CLAUDIO was screaming madly when his grandmother said to him:
"If you cry any more you will see the man with two faces."
"Oh, I say, who is he?"
"Well, he is a very strange being, who laughs with one face and cries with the other. If a child looks at his smiling face he gives it a toy; if it looks at his sad face he bites it and tears off the tip of his ear."
"Well, then, I wish he would come, because I will be very good and he will give me a toy."
"It would be much better if he did not come, because you are very bad and you would get your ear bitten."
"But I want to see him," said the boy.
"Look for him if you like," said the grandmother, "but mind he does not hurt you."
Claudio, who was eight years old and very innocent, quite believed in the man with two faces, and resolved to look for him everywhere.
That afternoon he went to the outskirts of the town and asked some woodmen:
"Where is the man with two faces?"
And they said to him mockingly:
"Go to the mountain over there and you will come to him."
He followed their counsel and climbed up the mountain without finding anybody. That night he had to spend on the mountain, climbing up to the top of a tree because the howling of the wolves frightened him so much that he did not dare to go back to his home. In the morning, on getting down from the tree, a squirrel saluted him with great ceremony, and said "Good morning."
"Listen, squirrel," said Claudio, "do you know where the man with two faces is?"
"I do not know, but my friend the eagle knows many things. Come with me and we will ask him."
The boy and the squirrel went together and on the top-most part of the mountain came upon the eagle’s nest. The eagle turned towards the squirrel and asked what he wanted. On being told of what Claudio wanted he said to him: "I have sometimes heard this man spoken of, but I have never seen him. I only know that he is very unhappy, because he can only look at himself in the glass with his sad face, and on seeing himself so afflicted the poor fellow bursts into tears."
"And where does he live?" said the boy.
"He lives so far away that you would never be able to reach the place, but if you like I will carry you there, through the air, in my claws, and we shall be there in a twinkling. I cannot do any more for you than carry you to the door of his house, and I cannot answer for what may happen to you."
"Never mind," said the boy; "take me, for I want to see him."
The eagle caught up the boy by his belt and the squirrel got into one of Claudio’s pockets. The eagle began its flight and the three found themselves in the air. When Claudio saw that he was so high up he shut his eyes, full of terror.
When the squirrel appeared from the boy’s pocket the trees looked like the size of pins, and he went quickly back again for fear of being seasick. After several hours’ flying, the eagle descended on a little mountain and there left Claudio, startled at his own temerity.
"When you wish to come back—if they let you—blow on the whistle which I am carrying round my neck. Keep it, for I have very sharp ears and can hear the sound of it for five hundred leagues. As soon as I hear it I will come, and pop! I will take you by the belt to my nest."
When the eagle had gone the squirrel came out of Claudio’s pocket and said to him:
"Have we arrived already, my little friend?"
"Have you come too?" exclaimed Claudio joyfully.
"Yes, but incognito. I liked the look of you and wish to help you with my advice: you know that squirrels, modesty apart, are very sharp."
"All right, what am I going to do now?"
"Do you not want to see this man? Then let us go on, because I also would like to know him."
"And if he wants to hurt us?"
"Then we will defend ourselves. I will go first and explore the surroundings, and will come back at once."
And saying this, the squirrel started to run with the quickness usual to his race, returning after a little while very much frightened.
"Do you know," he said, "that the man with the two faces is at the present moment giving a terrible hiding to some boys that he has shut up in a cage?"
"They must be naughty boys, but I am good, and he will give me toys."
"I don’t know about that, because the only thing I have seen him give is knocks; and do you know what he was saying?
"’This one I like, that one, no;
But I shall kill them all, O!’"
"Was he saying that?"
"Just what I am telling you. I have only seen his gay face which is in the back of his head, and on seeing him I closed my eyes and came away quickly, for if he sees me he will tear me to bits."
"What are we going to do?" said Claudio, startled.
"Climb up this pine tree with me and from there we will watch."
They climbed up a tree and from it saw a house, or rather a great cage, formed of big iron bars with an iron roof. In the centre was seated the man with the two faces with a whip in his hand, punishing a number of boys of all ages who filled the cage.
The temptation seized Claudio to blow the whistle and make the eagle come back to fetch him away, but his curiosity overcame his fear, and he said to himself:
"After all, I can go away whenever I like."
A little later they saw the man with two faces come out of the cage and walk in the direction of the place where Claudio was. On his approach they saw such a woebegone countenance that Claudio was filled with fear. As the squirrel saw him shudder, he said to him in a very low voice:
"Close your eyes or we are lost."
The boy obeyed and the man with two faces passed close to them without noticing their presence. When he felt him pass, Claudio half opened his eyes and saw his gay face. Again he had to close them, for he could hardly stop laughing, so strange was the face.
On his disappearing in the distance, both the friends descended from the tree and went up to the cage. On seeing them the boy prisoners began to shout, full of joy:
"Have you come to set us free?"
"Yes," said Claudio, "but I don’t know how to, because you are locked up. Well, failing the key, let us look for other means."
And, examining the doors, he came upon one without a lock. He opened it and went into the cage, but he had no sooner entered than the door closed of its own accord, leaving him a prisoner.
"Poor little boy!" shouted the others, "you are quite lost, for this is a kind of mouse-trap where you can enter but can’t get out."
At this moment, the man with two faces arrived; he opened the door and, facing Claudio, looked at him with the serious face which made the boy shut his eyes to keep from crying.
"What! Have I got one pupil more?" he exclaimed. "Good, now it is your turn to laugh, as it is the first day."
And seizing his head with both hands he turned it round so that the gay face came in front of the boy. The latter looked a moment, and again shut his eyes to keep from laughing aloud.
"I see that you are strong, but to-morrow we shall see," said the monster, and he locked Claudio up with the other little ones.
Now it was night; all were sleeping, including the horrible gaoler.
Claudio was half asleep when he heard himself called softly. It was his friend the squirrel, who had got in through the iron bars and said to him:
"Be sure that to-morrow I will save you."
And without anything more he turned and went out by the way he had entered.
The following day, at the usual time, the monster showed his sad face. The prisoners began to cry. Claudio shut his eyes, and the monster gave one of his ears a bite and showed him his teeth.
"That’s for to-day; to-morrow there will be more," he said.
And after throwing a few pieces of bread to the boys he went away.
No sooner had he gone than millions of squirrels gathered round, and with the quickness of lightning made an enormous gap. Through this the boys escaped, and the squirrels entered in their place. The boys hid themselves in a distant grotto, and there waited to see what would happen.
The man with the two faces arrived at the cage and, on seeing the squirrels there, became extremely angry, and seized a whip with which to give them the daily beating, when all those little animals came out through the iron bars.
The monster, putting on some very high stilts, started to run in search of the boys, blowing a whistle. They, terror-stricken, were hiding in the grotto without daring to breathe for fear of being discovered. After eight or ten hours of giddy running, the man with the two faces fell down exhausted and went to sleep on the ground near the grotto. Then the squirrel asked Claudio for the whistle that the eagle had given him, and without making any noise hung it round the monster’s neck.
Then the latter, awakened by the cold of the night, again caught hold of the whistle and started to blow it madly. The eagle hastened to the sound of his whistle, and thinking that it was Claudio, seized the man with the two faces in his claws and rose up to a great height.
The eagle soon noticed that his voice was unknown, and without more ado let go of his load and the monster was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.
He flew again towards the place where he had left Claudio.
"Don’t be afraid," said the eagle, "because of the two faces neither remains. They have just been smashed up against the stones, and he will never torment anybody any more."
The children returned to their homes, where their coming was celebrated with great feasts, and Claudio’s grandmother, when she heard what had happened, after welcoming him on his return, only said to him:
"Do you want to see the man with two faces again?"