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A very wealthy merchant possessed several country-houses, where he kept a large number of cattle of every kind. He retired with his wife and family to one of these estates, in order to improve it under his own direction. He had the gift of understanding the language of beasts, but with this condition, that he should not, on pain of death, interpret it to any one else. And this hindered him from communicating to others what he learned by means of this faculty.
He kept in the same stall an ox and an ass. One day as he sat near them, and was amusing himself in looking at his children who were playing about him, he heard the ox say to the ass, "Sprightly, O! how happy do I think you, when I consider the ease you enjoy, and the little labour that is required of you. You are carefully rubbed down and washed, you have well-dressed corn, and fresh clean water. Your greatest business is to carry the merchant, our master, when he has any little journey to make, and were it not for that you would be perfectly idle. I am treated in a very different manner, and my condition is as deplorable as yours is fortunate. Daylight no sooner appears than I am fastened to a plough, and made to work till night, which so fatigues me, that sometimes my strength entirely fails. Besides, the labourer, who is always behind me, beats me continually. By drawing the plough, my tail is all flayed; and in short, after having laboured from morning to night, when I am brought in they give me nothing to eat but sorry dry beans, not so much as cleansed from dirt, or other food equally bad; and to heighten my misery, when I have filled my belly with such ordinary stuff, I am forced to lie all night in my own dung: so that you see I have reason to envy your lot."
The ass did not interrupt the ox; but when he had concluded, answered, "They that called you a foolish beast did not lie. You are too simple; you suffer them to conduct you whither they please, and shew no manner of resolution. In the mean time, what advantage do you reap from all the indignities you suffer." You kill yourself for the ease, pleasure, and profit of those who give you no thanks for your service. But they would not treat you so, if you had as much courage as strength. When they come to fasten you to the stall, why do you not resist? why do you not gore them with your horns, and shew that you arc angry, by striking your foot against the ground? And, in short, why do not you frighten them by bellowing aloud? Nature has furnished you with means to command respect; but you do not use them. They bring you sorry beans and bad straw; eat none of them, only smell and then leave them. If you follow my advice, you will soon experience a change, for which you will thank me."
The ox took the ass's advice in very good part, and owned he was much obliged to him. "Dear Sprightly," added he, "I will not fail to do as you direct, and you shall see how I will acquit myself." Here ended their conversation, of which the merchant lost not a word.
Early the next morning the labourer went for the ox. He fastened him to the plough and conducted him to his usual work. The ox, who had not forgotten the ass's counsel, was very troublesome and untowardly all that day, and in the evening, when the labourer brought him back to the stall, and began to fasten him, the malicious beast instead of presenting his head willingly as he used to do, was restive, and drew back bellowing; and then made at the labourer, as if he would have gored him with his horns. In a word, he did all that the ass had advised him. The day following, the labourer came as usual, to take the ox to his labour; but finding the stall full of beans, the straw that he had put in the night before not touched, and the ox lying on the ground with his legs stretched out, and panting in a strange manner, he believed him to be unwell, pitied him, and thinking that it was not proper to take him to work, went immediately and acquainted his master with his condition. The merchant perceiving that the ox had followed all the mischievous advice of the ass, determined to punish the latter, and accordingly ordered the labourer to go and put him in the ox's place, and to he sure to work him hard. The labourer did as he was desired. The ass was forced to draw the plough all that day, which fatigued him so much the more, as he was not accustomed to that kind of labour; besides he had been so soundly beaten, that he could scarcely stand when he came back.
Meanwhile, the ox was mightily pleased; he ate up all that was in his stall, and rested himself the whole day. He rejoiced that he had followed the ass's advice, blessed him a thousand times for the kindness he had done him, and did not fail to express his obligations when the ass had returned. The ass made no reply, so vexed was he at the ill treatment he had received; but he said within himself, "It is by my own imprudence I have brought this misfortune upon myself. I lived happily, every thing smiled upon me; I had all that I could wish; it is my own fault that I am brought to this miserable condition; and if I cannot contrive some way to get out of it, I am certainly undone." As he spoke, his strength was so much exhausted that he fell down in his stall, as if he had been half dead.
Here the grand vizier, himself to Scheherazade, and said, "Daughter, you act just like this ass; you will expose yourself to destruction by your erroneous policy. Take my advice, remain quiet, and do not seek to hasten your death." "Father," replied Scheherazade, "the example you have set before me will not induce me to change my resolution. I will never cease importuning you until you present me to the sultan as his bride." The vizier, perceiving that she persisted in her demand, replied, "Alas! then, since you will continue obstinate, I shall be obliged to treat you in the same manner as the merchant whom I before referred to treated his wife a short time after."
The merchant understanding that the ass was in a lamentable condition, was desirous of knowing what passed between him and the ox, therefore after supper he went out by moonlight, and sat down by them, his wife bearing him company. After his arrival, he heard the ass say to the ox "Comrade, tell me, I pray you, what you intend to do to-morrow, when the labourer brings you meat?" "What will I do?" replied the ox, "I will continue to act as you taught me. I will draw back from him and threaten him with my horns, as I did yesterday: I will feign myself ill, and at the point of death." "Beware of that," replied the ass, "it will ruin you; for as I came home this evening, I heard the merchant, our master, say something that makes me tremble for you." "Alas! what did you hear?" demanded the ox; "as you love me, withhold nothing from me, my dear Sprightly." "Our master," replied the ass, "addressed himself thus to the labourer: 'Since the ox does not eat, and is not able to work, I would have him killed to-morrow, and we will give his flesh as an alms to the poor for God's sake, as for the skin, that will be of use to us, and I would have you give it the currier to dress; therefore be sure to send for the butcher.' This is what I had to tell you," said the ass. "The interest I feel in your preservation, and my friendship for you, obliged me to make it known to you, and to give you new advice. As soon as they bring you your bran and straw, rise up and eat heartily. Our master will by this think that you are recovered, and no doubt will recall his orders for killing you; but, if you act otherwise, you will certainly be slaughtered."
This discourse had the effect which the ass designed. The ox was greatly alarmed, and bellowed for fear. The merchant, who heard the conversation very attentively, fell into a loud fit of laughter. His wife was greatly surprised, and asked, "Pray, husband, tell me what you laugh at so heartily, that I may laugh with you." "Wife," replied he, "you must content yourself with hearing me laugh." "No," returned she, "I will know the reason." "I cannot afford you that satisfaction," he, "and can only inform you that I laugh at what our ass just now said to the ox. The rest is a secret, which I am not allowed to reveal." "What," demanded she "hinders you from revealing the secret?" "If I tell it you," replied he, "I shall forfeit my life." "You only jeer me," cried his wife, "what you would have me believe cannot be true. If you do not directly satisfy me as to what you laugh at, and tell me what the ox and the ass said to one another, I swear by heaven that you and I shall never bed together again."
Having spoken thus, she went into the house, and seating herself in a corner, cried there all night. Her husband lay alone, and finding next morning that she continued in the same humour, told her, she was very foolish to afflict herself in that manner; that the thing was not worth so much; that it concerned her very little to know while it was of the utmost consequence to him to keep the secret: "therefore," continued he, "I conjure you to think no more of it." "I shall still think so much of it," replied she, "as never to forbear weeping till you have satisfied my curiosity." "But I tell you very seriously," answered he, "that it will cost me my life if I yield to your indiscreet solicitations." "Let what will happen," said she, "I do insist upon it." "I perceive," resumed the merchant, "that it is impossible to bring you to reason, and since I foresee that you will occasion your own death by your obstinacy, I will call in your children, that they may see you before you die." Accordingly he called for them, and sent for her father and mother, and other relations. When they were come and had heard the reason of their being summoned, they did all they could to convince her that she was in the wrong, but to no purpose: she told them she would rather die than yield that point to her husband. Her father and mother spoke to her by herself, and told her that what she desired to know was of no importance to her; but they could produce no effect upon her, either by their authority or intreaties. When her children saw that nothing would prevail to draw her out of that sullen temper, they wept bitterly. The merchant himself was half frantic, and almost ready to risk his own life to save that of his wife, whom he sincerely loved.
The merchant had fifty hens and one cock, with a dog that gave good heed to all that passed. While the merchant was considering what he had best do, he saw his dog run towards the cock as he was treading a hen, and heard him say to him: "Cock, I am sure heaven will not let you live long; are you not ashamed to ad thus to-day?" The cock standing up on tiptoe, answered fiercely: "And why not to-day as well as other days?" "If you do not know," replied the dog, "then I will tell you, that this day our master is in great perplexity. His wife would have him reveal a secret which is of such a nature, that the disclosure would cost him his life. Things are come to that pass, that it is to be feared he will scarcely have resolution enough to resist his wife's obstinacy; for he loves her, and is affected by the tears she continually sheds. We are all alarmed at his situation, while you only insult our melancholy, and have the impudence to divert yourself with your hens."
The cock answered the dog's reproof thus: "What, has our master so little sense? he has but one wife, and cannot govern her, and though I have fifty, I make them all do what I please. Let him use his reason, he will soon find a way to rid himself of his trouble." "How?" demanded the dog; "what would you have him do?" "Let him go into the room where his wife is," resumed the cock, "lock the door, and take a stick and thrash her well; and I will answer for it, that will bring her to her senses, and make her forbear to importune him to discover what he ought not to reveal." The merchant had no sooner heard what the cock said, than he took up a stick, went to his wife, whom he found still crying, and shutting the door, belaboured her so soundly, that she cried out, "Enough, husband, enough, forbear, and I will never ask the question more." Upon this, perceiving that she repented of her impertinent curiosity, he desisted; and opening the door, her friends came in, were glad to find her cured of her obstinacy, and complimented her husband upon this happy expedient to bring his wife to reason.
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Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
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