Not many centuries after Charlemagne died, there lived in Europe a famous brigand named Juan. From childhood he had been known as “the deceitful Juan,” “the unrivalled pilferer,” “the treacherous Juan.” When he was twenty, he was forced to flee from his native land, to which he never returned.
He visited Africa, where he became acquainted with a famous Ethiopian robber named Pedro. Not long after they had met, a dispute arose between them as to which was the more skilful pickpocket. They decided to have a test. They stood face to face, and the Ethiopian was first to try his skill.
“Hey!” exclaimed Juan to Pedro, “don’t take my handkerchief out of my pocket!”
It was now Juan’s turn. He unbuckled Pedro’s belt and slipped it into his own pocket. “What’s the matter with you, Juan?” said Pedro after a few minutes. “Why don’t you go ahead and steal something?”
“Ha, ha, ha!” said Juan. “Whose belt is this?”
Pedro generously admitted that he had been defeated.
Although these two thieves were united by strong ties of common interest, nevertheless their diverse characteristics and traits produced trouble at times. Pedro was dull, honorable, and frank; Juan was hawk-eyed and double-faced. Pedro had so large a body and so awkward and shambling a gait, that Juan could not help laughing at him and saying sarcastic things to him. Juan was good-looking and graceful.
While they were travelling about in northern Africa, they heard the heralds of the King of Tunis make the following proclamation: “A big bag of money will be given to the captor of the greatest robber in the country.” The two friends, particularly Juan, were struck by this announcement.
That night Juan secretly stole out of his room. Taking with him a long rope, he climbed up to the roof of the palace. After making a hole as large as a peso in the roof, he lowered himself into the building by means of the rope. He found the room filled with bags of gold and silver, pearls, carbuncles, diamonds, and other precious stones. He took the smallest bag he could find, and, after climbing out of the hole, went home quickly.
When Pedro heard Juan’s thrilling report of the untold riches, he decided to visit the palace the following night. Early in the morning Juan went again to the palace, taking with him a large tub. After lowering it into the room, he departed without delay. At nightfall he returned to the palace and filled the tub with boiling water. He had no sooner done this than Pedro arrived. Pedro was so eager to get the wealth, that he made no use of the rope, but jumped immediately into the room when he reached the small opening his treacherous friend had made in the roof. Alas! instead of falling on bags of money, Pedro fell into the fatal tub of water, and perished.
An hour later Juan went to look for his friend, whom he found dead. The next day he notified the king of the capture and death of the greatest of African robbers. “You have done well,” said the king to Juan. “This man was the chief of all the African highwaymen. Take your bag of money.”
After putting his gold in a safe place, Juan went out in search of further adventures. On one of his walks, he heard that a certain wealthy and devout abbot had been praying for two days and nights that the angel of the lord might come and take him to heaven. Juan provided himself with two strong wings. On the third night he made a hole as large as a peso through the dome of the church.
Calling the abbot, Juan said, “I have been sent by the Lord to take you to heaven. Come with me, and bring all your wealth.”
The abbot put all his money into the bag. “Now get into the bag,” said Juan, “and we will go.”
The old man promptly obeyed. “Where are we now?” said he, after an hour’s “flight.”
“We are within one thousand miles of the abode of the blessed,” was Juan’s reply.
Twenty minutes later, and they were in Juan’s cave. “Come out of the bag, and behold my rude abode?” said Juan to the old man. The abbot was astounded at the sight. When he heard Juan’s story, he advised him to abandon his evil ways. Juan listened to the counsels of his new friend. He became a good man, and he and the abbot lived together until their death.