ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
ERTRAM, 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 protection.
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,
 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 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
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.
Helena had long loved Bertram, yet she always remembered that he
was the Count of Rousillon, descended from the most ancient
family in France. She of humble birth. Her parents of no note at
all. His ancestors all noble. And therefore she looked up to the
high-born Bertram as to her master and to her dear lord, and
dared not form any wish but to live his servant, and, so living,
to die his vassal. So great the distance seemed to her between
his height of dignity and her lowly fortunes that she would say:
 "It were all one that I should love a bright particular star, and
think to wed it, Bertram is so far above me."
Bertram's absence filled her eyes with tears and her heart with
sorrow; for though she loved without hope, yet it was a pretty
comfort to her to see him every hour, and Helena would sit and
look upon his dark eye, his arched brow, and the curls of his
fine hair till she seemed to draw his portrait on the tablet of
her heart, that heart too capable of retaining the memory of
every line in the features of that loved face.
Gerard de Narbon, when he died, left her no other portion than
some prescriptions of rare and well-proved virtue, which, by deep
study and long experience in medicine, he had collected as
sovereign and almost infallible remedies. Among the rest there
was one set down as an approved medicine for the disease under
which Lafeu said the king at that time languished; and when
Helena heard of the king's complaint, she, who till now had been
so humble and so hopeless, formed an ambitious project in her
mind to go herself to Paris and undertake the cure of the king.
But though Helena was the possessor of this choice prescription,
it was unlikely, as the king as well as his physicians was of
opinion that his disease was incurable, that they would give
credit to a poor unlearned virgin if she should offer to perform
a cure. The firm hopes that Helena had of succeeding, if she
might be permitted to make the trial, seemed more than even her
father's skill warranted, though he was the most famous physician
of his time; for she felt a strong faith that this good medicine
was sanctified by all the luckiest stars in heaven to be the
legacy that should advance her fortune, even to the high dignity
of being Count Rousillon's wife.
Bertram had not been long gone when the countess was informed by
her steward that he had overheard Helena talking to herself, and
that he understood, from some words she uttered, she was in love
with Bertram and thought of following him to Paris. The countess
dismissed the steward with thanks, and desired him to tell Helena
she wished to speak with her. What
 she had just heard of Helena
brought the remembrance of days long past into the mind of the
countess; those days, probably, when her love for Bertram's
father first began; and she said to herself:
"Even so it was with me when I was young. Love is a thorn that
belongs to the rose of youth; for in the season of youth, if ever
we are Nature's children, these faults are ours, though then we
think not they are faults."
While the countess was thus meditating on the loving errors of
her own youth, Helena entered, and she said to her, "Helena, you
know I am a mother to you."
Helena replied, "You are my honorable mistress."
"You are my daughter," said the countess again. "I say I am your
mother. Why do you start and look pale at my words?"
With looks of alarm and confused thoughts, fearing the countess
suspected her love, Helena still replied, "Pardon me, madam, you
are not my mother; the Count Rousillon cannot be my brother, nor
I your daughter."
"Yet, Helena," said the countess, "you might be my
daughter-in-law; and I am afraid that is what you mean to be, the
words mother and daughter so disturb you. Helena, do you love my
"Good madam, pardon me," said the affrighted Helena.
Again the countess repeated her question. "Do you love my son?"
"Do not you love him, madam?" said Helena.
The countess replied: "Give me not this evasive answer, Helena.
Come, come, disclose the state of your affections, for your love
has to the full appeared."
Helena, on her knees now, owned her love, and with shame and
terror implored the pardon of her noble mistress; and with words
expressive of the sense she had of the inequality between their
fortunes she protested Bertram did not know she loved him,
comparing her humble, unaspiring love to a poor Indian who
the sun that looks upon his worshiper but knows of him no more.
The countess asked Helena if she had not lately an intent to go
to Paris. Helena owned the design she had formed in her mind when
she heard Lafeu speak of the king's illness.
"This was your motive for wishing to go to Paris," said the
countess, "was it? Speak truly."
Helena honestly answered, "My lord your son made me to think of
this; else Paris and the medicine and the king had from the
conversation of my thoughts been absent then."
The countess heard the whole of this confession without saying a
word either of approval or of blame, but she strictly questioned
Helena as to the probability of the medicine being useful to the
king. She found that it was the most prized by Gerard de Narbon
of all he possessed, and that he had given it to his daughter on
his death-bed; and remembering the solemn promise she had made at
that awful hour in regard to this young maid, whose destiny, and
the life of the king himself, seemed to depend on the execution
of a project (which, though conceived by the fond suggestions of
a loving maiden's thoughts, the countess knew not but it might be
the unseen workings of Providence to bring to pass the recovery
of the king and to lay the foundation of the future fortunes of
Gerard de Narbon's daughter), free leave she gave to Helena to
pursue her own way, and generously furnished her with ample means
and suitable attendants; and Helena set out for Paris with the
blessings of the countess and her kindest wishes for her success.
Helena arrived at Paris, and by the assistance of her friend, the
old Lord Lafeu, she obtained an audience of the king. She had
still many difficulties to encounter, for the king was not easily
prevailed on to try the medicine offered him by this fair young
doctor. But she told him she was Gerard de Narbon's daughter
(with whose fame the king was well acquainted), and she offered
the precious medicine as the darling treasure which contained the
essence of all her father's long experience and skill, and she
boldly engaged to forfeit her life if it failed to restore his
 to perfect health in the space of two days. The king at
length consented to try it, and in two days' time Helena was to
lose her life if the king did not recover; but if she succeeded,
he promised to give her the choice of any man throughout all
France (the princes only excepted) whom she could like for a
husband; the choice of a husband being the fee Helena demanded if
she cured the king of his disease.
Helena did not deceive herself in the hope she conceived of the
efficacy of her father's medicine. Before two days were at an
end the king was restored to perfect health, and he assembled all
the young noblemen of his court together, in order to confer the
promised reward of a husband upon his fair physician; and he
desired Helena to look round on this youthful parcel of noble
bachelors and choose her husband. Helena was not slow to make her
choice, for among these young lords she saw the Count Rousillon,
and, turning to Bertram, she said:
"This is the man. I dare not say, my lord, I take you, but I give
me and my service ever whilst I live into your guiding power."
"I DARE NOT SAY, MY LORD, I TAKE YOU"
"Why, then," said the king, "young Bertram, take her; she is your
Bertram did not hesitate to declare his dislike to this present
of the king's of the self-offered Helena, who, he said, was a
poor physician's daughter, bred at his father's charge, and now
living a dependent on his mother's bounty.
Helena heard him speak these words of rejection and of scorn, and
she said to the king: "That you are well, my lord, I am glad. Let
the rest go."
But the king would not suffer his royal command to be so
slighted, for the power of bestowing their nobles in marriage was
one of the many privileges of the kings of France, and that same
day Bertram was married to Helena, a forced and uneasy marriage
to Bertram, and of no promising hope to the poor lady, who,
though she gained the noble husband she had hazarded her life to
obtain, seemed to have won but a splendid blank, her
love not being a gift in the power of the King of France to
Helena was no sooner married than she was desired by Bertram to
apply to the king for him for leave of absence from court; and
when she brought him the king's permission for his departure,
Bertram told her that he was not prepared for this sudden
marriage, it had much unsettled him, and therefore she must not
wonder at the course he should pursue. If Helena wondered not,
she grieved when she found it was his intention to leave her. He
ordered her to go home to his mother. When Helena heard this
unkind command, she replied:
"Sir, I can nothing say to this but that I am your most obedient
servant, and shall ever with true observance seek to eke out that
desert wherein my homely stars have failed to equal my great
But this humble speech of Helena's did not at all move the
haughty Bertram to pity his gentle wife, and he parted from her
without even the common civility of a kind farewell.
Back to the countess then Helena returned. She had accomplished
the purport of her journey, she had preserved the life of the
king, and she had wedded her heart's dear lord, the Count
Rousillon; but she returned back a dejected lady to her noble
mother-in-law, and as soon as she entered the house she received
a letter from Bertram which almost broke her heart.
The good countess received her with a cordial welcome, as if she
had been her son's own choice and a lady of a high degree, and
she spoke kind words to comfort her for the unkind neglect of
Bertram in sending his wife home on her bridal day alone. But
this gracious reception failed to cheer the sad mind of Helena,
and she said:
"Madam, my lord is gone, forever gone." She then read these words
out of Bertram's letter:
"When you can get the ring from my finger, which never shall come
off, then call me husband, but in such a Then I write a Never."
 "This is a dreadful sentence!" said Helena.
The countess begged her to have patience, and said, now Bertram
was gone, she should be her child and that she deserved a lord
that twenty such rude boys as Bertram might tend upon, and hourly
call her mistress. But in vain by respectful condescension and
kind flattery this matchless mother tried to soothe the sorrows
of her daughter-in-law.
Helena still kept her eyes fixed upon the letter, and cried out
in an agony of grief, "Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France."
The countess asked her if she found those words in the
"Yes, madam," was all poor Helena could answer.
The next morning Helena was missing. She left a letter to be
delivered to the countess after she was gone, to acquaint her
with the reason of her sudden absence. In this letter she
informed her that she was so much grieved at having driven
Bertram from his native country and his home, that to atone for
her offense, she had undertaken a pilgrimage to the shrine of St.
Jaques le Grand, and concluded with requesting the countess to
inform her son that the wife he so hated had left his house
Bertram, when he left Paris, went to Florence, and there became
an officer in the Duke of Florence's army, and after a successful
war, in which he distinguished himself by many brave actions,
Bertram received letters from his mother containing the
acceptable tidings that Helena would no more disturb him; and he
was preparing to return home, when Helena herself, clad in her
pilgrim's weeds, arrived at the city of Florence.
Florence was a city through which the pilgrims used to pass on
their way to St. Jaques le Grand; and when Helena arrived at this
city she heard that a hospitable widow dwelt there who used to
receive into her house the female pilgrims that were going to
visit the shrine of that saint, giving them lodging and kind
entertainment. To this good lady, therefore, Helena went, and the
widow gave her a courteous welcome and invited her to see
whatever was curious in that famous city, and told her that if
 she would like to see the duke's army she would take her where
she might have a full view of it.
"And you will see a countryman of yours," said the widow. "His
name is Count Rousillon, who has done worthy service in the
duke's wars." Helena wanted no second invitation, when she found
Bertram was to make part of the show. She accompanied her
hostess; and a sad and mournful pleasure it was to her to look
once more upon her dear husband's face.
"Is he not a handsome man?" said the widow.
"I like him well," replied Helena, with great truth.
All the way they walked the talkative widow's discourse was all
of Bertram. She told Helena the story of Bertram's marriage, and
how he had deserted the poor lady his wife and entered into the
duke's army to avoid living with her. To this account of her own
misfortunes Helena patiently listened, and when it was ended the
history of Bertram was not yet done, for then the widow began
another tale, every word of which sank deep into the mind of
Helena; for the story she now told was of Bertram's love for her
Though Bertram did not like the marriage forced on him by the
king, it seems he was not insensible to love, for since he had
been stationed with the army at Florence he had fallen in love
with Diana, a fair young gentlewoman, the daughter of this widow
who was Helena's hostess; and every night, with music of all
sorts, and songs composed in praise of Diana's beauty, he would
come under her window and solicit her love; and all his suit to
her was that she would permit him to visit her by stealth after
the family were retired to rest. But Diana would by no means be
persuaded to grant this improper request, nor give any
encouragement to his suit, knowing him to be a married man; for
Diana had been brought up under the counsels of a prudent mother,
who, though she was now in reduced circumstances, was well born
and descended from the noble family of the Capulets.
All this the good lady related to Helena, highly praising the
 virtuous principles of her discreet daughter, which she said were
entirely owing to the excellent education and good advice she had
given her; and she further said that Bertram had been
particularly importunate with Diana to admit him to the visit he
so much desired that night, because he was going to leave
Florence early the next morning.
Though it grieved Helena to hear of Bertram's love for the
widow's daughter, yet from this story the ardent mind of Helena
conceived a project (nothing discouraged at the ill success of
her former one) to recover her truant lord. She disclosed to the
widow that she was Helena, the deserted wife of Bertram, and
requested that her kind hostess and her daughter would suffer
this visit from Bertram to take place, and allow her to pass
herself upon Bertram for Diana, telling them her chief motive for
desiring to have this secret meeting with her husband was to get
a ring from him, which, he had said, if ever she was in
possession of he would acknowledge her as his wife.
The widow and her daughter promised to assist her in this affair,
partly moved by pity for this unhappy, forsaken wife and partly
won over to her interest by the promises of reward which Helena
made them, giving them a purse of money in earnest of her future
favor. In the course of that day Helena caused information to be
sent to Bertram that she was dead, hoping that, when he thought
himself free to make a second choice by the news of her death, he
would offer marriage to her in her feigned character of Diana.
And if she could obtain the ring and this promise, too, she
doubted not she should make some future good come of it.
In the evening, after it was dark, Bertram was admitted into
Diana's chamber, and Helena was there ready to receive him. The
flattering compliments and love discourse he addressed to Helena
were precious sounds to her though she knew they were meant for
Diana; and Bertram was so well pleased with her that he made her
a solemn promise to be her husband, and to love her forever;
which she hoped would be prophetic of a real
 affection, when he
should know it was his own wife, the despised Helena, whose
conversation had so delighted him.
Bertram never knew how sensible a lady Helena was, else perhaps
he would not have been so regardless of her; and seeing her every
day, he had entirely overlooked her beauty; a face we are
accustomed to see constantly losing the effect which is caused by
the first sight either of beauty or of plainness; and of her
understanding it was impossible he should judge, because she felt
such reverence, mixed with her love for him, that she was always
silent in his presence. But now that her future fate, and the
happy ending of all her love-projects, seemed to depend on her
leaving a favorable impression on the mind of Bertram from this
night's interview, she exerted all her wit to please him; and the
simple graces of her lively conversation and the endearing
sweetness of her manners so charmed Bertram that be vowed she
should be his
 wife. Helena begged the ring from off his finger as
a token of his regard, and he gave it to her; and in return for
this ring, which it was of such importance to her to possess, she
gave him another ring, which was one the king had made her a
present of. Before it was light in the morning she sent Bertram
away; and he immediately set out on his journey toward his
Helena prevailed on the widow and Diana to accompany her to
Paris, their further assistance being necessary to the full
accomplishment of the plan she had formed. When they arrived
there, they found the king was gone upon a visit to the Countess
of Rousillon, and Helena followed the king with all the speed she
The king was still in perfect health, and his gratitude to her
who had been the means of his recovery was so lively in his mind
that the moment he saw the Countess of Rousillon he began to talk
of Helena, calling her a precious jewel that was lost by the
folly of her son; but seeing the subject distressed the countess,
who sincerely lamented the death of Helena, he said:
"My good lady, I have forgiven and forgotten all."
But the good-natured old Lafeu, who was present, and could not
bear that the memory of his favorite Helena should be so lightly
passed over, said, "This I must say, the young lord did great
offense to his Majesty, his mother, and his lady; but to himself
he did the greatest wrong of all, for he has lost a wife whose
beauty astonished all eyes, whose words took all ears captive,
whose deep perfection made all hearts wish to serve her."
The king said: "Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear.
Well—call him hither"; meaning Bertram, who now presented
himself before the king, and on his expressing deep sorrow for
the injuries he had done to Helena the king, for his dead
father's and his admirable mother's sake, pardoned him and
restored him once more to his favor. But the gracious countenance
of the king was soon changed toward him, for he perceived that
Bertram wore the very ring upon his finger which he had
 given to
Helena; and he well remembered that Helena had called all the
saints in heaven to witness she would never part with that ring
unless she sent it to the king himself upon some great disaster
befalling her; and Bertram, on the king's questioning him how he
came by the ring, told an improbable story of a lady throwing it
to him out of a window, and denied ever having seen Helena since
the day of their marriage. The king, knowing Bertram's dislike to
his wife, feared he had destroyed her, and he ordered his guards
to seize Bertram, saying:
"I am wrapt in dismal thinking, for I fear the life of Helena was
At this moment Diana and her mother entered and presented a
petition to the king, wherein they begged his Majesty to exert
his royal power to compel Bertram to marry Diana, he having made
her a solemn promise of marriage. Bertram, fearing the king's
anger, denied he had made any such promise; and then Diana
produced the ring (which Helena had put into her hands) to
confirm the truth of her words; and she said that she had given
Bertram the ring he then wore, in exchange for that, at the time
he vowed to marry her. On hearing this the king ordered the
guards to seize her also; and, her account of the ring differing
from Bertram's, the king's suspicions were confirmed, and he said
if they did not confess how they came by this ring of Helena's
they should be both put to death. Diana requested her mother
might be permitted to fetch the jeweler of whom she bought the
ring, which, being granted, the widow went out, and presently
returned, leading in Helena herself.
The good countess, who in silent grief had beheld her son's
danger, and had even dreaded that the suspicion of his having
destroyed his wife might possibly be true, finding her dear
Helena, whom she loved with even a maternal affection, was still
living, felt a delight she was hardly able to support; and the
king, scarce believing for joy that it was Helena, said:
"Is this indeed the wife of Bertram that I see?"
Helena, feeling herself yet an unacknowledged wife, replied,
my good lord, it is but the shadow of a wife you see; the name
and not the thing."
Bertram cried out: "Both, both! Oh pardon!"
"O my lord," said Helena, "when I personated this fair maid I
found you wondrous kind; and look, here is your letter!" reading
to him in a joyful tone those words which she had once repeated
so sorrowfully, "When from my finger you can get this ring—
is done; it was to me you gave the ring. Will you be mine, now
you are doubly won?"
Bertram replied, "If you can make it plain that you were the lady
I talked with that night I will love you dearly, ever, ever
This was no difficult task, for the widow and Diana came with
Helena to prove this fact; and the king was so well pleased with
Diana for the friendly assistance she had rendered the dear lady
he so truly valued for the service she had done him that he
promised her also a noble husband, Helena's history giving him a
hint that it was a suitable reward for kings to bestow upon fair
ladies when they perform notable services.
Thus Helena at last found that her father's legacy was indeed
sanctified by the luckiest stars in heaven; for she was now the
beloved wife of her dear Bertram, the daughter-in-law of her
noble mistress, and herself the Countess of Rousillon.