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'Thief, Thief!'

- The Bourgeois of Amiens -

Hugh O’Reilly

Translated and edited from Fabliaux et Contes du Moyen Age
[Fabliaux and Stories of the Middle Ages], Classiques Hatier
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A merchant was on his way home from a fair, where he had done a very good business. Carrying a considerable number of shining gold coins in a leather pouch, he traveled through valleys and mountains until he came to the city of Amiens, in France. There he stopped in a church, as was his habit, and entered to pray before the Mother of God. He set down his bag alongside him. After his prayer, he stood up to leave, and somewhat distracted, he forgot the money pouch.

A bourgeois of Amiens, who also had the custom to pray at the Virgin’s feet, entered the church a little later and knelt in the same pew used by the other. There he found the leather pouch, which was locked with a latch, and realized that it contained gold coins.

“Mon Dieu, what should I do?” he thought to himself. “If I spread the news through the city of what I have found, many persons could falsely claim it.”

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The merchant posted a sign on his door
He decided to keep the leather bag in a safe in his house until someone appeared looking for it. He returned to his house, and with a piece of chalk wrote this next to his door: “If anyone has lost something, inquire within.”

In the meanwhile, the merchant realized that he had lost his pouch...

“Woe to me!” he exclaimed. “I have lost everything. I am ruined.”

He returned to the church with the hope of finding the lost bourse, but nothing was there. He made inquiries of the priest, but received no news. Sad, he left the church and began to wander through the streets of the city.

Passing in front of the bourgeois’ house, he read the words next to the door, and saw him at the window.

“Are you, sir, the owner of this house?” he inquired.

“Yes, my good man, so long as God permits it. How can I serve you?”

“Please, sir, who wrote these words next to your door?

The bourgeois avoided the question, saying: “Many persons pass by here every day, including students who like to write any such thing at whim. But, good sir, did you lose something?”

“Yes, I lost everything that I had.”

“And what was that, precisely?”

“A leather pouch locked with a latch, filled with gold coins.” And he described the bourse and the seal.

It was not difficult for the bourgeois to realize that the man was telling the truth. He invited him inside, opened the safe, and returned the bourse to him.

Seeing the bourgeois’ honesty, the merchant became embarrassed: “Mon Beau Dieu,” he thought to himself, “I am not worthy to have this treasure. This honest bourgeois is more worthy than I.” And turning to the townsman, he said:

“Good sir, this money will be better placed in your hands than in mine. I hand it over to you and recommend myself to God.”

“O my dear friend,” exclaimed the bourgeois of Amiens, “take your bourse, I beg of you. I have no right to it.”

“Nay, I do not deserve it. God willing, I do not want it back. ”

Saying this, he fled, running away. The bourgeois began to run after him, shouting loudly: “Thief! thief! Stop him!”

Hearing the cries, his neighbors entered the chase, caught the merchant and brought him back to the bourgeois.

“Here he is. What did he steal from you?” they asked him.

“My good neighbors, all my life I have practiced a disinterested honesty, which I value more than anything except for my Faith. If I accepted the noble generosity of this traveler, it would raise a general suspicion that I would have acted in a contrary way, that is, for my own interest. In such case, this merchant would have involuntarily robbed me of my good reputation.”

Then he told the story to his neighbors, who obliged the merchant to take his leather pouch of gold coins back.


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Posted on November 1, 2006

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