Tales of Old Lusitania/The Value of an Egg
THE VALUE OF AN EGG.
There was once a young man who left his home to travel to some foreign country, the name of which I cannot at present recollect. On his way he entered an inn to take some refreshment, and asked the landlady what provisions she had in the house. She replied that there was nothing left but a few boiled eggs. "Well, then," replied the hungry traveller, "let me have a farthing's worth." He ate the eggs, and then gave the landlady a real to change. She said that she had no change, but that it was of no consequence, for he could pay her next time he passed that way.
He set sail, and during his stay abroad he was in the constant habit of giving alms for the repose of the souls in purgatory, expecting that they in return would help him in the concerns of this world, and as he did so, if he happened to see over the money-box in the church a picture of the poor souls with the devil depicted underneath, he would say: "This is for the repose of the souls that are willing to help me; but as for you, O devil, I neither want your help nor your company, so pray do not stand in my way."
After many years he was returning home, and he came to the same inn where he had left his meal unpaid for. Going in, she said to the landlady, "I wish to pay you my debt."
"Pray, what debt is it, for I have no recollection?"
"The last time I was here I had a farthing's worth of eggs, which I did not pay for."
"Oh, now I remember," replied the landlady. "And do you think to pay me for the eggs with one farthing? Wait a bit, and I will have the bill made out. Six eggs were equal to so many fowls that laid eggs." And reckoning thus, she made out a notable bill, for it was a yard long, what with the charge for the chickens those eggs would have produced and the eggs those chickens in time would have laid.
Our traveller glanced over the bill, and found that the charges amounted to several thousand reals; and as he hadn't sufficient money with him to pay the bill, he was put in gaol.
The day on which he was to be tried, a man appeared at the bars of his prison window and said to him: "I suppose you have no one to plead for you? You must engage a counsel, for you will be taken before a magistrate this very day. However, you need not be uneasy on that account, for I shall be there to defend you."
When, therefore, our traveller was summoned to appear in court on the charge of owing the landlady of the inn for the chickens which the eggs would have yielded, that mysterious individual was present to watch the case as he had promised to do. But he presented himself in such an untidy state—his face all smeared with dirt, and his hair covered with dust—that the magistrate was fain to remonstrate with him, and ask him why he had not washed his face before appearing in court. But the man, in a self-possessed manner, replied: "My lord, you must know that when I was summoned in haste to defend this cause, I was busily employed in the chestnut wood roasting some chestnuts, for the purpose of sowing them afterwards."
The landlady, who was in court ready to give her evidence, and thought herself very clever and sharp, cried out: "Oh, the fool! Will chestnut trees grow out of roasted chestnuts?"
The prisoner's mysterious counsel retorted: "Then this man does not owe you anything. Can chickens be hatched out of six boiled eggs? Discharge him at once, O magistrate."
So the dishonest landlady was caught in her own trap; and the barrister that defended the man turned out to be the devil.