A cloud of care hath cov'red all my coast
And storms of strife do threaten to appear;
The waves of woe which I mistrusted most
Have broke the banks wherein my life lay clear;
Chips of ill chance are fallen amid my choice
To mar the mind that meant for to rejoice.
Before I sought, I found the haven of hap
What may be said, where truth cannot prevail?
This is but a rough meter, and reason, for it was devised in great disquiet of mind and written in rage, yet have I seen much worse pass the musters, yea, and where both the Lieutenant and Provost Marshall were men of ripe judgment: and as it is I pray you let it pass here, for the truth is that F. J. himself had so slender liking thereof, or at least of one word escaped therein, that he never presented it -- but to the matter.
When he had long (and all in vain) looked for the coming of his Mistress into her appointed walk, he wand'red into the park near adjoining to the Castle wall, where his chance was to meet Mistress Frances accompanied with one other Gentlewoman, by whom he passed with a reverence of curtsy: and so walking on, came into the side of a thicket, where he sat down under a tree to allay his sadness with solitariness.
Mistress Frances, partly of courtesy and affection, and partly to content her mind by continuance of such talk as they had commenced over night, entreated her companion to go with her unto this tree of reformation, whereas they found the Knight with his arms unfolded in a heavy kind of contemplation, unto whom Mistress Frances stepped apace (right softly) & at unwares gave this salutation. "I little thought Sir Knight," quoth she, "by your evensong yesternight to have found you presently at such a morrow mass, but I perceive you serve your Saint with double devotion; and I pray God grant you treble meed for your true intent."
F. J., taken thus upon the sudden, could none otherwise answer but thus: "I told you, Mistress," quoth he, "that I could laugh without lust and jest without joy." And there withal starting up, with a more bold countenance came towards the Dames, proffering unto them his service, to wait upon them homewards.
"I have heard say oft times," quoth Mistress Frances, "that it is hard to serve two Masters at one time, but we will be right glad of your company."
"I thank you," quoth F. J., and so, walking on with them, fell into sundry discourses, still refusing to touch any part of their former communication, until Mistress Frances said unto him:
"By my troth," quoth she, "I would be your debtor these two days, to answer me truly but unto one question that I will propound."
"Fair Gentlewoman," quoth he, "you shall not need to become my debtor, but if it please you to quit question by question, I will be more ready to gratify you in this request than either reason requireth or than you would be willing to work my contentation."
"Master F. J.," quoth she, & that sadly, "peradventure you know but a little how willing I would be to procure your contentation. But you know that hitherto familiarity hath taken no deep root betwixt us twain. And though I find in you no manner of cause whereby I might doubt to commit this or greater matter unto you, yet have I stayed hitherto so to do in doubt least you might thereby justly condemn me both of arrogancy and lack of discretion, wherewith I must yet foolishly affirm that I have with great pain bridled my tongue from disclosing the same unto you. Such is then the good will that I bear towards you, the which if you rather judge to be impudency than a friendly meaning, I may then curse the hour that I first concluded thus to deal with you."
Herewithal being now red for chaste bashfulness, she abased her eyes and stayed her talk, to whom F. J. thus answered: "Mistress Frances, if I should with so exceeding villainy requite such and so exceeding courtesy, I might not only seem to degenerate from all gentry but also to differ in behavior from all the rest of my life spent: wherefore to be plain with you in few words, I think myself so much bound unto you for divers respects, as if ability do not fail me, you shall find me mindful in requital of the same: and for disclosing your mind to me, you may if so please you adventure it without adventure, for by this Sun," quoth he, "I will not deceive such trust as you shall lay upon me, and furthermore, so far forth as I may, I will be yours in any respect: wherefore I beseech you accept me for your faithful friend, and so shall you surely find me."
"Not so," quoth she, "but you shall be my Trust, if you vouchsafe the name, and I will be to you as you shall please to term me."
"My Hope," quoth he, "if you so be pleased."
And thus agreed they two walked apart from the other Gentlewoman, and fell into sad talk, wherein Mistress Frances did very courteously declare unto him, that indeed, one cause of her sorrow sustained in his behalf was that he had said so openly over night that he could not love, for she perceived very well the affection between him and Madame Eleanor, and she was also advertised that Dame Eleanor stood in the portal of her chamber hearkening to the talk that they had at supper that night, wherefore she seemed to be sorry that such a word (rashly escaped) might become great hindrance unto his desire: but a greater cause of her grief was (as she declared) that his hap was to bestow his liking so unworthily, for she seemed to accuse Dame Eleanor for the most unconstant woman living.
In full proof whereof, she bewrayed unto F. J. how she the same Dame Eleanor, had of long time been yielded to the Minion Secretary whom I have before described, "in whom though there be," quoth she, "no one point of worthiness, yet shameth she not to use him as her dearest friend, or rather her holiest Idol," and that this not withstanding, Dame Eleanor had been also sundry times won to choice of change, as she named unto F. J. two Gentlemen, whereof the one was named H. D. and that other H. K., by whom she was during sundry times of their several abode in those parts entreated to like courtesy, for these causes the Dame Frances seemed to mislike F. J.'s choice, and to lament that she doubted in process of time to see him abused.
The experiment she meant was this: for that she thought F. J. (I use her words) a man in every respect very worthy to have the several use of a more commodious common, she hoped now to see if his enclosure thereof might be defensible against her said Secretary, and such like. These things and divers other of great importance this courteous Lady Frances did friendly disclose unto F. J., and furthermore did both instruct and advise him how to proceed in his enterprise.
Now to make my talk good, and lest the Reader might be drawn in a jealous suppose of this Lady Frances, I must let you understand that she was unto F. J. a kinswoman, a virgin of rare chastity, singular capacity, notable modesty, and excellent beauty: and though F. J. had cast his affection on the other (being a married woman), yet was there in their beauties no great difference: but in all other good gifts a wonderful diversity, as much as might be between constancy & flitting fantasy, between womanly countenance & girlish garishness, between hot dissimulation & temperate fidelity. Now, if any man will curiously ask the question why F. J. should choose the one and leave the other, over and besides the common proverb So many men so many minds, thus may be answered: We see by common experience that the highest flying falcon doth more commonly prey upon the corn fed crow & the simple shiftless dove than on the mounting kite. And why? Because the one is overcome with less difficulty then that other.
Thus much in defense of this Lady Frances & to excuse the choice of my friend F. J., who thought himself now no less beholding to good fortune to have found such a trusty friend then bounden to Dame Venus to have won such a Mistress.
The Adventures of Master F. J. by George Gascoigne, 1573