(By Mary Lamb)
Bertram, count of Rossilion, 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 favour and protection.
Bertram was living with his mother, the widowed countess, when Lafeu, an old lord of the French court, came to conduct Bertram 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, for 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 farewel. 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 farewel 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 very form and features of her dead father, her imagination presenting no image to her mind but Bertram’s.