"Noble governor, I will rehearse unto you a strange history, not feigned, neither borrowed out of any old authority, but a thing done indeed of late days and not far distant from this place where we now remain. It chanced that a gentleman, our neighbor, being married to a very fair gentlewoman, lived with her by the space of four or five years in great contentation, trusting her no less than he loved her and yet loving her as much as any man could love a woman. On that other side, the gentlewoman had won (unto her beauty) a singular commendation for her chaste and modest behavior. Yet it happened in time that a lusty young gentleman (who very often resorted to them) obtained that at her hands which never any man could before him attain: and to be plain, he won so much in her affections that, forgetting both her own duty and her husband's kindness, she yielded her body at the commandment of this lover, in which pastime they passed long time by their politic government.
"At last, the friends of this Lady (and especially three sisters which she had) espied overmuch familiarity between the two lovers, and, dreading lest it might break out to their common reproach, took their sister apart and declared that the world did judge scarce well of the repair of that gentleman unto her house: and that if she did not foresee it in time, she should not only lose the good credit which she herself had hitherto possessed, but furthermore should destain their whole race with common obloquy and reproach. These and sundry other godly admonitions of these sisters could not sink in the mind of this gentlewoman, for she did not only stand in defiance what any man could think of her but also seemed to accuse them that because they saw her estimation (being their younger) to grow above their own, they had therefore devised this mean to set variance between her husband and her.
"The sisters, seeing their wholesome counsel so rejected and her continue still in her obstinate opinion, addressed their speech unto her husband, declaring that the world judged not the best, neither they themselves did very well like, of the familiarity between their sister and that gentleman, and therefore advised him to forecast all perils and in time to forbid him his house. The husband (on that other side) had also conceived such a good opinion of his guest & had grown into such a strict familiarity with him that you might with more ease have removed a stone wall than once to make him think amiss either of his wife or of her lover. Yea, and immediately after this conference, he would not stick thus to say unto his wife: 'Bess,' (for so indeed was her name) 'thou hast three such busy-brained sisters as I think shortly their heads will break: they would have me to be jealous of thee. No, no, Bess, &c.' So that he was not only far from any such belief, but furthermore did every day increase his courtesies towards the lover.
"The sisters, being thus on all sides rejected and yet perceiving more and more an unseemly behavior between their sister and her minion, began to melt in their own grease: and such was their enraged pretence of revenge that they suborned divers servants in the house to watch so diligently as that this treason might be discovered. Amongst the rest, one maid of subtle spirit had so long watched them that at last she espied them go into a chamber together and lock the door to them. Whereupon she ran with all haste possible to her Master and told him that if he would come with her, she would show him a very strange sight. The gentleman (suspecting nothing) went with her until he came into a chamber near unto that wherein they had shut themselves, and she, pointing her Master to the keyhole, bade him look through, where he saw the thing which most might mislike him to behold.
"Whereat he suddenly drew his Dagger and turned towards the maid, who fled from him for fear of mischief: but when he could not overtake her in the heat of his choler, he commanded that she should forthwith truss up that little which she had and to depart his service. And before her departure, he found means to talk with her, threatening that if ever she spake any word of this mystery in any place where she should come, it should cost her life. The maid for fear departed in silence, and the Master never changed countenance either to his wife or to her paramour, but feigned unto his wife that he had turned away the maid upon that sudden for that she had thrown a Kitchen knife at him whiles he went about to correct a fault in her &c.
"Thus the good gentleman drank up his own sweat unseen every day, increasing courtesy to the lover and never changing countenance to his wife in any thing but only that he refrained to have such knowledge of her carnally as he in times past had and other men have of their wives. In this sort he continued by the space almost of half a year, nevertheless lamenting his mishap in solitary places.
"At last (what moved him I know not), he fell again to company with his wife as other men do, and, as I have heard it said, he used this policy: every time that he had knowledge of her, he would leave either in the bed, or in her cushioncloth, or by her looking glass, or in some place where she must needs find it, a piece of money, which then was fallen to three halfpence and I remember they called the Slips. Thus he dealt with her continually by the space of four or five months, using her nevertheless very kindly in all other respects & providing for her all things necessary at the first call: But unto his guest he still augmented his courtesy, in such sort, that you would have thought them to be sworn brothers.
"All this notwithstanding, his wife much musing at these three half penny pieces which she found in this sort, and furthermore having sundry times found her husband in solitary places making great lamentation, she grew inquisitive what should be the secret cause of these alterations: unto who he would none otherwise answer but that any man should find occasion to be more pensive at one time than at another.
"The wife, notwithstanding increasing her suspect, imported the same unto her lover, alleging therewithal that she doubted very much lest her husband had some vehement suspicion of their affairs. The lover encouraged her, & likewise declared that if she would be importunate to enquire the cause her husband would not be able to keep it from her: and having now thoroughly instructed her, she dealt with her husband in this sort.
"One day when she knew him to be in his study alone, she came in to him, and having fast locked the door after her and conveyed the key into her pocket, she began first with earnest entreaty, and then with tears, to crave that he would no longer keep from her the cause of his sudden alteration. The husband dissimuled the matter still. At last she was so earnest to know for what cause he left money in such sort at sundry times that he answered on this wise: 'Wife,' quoth he, 'thou knowest how long we have ben married together & how long I made so dear account of thee as ever man made of his wife; since which days, thou knowest also how long I refrained thy company, and how long again I have used thy company leaving the money in this sort, and the cause is this: So long as thou didst behave thyself faithfully towards me, I never loathed thy company, but sithens I have perceived thee to be a harlot. & therefore did I for a time refrain and forbear to lie with thee. & now I can no longer forbear it, I do give thee every time that I lie with thee a slip, which is to make thee understand thine own whoredom. And this reward is sufficient for a whore.'
"The wife began stoutly to stand at defiance, but the husband cut off her speech and declared when, where, and how he had seen it. Hereat the woman, being abashed and finding her conscience guilty of as much as he had alleged, fell down on her knees, & with most bitter tears craved pardon, confessing her offence. Whereat her husband, moved with pity & melting likewise in floods of lamentation, recomforted her, promising that if from that day forwards she would be true unto him, he would not only forgive al that was past, but become more tender & loving unto her than ever he was.
"What do I tarry so long? They became of accord: & in full accomplishment thereof, the gentlewoman did altogether eschew the company, the speech, & (as much as in her lay) the sight of her lover, although her husband did continue his courtesy towards him and often charged his wife to make him fair semblance. The lover was now only left in perplexity, who knew nothing what might be the cause of all these changes, & that most grieved him, he could by no means obtain again the speech of his desired: he watched all opportunities, he suborned messengers, he wrote letters, but all in vain.
"In the end, she caused to be declared unto him a time and place where she would meet him and speak with him. Being met, she put him in remembrance of all that had passed between them; she laid also before him how trusty she had been unto him in all professions; she confessed also how faithfully he had discharged the duty of a friend in all respects; and therewithal she declared that her late alteration and pensiveness of mind was not without great cause, for that she had of late such a mishap as might change the disposition of any living creature. Yea, and that the case was such as unless she found present remedy her death must needs ensue and that speedily: for the preventing whereof, she alleged that she had beaten her brains with all devises possible, and that in the end she could think of no redress but one, the which lay only in him to accomplish. Wherefore she besought him, for all the love and good will which passed between them, now to show the fruits of true friendship and to gratify her with a free grant to this request.
"The lover, who had always been desirous to pleasure her in any thing, but now especially, to recover her wonted kindness, gan frankly promise to accomplish any thing that might be to him possible, yea, though it were to his great detriment: and therewithal did deeply blame her in that she would so long torment herself with any grief, considering that it lay in him to help it.
"The Lady answered that she had so long kept it from his knowledge because she doubted whether he would be contented to perform it or not, although it was such a thing as he might easily grant without any manner of hurt to himself: & yet that now in the end she was forced to adventure upon his courtesy, being no longer able to bear the burden of her grief. The lover solicited her most earnestly to disclose it, and she (as fast) seemed to mistrust that he would not accomplish it.
"In the end, she took out a book (which she had brought for the nonce) and bound him by oath to accomplish it. The lover, mistrusting nothing less than that ensued, took the oath willingly. Which done, she declared all that had passed between her & her husband: his grief, her repentance, his pardon, her vow, & in the end of her tale, enjoined the lover that from thenceforthwards he should never attempt to break her constant determination.
"The lover replied that this was unpossible. But she plainly assured him that if he granted her that request, she would be his friend in all honest & godly wise; if not, she put him out of doubt that she would eschew his company & fly from his sight as from a scorpion.
"The lover, considering that her request was but just, accusing his own guilty conscience, remembering the great courtesies always used by her husband, & therewithal seeing the case now brought to such an issue as that by none other means than by this it could be concealed from knowledge of the world -- but most of all, being urged by his oath -- did at last give an unwilling consent & yet a faithful promise to yield unto her will in all things. And thus being become of one assent, he remaineth the dearest friend & most welcome guest that may be, both to the Lady & her husband, and the man & wife so kind each to other as if there never had been such a breach between them.
"Now, of you, noble Governor, I would fain learn whether the perplexity of the husband when he looked in at the key hole, or of the wife when she knew the cause why the slips were so scattered, or of the lover when he knew what was his Mistress' charge, was greater of the three? I might have put in also the troubled thoughts of the sisters & the maid when they saw their good will rejected, but let these three suffice."
"Gentle Hope," quoth F. J., "you have rehearsed (& that right eloquently) a notable tale, or rather a notable history, because you seem to affirm that it was done in deed of late & not far hence. Wherein I note five especial points: that is, a marvelous patience in the husband, no less repentance in the wife, no small boldness of the maid, but much more rashness in the sisters, and last of all, a rare tractability in the lover. Nevertheless, to return unto your question, I think the husband's perplexity greatest, because his losses abounded above the rest & his injuries were uncomparable."
The Lady Frances did not seem to contrary him, but rather smiled in her sleeve at Dame Pergo, who had no less patience to hear the tale recited than the Lady Frances had pleasure in telling of it, but I may not rehearse the cause why unless I should tell all.
By this time, the sleeping hour approached & the Ladies prepared their departure, when as mistress Frances said unto F. J., "Although percase I shall not do it so handsomely as your mistress, yet good Trust," quoth she, "if you vouchsafe it, I can be content to trim up your bed in the best manner that I may, as one who would be as glad as she to procure your quiet rest."
F. J. gave her great thanks, desiring her not to trouble herself, but to let his man alone with that charge.
The Adventures of Master F. J. by George Gascoigne, 1573