The King’s Decisions

Once a poor man named Juan was without relatives or friends. Life to him was a series of misfortunes. A day often passed without his tasting even a mouthful of food.

One day, weakened with hunger and fatigue, as he was walking along the road, he passed a rich man’s house. It so happened that at this time the rich man’s food was being cooked. The food smelled so good, that Juan’s hunger was satisfied merely with the fragrance. When the rich man learned that the smell of his food had satisfied Juan, he demanded money of Juan. Juan refused to give money, however, because he had none, and because he had neither tasted nor touched the rich man’s food. “Let’s go to the king, then,” said Pedro, the rich man, “and have this matter settled!” Juan had no objection to the proposal, and the two set out for the palace.

Soon they came to a place where the mire was knee-deep. There they saw a young man who was trying to help his horse out of a mud-hole. “Hey, you lazy fellows! help me to get my horse out of this hole,” said Manuel. The three tried with all their might to release the horse. They finally succeeded; but unfortunately Juan had taken hold of the horse’s tail, and it was broken off when Juan gave a sudden hard pull.

“You have got to pay me for injuring my horse,” said Manuel.

“No, I will not give you any money, because I had no intention of helping you until you asked me to,” said Juan.

“Well, the king will have to settle the quarrel.” Juan, who was not to be frightened by threats, went with Pedro and Manuel.

Night overtook the three on their way. They had to lodge themselves in the house of one of Pedro’s friends. Juan was not allowed to come up, but was made to sleep downstairs.

At midnight the pregnant wife of the host had to make water. She went to the place under which Juan was sleeping. Juan, being suddenly awakened and frightened, uttered a loud shriek; and the woman, also frightened because she thought there were robbers or ghosts about, miscarried. The next morning the husband asked Juan why he had cried out so loud in the night. Juan said that he was frightened.

“You won’t fool me! Come with us to the king,” said the husband.

When the four reached the palace, they easily gained access to the royal presence. Then each one explained why he had come there.

“I’ll settle the first case,” said the king. He commanded the servant to fetch two silver coins and place them on the table. “Now, Pedro, come here and smell the coins. As Juan became satisfied with the smell of your food, so now satisfy yourself with the smell of the money.” Pedro could not say a word, though he was displeased at the unfavorable decision.

“Now I’ll give my decisions on the next two cases. Manuel, you must give your horse to Juan, and let him have it until another tail grows.—And you, married man, must let Juan have your wife until she gives birth to another child.”

Pedro, Manuel, and the married man went home discontented with the decisions of the king,—Pedro without having received pay, Manuel without his horse, and the other man without his wife.

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