| Jataka Tales|
|by Ellen C. Babbitt|
|Eighteen fables from the Jatakas of India, skillfully retold and attractively illustrated. Includes The Monkey and the Crocodile, The Merchant of Seri, The Turtle Who Wouldn’t Stop Talking, The Foolish Timid Rabbit, The Banyan Deer, and others. Ages 7-10 |
THE WISE AND THE FOOLISH MERCHANT
NCE upon a time in a certain country a thrifty merchant
visited a great city and bought a great supply of goods. He
loaded wagons with the goods, which he was going to sell as
he traveled through the country.
A stupid young merchant was buying goods in the same city.
He, too, was going to sell what he bought as he traveled
through the country.
They were both ready to start at the same time.
merchant thought, "We cannot travel together, for the men
will find it hard to get wood and water, and there will not
be enough grass for so many oxen. Either he or I
ought to go first."
So he went to the young man and told him this, saying,
"Will you go before or come on after me?"
The other one thought, "It will be better for me to go
first. I shall then travel on a road that is not cut up. The
oxen will eat grass that has not been
 touched. The water will be clean. Also, I
my goods at what price I like." So he said, "Friend, I will
go on first."
This answer pleased the thrifty merchant. He said to
himself, "Those who go before will make the rough places
smooth. The old rank grass will have been eaten by the oxen
that have gone before, while my
oxen will eat the freshly grown tender shoots. Those who go
before will dig wells from which we shall drink. Then, too,
I will not have to bother about setting prices, but I can
sell my goods at the prices
set by the other man." So he said aloud, "Very well,
friend, you may go on first."
At once the foolish merchant started on his journey. Soon he
had left the city and was in the country. By and by he came
to a desert which he had to cross. So he filled great
water-jars with water, loaded them into a large wagon and
started across the desert.
Now on the sands of this desert there lived a wicked demon.
This demon saw the foolish young merchant coming and thought
to himself, "If I can make him empty those water-jars, soon
I shall be able to overcome him and have him in my power."
 So the demon went further along the road and changed himself
into the likeness of a noble gentleman. He called up a
beautiful carriage, drawn by milk-white oxen. Then he
called ten other demons, dressed them like men and armed
them with bows and arrows, swords and shields. Seated in
his carriage, followed by the ten demons, he rode back to
meet the merchant. He put mud on the carriage wheels, hung
water-lilies and wet grasses upon the oxen and the carriage.
Then he made the clothes the demons wore and their hair all
wet. Drops of water trickled down over their faces just
as if they had all come through a stream.
As the demons neared the foolish merchant they turned their
carriage to one side of the way, saying pleasantly, "Where
are you going?"
The merchant replied, "We have come from the great city back
there and are going across the desert to the villages
beyond. You come dripping with mud and carrying
water-lilies and grasses. Does it rain on the road you have
come by? Did you come through a stream?"
The demon answered, "The dark streak across the sky is a
forest. In it there are ponds full of
water-  lilies. The rains come often. What have you in all those
He put mud on the carriage wheels, hung water-lilies and wet grasses upon the oxen and the carriage.
"Goods to be sold," replied the merchant.
"But in that last big heavy wagon what do you carry?" the
"Jars full of water for the journey," answered the merchant.
The demon said, "You have done well to bring water as far
as this, but there is no need of it beyond. Empty out all
that water and go on easily." Then he added, "But we have
delayed too long. Drive on!" And he drove on until he was
out of sight of the merchant. Then he returned to his home
with his followers to wait for the night to come.
The foolish merchant did as the demon bade him and emptied
every jar, saving not even a cupful. On and on they traveled
and the streak on the sky faded with the sunset.
There was no forest, the dark line being
only clouds. No water was to be found. The men
had no water to drink and no food to eat, for they had no
water in which to cook their rice, so they went thirsty and
supperless to bed. The oxen, too, were hungry and thirsty
and dropped down to sleep here and there. Late at
night the demons fell upon them
 and easily carried off every man. They drove the oxen on
ahead of them, but the loaded carts they did not care to
A month and a half after this the wise merchant followed
over the same road. He, too, was met on the desert by the
demon just as the other had been. But the wise man knew the
man was a demon because he cast no shadow. When the demon
told him of the ponds in the forest ahead and advised him to
throw away the water-jars the wise merchant replied, "We
don't throw away the water we have until we get to a place
where we see there is more."
Then the demon drove on. But the men who were with
the merchant said, "Sir! those men told us that yonder was
the beginning of a great forest, and from there onwards it
was always raining. Their clothes and hair were dripping
with water. Let us throw away the water-jars and go on
faster with lighter carts!"
Stopping all the carts the wise merchant asked the men,
"Have you ever heard any one say that there was a lake or
pond in this desert? You have lived near here always."
"We never heard of a pond or lake," they said.
 "Does any man feel a wind laden with dampness blowing
against him?" he asked.
"No, sir," they answered.
"Can you see a rain cloud, any of you?" said he.
"No, sir, not one," they said.
"Those fellows were not men, they were demons!" said the
wise merchant. "They must have come out to make us throw
away the water. Then when we were faint and weak they might
have put an end to us. Go on at once and don't throw away a
single half-pint of water."
He himself with the head men stood on guard.
 So they drove on and before nightfall they came upon the
loaded wagons belonging to the foolish merchant.
Then the thrifty merchant had his wagons drawn up in a
circle. In the middle of the circle he had the oxen lie
down, and also some of the men. He himself with the head
men stood on guard, swords in hand and waited for the
demons. But the demons did not bother them. Early the next
day the thrifty merchant took the best of the wagons left
by the foolish merchant and went on safely to the city
across the desert.
There he sold all the goods at a profit and returned with
his company to his own city.
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