Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There was a man who had a wife, and one day she went to the public baths. While she was at the bath she saw a lady of very high rank arrive who gave orders that every one else should be turned out so that she might have the bath to herself. The woman was very much annoyed, and when she came out she asked: "Whose wife was that?" "That," they said, "is the wife of the King's Chief Fortune-Teller."
She went home, caught her husband by the collar of his coat, and said: "Come, go you and become a Fortune-Teller!" "But," said he, "I can't become a Fortune-Teller; I don't know how to divine or to tell fortunes." "I can't help that," retorted she, "either you become a Fortune-Teller or you give me a divorce." So the husband went off to the bazar and bought a divining-board and dice and went and sat in the street near the door of the public baths, and put the divining-board in front of him.
Now it chanced that on that very day the King's Daughter had gone to the bath, and when she was undressing she had given a ring to one of her slave-women to keep for her. For safety the woman had put it in a hole in the wall and had put a little wisp of hair at the mouth of the hole.
When the King's Daughter came out of her bath she asked for the ring, but the poor slave-woman had meanwhile quite forgotten where she had hidden it and was at her wits' end. The Princess was very angry, and said: "If you don't find the ring I'll have you beaten." The slave-woman, in terror of a beating, ran out of the baths, and her eye fell on the Fortune-Teller. She was delighted, and went up to him and sat down and told him all about the affair, and said: "Divine now for me and see where the ring is."
Now the unhappy Fortune-Teller hadn't the least idea how to divine, and he began to nod his head and cast the dice, and he looked at the board and wondered and wondered what he should say. As he looked about his eye fell on the woman, and he saw a little rent in her cloak, and through the hole he caught sight of a piece of her hair, so he muttered:
"I see a little hole there, And in the hole a little hair."
No sooner had he uttered these words than the woman remembered where she had put the ring, and she ran in immediately and found it. And the news of this wonderful Fortune-Teller reached the ears of the King's Daughter, and she told the whole story to her father.
Then the King sent and bade them bring the man, and said: "You shall be my Fortune-Teller in Chief," and he gave him money and a horse and a robe of honour.
Not long after this the King's Treasury was broken into and robbed. Then the King sent for his Fortune-Teller, and said: "You must find me the thieves." The poor man asked for forty days' grace, and came home to his wife and said: "See now what you have done. You have put me in danger of my life, for how am I to find out the thieves? There is nothing for us but to fly at the end of the forty days."
"Divine now for me."
Then, in order not to lose count of the time, he put forty dates into a vessel, and said to his wife: "Bring me one of these dates each evening; when they are exhausted, that very night we shall fly."
Now the thieves heard that the Chief Fortune-Teller had promised the King to find them out. There were forty thieves, and they were very much afraid. The leader said to one of them: "Go to the house of the Chief Fortune-Teller and see what he is doing." The thief came to the Fortune-Teller's house and crept up on the roof and began to listen. Now it happened that at that very moment the wife brought one of the dates and gave it to her husband, and he said: "The first of the forty, my dear." And the thief, when he heard these words, thought the Fortune-Teller meant to say: "The first of the forty thieves has come," and he was terrified, and fled and brought the news to his leader.
Next evening he sent two men together to find out what was happening, and just as before they heard the Fortune-Teller say to his wife: "Two of the forty, my dear,' and, in short, so it went on each evening till the fortieth.
On the last day the leader of the thieves said: "I'll go myself to-night." At the very moment that he got on to the roof and began to listen it happened that the wife brought her husband the last of the dates, which was also the biggest of them all, and gave it into his hand. And he said: "Well, well, to-night it's the last and the biggest of the lot." When the thief heard these words he thought the Fortune-Teller meant to say: "To-night the leader of the thieves has come." He was greatly frightened, and came down quickly and went in and began to beg and implore the Fortune-Teller, saying: "We'll give back the whole treasure safely into your hands for you to restore to the King on condition that you do not reveal our names."
The Chief Fortune-Teller was extremely delighted, and took all the moneys and treasures and precious stones, and went early in the morning and brought them to the King. And the King gave him money and presents and robes of honour.
Now after some time the King went out hunting one day. While he was hunting he saw a locust and tried to catch it, but it escaped. A second time he tried, again it leaped away. The third time, however, he caught it and held it tight in the hollow of his fist. He came up to the Fortune-Teller and asked: "What is it I've got in my hand?' The unfortunate man turned yellow with fear and began to cast his dice, and, thinking of his own history, began to mutter:
"You hopped off safely once, little locust,
You hopped off safely twice, little locust,
The third time you are caught in a man's hand."
The King naturally imagined that the Fortune-Teller was answering his question and was greatly pleased, and gave him gifts in plenty. But the Chief Fortune-Teller thought within himself that he must do something to prevent their setting him any more problems.
One day he was sitting in the bath, and he thought to himself: "I'll pretend to be mad. I'll run along just as I am into the King's castle, and embrace the King, and carry him out in my arms. Then he will say: 'The fellow's mad,' and they'll ask me no more questions, but leave me in peace."
So he went and did as he had said. Scarcely had he seized the King in his arms and carried him out of the castle when the roof of the King's chamber fell in with a crash. Thereupon said the Fortune-Teller: "I was just sitting in my bath casting my dice when I saw - the roof of the King's chamber is going to fall in and he will be killed! That was why I didn't even wait to put on my clothes but ran hither naked as I was and saved the King's life."
The King was very grateful, and gave him money and great wealth.
Some time afterwards the wife of the Fortune-Teller went to the bath in great state. She caught sight of the wife of the former Fortune-Teller in Chief and she ordered that they should turn her out of the bath. This she did in revenge for the past.
And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.