and better dares be damned than do’t!”
The older officer chuckles. “You do not know him, my lord, as we do! Certain it is that he will steal himself into a man’s favour, and for a week expound a great deal about ‘discoveries’”—his experiences in war. “But when you find him out, you’ll have him ever after!”
Bertram is not convinced. “Why, do you think he will make no deed at all of this, that so seriously he does address himself unto?”
“None in the world!” insists the younger lord, “but will return with an invention, and clap upon you two or three probable lies! But we have almost embossèd him!”—chased him down. “You shall see his fall tonight; for indeed he is not fit for Your Lordship’s respect.”
“We’ll make you some sport with the fox ere we catch him!” the older noble assures Bertram. “He was first smoked by the old lord, Lafeu!
“When his disguise and he are parted, tell me what a sprat you shall find him!—which you shall see this very night!”
Says his companion, “I must go look to my ‘twigs!’”—set the trap. “He shall be caught!”
Bertram nods, and tells the junior advisor, “Your brother, he shall go along with me.”
“As’t please Your Lordship,” says the younger Dumaine, bowing. “I’ll leave you.” Rubbing his hands together gleefully, he goes to prepare the counterfeit enemy troops.
“Now,” say Bertram, “will I lead you to the house, and show you the lass I spoke of!”
“But you say she’s honest….”
“That’s all the fault!” complains Bertram. “I spoke with her but once, and found her wondrous cold; but I sent to her, by this same coxcomb that we have i’ the wind, tokens and letters—which she did re-send. And that is all I have done.
“She’s a fair creature! Will you go see her?”
“With all my heart, my lord!”
Lady Helen has revealed her identity to her hostess. “If you doubt I am she, I know not how I shall assure you further,” she frets, “and I shall lose the grounds I work upon!”
Says the widow cautiously. “Though my estate be fallen, I was well born—and nothing acquainted with such businesses as these! I would not put my reputation now in any staining act….”
“Nor would I wish you to!” says Helen. “First, give me trust: the count, he is my husband, and what to your sworn counsel I have spoken is so, from word to word! And thus you cannot, by the good aid that I of you shall borrow, err in bestowing it.”
“I should believe you,” says the widow, “for you have showed me that which well approves you’re great in fortune….”
Helen nods, understanding. “Take this purse of gold, and let me buy your friendly help thus far—which I will over-pay and pay again when I have found it!”
The widow opens the pouch; her eyes widen at the dazzling sight of large, shiny coins.
Helen continues: “The count, he woos your daughter—lays down his wanton siege before her beauty, resolved to win with her. Let her at last consent—but as we’ll direct her how ’tis best to bear it!
“Now, his importuning blood will deny nought that she’ll demand. The count wears a ring that downward hath succeeded in his house from son to son, some four or five descents since the first father wore it. This ring he holds in most-rich choice! Yet in his idle fire, to buy his will it would not seem too dear, howe’er repented after.”
The widow’s eyes narrow. “Now I see the bottom of your purpose!”
“You see it as lawful, then,” insists Helen firmly. “It is no more than that your daughter, ere she seems as won, desires this ring, appoints him an encounter—and finally delivers me to fill the time, herself most chastely absent!
“After this, I’ll add three thousand crowns to what has already passèd, to marry her!”—to bolster her dowry.
“I have yielded!” says the widow quickly. “Instruct my daughter how she shall persever, so that time and place may prove coherent with this lawful deceit.
“Every night he comes with musics of all sorts, and songs composèd to her unworthiness,” she complains. “It nothing steads us to chide him from our eaves, for he persists as if his life lay on’t!”
Helen regards the others. “Well then tonight let us assay our plot!—which, if it speed, has wicked meaning, in a lawful deed, and lawful meaning in a lawful fact: where both sin not, and yet do sinful act.
“But let’s about it!”
Ambushes and Deceits
Just beyond the far edge of the Florentine battalion’s field encampment that night, the younger Dumaine waits in ambush with six soldiers. “He can come no other way but by this hedge-corner,” he tells the men, all locals.
“When you sally upon him, speak in whatever terrible ‘language’ you will. Though you understand it not yourselves, no matter, for we must seem not to understand him, except for some one among us whom we produce as an interpreter.”
“Good captain, let me be the interpreter,” offers a tough old corporal.
“Art not acquainted with him?—knows he not thy voice?”
“No, sir, I warrant you.”
“But what linsey-woolsey”—mixed fabric, nonsense—“hast thou to speak to us again?”—use as translation of their comments.
“E’en such as you speak to me,” the Italian tells the French officer dryly.
Dumaine tries again to explain the prank. “He must think us some band of strangers i’ the adversary’s employ!
“Now, he hath a smack of all neighbouring languages; therefore we must every one be a man of his own fancy. Not knowing what we speak one to another—even as we seem to know—is knowing straight to our purpose! Choughs’ language”—crows’ cawing—“is good enough if gabble enough!
“As for you, interpreter, you must seem very politic.
“But crouch now! Here he comes—to beguile two hours in a sleep, and then return and swear to the lies he forges!” The men lie low, concealing themselves behind bushes.
Walking in the dark, slipping away from the quiet camp—its cooking fires have dwindled to embers—Captain Parolles has noted bell-tower chimes in the city. Ten o’clock! Within these three hours ’twill be time enough to go home.
What shall I say I have done? It must be a very plausive invention, one that carries it! They begin to smoke me—and disgraces have of late knocked too often at my door! he thinks, remembering Lord Lafeu.
Parolles pauses by the thick hedge, and gazes, musing, up at the moon. “I find my tongue is too foolhardy!” he confesses to the luminous circle. “After it, my heart hath the fear of Mars and his creatures, not daring the report!”—even the sound of cannon or musket.
- The hidden officer overhears. This is the first truth that e’er thine own tongue was guilty of!
Parolles paces, annoyed with himself. “What the devil could have moved me to undertake the recovery of this drum, being not ignorant of the impossibility, and knowing I had no such purpose?
“I must give myself some hurts, and say I got them in the exploit! Yet slight ones will not carry it; they will say, ‘Came you off with so little?’ And great ones I dare not give!
“Wherefore, what’s the instance?
“Tongue, if you’ll prattle me into these perils, I must put you into a butter-woman’s mouth, and buy myself another, from a sultan’s mute!”
- Is it possible he should know what he is, and be what he is?
“I would that cutting of my garments would serve the turn—or the breaking of my Spanish sword….”—a costly, imported weapon.
- We cannot allow you so!
“Or the bearing of my beard—and saying it was in stratagem.”
- ’Twould not do!
“Or drown my clothes, and say I was stripped,—”
- Hardly serve!
“—and swear I leaped from the window of a citadel!”
- How deep?
- The officer stifles a laugh. Thirty great oaths would scarce make that be believed!
“I would I had any drum—I would swear I recovered it from the enemy.”
- Dumaine grins. You shall hear one anon! He signals to his men.
Parolles stops, listening. “A drum, now!—one of the enemy’s!”
Bursting from hiding, the disguised foot-soldiers surround Parolles, all clamoring in gibberish. One raises the metal slide of a lantern, spilling out light.
“Throca mo-vous-us! Cargo, cargo, cargo!” cries Dumaine, still hiding in the dark.
“Cargo, cargo, cargo!” shout the men, brandishing swords. “Villiando par carbo, cargo!”
Parolles holds his palms out before him, beseeching: “Oh, ransom, ransom!” he cries in terror, as they seize, bind, and blindfold him. “Do not hide mine eyes!”
“Boskos, thromuldo, boskos,” says the corporal gravely.
“I know!—you are the Muskos’ regiment!” cries Parolles, who speaks no Russian, “and I shall lose my life for want of language! If there be here German, or Dane, low Dutch, Italian, or French, let him speak to me!” he pleads. Hastily, he makes an offer: “I’ll reveal that which shall undo the Florentines!”
“Boskos vauvado,” says the corporal sourly, moving close. “I understand thee, and can speak thy tongue. Kerely bonto, sir!—betake thee to thy faith, for seventeen poniards”—daggers—“are at thy bosom!”
“Oh!” gasps poor Parolles, trembling.
“Oh, pray, pray, pray! Manka revania dulche!”
“Oscor bi dulchos; voli vorco!” calls Dumaine gruffly.
“The general is content to spare thee yet,” the corporal advises, “and, hoodwinked as thou art, will lead thee on to gather from thee; haply thou mayst inform of something to save thy life.”
“Oh, let me live,” cries Parolles, “and all the secrets of our camp I’ll show—their force, their purposes!—nay, I’ll speak that which you will wonder at!”
“But wilt thou faithfully?”
“If I do not, damn me!”
“Accordo, lint-a,” mutters the corporal. “Come on; thou art granted space”—some time. He grabs the captain by an arm and leads him away through the darkness, to a tent set well apart from the battalion’s others.
Dumaine orders a soldier, “Go, tell the Count Rousillon and my brother we have caught the woodcock, and will keep him muffled till we do hear from them.”
“Captain, I will.”
“He will betray us all—unto ourselves!” laughs Dumaine. “Inform of that!”
“So I will, sir!”
“Till then I’ll keep him dark and safely lockèd!”
Carefully groomed, Bertram stands in the parlor of a home in old Florence, surprised by how well his visit is going. Lord Dumaine has been called back to the camp by his companion, and the widowed mistress of the house has retired, yawning, for the night.
The count smiles radiantly at the object of Parolles’ efforts on his behalf. “They told me that your name was Fontibel!”—he pronounces it font de belle, fount of beauty.
“No, my good lord. Diana.” She was named after the virgin deity.
“Titled a goddess—and worthy of it—with addition!” effuses Bertram. He steps closer, looking concerned. “But, fair soul, in your fine frame hath love no property? If the living fire of youth light not your mind, you are no maiden, but a monument! When you are dead you should be such a one as you are now,” he chides, “for you are cold and stern—but now you should be as your mother was when your sweet self was begot!”
Diana raises an eyebrow. “She then was honest.”
Says Bertram, with an unctuous smile. “So would you be.”
“No—my mother did but duty—such, my lord, as you owe to your wife!”
“No more o’ that, I prithee! Do not strive against my vows!—I was compellèd to her!
“But I love thee, by Love’s own sweet constraint,”—by order of Cupid, “and will forever do thee all rights of service!” he pledges.
“Aye, so you serve us—till we serve you! But when you have our roses, you leave our thorns!—to prick our bare selves, and mock us with our bareness!”
Bertram is indignant. “How have I sworn?” he demands; he has promised to marry her—when he can.
“’Tis not the many oaths that makes the truth, but the plain, single vow that is vowed truly. What is not holy, that we swear not by, but ask the Highest to witness! Then, pray you, tell me: if I should swear by all of God’s great attributes that I loved you dearly—would you believe my oaths when I did love you ill?”—treated him poorly. She shakes her head. “This has no holding, to swear by Him whom I protest to love if it will work against Him!
“Therefore your oaths are but words, and poor contentions unsealèd.” She turns away, adding, “At least in my opinion.”
“Change it,” cries Bertram, “change it! Be not so holily cruel! Love is holy!—and my integrity ne’er knew the crafts that you do charge men with! Stand no more off, but give thyself unto my ailing desires—which then recover!” he pleads. “Say thou art mine ever, and so shall my love as it begins persever!” He reaches to take her in his arms.
Diana steps back from him. “I see that men make ropes of such a scarf that we’ll forsake ourselves!” Her eyes flash. She challenges, chin tipped up: “Give me that ring.”
“I’d lend it thee, my dear, but have no power to give it from me,” Bertram tells her.
She pouts. “Will you not, my lord?”
He senses progress. He fingers the ring. “It is an honour—belonging to our house, bequeathèd down from many ancestors—which were the greatest obloquy i’ the world in me to lose!”
Diana glares. “Mine honour is such a ring! My chastity’s the jewel of our house, bequeathèd down from many ancestors!—which were the greatest obloquy i’ the world in me to lose!
“Thus your own proper wisdom brings in the champion Honour on my part, against your vain assault!”
Her vigor both stirs and incites Count Bertram. “Here, take my ring!—my house, mine honour—yea, my life be thine, and I’ll be bidden by thee!”
Diana smiles, admiring the gold that now enhances her own finger. “When midnight comes, knock at my chamber-window. I’ll take care that my mother shall not hear.
“Now will I charge you, in the bond of truth: when you have conquered my yet-maiden bed, remain there not an hour, nor speak to me! My reasons are most strong—and you shall know them, when back again this ring shall be deliverèd.
“And on your finger in the night I’ll put another ring, so that what in time proceeds may betoken the future, past our deeds.”
He nods, offering no objection.
“Adieu, till then! And fail not,” she says. “You have won a ‘wife’ of me, even if there my hope be done,” she adds, apparently still doubtful.
“A heaven on earth I have won by wooing thee!” he assures her. Bertram kisses her hand, bows, and leaves.
She smiles to herself. For which live long—to thank both heaven and me; you may do so in the end.
Diana closes the door after him, and removes the Rousillon ring, feeling disgusted. My mother told me just how he would woo, as if she sat in his heart! She says all men have the like oaths!
He has sworn to marry me, when his wife is dead; therefore I’ll lie with him—when I am burièd! Since French men are so brave as to marry at will, I’ll live and die a maid!
But in this disguise I think’t no sin to cozen him that would unjustly win!
Just before midnight, the two Dumaines emerge from a tent at the edge of the Florentine cavalry’s camp to check on their tethered horses—and to exchange some very recent gossip about Count Bertram.
“You have not given him his mother’s letter?” asks the younger, regarding the newest missive from France—with Rynaldo’s story of Helen’s expressed wish to die in Spain.
“I have delivered it an hour since. There is something in’t that stings his nature!—for on the reading it he changed—almost into another man!”
The younger nobleman tsk-tsks disapproval. “He has much that’s worthy of blame laid upon him, for shaking off so good a wife, and so sweet a lady!”
“Especially as he hath incurred the everlasting displeasure of the king!—who had ever tuned his bounty to sing happiness to him.” The older Dumaine moves nearer his friend, touching his arm. “I will tell you a thing—but you shall let it dwell darkly within you….”
“When you have spoken it, ’tis dead, and I am the grave of it!”
“He hath perverted a young gentlewoman of most chaste renown here in Florence!—and this night he fleshes his will in the spoiling of her honour! He hath given her his monumental ring, and thinks himself made in the unchaste composition!”
“Now may God delay our rebellion,” murmurs the junior partner. He touches his friend’s cheek affectionately. “As we are to ourselves, what things are we!”
“Merely our own traitors,” says his more experienced companion. “And, as in the common course of all treasons, we ever see them revel in themselves till they attain to their abhorrèd ends. So he, that in this action contrives against his own nobility, in his proper stream o’erflows himself!”
The younger nobleman giggles; but he looks around to see if anyone hears. “Is it not then damnable in us to be trumpeters of our unlawful intents?” Some things, they have long agreed, are best kept secret.
He looks toward the tent where Parolles is being detained, awaiting the test that Count Bertram is to overhear. “We shall not, then, have his company tonight?”
“Not till after midnight, for he is resolvèd to have his hour,” says the older partner dryly.
“That approaches apace. I would gladly have him see his companion anatomized, so that he might take the measure of his own judgment, wherein so curiously he had set this counterfeit!”
His friend concurs. “We will not meddle with him till he come; for his presence must be the whip of the other.”
“In the meantime, what hear you of these wars?”
“I hear there is an overture of peace.”
“Nay, I assure you—a peace concluded!”
“What will Count Rousillon do, then? Will he travel further, or return again into France?”
“I perceive, by that question,” says the younger man, “you are not altogether in his counsel.”
“Let it be forbid, sir!—so should I be a great deal in his act!”—an accomplice, or an intimate.
The younger Dumaine now relates more-recent news, gleaned from another letter sent by Rynaldo to Bertram. “Sir, his wife some two months since has fled from his house, her intention a pilgrimage to Saint Jacques le Grand—which holy undertaking, with most austere sanctimony, she accomplishèd.
“And, there residing, as the tenderness of her nature became a prey to her grief, it finally made a groan of her last breath—and now she sings in heaven!”
His friend is stunned; she was not yet twenty. “How is this justified?”—explained and verified.
“The stronger part of it by her own letters, which makes her story true, even up to the point of her death. Her death itself—which could not be her office to say is come—was faithfully confirmèd by the rector of the place.”
The doughty young countess committed the forgery herself, of course.
“Hath the count all this intelligence?”
“Aye—and the particular confirmations, point by point, to the full arming of the verity!”
Both noblemen now ruminate, a bit sorrowfully; they had liked Lady Helen.
“I am heartily sorry that he’ll be glad of this!” says the senior lord.
The younger, too, thinks of Bertram. “How mightily sometimes we make us comforts of our losses!”
His friend nods. “And how mightily some other times we drown our gain in tears. The great dignity that his valour hath here acquirèd for him shall at home be countered by a shame as ample!”
The younger man shrugs. “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together. Our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues”—to be transformed by repentance.
One of Count Bertram’s soldiers rides toward their tent, and, spotting the officers by torchlight, dismounts. He walks his horse over to them and bows.
“How now! Where’s your master?” asks the younger officer.
“In the street, sir; he met the duke—from whom he hath taken a solemn leave!—his lordship will next morning head for France! The duke hath offered him letters of commendation to the king.”
“They shall be no less than needful there,” says the older captain, “even if they were more than they can truly commend!”
His young friend concurs. “They cannot be too sweet for the king’s tartness!” He sees Bertram riding toward them. “Here’s his lordship now.
“How now, my lord! Is’t not after midnight?”
Bertram is weary. “I have tonight dispatchèd sixteen businesses, a month’s length apiece!
“As an abstract of success: I have taken leave of the duke, done my adieus with his nearest; buried a wife; mourned for her; writ to my lady Mother that I am returning; arranged my convoy—and between these main parcels of dispatch, effected many smaller deeds.
“The last was to be the greatest, but that one I have not ended—yet.”
Says the older Dumaine, hoping he might still prevent the dubious assignation, “If the business be of any difficulty, and this morning is your departure hence, it requires haste of Your Lordship!”
Bertram pictures Diana—who has his family ring. “I mean the business is ‘not ended’ as in fearing to hear of it hereafter.
“But shall we have this dialogue between the fool and the soldiers?”—the interrogation of Parolles. “Come, bring forth this counterfeit module!—he has deceived me, like a double-meaning prophesier!” Seers are notorious for equivocation.
“Bring him forth,” the older Dumaine tells the soldier, who goes to the tent. “He has sat i’ the stocks all night, poor gallant knave!”
“No matter,” says Bertram. “His heels have deserved it, usurping his spurs so long! How does he carry himself?”
The officer laughs. “I have told Your Lordship already—the stocks carry him! But to answer you as you would be understood: he weeps, like a wench that had spilled her milk! He hath confessed himself to Morgan, whom he supposes to be a friar, from the time of his first remembrance to this very immediate disaster of his setting i’ the stocks!
“And what think you he hath confessèd?”
Bertram is suddenly concerned. “Nothing of me, has he?”
“His confession is taken down, and it shall be read to his face. If Your Lordship be in’t—as I believe you are—you must have the patience to hear it.”
“A plague upon him!” mutters Bertram guiltily, as soldiers emerge from the tent. The corporal leads Parolles, blindfolded and guarded by other troops, toward the count.
Muffled, notes Bertram. He can see nothing of me. “Hush, hush!” he tells the officers.
“Hoodman come!” calls the younger Dumaine—summoning, it seems, an executioner. Then he shouts, “Porto tartarosa!”
The corporal interprets for the captive. “He calls for the tortures! What will you say without ’em?” he asks.
Cries Parolles, “I will confess what I know without constraint! If ye pinch me like a pie-crust, I can say no more!”
“Bosko, chimurcho,” says the corporal.
“Bon libindo, chicur-murko,” says the older Dumaine.
“You are a merciful general,” the corporal mutters, as if he disapproved. He tells Parolles, “Our general bids you answer to what I shall ask you out of a note.”
The blindfold bobs vigorously. “And truly, as I hope to live!”
The corporal seems to read: “‘First, demand of him how many horse the duke is strong.’ What say you to that?”
“Five or six thousand—but very weak and unserviceable!—the troops are all scattered, and the commanders very poor rogues!—upon my reputation and credit, and as I hope to live!”
“Shall I set down your answer so?”
“Do!—I’ll take the Sacrament on’t, how and which way you will!”
- Bertram watches, irked. “All’s one to him!” he whispers. “What a past-saving slave is this!”
- “You’re deceived, my lord!” whispers the older Dumaine. “This is Monsieur Parolles, the gallant militarist!—that was his own phrase—who has the whole theoric of war in the knot of his scarf, and the practise in the shape of his dagger!”
- “I will never trust a man again for keeping his sword clean,” says the younger, “nor believe he can have everything in him from his wearing apparel neatly!”
The corporal tells the prisoner, “Well, that’s set down.”
“Five or six thousand horse, I said. I will say true!” insists Parolles. “Or thereabouts, set down—for I’ll speak truth!”
- “He is very near the truth in this,” a Dumaine confirms.
- “But I can give him no thanks for’t, in the nature he delivers it!” says Bertram.
Parolles persists: “Say, ‘Poor rogues,’ I pray you.”
The corporal nods—if pointlessly. “Well, that’s set down.”
“I humbly thank you, sir!” says Parolles. “A truth’s a truth: the rogues are marvellous poor!”
The corporal feigns reading: “‘Demand of him, of what strength they are a-foot.’ What say you to that?”
“By my troth, sir, if I were to live this present hour, I will tell true!
“Let me see: Spurio, a hundred and fifty; Sebastian, so many; Corambus, so many; Jacques, so many; Guiltian, Cosmo, Lodowick, and Gratii, two hundred and fifty each—mine own company, Chitopher, Vaumond, Bentii, two hundred and fifty each….
“So that the muster-file, rotten and sound, upon my life, amounts not to fifteen thousand—half of the which poll dare not shake snow from off their cassocks, lest they shake themselves to pieces!”
- Bertram is appalled by the accurate betrayal. “What shall be done to him?”
- The older officer chuckles. “Nothing but let him have thanks!”
He motions the corporal to them, and whispers: “Demand of him my condition, and what credit I have with the duke.”
The corporal returns to Parolles. “Well, that’s set down.” Again he seems to read: “‘You shall demand of him whether one Captain Dumaine, a Frenchman, be i’ the camp; what his reputation is with the duke—what his valour, expertness in wars, and honesty—or whether he thinks it were possible, with well-weighing sums of gold, to corrupt him to revolt.’
“What say you to this? What do you know of it?”
“I beseech you, let me answer to the particulars of the inter’gatories: demand them singly.”
“Do you know this Captain Dumaine?”
“I know him. He was a botcher’s ’prentice in Paris, from whence he was whipped for getting a sheriff’s idiot—an innocent mute who could not say him nay—with child!”
- Bertram must restrain the furious officer. “Nay, by your leave, hold your hands!—though I know his brains are forfeit to the next tale that falls!”
“Well, is this captain in the Duke of Florence’s camp?”
“Upon my knowledge, he is—and louse-ridden!”
- Nay, look not so upon me, thinks the younger Dumaine in the hush. We shall hear of your lord anon….
“What is his reputation with the duke?” asks the corporal.
“The duke knows him for no other but a poor officer of mine—and he writ to me this other day to turn him out o’ the band! I think I have his letter in my pocket.”
“Marry, we’ll search,” says the corporal, pulling open his red coat.
Parolles quickly amends: “In good sadness, I do not know: either it is there or it is upon a pile with the duke’s other letters in my tent.”
“Here ’tis,” says the corporal. “Here’s a paper. Shall I read it to you?”
Behind the blindfold, Parolles pales. “I do not know if it be it or no….”
- Bertram laughs quietly. “Our interpreter does it well!”
The corporal, it turns out, really can read. “‘Diana, the count’s a fool, and full of gold’—”
Parolles interrupts: “That is not the duke’s letter, sir! That is a notice to a proper maid in Florence, one Diana, to take heed of the allurement of one Count Rousillon, a foolish idle boy, but for all that very ruttish! I pray you, sir, put it up again.”
“Nay, I’ll read it first, by your favour.”
“My meaning in’t, I protest, was very honest, in the behalf of the maid!—for I knew the young count to be a dangerous and lascivious boy, who is a whale to virginity, and devours up all the fry”—young fish—“it finds!”
- “Damnable, both-sides rogue!” fumes Bertram.
“‘When he swears oaths, bid him drop gold—and take it!’” the corporal reads. “‘After he scores, he never pays the score! Half won is a match well made; match well, and make it! He ne’er pays after-debts; take it before!
“‘And, Diana, say a soldier told thee this: ‘Men are to meld with; boys are not to kiss!’ For count on this: the count’s a fool—I know it—who ‘pays’ before, but not when he does owe it!’
“‘Thine, as he vowed to thee in thine ear, Parolles.’”
- Bertram is livid. “He shall be whipped through the army!—with this rhyme on’s forehead!”
- “This,” says the captain, “is your devoted friend, sir!—the manifold linguist and the armipotent soldier!”
- “Before, I could endure anything but a cat”—a whore, says Bertram, “and now he’s a cat to me!”
The corporal tells the captive, “I perceive, sir, by the general’s looks, he shall be glad to hang you.”
Parolles begs: “My life, sir, in any case! Not that I am afraid to die, but that, my offences being many, I would repent out the remainder naturally! Let me live, sir!—in a dungeon, i’ the stocks—or anywhere, if I may live!”
“We’ll see what may be done—if you confess freely,” says the interpreter. “Therefore, once more as to this Captain Dumaine. You have answered to his reputation with the duke, and to his valour; what is his honesty?”
Parolles is eloquent: “He will steal, sir, an egg out of a cloister! For rapes and ravishments he parallels Nessus!”—a centaur that even tried to rape Hercules’ wife. “ He professes not-keeping of oaths: in breaking ’em he is stronger than Hercules! He will lie, sir, with such volubility that you would think Truth were a fool!
“Drunkenness is his best virtue!—for he will be swine-drunk, and in his sleep he does little harm—save to his bed-clothes about him! But they know his condition, and lay him in straw!
“I have but little more to say, sir, of his honesty: he has everything that an honest man should not have! Of what an honest man should have, he has nothing!”
- In spite of himself, the older Dumaine is amused. “I begin to love him for this!”
- “For this description of thine honesty?” hisses Bertram. “As for me, a pox upon him! He’s more and more a cat!”
“What say you to his expertness in war?”
“’Faith, sir, he has led the drum—before the English tragedians!”—in stage plays, Parolles claims. “To belie him I will not, and more of his soldiership I know not—except, in that country he had the honour to be the officer at a place there called Mile-end, to instruct—in the doubling of files!”—falsifying lists of conscripted Londoners, and keeping the phantom troops’ pay.
“I would do the man what honour I can,” Parolles adds, scrupulously, “but of this I am most certain.”
- Dumaine wags his head, chuckling. “He hath out-villained villainy so far that the rarity redeems him!”
- “A pox on him; he’s a cat still!”
Says the corporal, “His qualities being at this poor price, I need not ask you if gold will corrupt him to revolt.”
“Sir,” says Parolles, “for a cardecue”—the coin quart d’écu, a pittance—“he will sell the fee‑simple of his salvation and the inheritance of it, will cut the entail from all remainders and succession for it perpetually!”—lawyerly phrasing for sell title to his eternal soul.
“What’s his brother, the other Captain Dumaine?”
- That young gentleman frowns. “Why does he ask him of me?”
“What’s he?” the translator asks again; the corporal himself, it seems, would like to know.
“E’en a crow o’ the same nest!” says Parolles contemptuously. “Not altogether so great as the first in goodness, but greater a great deal in evil! He excels his brother as a coward—yet his brother is reputed one of the best that is! In a retreat he outruns any lackey! Marry, in coming on”—during a charge forward—“he has the cramp!”
The questioner proceeds. “If your life be saved,” he asks, “will you undertake to betray the Florentine?”
Parolles confirms: “Aye!—and the captain of his horse, Count Rousillon!”
The corporal sees the listeners starting forward angrily. “I’ll whisper with the general, and know his pleasure,” he says, turning away.
Parolles is thinking feverishly. I’ll no more of drumming!—a plague on all drums! Only by seeming to deserve well, beguiling the suppositions of that lascivious young boy, the count, have I run into this danger!
Yet who would have suspected an ambush where I was taken?
The corporal returns to him. “There is no remedy, sir, but you must die. The general says you, that have so traitorously uncovered the secrets of your army, and made such pestiferous reports of men very nobly held, can serve the world for no honest use! Therefore you must die.
“Come, headsman,” he calls, “off with his head!”
Parolles’ blindfolded head snaps from side to side as he listens for footsteps. “Oh, Lord, sir! Let me live!—or let me see my death!”
“That shall you—and take your leave of all your friends,” says the corporal, pulling off the blindfold. “So, look about you… know you any here?”
Bertram stands before him. “Good morrow, noble captain!”
“God bless you, Captain Parolles!” says the senior Dumaine.
“God save you, noble captain!” laughs the younger.
“Captain, what greeting will you to my Lord Lafeu?” inquires the older. “I am bound for France.”
Asks the younger, “Good captain, will you give me a copy of the ‘sonnet’ you writ to Diana in behalf of the Count Rousillon? If I were not a very coward, I’d compel it of you! But fare you well!”
Count Bertram and the Dumaines, still laughing, go to their tents.
“You are undone, captain!” says the corporal, “all but your scarf—that has a knot on’t yet!”
Parolles is pale, his shoulders sagging. “Who cannot be crushed with a plot?”
The corporal regards the disheveled fop. “If you could find out a country where were but women who had received this much shame, you might begin an impudent nation!
“Fare ye well, sir! I am for France, too.” He grins. “We shall speak of you there!” He and the other soldiers go, laughing, to pack their gear.
The war is over.
Parolles gazes at the darkness surrounding him. Yet am I thankful! If my heart were great, ’twould burst at this!
‘Captain’ I’ll be no more—but I will eat, and drink, and sleep as soft as captains shall! Simply the thing I am shall make me live.
Who knows himself a braggart, let him fear this: for it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass!
Rust, sword! Cool, blushes! And, Parolles, live safest in shame!
He thinks of Lavatch. Being fooled, by foolery thrive! There’s place and means for every man alive!
I’ll after them.
He totters away, determined to follow the noblemen back to France.
Dawn is breaking; sunlight tips the Apennines with gold, then glances across the fertile fields of Tuscany. Soon the soldiers in service to Florence and Siena will break camp and march home, freeing the soil for farmers to till once again.
Helen tells the widow, “That you may well perceive I have not wronged you, one of the greatest in the Christian world shall be my surety—’fore whose throne ’tis needful, ere I can perfect mine intents, to kneel.
“Time was, I did him a desirèd office, dear almost as his life—gratitude for which would peep forth through a Tartar’s flinty bosom, and answer with thanks!
“I am duly informèd that his grace is at Marseilles, to which place we have convenient convoy.” The monarch is holding court at his palaces in several cities other than Paris. Conclusion of the war in Tuscany is releasing the French volunteers, many of whom will await the king’s pleasure for new commissions and rewards.
“You must know, I am supposèd dead,” Helen informs the Florentine widow. “The army breaking, my husband hies him home—where, heaven aiding, and by the leave of my good lord the king, we’ll be before he can come!”
The widow, sitting with Diana in their parlor, assures Helen, “Gentle madam, you never had a servant to whose trust your business was more welcome!”
The French lady smiles. “Nor had you, mistress, ever a friend whose thoughts more truly labour to recompense your love! Doubt not but heaven hath brought me up to be your daughter’s dower, as it hath fated her to be my motive power, and helper to a husband!” Last night, Helen managed, in darkness and silence, to consummate her marriage.
For a moment, she muses. “But, oh, strange men, that can make such saucy use of what they hate!—when the cozened’s sweet, trusting thoughts defile the pitchy night! So lust doth play with what it loathes, taken for that which is away!
“But more of this hereafter. You, Diana, under my poor instructions must yet endure something in my behalf….”
Diana is determined to follow through. “Let death in honesty go with your impositions, I am yours, upon your will to endure!”
The young countess smiles. “Yes, I pray you!” She is confident of her scheme. “Even as with the world, the time will bring on summer, when briers shall have leaves as well as thorns, and be as sweet as sharp!
“We must away!—our wagon is preparèd, and Time reviles us!
“All’s well that ends well! Whate’er the course, when the goal is renown, the conclusion is ever a crown!”
Within hours, all three will be aboard a trim wooden sailing vessel, its canvas billowing as it glides swiftly west across the blue Mediterranean, bound for Marseilles.
“No, no!” insists Lord Lafeu. “But that your son was misled, by a snipped-taffeta fellow there whose villainous saffron”—cowardice—“would have made all the doughy and unbakèd youth of a nation in his colour, your daughter-in-law had been alive at this hour!—and your son here at home!—more advancèd by the king than by that red-tailed humble-bee”—one with a bloody stinger—“I speak of!”
Standing with the dowager lady in a high-windowed front room of her mansion at Rousillon, the peer lays all blame on a pernicious Parolles.
The countess thinks of Bertram. “I would he had not known him!” she moans. “It was the death of the most virtuous gentlewoman that ever Nature had praise for creating!
“And if she had been taken of my flesh and cost me the dearest groans of a mother, I could not have owed her a more rooted love!”
“’Twas a good lady, ’twas a good lady!” says Lafeu sadly. “We may pick a thousand salads ere we light on another such herb.”
Says Lavatch, “Indeed, sir, she was the sweet marjoram of the salad!—or rather, the herb de grace”—rue.
Lafeu mishears. “They are not grass, you knave, they are nose-herbs!”—aromatics.
“I am no great Nebuchadnezzar, sir,” says the servant dryly. “I have not much skill in grass.” In Scripture, the graceless king was condemned to graze.
The old lord frowns at the reference. “Which dost thou profess thyself: a knave, or a fool?”
“A fool, sir, in a woman’s service, and a knave in a man’s.”
“I would cozen the man of his wife, then do his service.”
Lafeu laughs. “So you were a knave in his service indeed!”
“And I would give his wife my bauble, sir”—a fool’s baton, but Lavatch implies his member—“to do her service!”
Lafeu chuckles. “I will endorse thee: thou art both knave and fool!”
The clown bows. “At your service.”
“No, no, no!” laughs Lafeu, palms lifted in firm demurral.
“Well, sir, if I cannot serve you, I can serve as great a prince as you are.”
“Who’s that?—a French man?”
“’Faith, sir, he has an English name, but his physiognomy”—face—“is more hotter in France than there.”
“What prince is that?”
The clown’s eye widen: “The Black Prince, sir!—alias the Prince of Darkness; alias the Devil!”
“Hold thee!” laughs Lafeu, “there’s my purse!” As the man examines his golden reward, the nobleman adds, wryly, “I do not give thee this to draw thee from thy master thou talkest of”—Satan. “Serve him still!”
The man shrugs. “I am a woodland fellow, sir, who always loved a good fire—and the master I speak of ever keeps a great fire! But surely he is the prince of the world; let his nobles remain in’s court.
“I am for the house with the narrow gate, which I take to be too little for pomp to enter. Some that humble themselves may, but the many will be too chill in flourishing”—callously prosperous, “and they’ll be for the tinder way, that leads to the broad gate and the Great Fire!”
“Go thy ways! I begin to be aweary of thee,” Lafeu warns the servant. The nobleman takes Hell seriously, but he does not believe French courtiers, agents of the annointed king, are in peril; and Lavatch seems Puritanical. “And I tell thee so before, because I would not fall out with thee.” “Go thy ways! Let my horses be well looked to, without any tricks.”
“If I put any tricks upon ’em, sir, they shall be ‘jades’—which are tricks in their own right, by the law of nature.” Horses are called jades—as are prostitutes, whose customers are tricks. Lavatch bows, and heads for the stable.
Lafeu chuckles as the man goes. “A shrewd knave—but unhappy.” It occurs to him that a jester—but one less cynical—might be a good addition to his own household.
“So he is,” says the widowed countess. “My lord who’s gone”—Bertram’s father—“made himself much sport out of him; by his authority Lavatch remains here, which he thinks is a patent for his sauciness. And, indeed, he has no place,”—set duties, “but runs where he will.”
Lafeu nods. “I like him well; ’tis not amiss.” He moves closer to the lady; he has come here to greet Bertram, but has another purpose, too. “As I was about to tell you, since I heard of the good lady’s death, and that my lord your son was upon his return home, I urged the king, my master, to speak in the behalf of my daughter—which, in the minority of them both,”—back when neither that lady nor Bertram was old enough to assume the rights of adulthood, “his majesty, out of a gracious remembrance, had himself first proposèd!
“His highness hath promised me to do it!
“And to stop-up the displeasure he hath conceived against your son, there is no fitter matter! How does Your Ladyship like it?”
“With very much content, my lord!—and I wish it happily effected!”
“His highness comes post-haste from Marseilles, of as able body as when he numbered thirty! He will be here tomorrow, or I am deceived by one that in such intelligence hath seldom failed.”
“It rejoices me! I hoped I should see him ere I die!” says the loyal countess. “I have letters that my son will be here tonight. I shall beseech Your Lordship to remain with me till they meet together.”
Lafeu confesses, “Madam, I was thinking with what manners I might safely be admitted.”
She smiles. “You need but plead your honourable privilege.”
Lord Lafeu bows. “Lady, on that I have made bold to charter; but I thank my God it holds yet.”
Lavatch comes to the door. “Oh, madam!—yonder’s my lord your son!—with a patch of velvet on’s face.” Bertram cut himself while shaving. “Whether there be a scar under’t or no, the velvet knows,” mutters the aging moralizer, who resents all aspects of youth. “But ’tis a goodly patch of velvet; his left cheek is a cheek of two-pile-and-a-half,” he says, as if the makeshift bandage were a fashionable accessory, “but his right cheek is worn bare.”
“A scar nobly got or a noble’s scar is a good livery for Honour!” says Lafeu, “so belike it is that!”
Lavatch is disgusted with what he has heard of Bertram’s behavior. But it is your carbonadoed face!—looks like a chop scored for broiling.
Moving quickly toward the front doors, Lord Lafeu tells the lady, “Let us go see your son, I pray you! I long to talk with the young, noble soldier!”—soon to be his son-in-law.
The servant watches from the entrance as Bertram and other French noblemen are welcomed home from their adventures in Italy—and presumed to be heroes all.
“’Faith there’s a dozen of ’em,” mutters Lavatch, “with delicate, fine hats—and most courteous feathers, which bow their heads and nod at every man!”
With Lady Helen are Diana, her mother, and several attendants; quite weary, they have arrived in France just today at the teeming southeastern port of Marseilles.
“This exceeding posting,”—hurrying, “day and night, must wear your spirits low,” says Lady Helen apologetically. “We cannot help it; but since you have made the days and nights as one, to wear your gentle limbs in my affairs, be told that you do so grow in my requital as nothing can unroot you!” The gentlewomen curtsey.
Helen looks around the streets of the vast city, and leads the way up to a public square not far from the docks. She soon spots, emerging from an old, gray government building, a gentleman she recognizes as one she had seen in Paris. “In happy time!” she says briskly. “This man may help me to his majesty’s ear, if he would so spend his power,” she tells her companions, hurrying toward him.
“God save you, sir!”
The silver-haired knight bows and smiles. “And you!”
“Sir, I have seen you in the court of France….”
“I have been sometimes there.”
“I do presume, sir, that you are not fallen from the report that goes upon your goodness!—and therefore, goaded with most-sharp occasions which lay delicate manners by, I’d put you to the use of your own virtues, for the which I shall continue thankful!”
“What’s your will?” he asks kindly.
She hands him a letter. “That it will please you to give this poor petition to the king, and with that store of power you have, aid me to come into his presence.”
The knight’s eyebrows rise. “The king’s not here.”
“Not here, sir?”
“Not, indeed! He hence removèd last night—and with more haste than is his use.”
The widow is downcast. “Look how we lose our pains!”
But Helen is undaunted. “All’s well that ends well yet, though time seem so adverse, and means unfit!
“I do beseech you, whither is he gone?”
“Marry, as I take it, to Rousillon,” says the gentleman, adding, “whither I am going.” He doesn’t know it, of course, but the wedding of Count Bertram de Rousillon and Lady Maudlin Lafeu is soon to be announced there.
“I do beseech you, sir, since you are likely to see the king before I do,”—he will probably travel faster, alone and on horseback—“commend the paper to his gracious hand who, I presume, shall render you no blame, but rather make you thank your pains for it!
“I will come after you, with what good speed our means will make means for us!”
The graybeard is quite taken with her gentle and courteous manner. He bows again. “This I’ll do for you.”
Helen smiles. “And you shall find yourself to be well thankèd, whate’er falls more!
“We must to horse again!” she tells the women.
“Go, go, provide!” she urges the servants, who rush to prepare for the next stretch of their journey.
Outside the tall, white front doors of the count’s mansion at Rousillon the following morning, travel-battered Parolles, once a servant here, finds a former fellow.
“Good Monsieur Lavatch, give my lord Lafeu this letter. I have, ere now, sir, been better known to you when I have held familiarity with fresher clothes; but I am now, sir, muddied in Fortune’s mood, and smell somewhat strongly of her strong displeasure.”
Lavatch steps back, making a face. “Truly, Fortune’s displeasure is but sluttish, if it smell so strongly as thou bespeakest! I will henceforth eat no fish of Fortune’s buttering!” He motions Parolles away, and waves air aside with a hand: “Prithee, allow the wind!”
“Nay, you need not to stop your nose, sir!” says Parolles, peeved. “I spake but by a metaphor.”
“Indeed, sir, if your metaphor stink, I will stop my nose!—or against any man’s meta-fart! Prithee, get thee further.”
But Parolles must continue. “Pray you, sir, deliver this letter for me.”
“Foh!” gasps the clown, holding his nose, “prithee, stand away!” He frowns. “A paper from Fortune’s close-stool,”—toilet seat, “to give to a nobleman?” Lavatch sees a front door open and a lord emerge. “Look, here he comes himself.
“Here is a pur”—a knave card—“of Fortune’s, sir,” Lavatch tells Lafeu, and thinks of purr. “Or Fortune’s cat!—but not a musk-cat”—source of an oil for perfume. “One that has fallen into the unclean fish-pond of her displeasure, and, as he says, is muddied withal!
“Pray you, sir, use this carp as you may,” he says, “for he looks like a poor, decayèd, injurious, foolish, rascally knave!”
The soiled soldier realizes, now, how much his peers resented his temporary rise.
Says Lavatch blithely, “I do pity his distress, in my smiles of comfort, and leave him to Your Lordship.” With that, he walks away.
Parolles, his dusty hat and letter still in hand, pleads: “My lord, I am a man whom Lady Fortune hath cruelly scratchèd!”
Lafeu regards him coldly. “And what would you have me to do? ’Tis too late to pare her nails now! Wherein have you played the knave with Fortune—who of herself is a good lady, and would not have knaves thrive long under her—that she should scratch you?”
He hands Parolles a coin. “There’s a cardecue for you. Let the justices”—deputies who arrest paupers—“make you and Fortune friends; I am for other business.”
Parolles is desperate: “I beseech Your Honour to hear me!—one single word!”
“You’ll beg a single penny more?” He reaches into a pocket. “Come, you shall have it; save your word.”
“My good lord my name is Parolles!” Paroles is French for words.
“You beg more than a word, then! Give me your hand,” says Lafeu—holding out a penny. But as Parolles sadly takes it, he relents a bit. Lafeu has heard much of the man’s humiliation. He smiles. “How does your drum?”
Parolles admits, ruefully, “Oh, my good lord, you were the first that found me!”—saw his nature.
“Was I, in sooth? And I was the first that lost thee!”
“It lies in you, my lord, to bring me into some grace,” Parolles argues, “for you did bring me out—”
“Out upon thee, knave!” cries Lafeu. “Dost thou put upon me at once the offices of both God and the Devil? One brings thee into grace, and the other brings thee out!”
From down at the entrance gate they can hear the sound of heralds’ horns.
“The king’s coming!” says Lord Lafeu. “I know by his trumpets.
“Sirrah, inquire further after me,” he tells Parolles, not unkindly. In spite of himself, he enjoys the youth’s enduring cheerfulness. “I had talk of you last night.” The older Dumaine, especially, had spoken of Parolles’ cleverness—however ill-applied it has been. “Though you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat; go to, follow!”
Parolles bows deeply. “I praise God for you!”
“In her, we lost a jewel,” the king tells the countess, “and our esteem was made much poorer by it!
“But your son, as if mad, in folly lacked the sense to know her estimation home!”—learn her worth for himself.
They stand at the front of the Rousillon mansion’s main hall, while household servants assemble behind the guests; Count Bertram’s new betrothal is about to be announced.
“’Tis past, my liege,” says the countess quietly. “And I beseech Your Majesty to take it as natural rebellion—done i’ the blaze of youth, as oil afire, too strong for reason’s force, o’erbears it and burns on.”
The ruler tries to be gracious. “My honoured lady, I have forgiven and forgotten all—though my revenges were highly bent upon him, and I watched for the time to shoot!”
Lord Lafeu steps forward. “This I must say… but first I beg thy pardon.
“The young lord did—to his majesty, his mother, and his lady—offence of mighty note!—but to himself the greatest wrong of all: he lost a wife whose beauty did astonish the survey of richest eyes, whose words all ears took captive—whose dear perfection hearts that scorned to serve humbly called mistress!”
The king nods sadly. “Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear.
“Well, call him hither; we are reconcilèd, and the first view shall kill ill reputation. Let him not ask our pardon; the nature of his great offence is dead, and deeper than oblivion we do bury the incensing relics of it.” He turns to a courtier. “Let him approach as if a stranger, not offender—and inform him ’tis our will he should do so.”
The nobleman bows. “I shall, my liege.” He goes to summon Count Bertram.
The king asks Lord Lafeu, “What says he to your daughter? Have you spoken?”
“All that he is hath referencèd to Your Highness….”
“Then shall we have a match.” He has learned of Bertram’s brief but successful command of the Italian duke’s cavalry. “I have letters sent me that set him high in fame.”
“He looks well in it.”
Bertram enters the hall and approaches the sovereign.
The king addresses the wayward count. “I am not a day of a season, for thou mayst see a sunshine and a hail in me at once; then to the brightest beams, distracted clouds give way!—so stand thou forth; the time is fair again!”
Bertram bows. “My highly repented blames, dear sovereign, pardon in me,” he asks.
“All is whole,” the king tells him. “Not one word more of the consumèd time; let us take the instant by the forward top—for we are old, and on our quick’st decrees the inaudible and noiseless foot of Time steals, ere we can effect them.”
He nods toward Lafeu. “You remember the daughter of this lord?”
“Admiringly, my liege,” says Bertram. “At the first I stuck my choice upon her!
“Then, my heart durst not make too bold a herald of my tongue. The impression of mine eye thus enfixèd, contempt did lend me its scornful perspective, which warped the line of every other face—scorned a fair colour, or expressed it stolen—extended or contracted all proportionate into a most hideous object!
“Thence it came that she whom all men praisèd—and whom myself, since I have lost, have loved!—was, in mine eye, the dust that did offend it.”
“Well excusèd,” says the king. “That thou didst love her strikes some scores away from the great acccompt. But love that comes too late, like a remorseful pardon slowly carried, returns to the great sender as a sore offence, crying, ‘That’s gone that’s good!’
“Our rash faults make trivial price of serious things we have, not knowing them until we know their graves. Oft our displeasures, to ourselves unjust, destroy our friends! And after, while shame, full late, sleeps out the afternoon, our own love, waking, beweeps their dust—cries out to see what’s done!
“Be this sweet Helen’s knell; and now forget her.
“Send forth your amorous token for fair Maudlin! The main consents are had, and here we’ll stay to see our widower’s second marriage-day!”
Says the countess, “Which better than the first, O dear Heaven, bless!—or ere they meet,”—in heaven, “in me, O Nature, cesse!”—cease, leaving her dead.
Lord Lafeu addresses Bertram. “Come on, my son, in whom my house’s name must be digested, give a favour from you”—a token of betrothal—“to sparkle in the spirits of my daughter, that she may quickly come!” The noblewoman is waiting in a side chamber.
Bertram, following the customary form, proffers a golden ring—the ornate one he thinks was slipped onto his hand in the dark by Diana.
Lafeu stares. “By my old beard and every hair that’s in’t!—Helen that’s dead was a sweet creature—and such a ring as this, when last that e’er I took her leave at court, I saw upon her finger!”
Bertram shakes his head. “Hers it was not.”
The king comes toward them. “Now, pray you, let me see it—for mine eye, while I was speaking, oft was fastened to’t!” He takes it from Lafeu, and examines it closely. “This ring was mine!—and when I gave it to Helen, I told her that, if her fortunes ever stood necessitied to help, by this token I would relieve her!” He glares at Bertram. “Had you such craft as to rob her of what should stead her most?”
Bertram is perplexed. “My gracious sovereign, howe’er it pleases you to take it so,” he insists, “the ring was never hers!”
The dowager, too, looks at the ring in the king’s hand. “Son, on my life, I have seen her wear it!—and she reckoned it at her life’s rate!”
“I am sure I saw her wear it!” insists Lafeu.
“You are deceivèd, my lord—she never saw it!” cries Bertram in frustration. “In Florence was it… from a casement thrown to me, wrapped in a paper which contained the name of her that threw it!” he claims. “Noble she was—and thought I stood engagèd!
“When I had described to her mine own fortune, and informed her fully that I could not answer in that course of honour as she had made the overture, she ceasèd, in heavy satisfaction,”—sad resignation, “but would never receive the ring again”—refused to take it back.
The king is furious. “Plutus himself,”—the alchemist god of gold, “who knows the tinct of multiplying medicine, hath not of Nature’s mystery more science than I have of this ring! ’Twas mine—’twas Helen’s, whoever gave it you!
“Then, as we’d know what you are well acquainted with, confess ’twas hers!—and by what rough enforcement you got it from her! She called the saints into surety that she would never pull it from her finger unless she gave it to yourself, in bed!—where you have never come!—or sent it to us upon her great disaster!”
“She never saw it!” cries Bertram, exasperated.
The king shakes his head. “As I love mine honour, thou speak’st falsely!” He frowns as he puts on the ring. “And makest conjectural fears to come into me which I would fain shut out! If it should prove that thou art so inhuman—” He pauses, not wanting to believe it. “’Twill not prove so….
“And yet I know not!—thou didst hate her deadly—and she is dead!—which nothing but closing her eyes myself could win me to believe more than seeing this ring!
“Take him away!” he cries. Royal guards rush forward and seize the stunned Bertram.
“Howe’er the matter fall out, my fore-passèd proofs”—unconfirmed evidence—“shall little tax my fears for being in vain, having vainly feared too little!” he says, very distraught. “Away with him! We’ll sift this matter further….”
“If you shall prove this ring was ever hers,” says Bertram, highly indignant as he again recalls receiving it, “you shall as easily prove that I husbanded her in bed in Florence—where she never was!” But the guards haul him from the king’s presence, and lead him down to a room in the cellar.
The king stares moodily at the ring; he takes no delight in having it thus returned. “I am wrapped in dismal thinkings.”
Now an elderly knight comes slowly into the hall, and walks to the king, who knows him well. The gentleman bows, and offers the monarch a letter given to him in Marseilles.
“Gracious sovereign, whether I have been to blame or no, I know not. Here’s a petition from a Florentine, who hath for four or five removes”—days’ travel—“come short of tendering it herself. I undertook it, vanquished thereto by the fair grace and speech of the poor supplicant, who by now, I know, is here approaching! Business looked, in her, with an importing visage!”
The king peruses the letter.
“And she told me, in a sweet verbal brief,” adds the knight, watching, “it did concern Your Highness with herself….”
The king reads aloud: “‘Upon his many protestations to marry me, when his wife was dead—I blush to say it—he won me!
“‘Now, the Count Rousillon is a widower—but his vows to me are forfeited!—and my honour’s been paid to him! He stole from Florence, taking no leave, and I follow him to his country for justice!
“‘Grant it me, O king!—in you it best lies! Otherwise a seducer flourishes, and a poor maid is undone!
Lord Lafeu is livid. “I will buy me a son-in-law in a fair, and toll for this!”—offer Bertram for sale. “I’ll none of him!”
The king concurs. “The heavens have thought well of thee, Lafeu, to bring forth this discovery!
“Seek this petitioner!” he orders guards. “Go speedily!—and bring again the count!” he tells others. He turns to the countess. “I am afeard the life of Helen, lady, was foully snatched!”
She is stern-faced, “Now justice on the doers!”
Bertram is brought back, under guard, to stand before the king.
The ruler regards him dourly. “I wonder, sir, sith wives are monsters to you, and you fly from them, even as you pledge them lordship, that you desire to marry!”
The lords and ladies, courtiers and attendants, all make way as a new visitor is escorted into the hall. “What woman’s that?” asks the king.
Diana comes before him and curtseys. “I am, my lord, a wretched Florentine, derivèd from the ancient Capilet! My suit, as I do understand, you know—and therefore know how far I may be pitied!”
The widow comes to stand by her side. “I am her mother, sir, whose age and honour both suffer under this complaint we bring—and both shall cease, without your remedy!”
“Come hither, count,” demands the king. “Do you know these women?”
Bertram is annoyed. “My lord, I neither can nor will deny that I know them; do they charge me further?”
Diana moves toward him. “Why do you look so strangely upon your wife?”
Bertram back away. “She’s none of mine, my lord!”
Diana is resolute and defiant: “If you shall marry, you give away this hand,” she says, pointing to his, “and that is mine!—you give away heaven’s vows, and those are mine!—you give away my self, which is known mine! And because I by vow am embodièd as yours, the she who marries you must marry me—either both or none!”
Lafeu scowls at Bertram. “Your reputation comes too short for my daughter; you are no husband for her!”
Diana is speaking quietly to the king, who nods.
Bertram scoffs: “My lord, this is a foolish and desperate creature, whom sometimes I have laughed with! Let Your Highness lay a more noble thought upon mine honour than for to think that I would sink it here!”
The king finds sink it offensive. “Sir, as for my thoughts, you’ll have them ill as friends till your deeds gain them! May your honour prove fairer than in my thought it lies!”
Diana addresses the king. “Good my lord, ask him—upon his oath!—if he doth not think he had my virginity.”
“What say’st thou to her?”
“She’s impudent, my lord,” cries Bertram angrily, “and was a common gamester to the camp!”
“He does me wrong, my lord,” says Diana calmly. “If I were so, he might have bought me at a common price. Do not believe him.” She lifts her left hand. “Oh, behold this ring, whose high respect and rich validity do lack a parallel!—yet for all that, he gave it to a ‘commoner o’ the camp,’ if I be one!”
The king can see the Rousillon family’s cherished heirloom.
“He blushes, and ’tis his!” cries Bertram’s mother. “By six preceding ancestors, that gem, conferrèd by testament to the sequent issue, hath been owned and worn!
“This is his wife—that ring’s a thousand proofs!”
The king turns to Diana. “Methought you said you saw one here in court who could witness it….”
“I did, my lord, but am loath to produce so bad an instrument! His name’s Parolles.”
“I saw the man today—if man he be,” mutters Lafeu.
“Find him, and bring him hither,” the king tells an attendant.
Bertram protests. “What of him? He’s cited as a most perfidious slave!—taxed as debauchèd with all the blemishes o’ the world—whose nature sickens but speaking a truth! Am I this or that by what he’ll utter who will speak anything?”
The king eyes him coldly. “She hath that ring of yours.”
“I think she has!” says Bertram. “Certain it is I liked her, and boarded her i’ the wanton way of youth! She knew her distance,”—lower rank, “and did angle for me, madding my eagerness with her restraint!—as all impediments in fancy’s course are motives of more fancy. And finally, in her immodest grace, with sweet cunning subdued me to her rate!”—price. “She got the ring—and I had that which any inferior might at market-price have bought!”
Diana speaks with contempt. “I must be patient; you, who have turned away so noble a first wife, may justly reject me. Because you lack virtue, I will lose a husband! Send for your ring, and I will return it home. Yet, I pray you, give me mine again.”
“I have it not,” says Bertram glumly, staring, now, at the floor.
The king asks her, “What ring was yours, I pray you?”
“Sir, one much like that same upon your finger,” says Diana politely, looking at it.
“Know you this ring? This ring was his of late.”
Diana nods. “And this was it I gave him—being abed!”
The king again glares at the count. He asks Diana, “The story then goes false that you threw it to him out of a casement?”
“I have spoken the truth.”
Bertram looks up. “My lord, I do confess the ring was hers.”
Says the king angrily, “You recant readily! Every feather startles you!”
He sees that Parolles has been led forward by a guard. “Is this the man you speak of?”
“Aye, my lord,” says Diana.
“Tell me, sirrah—and tell me true, I charge you, not fearing the displeasure of your master, who on your just proceeding I’ll keep off—of him, and by this woman here, what know you?”
“So please Your Majesty,” says Parolles, his voice quavering, “my master hath been an honourable gentleman! Tricks he hath had in him, which gentlemen have—”
“Come, come!—to the purpose! Did he love this woman?”
“’Faith, sir, he did love her; but how….”
“How, I pray you?”
“He did love her, sir, as a gentleman loves a woman”—not a gentlewoman.
“How is that?”
“He loved her, sir—and loved her not.”
“As thou art a knave and no knave!” mutters the king. “What an equivocal companion is this!”
Parolles winces. “I am a poor man, and at Your Majesty’s command….”
“He’s a good drum, my lord,” says Lafeu, “but nought as orator!”
Diana asks Parolles: “Do you know that he promised me marriage?”
“’Faith, I know more than I’d speak,” he murmurs.
The king’s voice booms: “But wilt thou not speak all thou knowest?”
Says Parolles, cringing, “Yes, so please Your Majesty! I did go between them, as I said!—but more than that, he loved her—for indeed he was mad for her, and talked of Satan, and of Limbo, and of Furies, and I know not what!
“Yet I was in such credit with them, at that time, that I knew of their going to bed, and of other motions—such as promising her marriage—and things which would derive me ill will to speak of! Therefore I would not speak what I know….”
“Thou hast spoken all already!—unless thou canst say they are married! But thou art too narrow in thy evidence; therefore stand aside.” The king waves him away.
The sovereign turns to Diana and holds his hand forward. “This ring, you say, was yours?”
“Aye, my good lord.”
“Where did you buy it? Or who gave it you?”
“It was not given me, nor I did not buy it.”
“Who lent it you?”
“It was not lent me, either.”
“Where did you find it, then?”
“I found it not.”
The king frowns. “If it were yours by none of all these ways, how could you give it him?”
“I never gave it to him.”
Says Lafeu, “This woman’s an easy glove, my lord!—she goes off and on at pleasure!”
The king sadly regards the bright circle of gold on his hand. “This ring was mine; I gave it to his first wife.”
Diana shrugs. “It might be yours or hers, for aught I know.”
“Take her away,” the king tells his guards. “I do not like her now; to prison with her! And away with him!”
He tells Diana, “Unless thou tell’st me where thou hadst this ring, thou diest within this hour!”
“I’ll never tell you,” she vows.
“Take her away!”
“I’ll put in bail, my liege!” says Diana.
But the king scowls. “I think thee know but some common customers.”
Diana retorts angrily, “By Jove, if ever I knew man, ’twas you!”
The king roars back: “Wherefore hast thou accusèd him all this while?”
“Because he’s guilty!—and he is not guilty. He ‘knows’ I am no maid, and he’ll swear to’t; I’ll swear I am a maid, and that he knows not!
“Great king, I am no strumpet, by my life; I am either maid, or else,” she says, pointing to Lafeu, “this old man’s wife!”
The king turns away. “She does abuse our ears. To prison with her.”
“Good mother, fetch my bail!” cries Diana. The widow Capilet hurries toward the front doors of the mansion.
“Stay, royal sir!” says Diana. “The jeweler that owned the ring is sent for, and shall surety me!”
She points at Bertram. “But as for this lord,” she says, derisively, “who hath abused me, as he knows himself, though yet he never harmed me—here I acquit him!”
She intones, loudly:
“He knows himself my bed he hath defiled;
“And at that time he got his wife with child!
“‘Dead’ though she be, she feels her young one kick!
“So there’s my riddle: one that’s dead is quick!”—living.
“And now,” she cries, with a grand gesture toward the entrance, “behold the meaning!”
The bystanders gasp at the sight: walking with Diana’s mother is the living Lady Helen.
The king is astonished. “Is there an exorcist beguiles the true office of mine eyes?” he gasps. “Is’t real that I see?”
Helen curtseys. “No, my good lord,” she says sadly. “’Tis but the shadow of a wife you see—the name, and not the thing.”
“Both, both!” sobs Bertram, falling to his knees before her. “Oh, pardon!” he pleads.
Helen shakes her head. “Ah, my good lord, when I was like this maid,”—she nods toward Diana, “I found you wondrous kind.”
Diana holds out a hand.
“There is your ring,” Helen tells Bertram, “and, look you, here’s your letter. This it says: ‘When from my finger you can get this ring, and are by me with child—’”
She regards the devastated young man, weeping before her. “—et cetera.
“That is done! Will you be mine, now you are doubly won?”
Bertram struggles to his feet. “If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly, I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly!”
“If it appear not plain, and prove untrue,” she tells him, “deadly divorce step between me and you!”
Helen turns to the countess, and takes her hands. “O my dear mother, do I see you living?” They embrace, both tearful.
“Mine eyes smell onions,” claims Lafeu. “I shall weep anon! Good Tom Drum, lend me a handkercher,” he tells Parolles, who does so. “So. I thank thee.” Lafeu smiles, blinking and wiping. “Wait on me at home,” he says kindly. “I’ll make sport with thee.”
Parolles begins an elaborate bow; but Lafeu stops him: “Let thy curtseys alone; they are scurvy ones,” he tells his new Fool.
The king urges Helen, “Let us from point to point this story know, to make the truth even in pleasure flow!”
And he tells Diana, “If thou be’st yet a fresh, uncroppèd flower, choose thou thy husband, and I’ll pay thy dower! For I can guess that—by thine honest aid—thou keep’st herself a wife, thyself a maid!
“Of that and all the progress, more or less, more leisure shall resolvingly express!
“All yet seems well; and if it end so meet”—as it should, “the bitter passed, more welcome is the sweet!”
The royal trumpets play a flourish, as king and courtier, clown and knave, and the women, who are all gentle at heart, stroll to the dining hall for supper.
The sovereign, returning as the other players leave the stage, removes his crown.
“The king’s a beggar, now the play is done.
All is well ended, if this suit be won:
That you express content!—which we will repay
With striving to please you, day exceeding day!
Your gentle hands lend us, and take our parts!
Ours be your patience then—and yours be our hearts!”