THE STORY OF THE FOOLISH YOUNG MUSSULMAN

There was once a young Mussulman, who lived with his poor mother in a small cottage on the outskirts of a large town. As the Boy grew up, it was found that he was rather weak-minded, and that he was continually getting himself into scrapes, owing to his own folly and carelessness ; and the naughty boys of the neighbourhood used to take advantage of the poor young fellow, and were constantly teasing him and telling him all sorts of absurd stories. It chanced one day that he went for a walk in a large meadow, where there were a number of yellow flowers, and presently sitting down to rest, he began to gather a nosegay, when a young man passing by called out to him:

” Hallo ! what are you doing there ? Do you know that the soles of your feet are all yellow, and that is a sure sign that you are going to die at once ?”

The poor young fellow was greatly frightened at hearing this, and he thought to himself:

” Well, if I am going to die, I had better have a grave ready.” So he set to work, and soon scraped out for himself a shallow grave in the soft soil. As soon as it was ready, he lay down in it and resigned himself to death. A few minutes later one of the King’s Servants, who happened to be passing by carrying an earthen jar full of oil for the King’s palace, noticed the Boy lying on his back in the shallow grave, so he stopped and asked him what he was doing. The Boy replied : ” The soles of my feet are turning yellow, and that, as you know, is a sure sign that I am going to die; so I have prepared myself a grave, and am just waiting here till death comes.”

“Oh, nonsense!” replied the Servant; “you could not talk like that if you were really dying. Come, get up, and help me to carry this jar of oil for the King, and I will give you a hen for yourself.”

So the foolish Boy got up out of his grave, and taking the jar of oil on his back, he walked along the road with the King’s Servant towards the palace. As they went along, he kept thinking to himself what he should do with his hen when he got it. “As soon as I have got some eggs,” thought he to himself, ” I shall set the hen to hatch them. And then I shall have a nice lot of chickens. And when the chickens grow up into cocks and hens I shall sell them in the market. And with the money I get I shall buy a cow. And presently the cow will have a calf. And when the calf grows big I shall sell both the cow and the calf. And with the money I get I shall buy a nice little house. And when I have settled down in my house I shall marry a wife. And after a time we shall have a child. And as the child grows big I shall have to take its education in hand. And I shall he very firm and judicious with it. And if it is a good child and does what I tell it, I shall be very kind to it. And if it is naughty and does not do what it is told, I shall be very stern and stamp my foot, so ! ”

And thus thinking he stamped his foot so violently that the jar of oil slipped off his back and was smashed to pieces on the ground. When he saw this, the King’s Servant became very angry, and asked him what on earth he meant by stamping his foot like that, and breaking a valuable jar of oil, which was intended for the King. The Boy tried to explain how it occurred, but the Servant would not listen, and dragged him off by force into the King’s presence. When the King saw them coming in together, he asked his Servant what he wanted, and why he was bringing in a strange Boy with him. The Servant replied that he had entrusted the Boy with a jar of oil intended for the King, and as they were walking along the road quite quietly together, the Boy all of a sudden began to stamp his feet like a maniac, and the jar of oil slipped off his back and got broken. The King asked the Boy what he meant by his conduct, and the Boy replied :

“Well, Your Majesty, your Servant said that if I would carry this jar of oil, he would give me a hen, and it seemed to me quite natural to consider within myself what I should do with my hen when I got it. So I soon saw that by selling the chickens I could buy a cow, and that later on by selling the cow and her calf, I could get a wife and set up a house of my own, and that presently we should have a child ; and I was thinking to myself how I should keep my child in order, and if it was naughty I should be obliged to stamp my foot very firmly, in order to show it that I was not to be trifled with.”

On hearing this ridiculous story the King was much amused, and laughed very heartily ; and he gave the foolish Boy a piece of gold, and told him to go home to his Mother. So the Boy went off towards his own home, and as he got near to the house he saw a strange dog sneaking out of the door, carrying in his mouth a purse full of money, which he had just picked up inside. On seeing this the Boy became very much excited, and began calling aloud to his Mother that a dog was making off with her purse. The Mother, when she found what was up, was afraid that he would attract the attention of the neighbours to the loss of the purse, and that in the excitement some one else would chase the dog and get the money ; so hastily running up on to the flat roof of the house she sprinkled some sugar over the roof, and then called to the Boy to come up as quickly as he could.

” Look ! ” she said, as soon as he arrived ; ” what a curious thing ! It has been raining sugar all over the roof of the house.”

Her son, who was very fond of sugar, at once set to work to pick up all that he saw ; and while he was so engaged, the good woman slipped away and soon found the dog and recovered her purse. Some time afterwards the Boy’s Mother arranged with a rich family, who lived some miles away, and who were not acquainted with her son’s failings, that the Boy should marry the daughter of the house ; and that, in accordance with Tibetan custom, he should become a member of the Bride’s family. When all the preliminaries had been satisfactorily arranged, a party of horsemen arrived from the Bride’s house to greet the Bridegroom and to bring him home. The Boy dressed himself up in his best clothes, and, after feasting the wedding party in the usual manner, he begged them all to go on ahead of him, saying that he would follow as soon as he had said good-bye to his Mother. Towards evening he set out by himself on horseback. It was a moonlight night, and as he rode down the road he could see his own shadow travelling along beside him. He could not make out what the shadow was, but thought it must be some ghost or demon, which wanted to do him an injury, so he urged his horse into a gallop, in order to try and get away from it. But the faster he galloped the faster went the shadow, and he soon saw that it was no good trying to escape. So in order to frighten the strange object he took off his puggaree and flung it at it. As this produced no effect, he followed up the puggaree with his cloak, and, finally, with all the clothes he had on, but without in any way frightening the shadow, which still continued to follow him closely. So thinking to give jt the slip, he jumped off his horse and ran along the road on foot, until he got into the shade of a big poplar-tree growing near the road-side.

Here he stopped to take breath, and he noticed to his great joy that the shadow had disappeared ; but on peeping out from the shadow of the tree he was annoyed to find that on whichever side he looked the shadow immediately showed itself also. So thinking that the shade of the tree was the safest place to stay in, he climbed into the upper branches and very soon fell fast asleep.

A short while after a party of travellers happened to be passing by this road from the same direction, and as they came along they were surprised to find a number of garments scattered about the roadway. So they picked them up as they came along, and presently they found a horse grazing beside the road. Him, too, they brought along with them, and when they arrived in the shade of the poplar-tree, they all stopped and sat down on the ground to divide the spoil amongst them. Just then the Boy woke up, and looking down he saw what was going on below, so he called out in a loud voice :

” I say, I want my share too, you know.”

On -hearing this voice emerging from the upper branches of the tree, the travellers were greatly alarmed. They thought it must certainly be a demon, who lived in the tree, and who wanted his share of the spoils, so they took to their heels and made off as fast as they could, leaving the horse and all the clothes behind them. The Boy then climbed down from the tree, put on his own clothes, and, mounting his horse, rode off to his Bride’s house.

When he arrived at the house the parents of his Bride hurried out to greet him, and after asking him why he was so late, they led him to the room where the wedding feast was laid out. All the friends and neighbours from round about were gathered there ready to share in the feast, and to offer their congratulations to the Bride and Bridegroom. During the progress of the feast the young Mussulman, who was of a very kindly disposition, and very fond of his Mother, kept thinking to himself how he could save something nice for her to eat from amongst so much plenty. So he picked from the table a narrow-mouthed copper vessel and concealed it in his lap, and whilst eating his food he every now and then dropped into it some particularly succulent dainty, which he thought his Mother would enjoy. Presently, however, he inadvertently thrust his hand right into the vessel, and to his horror he found that he was unable to withdraw it again. In this awkward predicament he was unable to eat anything, and the Bride’s parents noticing that he no longer partook of any food, kept pressing him to have a little more. The young Man was still hungry, but was obliged to refuse all their offers, saying that he had already eaten enough.

Towards evening, when the feast was completed, the guests withdrew, and the Boy was left alone with his Bride ; and she began asking him what the matter was, and why he had been behaving so strangely during the banquet. He was at first too shy to tell her what had happened, but after much coaxing she elicited from him the fact that his right hand was confined in the neck of the copper vessel.

” Never mind,” said she ; ” there is a large white stone lying at the foot of the staircase. You had better slip down stairs in the dark, and by beating the vessel against the stone you will soon succeed in freeing yourself.”

The young fellow thought this was a good idea, and he went off quietly down the staircase, until he detected what he thought was a white stone lying near the foot of the steps. So, creeping up to it, he raised his arm and brought down the copper vessel with great force upon the white object, shattering the vessel and leaving his hand free. But to his horror the stone, instead of being hard, gave way, and a muffled groan issued from it ; and on examining the spot, he found that instead of striking a stone, he had delivered a violent blow upon the grey head of his Bride’s father, who, overcome by his potations during the wedding feast, had fallen asleep at the foot of the stairs.

The young Man was terrified at what he had done, and feeling sure that he must have killed the old man, he decided to flee from the house; so he opened the door and ran off into the night. After running for some distance he reached a neighbouring farm, where, as it happened, a large honeycomb had been left lying in the corner of the courtyard. The Boy, not knowing what it was, lay down upon this and fell fast asleep, and soon smeared himself all over with honey. Later in the night he woke up feeling very cold, and creeping into a shed close by, which was used as a storage for wool, he lay down upon the wool and slept until morning.

He woke with the first gleam of dawn, and in the early morning light he saw that he was all white and woolly, and in his simplicity he believed that, as a punishment for his wickedness in killing his father-in-law, he had been turned into a sheep. So under this impression, he ran out of the courtyard and joined a flock of sheep, which were grazing on a neighbouring hillside. He wandered about with the sheep all day, feeling very miserable, and trying to accommodate himself to the manners and customs of his new companions, and when evening came he accompanied them into the fold where they always spent the night. About midnight some robbers came to the fold, and getting in amongst the sheep felt about for a good fat heavy one ; and finally finding that the Boy was the heaviest of them all, they proceeded to carry him off.

One of them hoisted him up on to his back, and they carried him along for some distance until they reached the banks of a small stream. Here they halted, and, laying him down upon the ground, they began to make preparations for cutting his throat. This trial proved rather too much for the nerves of the young Man, and forgetting his role of sheep, he called out in a shrill voice :

” Please don’t kill me, kind robbers.”

On hearing this the robbers were very much frightened, and ran off as fast as they could ; and the Boy, thankful to have escaped from this danger, and being thoroughly worn out by the exertions and exposure of the last twenty-four hours, returned to his Bride’s house. There he found that the old man, though sorely hurt, was not dead, and having explained all the circumstances of the case, he was freely forgiven, and taken back into the household. After living for some years very happily with his Bride, he thought that he would like to make a little money for himself by trading, so having procured a good stock of merchandise he set off for India, in the hope of making a good profit on his goods. On the way he halted one evening at a large house. The. Landlord received him very hospitably, and made him quite comfortable, and during the conversation which followed their evening meal the Master of the house began telling some very tall stories. Some of these stories being rather too wonderful for belief, the young Man bluntly said that he could not believe them. Thereupon the Landlord replied :

” I can prove to you that I am telling the truth by showing you a stranger thing than anything which I have hitherto related. I will bet you that when night falls a lantern will be carried into this room by a cat instead of by a servant.”

The young Man was amused at his Host’s boasting, and he said:

” Very well, I am prepared to bet you anything you like that this will not happen.”

” Very good,” said the Landlord. ” If this does not happen, I will hand you over my house, my merchandise, and everything I possess ; but if it does, you will forfeit all your baggage, animals and merchandise to me.”

And so the bet was arranged. Now this was a regular trick of the Landlord’s, who had a tame cat which had been taught to carry in a lantern in her mouth every evening just at dusk, and he was accustomed to practise this deceit upon unwary travellers, and by this means to secure their goods and whatever property they possessed. Sure enough, just at dusk a large white cat entered the sitting-room, holding a lighted lantern in its mouth, and the unfortunate young Man was obliged to hand over to his Host everything he possessed in the world; and finding himself without money or goods he decided to stay on in the house as a servant. After the lapse of one or two months his Wife grew anxious about him, and knowing that from the infirmity of his mind he was likely to get himself into some scrape or another, she decided to set out herself to see what had become of him. So she disguised herself as a man, and taking with her a few ponies laden with wool, she started off to follow in the tracks of her Husband.

After several days she arrived at the house where her Husband was now employed as a servant, and, meeting him in the courtyard, she learnt from him all that had happened. So she bade him hold his tongue,’ and she herself entered the inn, and asked for a night’s lodging.

During the evening the Host got talking, and in the course of the conversation he made her the same wage as he had done to her Husband some time before.

” Well,” said she, ” that sounds a very strange story. I can scarcely believe it possible you can have a cat so well trained as to be able to carry in a lantern. But I will think over what you say to-night, and we will see about making the bet to-morrow morning.”

Next morning at breakfast she said to her Host:

” I have thought over what you said to me yesterday, and I am now prepared to make a bet with you that the cat will not carry a lantern into this room at dusk this evening.”

So the bet was concluded upon the same terms as before, and the Lady privately told her Husband what he was to do. So in accordance with the instructions she had given him, he caught three mice, and concealed them in a little box, which he placed in the bosom of his robe. When evening approached, the Landlord and the Lady seated themselves in the supper room, waiting to see whether or no the cat would appear as expected, whilst the Husband hid himself in a corner of the courtyard, just outside the door near where the cat was accustomed to pass.

Just at dusk the cat, carrying the lantern in its mouth, began to cross the courtyard towards the door of the room where it was expected to bring the light, and when about half way across the yard the Husband released one of the mice from the box which he had hidden in his robe. The mouse scampered off across the courtyard, and the cat gave a violent start, and was on the point of pursuing it, when its training overcame its natural instincts, and it allowed the mouse to escape.

It reluctantly continued its way towards the house, and scarcely had it started to go on, when the Husband released a second mouse, which also scampered off right in front of the cat. This time it was all the cat could do to refrain from following so tempting an opportunity. It paused with great indecision, but again, its training standing it in good stead, it pursued its way towards the house. Just as it was reaching the door of the house the third mouse was released. This was more than the cat could stand. It dropped the lantern upon the threshold, bounded across the courtyard, and seized the mouse just as it was entering its hole. Meanwhile the Landlord and the Lady having waited until long after dark, the Landlord was reluctantly obliged to own that he had lost his bet. So he handed over to the disguised merchant, not only his own property, but also the merchandise, which he had previously won from her Husband ; and the two, carrying their possessions with them, returned to their own home, where they lived happily ever afterwards.

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