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A Story from the Time of the Romans

In olden times it was the custom to kill the old people because they were considered useless. A young man did not have the heart to kill his old father, but as he stood in fear of the others, he hid his father in the cellar in an empty cask. He gave him food and drink secretly, so that not a soul was able to discover his secret.

There came suddenly the order that all men capable of bearing arms should get ready to fight a terrible monster which was spreading round its lair misery and trouble. The pious son did not know how to provide during his absence for the imprisoned father, so that he should not die of thirst and hunger. He brought all the victuals that were in the house, and he told his father of his trouble, inasmuch as he might never return, and that his beloved father would in consequence die a miserable death.

The old man replied, "Should you not return, I willingly give up my wretched body to death. In order, however, that you should not die through this monster, listen to my advice. It will be a help to you. The cavern in which that monster lives has many hundred passages and corners which are crossing and re-crossing one another, so that even if you should succeed in killing the monster, you would never be able to find the way out, and you will all die of hunger and thirst. Take therefore our black mare with her foal with you to the mouth of the cave and there kill and bury the foal and take the mare with you. She is sure to bring you back after you have killed the monster."

After the old man had thus spoken, the young man took leave of him with tears in his eyes and went away with the other men. They arrived at the mouth of the cave. He killed the foal as his father had advised him, but he did not tell the others why he did so.

After a heavy fight they succeeded at last in killing the monster, but fear seized upon the warriors when they discovered that in spite of much searching they could not find the way out. Then the young man took the black mare and let her go on. He followed her and asked the others to follow him.

The mare started neighing and looking for her foal and hit at once upon the right path, and after a while they reached the mouth of the cave. When the others saw that they had escaped an inevitable death through the cleverness of their brother in arms, they wanted to know how he came to discover this happy device. He feared that if he told the truth both he and his old father would lose their lives. But after they had promised him under oath that no harm would befall him, he spoke out firmly and told them that he had kept his father alive in the cellar and that his father had given him the advice about the mare when he went to take leave of him.

On hearing this they were astounded, and one of them exclaimed, "Our forefathers have not acted well in teaching us to kill the old men. They have gained experience and they can help our people by their advice when the strength of our arm fails."

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