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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Thiebault fights these odds without flinching


The

remaining stories of the thirteenth-century volume are curiously contrasted. One is a short prose version of that exquisite _chanson de geste_, _Amis et Amiles_, of which it has been said above that any one who cannot "taste" it need never hope to understand mediaeval literature. The full beauty of the verse story does not appear in the prose; but some does.

[Sidenote: _Le Comtesse de Ponthieu._]

Of the other, the so-called "Comtesse de Ponthieu" (though she is not really this, being only the Count's daughter and the wife of a vassal), I thought rather badly when I first read it thirty or forty years ago, and till the present occasion I have never read it since. Now I think better of it, especially as a story suggestive in story-telling art. The original stumbling-block, which I still see, though I can get over or round it better now, was, I think, the character of the heroine, who inherits not merely the tendency to play fast and loose with successive husbands, which is observable in both _chanson_ and _roman_ heroines, but something of the very unlovely savagery which is also sometimes characteristic of them; while the hero also is put in "unpleasant" circumstances. He is a gentleman and a good knight, and though only a vassal of the Count of Ponthieu, he, as has been said, marries the Count's daughter, entirely to her and her father's satisfaction. But they are childless, and the inevitable "monseigneur Saint

_Jakeme_" (St. James of Compostella) suggests himself for pilgrimage. Thiebault, the knight, obtains leave from his lady to go, and she, by a device not unprettily told, gets from him leave to go too. Unfortunately and unwisely they send their suite on one morning, and ride alone through a forest, where they are set upon by eight banditti. Thiebault fights these odds without flinching, and actually kills three, but is overpowered by sheer numbers. They do not kill him, but bind and toss him into a thicket, after which they take vengeance of outrage on the lady and depart, fearing the return of the meyney. Thiebault feels that his unhappy wife is guiltless, but unluckily does not assure her of this, merely asking her to deliver him. So she, seeing a sword of one of the slain robbers, picks it up, and, "full of great ire and evil will," cries, "I will deliver you, sir," and, instead of cutting his bonds, tries to run him through. But she only grazes him, and actually cuts the thongs, so that he shakes himself free, starts up, and wrests the sword from her with the simple words, "Lady, it is not to-day that you will kill me." To which she replies, "And right sorry I am therefor."[78] Their followers come up; the pair are clothed and set out again on their journey. But Thiebault, though treating his wife with the greatest attention, leaves her at a monastery, accomplishes his pilgrimage alone, and on his return escorts her to Ponthieu as if nothing had happened. Still--though no one knows this or indeed


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