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StoriesThe Use Of Dirty Water
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By Monseigneur De Thalemas.
_Of a hare-brained half-mad fellow who ran a great risk of being put
to death by being hanged on a gibbet in order to injure and annoy the
Bailly, justices, and other notables of the city of Troyes in Champagne
by whom he was mortally hated, as will appear more plainly hereafter._
In the time of the war between the Burgundians; and the Armagnacs, (*)
there happened at Troyes in Champagne, a rather curious incident which
is well worth being recorded, and which was as follows. The people of
Troyes, though they had been Burgundians, had joined the Armagnacs, and
amongst them there had formerly lived a fellow who was half mad, for he
had not entirely lost his senses, though his words and actions showed
more folly than good sense--nevertheless he would sometimes say and do
things which a wiser than he could not have bettered.
(*) The reign of Charles VI, after the assassination of the
Duc d'Orleans by Jean-sans-Peur, was marked by along civil
war between the factions here named, and who each in turn
called in the aid of the English.
To begin the story, however; this fellow who was in garrison with the
Burgundians at Sainte Menehould, one day told his companions that if
they would listen to him, he would teach them how to catch a batch of
the yokels of Troyes, whom, in truth, he hated mortally, and they hardly
loved him, for they had always threatened to hang him if they caught
him. This is what he said:
"I will go to Troyes and will approach the fortifications, and will
pretend to be spying round the town, and will measure the moat with my
lance, and will get so near the town that I shall be taken prisoner.
I am sure that as soon as the good _bailli_ gets hold of me, he will
condemn me to be hanged, and there is no one in the town who will take
my part for they all hate me. So, early the next morning, I shall be
taken out to the gibbet, (*) and you will all be hidden in the thicket
which is near the gibbet. And as soon as you see me arrive with the
procession, you will spring out upon them, and take whom you like, and
deliver me out of their hands." All his companions in garrison with
him agreed to this willingly, and told him that if he would dare this
adventure, they would assist him to the best of their power.
(*) The gibbet was usually outside the town, often at some
considerable distance from the walls.
To shorten the story, the simpleton went to Troyes as he had said, and,
as he desired, he was taken prisoner. The report soon spread through the
town, and there was no one who did not say he ought to be hanged; even
the Bailli, as soon as he saw him, swore by all his gods that he should
be hanged by the neck.
"Alas! monseigneur," said the poor fool, "I pray for mercy. I have done
"You lie, scoundrel," said the Bailly. "You have guided the Burgundians
into this district, and you have accused the citizens and merchants
of this city. You shall have your reward, for you shall be hanged on a
"For God's sake then, monseigneur," said the poor fellow; "since I must
die, at least let it please you that it be in the early morning; so
that, as I have many acquaintances in the town, I may not be held up to
"Very well," said the Bailly, "I will think about it."
The next morning at day-break, the hangman with his cart came to the
prison, and hardly had he arrived than there came the Bailly with his
sergeants, and a great crowd of people to accompany them, and the poor
fellow was laid, bound, on the cart, and still holding the bagpipe he
was accustomed to play. Thus he was led to the gibbet, accompanied by
a larger crowd than most have at their hanging, so much was he hated in
Now you must know that his comrades of the garrison of Sainte Menehould
had not forgotten their ambuscade, and ever since midnight had been
collected near the gibbet, to save their friend, although he was not
overwise, and also to capture prisoners and whatever else they could.
When they arrived they took up their position, and put a sentinel in a
tree to watch when the Troyes folk should be gathered round the gibbet.
The sentinel was placed in his position, and promised that he would keep
a good watch.
Then all the crowd came to the gibbet, and the Bailli gave order to
despatch the poor fool, who for his part wondered where his comrades
were, and why they did not rush out on these rascally Armagnacs.
He did not feel at all comfortable, and he looked all round, but chiefly
towards the wood, but he heard nothing. He made his confession last as
long as he could, but at last the priest went away, and the poor fellow
had to mount the ladder, and from this elevated position, God knows
that he looked often towards the wood; but it was of no avail, for the
sentinel, who was to give the signal when the men were to rush out, had
gone to sleep in the tree.
The poor fellow did not know what to say or do, and verily believed that
his last hour had come. The hangman began to make preparations to put
the noose round the victim's neck, who, when he saw that, bethought him
of a trick, which turned out well for him, and said;
"Monseigneur le Bailli, I beg you for God's sake, that before the
hangman lays hands on me, I may be allowed to play a tune on my bagpipe.
That is all I ask; after that I shall be ready to die, and I pardon you
and all the others for having caused my death."
His request was granted, and the bagpipe was handed up to him. As soon
as he had it, he began, as leisurely as he could, to play an air which
all his comrades knew very well, and which was called. "You stay too
long, Robin; you stay too long."
At the sound of the bagpipe the sentinel woke, and was so startled that
he tumbled out of the tree to the ground, and cried,
"They are hanging our comrade! Forward! Forward! make haste!"
His comrades were ready, and at the sound of the trumpet they sallied
out of the wood, and rushed upon the Bailly and all the others who were
round the gibbet.
The hangman was too frightened to put the rope round the man's neck and
push him off the ladder, but begged for his own life, which the other
would willingly have granted but it was not in his power. The victim,
however, did something better, for from his place on the ladder he
called out to his comrades, "Capture that man, he is rich; and that one,
he is dangerous."
In short, the Burgundians killed a great number of those who had come
out of Troyes, and captured many others, and saved their man, as you
have heard, but he said that never in all his life had he had such a
narrow escape as on that occasion.
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