|The Book of Legends|
|by Horace Elisha Scudder|
|Legends to supplement Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Includes the stories of St. George and the Dragon, William Tell, King Cophetua, St. Christopher, The Wandering Jew, and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, retold in fine English prose. Ages 7-10 |
THE LITTLE THIEF
 IN one of the beautiful cities of Italy there stood a tall
marble column, and on the top of the column was a statue of
bronze, which shone in the sun. It was a statue of Justice,
and Justice held in one hand a pair of scales; that was to
say that every deed would be weighed in the balances: and
in the other hand Justice held a sword; that was to say
that when a man was weighed in the balances and found
wanting, Justice was ready with a sword to put him to death.
Now for many years this statue stood for the government of
the city. Justice was done to every one. The law was
observed by the rulers, who were fair in their dealings with
men, and upright. But in course of time the rulers
became evil. They no longer governed justly, and the
poor did not feel that they were treated by the law as the
rich were treated, and this story is meant to show it.
In one of the palaces of the city there was a poor
maid-servant whom we will call Martha.
 She went in and out about her duty, and was a faithful
little thing. Although there were many jewels and pieces
of money in her lady's chamber, she never took anything,
and no one thought her any other than a good, honest girl.
But one day, when she came to help her lady dress for a
great ball, she could not find a pearl necklace. It had been
laid on the table, her lady said, and now it was not there.
Martha looked everywhere, but could not find it. It was a
warm night, the window was open, and she looked out. She did
not think the necklace could have been blown out, but she
had looked everywhere else.
No, there was no sign of it. It had not fallen upon the
stone ledge below the window. Not far away was the bronze
figure of Justice, and in the darkness there was a curious
sight. She could not see the stone pillar, but the bronze
figure stood out against the sky as if it were flying
through the air. This curious sight kept her looking, and
made her forget for a moment what had happened.
"Martha!" called her lady sharply, and Martha drew her
head in and turned red as she thought of what she had been
doing. Her lady looked at her keenly.
 "Martha," said she, suddenly, "you took the necklace. You
are a little thief!"
Martha was frightened at these words. She had never been
called by such a name before, and she was confused, and knew
not what to say. So she looked down and said nothing. The
lady was angry.
"I know you are a thief!" she said again, "a little thief!"
"I am not," cried Martha, but the lady had made up her mind
to it, and, as the necklace could not be found, she was
certain Martha had taken it.
Poor Martha! She had no friends now, and she could not
prove she had not taken the necklace. She could only say
she had not. To be sure, it was not in her little box,
nor in any dress she had, nor anywhere in the little room
where she slept. They only said she must have been
very cunning to hide it away so carefully.
And now Martha
was put in prison, and the evil judges were more afraid of
displeasing the great lady of the palace than of doing an
unjust deed. They tried Martha, they found her guilty,
and they condemned her to be put to death.
It was a strange comment on the great bronze figure of
Justice that the gallows on which Martha was to be hanged
should be placed just
 under the figure, at the foot of the column. Yet so it was,
and the day came for Martha to be hanged. The cruel
judges gave her no hope.
The day came, and it was dark and lowering. It was
almost as if the heavens frowned on the city. The people
gathered and Martha mounted the platform on which the
gallows stood. Low mutterings were heard. The skies
grew black. There was a sudden blinding light and a great
crash. A bolt of lightning had plunged down.
For a moment the people were stunned. Poor Martha thought
she had been struck.
But she had not been struck. The lightning, however, had
come so near that it had struck the arm of Justice that held
the scales, and down had come the scales to the ground.
The scales fell, indeed, at Martha's feet, and when she
could see, oh joy! there lay the gleaming necklace of
pearls! It was ttwined in the clay of a nest!
The secret was out. A magpie had stolen the necklace from
the table in the palace, had flown with it out of the window
to the nest he was building in the scales in the hand of
Justice. Perhaps he was working it into the nest at the
very moment when Martha was looking at the bronze figure.
At any rate, justice was done at last to little Martha,
though men had been unjust.
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