Moral Stories in English - The Most Precious Thing

The Most Precious Thing

In the city of Stavoren lived many merchants who carried on trade with distant lands and islands. The wealthiest among them was Richberta, a young lady. Her father had died, leaving for her untold wealth and a well-organized business house. She grew richer day by day and she spent much of her wealth in acquiring the costliest gems, clothes, ivory, and such rare items. Her palatial mansion was the greatest attraction in the city. Now and then she threw lavish banquets in honor of merchant princes who visited her city. She did so not because she was generous, but because she was happy to see envy and jealousy in the eyes of her guests! Indeed, no merchant could be proud of similar possessions, no one was known to sport such grandeur.

One day an old man sent word that he wanted to see Richberta. She was about to dismiss his request. What business could an ordinary old fellow have with her? Why should she waste time on him? But her servant told her, "The old man says that he has traveled all over the world. In many a city, he has heard about your wealth from the merchants. He was curious about it." Richberta felt happy, as she always was when someone was there to praise her collection. She ordered the servant to bring the old man upstairs, to her presence. She asked two of her servants to escort him and show him all the chambers in her mansion. Two hours later, the old man was brought back to Richberta's room. "Are you satisfied with what you saw? There are, of course, several other chambers. If you have patience enough, you can take another round of my mansion," said the young heiress. "But you must be tired. Eat and relax." In those days, in that part of the world, a casual guest was offered bread and a little salt. But before the old man was spread several delicious items, fit for the palate of the princes. He, however, did not touch them. He went on speaking about cities which were once magnificent but which had become deserted, castles which once housed proud princes but which had been reduced to haunted houses, so on and so forth. Impatient, Richberta asked him, "Old man, I am not interested in your stories. Tell me, did my collection of precious things impress you?" "No!" replied the old man. Richberta was shocked. She had expected the old man to exclaim his praise of her wealth as every other visitor did. But how could he be so blunt?

"Why did my collection fail to impress you?" asked Richberta, fuming with annoyance. "Because it lacks the most precious thing," replied the old man. "What is that?" Richberta asked. The old man avoided answering her question. Unable to bear his insolence, she asked her servants to throw the old man out at last. That was not necessary. The old man went out on his own, quietly. But he had destroyed Richberta's peace. What did she lack? She had diamonds more precious than those possessed by any king. Her wardrobes had clothes more glittering than any queen possessed. Her bedstead made of silver, gold, and ivory could not be matched in its splendor with any bedstead in any royal household. What did she lack? She went on to put the question to many people who were learned and who knew about the wealth of the princes. Nobody could satisfy her. She called the chief captain of her fleet of ships and said, "Spread out to the wide world and find out what is more precious than all that I have!" 

The captain sent three ships in three different directions, and he went to the fourth direction. He had stocked his ship with food and other necessities to last his crew a long time. But on the third week of his voyage, the ship encountered a terrible storm. He had to throw away much of the food in order to maintain the balance of the ship amidst the turbulent sea. When the storm subsided, it was found that the remaining food had been spoilt by the water that had come splashing into the ship. Very soon he and his crew began to feel the pangs of hunger. There was no land in sight. They starved. They looked haggard, like the ghosts of themselves. One member of the crew died. Suddenly the captain cried out, "I would happily give away the ship and all the gold I have only if someone gave me some loaves of bread!" Luckily, before long they sighted an island. They anchored their ship on its coast and the islanders helped them with food and drink. The captain exclaimed, "I have got the answer to the question which set me on the voyage. Bread is the most precious thing. The wealthy heiress, Richberta, has stored so many valuable things, in her mansion, but no wheat!" The wheat of excellent quality was available in that island. The captain filled his ship with hundreds of bags of wheat and began his return voyage. On reaching his native city of Stavoren the captain immediately reported to Richberta that he had not only found out what is the most precious thing but also he has got it in plenty! Richberta was excited. But when she heard what the captain had brought she was furious. 

"What! You want to pass on simple wheat, nothing but plain wheat, as the most precious thing!" she cried out and she ordered the wheat to be thrown into the sea. "Listen to me. What I say is true. I had everything in my ship, gold, and money. But I felt like giving away even the ship for the sake of a few loaves of bread. Was it not proved that bread was more precious than everything else? Your mansion is overflowing with everything, but the old man found no bread or wheat in it. That made him say that the mansion was lacking in the most precious thing," explained the captain. But the furious lady paid no attention to his explanation. She thundered out her order to destroy the wheat. The poor and miserable people of the city rushed to her. "Please let us take away the wheat. Don't destroy it!" But Richberta was not moved. The wheat was thrown into the sea. At night Richberta's three ships were returning to the shore. They dashed against the hidden mound of what and sank. Soon thereafter a few other ships also met the same fate. A rumor spread that Stavoren was a cursed city. Merchants avoided visiting the shore. In five years the city lost its glory. With her ships sunk, Richberta grew poor. Nobody had any sympathy for her. Nobody came to help her in her distress. She was last seen begging for a loaf of bread. She had realized what was more precious, diamond, or bread! People deserted the city when merchants did not come there and its prosperity was gone. One day a gigantic tidal wave struck the city and it went underwater and no amount of wealth could save the city.

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