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Payne: The Story of the Ox and the Ass

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There was once a merchant who was rich in goods and cattle, and he had a wife and children and dwelt in the country and was skilled in husbandry. Now God had gifted him to understand the speech of beasts and birds of every kind, but under pain of death if he divulged his gift to any one; so he kept it secret for fear of death. He had in his byre an ox and an ass, each tied up in his stall, hard by the other. One day, as the merchant was sitting near at hand, he heard the ox say to the ass, 'I give thee joy, O Father Wakeful! Thou enjoyest rest and attention and they keep thy stall always swept and sprinkled, and thine eating is sifted barley and thy drink fresh water, whilst I am always weary, for they take me in the middle of the night and gird the yoke on my neck and set me to plough and I toil without ceasing from break of morn till sunset. I am forced to work more than my strength and suffer all kinds of indignities, such as blows and abuse, from the cruel ploughman; and I return home at the end of the day, and indeed my sides are torn and my neck is flayed. Then they shut me up in the cow-house and throw me beans and straw mixed with earth and husks, and I lie all night in dung and stale. But thy place is always swept and sprinkled and thy manger clean and full of sweet hay and thou art always resting, except that, now and then, our master hath occasion to ride thee and returns speedily with thee; and but for this thou art always resting and I toiling, and thou sleeping and I waking; thou art full and I hungry and thou honoured and I despised.' 'O broadhead,' answered the ass,' he was in the right who dubbed thee ox , for thou art stupid in the extreme, nor is there in thee thought or craft but thou showest zeal and cost thine utmost endeavour before thy master and fearest and killest thyself for the benefit of another. Thou goest forth at the time of morning prayer and returnest not till sundown and endurest all day all manner of afflictions, now blows now fatigue and now abuse. When thou returnest, the ploughman ties thee to a stinking manger, and thou friskest and pawest the ground and buttest with thy horns and bellowest greatly, and they think thou art content. No sooner have they thrown thee thy fodder than thou fallest on it greedily and hastenest to fill thy belly with it. But if thou wilt follow my counsel, it will be the better for thee and thou wilt get twice as much rest as I. When thou goest forth to the furrow and they lay the yoke on thy neck, lie down, and do not rise, even if they beat thee, or only rise and lie down again; and when they bring thee home, fall prostrate on thy back and refuse thy fodder, when they throw it thee and feign to be sick. Do this for a day or two and thou wilt have rest from toil and weariness.' The ox thanked the ass greatly for his advice and called down blessings on him; and the merchant heard all that passed between them.

Next day the ploughman took the ox and yoked him to the plough and set him to work as usual. The ox began to fall short in his work, and the ploughman beat him till he broke the yoke and fled, following out the ass's precepts; but the man overtook him and beat him till he despaired of life. Yet for all that, he did nothing but stand still and fall down till the evening. Then the ploughman took him home and tied him in his stall; but he withdrew from the manger and neither frisked nor stamped nor bellowed as usual, and the man wondered at this. Then he brought him the beans and straw, but he smelt at them and left them and lay down at a distance and passed the night without eating. Next morning, the ploughman came and found the straw and beans untouched and the ox lying on his back, with his stomach swollen and his legs in the air; so he was concerned for him and said to himself, 'He has certainly fallen ill, and this is why he would not work yesterday.' Then he went to his master and told him that the ox was ill and would not touch his fodder. Now the farmer knew what this meant, for that he had overheard the talk between the ox and the ass as before mentioned. So he said, 'Take that knave of an ass and bind the yoke on his neck and harness him to the plough and try and make him do the ox's work.' So the ploughman took the ass and made him work all day beyond his strength to accomplish the ox's task; and he beat him till his skin and ribs were sore and his neck flayed with the yoke. When the evening came and the ass resumed home, he could hardly drag himself along. But as for the ox, he had lain all day, resting, and had eaten his fodder cheerfully and with a good appetite; and all day long he had called down blessings on the ass for his good counsel, not knowing what had befallen him on his account. So when the night came and the ass returned to the stable, the ox arose and said to him, 'Mayst thou be gladdened with good news, O Father Wakeful! Through thee, I have rested today and have eaten my food in peace and comfort.' The ass made him no answer, for rage and vexation and fatigue and the beating he had undergone; but he said to himself, 'All this comes of my folly in giving another good advice; as the saying goes, "I was lying at full length, but my officiousness would not let me be." But I will go about with him and return him to his place, else I shall perish.' Then he went to his manger weary, whilst the ox thanked him and blessed him. "And thou, O my daughter," said the Vizier, "like the ass, wilt perish through thy lack of sense, so do thou oft quiet and cast not thyself into perdition; indeed I give thee good counsel and am affectionately solicitous for thee." "O my father," answered she, "nothing will serve me but I must go up to this king and become his wife." Quoth he, "An thou hold not thy peace and bide still, I will do with thee even as the merchant did with his wife." "And what was that?" asked she. "Know," answered he, "that the merchant and his wife and children came out on the terrace, it being a moonlit night and the moon at its full. Now the terrace overlooked the byre; and presently, as he sat, with his children playing before him, the merchant heard the ass say to the ox, 'Tell me, O Father Stupid, what dost thou mean to do tomorrow?' 'What but that thou advisest me?' answered the ox. 'Thine advice was as good as could be and has gotten me complete rest, and I will not depart from it in the least; so when they bring me my fodder, I will refuse it and feign sickness and swell out my belly.' The ass shook his head and said, 'Beware of doing that I' 'Why?' asked the ox, and the ass answered, 'Know that I heard our master say to the labourer, "If the ox do not rise and eat his fodder today, send for the butcher to slaughter him, and give his flesh to the poor and make a rug of his skin." And I fear for thee on account of this. So take my advice, ere ill-hap betide thee, and when they bring thee the fodder, eat it and arise and bellow and paw the ground with thy feet, or our master will assuredly slaughter thee.' Whereupon the ox arose and bellowed and thanked the ass, and said, 'Tomorrow, I will go with them readily.' Then he ate up all his fodder, even to licking the manger with his tongue.

When the merchant heard this, he was amused at the ass's trick, and laughed, till he fell backward. 'Why dost thou laugh?' asked his wife; and he said, 'I laughed at something that I saw and heard, but it is a secret and I cannot disclose it, or I shall die.' Quoth she, 'There is no help for it but thou must tell me the reason of thy laughter, though thou die for it.' 'I cannot reveal it,' answered he, 'for fear of death.' 'It was at me thou didst laugh,' said she, and ceased not to importune him till he was worn out and distracted. So he assembled all his family and kinsfolk and summoned the Cadi and the witnesses, being minded to make his last dispositions and impart to her the secret and die, for indeed he loved her with a great love, and she was the daughter of his father's brother and the mother of his children. Moreover, he sent for all her family and the neighbours, and when they were all assembled, he told them the state of the case and announced to them the approach of his last hour. Then he gave his wife her portion and appointed guardians of his children and freed his slave girls and took leave of his people. They all wept, and the Cadi and the witnesses wept also and went up to the wife and said to her, 'We conjure thee, by Allah, give up this matter, lest thy husband and the father of thy children die. Did he not know that if he revealed the secret, he would surely die, he would have told thee.' But she replied, 'By Allah, I will not desist from him, till he tell me, though he die for it.' So they forbore to press her. And all who were present wept sore, and there was a general mourning in the house. Then the merchant rose and went to the cow-house, to make his ablutions and pray, intending after to return and disclose his secret and die.

Now he had a cock and fifty hens and a dog, and he heard the latter say in his lingo to the cock, 'How mean is thy wit, O cock! May he be disappointed who reared thee! Our master is in extremity and thou clappest thy wings and crowest and fliest from one hen's back to another's! God confound thee! Is this a time for sport and diversion? Art thou not ashamed of thyself?' 'And what ails our master, O dog?' asked the cock. The dog told him what had happened and how the merchant's wife had importuned him, till he was about to tell her his secret and die, and the cock said, 'Then is our master little of wit and lacking in sense; if he cannot manage his affairs with a single wife, his life is not worth prolonging. See, I have fifty wives. I content this one and anger that, stint one and feed another, and through my good governance they are all under my control. Now, our master pretends to sense and accomplishments, and he has but one wife and yet knows not how to manage her.' Quoth the dog, 'What, then, should our master do?' 'He should take a stick,' replied the cock, 'and beat her soundly, till she says, "I repent, O my lord! I will never again ask a question as long as I live." And when once he has done this, he will be free from care and enjoy life. But he has neither sense nor judgment.'

When the merchant heard what the cock said, he went to his wife (after he had hidden a rattan in an empty store-room) and said to her, 'Come with me into this room, that I may tell thee my secret and die and none see me.' So she entered gladly, thinking that he was about to tell her his secret, and he locked the door; then he took the rattan and brought it down on her back and ribs and shoulders, saying, 'Wilt thou ask questions about what is none of thy business?' He beat her till she was well-nigh senseless, and she cried out, 'By Allah, I will ask thee no more questions, and indeed I repent sincerely!' And she kissed his hands and feet. Then he unlocked the door and went out and told the company what had happened, whereat they rejoiced, and mourning was changed into joy and gladness. So the merchant learnt good management from a cock, and he and his wife lived happily until death.

[Resume The Story of King Shehriyar and his Brother]


Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.


1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM


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