Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There was a poor man who was a Thorn-cutter, and in his household there were just himself and his wife and one daughter. Every day he went out into the desert to gather thorn bushes for firewood, and every evening he used to bring in his load of thorns and sell it, and thus provide a means of livelihood. One day when he came home his daughter said: "Daddy, I want some chaimal to-night." "Very well, my dear," said he, "when I sell my load to-day I'll buy the dates and the sugar and the ghee, and we'll knead the cakes this evening and you shall have your wish."
1 Poor and pious women in Persia have the custom of telling the story of Mushkil Gusha on the Eve of a Friday, and in this wise: they fast all Thursday (viz. from sunset on our Wednesday till sunset on our Thursday), and at noon they find a child who has never heard the tale and tell the story to him (or her). If no child is available they put a mirror on the ground and tell the story to the face in the looking-glass. Then when the time of sunset prayer has come they break their fast with pease and raisins or with dates. Whatever is left over from the "break-fast" they distribute as alms in the name of Mushkil Gusha. No one to whom such alms is offered should refuse to accept them, but he may hand them on to some one else.
The story as it follows above was taken down verbatim from the lips of one of these poor and pious women by my informant. It is believed that whoever follows these instructions will find all his desires fulfilled. It is open to the reader to put this faith to the test.
That day as usual the poor old man went out on his thorn-gathering. When evening came and he got back to his own house, he found the door tight shut, and hungry and thirsty as he was, he put down the load of thorns by the door and slept beside it. In the morning he woke up early and said to himself: "See, now, it will be best to go off quickly and gather another load of thorns and bring it. That will make two, and I'll be back early and sell them all the sooner this afternoon, and my daughter shall have her wish."
The poor Thorn-cutter set out and worked hard and gathered his load and hurried home, but when he got back the door was tight shut. He cried a little, and hungry and thirsty as he was, he lay down beside his two loads and slept till morning. He woke up very, very hungry, and said: "It is now two days since any of us have had anything to eat. I'll go off early again to-day and gather thorns. That will make three loads. Then I'll hurry back and sell all three and satisfy my daughter's wish."
In short, he went once more and again brought his load of thorns, and came - only to find again the door tight shut. He cried a little, and lay down hungrier and thirstier than ever beside his three loads to sleep. Whether he went to sleep or whether he fainted from weakness, he saw some one who said: "Ho, old man! Hullo, Thorn-cutter!" - "What do you want?" said he. "Look, far out there in the desert they are distributing bread and pulau as alms!." Up rose the poor old man and walked and walked, but far as he went he saw neither bread nor pulau. When he got back he found that some one or something had set fire to his three loads of thorns, and they were all burnt up. He cried a little and lay down and slept.
No sooner had he dropped off to sleep than he again saw some one who called out: "Ho, old man! Hullo, old man! What's the matter with you?" "For three days'," replied he, "I have toiled collecting three loads of thorns to buy a little food for my household. Just now I fell asleep and heard some one cry: 'Ho, old man, rise up, they are distributing bread and pulau out there in the desert.' I went out and found nothing, and when I got back, lo, they had set fire to all my three loads. And I and my wife and my daughter have now fasted three days."
"Good," answered the man; "now rise up, old man, and say seven prayers, and shut your eyes and mount my horse behind me." Quickly the poor old man said the seven prayers and shut his eyes, and the stranger took him up on his horse and carried him off. They reached a desert: "Say three prayers and dismount," said the stranger. He said three prayers and dismounted. "Now gather as many of these pebbles as ever you want!" said the horseman. The poor old man thought to himself: "God help me, what do I want pebbles for! What am I to do with them?" Then he thought: "Ah well, there's the proverb: 'Better bring home a stone than bring home disgrace.' "And he began to gather pebbles.
He filled his sack and his pockets and the skirts of his coat and the shawl round his waist, everything he could, full of the pebbles., Then the stranger said: "Say three prayers and mount again behind me." He said three prayers and mounted, and the horse carried them back to the door of the house. When they got there the stranger said: "Old man, say three prayers and get down."
When he had said the prayers and dismounted the horseman said: "Old man, take these pebbles and fulfil your daughter's wish, and never forget Mushkil Gusha, the Remover of Difficulties. Every Friday Eve tell the tale of Mushkil Gusha and keep the fast of Mushkil Gusha, and distribute as alms the dates of Mushkil Gusha, and never let Mushkil Gusha be forgotten." Thereupon the horseman vanished.
The old man began to knock on the door, and his wife and daughter woke up and said: "Where on earth have you been the last two or three days?" He told them the whole story, and went and emptied out the pebbles in a corner of the room, and they all lay down to sleep.
Now a scorpion stung one of their neighbours' children, and when they got up they saw the light of a bright fire or lamp coming from the Thorn-cutter's house. They came to the edge of the roof and called out: "Neighbour, you have a fire burning, give us a light, one of the children has been stung by a scorpion." The Thorn-cutter made oath and said: "God is my witness, I have no fire." "Well, then," they answered, "you've got a lamp alight." Then the Thorn-cutter's wife got up and saw that the neighbours were right: the pebbles were shining brightly and flashing like lightning, and from them light was streaming out through the hole in the roof. She ran up on to the roof and covered the hole, and called out: "God is our witness, neighbours, we have no light. It must have been a circle of moonlight that you saw." They were greatly disappointed and went back into their own house to make a fire for themselves.