LONG ago there was an old woman who had a son. She always advised him not to cause injury to any man, and not to torture or kill any animal or beast, no matter how despised it might be. They were very poor. The lad went to the forest every day, and brought a bundle of wood on his back. He sold it for twopence and bought bread for his aged mother and himself. One day he saw that the village boys were torturing a kitten and taking pleasure in its cries.
"Why do you torture the poor animal?" said the lad to the boys; "let it go."
"Give us your pennies, and we will let it go," said the boys.
He at once gave them the twopence which he had earned that day by selling his wood, and took the kitten home with him. Both mother and son went to bed hungry that night. On the following day he took the kitten with him to the forest, and that evening the bundle of wood was sold at fourpence. He paid twopence for bread, and putting the other twopence in his pocket was returning home, when he met the village boys who were this time torturing a mouse. The lad gave his twopence to the boys, and took the mouse home with him. On the third day he saved a whelp of a dog and brought it home. On the fourth day he saved a little snake, and putting it in a jug, kept it at home. On the following day he took all the animals and went to the forest to cut wood. At noon he sat at a fountain to eat his lunch, and gave a share of it to the animals. He took the snake out of the jug and let it go, but the reptile would not leave him. He then gave it a piece of bread. As soon as it bit the bread, lo! it was changed into a pretty boy, and said to the lad:
"I am the son of the King of India; magicians stole me and changed me into a snake. The enchantment was such that the moment a human being gave me bread to eat with his own hand, I should again change into a boy. I escaped from the hands of the magicians, and came to the village for the purpose of biting a piece of bread from a human hand, but the village urchins found me and were about to kill me when you saved me. I owe you my life and my freedom from the magician's spell. Now let me advise you. When I go home to my father he will be so happy to see me that he will wish to reward you with the most precious things in his kingdom. But when he asks you to demand something from him, be careful and request only the ring which he has on his finger. It is a magic ring, and the moment you turn its jewel upside-down two genii will wait on you to do your will, and will bring for you anything that you may desire."
The lad accompanied the boy to the court of the King of India, who was so glad at the sight of his child that he was almost beside himself with joy. The boy told his father all that had happened, and presented the lad as the deliverer of his life.
"Ask of me what you will," said the King to the lad, "you have saved the heir apparent, and I will give you whatever you demand, even to the half of my kingdom."
"Long live the King!" said the lad. "I desire only the ring on your finger."
"A plague upon him who advised you!" said the King; "you have demanded the costliest thing I have. But as I have promised I must give it to you."
So saying he gave the ring to the lad, and ordered his saddlebags to be filled with gold. The lad came back to his aged mother and told her what had happened.
"Well then, son," said the old woman, "let me go and ask our King to give you his daughter in marriage."
The lad consented, and the old woman, after buying for herself a new dress and adorning herself as best she could, went to the court.
"What do you want?" said the King.
"Long live the King!" said the old woman. "I have come to ask you by God's order, to give your daughter in marriage to my son."
"Good," said the King; "but has your son the equivalent of the dower that I can give to my daughter?"
"Certainly he has," answered the woman, "how much do you want him to have?"
"He must have a treasure full of gold like mine, and a magnificent palace like mine. The road between my palace and his must be covered with a single soft rug, and on both sides shady trees must grow, and under them horsemen ride from one end to the other on horses all milky white. If he can procure these I will give him my daughter in marriage; if not, I will not."
The old woman returned and told the lad what the King had said. The lad turned the jewel of the ring, and lo! two genii presented themselves with their hands folded upon their breasts, saying:
"Tell us your will, and we will do it immediately."
The lad ordered them to prepare all that the King had demanded. Everything was ready in one night. On the following day the King was greatly pleased with the palace and everything in it, and gave his daughter in marriage. There they lived in happiness until the death of the old woman.
But there was a Jew who had heard of the magic ring, and he was anxious to get it. He took on the shape of a peddler, and came to the palace at a time when the lad had gone hunting, and there was no one there besides the Princess. She opened the door to look at the goods of the peddler.
"I peddle nice goods for ladies," said the clever Jew; "and in order to give ladies facility, I do not care to sell them for money, but exchange for old jewelry, such as rings and the like. Any lady will have some old rings which she can give in return for beautiful goods."
"Let me see if we have rings at home which I can give you for your goods," said the Princess.
She went in, and came back with the magic ring, saying:
"Here, I have found this among my husband's things; I think it will do for you."
The Jew gave some rubbish in exchange for the precious ring. As soon as he put it on his finger, he turned the jewel, and lo! the two genii stood before him, ready to do his commands.
"I wish you to take this palace, with me in it, and carry it to the Island of the Seven Seas, and I wish you to throw the former owner into the unfathomable sea." He had hardly finished his words when the palace, with the Princess and the Jew, was transported to the Island of the Seven Seas. Then the genii seized the lad, and were about to throw him into the bottomless sea, when they took pity on him, he being their former master, and left him in a wilderness on the shore. This was a dreadful change for the youth. He traveled a long way, and at length came to the hut of a fisherman, who accepted him as an apprentice.
But let us return to the animals. The dog, the cat and the mouse, seeing what misfortune had come to their master, decided to go to the Island of the Seven Seas, and getting the ring from the Jew, take it to their master, whom they knew by instinct to have become the apprentice of a fisherman. They immediately started and soon came to the sea. The dog entered the water, the cat took her seat on his neck, while the mouse rode on the cat's back. The dog began to swim, and proved to be an expert in the art.
"We hope our weight will not cause you to sink brother dog," said the cat and the mouse.
"Pshaw!" said the dog, proudly, "you are as light as a feather, and speak of sinking me! Nay, be careful not to be blown away from my back by the wind of my respiration."
And out of his mouth he hung his long tongue. So swimming, at last they came to the Island of the Seven Seas, where they saw their master's palace. It was night. The dog stood at the bottom of the wall while the cat with the mouse on her back climbed up until they came to the window. But as it was closed it was now the turn of the mouse to do his part. He gnawed the board with his fine teeth and opened a hole large enough for himself to go through. Entering, he looked everywhere for the ring, but it could not be found. The Jew was asleep.
"Look at the Jew's fingers," whispered the cat from without.
But it was not there.
"Look in his mouth," whispered the cat.
The mouse made a careful examination, and lo! the ring was in the Jew's mouth. But how to get it? The mouse saw that the Jew had put his snuffbox near his bed. He first ran to the cellar, and soaked his tail in vinegar; then coming back he thrust it into the snuffbox. He repeated this several times, until his tail was well stiffened with a coating of vinegar and snuff. He went then to the sleeping Jew, and perching upon his beard thrust his tail into his nostril as far as it could go.
This caused the Jew to sneeze with all his might, and lo! the ring was flung from his mouth. The mouse uttered a shriek of joy, and snatching the ring from the floor, in the twinkling of an eye disappeared through the hole. The Jew immediately arose, and lighting a candle began to search for the ring. Not finding it, he thought to look for it in the morning, and again went to bed. The mouse and the cat descended the wall to their big-mouthed friend, who was looking at them wistfully. The dog again entered the water, the cat took her place on his back, and the mouse rested on the cat's back. They decided that the ring should be in the cat's mouth. This time they began to swim toward the opposite shore of the sea, where the lad was serving the fisherman. They crossed the Seven Seas and approached the shore safely. As soon as they saw the land and their master's hut, the dog said to his companions:
"I am swimming for you, but you have the ring. You will give it to master, who will praise you; while I, who have worked the hardest, will not receive any credit. Not so; you must put the ring in my mouth before we reach the land."
"Brother dog," said the cat, "now you are tired and see how you keep your mouth open all the time and stretch your tongue out. If we put the ring in your mouth, we are afraid you will drop it into the sea. But as soon as we reach the land, we will give the ring to you, that you may give it to master."
"No," said the dog, "you must give it now, or else I will drop you into the sea."
He began to shake them, threatening to drown them. The cat, therefore, was obliged to place the ring in the dog's mouth. But he could not keep his mouth shut a single minute. He opened his mouth, stretched his tongue, began to pant, and lo! the ring fell into the sea. They came ashore, but all in great excitement. The mouse and the cat began to beat the dog, who thrust his tail between his hind legs as if to acknowledge his fault, but had to defend himself against the sharp paws of the cat and the fine teeth of the mouse. Quarreling and howling and rolling upon the sand, they came to the fisherman's hut. The lad, with his natural kindness to animals, came out to separate the fighters, and lo! they were his own friends. Seeing the lad, all three paid him their respects, but again began to fight one another, this time more severely. The youth, seeing that it was impossible to leave them in this way, provided three ropes, and bound them separately. He gave them food and drink, and tried to calm their anger. On the following day he drew out a net full of fishes, and sat down to prepare them for market. Among them was a large fish. As soon as the lad seized it, there was excitement among the animals. The dog barked, the cat mewed, and the mouse shrieked, and all three tried to cut their ropes. The lad had hardly cut the fish open when the mouse, having gnawed its rope, ran and plunged into the belly of the fish, and in the twinkling of an eye came out with the magic ring in its mouth, for the fish had swallowed the ring. The mouse jumped upon his master's lap and presented the ring, at sight of which the lad understood why the animals were troubled. He untied them, and kissing the three, expressed his gratitude for their brave enterprise. Then he turned the jewel, and lo! the two genii presented themselves.
"I want my palace to be restored to its place, myself to be placed in it again, and the Jew to be thrown into the bottomless sea," said the lad.
He had barely finished his sentence when he found himself and his animal friends in his palace once more, and near him was his wife. The Jew was cast into the bottomless sea, where he is sinking everlastingly but never reaches the bottom. Thus the wicked one was punished and the virtuous one attained his wishes. May Heaven grant that you may all be virtuous and attain your wishes!
Three apples fell from heaven; one for me, one for the story-teller, and one for the man who entertained the company.