The Speaking Stone
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
"Sire," answered the magician, "your
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 that day.
The next morning he arose, dressed
himself, and, before any one was astir in the streets,
went to the magic statue and said, "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
They looked up and beheld three sentences
that ran thus, "Times are
"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 you."
The statue answered, "Seize
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
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
"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
"Your Majesty," replied Focus, "listen
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
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