SITUATED on a rock at the foot of a chain of mountains, as the nest of a stork on a tower, was a town, the name of which I shall not mention, like those who record a miracle without mentioning the saint.
Two men lived in this town, and had been fated, one to good and the other to ill fortune. The one was known as Don Jose the Wealthy, the other as “Uncle Jack the Miserable.” Don Jose had commenced life by selling linen and cloth in the streets; he speedily opened a store, directly afterwards became a merchant, and, almost before one could take breath, created the largest business in the whole town. He was a much respected man, because he was neither mean nor stingy, but charitable and humane. Wealth had not made him haughty, nor much possession presumptuous. He was not vain and did not care for pompous language, as so many successful people do; briefly, Don Jose and his family were all good folks, and in his house, as in that of St. Basil, all, down to the very water-carrier, were of one way of thinking.
In the abode of “Uncle Jack,” as in all where they are breadless, every one was peevish, and they were all hungry naked, and always quarrelling, the little ones weeping and getting slaps to still them.
One day Don Jose ordered “Uncle Jack” to be called; and the man appeared in a reluctant manner, and with a sort of “I don’t want to be worried” air. On entering he said:—
“Heaven preserve you, Don Jose.”
“And you also, for all that you look so dispirited and out of countenance!”
“Ah, well, sir; that is because I am hungry, and my entrails feel as if they would like to devour each other; and when the stomach is empty everything is out of sorts. Why your honour always looks so elated and so contented is because your inside is full.”
“Well, it is true that I have nothing to grumble about.”
“And I believe, sir, that you are always in a position to be contented because your speculations are always profitable, and you are lucky, whilst I am the most unfortunate being in existence.”
“Jack, in this world there always have been and always will be some who laugh and some who cry; but let us come to the point. I have sent for you in order that you may go to the palace of Fortune, and tell her that for my part I am satisfied, and that I do not wish for more: and I will give you ten pounds for your commission, to enable you to make a start in the world.”
Instead of jumping for joy at this fine proposition, the one occasion in his life when Fortune favoured him, Jack’s covetousness overpowered him, and he said to Don Jose:— “What, sir! Ten pounds would not make nor ruin any one; just think, sir, that Fortune’s palace is raised up there where our Lord called thrice and was not heard. If I go by the water I may get drowned, and if I go by land I may get among wolves. If your honour will give me fifteen pounds, it will be well worth the labour.”
Don Jose had been well forewarned against Jack’s evasions, but he determined to put them to the test, and now said he would give only twelve dollars, and the matter should be arranged. But Jack’s greed still had hold of him, so he turned back and said to Don Jose that twelve dollars was very little'.
“Would you like nine?” responded Don Jose quietly.
“Sir, are you fooling me?” said Jack; “if I did not wish to go for twelve, should I care to go for nine?”
“Then do not go,” said Don Jose.
On hearing this, Miserable Jack was terrified.
“What shall I do without those nine dollars that I am so badly in want of?” thought the poor man; and turning to the wealthy one, said that he would go for the nine.
“Would you like six?” inquired Don Jose.
“You know well that I cannot go for six,” responded Jack.
“Do not go then,” said Don Jose.
Miserable Jack went off; but scarcely had he reached the street, when he thought better of it, as he had much need of the money. “The rich can kill or cure,” said he to himself; “and it is of no use to cut off my nose to spite my face. Would that I had gone for the twelve! The proverb is true, that ‘Greed bursts the sack.’” So he returned and said to the rich man:—
“Don Jose, necessity has no law. I will go for the six dollars.”
“Would you like three?” responded the rich man.
“The demon take the three dollars! They are not enough to pick up! Good-day, Don Jose!”
“Till our next meeting, friend.”
Scarcely had Miserable Jack got into the street than he thought, “Shall I go without those three dollars? I, who have not even a quarter of one, nor know where to get it?” So he went back and shouted from the doorway:—
“Don Jose, I will go for the three paltry dollars!”
“Would you go for one?” said the rich man.
“Yes, sir,” responded Miserable Jack with the rapidity of a pistol shot; and started off running, for fear Don J os6 would want to alter his proposal.
After having travelled the whole day along rough roads, he arrived at a rock so high and so rugged that not even a goat could have climbed it, and even the rays of the sun lost their footing. On the summit was situated the palace of Fortune, which was built of real alabaster, with doors of pure gold. When he had finished climbing and reached the top, he entered into a court like a royal court, full of all kinds of flowers, fruits of all seasons, and of shrubs ever green.
He called out loudly for Don Jose the Wealthy s Fortune; and there presented herself to him a girl as resplendent as sunshine, graceful, fair, and fresh, each cheek like a rose, and each eye like a star, and more bedecked with gems than a jeweller’s shop.
“What do you want with me?” asked the girl.
“Don Jose the Wealthy has sent me here to inform your ladyship that he is satisfied, and does not wish for anything further. Do you wish to return any answer?”
“Tell him from me,” replied the fair maiden, “that I shall continue to give to him, whether he wishes it or no, until he die, because it gives me real pleasure to' do so. And now return whence you came, because your misery infects my palace.”
“And has not this basket of roses one little favour for me? Even one just the size of a piece of spice?”
“I am not your Fortune, and am not able to do anything for you,” responded the beautiful girl; “but there, at the back of my palace, is she who is yours; go, and talk to her.”
And with that she went off dancing like a top and singing like a canary.
Miserable Jack went away, giving enormous strides, and after giving a farewell to the palace found himself with his Fortune.
Her habitation was a precipice as black as death, in every crevice of which was a viper, and in each fissure a snake.
“Is this where my Fortune dwells?” said Miserable Jack. “As the bird, so the nest. I am going to call her, that I may have the pleasure of seeing her repulsive face,”
And he began to call out.
Out of the rubbish came an old woman uglier than she who cheated St. Antony, and than she who stoned St. Stephen, with a toothless mouth and blear eyes without any lashes.
“What do you want?” asked the old woman with a voice that sounded like a rattle.
“To order you to the Demon like a condemned one as thou art!”
“Then learn,” said the old woman, “that because you have caught me napping, you have gained a dollar; but if you had not caught me napping, not for twenty would you have come.”