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  1. They Stopped Playing (Fable)
  2. The Ugly Tree (Fable)
  3. Good Helpmates

They Stopped Playing (Fable)

There was a certain penny-pinching man He was appointed as the ambassador for his country and sent to another city, where trumpeters were attending him, always at the ready, hoping that as they filled his ears with the blare of the trumpets he would fill their pockets with money.

However, the ambassador ordered them to stop playing, saying it was not the time or place for songs and trumpet blasts. "My mother has passed away," the ambassador said.

So the trumpeters stopped playing and went away.

A certain friend of the ambassador, hearing of his grief, went to see him to offer consolation. He asked when the ambassador's mother had passed away, and the ambassador told him, "It's now forty years ago."

The friend broke out in laughter.

Some people get wiser from asking with care, and others don't.


The Ugly Tree (Fable)

There were many trees that had grown in the same place, tall, straight and smooth, except for one tree who was lowly, small and full of knots. The rest of the trees used to hold that tree in mockery for being ugly and puny. When the master of the place was about to build a house, he ordered that all the trees be cut down, except for the one who, because of its shortness and ugliness appeared likely to render the house unattractive.

When the other trees had been cut down, the ugly tree said to itself, "I will no longer complain about being ugly when I see what crises may await those who are beautiful."

We may grieve that we were born ugly until we see how harmful beauty becomes to many.

(Abstemius, retold)


Good Helpmates

Once there was a very rich man who had a son who could not tell a bean-pod from a cucumber. Unable to put up any longer with this, his father gave his son, Moscione, a good handful of crowns and sent him to trade in the Levant; for he figured that seeing various countries and mixing with divers people awaken the mind and sharpen the wits.

The son mounted his horse and rode away towards Venice, meaning to embark on board some vessel bound for Cairo. When he had travelled a good day's journey, he came upon a young man standing by a poplar tree, and said to him, "What is your name, my lad? Where do you come from? And what is your trade?"

The lad replied, "My name is Lightning; I am from Arrowland; and I can run like the wind."

"I should like to see a proof of it," said Moscione; and Lightning answered, "Wait a moment and you shall."

Suddenly a doe came bounding over the plain, and Lightning, letting her pass on some way to give her the more law, darted after her so rapidly and with so light a foot that, had the ground been strewn with flour, he would not have left the mark of his shoe. In four bounds he came up with her. Moscione, amazed at this exploit, asked if he would come and live with him, and promised to pay him royally.

Lightning consented, and they went on their way together; but they had not journeyed many miles when they met another youth, and Moscione said to him, "What is your name, comrade? What country are you from? And what is your trade?"

"My name," replied the lad, "is Hare's-Ear; I am from Vale-Curious; and when I put my ear to the ground I hear all that is passing in the world without stirring from the spot."

"If that be true," said Moscione, "tell me what they are now saying at my home."

The lad put his ear to the ground and replied, "An old man is talking to his wife, and saying, "Thank goodness! that fool of a son of mine, Moscione, is out of my sight. Good riddance! Perhaps he'll learn in his travels to be a man instead of a good-for-nothing idiot!"

"Stop! Stop!" said Moscione. "I believe you. No need to say more! So come along with me, for you have found the road to fortune."

"Well and good!" said the youth. So they all went on together and travelled ten miles farther, when they met another man. Moscione said to him, "What is your name, my brave fellow? Where were you born, and what can you do in the world?"

And the man answered, "My name is Shootstraight; I am from Castle Aimwell; and I can shoot with a crossbow so point-blank as to hit an apple in the middle."

"I should like to see a proof of it," said Moscione. So the lad charged his crossbow, took aim, and made a pea leap from the top of a stone; whereupon Moscione took him also into his company.

And they travelled on another day's journey, till they came to some people who were building a large pier in the scorching heat of the sun. So Moscione had compassion on them, and said, "My masters, how is it you can stand the heat of this furnace, which is fit to roast a buffalo?"

And one of them answered, "Oh, we are as cool as a rose; for we have a young man here who blows upon us from behind in such a manner that it seems just as if the west wind were blowing."

"Let me see him, I pray." cried Moscione. So the mason called the lad, and Moscione said to him, "Tell me, by the life of your father, what is your name? What country are you from? And what is your profession?"

The lad replied, "My name is Blowblast; I am from Windyland; and I can make all the winds with my mouth. If you wish for a zephyr, I will breathe one that will delight your soul. If you wish for a squall, I will throw down houses."

"Seeing is believing," said Moscione. Whereupon Blowblast breathed at first quite gently, so that it seemed to be a soft evening breeze. Then, changing suddenly, he sent forth such a furious blast that it uprooted a row of oaks.

When Moscione saw this he took Blowblast also as a companion; and travelling on, he met another lad. He said to him, "What is your name, if I may make so bold? From where do you come, if one may ask? And what is your trade, if it is a fair question?"

The youth answered, "My name is Strongback; I am from Valentino; and I have such strength that I can take a mountain on my back, and it seems to me only a feather."

"That sounds very fine," said Moscione. "But give me a proof."

Then Strongback began to load himself with masses of rock, trunks of trees, and so many other weights, that a thousand large wagons could not have carried them. When Moscione saw it, he begged the lad to join him.

So they travelled on, till they came to Fair-Flower. The king of the place had a daughter who ran like the wind, and could pass over the waving corn without bending an ear. And the king had issued a proclamation that whoever could overtake her in running should have her to wife, but whoever was left behind should lose his head.

When Moscione arrived in this country, and heard the proclamation, he went straight to the king and offered to run with his daughter. But in the morning he sent to inform him that he was taken ill, and being unable to run himself, he would send another young man in his place. "Come who will!" said Channetella, for that was the name of the king's daughter. "I do not care a fig. It is all one to me."

Soon the great square was filled with people come to see the race. The men swarmed like ants, and the windows and balconies were all as full as eggs, Lightning came out and took his station at the top of the square, waiting for the signal. And lo! forth came Channetella, dressed in a short gown to the knee, and neat and pretty little single-soled shoes. Then they placed themselves shoulder to shoulder; and as soon as the tarantara and too-too of the trumpets were heard, off they darted, running at such a rate that their heels touched their shoulders, so that they seemed like hares with the greyhounds after them.

But Lightning left the princess more than a hand's-breath behind him, and came first to the goal. Then you should have heard the hurraing and shouting, the cries and the uproar, the whistling and clapping of hands, and all the people bawling out,

"Hurra! Long life to the stranger!" Channetella's face turned very red, and she stood lost in shame and confusion at seeing herself vanquished. But as there were to be two heats to the race, she fell to planning how to be revenged for this affront; and going home she put a charm into a ring. Now this charm was so powerful that if anyone had the ring upon his finger his legs would totter so that he would not be able to walk, much less to run. Then she sent it as a present to Lightning, begging him to wear it on his finger for her sake.

Hare's-Ear heard the father and daughter plotting this trick, but said nothing, waiting to see the upshot of the affair. And when the sun rose they returned to the field, and at the usual signal the racing began once more. Again Channetella was like another Atalanta, but Lightning was like a foundered horse: not a step could he stir. Shootstraight, however, who saw his comrade's danger, and heard from Hare's-Ear how matters stood, laid hold on his crossbow and shot a bolt so exactly that it hit Lightning's finger. Out flew the stone from the ring in which the virtue of the charm lay; his legs that had been tied were set free, and with four goat-leaps he passed Channetella and won the race.

Now, according to the bargain, Moscione was to have the prize as the employer of the wonderful runner. But the king was displeased and tried to find a way out, so that he would escape giving his daughter to that fellow. He took counsel with the wise men of his court, who replied that Channetella was too fine a mouthful for such an idle fellow; and that he might offer Moscione a gift of crowns instead, without breaking his royal word.

This advice pleased the king, and he asked Moscione how much money he would take instead of the wife that had been promised him. Then Moscione, after consulting with the others, answered, "I will take as much gold and silver as one of my comrades can carry on his back."

The king consented; and then they brought Strongback. The king's men began to load bales of ducats, sacks of crowns, barrels of copper money, chests full of chains and rings on him. But the more they loaded him the firmer he stood, just like a tower, so that the treasury, the banks and the money-dealers of the city did not suffice, and the king sent to all the great people in every direction to borrow their silver candlesticks, basins, jugs, plates, trays and baskets; and yet all was not enough to make up the full load.

At length they went away, not fully laden, but tired and satisfied.

When the councillors saw what heaps and stores these four miserable dogs were carrying off, they said to the king that it was a great piece of folly to give away all the riches of his kingdom, and that it would be well to send people after them to lessen the precious load.

The king gave ear to this advice, and at once despatched a party of armed men, foot and horse, to overtake Moscione and his friends. But Hare's-Ear, who had heard this counsel, informed his comrades; and while the dust was rising to the sky from the trampling of those who were coming to unlade the rich cargo, Blowblast, seeing that things were come to a bad pass, began to blow at such a rate that he not only made their enemies fall flat on the ground, but he sent them flying more than a mile.

So without meeting any more hindrance, Moscione arrived at his father's house, where he shared the booty with his companions, since, as the saying goes, a good deed deserves a good meed. He sent them away content and happy; but he stayed on with his father, rich beyond measure, and happy, he too.



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