CHAPTER XXIV

THE PILGRIM EXAMINES THE LIFE OF THE RICH

Thereupon, I said to my guide: "I should like to examine the upper palace and observe the honors accorded by Dame Fortune to her guests." "Very well," said he, and before I realized it, he lifted me up along with himself; there I saw Dame Fortune standing on a sphere, distributing crowns, scepters, ruling offices, chains, decorations, purses, titles, honors, honey, and other delights, and the recipients were permitted to proceed above. Scanning the plan of the castle, I noticed that it consisted of three stories and observed that some of the people were taken to the lower, some to the middle, and the rest to the upper rooms. My interpreter explained: "Here in the lower story dwell those who are honored by Dame Fortune with money and wealth; in the middle rooms are those whom she regales with dainties; while the upper palace is occupied by those who are decked in glory, to be seen, praised, and honored by the rest. Some are favored with two or even all three kinds of gifts; and these may go wherever they please. You see what a happy thing it is to gain admittance to this place!"

2 THE FETTERS AND BURDENS OF WEALTH. "Let us go first of all among those on this floor, then," I said. We entered the lower chambers, but found them dark and gloomy, so that at first I could hardly distinguish anything, but only heard a jingling sound. And I was assailed from all corners by a fetid smell. When my eyes became accustomed to the darkness a little, I perceived men of all classes, walking, standing, sitting, or lying, all with their feet bound in fetters and their hands in chains; some of them had a chain even around their necks and a burden on their backs. I stood horror-stricken and cried out: "What, for goodness' sake, have we entered a prison?" "How silly you are!" my interpreter replied, laughing. "Why, these are the gifts of Dame Fortune which she has bestowed upon her dear sons." I examined those gifts of one, then another, and a third, but found them fetters of steel, chains of iron, and wicker-baskets full of lead or soil. "What strange gifts!" I exclaimed; "I am sure I would not care for any of them." "You fool, you look at these things wrongly," my interpreter retorted; "they are all pure gold!" I looked again and scrutinized them more closely, but reaffirmed that I could see nothing but iron and soil. "Well, then, do not be such a sophist," he replied, "and believe others rather than yourself; see how they value their possessions!"

3 I looked about and saw a wonder; for those poor wretches took the greatest delight in their bondage. One counted the links of his chain, another took them apart and reassembled them, or weighed the chain in his hand, or measured it by the span, or lifted it to his lips and kissed it, or sought to protect it against frost, heat, or injury by wrapping it in a kerchief. Here and there groups of two or three came together to compare their chains by measuring and weighing them in their hands; he whose chain was lighter was grieved and envied his neighbors, while the possessor of the larger or heavier chain strutted about arrogantly, priding himself and boasting. But there were others who, sitting quietly in obscure corners, secretly delighted in the size of their chains and fetters, not wishing others to see them; for, I presume, they feared envy and theft. Others had coffers full of lumps of earth and stones which they constantly rearranged, shutting and opening the lids, and neither wishing nor seeking to go anywhere for fear of losing their treasures. Some did not trust even the coffers and bound and tied so many of those things upon their persons that they could neither walk nor stand, but were obliged to lie, panting and groaning. Observing this, I remarked: "But, in the name of all the saints, are these people to be considered happy? Why, among all the human toil and drudgery which I have observed below, I found nothing so miserable as this happiness!" "It is indeed true (why should we deny it?)" Mr. Searchall answered, "that the mere possession of these gifts of Fortune without the use of them is greater trouble than delight." "Nevertheless it is not Dame Fortune's fault," interposed my interpreter, "that some people do not know how to use her gifts. She is not stingy with them, but some of these churlish misers do not know how to turn them either to their own or anybody else's comfort. Nevertheless, after all, say what you will, it is a great happiness to possess wealth." "I care nothing for such happiness as I see here," I replied.

Chapter 25 ||| Labyrinth index page



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