Tales of Old Lusitania/The Count of Paris
THE COUNT OF PARIS.
A king, who lived in the good old days of romance, had a daughter, and when she came of age he arranged a marriage for her with the great Count of Paris, but in order that the young people might know each other before they were formally engaged, he invited the Count to his Court. The young man accordingly came, escorted by a noble train of attendants, bringing presents to the king and the princess which were worthy of their magnificence. In compliment to the royal guest, the king gave a grand sumptuous feast, of more than usual richness and variety, to which were invited all his nobles and the Count's retinue. During the repast, the princess looked very happy, and the Count was evidently charmed and captivated with her loveliness, her sweet face, and beautiful simplicity, while the king was joyful and merry, and so were the general company, who kept up an animated conversation, the general topic being the approaching marriage and the festivities that would follow on the great occasion to which all were looking forward with much pleasure. At dessert the Count partook, among other fruits and sweets, of a pomegranate, and while he did so a seed fell on his long flowing beard, which he removed with his fork, and then put it into his mouth.
The young princess, who had been watching every movement of the Count with shy but scrutinizing eyes, and saw what he had done, was much disgusted at the unseemly act, and, with evident displeasure in her angry eyes, she said that she would not have for her husband a man that could behave so disgustingly at table. He should have wiped the pomegranate seed off his beard with the table napkin and left it there. The Count was startled by her words and her change of manner towards him; he rose from table mortified and hurt, and said he was astonished to find that for so slight a fault she should discard him and put him to shame before all present. But he promised he would be revenged for the insult offered him; a day should come when she would be thankful to eat pilgrims' dry hard bread, drink out of a ditch, and take her meals off straw. The Count then left the palace with his attendants, and returned home.
A few days after this untoward incident, a negro came to the palace and offered himself to the king as gardener, and obtained the situation. Whenever the princess walked in the garden and palace grounds, the negro endeavoured by all manner of devices to attract her notice, and draw her into conversation; he made beautiful nosegays, which he presented to her with much courtly grace, and by all manner of attentions insinuated himself into her good graces. The princess was captivated by his charming manner, and before long fell in love with him, to which sentiment the negro eagerly responded; and as she dared not tell the king the state of affairs, they agreed to elope, and get away from the palace as secretly as possible.
There is no record left of how they travelled—whether in a royal carriage or on horseback; the latter supposition is the most likely. However, after travelling day and night on a solitary road, the princess, fatigued and feeling the pangs of hunger, asked the negro where they could get something to eat; to which he replied that as there were no houses near, or any means of getting food, she had better go and beg a spare crust of bread of the pilgrim, whom he pointed out to her trudging along the road. She did so, and having obtained a piece of dry coarse bread from the good pilgrim, she ate it, and then cried in a troubled voice, "Oh, Count of Paris, your prophetic words are indeed fulfilled!"
The negro, hearing her words, said to her, "Why would you not love him, then, and have him for your husband?"
As they continued their journey the princess complained of thirst, saying she would be glad to find a spring of water to drink from; the negro replied that there was a ditch by the roadside, from which she could drink if she was so parched, as there was no sign of any other water near. The princess drank from the muddy ditch, and again cried, "Oh, Count of Paris, Count of Paris, your words have come true!" and the negro repeated his question, "Why would you not love him then?" As they journeyed along, the negro said that as they must do something to gain their livelihood, he would go to the Count of Paris and ask him to take them into his service; and, if he could do nothing better for them, to admit them into his stables for the night.
On arriving at the palace travel-worn and exhausted, they were told they might take shelter in the hay-loft, and there rest and recruit their strength—of which the wretched princess stood so much in need that she was thankful to get even so mean a shelter. The negro after a while left her alone, and did not return until late at night, when he brought her a mess of meal in a common cup, and said that he had had a difficulty to get what he brought from the palace people, who as a great favour allowed him to cook it; but that he had promised to return the cup immediately to the kitchen, and as he could not wait for her to finish her meal, she could pour it out on some of the clean straw. The princess asked how she was to take it to her mouth, as she had no spoon; but the negro harshly replied, "Help yourself to it with your hands if you like." The wretched and truly humbled lady being half-famished—for she had not tasted a morsel of food that day—meekly, and without another word, took the food that was set before her as best she could. "What a change," thought she, "this is from my usual life in my father's palace!" And then she remembered the Count's threat, and how everything was turning out as he in his rage and mortification had said it would, and how different her position would now be if she had not behaved towards him as she had done for so slight a fault. She felt that all that was befalling her was through her own fault. There in the loft, left alone to herself all night—for the negro did not return—she had ample time to reflect upon her foolish acts, and to repent of them. What worlds she would give to be the Count's wife then!
Next morning the negro came to her and said that, as she must do something for her living, she could go and help to knead the bread; but he told her to be sure and steal some of the flour, as the food they would give her would not be half enough to satisfy her. The princess went as she was bid, and helped to knead the bread, and very reluctantly stole some flour, which she hid in the ample folds of her dress. She feared the negro, and had no alternative but to do what he told her. She was in his power! As she was returning to her only shelter, the loft, she met the Count, who was very handsomely dressed, and he said to her that as some flour had been stolen by some of the women, she, like the rest, must be searched. The wretched lady trembled at this, and shortly after the housekeeper came to her, and on searching her person, found the flour; for which she was ignominiously turned out of the palace, much to her shame and humiliation; but she was allowed to return to the loft. When the negro came back to her she related to him all that had happened to her through his bad advice and command. To this the negro replied that if she had not the sense to do things more cleverly, she must bear the consequences.The negro next day told her that a dress was to be embroidered for the princess whom the Count was going to marry, and that as she knew so well how to embroider, she might, he thought, undertake the task, and receive very good wages for it. The princess obtained the task, and embroidered the dress most cleverly and beautifully. Next day, as she was crying bitterly, thinking in great distress of her altered position, the negro came with a number of attendants and pages in their best livery, bringing embroidered towels and basins made of pure gold and silver, which the negro said were for her use, as the Count's mother wished to see the dress she had embroidered for the bride tried first on her to see if it fitted, and how it looked on her, as she was about the same height and the same figure as the future Countess.
Two maids of honour came to help her to dress, and the negro disappeared. When she had finished dressing, the Count himself appeared, dressed most magnificently and glittering with jewels; he then told her that he was the negro, for he had disguised himself as such, and all he had done to her was for her good, on account of the great love he bore her. He told her that when he returned to his own palace after she had discarded him he felt so miserable he knew he could not live without her, or be happy with anyone else. The princess, all in tears, knelt at his feet and kissed them, saying she was his slave then, but was ready and most happy to be his wife for the future. The Count raised her and embraced her.
The marriage took place the same day. From the loft she was conducted in state to the church, where everything had been prepared beforehand for the ceremony.
The princess, now Countess of Paris, had learnt wisdom by her trials; the Count was the kindest of husbands, and they lived happily ever after.