The righteous man considereth the house of the wicked, How the wicked are overthrown to their ruin. (Proverbs 21:12)
One evening a man was walking down the street towards the neighborhood where he lived. He walked with a steady, but ponderous gait, as one does when he is encompassed with thought and is pressing forward only by the will of his two feet. As he walked thus, deep in his own contemplations, another man called out to him from a shop on the left side of the dusty street.
“Ho there, Diceus! It’s been a good while since we last met.”
Aroused from his thoughts, the man stopped and greeted his old friend, Pleonectes.
“What have you been doing since we parted six years ago?” Pleonectes asked.
“I’ve just been making a life for myself, as they say. I have a wife and family now, and I’ve been working in the fields.”
“You, a farmer!” Pleonectes exclaimed. “I’d have never guessed it. And married too! I figured you’d follow the path of your ancestors like that, having a family and then working yourself to death just to feed them. Myself, I haven’t really settled down anywhere, just followed my instincts, you might say. But I think I may have found some good prospects around here, so I might just stick around a while. In fact, why don’t you join me? It would sure beat hoeing and tilling all day long!”
“Prospects, you say? What sort of prospects?” asked Diceus. Pleonectes lowered his voice.
“Prospects of wealth and prosperity! Who wouldn’t want that?”
“But Pleonectes, my father always said that such things could only be had by hard work and toil. You talk as if it were like a peach, to be pulled off a tree.”
“Oh, it’s all the same with you folks. Sure hard work will bring wealth—but only when you’re old and bent over, and too decrepit to enjoy it! Trust me, there are ways to get it quickly, and without exerting yourself. Say, how about you meet me tomorrow about this time in the square and I’ll tell you a bit more about it. Will you be there?”
Diceus tried to look upset, but could hardly conceal the excitement that was arising unbidden in his heart. “I suppose so,” he replied simply.
“See you there! Glad to meet an old friend again.”
Diceus resumed his walk, but now with a brisk pace that soon brought him to his own house, a humble abode constructed with sticks and clay, thatched with the chaff left over from winnowing. As he approached, cries of Pater! arose from the house, as a little boy and girl ran out to meet him.
“Macaria! Acereus! Have you made yourselves useful today?”
He moved on towards the side of the house, where a young woman was stooped down, cooking something over an open fire.
“My dear Praia, how have you been this day?” he said as she rose to embrace him.
“Fine, fine, although our store of grain is nearly depleted. I trust Philargyrus has given you your wages today?”
“Well, he has, I suppose. Yes, I’ve got it here. But I’m afraid it’s not as much as last week. He said something about silver being hard to come by these days, though it seems he has more of it than anybody else.”
“So how much did he give you?” asked Praia. Diceus reached into his pocket and brought out the silver coins to count them.
“Tria, tessara, pente… Yes, that’s right, five denaria.”
Praia gasped. “You’re sure that’s all? Did you perhaps misplace one?”
“That’s all Philargyrus gave me, my love. But don’t be disheartened; you know God will take care of us, even if we will have to miss a few meals.”
Diceus and his family sat in silence as they ate their humble meal of cornbread. Praia had also gathered some wild gourds which grew in the woods nearby, and made with them a type of thick sauce which they dipped their cornbread in. When they were finished, Diceus complimented his wife on the savory food, and the children did likewise. Although she did not complain, Praia was visibly distressed, and Diceus tried to comfort her as they doused the fire and made ready for the night.
“Don’t worry about it, Praia,” he said. “God knows our plight, and surely something will come up so that we can have plenty.”
Praia only sighed, saying nothing in reply.
In a fine mansion up on a hill dwelt a man named Philargyrus. He was quite well off, and had hired many servants to work his fields and to wait on him personally. This day he was in his drawing room, looking out through the wide windows at all his domains below.
“Tell me what you see, Asebes!” he commanded his servant who was waiting on him.
“I see a great expanse of land, stretching to the horizon, containing all manner of fields and orchards, worked by your servants and owned by you.”
“That’s right, Asebes!” replied Philargyrus with glee. “And yet, I am a bit envious of my old cousin Basil. He may be the king, but I don’t see why he deserves it any more than I do. I’m more industrious than he is, anyhow.”
“Yes, my lord,” the servant replied mechanically.
“You know, I’m feeling a little pinched for denaria. That turkey we had last night cost ten with all its trappings, and I still haven’t ordered those nice embroidered drapes that my wife asked for a month ago.”
“The ten denaria included the currant pie,” corrected the servant.
“No wonder it cost so much—I figured there was something else, even though turkeys sure are expensive these days. Say, did you ever buy me that pack of hounds so I could go hunt rabbits in the woods?”
“Yes my lord, twenty seven denaria.”
“What! Twenty seven! Surely you could have struck a better deal than that. You evil servant!”
“Peace, my lord,” Asebes replied.
“Well, I guess it’s not your fault. Still, Hypsele will be mighty upset if she doesn’t get those drapes. I’ve got to do something, or else she’ll start saying that we’re poor again, like that time when I couldn’t afford her a new mother-of-pearl comb with engraved decorations on it. Of course I didn’t tell her that it was because I had them make me that silver sword that’s hanging in the hall—the one with my coat-of-arms on it, you know…”
“Perhaps you could lower the fieldworkers’ wages,” Asebes interrupted.
“Say what? Lower the wages of the lowly peasants? That’s an idea. They don’t need much anyway, and since there’s certainly nowhere else where they could work, I don’t think anyone would try to pull off an insurrection. Yes, that’s what I’ll do—can’t have my wife hounding me—tell them to lower the fieldworkers’ wages to five denaria a week.”
“Yes, my lord.”
As the sun began to drop behind the trees that lined the horizon, there sat a man in the town square, merrily whistling. Every now and then he would break out in song: “Don’t worry about anything, shine your whole life through!”
All around him the various merchants were closing up shop, and before long he was left practically alone, as everyone else had departed to their respective homes. About the time when the lamp-lighters were coming along to light the street lamps, another man approached who had evidently just come from a hard day’s work in the fields.
“Ho there, Diceus! A bit late, aren’t you? Never mind, we’ve got all evening.”
Diceus came and sat down beside Pleonectes, but with less enthusiasm than he had shown the previous evening upon hearing that he was within reach of riches.
“I’m sorry Pleonectes, but I haven’t much time—my wife is expecting me and I can only stay a few minutes.”
“Oh, don’t worry about her—she’ll be alright without you, don’t you think?”
Diceus gave him a sharp glance, at which Pleonectes laughed.
“Don’t mind me, Diceus, I’m just having a bit of fun! But let’s get down to business. You see, there’s a certain man here in this town named Philargyrus—”
“Yes, I work for him.”
“Really now! Well, hopefully you’ll get promoted.” Pleonectes gave a strange smile.
“All right, I’ll stop being mysterious. Basically, there’s a plan afoot to dethrone our good old king Basil and put Philargyrus on the throne. You see, Philargyrus happens to be Basil’s cousin, and also the direct heir to the throne, since none of Basil’s seven daughters can become our ruler, according to the ancient words of the Maior Charta. Obviously, it won’t be easy, and it will take a lot of conspirators to bring down a king, but once Philargyrus is crowned, he’ll reward his friends quite royally, I’m sure.”
“Pleonectes! Are you serious? Kill King Basil? How could you think of such?”
“Oh Diceus, you good old jug-head! Don’t you realize what this would mean for you? You could have a big house built for you and your wife, and she could have whatever her little heart desires! (I’m sure you know what lofty things women’s hearts desire sometimes.) Plus, you could have servants, and whenever you wanted a certain thing for dinner, you could just snap your fingers and it would be done! The king’s no friend of yours, is he? He’s just an ordinary man like you and me—only somehow he came to rule us all, and now he’s a big conceited brute, pushing people around every chance he gets. Now Philargyrus, he’s an honest man, if ever I’ve seen one. He’s sure to treat us right.”
Diceus put his head in his hands and looked across the square thoughtfully.
“I’m sorry, Pleonectes, but I just can’t be involved in such a thing. You’re right, I don’t know King Basil, but I certainly don’t harbour any ill feelings against him. My God commands me to obey the king, and moreover I am forbidden to run with others to do evil—whether I’m part of the evil or not. I see now that what I saw in you six years ago has only become worse. I remember how you were always trying to get your hands on things, and always wanting more. Remember that time when you snitched a hammer from my father?”
Pleonectes started laughing. “Ah yes, I remember that. I did give that thing back eventually, didn’t I? But I don’t see what you’re getting at; are you saying that I’m evil, or something? Come on, Diceus, life is a game! Just play it right and you’ll have the best!”
“Yes, but games have rules. Break them and you’re bound to lose.”
“There you go with your righteousness again! Why do you keep blindly following this God, somebody you’ve never seen and you’re never going to see? Why can’t you realize that this is reality, this is what matters? You know, a good friend of mine back in Philedonia taught me a lot about life—his name was Apistus—and he showed me how ridiculous it is to believe in God. Of course, I never really believed in God anyway, but he explained to me how absurd it is to keep talking to the air, and bowing down before nothing, and trusting in somebody who can’t even talk to you except through an old musty book that a bunch of men, men mind you, wrote ages ago. Tell me, Diceus, how many possessions do you have, and how big is your house?”
“Truly, Pleonectes, I have little to call my own besides my dear wife and children. My house is big enough for us all to lie down in, but we spend most of our time outside.”
“Aha! See where your righteousness has gotten you? Just think about it. Think of all the rich people you know. Do they worship God, or do they hold to that strict code that you keep to the letter every day? Of course not! If you want to be anything in this life, you can’t tie yourself down like that! Come on Diceus, join me in this grand plan we’re hatching. You won’t have to do anything that’s against your conscience, like killing a king. Just help us out, and in the end Philargyrus will reward you! Do you realize how rich he is?”
“They say he has diamonds innumerable.”
“Exactly! And think where just one of those would get you!”
Finally Diceus arose and took leave of Pleonectes.
“Pleonectes, you have not swayed me. I cannot betray my God, my king, or my family. If I thought it would do any good, I would try to dissuade you from your folly, but I know you are set on it. May you come to realize the true power of God, and may He pardon you for your sin.”
Pleonectes sat there snickering as he watched Diceus walk away.
“Folly! Sin! Power of God! I knew Diceus was a bit odd, but I didn’t know he had gone that far. Fare you well, Mr. Righteous!”
In the days that followed, Pleonectes did all in his power to secretly rouse certain people against their king. He soon found, however, that very few people in the town were willing to sympathize with Philargyrus, so instead he went to the capital city, Philedonia. There he found some discontented folks who were willing to help (with promises of great reward, of course), and soon a plot was in place to assassinate King Basil.
Diceus was skeptical when Pleonectes told of his grand plans, but through the skill of Pleonectes and the perfidy of the King’s closest advisors, it was carried out successfully. A few weeks later, Diceus and his family received word of the deed.
On a Sunday afternoon when Diceus, Praia, and their two children were reclining outside their house, a neighbor woman came by and told them the news.
“Good day to you all!” she said. “Have you heard the latest news from Philedonia? They say King Basil has been killed by rebels! I myself wouldn’t have believed it, except that I just saw Philargyrus’ wife Hypsele packing up all her fancy belongings to move to the capital to take up residence in the palace.”
“You don’t say!” replied Praia in wonder. “So Philargyrus is the next in kin for succeeding Basil?”
“Well, that’s what they say—I certainly don’t know any of the royal genealogy or anything like that. But the good news for us is that, now that Philargyrus is moving to Philedonia, he’s going to divide his lands among the tenant farmers out of the kindness of his heart. Now can you imagine that?”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” replied Diceus. And see it he did. Although kindness was the farthest thing from Philargyrus’ mind at the time, he knew that if he were to put up his vast estates for sale that no one could afford to buy them, and that giving the land to those who had truly worked for it would be a peaceful and beneficial manœuver—not to mention incentive for his own popularity, since that had waned in the past few years. However, the kindness of his heart was not extended to those who had plotted for his accession to the throne. In fact, he was as oblivious to the plot as the rest of the kingdom, since none of the conspirators had bothered to mention it to him, presumably out of fear that he would perhaps pity his kingly cousin. And so it was, that after his coronation in Philedonia, he commanded that those responsible for his cousin’s death be brought to justice—in other words, caught and hanged. And since this command came from the king, it was carried out completely.
A few months afterwards, a well-dressed young man came to the town where Diceus lived, and called at the home which, he was informed, belonged to that family.
It was a very nice house, still small, but a great improvement over the hut they had lived in before. Now that Diceus could use and sell the produce grown in his own field, he no longer had to worry about wages, or having enough money to feed his family.
The stranger was welcomed in, and offered refreshment, which he kindly refused.
“I come from Philedonia, where I bring sad tidings concerning a certain friend of yours, Pleonectes by name. He was among those accused of plotting to kill our late king Basil, and was finally arrested attempting to rob a certain rich lady’s house. He was hanged with the rest, by royal mandate, and before his execution he only wished that someone be sent here to tell of his demise.”
“Did he then repent of his deeds?” asked Diceus.
“I should think not!” replied the messenger. “As he was led to the scaffold, he was heard praising the merits of King Philargyrus, and asking if indeed he might still be given some recompense for the trouble he went to in bringing Philargyrus the crown.”
“I knew it would be his ruin,” Diceus remarked sadly. “He was always such a covetous person, and would never rest until he had more money or possessions. But my wife and I have found true happiness in serving the Everlasting God. Even had we not gained this land from Philargyrus, still we would have had the hope of eternal life with God. And, sir, though you are not well acquainted with us, I hope you shall join with our rejoicing, for my wife Praia has been with child, and last night gave birth to a baby girl, whom we have named Epangelia for the promise that God has given us.”