Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Fifty-one Thieves

There were once two brothers, Juan and Pedro. Pedro was rich and was
the elder, but Juan was very poor and gained his living by cutting
wood. Juan became so poor at last that he was forced to ask alms
from his brother, or what was only the same thing, a loan. After
much pleading, Pedro gave his brother enough rice for a single meal,
but repenting of such generosity, went and took it off the fire,
as his brother's wife was cooking it, and carried it home again.

Juan then set out for the woods, thinking he might be able to find
a few sticks that he could exchange for something to eat, and went
much farther than he was accustomed to go. He came to a road he did
not know and followed it for some distance to where it led to a great
rocky bluff and there came to an end.

Juan did not know exactly what to think of such an abrupt ending
to the roadway, and sat down behind a large rock to meditate. As he
sat there a voice within the cliff said, "Open the door," and a door
in the cliff opened itself. A man richly dressed came out, followed
by several others, whom he told that they were going to a town at a
considerable distance. He then said, "Shut the door," and the door
closed itself again.

Juan was not sure whether any one else was inside, but he was no
coward and besides he thought he might as well be murdered as starved
to death, so when the robbers had ridden away to a safe distance
without seeing him, he went boldly up to the cliff and said, "Open
the door." The door opened as obediently to him as to the robber,
and he went in. He found himself inside a great cavern filled with
money, jewels, and rich stuffs of every kind.

Hastily gathering more than enough gold and jewels to make him rich,
he went outside, not forgetting to say, "Close the door," and went
back to his house.

Having hidden all but a little of his new wealth, he wished to change
one or two of his gold pieces for silver so that he could buy something
to eat. He went to his brother's house to ask him for the favor,
but Pedro was not at home, and his wife, who was at least as mean as
Pedro, would not change the money. After a while Pedro came home, and
his wife told him that Juan had some money; and Pedro, hoping in turn
to gain some advantage, went to Juan's house and asked many questions
about the money. Juan told him that he had sold some wood in town and
had been paid in gold, but Pedro did not believe him and hid himself
under the house to listen. At night he heard Juan talking to his wife,
and found out the place and the password. Immediately taking three
horses to carry his spoils, he set out for the robbers' cave.

Once arrived, he went straight to the cliff and said, "Open the door,"
and the door opened immediately. He went inside and said, "Close the
door," and the door closed tight. He gathered together fifteen great
bags of money, each all he could lift, and carried them to the door
ready to put on the horses. He found all the rich food and wine of
the robbers in the cave, and could not resist the temptation to make
merry at their expense; so he ate their food and drank their fine
wines till he was foolishly drunk. When he had reached this state,
he began to think of returning home. Beating on the door with both
hands, he cried out, "Open, beast. Open, fool. May lightning blast
you if you do not open!" and a hundred other foolish things, but
never once saying, "Open the door."

While he was thus engaged, the robbers returned, and hearing them
coming he hid under a great pile of money with only his nose sticking
out. The robbers saw that some one had visited the cave in their
absence and hunted for the intruder till one of them discovered him
trembling under a heap of coin. With a shout they hauled him forth
and beat him until his flesh hung in ribbons. Then they split him into
halves and threw the body into the river, and cut his horses into bits,
[15] which they threw after him.

When Pedro did not return, his wife became anxious and told Juan
where he had gone. Juan stole quietly to the place by night, and
recovered the body, carried it home, and had the pieces sewn together
by the tailor.

Now the robbers knew that they had been robbed by some one else, and
so, when Pedro's body was taken away, the captain went to town to see
who had buried the body, and by inquiring, found that Juan had become
suddenly rich, and also that it was his brother who had been buried.

So the captain of the robbers went to Juan's house, where he found
a ball going on. Juan knew the captain again and that he was asking
many questions, so he made the captain welcome and gave him a great
deal to eat and drink. One of the servants came in and pretended
to admire the captain's sword till he got it into his own hands;
and then he began to give an exhibition of fencing, making the sword
whirl hither and thither and ending with a wonderful stroke that made
the captain's head roll on the floor.

A day or two later, the lieutenant also came to town, and began to make
inquiries concerning the captain. He soon found out that the captain
had been killed in Juan's house, but Juan now had soldiers on guard
at his door, so that it was necessary to use strategy. He went to
Juan and asked if he could start a "tienda," or wine-shop, and Juan,
who recognized the lieutenant, said, "Yes." Then the lieutenant went
away, soon returning with seven great casks, in each of which he had
seven men.

These he stored under Juan's house until such time as Juan, being
asleep, could be killed with certainty and little danger. When
this was done, he went into the house, intending to make Juan drunk
and then kill him as Juan had the captain. Juan, however, got the
lieutenant drunk first, and soon his head, like the captain's, rolled
on the floor.

The soldiers below, like all soldiers, wished to have a drink from
the great casks, and so one of them took a borer and bored into one of
the casks. As he did so, a voice whispered, "Is Juan asleep yet?" The
soldier replied, "Not yet," and went and told Juan. The casks by
his order were all put into a boat, loaded with stones and chains,
and thrown into the sea. So perished the last of the robbers.

Juan, being no longer in fear of the robbers, often went to their
cave, and helped himself to everything that he wanted. He finally
became a very great and wealthy man. [16]

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