Tales from Chaucer, by Charles Cowden Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
"GOOD Master Student of Oxford," said our host, "why, you ride there as still and coy as a young maid at her bridal feast! Not a word, I vow, has passed your lips during the whole of this day. I would wager, now, that your brain is weaving some sophism or other; but as Solomon says, 'There is a time for everything.' So cheer up, man! this is no time for studying. You have consented to take a part in our play, and, therefore, needs must be thinking of the character you have undertaken to perform. Come, then, tell us some merry tale; and for mercy's sake do not make it like a Lent sermon, bidding us bewail in sackcloth our sins and offences of the past year; or like many other sermons, drone us to sleep. Give us a lively history of adventures; and, as for your colouring and rhetorical flourishes, keep them by you snug and warm till you are called upon to indite some high style, as when men address the presence of royalty. Upon the present occasion I would beseech you to be plain and simple in your matter, that the homely part of your audience may understand the whole of your discourse."
Our worthy collegian courteously answered: "Good host, I acknowledge your power and supremacy, and am prepared to obey you according to my ability. I will tell you a tale, which I learned at Padua, of a renowned and
noble scholar and poet—the laureate Petrarch (now, alas! in his grave), who, with his choice rhetoric and poetry, illumined all Italy, as the famous Linian * did with his philosophy. But Death, 'the common end of all, who will come when he will come,' has snatched them both away, as it were in the twinkling of an eye.
"To return, however, to this great man (Petrarch) who taught me the story I propose relating to you, he has prefaced it in a high strain of eloquence by a description of the territory of Piedmont, with the rich district of Saluzzo, together with the swelling Appenines, that form the boundary of West Lombardy; including, in his account, the Mount Viso, from whose region the river Po, in a feeble spring, first takes its course eastward, towards the Emilian way, Verara, and Venice, gaining strength and magnitude as it rolls along: all which, in the original work, however beautiful in itself, appears to me unconnected with the purpose in hand; except, indeed, that he skilfully contrives to make it lead to the matter of his history: and, therefore, it is that I have slightly alluded to his description, because it forms the scene of the tale you are now to hear."
ON the west side of Italy at the foot of Mount Viso is situated a fertile plain, interspersed with thriving and populous towns, and many fair castles, built ages ago. The name of this district is Saluzzo. It was formerly governed by a marquis, who held his dominion by a long
right of succession; and his subjects, both high and low, were bound in fealty to attend his summons, whether in war or peace. So discreet was he in his government (with one or two exceptions in his conduct) that he was beloved and feared by all, gentle and simple. He was a man of graceful person, vigorous constitution, in the prime of life, and full of honour and courtesy. His family was of so pure and noble a descent that not one in all Lombardy could compare with him in gentleness of blood. The name of this young nobleman was Walter.
The indiscretions in his conduct to which I have alluded were that he was too prone to gratify the desires of the present moment without regard to the future; and so great was his delight in hawking and hunting that the graver cares and duties of life were not sufficiently regarded. But what, in the minds of his subjects, gave cause for the greatest uneasiness was that he could by no persuasions be induced to take a wife; and, consequently, they feared that the noble line in which they took so great a pride should become extinct in case of his death, and that the government, under which they had ever lived in great felicity, might pass into the hands of a stranger: they, therefore, petitioned him to take the matter into his consideration, and that for the good of his people he would allow them to propose for him, or himself select for wife, a lady, the best and gentlest born in all the land.
The marquis listened to their petition with much kindness of manner, and answered that, although he had never thought to be restricted within the bonds of matrimony, yet, for the welfare and safe government of his
people, that he would consent to choose for himself a wife upon the earliest occasion. "And now," he concluded, "I charge you on your lives to assure me that whoever I may think fit to wed you will, during her whole life, bear her all honour and worship both in word and work, as though she were the daughter of an emperor. And furthermore," said he, "this shall ye swear, that ye will never murmur at the choice I may make, from what condition soever of life she may be taken; for since at your requests I consent to forego my liberty, wherever I fix my heart there shall be my partner for life. Grant me this condition, or I dismiss the matter altogether." They heartily made oath to abide by his decree, and departed, beseeching him to appoint an early day for his nuptials, which request, to their great satisfaction, he granted, and fixed a certain day for the ceremony: at the same time he gave orders to the officers of his household to make full preparation in honour of the solemnity.
Not far from the palace of the marquis stood a village, pleasantly situated, which supplied ample provision both for the inhabitants and cattle in its neighbourhood. Among the poor folk of this village lived one, named Janicola, who was accounted the poorest of them all, and he had a fair daughter, called Griselda. Fair she was to behold, but if I were to speak of virtuous beauty, then was she the fairest under the sun. Poorly and humbly brought up, her wants were all of the simplest nature. Simple was her diet, and constantly laborious was her life. Yet, though this young creature was of a tender age, within her simple heart was enclosed a grave and mature spirit. Her poor old father she cherished with great love and
reverence; she tended his sheep in the field, and her only hours of idleness were her hours of sleep.
The marquis, as he rode out hunting, had frequently fixed his eyes upon Griselda; not in an idle or careless humour, but with a grave and musing look; commending in his heart her womanly air and modest demeanour, her goodness and dutiful conduct as a daughter; and he thought that if ever he should wed at all he would marry her only.
The wedding day had arrived, and no one could guess who was destined to be the bride; which made his subjects conclude that their lord was still beguiling them. Notwithstanding their doubts and surmises, however, he had given orders, on Griselda's account, for various ornaments and jewels, set in gold and azure, such as rings and brooches meet for a bridal array. And for her clothing, measure was taken of a young maiden most resembling her in height and shape. Towards noon of the wedding-day, when the chambers of the palace and the bridal feast were all prepared, the marquis, in rich apparel, with all the lords and ladies in his company who were invited to the feast, and all his retinue of knights, attended by musicians playing sweet melodies, took his way to the village I have described.
Griselda, perfectly innocent, heaven knows, of the thought that all this display was prepared for her, had been to a well for water, and was returning home as quickly as she could, in order that she might have sight of the ceremony and of the expected and unknown marchioness. So while she was standing on the threshold of her own door, surrounded by her village companions,
the marquis drew near and called her out by name. Immediately she set down her water-pot in an ox's stall close by the threshold, and on her knees before the lord, with a sober and steady look, waited his command.
The marquis, in a sedate and thoughtful tone, asked where her father was. "My lord," said she, "he is ready here to do your will"; and, without farther delay, she led him forth. Then, taking this poor man aside by the hand, he said, "Janicola! I can no longer conceal the pleasant wish of my heart: if you consent, I will, before I leave this place, take your daughter for my wife until my life's end. As my faithful liegeman, I know your attachment and love for me; say then, do you accept my proposal to become your son-in-law?"
The suddenness of this appeal so amazed poor Janicola that, blushing with confusion and abashment, he stood trembling in the presence of his liege lord, and all he could answer was, "My true and dear lord! I have no will in this matter—order according to your own will and pleasure." "Then," said the marquis in a low and mild voice, "I wish to have a conference with you both within doors; for I would know from her own mouth, and before you, her father, whether it be her free will to become my wife and subject to my dominion. All this shall be done in your presence, and no word will I say to her out of your hearing." While the three were arranging the conditions within, the neighbours flocked about the house, talking together of the dutiful and loving behaviour of Griselda towards her father, and of her honest and simple bearing to all, while she, unaccustomed to the presence of such a guest, and in such a place, stood pale and
wondering at the event. To end the affair, however, as shortly as possible, the marquis turned to this gentle and very faithful creature, and said, "Griselda, it pleases your father and myself that I should take you to be my wife, and I think you will not reject our wishes. Yet, since our union must be concluded hastily, bethink yourself whether you can assent to the following questions which I would first ask of you. Are you prepared with a good heart to yield yourself to my will and pleasure, whether it bring you joy or sorrow? Will you, without grudge, either by word or look, gainsay the least or greatest of my commands? Pledge me this, and here I confirm our alliance."
Wondering at all this, and trembling with fear and anxiety, she said, "My lord! unworthy as I am of the high honour you intend me, I here declare—loth as I am to die—that I will endure that extremity rather than disobey you willingly either in thought or deed." "This is enough," said he, "then are you my own Griselda," and leading her forth to the people, he proclaimed her to them as his wife, desiring all who were attached to his own person and family to honour, love, and obey her. And as it was his wish that she should not appear at the palace in her mean attire, he ordered some of the women in his retinue to assist in spoiling her of those peasant's weeds, a task the ladies were not blithe to execute, as somewhat disdaining to handle her lowly gear; notwithstanding, however, this fresh and lovely maiden came forth from their hands from head to foot, both in mind and body, worthy of her strange advancement. With their courtly and delicate fingers they tressed up her
rudely flowing hair, binding it with a richly-jewelled crown, and all her robes and dresses were studded and knit together with precious stones and ornaments of gold, so that the people scarcely knew their poor companion in her splendid transformation.
The marquis confirmed his pledge upon the spot by placing on her finger the bridal ring, and forward they paced to the palace; she being mounted upon a snow-white palfrey, the joyful populace following and welcoming; while some held her horse's bridle, others looked upon her face to see how she sustained her sudden honours: and so the day was passed in gladness, feasting, and revelry.
I would not willingly delay the current of my story; but it is to my purpose here to tell you that so bountifully had heaven showered its grace and favour upon this new marchioness, that so far from betraying the lowliness of her birth, her discreet deportment would have honoured the daughter of an emperor. They who had known her from her infancy could scarcely bring their minds to conceive that she was the homely child of old Janicola; and though she was in her former condition ever virtuous and kind, yet so had her excellent qualities increased, so full of bounty, so discreet and sweet of speech, so courteous and worthy of reverence, and so ready to embrace the hearts of all, that no one could look upon her face and not love her. The fame of her high bounty had spread so far and wide that all ranks, young and old, went to Saluzzo only to behold her.
Thus Walter, not lowly, but royally wedded, lived in peace and honour; and because he had the sense to discern
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honest virtue in a mean estate, he enjoyed the rare credit of being esteemed by all a prudent man. Not only, however, was the understanding of Griselda equal to every wifely accomplishment, but when the case required it she could dispose herself for the common benefit. During her husband's absence, every rancour and discord among the people she would with her sagacity and placid demeanour and persuasiveness smooth into peace and goodwill. So wise and ripe was her discourse and her judgment so equitable that the people would say she was sent from heaven to redress the wrongs of mankind.
To the great joy of all, in due time Griselda presented her husband with a daughter.
During the nurture of this babe, it entered the mind of the marquis to put his wife upon some severe trials that he might prove her steadfastness of heart—a needless course, however some may praise its subtleness of purpose, for he had already assayed, and found her ever good and true: evil, therefore, must be the thought that, without cause, could put a wife to the anguish of trial. Nevertheless, he acted as you shall hear. One night, as she lay in bed, he approached her with a stern and troubled face, and said: "I presume, Griselda, you have not forgotten the day on which I took you from your humble plight, and raised you to the highest rank of nobility—I say, you have not lost sight of your former humbleness of condition; take heed, then, of what I am now about to say to you. You are yourself aware how, not long ago, you entered this palace; and though to my heart you have been ever dear, yet are you not acceptable to my nobles, who chafe at and grudge their becoming subject to one
of your low origin; and these heart-burnings have increased since the birth of your child. Since, therefore, it has ever been my care to live at peace with my people, I cannot in the present case be regardless of that duty, but must dispose of your child, not as I would, but as my nobles please. Greatly, heaven knows, as I abhor this course, yet I would do nothing without your knowledge; although, at the same time, I require the performance of your marriage vow—that on this occasion you show the patience of your spirit by yielding yourself to my will."
When she had heard this dreadful speech, with a steady voice and unshaken aspect she said, "My lord! my child and I, with full obedience on my part, are all your own—you may cherish or abandon your own property. And, as the good God shall protect me, I declare that no creature wearing your form can ever distress or change my heart. I desire nothing and I dread to lose nothing, yourself alone excepted; this thought is rooted in my heart, and it shall ever remain so: neither length of time nor death itself can deface or change the courage of my purpose."
The marquis secretly rejoiced at her answer, but he feigned otherwise; and leaving the chamber with a sorrowful air, he privately conferred with a dependant, whom he possessed of his intention and sent to the apartment of his wife. This commoner was a sort of sergeant, who had heretofore been found trustworthy in important matters—such agents, we know, can also at times be equally faithful in a cruel errand. The lord well knew that he both loved and feared him, so when the fellow had received his orders, he silently stalked into the room.
"Madam," said he, "it is not for one like me to inform you of our hard necessity to obey in all things the will of our lords; and you must forgive me, who am constrained to do that which of my own free will I would refuse. I am commanded to take away the child." He said no more, but roughly seizing the babe, behaved as though he would have slain it before its mother's face. Griselda, who was doomed to endure all and to consent to all, sat still and meek as a lamb, and let the cruel sergeant pursue his course. At length, however, she gently entreated the man (as though he had been one of noble birth) that she might kiss her child before it died: and so, with woful face, she laid its little body in her lap; and lulling it, and kissing it, and with a mother's heart yearning for the blessing of its safety, she said with her soft and benign voice, "Farewell, my child! I shall behold you no more. To that Father, with whose cross I have marked you, do I commend your sinless soul." Then, turning to the sergeant she meekly said, "Now take your infant charge, and follow my lord's commands; but oh! if they be for death, one thing I entreat at your hands, that you would bury its little body beyond the violation of beasts and carrion fowl"—so constant was this mother in her adversity. The man returned no answer, to her petition, but, taking up the child, went back to his lord and told him all he had heard and seen; who, indeed, began to repent his sternness, but, with the wilful steadiness of one who had never known control, he persisted in his cruel purpose, and ordered the sergeant, upon pain of death, not to disclose the least circumstance of the affair, but carefully to take the infant to his sister, the Countess
di Panico, at that time living in Bologna, beseeching her to foster it with every regard to the gentleness of its birth; bidding her also, whatever might happen, to conceal from every one the name of its parents. The sergeant departed to fulfil his errand, and now we will return to the marquis, who was busily curious to discover whether in word or demeanour any change were wrought in his wife; but he still found her the same kind and staid Griselda; as humble, as ready both in love and duty was she in all respects; nor did she even speak of her child. From that dreadful day no accident or sting of adversity could bring the name of her daughter to pass her lips.
Four years had now elapsed when Griselda gladdened the heart of her husband and fulfilled the wishes of his people by giving them an heir to the marquisate. All went on prosperously, the child increased in strength and beauty of form; it was the delight of its parents and the pride of its future subjects; all seemed satisfied—all happy. All seemed, but all were not happy; for at the age of two years, when the nurse's duty had ceased, and that this tender seedling had begun to shoot its little roots deeply, and more and more firmly every day to twine about the heart of its mother, the demon of temptation and mistrust again possessed the mind of that wilful and unrelenting husband. How hardly can men restrain the wantonness of power when a patient creature is subjected to its control!
"Griselda!" said he, "I have already made known to you that the people look with an evil eye upon our marriage, and since the birth of my son this discontent has increased. The constant talk now is, 'When the reigning
marquis dies, we shall have the blood of the pauper Janicola to be our lord and to rule over us.' These murmurs, as you may suppose, cut me to the heart; I cannot but see their dissatisfaction, and though I do not hear I am made to know the cause of their offence. As, therefore, it is the desire of my heart to reign in peace, I have resolved to remove my son and dispose of him as I formerly did of his sister; of which determination I give you warning, in order that you may be prepared for the event, and not give way to any sudden grief, but endure all my decrees with your promised patience and steadfastness."
"I have said," she replied, "and I will never repeal my oath, that nothing which you may command will I gainsay. Though my children be both slain, you are my lord and their lord, and may do with your own as you list: their mother has had no part in their lot, but pain in the first instance, and unavailing sorrow ever after. As when I first left my home to come to you, I left my all, even to my clothing; so I then left my will and my liberty when I put on your array. Follow, therefore, the inclination of your heart. If I had the prescience to know that my death would give you ease, of a surety would I die forthwith. Death can bear no comparison with my love."
When he beheld the patience of his wife, he cast down his eyes, wondering at her constancy, yet glad at heart; with a show of sorrow, however, in his countenance he left the room. His place was supplied by the same ill-looking minion that had performed his master's former hateful errand; who seized her lovely child and bore it away amid the embraces of its mother; yet carrying it tenderly, as he did its sister, to the countess at Bologna.
It is not to be supposed that these acts on the part of the marquis were executed in so secret a corner but that the vileness of their odour bewrayed itself. The slander against him had begun to spread far and wide that, wickedly, and with a cruel heart, he had first taken to wife a woman in poverty, and had afterwards privately murdered her children. He then, who had been the idol of his people now became the object of their abhorrence. Notwithstanding all which fearful rumour (and the stigma of murderer is the heaviest load that can be thrown upon a man's conscience), such was the cruelty of his purpose, and the determination of his obstinacy, that he would not relax a jot from pursuing to its utmost extent the plan he had formed for proving the faithfulness of this gentle and already too mild-conditioned woman.
When his daughter had reached the age of twelve years, he privately commissioned the same messenger to draw up papers, counterfeiting a bull from the pope at Rome sanctioning a dissolution of the bonds of marriage between himself and Griselda, upon the plea that it had been the cause of rancour and dissension between the people and him, their ruler. The rude commonalty, who are seldom slow to be deceived, gave ear to the proclamation, and (no wonder) thought it was all true. But when the tidings were brought to Griselda, she was smitten to the heart with the new and unlooked for cruelty of the blow; yet like a lamb she abided in dumb anguish the bitterness of this unpitying storm, nor ever once let a word of upbraiding fall from her lips.
To draw as shortly as possible to the conclusion of my
tale, the marquis secretly sent a letter to his brother-in-law, the Count di Panico, requesting him to bring home again, openly, and with all the pomp due to their estate, both the children that had been placed under his protection; but on no account to disclose any other circumstance respecting them than that the maiden was destined to become the new bride of the Marquis di Saluzzo.
The count strictly fulfilled his brother's commission, and, upon a day appointed, set forth towards Saluzzo with his young charge and her brother, at that time only seven years of age; the former, gorgeously arrayed, and attended by a numerous and honourable retinue.
Notwithstanding all this wicked usage, the marquis determined still farther to prove utterly the courage and forbearance of his wife. I need not ask the women whether she had not given him sufficient proof of a virtuous love and steady devotion; but you will bear in mind that in the opening of my story I told you, when describing the faults in his character, "that he was too prone to gratify the desires of the present moment, without regard to the future"; add to which, that he was as firm in fulfilling the object of those desires as she was patient and constant in her oath of obedience. Consequently, upon a certain day, in the open audience of his whole court, he delivered to her, in a stern and boisterous tone, the following declaration.
"Although I acknowledge, Griselda, the great comfort I have experienced in your truth, goodness, and obedience, since we have been husband and wife (though not in the quality of your lineage, or in the wealth I took with you), yet now I find, of a sad truth, that loftiness of
birth and dignity of station are burthened with a heavy and dreary servitude. I may not act like the meanest hind in my domains; but all my people, strengthened by this order from the pope, daily require of me to take another wife; to which constraint I have so far yielded that it has become necessary to inform you that my new bride, your successor, is now on her road to Saluzzo. Be, therefore, strong of heart, and void her place. All the dowry you brought me I give back again—prosperity never flows in an unbroken current; return, therefore, to your father's house, and strive to bear with an even heart this stroke of fortune."
She answered him in a tone of patience that was a marvel to the whole assembly: "My lord, I know, and have always felt, that no comparison can be drawn between my poverty and your magnificence. At no time did I ever esteem myself higher in degree of worth than to be your chamber-woman; and in this palace, of which you exalted me to be the lady, I take heaven to witness, and am now glad I did so, that I never considered myself the mistress of it, but the dutiful minister to your worthiness: and this, above every other earthly creature, I shall ever continue to be. That in your graciousness you so long retained me in a state of honour and nobility, of which I was unworthy, I thank both God and you, and hope he may bountifully repay it you. I willingly return to my father, and with him will end my days. In that cot was I fostered from my tenderest childhood; there will I pass the remainder of my life—a widow, clean in her conduct, and with an unupbraiding heart. And since I gave to you all I could give, and came a spotless maiden, and am your
true wife, heaven forbid that the wife of such a lord should be united to another husband. As regards your new bride, I pray for your happiness and prosperity: I freely yield her that place where I was wont to be so blessed, for since it is your pleasure, my lord (who wert formerly the home in which my heart had nestled), that I should depart, I am ready to go when you command. But when you offer to restore such dowry as I first brought, too well do I bear in mind that it was my wretched clothes—Oh! good God! how gentle and kind you seemed by your speech and your countenance on the day of our marriage! True it is, and I find it so, for in myself I have proved the effect, that love when old is not the same as love when it is young. Yet, be sure, my lord, that for no adversity, even were it to die upon this occasion, shall it ever be, that either in word or deed, I repent of having given you my whole heart, freely, and without reserve.
"My lord, you know that in my father's hut you stripped me of my lowly weeds, and clad me in an array suitable to my altered fortune: to you I brought nothing but faith, and poverty, and a maidenly purity: here again I restore your clothing, and your wedding-ring—for ever. The remnant of your jewels are in your chamber. Poor I came from my father's house, and poor must I return. Yet I would hope that it is not your intention to send me forth utterly destitute: you could not do so dishonest a thing as to expose her who had borne your children to the stare of the ruthless multitude—let me not like a worm go by the way—remember, however unworthy, I was your wife. Therefore, in return for that unspotted
chastity—the only dowry I could bring to you—vouchsafe to me the simple under garment I was wont to wear. And now, my lord, I take my leave."
"The under-coat," said he, "which is now upon your back, you may take away with you"; but, scarcely had he spoken the words, than he left the place for he could not look upon her for compassion. In the presence of the court she stripped herself of her noble robes, and in her under-dress, bare-headed and bare-footed, set forward towards her father's house: the people following, weeping, and cursing fortune as they went along, while she maintained her womanly courage, and with dry eyes never once uttered a word. Her father, who heard the tidings of her usage, bitterly lamented the day of his birth. For this poor old man had ever mistrusted their marriage; suspecting, from the first, that when the lord was weary of his fancy, he would begin to think it a disparagement to his estate to have stooped so low, and would dismiss her upon the first occasion. He went out hastily to meet her, for he knew by the coil of the populace that she was coming, and covered her with her peasant's dress, the tears all the while streaming down his old face.
Thus dwelt for some time with her father this flower of wifely patience, who neither by word nor look, before the people, gave notice of the offence she had received, or any token that she remembered her former high estate; and no wonder, for even then she was ever humble. She affected no delicacy or tenderness of person—no pomp—no show of royalty; but was full of patient kindness, discreet and honourable, and meek and constant to her husband. Our writers have praised Job above all men for his
humility; but though they have said little in behalf of women for the steadiness of their truth, no man can acquit himself in humility like a woman or show half a woman's constancy.
The Earl of Panico, having set out from Bologna, the report was spread abroad that he was bringing with him a new marchioness in such pomp and splendour as had never been seen before in all West Lombardy. Before the arrival of the earl, the marquis sent for poor Griselda; who, with that neverfailing cheerfulness of countenance which sprang from the excess of her love, and because she should again see his face, and not from any swollen, selfish thought of a favourable change in her condition, instantly obeyed his summons, and on her knees greeted him with reverence and discretion.
"Griselda," said he, "it is my will and pleasure that the lady, whom I am about to marry, should be received tomorrow at my palace with every distinction of royalty; and therefore would I have each attendant, according to his office and' rank, perfect in the fulfilment of his duty. As I have no female so well acquainted as yourself with my taste and fancy in the arranging of my apartments (for you have been long accustomed to consult my pleasure in that respect), I have sent for you to superintend this part of the general preparation. And though the fashion and quality of your dress is unsuited to the sphere of a court, that may be excused, since it will not interfere with the performance of that duty which I know you will use for my satisfaction."
"Not only, my lord," said she, "am I free and willing to perform your commands, but it is the desire of my heart
to serve and please you without fainting and without repinement. Neither in weal nor woe shall I ever cease to love you with the truest intention, above the whole world." And with that word she set about her task of ordering, superintending, and arranging the suites of rooms.
About noon the earl, with the two children, arrived before the palace gate, the populace crowding round to see the cavalcade and the rich quality of all the furniture, the greater part of them talking among themselves in praise of the marquis's wisdom in changing his wife. For not only," said they, "is this new one younger and more beautiful than Griselda, but she is of gentle birth, and her offspring will be more agreeable to us." Then the handsome face of her little brother delighted them; and, to crown all, they, who shortly before traduced him as a murderer, were now unanimous in applauding his government. Thus has it ever been with you, misjudging multitude; unstable as the veering fane! indiscreet, unfaithful! ever seeking something new. Your applause is purchased dearly enough at the price of a mite; your judgment is false and hollow and your constancy a rope of sand. Fool, indeed, is he who places confidence in you. So it was with the poor gazing creatures of Saluzzo; the novelty of having another marchioness—no matter the price of injustice at which she was purchased—changed at once their discontent to satisfaction. But I will turn to a pleasanter subject—the zeal and constancy of Griselda.
Active in everything that could tend to forward the entertainment, she was the wonder and astonishment of all the household, who shortly before had received her
commands as a mistress, yet delivered in the same mild and even tone. And when the guests arrived, she was seen in her peasant's dress, receiving each, according to their station, with a simple dignity and discretion which surprised them all, when they considered her poor appointment, ignorant as they were of her former quality. Nor did she even refrain from praising the beauty of the young maiden and her brother. At length, when the company had sat down to the feast, the marquis sent for her, and in a sporting tone inquired how she approved of the beauty of his new wife. "My lord," said she, "I never beheld a fairer lady; happiness and prosperity attend you both to the end of your lives. One thing allow me, I beseech you; which is, to warn you against tormenting this tender maiden as it has been your will to distress me; for she has been softly fostered, and cannot undergo the trials of adversity like one who, in early life, had striven with poverty and rude labour."
At length, when Walter found that her patient and untroubled spirit triumphed over every offence that could be offered to her, and that she remained firm in her innocence, and unshaken as a wall, his sturdy heart began to melt in thinking of all her wifely steadfastness; and breaking forth into a passionate strain of admiration—"Enough! enough! my own Griselda," said he, "no longer shall you be terrified with violence and unkindness; I have tried your faith and benignity as never woman was tried, both in high estate and in poverty. Now do I, indeed, know that you are truth itself." And then he caught her in his arms and kissed her very affectionately; while the gentle creature herself appeared like one suddenly
aroused from sleep; she regarded not his caresses; she heard nothing of his speech; and when her senses had somewhat recovered, he said to her, "Griselda, by the great and good God, who suffered for our transgressions, you are still my wife—I have no other—have had no other, and shall have no other. This maiden, whom you supposed to be my wife, is your daughter, and this, her brother, shall inherit my kingdom. Truly and lawfully did you bear them to me; and all this time have I kept them privately with my sister at Bologna. Take them again, and be assured you have not been unnaturally bereft of your offspring. And now let those who have deemed otherwise of my conduct be informed that with no malice or wilful cruelty have I acted as I did, but to make trial of your womanly virtue—not to murder your children—Heaven forbid! but to secrete them till I knew the temper of your heart."
When she had heard this speech, the great flood of joy that burst upon her amazed senses, together with the suddenness of the change, so wrought upon her tender frame that she swooned at his feet. And when she recovered, she called her children to her, and taking them in her arms, piteously weeping, she embraced them over and over again, tenderly kissing them with those motherly lips; and all the while the tears streamed over their hair and faces. Oh! it was an affecting thing to have seen her helpless insensibility, and then to hear again her meek and cordial voice!
"Gramercy, my good lord and husband! may God repay thee with thanks that thou hast spared to me our dear children. Seeing that I thus stand in thy gracious favour,
[paragraph continues] I feel that I could joyfully give up my life; and if it be God's will, never at a more blissful season than when I know that they, for whom I sorrowed, have been saved from an early grave.
"Oh, my dear young children! your woful mother had no other thought than that you had been left a prey to some foul vermin"—and with those words her senses failed again; yet, all the while, she held them so closely in her embrace that they were separated only by force; while those who stood around wept many a tear for pity. At length the voice of her husband and the subsiding of her sorrow restored her, and she arose, abashed at having exposed the feebleness of her nature. All strove to divert her thoughts by little courtesies and speeches of kindness, till she regained her benign and cheerful countenance. Walter, too, let slip no occasion of redeeming all his sternness and deeds of cruelty by pleasant looks and cherishings; and as she was so sweet a creature to behold in her hours of adversity and trial, you may suppose how fair a sight was her face of content and happiness.
After a time the ladies in attendance conducted her to her former chamber, where they stripped off (and for ever) the peasant's garb, and having arrayed her in a robe of cloth-of-gold, and set upon her head a jewelled crown, she returned to the hall amid the honours and congratulations of the assembly. Such was the joyous termination of this painful day: and the revelry was kept up till the stars shone at their brightest; and the feast was more costly and magnificent than that given upon their marriage.
And so these two lived many years in prosperity and
unbroken concord. The daughter was married to a lord of the greatest worth in all Italy; and poor Janicola was furnished with an asylum at court, where he lived near his daughter in peace and honour, till his spirit gently crept from his body and returned to Him who gave it. The son succeeded to a peaceful government after his father had left his place. He was fortunate in his marriage, although he did not prove his wife in imitation of his father. The people of this world are not so strong as they were in days of yore; and my author makes this apology for his tale. "This story," he says, "is not intended as a recommendation that wives should imitate Griselda in the plenitude of her humility (for that were utterly impossible) , but that every one should in his degree strive to be patient under reverses and sharp strokes of fortune: for as a woman was so patient to a mortal man, how much more stedfastly should we endure the trials that God may please to inflict upon us. He daily proves our constancy; and his government, however it may appear at the moment, ultimately tends to our advantage. Let us all, then, live in virtuous sufferance."
HERE THE STUDENT OF OXFORD
ENDS HIS TALE;
AND NEXT BEGINS
74:* An eminent lawyer and philosopher, who lived in the fourteenth century.