A GOLDSMITH and his wife lived a happy life in perfect harmony and love. In all the country they were considered the best patterns of conjugal love. It was their custom not to put out the light in their house but let it burn all the night. One night as the King and Queen were looking from their high window at the sleeping city, they noticed the goldsmith's light gleaming at a distance, and his well-known matrimonial love became the subject of debate between the royal couple. The King insisted that it was on account of the husband's virtue that he and his wife were in such perfect harmony. The Queen insisted that it was on account of the wife's virtue. Thereupon they decided to make a trial and find out the truth. On the following day the Queen sent one of her handmaids to the goldsmith, saying that she had fallen in love with him and would become his wife if he killed his present wife.
"Not I," answered the goldsmith; "I will not part from my wife for all the world. I am content with what Heaven has assigned me. I will not exchange my wife for a thousand Queens."
On the following day the King sent a servant to the goldsmith's wife, saying that he had been charmed with her beauty and wanted to make her queen, if she would kill her present husband.
"Is it really true? Is it really true?" exclaimed the woman.
"It is true," answered the servant.
"Well, then," said the woman, "I will kill my husband this very night. When you see our light has gone out to-night, know that I have begun to murder him."
The servant brought word to the King, who ordered his men to be ready and go to the rescue of the goldsmith if the light was really put out. In the evening the goldsmith came home. After supper the husband and wife had a nice talk as usual, and the husband, putting his head in the lap of his wife, fell asleep. The woman put the loop of a rope around his neck, blew out the candle, and began to pull the rope. The poor goldsmith was strangled before the King's men came to the rescue. This murder of one of his best subjects grieved the King so deeply that he thereafter hated all women from the depths of his soul. He could not sleep that night, and early in the morning he called his prime minister, saying:
"To-day I will go hunting. You must put to death all the women of the country, old and young, before I come home this evening."
The prime minister had an aged father, to whom he went and repeated the King's terrible order.
"Do not obey it," said the old man; "I shall be responsible. Go and hide yourself for a couple of days from the anger of the King."
In the evening the King came back from hunting, and seeing the women of the realm still alive, was enraged, and called his prime minister into his presence. The old man appeared before the King, standing on his crutches.
"Where is your son?" said the King. "I want to cut off his head first, then those of the women."
"Long live the King!" said the old man with his trembling voice. "Permit me to tell you an experience of mine, and then put your command into execution if you choose."
"Speak!" said the King, who at the same time gave orders to the soldiers to be ready to butcher the women.
"I was prime minister during your father's reign," said the old man. "One day we had gone to hunt. I was led astray by the game, and came near a village on the other side of the forest. Soon I was overtaken by an unknown horseman, who took hold of me, and lifting me from the back of my horse, placed me before him upon the saddle of his own horse, bound me with a rope, and tied the reins of my horse to the back of his own. To struggle on my part was useless, because he was very strong. Soon we arrived at a cemetery, where we dismounted. For a while he looked here and there, and stopping at a certain place, began to dig, and ordered me to shovel the earth after him. Thus working we dug two graves. We mounted again and dismounted at the foot of a castle wall. He bound me carefully to the saddle of his horse, and himself climbed up the wall. After a few minutes he threw down from the top of the wall the headless corpse of a man who had just been murdered. He came down, and placing the corpse on my horse took it and myself to the graves we had dug. I was horror stricken, and thought that one of the graves must be for the corpse and the other for me. But to my surprise, he untied me and bade me assist him to bury the corpse, which I did. He then turned to me and said:
"'I know who you are; you are the prime minister of this state. Now listen to me, and go and tell the King my story. I am a woman and had a boundless love for my husband. This vile Prince, whose body we have just now buried, having fallen in love with me, killed my own husband that he might win my love. But I vowed by the sacred love I bore my husband to kill the murderer and bury him under my husband's feet. Now that is accomplished. I vowed next to kill myself, that I might be buried by the side of my husband. For the love of Heaven, bury me in this grave and tell my story to the King.' This she said, and stabbing herself with a dagger, fell dead at my feet. I buried her in that grave near her husband. Here you have the example of a faithful and brave wife. If the unfaithful wife of the goldsmith gave you occasion to order the death of all the women of the realm, let this woman be the means of saving her sex from general slaughter. Why shall many good women die because of the wickedness of one woman?"
Thereupon the King revoked the order and only the goldsmith's wife was put to death.