More than three hundred years ago there lived in Holland a little boy named Michael. His parents wished to bring him up to some trade; but Michael’s heart was set upon being a sailor and nothing else would please him. So he was allowed to have his way, and his father got a berth for him in a vessel about to sail for Morocco, in the north coast of Africa.
The ship belonged to a merchant who was in the habit of taking bales of cloth to sell to the natives of that place. During the voyage, he was able to see what kind of boy Michael was.
Not only was Michael quick at learning his duties, but he was a boy to be trusted. Whatever he had to do, he did as well as he could, whether anyone was looking at him or not. “This is just the boy I want,” thought the merchant, and Michael was soon raised to a higher place.
One day the merchant fell sick, and he could not go with his vessel, which was loaded and ready to sail for Morocco. What could he do? He knew of only one person to whom he could trust his cargo, and that was Michael. So he sent for him, and told him that he must take charge of it.
Michael was young, and it was a difficult task he had to face; but it was his duty, and he did not flinch from it. The ship sailed with Michael in charge, and in due time he was arranging his cloth in the marketplace in Morocco.
Now the city was ruled by a cruel tyrant called the Bey, who could do whatever he liked without anybody daring to find fault with him. On this very morning he came into the market, and after seeing the various pieces of cloth which Michael had for sale, he fixed on one and asked the price. Michael told him. The Bey offered half the sum he named.
“Nay,” said Michael, “I ask no more than it is worth. My master expects that price, and I am only his servant. I have no power to take less.” The Bey’s face grew dark with anger, and the bystanders trembled, for they knew that if the lad opposed the wishes of the cruel governor, he would be put to death. “I will give you till tomorrow to think about it,” cried the Bey, and he walked away.
Michael put back the cloth, and began calmly to wait on his other customers. Those around him begged him to give in to the Bey and save his life. But Michael replied, “My life is in God’s hands. If my master loses one penny through me, I am not a faithful servant.”
The morrow came. The Bey appeared as before; but, besides his other servants, the public executioner followed behind him. He again asked Michael the price of the cloth, and he got the same answer. “Take my life if you will,” added the brave Michael, “but I shall die as an honest man, and a true servant of my master.”
Everybody expected to hear the order, “Strike off his head!” and in a moment the executioner would have done it. But the order was not given. The face of the Bey suddenly changed.
“Thou art a noble fellow!” he cried. “Would that I had such a servant as thou art. Give me thy hand; thou shalt be my friend. I will make of the cloth a robe of honour in memory of thy faithfulness.” And the Bey threw a purse of gold upon the table, told his servants to take up the cloth, and went away.
The upright young man rose step by step till he became an admiral, and he fought the battles of his country as nobly as he sold his master’s cloth. The name of Michael Ruyter is still honored in his native land. And the chief reason why his countrymen love him so much is just this: that in the very face of death he dared to do what was right.
Storytime Treasury, Harvestime Books, compiled by P.G. Temple, ©2008, 305–308.