Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of Vigilance in our Calling (b)

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Vigilance in our Calling

There is another story in this volume with the same title: Of Vigilance in our Calling



A thief went one night to the house of a rich man, and scaling the roof, peeped through a hole to examine if any part of the family were yet stirring. The master of the house, suspecting something, said secretly to his wife, "Ask me in a loud voice how I acquired the property I possess; and do not desist until I bid you." The woman complied, and began to vociferate, "My dear husband, pray tell me, since you never were a merchant, how you obtained all the wealth which you have now collected." "My love," answered her husband, "do not ask such foolish questions[1]." But she persisted in her enquiries; and at length, as if overcome by her urgency, he said, "Keep what I am going to tell you a secret, and your curiosity shall be gratified."

"Oh, trust me."

"Well, then, you must know that I was a thief, and obtained what I now enjoy by nightly depredations." "It is strange," said the wife, "that you were never taken." "Why," replied he, "my master, who was a skilful clerk, taught me a particular word, which, when I ascended the tops of people's houses, I pronounced, and thus escaped detection." "Tell me, I conjure you," returned the lady, "what that powerful word was." "Hear, then; but never mention it again, or we shall lose all our property." "Be sure of that;" said the lady, "it shall never be repeated."

"It was—is there no one within hearing?—the mighty word was 'False'"

The lady, apparently quite satisfied, fell asleep; and her husband feigned it. He snored lustily, and the thief above, who had heard their conversation with much pleasure, aided by the light of the moon, descended, repeating seven times the cabalistic sound. But being too much occupied with the charm to mind his footing, he stepped through the window into the house; and in the fall dislocated his leg and arm, and lay half dead upon the floor. The owner of the mansion, hearing the noise, and well knowing the reason, though he pretended ignorance, asked, "What was the matter?" "Oh!" groaned the suffering thief, "False words have deceived me[2]." In the morning he was taken before the judge, and afterwards suspended on a cross[3].


My beloved, the thief is the devil; the house is the human heart. The man is a good prelate, and his wife is the church.

  1. This, it is to be feared, is the retort conjugal.
  2. A play upon words seems to have been intended here; and may remind the classical reader of the stratagem of Ulysses, in the cave of the Cyclops; but a designed imitation is hardly probable.
  3. Something like this story is in the Directorium Humanæ Vitæ, i.e. the Latin Version from the Hebrew of Pilpay. See also Le Grand, Fabl. 3. 288.