Gateway to the Classics: Fables from Afar by Catherine T. Bryce
Fables from Afar by  Catherine T. Bryce

A Dumb Witness

One day a poor man tied his horse at the noon hour to a tree, and sat down to eat his midday meal.

A rich man came along and started to tie his horse to the same tree.

"Do not fasten your horse to that tree," cried the poor man. "My horse is very savage. He will kill yours. Fasten him to another tree."

The rich man answered proudly, "I shall tie my horse where I wish."

So he fastened his horse to the same tree to which the poor man's horse was tied, and sat down to eat his dinner.

Suddenly the men heard a great noise, and looked up. Their horses were fighting. The two men rushed up to stop them, but it was too late. The rich man's horse was dead.

"See what your horse has done!" he cried to the poor man in great anger. "But you shall pay for it! You shall pay for it!"

So saying, he dragged the poor man before the judge.

"O wise judge!" he cried. "This man's savage horse has killed my horse—my beautiful, kind, gentle horse! Make him pay for it or send him to prison, I beg of you."

The judge turned to the poor man, "Did your horse kill this man's horse?" he asked.

But the poor man said not one word.

"Can't you talk?" asked the judge.

The poor man answered never a word.

The judge asked the poor man many questions, but he still kept his lips closed and answered nothing.

At last the judge said to the rich man: "What can I do? This poor man is dumb. He cannot speak a word."

"Oh, sir," cried the rich man, "he can talk as well as you or I. He spoke to me on the road."

"Are you sure?" asked the judge. "What did he say?"

"Indeed, I am sure. He said quite plainly: 'Do not fasten your horse to that tree. My horse is very savage. He will kill yours. Fasten him to another tree.' "

"Ah," said the judge, "now I see. If he warned you, he need not pay for your horse. You only are to blame. You should have heeded his warning."

Then the judge turned to the poor man. "Why did you not answer my questions?" he asked.

"Can you not see, O wise judge?" answered the poor man. "If I had told you that I warned him not to tie his horse near mine, he would have denied it. Then you would not know which of us was telling the truth. I knew, O wise one, that if I let him tell the story alone, you would soon learn the truth."

The poor man's words pleased the judge, and he sent the rich man away without a penny. But he praised the poor man for his wisdom.

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