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Tales From Shakespeare
Charles and Mary Lamb
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All's Well That Ends Well
Bertram, Count of Rousillon, had newly come to his title and estate by the death of his
father. The King of France loved the father of Bertram, and when he heard of his death he
sent for his son to come immediately to his royal court in Paris, intending, for the
friendship he bore the late count, to grace young Bertram with his especial favor and
Bertram was living with his mother, the widowed countess, when Lafeu, an old lord of
the French court, came to conduct him to the king. The King of France was an absolute
monarch and the invitation to court was in the form of a royal mandate, or positive
command, which no subject, of what high dignity soever, might disobey; therefore,
though the countess, in parting with this dear son, seemed a second time to bury her
husband, whose loss she had so lately mourned, yet she dared not to keep him a single
day, but gave instant orders for his departure. Lafeu, who came to fetch him, tried to
comfort the countess for the loss of her late lord and her son's sudden absence; and he
said, in a courtier's flattering manner, that the king was so kind a prince, she would find
in his Majesty a husband, and that he would be a father to her son; meaning only that the
good king would befriend the fortunes of Bertram. Lafeu told the countess that the king
had fallen into a sad malady, which was pronounced by his physicians to be incurable.
The lady expressed great sorrow on hearing this account of the king's ill health, and said
she wished the father of Helena (a young gentlewoman who was present in attendance
upon her) were living that she doubted not he could have cured his Majesty of his
disease. And she told Lafeu something of the history of Helena, saying she was the only
daughter of the famous physician, Gerard de Narbon, and that he had recommended his
daughter to her care when he was dying, so that since his death she had taken Helena
under her protection; then the countess praised the virtuous disposition and excellent
qualities of Helena, saying she inherited these virtues from her worthy father. While she
was speaking, Helena wept in sad and mournful silence, which made the countess gently
reprove her for too much grieving for her father's death.
Bertram now bade his mother farewell. The countess parted with this dear son with tears
and many blessings, and commended him to the care of Lafeu, saying:
"Good my lord, advise him, for he is an unseasoned courtier."
Bertram's last words were spoken to Helena, but they were words of mere civility,
wishing her happiness; and he concluded his short farewell to her with saying:
"Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and make much of her."
Helena had long loved Bertram, and when she wept in sad and mournful silence the tears
she shed were not for Gerard de Narbon.. Helena loved her father, but in the present
feeling of a deeper love, the object of which she was about to lose, she had forgotten the