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The Book of Noodles / Stories of Simpletons; or, Fools and Their Follies By W. A. Clouston Characters: 49965

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


ALES of sharpers' tricks upon simpletons do not quite fall within the scope of the present series of papers, but there is one, in the Arabian Nights-not found, however, in our common English version of that fascinating story-book-which deserves a place among noodle-stories, since it is so diverting, is not very generally known, and is probably the original of the early Italian novel of the Monk Transformed, which is ascribed to Michele Colombo:

A rustic simpleton was walking homeward dragging his ass after him by the halter, which a brace of sharpers observing, one said to his fellow, "Come with me, and I will take the ass from that man." He then quietly advanced to the ass, unloosed it from the halter, and gave the animal to his companion, who went off with it, after which he put the halter over his own head, and allowed the rustic to drag him for some little distance, until he with the ass was fairly out of sight, when he suddenly stopped, and the man having tugged at the halter several times without effect, looked round, and, amazed to see a human being in place of his beast, exclaimed, "Who art thou?" The sharper answered, "I was thy ass; but hear my story, for it is wonderful. I had a good and pious mother, and one day I came home intoxicated. Grieved to see me in such a state, she gently reproved me, but I, instead of being penetrated with remorse, beat her with a stick, whereupon she prayed to Allah, and, in answer to her supplication, lo! I was transformed into an ass. In that shape I have continued until this day, when my mother, as it appears, has interceded for my restoration to human form, as before." The simpleton, believing every word of this strange story, raised his eyes to heaven, saying, "Of a truth there is no power but from Allah! But, pray, forgive me for having used thee as I have done." The sharper readily granted his forgiveness, and went off to rejoin his companion and dispose of the ass; while the simpleton returned home, and showing his wife the bridle, told her of the marvellous transformation which had occurred. His wife, in hopes of propitiating Heaven, gave alms and offered up many prayers to avert evil from them, on account of their having used a human being as an ass. At length the simpleton, having remained idle at home for some time, went one day to the market to purchase another ass, and on entering the place where all the animals were fastened, he saw with astonishment his old ass offered for sale. Putting his mouth to its ear, he whispered, "Woe to thee, unlucky! Doubtless thou hast again been intoxicated; but, by Allah, I will never buy thee!"

Another noodle-story, of a different class, in the Arabian Nights, may be here cited in full from Sir R.F. Burton's translation of that delightful work, privately printed for the subscribers, and it will serve, moreover, as a fair specimen of the admirable manner in which that ripe scholar has represented in English the quaint style of his original:

[Quoth one of the learned,] I passed once by a school wherein a schoolmaster was teaching children; so I entered, finding him a good-looking man, and a well-dressed, when he rose to me and made me sit with him. Then I examined him in the Koran, and in syntax and prosody, and lexicography; and behold, he was perfect in all required of him; and I said to him, "Allah strengthen thy purpose! Thou art indeed versed in all that is requisite." Thereafter I frequented him a while, discovering daily some new excellence in him, and quoth I to myself, "This is indeed a wonder in any dominie; for the wise are agreed upon a lack of wit in children's teachers."1 Then I separated myself from him, and sought him and visited him only every few days, till coming to see him one day, as of wont, I found the school shut, and made inquiry of his neighbours, who replied, "Some one is dead in his house." So I said in my mind, "It behoveth me to pay him a visit of condolence," and going to his house, knocked at the door, when a slave-girl came out to me and asked, "What dost thou want?" and I answered, "I want thy master." She replied, "He is sitting alone mourning;" and I rejoined, "Tell him that his friend So-and-so seeketh to console him." She went in and told him; and he said, "Admit him." So she brought me in to him, and I found him seated alone, and his head bound with mourning fillets. So I said to him, "Allah requite thee amply! This is a path all must perforce tread, and it behoveth thee to take patience," adding, "but who is dead unto thee?" He answered, "One who was dearest of the folk to me, and best beloved." "Perhaps thy father?" "No." "Thy brother?" "No." "One of thy kindred?" "No." Then asked I, "What relation was the dead to thee?" and he answered, "My lover." Quoth I to myself, "This is the first proof to swear by of his lack of wit." So I said to him, "Assuredly there be others than she, and fairer;" and he made answer, "I never saw her that I might judge whether or no there be others fairer than she." Quoth I to myself, "This is another proof positive." Then I said to him, "And how couldst thou fall in love with one thou hast never seen?" He replied, "Know that I was sitting one day at the window, when, lo! there passed by a man, singing the following distich:

"'Umm Amr', thy boons Allah repay!

Give back my heart, be't where it may!'"

The schoolmaster continued, "When I heard the man humming these words as he passed along the street, I said to myself, 'Except this Umm Amru were without equal in the world, the poets had not celebrated her in ode and canzon.' So I fell in love with her; but two days after, the same man passed, singing the following couplet:

"'Ass and Umm Amr' went their way,

Nor she nor ass returned for aye.'

Thereupon I knew that she was dead, and mourned for her. This was three days ago, and I have been mourning ever since." So I left him and fared forth, having assured myself of the weakness of the gerund-grinder's wit2.

Here, surely, was the very Father of Folly, but what shall we say of judges and magistrates being sometimes (represented as) equally witless? Thus we are told, among the cases decided by a Turkish Kází, that two men came before him one of whom complained that the other had almost bit his ear off. The accused denied this, and declared that the fellow had bit his own ear. After pondering the matter for some time, the judge told them to come again two hours later. Then he went into his private room, and attempted to bring his ear and his mouth together; but all he did was to fall backwards and break his head. Wrapping a cloth round his head, he returned to court, and the two men coming in again presently, he thus decided the question: "No man can bite his own ear, but in trying to do so he may fall down and break his head."

A Sinhalese story, which is also well known in various forms in India, furnishes a still more remarkable example of forensic sagacity. It is thus related by the able editor of The Orientalist, vol. i., p. 191:

One night some thieves broke into the house of a rich man, and carried away all his valuables. The man complained to the justice of the peace, who had the robbers captured, and when brought before him, inquired of them whether they had anything to say in their defence. "Sir," said they, "we are not to blame in this matter; the robbery was entirely due to the mason who built the house; for the walls were so badly made, and gave way so easily, that we were quite unable to resist the temptation of breaking in." Orders were then given to bring the mason to the court-house. On his arrival he was informed of the charge brought against him. "Ah," said he, "the fault is not mine, but that of the coolie, who made mortar badly." When the coolie was brought, he laid the blame on the potter, who, he said, had sold him a cracked chattie, in which he could not carry sufficient water to mix the mortar properly. Then the potter was brought before the judge, and he explained that the blame should not be laid upon him, but upon a very pretty woman, who, in a beautiful dress, was passing at the time he was making the chattie, and had so riveted his attention, that he forgot all about the work. When the woman appeared, she protested that the fault was not hers, for she would not have been in that neighbourhood at all had the goldsmith sent home her earrings at the proper time; the charge, she argued, should properly be brought against him. The goldsmith was brought, and as he was unable to offer any reasonable excuse, he was condemned to be hanged. Those in the court, however, begged the judge to spare the goldsmith's life; "for," said they, "he is very sick and ill-favoured, and would not make at all a pretty spectacle." "But," said the judge, "somebody must be hanged." Then they drew the attention of the court to the fact that there was a fat Moorman in a shop opposite, who was a much fitter subject for an execution, and asked that he might be hanged in the goldsmith's stead. The learned judge, considering that this arrangement would be very satisfactory, gave judgment accordingly.

If some of the last-cited stories are not precisely Gothamite drolleries, though all are droll enough in their way, there can be no doubt whatever that we have a Sinhalese brother to the men of Gotham in the following: A villager in Ceylon, whose calf had got its head into a pot and could not get it out again, sent for a friend, celebrated for his wisdom, to release the poor animal. The sagacious friend, taking in the situation at a glance, cut off the calf's head, broke the pot, and then delivered the head to the owner of the calf, saying, "What will you do when I am dead and gone?"-And we have another Gothamite in the Kashmírí who bought as much rice as he thought would suffice for a year's food, and finding he had only enough for eleven months, concluded it was better to fast the other month right off, which he did accordingly; but he died just before the month was completed, leaving eleven months' rice in his house.

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The typical noodle of the Turks, the Khoja Nasru-'d-Dín, is said to have been a subject of the independent prince of Karaman, at whose capital, Konya, he resided, and he is represented as a contemporary of Timúr (Tamerlane), in the middle of the fourteenth century. The pleasantries which are ascribed to him are for the most part common to all countries, but some are probably of genuine Turkish origin. To cite a few specimens: The Khoja's wife said to him one day, "Make me a present of a kerchief of red Yemen silk, to put on my head." The Khoja stretched out his arms and said, "Like that? Is that large enough?" On her replying in the affirmative he ran off to the bazaar, with his arms still stretched out, and meeting a man on the road, he bawled to him, "Look where you are going, O man, or you will cause me to lose my measure!"

Another day the Khoja's wife washed his caftan and spread it upon a tree in the garden of the house. That night the Khoja goes out, and thinks he sees in the moonlight a man motionless upon a tree in the garden. "Give me my bow and arrows," said he to his wife, and having received them, he shot the caftan, piercing it through and through, and then returned into the house. Next morning, when he discovered that it was his own caftan he had shot at, he exclaimed, "By Allah, had I happened to be in it, I should have killed myself!"

The Ettrick Shepherd's well-known story of the two Highlanders and the wild boar has its exact parallel in the Turkish jest-book, as follows: One day the Khoja went with his friend Sheragh Ahmed to the den of a wolf, in order to take the cubs. Said the Khoja to Ahmed, "Do you go in, and I will watch without;" and Ahmed went in, to take the cubs in the absence of the old wolf. But she came back presently, and had got half-way into her den when the Khoja seized hold of her tail. The wolf in her struggles cast up a great dust into the eyes of Ahmed, who called out to the Khoja, "Hallo! what does all this dust mean?" The Khoja replied, "If the wolf's tail breaks, you will soon know what the dust means!"

Several of the jests closely resemble "Joe Millers" told of Irishmen, such as this: It happened one night, after the Khoja and a guest had lain down to sleep, that the taper went out. "O Khoja Effendi," said the guest, "the taper is gone out. But there is a taper at your right side. Pray bring it and let us light it." Quoth the Khoja, "You must surely be a fool to think that I should know my right hand in the dark." And this: A thief having stolen a piece of salted cheese from the Khoja, he ran immediately and seated himself on the border of a fountain. Said the people to him, "O Khoja, what have you come here to look for in such a hurry?" The Khoja replied, "The thief will certainly come here to drink as soon as he has eaten my salted cheese; I always do so myself."

And here is one of the Gothamite class: One evening the Khoja went to the well to draw water, and seeing the moon reflected in the water, he exclaimed, "The moon has fallen into the well; I must pull it out." So he let down the rope and hook, and the hook became fastened to a stone, whereupon he exerted all his strength, and the rope broke, and he fell upon his back. Looking into the sky, he saw the moon, and cried out joyfully, "Praise be to Allah! I am sorely bruised, but the moon has got into its place again."

There is a well-worn jest of an Irishman who, being observed by a friend to look exceedingly blank and perplexed, was asked what ailed him. He replied that he had had a dream. "Was it a good or a bad dream?" "Faith," said he, "it was a little of both; but I'll tell ye. I dreamt that I was with the Pope, who was the finest gentleman in the whole district; and after we had conversed a while, his Holiness axed me, Would I drink? Thinks I to myself, 'Would a duck swim?' So, seeing the whisky and the lemons and the sugar on the side-board, I said, I didn't mind if I took a drop of punch. 'Cold or hot?' says his Holiness. 'Hot, your Holiness,' says I. So on that he steps down to the kitchen for the boiling water, but, bedad, before he came back, I woke straight up; and now it's distressing me that I didn't take it cold!"

We have somewhat of a parallel to this in a Turkish jest: The Khoja dreamt that some one gave him nine pieces of money, but he was not content, and said, "Make it ten." Then he awoke and found his hands empty. Instantly closing his eyes again, and holding out his hand, he said, "I repent; give me the nine pieces3."

But the Chinese relate the very counterpart of our Irishman's story. A confirmed drunkard dreamt that he had been presented with a cup of excellent wine, and set it by the fire to warm4, that he should better enjoy the flavour of it; but just as he was about to drink off the delicious draught he awoke. "Fool that I am," he cried, "why was I not content to drink it cold?"5

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The Chinese seem to have as keen a sense of humour as any other people. They tell a story, for instance, of a lady who had been recently married, and on the third day saw her husband returning home, so she slipped quietly behind him and gave him a hearty kiss. The husband was annoyed, and said she offended all propriety. "Pardon! pardon!" said she. "I did not know it was you." Thus the excuse may sometimes be worse than the offence. There is exquisite humour in the following noodle-story: Two brothers were tilling the ground together. The elder, having prepared dinner, called his brother, who replied in a loud voice, "Wait till I have hidden my spade, and I shall at once be with you." When he joined his elder brother, the latter mildly reproached him, saying, "When one hides anything, one should keep silence, or at least should not cry aloud about it, for it lays one open to be robbed." Dinner over, the younger went back to the field, and looked for his spade, but could not find it; so he ran to his brother and whispered mysteriously in his ear, "My spade is stolen!"-The passion for collecting antique relics is thus ridiculed: A man who was fond of old curiosities, though he knew not the true from the false, expended all his wealth in purchasing mere imitations of the lightning-stick of Tchew-Koung, a glazed cup of the time of the Emperor Cheun, and the mat of Confucius; and being reduced to beggary, he carried these spurious relics about with him, and said to the people in the streets, "Sirs, I pray you, give me some coins struck by Ta?-Koung."

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Indian fiction abounds in stories of simpletons, and probably the oldest extant drolleries of the Gothamite type are found in the Játakas, or Buddhist Birth-stories. Assuredly they were own brothers to our mad men of Gotham, the Indian villagers who, being pestered by mosquitoes when at work in the forest, bravely resolved, according to Játaka 44, to take their bows and arrows and other weapons and make war upon the troublesome insects until they had shot dead or cut in pieces every one; but in trying to shoot the mosquitoes they only shot, struck, and injured one another. And nothing more foolish is recorded of the Schildburgers than Somadeva relates, in his Kathá Sarit Ságara, of the simpletons who cut down the palm-trees: Being required to furnish the king with a certain quantity of dates, and perceiving that it was very easy to gather the dates of a palm which had fallen down of itself, they set to work and cut down all the date-palms in their village, and having gathered from them their whole crop of dates, they raised them up and planted them again, thinking they would grow.

In illustration of the apothegm that "fools who attend only to the words of an order, and do not understand the meaning, cause much detriment," is the story of the servants who kept the rain off the trunks: The camel of a merchant gave way under its load on a journey. He said to his servants, "I will go and buy another camel to carry the half of this camel's load. And you must remain here, and take particular care that if it clouds over the rain does not wet the leather of these trunks, which are full of clothes." With these words the merchant left the servants by the side of the camel and went off, and suddenly a cloud came up and began to discharge rain. Then the fools said, "Our master told us to take care that the rain did not touch the leather of the trunks;" and after they had made this sage reflection they dragged the clothes out of the trunks and wrapped them round the leather. The consequence was that the rain spoiled the clothes. Then the merchant returned, and in a rage said to his servants, "You rascals! Talk of water! Why, the whole stock of clothes is spoiled by the rain!" And they answered him, "You told us to keep the rain off the leather of the trunks. What fault have we committed?" He answered, "I told you that if the leather got wet the clothes would be spoiled. I told you so in order to save the clothes, not the leather."

The story of the servant who looked after the door is a farther illustration of the same maxim. A merchant said to his foolish servant, "Take care of the door of my shop; I am going home for a short time." After his master was gone, the fool took the shop-door on his shoulder and went off to see an actor perform. As he was returning his master met him, and gave him a scolding, and he answered, "I have taken care of this door, as you told me."

This jest had found its way into Europe three centuries ago. It is related of Giufa, the typical Sicilian booby, and probably came to England from Italy. This is how it is told in the Sacke Full of Newes, a jest-book originally printed in the sixteenth century: "In the countrey dwelt a Gentlewoman who had a French man dwelling with her, and he did ever use to go to Church with her; and upon a time he and his mistresse were going to church, and she bad him pull the doore after him and follow her to the church; and so he took the doore betweene his armes, and lifted it from the hooks, and followed his mistresse with it. But when she looked behinde her and saw him bring the doore upon his back, 'Why, thou foolish knave,' qd she, 'what wilt thou do with the door?' 'Marry, mistresse,' qd he, 'you bad me pull the doore after me.' 'Why, fool,' qd she, 'I did command thee that thou shouldest make fast the doore after thee, and not bring it upon thy back after me.' But after this there was much good sport and laughing at his simplicity and foolishnesse therein."

In the capacity of a merchant the simpleton does very wonderful things, and plumes himself on his sagacity, as we have already seen in the case of the Arab and his cow. And here are a brace of similar stories: A foolish man once went to the island of Katáha to trade, and among his wares was a quantity of fragrant aloes-wood. After he had sold his other goods, he could not find any one to take the aloes-wood off his hands, for the people who live there are not acquainted with that article of commerce. Then seeing people buying charcoal from the woodmen, he burnt his stock of aloes-wood and reduced it to charcoal. He sold it for the price which charcoal usually fetched, and returning home, boasted of his cleverness, and became the laughing-stock of everybody.-Another blockhead went to the market to sell cotton, but no one would buy it from him, because it was not properly cleaned. In the meanwhile he saw in the bazaar a goldsmith selling gold which he had purified by heating it, and he saw it taken by a customer. Seeing that, he threw his cotton into the fire in order to purify it, and it was all burned to ashes.

There must be few who have not heard of the Irishman who was hired by a Yarmouth maltster to help in loading a ship. As the vessel was about to sail, the Irishman cried out from the quay, "Captain, I lost your shovel overboard, but I cut a big notch on the rail-fence, round the stern, just where it went down, so you will find it when you come back."-A similar story is told of an Indian simpleton. He was sailing in a ship when he let a silver cup fall from his hand into the water. Having taken notes of the spot by observing the eddies and other signs in the water, he said to himself, "I will bring it up from the bottom when I return." As he was recrossing the sea, he saw the eddies and other signs, and thinking he recognised the spot, he plunged into the water again and again, to recover his cup, but he only got well laughed at for his pains.

We have an amusing commentary on the maxim that "distress is sure to come from being in the company of fools" in the following, from the Canarese story-book entitled Kathé Manjari: A foolish fellow travelled with a shopkeeper. When it became dark, the fool lay down in the road to sleep, but the shopkeeper took shelter in a hollow tree. Presently some thieves came along the road, and one struck his feet against the fool's legs, upon which he exclaimed to his companions, "What is this? Is it a piece of wood?" The fool was angry, and said, "Go away! go away! Is there a knot, well tied, containing five annas, in the loins of a plank in your house?" The thieves then seized him, and took away his annas. As they were moving off, they asked if the money was good or bad, to which the noodle replied, "Ha! ha! is it of my money you speak in that way, and want to know whether it is good or bad? Look- there is a shopkeeper in that tree," pointing with his finger-"show it to him." Then the thieves went up to the shopkeeper and robbed him of two hundred pagodas.

In our next story, of the villagers who ate the buffalo, is exemplified the fact that "fools, in the conceit of their folly, while they deny what need not be denied, reveal what it is their interest to suppress, in order to get themselves believed." Some villagers took a buffalo belonging to a certain man, and killed it in an enclosure outside the village, under a banyan tree, and dividing the flesh, ate it up. The owner of the buffalo went and complained to the king, and he had the villagers who had eaten the animal brought before him. The proprietor of the buffalo said before the king, in their presence, "These men took my buffalo under a banyan tree near the tank, and killed and ate it before my eyes," whereupon an old fool among the villagers said, "There is no tank or banyan tree in our village. He says what is not true; where did we kill his buffalo or eat it?" When the man heard this, he replied, "What! are there not a banyan tree and a tank on the east side of the village? Moreover, you ate my buffalo on the eighth day of the lunar month." The old fool then said, "There is no east side or eighth day in our village." On hearing this, the king laughed, and said, to encourage the fool, "You are a truthful person; you never say anything false; so tell me the tr

uth: did you eat that buffalo, or did you not?" The old fool answered, "I was born three years after my father died, and he taught me skill in speaking. So I never say what is untrue, my king. It is true that we ate his buffalo, but all the rest that he alleges is false." When the king heard this, he and his courtiers could not restrain their laughter; but he restored the price of the buffalo to the man, and fined the villagers.

But sometimes even kings have been arrant noodles, and their credulity quite as amusing-or amazing-as that of their subjects. Once on a time there was a king who had a handsome daughter, and he summoned his physicians, and said to them, "Make some preparation of salutary drugs, which will cause my daughter to grow up quickly, so that she may be married to a good husband." The physicians, wishing to get a living out of this royal fool, replied, "There is a medicine which will do this, but it can only be procured in a distant country; and while we are sending for it, we must shut up your daughter in concealment, for this is the treatment laid down in such cases." The king having consented, they placed his daughter in concealment for several years, pretending that they were engaged in procuring the medicine; and when she was grown up, they presented her to the king, saying that she had been made to grow by the preparation; so the king was highly pleased, and gave them much wealth.

Between an Indian rájá and an Indian dhobie, or washerman, there is the greatest possible difference socially, but individually-when both are noodles-there may be sometimes very little to choose; indeed, of the two, all things considered, the difference, if any, is perhaps in favour of the humble cleanser of body-clothes. A favourite story in various parts of India, near akin to that last cited, is of a poor washerman and his young ass. This simpleton one day, passing a school kept by a mullah, or Muhammedan doctor of laws, heard him scolding his pupils, exclaiming that they were still asses, although he had done so much to make them men. The washerman thought that here was a rare chance, for he happened to have the foal of the ass that carried his bundles of clothes, which, since he had no child, he should get the learned mullah to change into a boy. Thus thinking, he goes next day to the mullah, and asks him to admit his foal into his school, in order that it should be changed into the human form and nature. The preceptor, seeing the poor fellow's simplicity, answered that the task was very laborious, and he must have a fee of a hundred rupís. So the washerman went home, and soon returned leading his foal, which, with the money, he handed over to the teacher, who told him to come again on such a day and hour, when he should find that the change he desired had been effected. But the washerman was so impatient that he went to the teacher several times before the day appointed, and was informed that the foal was beginning to learn manners, that its ears were already become very much shorter, and, in short, that it was making satisfactory progress.

It happened, when the day came on which he was to receive his young ass transformed into a fine, well-educated boy, the simpleton was kept busy with his customers' clothes, but on the day following he found time to go to the teacher, who told him it was most unfortunate he had not come at the appointed hour, since the youth had quitted the school yesterday, refusing to submit any longer to authority; but the teacher had just learned that he had been made kází (or judge) in Cawnpore. At first the washerman was disposed to be angry, but reflecting that, after all, the business was better even than he anticipated, he thanked the preceptor for all his care and trouble, and returned home. Having informed his wife of his good luck, they resolved to visit their quondam young foal, and get him to make them some allowance out of his now ample means. So, shutting up their house, they travelled to Cawnpore, which they reached in safety. Being directed to the kází's court, the washerman, leaving his wife outside, entered, and discovered the kází seated in great dignity, and before him were the pleaders, litigants, and officers of the court. He had brought a bridle in one hand and a wisp of hay in the other; but being unable, on account of the crowd, to approach the kází, he got tired of waiting, so, holding up the bridle and the hay, he cried out, "Khoor! khoor! khoor!" as he used to do in calling his donkeys, thinking this would induce the kází to come to him. But, instead of this, he was seized by the kází's order and locked up for creating a disturbance.

When the business of the court was over, the kází, pitying the supposed madman, sent for him to learn the reason of his strange behaviour, and in answer to his inquiries the simpleton said, "You don't seem to know me, sir, nor recognise this bridle, which has been in your mouth so often. You appear to forget that you are the foal of one of my asses, that I got changed into a man, for the fee of a hundred rupis, by a learned mullah who transforms asses into educated men. You forget what you were, and, I suppose, will be as little submissive to me as you were to the mullah when you ran away from him." All present were convulsed with laughter: such a "case" was never heard of before. But the kází, seeing how the mullah had taken advantage of the poor fellow's simplicity, gave him a present of a hundred rupis, besides sufficient for the expenses of his journey home, and so dismissed him.

A party of rogues once found as great a blockhead in a rich Indian herdsman, to whom they said, "We have asked the daughter of a wealthy inhabitant of the town in marriage for you, and her father has promised to give her." He was much pleased to hear this, and gave them an ample reward for their trouble. After a few days they came again and told him that his marriage had taken place. Again he gave them rich presents for their good news. Some more days having passed, they said to him, "A son has been born to you," at which he was in ecstacies and gave them all his remaining wealth; but the next day, when he began to lament, saying, "I am longing to see my son," the people laughed at him on account of his having been cheated by the rogues, as if he had acquired the stupidity of cattle from having so much to do with them.

It is not generally known that the incident which forms the subject of the droll Scotch song "The Barring of the Door," which also occurs in the Nights of Straparola, is of Eastern origin. In an Arabian tale, a blockhead, having married his pretty cousin, gave the customary feast to their relations and friends. When the festivities were over, he conducted his guests to the door, and from absence of mind neglected to shut it before returning to his wife. "Dear cousin," said his wife to him when they were alone, "go and shut the street door." "It would be strange indeed," he replied, "if I did such a thing. Am I just made a bridegroom, clothed in silk, wearing a shawl and a dagger set with diamonds, and am I to go and shut the door? Why, my dear, you are crazy. Go and shut it yourself." "Oh, indeed!" exclaimed the wife. "Am I, young, robed in a dress, with lace and precious stones-am I to go and shut the street door? No, indeed! It is you who are become crazy, and not I. Come, let us make a bargain," she continued; "and let the first who speaks go and fasten the door." "Agreed," said the husband, and immediately he became mute, and the wife too was silent, while they both sat down, dressed as they were in their nuptial attire, looking at each other and seated on opposite sofas. Thus they remained for two hours. Some thieves happened to pass by, and seeing the door open, entered and laid hold of whatever came to their hands. The silent couple heard footsteps in the house, but opened not their mouths. The thieves came into the room and saw them seated motionless and apparently indifferent to all that might take place. They continued their pillage, therefore, collecting together everything valuable, and even dragging away the carpets from beneath them; they laid hands on the noodle and his wife, taking from their persons every article of jewellery, while they, in fear of losing the wager, said not a word. Having thus cleared the house, the thieves departed quietly, but the pair continued to sit, uttering not a syllable. Towards morning a police officer came past on his tour of inspection, and seeing the door open, walked in. After searching all the rooms and finding no person, he entered their apartment, and inquired the meaning of what he saw. Neither of them would condescend to reply. The officer became angry, and ordered their heads to be cut off. The executioner's sword was about to perform its office, when the wife cried out, "Sir, he is my husband. Do not kill him!" "Oh, oh," exclaimed the husband, overjoyed and clapping his hands, "you have lost the wager; go and shut the door." He then explained the whole affair to the police officer, who shrugged his shoulders and went away.6

A party of noodles are substituted for the husband and wife in a Turkish version of the tale, in the History of the Forty Vazirs. Some bang-eaters,7 while out walking, found a sequin. They said, "Let us go to a cook, and buy food and eat." So they went and entered a cook's shop and said, "Master, give us a sequin's worth of food." The cook prepared all kinds of food, and loaded a porter with it; and the bang-eaters took him without the city, where there was a ruined tomb, which they entered and sat down in, and the porter deposited the food and went away. The bang-eaters began to partake of the food, when suddenly one of them said, "The door is open; do one of you shut it, else some other bang-eaters will come in and annoy us: even though they be friends, they will do the deeds of foes." One of them replied, "Go thou and shut the door," and they fell a-quarrelling. At length one said, "Come, let us agree that whichever of us speaks or laughs shall rise and fasten the door." They all agreed to this proposal, and left the food and sat quite still. Suddenly a great number of dogs came in; not one of the bang-eaters stirred or spoke, for if one spoke he would have to rise and shut the door, so they spoke not. The dogs made an end of the food, and ate it all up. Just then another dog leapt in from without, but no food remained. Now one of the bang-eaters had partaken of everything, and some of the food remained about his mouth and on his beard. That newly come dog licked up the particles of food that were on the bang-eater's breast, and while he was licking up those about his mouth, he took his lip for a piece of meat and bit it. The bang-eater did not stir, for he said within himself, "They will tell me to shut the door." But to ease his soul he cried, "Ough!" inwardly cursing the dog. When the other bang-eaters heard him make that noise, they said, "Rise, fasten the door." He replied, "After loss, attention! Now that the food is gone, and my lip is wounded, what is the use of shutting that door?" and crying, "Woe! alas!" they each went in a different direction.8

A similar story is known in Kashmir: Five friends chanced to meet, and all having leisure, they decided to go to the bazaar and purchase a sheep's head, and have a great feast in the house of one of the party, each of whom subscribed four annas. The head was bought, but while they were returning to the house it was remembered that there was not any butter. On this one of the five proposed that the first of them that should break silence by speaking should go for the butter. Now it was no light matter to have to retrace one's steps back to the butter-shop, as the way was long and the day was very hot. So they all five kept strict silence. Pots were cleaned, the fire was prepared, and the head laid thereon. Now and then one would cough, and another would groan, but never a tongue uttered a word, though the fire was fast going out, and the head was getting burnt, owing to there being no fat or butter wherewith to grease the pot. Thus matters were when a policeman passed by, and, attracted by the smell of cooking, looked in at the window, and saw these five men perfectly silent and sitting around a burnt sheep's head. Not knowing the arrangement, he supposed that these men were either mad or were thieves, and so he inquired how they came there, and how they obtained the head. Not a word was uttered in reply. "Why are you squatting there in that stupid fashion?" shouted the policeman. Still no reply. Then the policeman, full of rage that these wretched men should thus mock at his authority, took them all off straight to the police inspectors office. On arrival the inspector asked them the reason of their strange behaviour, but he also got no reply. This rather tried the patience and temper of the man of authority, who was generally feared, and flattered, and bribed. So he ordered one of the five to be immediately flogged. The poor fool bore it bravely, and uttered never a sound; but when the blows repeatedly fell on the same wounded parts, he could endure no longer, and cried out, "Oh! oh! Why do you beat me? Enough, enough! Is it not enough that the sheep's head has been spoiled?"

His four associates now cried out, "Go to the bazaar and fetch the butter."9

There is quite as droll a version current among the people of Ceylon, to the following effect: A gentleman once had in his employment twenty-five idiots. In the old times it was customary with Sinhalese high families not to allow their servants to eat from plates, but every day they were supplied with plantain leaves, from which they took their food. After eating, they were accustomed to shape the leaf into the form of a cup and drink out of it. Now in this gentleman's house the duty of providing the leaves devolved upon the twenty-five idiots, who were scarcely fit for any other work. One day, when they had gone into the garden to cut the leaves, they spoke among themselves and said, "Why should we, every one of us, trouble ourselves to fetch plantain leaves, when one only could very easily do it? Let us therefore lie down on the ground and sleep like dead men, and let him who first utters a sound or opens his eyes undertake the work." It was no sooner said than done. The men lay in a heap like so many logs. At breakfast-time that day the hungry servants went to the kitchen for their rice, only to be disappointed. No leaves were forthcoming on which to distribute the food, and a complaint was made to the master that the twenty-five idiots had not returned to the house since they went out in the morning. Search was at once made, and they were found fast asleep in the garden. After vainly endeavouring to rouse them, the master concluded that they were dead, and ordered his servants to dig a deep hole and bury them. A grave was then dug, and the idiots were, one by one, thrown into it, but still there was no noise or motion on their part. At length, when they were all put into the grave, and were being covered up, a tool employed by one of the servants hit sharply by accident against the leg of one of the idiots, who then involuntarily moaned. Thereupon all the others exclaimed, "You were the first to utter a sound; therefore from henceforth you must take upon yourself the duty of providing the plantain leaves."10

It has already been remarked that a literary Italian version of the Silent Couple is found in the Nights of Straparola, but there are other variants orally current among the common people in different parts of Italy. This is one from Venice: There were once a husband and a wife. The former said one day to the latter, "Let us have some fritters." She replied, "What shall we do for a frying-pan?" "Go and borrow one from my godmother." "You go and get it; it is only a little way off." "Go yourself, and I will take it back when we are done with it." So she went and borrowed the pan, and when she returned said to her husband, "Here is the pan, but you must carry it back." So they cooked the fritters, and after they had eaten, the husband said, "Now let us go to work, both of us, and the one who speaks first shall carry back the pan." Then she began to spin, and he to draw his thread-for he was a shoemaker-and all the time keeping silence, except that when he drew his thread he said, "Leulerò! leulerò!" and she, spinning, answered, "Picicì! picicì! piciciò!" And they said not another word. Now there happened to pass that way a soldier with a horse, and he asked a woman if there was any shoemaker in that street. She said there was one near by, and took him to the house. The, soldier asked the shoemaker to come and cut his horse a girth, and he would pay him. The latter made no answer but "Leulerò! leulerò!" and his wife "Picicì! picicì! piciciò!" Then the soldier said, "Come and cut my horse a girth, or I will cut your head off." The shoemaker only answered, "Leulerò! leulerò!" and his wife "Picicì! picicì! piciciò!" Then the soldier began to grow angry, and seized his sword, and said to the shoemaker, "Either come and cut my horse a girth, or I will cut your head off." But to no purpose. The shoemaker did not wish to be the first one to speak, and only replied, "Leulerò! leulerò!" and his wife "Picicì! picicì! piciciò!" Then the soldier got mad in good earnest, seized the shoemaker's head, and was going to cut it off. When his wile saw that, she cried out, "Ah, don't, for mercy's sake!" "Good!" exclaimed her husband, "good! Now you go and carry the pan back to my godmother, and I will go and cut the horse's girth."

In a Sicilian version the man and wife fry some fish, and then set about their respective work-shoemaking and spinning-and the one who finishes first the piece of work begun is to eat the fish. While they are singing and whistling at their work, a friend comes along, who knocks at the door, but receives no answer. Then he enters and speaks to them, but still no reply. Finally, in anger, he sits down at the table, and eats up all the fish himself.11

Thus, it will be observed, the droll incident which forms the subject of the old Scotch song of "The Barring of the Door" is of world-wide celebrity.

* * *

Gothamite stories appear to have been familiar throughout Europe during the later Middle Ages, if we may judge from a chapter of the Gesta Romanorum in which the monkish compiler has curiously "moralised" the actions of three noodles:

We read in the "Lives of the Fathers" that an angel showed to a certain holy man three men labouring under a triple fatuity. The first made a faggot of wood, and because it was too heavy for him to carry, he added to it more wood, hoping by such means to make it light. The second drew water with great labour from a very deep well with a sieve, which he incessantly filled. The third carried a beam in his chariot, and, wishing to enter his house, whereof the gate was so narrow and low that it would not admit him, he violently whipped his horse until they both fell together into a deep well. Having shown this to the holy man, the angel said, "What think you of these three men?" "That they are fools," answered he. "Understand, however," returned the angel, "that they represent the sinners of this world. The first describes that kind of men who from day to day do add new sins to the old, because they cannot bear the weight of those which they already have. The second man represents those who do good, but do it sinfully, and therefore it is of no benefit. And the third person is he who would enter the kingdom of heaven with all his world of vanities, but is cast down into hell."

* * *

And now a few more Indian and other stories of the Gothamite class to conclude the present section. In Málava there were two Bráhman brothers, and the wealth inherited from their father was left jointly between them. And while they were dividing that wealth they quarrelled about one having too little and one having too much, and they made a teacher learned in the Vedas arbitrator, and he said to them, "You must divide everything your father left into two halves, so that you may not quarrel about the inequality of the division." When the two fools heard this, they divided every single thing into two equal parts-house, beds, in fact, all their property, including their cattle. Henry Stephens (Henri Estienne), in the Introduction to his Apology for Herodotus,12 relates some very amusing noodle-stories, such as of him who, burning his shins before the fire, and not having wit enough to go back from it, sent for masons to remove the chimney; of the fool who ate the doctor's prescription, because he was told to "take it;" of another wittol who, having seen one spit upon iron to try whether it was hot, did likewise with his porridge; and, best of all, he tells of a fellow who was hit on the back with a stone as he rode upon his mule, and cursed the animal for kicking him. This last exquisite jest has its analogue in that of the Irishman who was riding on an ass one fine day, when the beast, by kicking at the flies that annoyed him, got one of its hind feet entangled in the stirrup, whereupon the rider dismounted, saying, "Faith, if you're going to get up, it's time I was getting down."

The poet Ovid alludes to the story of Ino persuading the women of the country to roast the wheat before it was sown, which may have come to India through the Greeks, since we are told in the Kathá Sarit Ságara of a foolish villager who one day roasted some sesame seeds, and finding them nice to eat, he sowed a large quantity of roasted seeds, hoping that similar ones would come up. The story also occurs in Coelho's Contes Portuguezes, and is probably of Buddhistic origin. And an analogous story is told of an Irishman who gave his hens hot water, in order that they should lay boiled eggs!


1 This notion, that schoolmasters "lack wit," however absurd, seems to have been entertained from ancient times, and to be still prevalent in the East; the so-called jests of Hierokles are all at the expense of pedants; and the Turkish typical noodle is Khoja (i.e., Teacher) Nasru-'d-Dín, some of whose "witless devices" shall be cited presently.

2 Elf Laylawa Layla, or, The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night. Translated, with Introduction, Notes on the Manners and Customs of Moslem Men, and a Terminal Essay on the History of The Nights, by R.F. Burton. Vol. v.

3 The Khoja, however, was not such a fool as we might conclude from the foregoing examples of his sayings and doings; for, being asked one day what musical instrument he liked best, he answered, "I am very fond of the music of plates and saucepans."

4 In China wine is almost invariably taken hot, according to Davis, in his work on the Chinese.

5 This and the following specimens of Chinese stories of simpletons are from "Contes et Bon Mots extraits d'un livre chinois intitule Siao li Siao, traduit par M. Stanislas Julien," (Journal Asiatique, tom. iv., 1824).

6 In another Arabian version, the man desires his wife to moisten some stale bread she has set before him for supper, and she refuses. After an altercation it is agreed that the one who speaks first shall get up and moisten the bread. A neighbour comes in, and, to his surprise, finds the couple dumb; he kisses the wife, but the man says nothing; he gives the man a blow, but still he says nothing; he has the man taken before the kází, but even yet he says nothing; the kází orders him to be hanged, and he is led off to execution, when the wife rushes up and cries out, "Oh, save my poor husband!" "You wretch," says the man, "go home and moisten the bread!"

7 Bang is a preparation of hemp and coarse opium.

8 From Mr. E.J.W. Gibb's translation of the Forty Vazirs (London: 1886).

9 Knowles' Dictionary of Kashmírí Proverbs and Sayings, pp. 197-8. The article bought by the five men is called a hir, which Mr. Knowles says "is the head of any animal used for food," and a sheep's head were surely fitting food for such noodles. Mr. Knowles makes it appear that the whole affair of keeping silence was a mere jest, but we have before seen that it is decidedly meant for a noodle-story.

10 The Orientalist, 1884, p. 136.

11 Crane's Italian Popular Tales, pp. 284-5.

12 A separate work from the Apologie pour Herodote Such was the exasperation of the French clerics at the bitter truths set forth in it, that the author had to flee the country. An English translation, entitled "A World of Wonders; or, an introduction to a Treatise tovching the Conformitie of Ancient and Modern Wonders; or, a Preparative Treatise to the 'Apologie for Herodotus,'" etc., was published at London in 1607, folio, and at Edinburgh 1608, also folio. The Apologie pour Herodote was printed at the Hague.

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