"The Honest Man" by Jan Gordon 1916

"The Honest Man" is a clever very short story in a 1916 issue of Reedy's Mirror (from the New Witness).

It begins with a lengthy sentence to set the scene:

"In Montenegro, those high bare mountains between Rica and Grahavo - in the midst of which Cettinje nestles nestles in its fertile cup so ill-supplied are the farms with soil that from one acre a man might carry away on his back all the arable land available in one single journey."

Cetinje, founded in 1482, is indeed situated in an area of limestone mountains on a karst plain at about 650 m elevation.

Late 19th C view of Cetinje

Gordon continues with, "Hunger and the Montenegrin are sons of the same soil to which liberty has a near cousinship." Hence the need to seek work in other lands.

A protagonist in the story travels across the region, enriching himself by a robbery, eventually marrying and settling in Russian Galicia. The couple prospered, but died without any offspring, leaving an "iron-bound chest filled with a pretty treasure." This treasure was bequeathed to the prince of his native country to be distributed among the needy.

The prince consulted with his ministers for a worthy man to ensure that the treasure was fairly shared among the needy. After several rejections of unsuitable candidates, Yevto Milutin, idol of the people, was selected as the most honest and trustworthy. The prince asked him to divide the treasure "like God Himself," to which Yevto agreed.

Yevto, "deep in thought," divided up the treasure into packages and distributed these. After a week he brought the remainder, a substantial part of the whole, back to the astonished prince as his share. As it became clear that the bulk of the treasure had been given to the rich and hardly anything to the poor, the angry prince accuses Yevto of distributing the money "like a sycophant and a courtier."

Yevto defended himself with dignity, "I have obeyed your command, Prince," "You told me to divide the money like God Himself and like God I have divided it."

Here below is the original story.


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