|Long ago, in the
very olden time, there lived a powerful king. Some of his ideas were
progressive. But others caused people to suffer.
One of the king’s ideas was a public arena as an agent of poetic justice.
Crime was punished, or innocence was decided, by the result of chance.
When a person was accused of a crime, his future would be judged in the
All the people would gather in this building. The king sat high up on
his ceremonial chair. He gave a sign. A door under him opened. The
accused person stepped out into the arena. Directly opposite the king
were two doors. They were side by side, exactly alike. The person on
trial had to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. He could
open whichever door he pleased.
If the accused man opened one door, out came a hungry tiger, the
fiercest in the land. The tiger immediately jumped on him and tore him
to pieces as punishment for his guilt. The case of the suspect was thus
Iron bells rang sadly. Great cries went up from the paid mourners. And
the people, with heads hanging low and sad hearts, slowly made their way
home. They mourned greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and
respected, should have died this way.
But, if the accused opened the other door, there came forth from it a
woman, chosen especially for the person. To this lady he was immediately
married, in honor of his innocence. It was not a problem that he might
already have a wife and family, or that he might have chosen to marry
another woman. The king permitted nothing to interfere with his great
method of punishment and reward.
Another door opened under the king, and a clergyman, singers, dancers
and musicians joined the man and the lady. The marriage ceremony was
quickly completed. Then the bells made cheerful noises. The people
shouted happily. And the innocent man led the new wife to his home,
following children who threw flowers on their path.
This was the king’s method of carrying out justice. Its fairness
appeared perfect. The accused person could not know which door was
hiding the lady. He opened either as he pleased, without having knowing
whether, in the next minute, he was to be killed or married.
Sometimes the fierce animal came out of one door. Sometimes it came out
of the other.
This method was a popular one. When the people gathered together on one
of the great trial days, they never knew whether they would see a bloody
killing or a happy ending. So everyone was always interested. And the
thinking part of the community would bring no charge of unfairness
against this plan. Did not the accused person have the whole matter in
his own hands?
The king had a beautiful daughter who was like him in many ways. He
loved her above all humanity. The princess secretly loved a young man
who was the best-looking and bravest in the land. But he was a commoner,
not part of an important family.
One day, the king discovered the relationship between his daughter and
the young man. The man was immediately put in prison. A day was set for
his trial in the king’s public arena. This, of course, was an especially
important event. Never before had a common subject been brave enough to
love the daughter of the king.
The king knew that the young man would be punished, even if he opened
the right door. And the king would take pleasure in watching the series
of events, which would judge whether or not the man had done wrong in
loving the princess.
The day of the trial arrived. From far and near the people gathered in
the arena and outside its walls. The king and his advisers were in their
places, opposite the two doors. All was ready. The sign was given. The
door under the king opened and the lover of the princess entered the
Tall, beautiful and fair, his appearance was met with a sound of
approval and tension. Half the people had not known so perfect a young
man lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible
thing for him to be there!
As the young man entered the public arena, he turned to bend to the king.
But he did not at all think of the great ruler. The young man’s eyes
instead were fixed on the princess, who sat to the right of her father.
From the day it was decided that the sentence of her lover should be
decided in the arena, she had thought of nothing but this event.
The princess had more power, influence and force of character than
anyone who had ever before been interested in such a case. She had done
what no other person had done. She had possessed herself of the secret
of the doors. She knew behind which door stood the tiger, and behind
which waited the lady. Gold, and the power of a woman’s will, had
brought the secret to the princess.
She also knew who the lady was. The lady was one of the loveliest in the
kingdom. Now and then the princess had seen her looking at and talking
to the young man.
The princess hated the woman behind that silent door. She hated her with
all the intensity of the blood passed to her through long lines of cruel
Her lover turned to look at the princess. His eye met hers as she sat
there, paler and whiter than anyone in the large ocean of tense faces
around her. He saw that she knew behind which door waited the tiger, and
behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know it.
The only hope for the young man was based on the success of the princess
in discovering this mystery. When he looked at her, he saw that she had
been successful, as he knew she would succeed.
Then his quick and tense look asked the question: “Which?” It was as
clear to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not time
to be lost.
The princess raised her hand, and made a short, quick movement toward
the right. No one but her lover saw it. Every eye but his was fixed on
the man in the arena.
He turned, and with a firm and quick step he walked across the empty
space. Every heart stopped beating. Every breath was held. Every eye was
fixed upon that man. He went to the door on the right and opened it.
Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door,
or did the lady?
The more we think about this question, the harder it is to answer. It
involves a study of the human heart. Think of it not as if the decision
of the question depended upon yourself. But as if it depended upon that
hot-blooded princess, her soul at a white heat under the fires of
sadness and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?
How often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in
wild terror, and covered her face with her hands? She thought of her
lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the sharp teeth
of the tiger!
But how much oftener had she seen him open the other door? How had she
ground her teeth, and torn her hair, when she had seen his happy face as
he opened the door of the lady! How her soul had burned in pain when she
had seen him run to meet that woman, with her look of victory. When she
had seen the two of them get married. And when she had seen them walk
away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the happy shouts
of the crowd, in which her one sad cry was lost!
Would it not be better for him to die quickly, and go to wait for her in
that blessed place of the future? And yet, that tiger, those cries, that
Her decision had been shown quickly. But it had been made after days and
nights of thought. She had known she would be asked. And she had decided
what she would answer. And she had moved her hand to the right.
The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered. And it
is not for me to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And
so I leave it with all of you:
Which came out of the open door – the lady, or the tiger?