by J. L.
"When you want a thing done well, do it yourself," is an old saying, and a very good one; but it is not always possible or desirable to carry out this advice. Therefore it is sometimes better to adopt an amendment to this proverb, and make it read thus: "When you want a thing done well, do it yourself, or see it done."
So thought Louis IX. of France, sometimes called St. Louis, because he was considered to be rather better than most people.
Among his good qualities was kindness
to the poor. He would go about, very plainly dressed, and attended by two or
three courtiers, and visit poor people in their houses. He took an interest in
their personal affairs, and when they were very needy, he would order bread and
other food to be supplied to them. Of course, this made him a great favorite
with the poorer classes of his subjects, and they were glad not only to receive
his bounty, but also to talk with him and tell him about their many troubles.
One day, when he was making one of his
customary rounds, an old woman, leaning on a cane, and holding a loaf of bread
in her hand, came out of a door in a wall which led into a collection of
As this old woman stood awaiting his approach, the king could not help feeling a little surprised. He did not often feel surprised at anything he saw among these poor people. He had just been talking to a group of strong, hearty fellows, who preferred sitting lazily about wherever they could find a shelter from the rain and sun, and trusting in chance charity for food and lodging, to working for an honest living; but he was not surprised at them. Such men have always existed, and probably always will exist.
He had seen all sorts of strange things among his poor people. He had seen some who seemed to prefer to be poor; he had seen others who had been rich, but who appeared to be happier now than when they had plenty of money,—and perhaps plenty of anxiety with it; he had seen others who were poor and did not know it; but this was the first time that he had ever seen any one of them offer him bread or anything else to eat. No wonder he was surprised when this old woman held out to him the loaf of bread!
She did not wait for him to ask her what she meant, but immediately commenced to explain. She told him that she and her sick old husband were among those to whom he had ordered food to be furnished, but that for some time all that his agents had given them was bread such as the loaf in her hand; bread so hard that it was almost impossible for old people to eat it, and yet they must eat it or starve.
The king listened with attention to her story, and then he took the loaf in his hands, and broke off a small piece of it.
"It is rather hard bread," he said, thoughtfully, while his attendants bent over to look at it, as if it were a matter of the greatest interest to them, although it is probable that they did not care a snap of their fingers whether or not the old woman ever had any bread.
"Yes," said the king, "it is hard bread." And then he stood thinking about it. The old woman thought he was thinking of the trouble she and her husband had in eating it, but she was very much mistaken.
He was thinking that he had ordered that these people be well fed; that he had supplied the money to buy them good and nourishing food. Now, if his poor pensioners received nothing but dry bread, and very stale, hard bread at that, while he paid for good food for them, somebody must be making money out of him, to whom he had no idea of being charitable in this way.
Therefore he thought that if he wanted a thing well done, he must do it himself, or see it done. In this case he determined to see it done.
He went into the old woman's house, and he talked to her sick husband and herself, and examined into their condition. The old people thought he was very good to say so much about their hard fare, and so he was; but if they could have heard what he said afterward to his dishonest agents, when he went home to his palace, they might have been surprised to know what an important thing a piece of hard bread may sometimes become.
And they might have thought, too, that it was a good thing for them, as well as for other poor people, that their bread had been so very hard that they were forced to complain of it to the king.