22. Old Men Made Young
In Psamatia, an ancient Armenian village near the Seven Towers, there lived a certain blacksmith, whose custom it was to curse the devil and his works regularly five times a day instead of praying to God. He argued that it is the devil’s fault that man needed to pray. The devil was angered at being persistently cursed, and decided to punish the blacksmith, or at least prevent him causing further trouble.
Taking the form of a young man he went to the smith and was taken on as an apprentice. After a time the devil told the smith that he had a very poor way of earning a living, and that he would show him how money was to be made. The blacksmith asked what he, a young apprentice, could do. Thereupon the devil told him that he had a great gift: the power to make old men young again. Though doubtful, after continued assurance the smith allowed a sign to be put above his door, stating that old people could be restored to youth. This extraordinary sign attracted a great many people, but the devil asked such high prices that most went away, preferring age to parting with so much money.
At last one old man agreed to pay the sum demanded by the devil, whereupon he was promptly thrown into the furnace, the master-smith blowing the bellows. After a time of vigorous blowing the devil raked out a young man. The fame of the smith extended far and wide, and many elderly people came to regain their youth. This profitable business went on for some time and at last the blacksmith, thinking to himself that it was not a difficult thing to throw a man into the furnace and rake him out from the ashes restored to youth, decided to do away with his apprentice’s services, but kept the sign above the door.
It happened that the captain of the army, who was a very old man, came to him, and after bargaining for a much more modest sum than his apprentice would have asked, the blacksmith thrust him into the furnace as the devil, his apprentice, used to do, and worked at the bellows. He afterwards raked in the fire for the young man but he only raked out ashes. He was horrified, but what could he do?
The devil in the meantime went to the head of the army and the police, and informed them of what had taken place. The poor blacksmith was arrested, tried, and condemned to be hanged, as it was proved that the captain was last seen entering his shop.
Just as the blacksmith was about to be executed, the devil again appeared before him in the form of the apprentice, and asked him if he wished to be saved; if so, that he could save him, but on one condition only,—that he ceased from cursing the devil five times a day and pray as other people prayed. He agreed. Then the apprentice called in a loud voice to those who were about to execute him, “What are you doing with this man? He has not killed the captain; he is not dead, for I have just seen him entering his home.” This was found to be true, and the blacksmith was freed, learning the truth of the proverb, ‘Curse not even the devil.’