The City of Fortune
Once upon a time there was a boy named Rupert, the sharpest and most prudent lad in his village, and indeed in any of those to be found for twenty leagues around.
One night he was with a group of boys of his own age, who, gathered round the fire, were listening with amazement to a veteran soldier, covered with scars, which had gained him the modest stripes of a sergeant pensioner, and who was telling the story of his adventures. The narrator was at the most interesting point of his tale.
“The great City of Fortune” he said, “is situated on the summit of a very high mountain, so steep that only very few have succeeded in reaching the top. There gold circulates in such abundance that the inhabitants do not know what to do with the precious metal. Houses are built of it, the walls of the fortress are of solid silver, and the cannons which defend it are enormous pierced diamonds. The streets are paved with duros, always new, because as soon as they begin to lose their brilliance they are replaced by others just minted.
“You ought to see the cleanliness of it! What dirt there is is pure gold dust, which the dust carts collect in order to throw in large baskets into the drains.
“The pebbles against which we stumble continually are brilliants as large as nuts, despised on account of the extraordinary abundance with which the soil supplies them. In a word, he who lives there may consider the most powerful of the earth as beggars.
“The worst of it is that the path which leads there is rough and difficult, and most people succumb without having been able to arrive at the city of gold.”
Rupert did not let the words of the soldier go in at one ear and out at the other; and so it was that, hardly had the occasion of being alone with him arisen before he inquired:
“Do you know the way to this enchanted city?”
“I should rather think so, my son; but I do not advise you to try the journey.”
“The way is long and rocky. I came back the first day, startled at the difficulties which must be overcome. But anyhow, if you are resolved to go, I must give you the following warning. In order to get to Fortune there are two paths: a very broad one, full of stones and crags; if you go that way the sharp points of the pebbles will tear your feet to pieces and you will be crushed by fatigue. A thousand terrible difficulties will arise to meet you; you will have to struggle with cruel enemies, and if, at last, you succeed in vanquishing all, you will arrive at Fortune already old and worn, when riches will be of no use to you. The other path is level and short, but…”
“Enough! Do not say any more; show me it now, and I will look after the rest.”
“All right, all right! I will show it to you, and God grant that your not having wished to hear me to the end will not bring you suffering.”
And the little rogue, without saying good-bye to his parents or his brother, began to walk in the direction the old soldier had shown him; and went on and on, happier than a sand-boy, thinking of the riches which awaited him, and which he already believed to have within reach of his hand.
At the end of two days he arrived at the bank of a large river. On it was a boat, and in the boat a black man of colossal stature.
Our lad approached the boatman and asked him:
“Good man, is this the way to Fortune?”
“Yes, little boy, but it is necessary to cross the river.”
“Good, then take me across.”
“Do you know how much it costs?”
“But do I look as if I had them, or had even seen them in my life? Be kind and take me over for nothing.”
“This river, my little friend, is never crossed gratis. It is the first step towards Fortune and it must be paid for somehow. If you have no money, never mind; let me cut off a little piece of your heart. Perhaps it will hurt you a bit at first, but later you will feel as if you were whole.”
From Fairy Tales from Spain, by J. Muñoz Escamez.London: J. M. Dent and Sons limited. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1913.