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THE SPEAKING STATUE
FROM GESTA ROMANORUM (ADAPTED)
THERE was once a great emperor who made a law that whosoever
worked on the birthday of his eldest son should be put to
death. He caused this decree to be published throughout his
empire, and, sending for his chief magician, said to him:—
"I wish you to devise an instrument which will tell me the
name of each laborer who breaks my new law."
"Sire," answered the magician, "your will shall be
accomplished." And he straightway constructed a wonderful,
speaking statue, and placed it in the public square of the
capital city. By its magic power this statue could discern
all that went on in the empire on the birthday of the eldest
prince, and it could tell the name of each laborer who
worked in secret on that day. Thus things continued for some
years, and many men were put to death.
Now, there was in the capital city a carpenter
 named Focus. He was a diligent workman, laboring at his
trade from early morning till late at night. One year, when
the prince's birthday came round, he continued to work all
The next morning he arose, dressed himself, and, before any
one was astir in the streets, went to the magic statue and
"O statue, statue! because you have denounced so many of our
citizens, causing them to be put to death, I vow, if you
accuse me, I will break your head!"
Shortly after this the emperor dispatched messengers to the
statue to inquire if the law had been broken the day before.
When the statue saw them, it exclaimed:—
"Friends, look up! What see ye written on my forehead?"
They looked up and beheld three sentences that ran thus:—
"Times are altered!
"Men grow worse!
"He who speaks the truth will have his head broken!"
"Go," said the statue, "declare to His Majesty what ye have
seen and read."
The messenger accordingly departed and returned in haste to
the emperor, and related to him all that had occurred.
The emperor ordered his guard to arm and to march instantly
to the public square, where the
 statue was, and commanded that if any one had attempted to
injure it, he should be seized, bound hand and foot, and
dragged to the judgment hall.
The guard hastened to do the emperor's bidding. They
approached the statue and said:—
"Our emperor commands you to tell who it is that threatened
The statue answered: "Seize Focus the carpenter. Yesterday
he defied the emperor's edict; this morning he threatened to
break my head."
The soldiers immediately arrested Focus, and dragged him to
the judgment hall.
"Friend," said the emperor, "what do I hear of you? Why do
you work on my son's birthday?"
"Your Majesty," answered Focus, "it is impossible for me to
keep your law. I am obliged to earn eight pennies every day,
therefore was I forced to work yesterday."
"And why eight pennies?" asked the emperor.
"Every day through the year," answered Focus, "I am bound to
repay two pennies I borrowed in my youth; two I lend; two I
lose; and two I spend."
"How is this?" said the emperor; "explain yourself further."
"Your Majesty," replied Focus, "listen to me. I am bound
each day to repay two pennies to my old father, for when I
was a boy he expended upon me daily the like sum. Now he is
poor and needs
 my assistance, and I return what I formerly borrowed. Two
other pennies I lend my son, who is pursuing his studies, in
order that, if by chance I should fall into poverty, he may
restore the loan to me, just as I am now doing to his
grandfather. Again, I lose two pennies on my wife, who is a
scold and has an evil temper. On account of her bad
disposition I consider whatever I give her entirely lost.
Lastly, two other pennies I spend on myself for meat and
drink. I cannot do all this without working every day. You
now know the truth, and, I pray you, give a righteous
"Friend," said the emperor, you have answered well. Go and
work diligently at your calling."
That same day the emperor annulled the law forbidding labor
on his son's birthday. Not long after this he died, and
Focus the carpenter, on account of his singular wisdom, was
elected emperor in his stead. He governed wisely, and after
his death there was deposited in the royal archives a
portrait of Focus wearing a crown adorned with eight