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A tale from the desert

Before the Khadi of an Eastern city there came from the desert two torn and bruised travellers.

“There were five of us,” they said, “on our way hither with merchandise. A day’s journey hence we halted and made our camp, when following us there came a crowd of ill-conditioned fellows who demanded entrance to our camp and who, on our refusing it, used to us violent and threatening words, and, when we answered not their threats, set upon us with force. Three of us were slain and we two barely escaped with our lives to ask justice.”

“Justice you shall have,” answered the Khadi. “If what you say be true, they who assaulted you when you had not assaulted them shall die. If what you say be not true, your own lives shall pay the penalty of falsehood.”

When the assailants of the merchants arrived they were brought at once before the Khadi.

“Is the merchants’ story true?” he asked. “It is, but — “

“I will hear no more” cried the Khadi. “You admit having reviled men who had not reproached you, and having assaulted men who had not assaulted you. In this you have deserved death.” But as they were being carried off to execution the prisoners still tried to explain.

“Hear them, Khadi,” said an old man, “lest you commit injustice.”
“But they have admitted the merchants’ words are true.” “Yes, but their words may not be all the truth.”

So the Khadi heard them, and they said that when they came up to the merchants’ halting place they found that the merchants had pitched their camp around the only well in that part of the desert, and refused to let them enter and drink. They first remonstrated, then threatened, and then, rather than die of thirst, rushed upon the merchants’ camp and in the melee three of the merchants were slain.

“Is this also true?” asked the Khadi of the merchants. The merchants were forced to admit that it was.

“Then,” said the Khadi, “you told me truth, that, being only part of the truth, was really a falsehood. You were the aggressors by taking for yourselves alone the only well from which these men could drink. Now the death I have decreed is for you.”

From, Utility and futility of Labor Strikes
by Henry George