There was once a baker, and every morning when he mixed his dough he used to throw into the river all the bread that had got burnt and all the dough that was spoiled, and the fishes ate it up.
Now one time a travelling merchant turned up and said: "I want to engage a servant. I'll pay him a hundred tumans a month, and for the first forty days he will have no work to do. On the fortieth day he will have to work two hours for me."
The Baker went to him and took service with him on these terms, and for forty days he found that he had no work to do, and the Merchant showed him great kindness. When the forty days were up his master took some mules and loading-bags, and said: "Come along and let's go to a certain place." Then he killed a cow and skinned it, and they loaded the skin and the meat on the mules and started out.
When they came to the foot of a mountain the Merchant lighted a fire and took out the cow's skin, and said: "Now, come along and get into this, so that I may see how much it will hold." On this the Baker, suspecting nothing, got into the skin, and immediately his master tied up the neck of it tightly, while he threw the meat into the fire.1
1 The Merchant knew that the smell of the burning meat would attract the bird, and >They formed themselves into a raft.
Presently a bird came and seized the skin with the man in it in its talons and carried it off to the top of the mountain, where it pecked at the skin with its beak till it tore a hole in it. But when the Baker came out the bird flew away. He then called out: "Master, how am I to get back?" "Throw down the jewels," replied his master, "and then I'll show you the way down."
The Baker looked about him and saw that there were jewels lying strewn about, so fine that it is impossible to describe them. He threw down large quantities of them, and the Merchant made them up 'into loads and placed the loads on the mules. "Now, Master," said the Baker, "where is the way down?" "Don't you see the dead men round you?" replied the Merchant. "There is no way down. You must just die up there as they have done, and your flesh will be devoured by the vultures and crows, and your bones will remain lying there." Then he took his loads of jewels and went off to the town.
"Good," said the Baker, "if I stay here the vultures and crows will eat me, and if I throw myself into the river the fish will eat me, but that would be preferable." Then he climbed up to the top of the mountain whence the river was visible, and threw himself down into it. Now the fishes recognised their friend the Baker who was wont to feed them, and they formed themselves into a raft and carried him across the river, and he reached the dry land in safety and went off home.
When some months had passed, the Baker again saw his late master coming, and knew him. Again the Merchant also that the bird would think that the cow's skin with the man inside it was a whole cow and would carry it off up on to the mountain to eat it there. He was quite right. He had done it many times before, for the dead men's bones on the top of the mountain were those of other servants he had left there in the same way on previous occasions.
said: "I'll give a hundred tumans a month to any one who'll be my servant." Then the Baker disguised himself, so that the Merchant did not recognise him, and said: "I'll be your servant," and he took the hundred tumans and went with him.
When forty days had elapsed the master took his mules and killed a cow as before and skinned it, and they went off to the foot of the mountain. "Get into the skin," said the Merchant. "Master," said the Baker, "I don't quite know how to do it. Get in yourself first and show me, so that I may see how it's done." The Merchant got in to show him, and the Baker quickly tied up the neck of the skin, and the bird came and carried it off to the top of the mountain.
Then the Baker said: "Master, I am the same man whom you left last year on the top of this mountain, and I found a road for myself and came down, so now I know the way. Just you throw down the jewels and I'll show you how to escape." The Merchant threw down all the jewels he was able to collect, and the Baker loaded the mules with them. "Now where's the road?" asked the Merchant. "You must either stay where you are," answered the Baker, "or else throw yourself down into the river. You can do whichever you please."
The Merchant then flung himself into the river, and the water carried him away, and he disappeared and was drowned. But the Baker travelled off with his treasure to the town and settled down to take his ease.
All the stories are ended. Alhamdu lillah!
These tales are very old, my dears, They've been retold and told, my dears, For aeons, centuries, and years,
To Persian girls and boys.
When great Darius, King of Kings, Sealed solemn seals with priceless rings, Their mothers told these self-same things To Persian girls and boys.
And Chosroes of mighty fame, And Shah Abbas of glorious name: Kings came and went, and went and came, But stories flowed on just the same For Persian girls and boys.
The mountain herd-boy, burnt and brown, The royal princeling with his crown, They loved these tales of old renown, But no one cared to write them down In nomad tent or crowded town For Persian girls and boys.
They're not, perhaps, all strictly true, But we have brought them home to you, For though they're old, to us they're new - We hope, we hope, you'll like them too, You English girls and boys.