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The Silver on the Hearth

THERE WAS once a poor farmer who found it a great struggle to make a little headway in the world. Though he worked very hard and lived frugally, it was impossible for him to save money from year to year. After a lifetime of labour he was no better off, it seemed, than he was on the day he was born.

One morning while he knelt on the floor performing his morning prayers he pleaded to God for help. "Dear God," he said, "give me riches! If I am ever to own something in this world, it will have to come from you! Give me riches here on my own hearth!" And after this prayer, he stood up and went about his daily tasks in the fields.

It happened one day while he was working that he caught his clothes on some brambles in the field and tore them. So that this wouldn't happen again, the man dug a little around the roots and pulled the brambles out of the ground. As he did so, he uncovered a large earthen jar.

In great excitement he dug a little more and then removed the lid of the jar. He found that the jar was filled to the brim with silver coins. At first he was exultant, but after a few minutes of thought he said to himself: "I asked God for riches on my hearth, but I have found this money out here in the open fields. Therefore I shall not take it, for if it were God's will for me to be rich he would have given it to me on my hearth, as I asked in my prayer."

So the man left the treasure where he had found it and went home. When he arrived, he told his wife about his discovery. The woman was angry at her husband's foolishness in leaving the riches in the field. When her husband lay down to sleep, she went out to the house of a neighbour and told him all about it, saying, "My stupid husband found a hoard of money in the fields, but the blockhead refuses to bring it home. Go and get it for yourself, and share with me."

The neighbour was very pleased with the suggestion, and he went out to find the treasure where the woman had described it. There, where the bramble bush had been uprooted, was the earthen jar. He took it from the ground and opened it. But when he lifted the lid he saw not silver, but a jarful of poisonous snakes. Into the man's mind rushed the thought, "Ah, that woman must be my enemy! She hoped I would put my hand in the jar to be bitten and poisoned!"

So he put the lid in its place again and carried the jar back home with him, just as he had found it. When night came he went to the house of the poor farmer, climbed on the roof, and emptied the jar of poisonous snakes down the chimney.

When dawn came, the poor farmer who had first discovered the jar got up to perform his prayers. As the morning rays of the sun fell upon the hearth, his eyes opened wide. For the hearth was covered with silver coins. His heart swelled with gratitude, and he gave thanks to God, saying, "Now I accept these riches, knowing that you intend me to have them, for you have placed them on my own hearth, as I asked!"

From Afghanistan - 'Some Current Pushta Folk Stories," by F. H. Malyon, in Memoirs of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. III, 1914. This tale is a "story within a story," extracted from a long narrative called "A Modern Story of familiar theme of the woman who can't keep a secret - popular in much of the old lore of Asia and Europe - here as a somewhat unusual denouement. [Denouement means one or more of these: final outcome; solution, resolution, and clarification. It is a term used for analysing stories.

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