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Fortunatus and His Purse

In the city of Famagosta on the island of Cyprus there once lived a rich man called Theodorus. He had all he could wish for and a wife and little son he loved dearly; but although he ought to be the happiest person alive, after a short time he used to grow tired of everything and had to seek new pleasures. Therefore, before the boy Fortunatus was ten years old, his father had spent all his money and had not a farthing left.

But though Theodorus had been so foolish he was not quite without sense and set about getting work at once. His wife, too, instead of reproaching him, sent away the servants and sold their fine horses and did all the work of the house herself.

Thus time passed till Fortunatus was sixteen. One day when they were sitting at supper, the boy said, "Father, why do you look so sad. Tell me what is wrong and perhaps I can help you."

"Ah, son, I have reason enough to be sad. But for me you would now have been enjoying every kind of pleasure instead of living in this tiny house."

"Oh, do not let that trouble you," answered Fortunatus, "it is time I made some money for myself. To be sure, I have never been taught any trade. Still there must be something I can do. I will go out and walk on the seashore and think about it."

Very soon a chance came, and Fortunatus seized on it at once. The post that was offered him was that of page to the Earl of Flanders. As the Earl's daughter was just going to be married, splendid festivities were held in her honour. At some of the tilting matches Fortunatus was lucky enough to win the prize. These prizes, together with presents from the court's lords and ladies who liked him for his pleasant ways, made Fortunatus feel quite a rich man.

The notice taken of him did not turn his head, but it excited the envy of some of the other pages of the court. One of them, Robert, lied to the young Fortunatis that that the earl had taken a dislike to him and meant to kill him. Fortunatus believed the story. Packing up his fine clothes and money, he slipped away before dawn.

He went to many big towns and lived well. But as he was generous he soon was penniless. He then tramped half over Brittany in search of work. Nobody seemed to want him. He wandered about from one place to another, till he found himself in a dense wood without any paths, and without much light. Here he spent two whole days with nothing to eat and very little water to drink, He went first in one direction and then in another, but was not able to find his way out. During the first night he slept soundly and was too tired to fear either man or beast, but when darkness came on the second time and growls were heard in the distance, he grew frightened and looked about for a high tree out of reach of enemies.

Hardly had he settled himself comfortably in one of the forked branches, when a bear walked up to a spring that burst from a rock close to the tree and crouching down drank greedily. This was bad enough, for bears climb trees. Therefore Fortunatus did not feel quite safe on his perch. His heart beat fast and not without reason, for as the bear turned away he looked up and saw Fortunatus.

In those days young men carried short swords slung to their belts. It was a fashion that came in handily for Fortunatus. He drew his sword, and when the bear got within a yard of him he thrust it into the bear's body. The bear, wild with pain, tried to spring, but the bough he was standing on broke with his weight and he fell heavily to the ground. He did not move afterwards. When Fortunatis thought that no other wild animals were around he climbed down from his tree and put an end to the bear with a single blow. He was just thinking he would light a fire when he beheld a beautiful lady standing by his side.

"I am Fortune," she said, "and I have a gift for you. Shall it be wisdom, strength, long life, riches, health, beauty? Nothing better? Think well and tell me what you will have."

But Fortunatus, who now knew "It's ill thinking on an empty stomach," answered quickly, "Oh, let me have riches in plenty so that I may never be as hungry as I am now."

The lady held out a purse and told him he had only to put his hand into it and he and his children would always find ten pieces of gold. But when they were dead it would not work like that any more.

Fortunatus could hardly find words to thank the lady. But she told him that the best thing he could do was to find his way out of the wood. Before bidding him farewell she pointed out which path to take. He walked along it as fast as his weakness would let him, till a welcome light at a little distance showed him that a house was near. It turned out to be an inn. Before entering Fortunatus thought he had better make sure that the purse worked as he had been told. Sure enough, there were the ten pieces of gold, shining brightly. Then Fortunatus walked boldly up to the inn and ordered them to get ready a good supper at once, as he was very hungry, and to bring him the best wine in the house.

After a night in a soft bed, Fortunatus felt much better, and asked the landlord if he could find him some men-servants and tell him where any good horses couldo be got. The next thing was to provide himself with good clothes and then to buy a large house where he could give great feasts to nobles and beautiful ladies when he liked.

In this way a whole year passed. Fortunatus was so busy amusing himself that he never once remembered his parents that he had left behind on Cyprus. But though he was thoughtless, he was not bad-hearted. As soon as they came to mind, he set about making preparations to visit them. As he was not fond of being alone he looked round for someone older and wiser than himself to travel with him. He had the good luck to come across an old man who had left his wife and children in a far country many years before, when he went out into the world to seek the fortune he never found. The old man agreed to accompany Fortunatus back to the island of Cyprus, but only on condition he should first be allowed to return for a few weeks to his own home. Fortunatus agreed and also said that he would go with him.

The journey was long and they had to cross many large rivers and climb over high mountains and find their way through thick woods, before they reached the old man's castle at last. His wife and children had almost given up hopes of seeing him again and crowded eagerly round him. It did not take Fortunatus five minutes to fall in love with the youngest daughter, Cassandra.

"Give her to me for my wife," he asked the old man, "and let us all go together to Famagosta, where I come from."

A ship was bought. It was big enough to hold Fortunatus, the old man and his wife and their ten children - five sons and five daughters. The day before they sailed the wedding was celebrated with rejoicings. But when they reached Cyprus, Fortunatis learned that both his father and mother were dead. For some time he shut himself up in his house and would see nobody. He was full of shame and regrets for having forgotten them all these years.

For twelve years Fortunatus and Cassandra and their two little boys lived happily in Famagosta. They had a beautiful house and everything they could possibly want. When Cassandra's sisters married, the purse provided them each with a fortune.

But at last Fortunatus grew tired of staying at home and thought he should like to go out and see the world again. Cassandra shed many tears at first when he told her of his wishes, and he had a great deal of trouble to persuade her to consent. But when he promised to return at the end of two years she agreed to let him go.

Before he went away he showed her three chests of gold, which stood in a room with an iron door and walls twelve feet thick. "If anything should happen to me," he said, "and I should never come back, keep one of the chests for yourself and give the others to our two sons." Then he embraced them all and took ship for Alexandria.

The wind was fair and in a few days they entered the harbour, where Fortunatus was informed by a man whom he met on landing, that if he wished to be well received in the town, he must begin by making a handsome present to the sultan. "That is easily done," said Fortunatus and went into a goldsmith's shop, where he bought a large gold cup, which cost five thousand pounds. This gift so pleased the sultan that he ordered a hundred casks of spices to be given to Fortunatus. Fortunatus put them on board his ship and commanded the captain to return to Cyprus and deliver them to his wife, Cassandra. He next got an audience of the sultan and asked for permission to travel through the country. The sultan readily gave it to him, adding some letters to the rulers of other lands which Fortunatus might wish to visit.

Filled with delight at roaming once more, Fortunatus set out on his journey without losing a day. From court to court he went, always very well dressed and giving costly presents. At length he grew as tired of wandering as he had been of staying at home and returned to Alexandria. There he found the same ship that had brought him from Cyprus lying in the harbour. He also paid his respects to the sultan, who was eager to hear about his adventures.

When Fortunatus had told them, the sultan observed: "Well, you have seen many wonderful things, but I have something to show you more wonderful still.' He led Fortunatis into a room where precious stones lay heaped against the walls. Fortunatus' eyes were quite dazzled, but the sultan went on without pausing and opened a door at the farther end. As far as Fortunatus could see, the cupboard was quite bare, except for a little red cap, such as soldiers wear in Turkey.

"Look at this," said the sultan.

"But there is nothing very valuable about it," answered Fortunatus. "I've seen a dozen better caps than that, this very day."

"Ah," said the sultan, "you do not know what you are talking about. Whoever puts this cap on his head and wishes himself in any place, will find himself there in a moment."

"But who made it?" asked Fortunatus.

"That I cannot tell you," answered the sultan.

"Is it very heavy to wear?" asked Fortunatus.

"No, quite light," answered the sultan, "just feel it."

Fortunatus took the cap and put it on his head and then, without thinking, wished himself back in the ship that was starting for Famagosta. In a second he was standing at the prow, while the anchor was being weighed and while the sultan was repenting that he had allowed Fortunatus to try on the cap, the vessel was making fast for Cyprus.

When the ship arrived, Fortunatus found his wife and children well, but the two old people were dead and buried. His sons had grown tall and strong, but unlike their father had no wish to see the world and found their chief pleasure in hunting and tilting. In the main, Fortunatus was content to stay quietly at home and if a restless fit seized on him, he was able to go away for a few hours without being missed, thanks to the cap, which he never sent back to the sultan.

By-and-by he grew old and feeling that he had not many days to live, he sent for his two sons and showed them the purse and cap and told what they were for, saying: "Never part with these precious possessions. They are worth more than all the gold and lands I leave behind me. But never tell their secret, even to your wife or dearest friend. That purse has served me well for forty years and no one knows where I got my riches from." Then he died and was buried by his wife Cassandra, not an altogether honourable man, but a very rich one. He was mourned in Famagosta for some time.




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