Lovers united. Drawing, Italian, early 14th century.
Florence, Bibl. Laurenziana, ms. Plut. 40152, fol. 21.
There was once a gentle lord who strove, as do all proper knights, for the respect of his fellow man, as well as for such pleasures as the world has to offer. He was hunting one day, with two of his best hounds and a sparrowhawk, along the edges of a field in which his peasants were harvesting grain, when he spied a small rabbit. Fleeing hounds and hunter, the rabbit dashed into the tall grain, only to be caught by one of the harvesters, who gave it, unharmed, to the knight, his master.
"Well, this is a happy chance," said the knight to himself. Now, you should know that there was a young maiden for whom his desire glowed as does the gold smelting in the crucible. She had resisted his advances, but he knew that girls delight in things such as the little, furry animal which he now intended to give her. A child would rather have a shiny apple than a kingdom.
And so he rode off down the path that led to the village where she lived, stroking the rabbit all the while. The fine and lovely young lady, who was really little more than a child in years or experience, saw him, and what he was bringing her, from the balcony of her chamber.
"Oh, sir," she replied to his courtly greeting, "where did you get the bunny? I do so wish it were mine. Would you sell it?"
"Indeed I would, my sweet one," he said, "if you want to strike a bargain with me."
"Oh, yes, I do want it so," she cried. "But tell me, what must I give for it? If I have anything that you'll take for it, I'll be glad to give it to you."
"It's yours," he said quickly, "for your favor."
"Why, what do you mean, sir?" she asked. "I have some things locked away—three rings, and some dice, and a little silk scarf my mother made for me, with gold and bright stones on it. You can have all that, if you really want it."
"No, no, that's not the sort of bargain I meant," he said. "I want no finery, only your favor."
"Favor, sir? I don't have any."
"Yes, you do," he assured her, "and I'll find it if you help me look for it."
"Of course," she answered, "and then you can have that too. But hurry up. Just give me the bunny, and take the favor you want."
"I can't, if anyone is here who might see or hear us," he said. "You must be alone."
"My mother went to church, and took the girl with her," she replied.
The knight quickly dismounted, climbed up to the balcony, and presented the bunny to the splendid girl, who was indeed one of God's masterpieces in face, form, and manner.
"I have my part of the bargain, sir," she said, holding the rabbit. "Now take what you want."
And so he did. He clasped her to him and kissed her little red mouth, and Love, that conquers kings and armies, soon won this battle also. When she had felt the seasons change from the springtime of maidenhood to a woman's summer, she said to the knight:, "ah, brave sir, you are welcome to hunt for favor here as often as you like, until you find it all. I'll keep your bunny."
And so he performed another careful search, much to the young woman's delight. When it seemed to him time to leave, she held him tightly to her breast and urged him not to go without looking just once more. But he knew it would not be well to stay longer, and took his leave.
"Sir, what's your hurry?" she called after him. "You're going off without all the favor—I'm sure there's still some left! Why didn't you take it all? You must come back and get it, or I'll be disgraced for having cheated you!" But he rode on, laughing.
Mass was over and her mother returned. "Look, mother dear," cried the girl, running to her. "Look at my cute bunny!" "Why, my child, who gave you that?" asked her mother, and soon heard the story of how the girl had bought it. The mother grabbed her by her yellow hair and began to pinch her bright cheek, but the girl twisted away and ran. She felt no worse for the spent favor, but very much feared the pain of a beating. Therefore she went every day to her balcony to watch for the knight, in hopes that, should he return, she might undo their bargain and regain the price she had paid, so that her mother wouldn't be angry any more.
On the third day, he rode by again, and as soon as she saw him, she cried distractedly, "oh, sir, give me back my favor—it was a bad bargain. My mother has been pulling my hair and making me miserable ever since! Give me back my favor, and take your bunny. I've had nothing but trouble from our trade!"
"If it will solve your troubles," said the gentle knight, "I'll gladly give you back your favor. But we must be alone."
The lovely girl ran down from her chamber and out of the house, bringing the rabbit with her. "Now we're alone," she said. "Here, take your bunny, and return my favor."
The knight kindly did just as she asked, and would have been pleased to do so with no persuasion at all. Men can easily be made to do what they want to do anyway. Thus she became a maid again, who before had been a woman, or so at least she thought, although the knight now had a larger share of her maidenly goods than ever. Seeing her cast many a soft glance at the rabbit, he generously let her keep it, along with her restored favor.
Content that she had thoroughly bested him in the exchange, she ran to her mother and cried, "you see, mother, I've fixed everything. The knight was here again and gave me back my favor, and then even gave me the bunny, too."
"Ah, such a bargain!" screamed the mother, yanking her daughter's hair. "He's robbed you of your maidenhood, and it is I that will have to pay. What will people think of you? Oh, I should have watched you more carefully—my heart is broken! We'll never live this down!"
"Mother, calm yourself," said the girl. "What's done is done, and we must make the best of it."
"The best of it?" she shrieked. "There's no help for this—it'll be the end of me!"
"Mother dear, please," coaxed the daughter. "I did it, and I'll take the blame for it. Now stop carrying on so."
The woman took some comfort at her daughter's words. "Well, perhaps I'll see you happy yet," she said. "All is not lost. Go ahead and wear your maiden's scarf. Act gaily in company, but say nothing. Wonders can happen."
A year or so later, a fine lady was publicly betrothed to the knight. She was beautiful and clever, from a good family with plenty of money, and wore the scarf that proclaimed her to be a maiden. The knight, proud servant of honor that he was, spared no trouble or expense in preparing for the wedding, inviting all the lords and ladies he counted as his friends. Nor did he forget the sweet girl with whom he had struck a bargain for a bunny. He determined that she too should attend the festivities, and rode to her house to invite her.
She saw him coming, recognized him at once and ran to call her mother. "Look, mother, he's here!" she called. "He's the one who took my favor!"
"Now, don't remind me of that, child!" groaned the mother. But the knight strode right up to her and requested that she do him the very personal honor of attending his marriage feast, with her daughter.
"What a disgrace!" the mother thought. "This man has made a slut of my daughter. How shall I enjoy such a wedding, knowing it is my girl that he should be marrying? But if I refuse to go, he may tell."
So she agreed. "Sir, I am very happy for you. We will gladly come."
"Thank you, said the knight. "It is a kindness I will not forget." He left in high spirits.
On the day of the wedding, all was prepared. The knight sat among his guests with his intended bride beside him, exchanging affections with her, when the young girl arrived, with her rabbit, all unsuspecting. At the sight of her, he thought of their merry encounter—the price she had paid for the rabbit, what her mother had done to her, and how they had undone their bargain. He was seized with a fit of laughter he could not suppress.
While he was still trying to catch his breath, his friends wanted to know what it was that he found so comical, but he would not tell them. However, his intended bride was not so easily put off. The more stubbornly he refused to answer her, the more insistently she demanded that he do so, until she declared that she would hear the reason, or there would be no wedding.
With that, she tipped the scales in her favor. He took her aside and told her the whole tale, of how he had caught the rabbit, what he had received from the girl for it, and how he had given her a refund after she had told her mother.
"Oh, that silly little fool," exclaimed the lady. "I would certainly have had better sense than to tell. Why, our chaplain has done that to me a hundred times, at least, and God knows, I'd be in trouble even now if my mother found out. Why didn't she keep it to herself?"
At this, the color first drained from the knight's face in fright, then welled up again in a flush of fury. As his senses, which had nearly left him, began to return, he thought, "if this is true, my wedding is going to be somewhat different than I expected!" He sprang from his place, went to the girl with the rabbit, and brought her back to sit beside him at the head of the table. He then rose again and addressed the company, who had heard nothing of the exchange between him and the lady. He told them the entire story of the bunny, the bargain of favors, the betrothal, and finally the chaplain, from beginning to end. Then he appealed to those who there considered themselves his friends to judge, and tell him which of the two women he should take to wife.
The verdict was unanimously in favor of the girl with the bunny. Thereupon he delayed no longer, but wedded her, and sent his former betrothed back home to her chaplain.