Halfway up the side of a hill in sunny Italy there stretches a little town, built many hundreds of years ago.
Long, long ago, the town was ruled by a king who thought of a strange way of seeing that justice was done to all his people.
He caused a great bell to be hung in the market place, and a roof to be built over it, to keep off the sun and the rain. To make it easy to pull the bell, a long rope was made fast to it.
When all was ready, the king rode through the town, and called upon the people to listen to him.
"If any wrong is done to a person," he said, "let him ring this bell. Then the judge will hear what he has to say, and will see that the wrong is put right."
So much was the bell used, that at last the lower part of the rope was quite worn away. A man who was passing saw this, and mended it by tying to it a branch of grapevine.
Now, there lived in the town a man who, in his younger days, had been fond of both fighting and hunting. But as he grew older, he became a miser, and thought only of how to get more money.
He let his lands, sold all his dogs and his falcons, and sold his horses, too, except one. Even this, although it was his favorite steed, he left "to starve and shiver in a naked stall," while, day by day, he sat thinking in what other way he could save money.
At last he said to himself, "What is the use of my keeping this lazy horse, when I have nothing for him to do? Corn and hay cost money; let him find food for himself by the roadside."
So the poor old steed was turned out into the street, to find a meal as well as he could. Up and down the lanes he roamed, barked at by dogs, and torn by the thorns and briers of the hedgerows.
In many parts of Italy, it is so hot in summer that it is the custom for people to shut up their houses and shops during the hottest part of the day, and retire to rest.
One very hot afternoon, when all the people of the town were sleeping, the horse made his way to the market place. Catching sight of the grapevine, he went up to it, and began to tug at the leaves. So hard did he pull, that soon the bell began to sing its old song, "Some one' has done' a wrong', has done' a wrong'."
Roused from sleep by the sound of the bell, the judge arose from his couch, put on his robes of office, and made his sway to the market place.
But what was his surprise, as he drew near the bell, to find that the ringer was neither man nor woman, but only a poor old Horse!
"It is strange to find a Horse asking for justice," said the judge, "but justice he shall have!"
By this time there had gathered in the market place a great crowd of people, many of whom knew how badly the horse had been treated.
"Go and call his master!" said the judge. "Bring him here at once!"
When the miser came before the judge, he was asked why he had treated his horse in such a cruel manner. "Can I not do what I like with my own?" he said.
"No," replied the judge you cannot. When this horse was young, he served you well. He carried you into battle; he kept you safe in the midst of harm. Now that he is old, it is your duty to look after him.
"I order you to treat him well; to give him a field in which he can feed by day, and a warm stable in which he can sleep at night. This you must do, or the law will punish you."
The miser went away, hanging his head, while the people led the horse to his stable. They shouted for joy to see that justice had been done, even to a poor old steed.
When the king heard of what had taken place, be laughed with glee. "My bell," he said, "shall be famous for all time, for it has won justice, not only for men and women, but for poor dumb animals as well."