How the Theeves stole away a Gentlewoman, and brought her to their den.
When night was come the Theeves awaked and rose up, and when they had buckled on their weapons, and disguised their faces with visards, they departed. And yet for all the great sleep that came upon me, I could in no wise leave eating: and whereas when I was a man I could be contented with one or two loaves at the most, now my huts were so greedy that three panniers full would scantly serve me, and while I considered these things the morning came, and being led to a river, notwithstanding my Assie shamefastnesse I quencht my thirst. And suddenly after, the Theeves returned home carefull and heavy, bringing no burthens with them, no not so much as traffe or baggage, save only a maiden, that seemed by her habit to be some gentlewoman borne, and the daughter of some worthy matron of that country, who was so fair and beautiful, that though I were an Asse, yet I had a great affection for her. The virgin lamented and tare her hair, and rent her garments, for the great sorrow she was in; but the theeves brought her within the cave, and assisted her to comfort in this sort, Weep not fair gentlewoman we pray you, for be you assured we wil do no outrage or violence to your person: but take patience a while for our profit, for necessity and poore estate hath compelled us to do this enterprise: we warrant you that your parents, although they bee covetous, will be contented to give us a great quantity of mony to redeeme and ransome you from our hands.
With such and like flattering words they endeavoured to appease the gentlewoman, howbeit shee would in no case be comforted, but put her head betwixt her knees, and cried pittiously. Then they called the old woman, and commaunded her to sit by the maiden, and pacify her dolor as much as shee might. And they departed away to rob, as they were accustomed to doe, but the virgin would not asswage her griefes, nor mitigate her sorrow by any entreaty of the old woman, but howled and sobbed in such sort, that she made me poore Asse likewise to weepe, and thus she said, Alas can I poore wench live any longer, that am come of so good a house, forsaken of my parents, friends, and family, made a rapine and prey, closed servilely in this stony prison, deprived of all pleasure, wherein I have been brought up, thrown in danger, ready to be rent in pieces among so many sturdy theeves and dreadful robbers, can I (I say) cease from weeping, and live any longer? Thus she cried and lamented, and after she had wearied herself with sorrow and blubbered her face with teares, she closed the windowes of her hollow eyes, and laid her downe to sleepe. And after that she had slept, she rose again like a furious and mad woman, and beat her breast and comely face more that she did before.
Then the old woman enquired the causes of her new and sudden lamentation. To whom sighing in pittifull sort she answered, Alas now I am utterly undone, now am I out of all hope, O give me a knife to kill me, or a halter to hang me. Whereat the old [woman] was more angry, and severely commanded her to tell her the cause of her sorrow, and why after her sleep, she should renew her dolour and miserable weeping. What, thinke you (quoth she) to deprive our young men of the price of your ransome? No, no therefore cease your crying, for the Theeves doe little esteeme your howling, and if you do not, I will surely burn you alive. Hereat the maiden was greatly feared, and kissed her hand and said, O mother take pitty upon me and my wretched fortune, and give me license a while to speake, for I think I shall not long live, let there be mercy ripe and franke in thy venerable hoare head, and hear the sum of my calamity.
There was a comely young man, who for his bounty and grace was beloved entirely of all the towne, my cousine Germane, and but three years older than I; we two were nourished and brought up in one house, lay under one roofe, and in one chamber, and at length by promise of marriage, and by consent of our parents we were contracted together. The marriage day was come, the house was garnished with lawrel, and torches were set in every place in the honour of Hymeneus, my espouse was accompanied by his parents, kinsfolke, and friends, and made sacrifices in the temples and publique places. And when my unhappy mother pampered me in her lap, and decked me like a bride, kissing me sweetly, and making me a parent for Children, behold there came in a great multitude of theeves armed like men of warre, with naked swords in their hands, who went not about to doe any harme, neither to take any thing away, but brake into the chamber where I was, and violently tooke me out of my mothers armes, when none of our family would resist for feare.
In this sort was our marriage disturbed, like the marriage of Hyppodame and Perithous. But behold my good mother, now my unhappy fortune is renewed and encreased: For I dreamed in my sleepe, that I was pulled out of our house, out of our chamber, and out of my bed, and that I removed about in solitary and unknowne places, calling upon the name of my unfortunate husband, and how that he, as soone as he perceived that he was taken away, even smelling with perfumes and crowned with garlands, did trace me by the steppes, desiring the aid of the people to assist him, in that his wife was violently stollen away. and as he went crying up and down, one of the theeves mooved with indignation, by reason of his pursuit, took up a stone that lay at his feet, and threw it at my husband and killed him. By the terror of which sight, and the feare of so dreadfull a dreame, I awaked.
Then the old woman rendring out like sighes, began to speake in this sort: My daughter take a good heart unto you, and bee not afeared at feigned and strange visions and dreams, for as the visions of the day are accounted false and untrue, so the visions of the night doe often change contrary. And to dream of weeping, beating, and killing, is a token of good luck and prosperous change. Whereas contrary to dreame of laughing, carnal dalliance, and good cheere, is a signe of sadnesse, sicknesse, loss of substance, and displeasure. But I will tell thee a pleasant tale, to put away all thy sorrow, and to revive thy spirits. And so shee began in this manner.