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Horace Elisha Scudder

The Bell of Justice

A Roman emperor had the ill fortune to lose his sight. He wished that his people might not be the worse for this loss; so he hung a bell in his palace, and a law was made that any one who had a wrong to be righted must pull the rope with his own hands and thus ring the bell. When the bell rang, a judge went down to hear the complaint and right the wrong.

It chanced that a serpent had its home under the end of the bell-rope. Here it brought forth its young, and one day, when the little serpents could leave the place, it led them out for fresh air. While they were gone, a toad came and took a fancy to the place. Nor would he go away when the serpent came back.

The serpent could not drive the toad out, so it coiled its tail about the bell-rope, and rang the bell of justice. Down came the judge, but saw nobody, and went back. Again the serpent rang the bell in the same way.

This time the judge looked about with care and espied the serpent and the toad. He went back to the emperor and told him what he had seen.

"It is very clear," said the emperor, "that the toad is in the wrong. Go down, drive out the toad, kill it, and let the serpent have its place again."

All this was done. Now, not many days after, as the emperor lay in his bed, the serpent came into the room, and toward the emperor's bed. The servants were about to drive the serpent away, but the emperor forbade them.

"It will do me no harm," said he; "I have been just to it. Let us see what it will do."

At that the serpent glided up the bed and laid a precious stone, which it carried in its mouth, upon the emperor's eyes. Then it slipped out of the room and no one saw it again. But no sooner had the stone lain on the eyes of the emperor than his sight was restored and he could see as well as other men.