The Hard Creditor.

There was once a nobleman who had a strongly fortified castle and many other possessions. His wife died, leaving him an only daughter, whom he caused to be instructed in all the liberal arts, so far as wisdom could be acquired from the dis­cipline and books of the philosophers, in order that she might thus know how to secure her inheritance. In this hope he was not deceived. She became skilled in all the liberal arts, and also acquired a perfect knowledge of magic. After this it came to pass that the nobleman was seized with an acute fever, took to his bed, and died, bequeathing all his goods to his daughter. Possessed of her father's wealth, she resolved she would marry no man unless his wisdom was equal to her own. She had many noble suitors, but, denying none, she offered to share her couch with any one who should give her a hundred marks of silver, and when the morrow came, if they were mutually agree­able, their nuptials should be duly celebrated. Many youths came to her on this condition, and paid the stipulated sum of money, but she enchanted them by her magical arts, placing an owl's feather beneath the pillow of him who was beside her, when he at once fell into a profound sleep, and so remained until at daybreak she took away the feather. In this way she spoiled many of their money, and acquired much treasure. It happened that a certain young man of good family, having been thus deluded, resolved to circumvent the damsel, so, proceeding to a rich slave [freedman?], whose foot he had formerly cut off in a passion, he asked him for a loan of one hundred marks, which the lame one readily gave, but on this condition, that if the money was not paid within a year, he might take the weight of one hundred marks from the flesh and bones of the young man. To this the youth lightly agreed, and signed the bond with his seal. With the hundred marks he went a second time to the damsel, and removing by accident the owl's feather from under his pillow, thus did away the spell, and, having accomplished his purpose, he was next day married to her in presence of their friends.

Forthwith prosperous times came to the young man, he forgot his creditor, and did not pay the money within the appointed time; whereupon the lame one rejoiced that he had found an opportunity of revenge. He appeared before the king, who was then on the throne, raised an action against the youth, exhibited the bond as evidence, and demanded justice to be executed. The king, though horrified at the bargain, had no alternative but to order the youth to come before him to answer the action of the accuser. Then the youth, at length mindful of the debt, and afraid of the king's authority, went to court, with a very great crowd of his friends, and plenty of gold and silver. The accuser exhibited the bond, which the youth acknowledged, and, by order of the king, the chiefs pronounced sentence, namely, that it should be lawful for the lame one to act as specified in the bond, or to demand as much money as he pleased for the redemption of the youth. The king therefore asked the lame one if he would spare the youth on receiving double money. He refused, and the king was attempting for many days to prevail upon him to agree, when, lo, the youth's wife, having put on man's attire, and with her countenance and voice altered by magical arts, dismounted from a horse before the king's palace, and approached and saluted the king. Being asked who she was, and whence she came, she replied that she was a soldier, born in the most distant part of the world, that she was skilled in law and equity, and was a keen critic of judg­ments. The king, being glad at this, ordered the supposed soldier to be seated beside him, and committed to her for final decision the lawsuit between the lame one and the youth. Both parties being summoned, she said: “For thee, O lame one, according to the judgment of the king and the princes, it is lawful to take away the weight of one hundred marks of flesh. But what will you gain, unless indeed death, if you slay the youth? It is better that you accept for him seven or ten times the money.” But he said he would not accept ten times, or even one thousand times, the sum. Then she ordered a very white linen cloth to be brought, and the youth to be stripped of his clothing, bound hand and foot, and stretched thereon. Which done, “Cut,” said she to the lame one, “with your iron, where ever you wish your weight of marks. But if you take away more or less than the exact weight by even the amount of a needle's point, or if one drop of blood stains the linen, know that forth­with thou shalt perish by a thousand deaths, and, cut into a thousand pieces, thou shalt become the food of the beasts and the birds, and all thy kin shall suffer the same penalty, and thy goods shall become state property.” He grew pale at this dreadful sentence, and said: “Since there is no one, God alone excepted, who can be so deft of hand, but would take away too much or too little, I am unwilling to attempt what is so un­certain. Therefore I set the youth free, remit the debt, and give him one thousand marks for reconciliation.” Thus, then, the youth was set free by the prudence of his wife, and returned in joy to his own house.

“Who, then,” adds the sage, “may not hope, O king, that this youth may be freed by skill? Wishing that you may be warned by this example, I ask that you will prolong the life of your son till to-morrow.” And the king grants his petition.

We have here, in all probability, the oldest European version of the story of the “pound of flesh,” which forms part of the plot of Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice. The tale of the bond is of Eastern origin, and may have come into France by way of Italy, or through the Moors of Spain. Ser Giovanni has adapted it in Il Pecerone, Day iv, Novel 1, a work written about 1378, but not printed till 1558. In this Italian version, in place of the magical influence of the owl's feather, the lady drugs her suitor's wine with soporific ingredients, and a Jew lends him ten thousand ducats on the same condition as the cripple in the above. When the stipulated period has elapsed, the Jew refuses to accept ten times the money, and at this crisis, according to Dunlop, “the new-married lady arrives, disguised as a lawyer, and announces, as was the custom in Italy, that she had come to decide difficult cases; for in that age delicate points were not determined by the ordinary judges of the provinces, but by doctors of law, who were called from Bologna and other places at a distance.” The pretended lawyer decides that the Jew is entitled to his pound of flesh, but should be put to death if he drew one drop of blood from his debtor.—The story of the bond occurs in a somewhat different form in the Anglican Gesta Rom-anorum , and also in the old ballad of Gernutus, or the Jew of Venice. It is the 13th of the Pleasing Stories in Gladwin's Persian Moonshee, and forms the leading incident of the Persian tale of the Qāzī of Emessa;—in the latter the debtor is a Muslim merchant, and the hard creditor is a Jew, enamoured of the mer­chant's virtuous wife.

On the Fifth Morning, the queen having renewed her complaint, accusing Dolopathos of being dilatory, unjust, and unworthy of the name and honour of king, for having allowed so shameless a youth to live so many days, the prince is again about to be burnt, when another of the Seven Wise Men appears, and relates the story of