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Borrowed Plumes, and the Fate of the Snowy Lady

After long storms and tempests the sun's face again shines forth joyfully, so when fortune has shown all her spite some blissful hours at last must needs appear. So it was with the Lady Florimell. After escaping from the cruel hyena that killed and devoured her milk-white palfrey, she met with many troubles and misfortunes; but they were all over now, and she was happily betrothed to her own true Knight, Marinell.

The time and place of the bridal were blazed far and wide, and solemn feasts and tournaments were arranged, to which a countless throng of lords and ladies resorted from all directions, nor was there any brave knight absent. It would need the tongue of a herald to tell the glory of the feast that day-the splendid service, the brilliant variety of entertainments, the pomp of the bridegroom, the richness of the bride's array, the crowd of noble ladies and gallant knights, the royal banquets, and the general rejoicing. When all the people had sufficiently feasted, they began to prepare themselves for deeds of arms and contests of chivalry.

Then first of all rode forth Sir Marinell, and with him six more knights, to challenge all on behalf of

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[paragraph continues] Florimell, and to maintain that she excelled all other ladies. Against them came every one that cared to joust, from every coast and country under the sun no one was debarred; all had leave who chose. Many brave deeds were done that day, and many a knight unhorsed, but little was lost or won. All that day the greatest praise redounded to Marinell. So also the second day. At the end of the fighting the trumpets proclaimed that Marinell was the best.

The third day came, which would test all the others, and the warriors met together to finish the tournament. Then Marinell again showed great valour, and flew like a lion through the thickest of the press, so that every one fled from the danger, and was amazed at his might. But the greater the prowess, the greater the peril; Marinell pressed so far into the ranks of the enemy that they closed up behind him, so that he could by no means make a way out. He was taken prisoner, and bound with chains, and would have been led away, forsaken of all, had not some succour overtaken him in time.

It happened that while Marinell was thus sorely beset, Sir Artegall came into the tilt-yard, with Braggadochio, whom he had lately met on the way with the false Florimell, the "Snowy Lady." When Artegall heard the bad fortune that had betided Marinell, he was much excited at his undeserved disgrace. He immediately. begged the braggart with whom he was riding to change shields with him, in order that he might be the better concealed, and thus armed he went forth, and soon overtook the knights who were leading Marinell away.

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[paragraph continues] There were a hundred of them altogether. Half of them set upon Sir Artegall, and half staved behind to guard the prey. Artegall was not long in beating the first fifty, and soon snatched the prisoner from the other fifty. Then he quickly armed Marinell again, and together they overcame all the rest of the knights, and were left lords of the field. So Marinell was rescued from his foes.

Having done this, Sir Artegall restored his shield to Braggadochio, who all this while had remained in the background. Then the trumpets sounded, and the judges rose, and all the knights who had borne armour that day came to the open hall to listen to whom the honour of the prize should be adjudged.

There also in open sight came the fair Florimell into the public hall, to give his guerdon to every knight, and the best to him to whom the best should fall. Then they loudly called for the stranger Knight, to whom they should yield the garland, but he came not forth; but instead of Sir Artegall came Braggadochio, and showed his shield, which bore the device of the sun, broadly blazoned on a golden field.

The sight filled them with gladness, so to him they adjudged the prize of all that triumph. Then the shrill trumpets thrice resounded the name of Braggadochio, and thus courage lent a cloak to cowardice. Then the beautiful Florimell came to Braggadochio, and spoke graciously in praise of his gallantry, and gave him a thousand thanks for so well defending her cause.

To this the boaster (which filled all knights with utter contempt for him) made scornful answer that

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what he did that day he did, not for her, but for his own lady's sake, who excelled both her and every one else; and he added further bragging and unseemly speeches. His words much abashed the gentle lady, and she turned aside, ashamed to hear what he said.

Then he brought forth his snowy Florimell, who was standing near, in charge of Trompart, covered with a veil from people's gaze; and when they had thoroughly eyed her they were stupefied with great amazement, saying that it was surely Florimell, or if it were not, then she surpassed Florimell herself. Such feeble skill have the vulgar with respect to perfect things!

Marinell, likewise, when he beheld, was exceedingly amazed, not knowing what to think or to do. He stood for a long time lost in astonishment, his eyes fixed fast on the Snowy Maid, whom the more he looked at, the more he thought was the true Florimell.

When Artegall, who stood all this while close covered in the crowd, saw everything that passed, and the boasting and ungrateful cheating of Braggadochio, he could stand it no longer, but came forth, and showed himself openly to every one, and said to the boaster--

"Base wretch, thou hast defaced another's worth with thy lies and decked thyself with borrowed plumes; when they are all restored, thou shalt be left in disgrace. That shield which thou bearest was indeed the one which saved the day's honour to Marinell; but that was not the arm, nor thou the man who did that service to Florimell. For proof, show forth thy sword,

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and let it tell what strokes, what dreadful battle it stirred up this day. Or show the wounds which befell you!

"But this is the sword which wrought such havoc; and this the arm which bore that shield; and these the signs" (he pointed to his wounds) "by which it is apparent the glory was got. As for that lady which he shows here," he continued, turning to the others, "it is not Florimell at all, but some worthless creature, fit for such a mate, who has fallen into his hand by misfortune;" and for proof he bade them call the true Florimell.

So the noble Lady was brought, adorned with honour and all comely grace, blushing with modesty, so that the roses mixed with the lilies in her lovely face, for she still felt deep shame at the rude words which Braggadochio had flung at her. And when the people saw her they shouted aloud, and all showed signs of gladness.

Then Sir Artegall placed her by the Snowy Lady, like a true saint beside some painted image, to make trial of their beauty, and to see which should get the honour. Straightway, as soon as they were both met together, the enchanted damsel vanished into nothing. Her body of snow melted as with heat, and nothing remained of all her goodly appearance except the empty girdle, which had been clasped round her waist.

When the people present beheld this, they were struck with astonishment, and their hearts quailed with horror, to see the thing which seemed so excellent stolen away, so that no one understood what became of it. Braggadochio himself was so daunted with despair that he stood immovable, like a lifeless body.

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''Streight-way, so soone as both together met,<BR>
 Th' enchaunted Damzel vanisht into nought,<BR>
 Her snowy substance melted as with heat,<BR>
 He of that goodly hew remayned ought.''
Click to enlarge

''Streight-way, so soone as both together met,
Th' enchaunted Damzel vanisht into nought,
Her snowy substance melted as with heat,
He of that goodly hew remayned ought.''


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But Artegall took up the golden belt, the only thing reft of all the spoil, which was not the Snowy Lady's, as many mistakenly believed, but Florimell's own girdle reft from her when she fled from the vile monster; unbuckling it, he presented it to Florimell, who fitted it perfectly round her slender waist. The girdle possessed the magic power of breaking or becoming unfastened when it was put on by any unworthy person. Many ladies had often tried to wear it, but it fitted no one till it came into the hands of its rightful owner, Florimell.

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