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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And the Sultan promptly proposes conversion and marriage


anything about her actual misfortune

and intended crime--he does not live with her as his wife. After a time the Count, who is, as another story has it, a "_h_arbitrary" Count, insists that Thiebault shall tell him some incident of his voyage, and the husband (here is the weak point of the whole) recounts the actual adventure, though not as of himself and his lady. The Count will not stand ambiguity, and at last extorts the truth, which the lady confirms, repeating her sorrow that she had _not_ slain her husband. Now the Count is, as has been said, an arbitrary Count, and one day, his county having, as our Harold knew to his cost, a sea-coast to it, somewhat less disputable than those of Bohemia and the Ardennes, embarks, with only his daughter, son-in-law, son, and a few retainers, taking with him a nice new cask. Into this, despite the prayers of her husband and brother, he puts the lady, and flings it overboard. She is picked up half-suffocated by mariners, who carry her to "Aymarie" and sell her to the Sultan. She is very beautiful, and the Sultan promptly proposes conversion and marriage. She makes no difficulty, bears him two children, and is apparently quite happy. But meanwhile the Count of Ponthieu begins--his son and son-in-law have never ceased--to feel that he has exercised the paternal rights rather harshly; the Archbishop of Rheims very properly confirms his ideas on this point, and all three go _outremer_ on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They are captured by the Saracens of Aymarie, imprisoned, starved,
and finally in immediate danger of being shot to death as an amusement for the Sultan's bodyguard. But the Sultaness has found out who they are, visits them in prison, and "reconciliations and forgivenesses of injuries" follow.

After this, things go in an easily guessable manner. The Countess-Sultana beguiles her easy-going lord into granting her the lives of the prisoners one after another, for which she rewards him by carrying them off, with her son by the second marriage, to Italy, where the boy is baptized. "The Apostle" (as the Pope is usually called in Romance), by a rather extensive exercise of his Apostleship, gives everybody absolution, confirms the original marriage of Thiebault and the lady who had been so obstinately sorry that she had not killed him, and who had suffered the paynim spousals so easily; and all goes merrily. There is a postscript which tells how the daughter of the Sultan and the Countess, who is termed _La Bele Caitive_, captivates and marries a Turk of great rank, and becomes the mother of no less a person than the great Saladin himself--a consummation no doubt very satisfactory to the Miss Martha Buskbodies of the mediaeval world.

Now this story might seem to one who read it hastily, carelessly, or as "not in the vein," to be partly extravagant, partly disagreeable, and, despite its generous allowance of incident, rather dull, especially if contrasted with its next neighbour in the printed volume, _Aucassin et Nicolette_ itself. I am afraid there may have been some of these uncritical conditions about my own first reading. But a little study shows some remarkable points in it, though the original writer has not known how to manage them. The central and most startling one--the attempt of the Countess to murder her husband--is, when you think of it, not at all unnatural. The lady is half mad with her shame; the witness, victim, and, as she thinks, probable avenger of that shame is helpless before her, and in his first words at any rate seems to think merely of himself and not of her. Whether this violent outburst of feeling was not likely to result in as violent a revulsion of tenderness is rather a psychological probability than artistically certain. And Thiebault, though an excellent fellow, is a clumsy one. His actual behaviour is somewhat of that "killing-with-kindness" order which exasperates when it does not itself kill or actually reconcile; and, whether out of delicacy or not, he does not give his wife the only proof that he acknowledges the involuntariness of her actual misfortune, and forgives the voluntariness of her intended crime. His telling the story is inexcusable: and neither his preference of his allegiance as a vassal to his duty as knight, lover, and husband in the case of the Count's cruelty, nor his final acceptance of so many and such peculiar bygones can be called very pretty. But there are possibilities in the story, if they are not exactly made into good gifts.


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