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  • Date :
  • 7/24/2004

THREE QUESTIONS

Tolstoy

ITonce occurredtoacertainking,thatifhealwaysknewtherighttimetobegineverything;ifheknewwhotherightpeopletolistentowere,andwhomtoavoid,and,aboveall,ifhealwaysknewwhatwasthemostimportantthingtodo,hewouldneverfailinanythinghemight undertake.

Andthisthoughthaving occurredtohim,hehadit proclaimedthroughouthiskingdomthathewouldgiveagreatrewardtoanyonewhowouldteachhimwhatwastherighttimeforeveryaction,andwhowerethemostnecessarypeople,andhowhemightknowwhatwasthemostimportantthingtodo.

AndlearnedmencametotheKing,buttheyall answeredhisquestionsdifferently.

Inreplytothefirstquestion,somesaidthattoknowtherighttimeforeveryaction,onemustdrawupinadvance,atableof days, monthsandyears,andmustlivestrictlyaccordingtoit.Onlythus,saidthey,couldeverythingbedoneatitspropertime. Others declaredthatitwasimpossibletodecidebeforehandtherighttimeforeveryaction;but that,notlettingoneselfbeabsorbedinidle pastimes,oneshouldalwaysattendtoallthatwasgoingon,andthendowhatwasmostneedful. Others,again,saidthathoweverattentivetheKingmightbetowhatwasgoingon,itwasimpossibleforonemantodecidecorrectlytherighttimeforeveryaction,but thatheshouldhaveaCouncilofwisemen,whowouldhelphimtofixthepropertimeforeverything.

Butthenagain otherssaidthereweresomethingswhichcouldnotwaittobelaidbeforeaCouncil,butaboutwhichonehadatoncetodecidewhethertoundertakethemornot.Butinordertodecidethatonemustknowbeforehandwhatwasgoingtohappen.Itisonly magicianswhoknowthat;and,thereforeinordertoknowtherighttimeforeveryaction,onemustconsult magicians.

Equallyvariouswerethe answerstothesecondquestion.Somesaid,thepeopletheKingmost neededwerehis councilors; others,the priests; others,the doctors;whilesomesaidthe warriorswerethemostnecessary.

Tothethirdquestion,astowhatwasthemostimportantoccupation:some repliedthatthemostimportantthingintheworldwasscience. Otherssaiditwasskillinwarfare;and others,again,thatitwasreligiousworship.

Allthe answersbeingdifferent,theKingagreedwithnoneofthem,andgavetherewardtonone.Butstill wishingtofindtheright answerstohisquestions,hedecidedtoconsultahermit,widelyrenownedforhis wisdom.

Thehermit livedinawoodwhichheneverquittedandhereceivednonebutcommonfolk.SotheKingputonsimpleclothes,andbefore reachingthehermit'scell dismountedfromhishorse,and,leavinghisbodyguardbehind,wentonalone.

WhentheKing approached,thehermitwasdiggingthegroundinfrontofhishut.SeeingtheKing,he greetedhimandwentondigging.Thehermitwasfrailandweak,andeachtimehestuckhisspadeintothegroundand turnedalittleearth,he breathedheavily.

TheKingwentuptohimandsaid:'Ihavecometoyou,wisehermit,toaskyoutoanswerthreequestions:HowcanIlearntodotherightthingattherighttime?WhoarethepeopleImostneed,andtowhomshould I,therefore,paymoreattentionthantotherest?And,whataffairsarethemostimportantandneedmyfirstattention?'

Thehermit listenedtotheKing,but answerednothing.Hejustspatonhishandand recommenceddigging.

'Youaretired,'saidtheKing,'letmetakethespadeandworkawhileforyou.'

'Thanks!'saidthehermit,and, givingthespadetotheKing,hesatdownontheground.

Whenhehaddugtwobeds,theKing stoppedandrepeatedhisquestions.Thehermitagaingavenoanswer,butrose, stretchedouthishandforthespade,andsaid:

'Nowrestawhile --andletmeworkabit.'

ButtheKingdidnotgivehimthespade,and continuedtodig.Onehour passed,andanother.Thesunbegantosinkbehindthe trees,andtheKingatlaststuckthespadeintotheground,andsaid:

'Icametoyou,wiseman,forananswertomyquestions.Ifyoucangivemenone,tellmeso,andIwillreturnhome.'

'Here comessomeonerunning,'saidthehermit,'letusseewhoitis.'

TheKing turnedround,andsawabeardedmancomerunningoutofthewood.Themanheldhis hands pressedagainsthisstomach,andbloodwasflowingfromunderthem.Whenhe reachedtheKing,hefell faintingontheground moaningfeebly.TheKingandthehermit unfastenedtheman'sclothing.Therewasalargewoundinhisstomach.TheKing washeditasbesthecould,and bandageditwithhishandkerchiefandwithatowelthehermithad.ButthebloodwouldnotstopflowingandtheKingagainandagain removedthebandagesoakedwithwarmblood,and washedand rebandagedthewound.Whenatlasttheblood ceasedflowing,theman revivedand askedforsomethingtodrink.TheKingbroughtfreshwaterandgaveittohim.Meanwhilethesunhadset,andithadbecomecool.SotheKing,withthehermit'shelp, carriedthewoundedmanintothehutandlaidhimonthebed.Lyingonthebedthemanclosedhis eyesandwasquiet;buttheKingwassotiredwithhiswalkandwiththeworkhehaddone,thathe croucheddownonthethreshold,andalsofellasleep --sosoundlythathesleptallthroughtheshortsummernight.Whenheawokeinthemorning,itwaslongbeforehecouldrememberwherehewas,orwhowasthestrangebeardedmanlyingonthebedand gazingintentlyathimwithshining eyes.

'Forgiveme!'saidthebeardedmaninaweakvoice,whenhesawthattheKingwasawakeandwas lookingathim.

'Idonotknowyou,andhavenothingtoforgiveyoufor,'saidtheKing.

'Youdonotknowme,butIknowyou.Iamthatenemyofyourswhosworetorevengehimselfonyou,becauseyou executedhisbrotherand seizedhisproperty.Iknewyouhadgonealonetoseethehermit,andI resolvedtokillyouonyourwayback.Buttheday passedandyoudidnotreturn.SoIcameoutfrommyambushtofindyou,andIcameuponyourbodyguard,andtheyrecognizedme,andwoundedme.I escapedfromthem,butshouldhavebledtodeathhadyounot dressedmywound.I wishedtokillyou,andyouhave savedmylife.Now,ifIlive,andifyouwishit,Iwillserveyouasyourmostfaithfulslave,andwillbidmysonsdothesame.Forgiveme!'

TheKingwasverygladtohavemadepeacewithhisenemysoeasily,andtohave gainedhimforafriend,andhenotonlyforgavehim,butsaidhewouldsendhisservantsandhisownphysiciantoattendhim,and promisedtorestorehisproperty.

Havingtakenleaveofthewoundedman,theKingwentoutintotheporchand lookedaroundforthehermit.Beforegoingawayhe wishedoncemoretobegananswertothequestionshehadput.Thehermitwasoutside,onhis knees,sowing seedsinthebedsthathadbeendugthedaybefore.

TheKing approachedhim,andsaid:

'Forthelasttime,Iprayyoutoanswermyquestions,wiseman.'

'Youhavealreadybeen answered!'saidthehermitstill crouchingonhisthinlegs,and lookingupattheKing,whostoodbeforehim.

'How "answered"?Whatdoyoumean?' askedtheKing.

'Doyounotsee,' repliedthehermit.'Ifyouhadnot pitiedmyweaknessyesterday,andhadnotdugthesebedsforme,buthadgoneyourway,thatmanwouldhave attackedyou,andyouwouldhave repentedofnothaving stayedwithme.Sothemostimportanttimewaswhenyouwerediggingthebeds;andIwasthemostimportantman;andtodomegoodwasyourmostimportantbusiness.Afterwards,whenthatmanrantous,themostimportanttimewaswhenyouwere attendingtohim,forifyouhadnotbounduphis woundshewouldhavediedwithouthavingmadepeacewithyou.Sohewasthemostimportantman,andwhatyoudidforhimwasyourmostimportantbusiness.Rememberthen:thereisonlyonetimethatisimportant --Now!Itisthemostimportanttimebecauseitistheonlytimewhenwehaveanypower.Themostnecessarymanishewithwhomyouare,fornoman knowswhetherhewilleverhavedealingswithanyoneelse:andthemostimportantaffairis,todohimgood,becauseforthatpurposealonewasmansentintothislife!'

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