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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
Table of Contents


 

 

THE HISTORY OF THE FISHERMAN

THERE was formerly an aged fisherman, so poor that he could barely obtain food for himself, his wife, and his three children. He went out early every morning to his employment; and he had imposed a rule upon himself never to cast his nets above four times a day.

On one occasion he set out before the morn had disappeared. When he reached the sea-shore, he undressed himself, and cast his nets. In drawing them to land three times in succession, he felt sure, from their resistance and weight, that he had secured an excellent draught of fish. Instead of which he only found on the first haul the carcass of an ass; on the second, a large pannier failed with sand and mud; and on the third, a large quantity of heavy stones, shells, and filth It is impossible to describe his disappointment and despair. The day now began to break, and having, like a good Mussulman, finished his prayer, he threw his nets for the fourth time. Again he supposed he had caught a great quantity of fish, as he drew them with as much difficulty as before. He nevertheless found hone; but discovered a heavy vase of yellow copper, shut up and fastened with lead, on which there was the impression of a seal. "I will sell this to a founder" said he, with joy, "and with the money I shall get for it I will purchase a measure of corn."

He examined the vase on all sides; he shook it, but could hear nothing; and this, together with the impression of the seal on the lead, made him think it was filled with something valuable In order to find this out, he took his knife, and got it open. He directly turned the top downwards, and was much surprised to find nothing come out; he then set it down before him, and while he was attentively observing it, there issued from it so thick a smoke that he was obliged to step back a few paces. This smoke, by degrees, rose almost to the clouds, and spread itself over both the water and the shore, appearing like a thick fog. The fisherman, as may easily be imagined, was a good deal surprised at this sight. When the smoke had all come out from the vase, it again collected itself and became a solid body, and then took the shape of a genie of a gigantic size. The genie, looking [220] at the fisherman, exclaimed, "Humble thyself before me, or I will kill thee." "And for what reason, pray, will you kill me?" answered the fisherman; "have you already forgotten that I have set you at liberty?" "I remember it very well," returned he; "but that shall not prevent my destroying thee; and I will only grant thee one favor." "And pray what is that?" said the fisherman. "It is," replied the genie, "to permit thee to choose the manner of thy death. I can [221] treat thee no otherwise; and to convince thee of it, hear my history:—


[Illustration]

"I am one of those spirits who rebelled against the sovereignty of God. Solomon, the son of David, the prophet of God, commanded me to acknowledge his authority, and submit to his laws. I haughtily refused. In order, therefore, to punish me, he inclosed me in this copper vase; and to prevent me forcing my way out, he put. upon the leaden cover the impression of his seal, on which the great name of God is engraven. This done, he gave the vase to one of those genies who obeyed him, and ordered him to cast me into the sea.

"During the first century of my captivity, I swore that if any one delivered me before the first hundred years were passed, I would make him rich. During the second century, I swore that if any released me, I would discover to him all the treasures of the earth. During the third, I promised to make my deliverer a most powerful monarch, and to grant him every day any three requests he chose. These centuries passed away without any deliverance. Enraged, at last, to be so long a prisoner, I swore that I would, without mercy, kill whoever should in future release me, and that the only favor I would grant him should be to choose what manner of death he pleased. Since, therefore, thou hast come here to-day, and hast delivered me, fix upon whatever kind of death thou wilt."

The fisherman was in great distress at finding him thus resolved on his death, not so much on his own account as for his three children, whose means of subsistence would be greatly reduced by his death. "Alas!" he cried, "have pity on me; remember what I have done for thee."

"Let us lose no time," cried the genie; "your arguments avail not. Make haste, tell me how you wish to die."

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the fisherman thought of a stratagem. "Since, then," said he, "I cannot escape death, I submit to the will of God; but before I choose the sort of death, I conjure you, by the great name of God, which is graven upon the seal of the prophet Solomon, the son of David, answer me truly to a question I am going to put to you." The genie trembled at this adjuration, and said to the fisherman, "Ask what thou wilt, and make haste."

"Dare you, then, to swear by the great name of God that you really were in that vase? This vase cannot contain one of your feet; how, then, can it hold your whole body?" "I swear to thee, notwithstanding," replied he, "that I was there just as thou seest me. Wilt thou not believe me after the solemn oath I have taken?" "No, truly," added the fisherman; "I shall not believe you, unless I were to see it."

Immediately the form of the genie began to change into smoke, and extended itself, as before, over both the shore and the sea; and then, collecting itself, began to enter the vase, and continued to do so, in a slow and equal manner, till nothing remained without. The fisherman immediately took the leaden cover, and put it on the vase?" Genie," he cried, "it is now your turn to ask pardon. I shall throw you again into the sea, and I will build, opposite the very spot where you are cast, a house upon the shore, in which I will live, to warn all fishermen that shall come and throw their nets, not to fish up so evil a genie as thou art, who makest an oath to kill the man who shall set thee at liberty."

The genie tried every argument to move the fisherman's pity but in vain. "You are too treacherous for me to trust you," returned the fisherman; "I should deserve to lose my life, if I put myself in your power a second time."


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