THE SÛTA TELLS ARDSCHI-BORDSCHI CONCERNING THE SEVENTY-ONE PARROTS AND THEIR ADVISER.
LONG ages ago the wife of a high King was ill with a dire illness, nor could the art of any physician suffice to cure her till one came who said, "Let there be given her parrots' brains to eat."
When, therefore, the high King saw that eating parrots' brains brought health it seemed good to him to take a tribute of parrots' brains from his subjects.
He called unto him, therefore, the governor of a tributary province and commanded him, saying, "Let there be delivered to me a tribute of the brains of seventy-one parrots, otherwise thou must die the death."
That governor went out therefore trembling with fear, and he called unto him immediately a birdcatcher and agreed with him for the price of the brains of seventy-one parrots.
Now the birdcatcher knew a certain tree in which there roosted every night seventy-one parrots, and he said within himself, "If I could spread one net over the whole tree, with one haul the whole affair would be finished." So he went and bought a great net ready to spread over the whole tree.
But among these seventy-one parrots was one parrot exceeding wise, who was always on the watch to see what the birdcatcher was about. When, therefore, he saw him buy so great a net he said to his companions, "To what end can the man have bought so big a net if not to spread round the whole tree? let us, therefore, in future roost on yonder rock." After this they went to roost on the rock. After they had roosted four or five nights on the rock the wise parrot caught sight of the birdcatcher prowling about, having followed them thither and being engaged in settling in his own mind how he should lay his nets. Then the wise parrot said to his companions, "The man has come hither after us even to this rock; let us now, therefore, avoid his snares by roosting in some other place."
But his companions, instead of accepting his counsel were provoked, and answered him, saying, "How are we to endure thus changing our place of roosting every night. We left our tree which sheltered us well and came to this rock to please thy fancy; and now thou wouldst have us make another change. But we will no more listen to thy suspicions."
They roosted, therefore, still upon the rock, and that night the birdcatcher came with his nets and encompassed them all.
When they woke and found themselves imprisoned, loud were their shrieks of lamentation as they fluttered and beat their wings fruitlessly against the net; calling also on the wise parrot, saying, "You who were so wise in foreseeing the danger, have you no means for delivering us out of it?"
"Yes," replied the wise parrot, "I have thought of that. Leave off every one of you from shrieking and fluttering about, and beating your wings against the net, which is a new one and not the least likely to give way. On the contrary, lie all of you on your backs with your heads hanging as if you were dead. The birdcatcher being satisfied you are dead will not kill you over again. Then observe and see that the approach to this one rock is very narrow, and when a man comes up it there is only just room for one foot-hold at the ledge whence he can reach us, and it is as much as he can do to get up and down with the use of both his hands as well as his feet; he will not, therefore, go to carry us down or put us in a bag, but will throw us one by one over the cliff, and sure enough he will say out the number as he throws each down. Let, therefore, those who are thrown down first remain still lying without motion so that he may not suspect any of the rest are alive, only when he says out the number, 'Seventy-one!' then up and away, as at a signal of a race."
The other parrots did not venture to dispute the word of the wise parrot this time, but all did exactly as he had said. When the birdcatcher came and found what a steep rugged path he had to climb he vowed all sorts of vengeance on the parrots for giving him so much fatigue, and swore that he would break all their bones, for the brain was the only part he cared to keep uninjured. When he had got up to the ledge of rock by which he could reach them, however, and found that they seemed already stone dead, seeing that to wreak any vengeance on creatures that could not feel would be childish, he contented himself with throwing them below one by one, calling out as he did so the number to each. In this way he had thrown over the seventy; last of all there remained the wise parrot, but the net having fallen upon him he was rather longer loosing him than the rest, so that he had called out "Seventy-one" before he was ready to throw him down, moreover, his whetstone happening at that same instant to tumble out of his girdle, the other parrots took the sound of its fall for that of the wise parrot, and all of them together they spread their wings and flew far away.
The birdcatcher saw this in time before he had let go his hold of the wise parrot.
"Ah! vile, cunning parrots," he exclaimed in great wrath and indignation, "what labour have you given me, and at last I have no benefit for my exertion! One, at least, of you is still in my power, and on him will I be avenged for the mischief of all the rest; I will take him home and torture him at leisure, and then cook him alive. The wise parrot heard all this, but thought to wait till his fury was a little spent. But finding as time wore on the man only got more and more wroth; and the matter beginning to get serious, as they were coming near his dwelling, the wise parrot at last said, "What end will it serve that thou kill me? It will not bring the other parrots back--and, indeed, what grudge hast thou against me? I never killed thee at any former time (1) that thou shouldst now kill me. Thou hast attacked my life, and I have defended it by fair dealing. Other grudge against me hast thou none; then why shouldst thou seek to maim and injure me? Moreover, if thou do, be sure that the day will come (2) when I should repay thee. But now, if thou sell me who am a wise and understanding parrot, thou shalt receive for my price 100 ounces of silver, and if with seventy-one ounces thou buy seventy-one other parrots for him who hired thee there will still remain twenty-nine ounces with which thou mayest make merry with all thy friends and acquaintance."
When, therefore, the birdcatcher found he was a wise and understanding parrot, he took him and sold him to a rich merchant for 100 ounces of silver.
The merchant also, who bought the parrot, finding him so wise and full of understanding, employed him in all sorts of ways to watch over his belongings. At last, one day he came and said to the parrot, "Hitherto thou hast done me good service in watching over the merchandize, and I have regarded thee as my brother, now, therefore, that I go on a journey of seventy-one days I entreat thee to watch over, as a sister-in-law, my wife, who is very gay and thoughtless.
The wise parrot answered, "Be of good heart, brother, all shall be right in thine absence."
At which the merchant replied, "If thou sayest so, brother Parrot, I can go forth on my journey without anxieties."
He had not been gone long when his young wife rose up, saying, "Now indeed I am for once my own mistress: I will go out and see all my friends, and particularly those I dare not visit when my husband is here." So she arrayed herself in all her gayest attire. But when she would have gone out the parrot stopped her, saying, "Wait, sister-in-law. A wife behoves it rather to set her household affairs in order, than to go abroad paying visits when her husband is absent."
"Bad parrot!" exclaimed the wife, "what hast thou to do to hinder my taking a little pleasure?"
The parrot answered, "Thy husband when he went away gave me strict charge over thee, saying, 'I command thee that thou hinder her from going forth alone.' This, however, it is not in me to do, for thou art greater in might than I; and if I command thee not to go thou wilt not obey by words. Only now, therefore, before thou goest out sit down first and listen to the story that I will tell thee."
When the wife heard him promise to tell a story, she sat down, for she loved to listen to the stories of the wise parrot.
Then the parrot began to tell her a story in this wise.