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 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 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 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 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 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 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 spend."
"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 judgment."
"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.