The World's Greatest Books, Vol. I
Part 7 out of 7
Jewish, the Mohammedan, or the Christian?"
The Jew saw that Saladin wanted to trap him. If he said that the Jewish
or the Christian faith was the true one, he would be condemned as an
infidel. If, on the other hand, he agreed that the Mohammedan religion
was preferable to the others, the sultan would say that a wealthy
believer ought to contribute largely to the expenses of the state. After
considering how best to avoid the snare, the wise Jew replied:
"Some time ago, your majesty, there was a man who had a ring of great
beauty and value. And he declared in his will that the son to whom this
ring was bequeathed should be the head of the family, and that his
descendants should rule over the descendants of the other sons. For many
generations his wishes were carried out; but at last the ring came into
the possession of a man who had three sons, all virtuous and dutiful to
their father, and equally beloved by him.
"Being at a loss which son to prefer above the others, the good man got
a skilful craftsman to make two rings, which were so like the first that
he himself scarcely knew the true one. On his deathbed he gave one of
these rings privately to each of his sons. Each of them afterwards laid
claim to the government of the family, and produced the ring which his
father had given him. But the rings were so much alike that it was
impossible to tell which was the true one, and even to this day no one
has been able to decide upon the matter. Thus has it happened, sire, in
regard to the three laws of faith derived from God--Jew, Mohammedan, and
Christian. Each believes that he is the true heir of the Almighty; but
it is just as uncertain which has received the true law as it is which
has received the true ring."
Saladin was mightily pleased at the ingenious way in which Melchizedeck
escaped from the snare that had been spread for him. Instead of taking
by force the money that he wanted from the Jew, he desired him to
advance it on loan. This Melchizedeck did, and Saladin soon afterwards
repaid the money and gave him presents, besides maintaining him nobly at
court and making him his life-long friend.
For some days the ladies and cavaliers entertained one another with
dancing and singing and story-telling. And then, as the plague had
abated in Florence, they returned to the city. But before they went
Dioneo told them a very strange and moving tale.
_Griselda: A Tale of Wifely Patience_
Men, said Dioneo, are wont to charge women with fickleness and
inconstancy; but there comes into my mind a story of a woman's constancy
and a man's cruelty which, I think you will agree, is worth the telling.
Gualtieri, the young Marquis of Saluzzo, was a man who did not believe
that any woman could be true and constant all her life. And for this
reason he would not marry, but spent his whole time in hawking and
hunting. His subjects, however, did not want him to die without an heir,
and leave them without a lord, and they were always pressing him to
marry. They went so far at last as to offer to provide a lady for him.
This made him very angry.
"If I want a wife, my friends," he said, "I will choose one myself. And,
look you, whatever her birth and upbringing are, pay her the respect due
to her as my lady, or you shall know to your cost how grievous it is to
me to have taken a wife when I did not want one."
A few days afterwards he was riding through a village, not far from his
palace, when he saw a comely shepherd girl carrying water from a well to
her father's house.
"What is your name?" said the young marquis.
"Griselda," said the shepherd girl.
"Well, Griselda," said the Marquis of Saluzzo, "I am looking for a wife.
If I marry you, will you study to please me and carry out all my
demands, whatever they are, without a murmur or a sullen look?"
"Yes, my lord," said Griselda.
Thereupon, the marquis sent his servants to fetch some rich and costly
robes, and, leading Griselda out by the hand, he clothed her in gorgeous
apparel, and set a coronet upon her head, and putting her on a palfrey,
he led her to his palace. And there he celebrated his nuptials with as
much pomp and grandeur as if he had been marrying the daughter of the
King of France.
Griselda proved to be a good wife. She was so sweet-natured, and so
gentle and kind in her manners, that her husband thought himself the
happiest man in the world; and her subjects honoured her and loved her
very dearly. In a very short time, her winning behaviour and her good
works were the common subject of talk throughout the country, and great
were the rejoicings when a daughter was born to her.
Unfortunately, her husband got a strange fancy into his head. He
imagined she was good and gentle merely because everything went well
with her; and, with great harshness, he resolved to try her patience by
suffering. So he told her that the people were greatly displeased with
her by reason of her mean parentage, and murmured because she had given
birth to a daughter.
"My lord," said Griselda, "I know I am meaner than the meanest of my
subjects, and that I am unworthy of the dignity to which you have
advanced me. Deal with me, I pray, as you think best for your honour and
happiness, and waste no thought upon me."
Soon afterwards one of his servants came to Griselda, and said: "Madam,
I must either lose my own life, or obey my lord's commands. He has
ordered me to take your daughter, and--"
He would not say anything more, and Griselda thought that he had orders
to kill the child. Taking it out of the cradle, she kissed it, and
tenderly laid it in the servant's arms. The marquis sent the little girl
to one of his relatives at Bologna, to be brought up and educated. Some
years afterwards Griselda gave birth to a boy. The marquis, naturally
enough, was mightily pleased to have an heir; but he took also this
child away from his wife.
"I am not able to live any longer with my people," he said. "They say
they will not have a grandson of a poor shepherd as their future lord. I
must dispose of this child as I did the other."
"My lord," replied Griselda, "study your own ease and happiness without
the least care for me. Nothing is pleasing to me that is not pleasing to
The next day the marquis sent for his son in the same way as he had sent
for his daughter, and had him brought up with her at Bologna. His people
thought that the children had been put to death, and blamed him for his
cruelty, and showed great pity for his wife. But Griselda would not
allow them to attack her husband, but found excuses for him.
In spite of this, the marquis did not yet believe in the constancy and
fidelity of his wife, and about sixteen years after their marriage he
resolved to put her to a test.
"Woman," he said, "I am going to take another wife. I shall send you
back to your father's cottage in the same state as I brought you from
it, and choose a young lady of my own rank in life."
With the utmost difficulty Griselda kept back her tears, and humbly
consented to be divorced. The marquis stripped her of her fine raiment,
and sent her back to her father's hut dressed in a smock. Her husband
then gave it out that he was about to espouse the daughter of the Count
of Panago; and, sending for Griselda, he said:
"I am about to bring home my new bride, but I have no woman with me to
set out the rooms and order the ceremony. As you are well acquainted
with the government of my palace, I wish you to act as mistress for a
day or two. Get everything in order, and invite what ladies you will to
the festival. When the marriage is over, you must return to your
These words pierced like daggers to the heart of Griselda. She was
unable to part with her love for her husband as easily as she had parted
with her high rank and great fortune.
"My lord," said Griselda, "I swore that I would be obedient to you, and
I am ready to fulfil all your commands."
She went into the palace in her coarse attire and worked with the
servants, sweeping the rooms and cleaning the furniture. After this was
done, she invited all the ladies in the country to come to the festival.
And on the day appointed for the marriage she received them, still clad
in her coarse attire, but with smiling and gentle looks. At dinner-time
the marquis arrived with his new lady--who was indeed a very beautiful
girl. After presenting her to all the guests, many of whom congratulated
him on making so good an exchange, he said, with a smile, to Griselda:
"What do you think of my bride?"
"My lord," she replied, "I like her extremely well. If she is as wise as
she is fair, you may be the happiest man in the world with her. But I
very humbly beg that you will not take with this lady the same heart-
breaking measures you took with your last wife, because she is young and
tenderly educated, while the other was from a child used to hardship.
"Pardon me! Pardon me! Pardon me!" said the marquis. "I know I have
tried you harshly, Griselda. But I did not believe in the goodness and
constancy of woman, and I would not believe in them until you proved me
in the wrong. Let me restore, in one sweet minute, all the happiness
that I have spent years in taking away from you. This young lady, my
dear Griselda, is your daughter and mine! And look! Here is our son
waiting behind her."
He led Griselda, weeping for joy, to her children. Then all the ladies
in the hall rose up from the tables, and taking Griselda into a chamber,
they clothed her in fine and noble raiment, and stayed with her many
days, feasting and rejoicing. And the marquis sent for Griselda's
father, the poor shepherd, and gave him a suite of rooms in the palace,
where he lived in great happiness with his daughter and his
grandchildren and his noble son-in-law.
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