An old woman knew herself to be dying.  She called her son, a captain of soldiers, to visit her bedside.

“My son,” she said, “you know that I have something of the second sight.  I have told you that greatness can be yours if you but reach for it, but you have refused to try.  Now I ask for something less.  I ask you to make me a small promise.  On the first anniversary of my death, on that day, tell no lies.”

The son asked his mother what calamity she had foreseen would come to pass if he lied on that day, but she refused to tell.  She only pressed him more urgently to make the promise, and at last, earnestly, he did.

She died soon thereafter.  On the first anniversary of her death, it befell that the officer was ordered to march a large contingent of soldiers from one depot to another.

During the march, his countenance fell. When the other officer with him asked the reason, he explained.  “Today, if I am not strictly honest, it is fated that something much to be feared will occur to me.  Therefore, I swore an oath to my mother that I would tell no lies today.  But this contingent of 1,000 men numbers only 600.  If I report the true number when I arrive, I will be executed.”

“And I also!” the other officer replied.  “Why, 1,000 men is merely the number you yourself were told when you accepted the charge of these men. You know as well as I that these numbers are always reported higher than they are.  I consider it nothing but a genial custom that allows we officers the dignity of commanding more troops and, indeed, allows us to live, for if we were only paid according to the actual number of soldiers, our means would be much straitened.”

“All that I know,” said the captain, “yet these numbers are not the truth. I cannot repeat them. I am sorely puzzled what to do.”

“Perhaps,” his subordinate suggested, “you should feign some indisposition and allow me to report to the commander of the depot when we arrive.”

But the captain shook his head.  “I cannot lie about being indisposed.  And I cannot suffer another to lie for me.”

The other officer saw the justice of this remark, and at this joined his superior in his distress.  The two were much concerned that by the end of the day they would die, unless they could find some remedy.

At last, casting about among various schemes and stratagems, they hit on one desperate chance.  Halting their soldiers and addressing them, they raised the banner of revolt.


Two years later, the captain was crowned Emperor.  “I sometimes wonder,” he told the general of his armies, his former subordinate officer, “what fate would have befell if I had not strictly told the truth that day.”


Moral: By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

Continue reading at the original source →