The Speaking Statue
: LABOR DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
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 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
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
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 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
"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
"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 pennies.