Some time after this the Scanty-Beards came to the village and hunted about and found Baldhead out in the plains. They went up to him in wrath, intending to burn his father, but they noticed the little fox tied up outside the shelter. They looked at each other and whispered: "There's some secret about that fox." After they had greeted Bald-head with polite speeches, he said: "Come, let's go to my house." "But it's very late," said they, "and there are forty of us, and we should be a burden to you." "Not at all," said he, "I've got a messenger I'll send on in front to give them notice."
With that he pulled up the peg to which the fox was chained and said to him: "You will go to my house and say to my wife: 'Your husband says: "I have forty guests with me, please make ready for us all.'" "Then he struck the fox once or twice with the chain on the back and sides and let him go, and away he bounded across the desert. When they saw this the forty Scanty-Beards took care not to breathe a word about the donkey, and they started off with Baldhead to his house.
After an hour's walking they reached it and saw - yes! - food and dishes and qalians and everything ready for forty guests! And there was the fox tied up outside the house! Their host turned to his wife and said: "How did you know I was bringing home forty guests to-day?" "Oh," said she, "the fox brought your message." Then the forty took counsel together, and they whispered: "That fox would be useful to us."
When they had eaten their lunch and smoked their pipes they turned to Baldhead and said: "You've never asked why we came to trouble you to-day." And he answered: "Say on." "We heard," said they, "that you had a little fox of this kind, and we came to buy it from you, for it would suit us very well. We cannot afford to keep servants, and he could do the work of a messenger." "Nay," said Baldhead, "I cannot bear to hear you speak thus. Ask any other thing of me and I will give it, and gladly, but not this." Finally, with the greatest difficulty, they persuaded Baldhead to let them have the fox for a hundred tumans. And they hurried home, very well pleased with the bargain.
When they got to within half a fersakh of their home, they drew up the fox to them and hit him once or twice on the head, and said: "You will go to our house and let them know that we're coming, and tell our wives to make ready for us," and with that they set him free. When they got home they saw that nothing was ready and no message had arrived. "Didn't the fox come?" "No," answered their wives. "Oh, well, he won't have known the road, we must wait two or three days," said they; "he is sure to turn up."
When the third day had come, Baldhead said to his wife: "Fill a sheep's stomach full of blood and fasten it in front under your own dress, and I shall say to you: 'Go and bring a water-melon.' Then you must bring an unripe one. I shall cut it, and when I see that it is unripe I shall get angry and plunge my knife into your stomach. Then you must fall down and pretend to be dead, till I put this little tube into your mouth and blow, and then you must come to life again."
On the morning of the fourth day, when the fox was still missing, the Scanty-Beards said: "We'll go and burn the father of that Baldhead, and to-day he shall not escape with his life." They came and all rushed suddenly into his house to take him by surprise, but he was sitting there expecting them. They dashed forward to strike him. "Patience, fathers," said he, "let's have a water-melon for breakfast first, then we can talk and do our business." "It won't cost us anything to eat a water-melon," whispered the one to the other, and aloud they said: "All right, bring it."
Baldhead immediately called out to his wife: "Bring a water-melon!" She brought one after another, but they were all unripe, and her husband began to abuse her, and at last took out his knife and plunged it in her stomach. Blood poured out, the woman fell down, waved her arms, kicked her legs a little, and then died.
"For the love of God!" cried the Scanty-Beards, "what is this you've done! Let us fly in safety lest any one accuse us! We'll say no more about our money." "Don't be afraid," said Baldhead, "I'll bring her back to life again presently as soon as my anger has cooled down." After a little while, when his anger had cooled, he took the little tube out of its box and blew. His wife sneezed once, got up, and sat down alive and well.
After the woman had come to life again, the Scanty-Beards came crowding round Baldhead, saying: "Sell us now this little tube and make good some of the injuries you have done us." At last, after great trouble and labour, they persuaded him to sell them the tube for three hundred tumans, and they went off home in great delight.
Now they all lived in one house, and each of them found some excuse that evening for quarrelling with his wife and plunging his knife in her stomach. The women fell down, kicked a little, and died. Then the husbands sat down together to smoke a qalian and let their anger cool, then they took the tube from their leader and put it in the women's mouths. But blow as they might, nothing happened, and after two or three days they saw it was no use, the dead women would not come to life again.
So in each room they dug a grave and buried their wives, that no one might hear of the affair. And they said: "To-day we will go and burn Baldhead's father!" They came and burst suddenly into his house and they beat him a while, so that the noise of their blows was heard afar off. Then they threw him into a saddle-bag and fastened the mouth of it, and carried him off to take him and throw him into the Zayanda Rud at Isfahan.
On the way they came to a stream that crossed the road, and as they were tired they put him down in the middle of the road, while they went themselves into a shady corner to eat bread. Meanwhile a shepherd, coming along with his flocks, came up a steep bank on to the road. Baldhead guessed from the sounds that it was a shepherd driving his sheep, and he began to talk to himself very loud: "O God! O God! . . . I don't want to . . . why am I a shepherd . . .? What have I to do with a King's Daughter . . .? I am afraid . . . afraid of a King's Daughter. . . . O God!"
The shepherd, hearing these strange words, came up to him and said: "What are you saying? How can you be a shepherd? And what are you doing in a saddle-bag?"
"Yes," said he, "I am indeed a shepherd, to my sorrow, and the King's Daughter has said that she wants to be a shepherd's wife. So the King gave orders for them to go out and catch a shepherd and bring him in, and they have caught me and bound me in the saddle-bag, and they are carrying me off to give me to the King's Daughter. And I am afraid, and I don't want to go."
"What a fool of a fellow you are," said the real shepherd. "I only wish they were taking me in your place." "Well," said Baldhead, "open the bag quickly and get in instead of me!" The shepherd made haste and opened the saddlebag, and got out of his own clothes and gave them to Bald-head and took his in exchange. Then he climbed into the bag and Baldhead fastened the neck of it very securely, and took charge of the flock and set out along the road which the Scanty-Beards would have to travel on the way to Isfahan.
Now they, when they had eaten and drunk and rested themselves, lifted up the shepherd in the saddle-bag and started off again. When they came to the banks of the Zayanda Rud, "plump, plump," they pitched him into the river and the waters carried him off and drowned him. Then they said: "Well, it's a good thing to have had our revenge at last on that son of a burnt father! Now let's go into the city."
When they got within about half a fersakh of the city suddenly they see: "Hullo, here's old Baldhead coming along driving two or three thousand sheep in front of him!" "Well, Master Baldhead, where have you been? We have just killed you; how did you come to life again?" "By the souls of your fathers," answered he, "you threw me into the river, and the current caught me and carried me to the far side, where there are shallows and the water has no great depth. There I got out of the saddle-bag and went along till I chanced to find the chief Khan of the Qashqai giving away in charity the sheep of Hazrat 'Abbas. This much was my share; he gave it to me, I took it and came away.
If you feel inclined to go and get some too, you should go at once, but it's the very spot where you threw me in."
"Well," said they, "what does that matter! We'll go. If you're telling the truth and if we get plenty of sheep, we'll forgive you." "Yes, go," said Baldhead, "the Ilkhani will be glad to see you over there. He will give you more than he gave me, for he's getting impatient to be finished with his vow."
The long and the short of it was that they went off to the bank of the river. Their leader said: "I'll jump into the water first. If it's all right, I'll wave my hand towards the water for you to follow me, but if I hold my hand up, don't come." And they said: "All right."
Then the leader stepped back, crouched down, and took a spring right into the middle of the river, and he felt the water sweep him off his feet and carry him away. Instead of holding up his hand to say "Don't come," he was so frightened of being drowned that he struck out and began to swim to try to escape. His companions thought he was signing to them to follow, and one by one they flung themselves "plop, plop," into the water. And the waters carried off every one of them and they were drowned.
Baldhead then took his sheep and went back to his village, and with the money of the Scanty-Beards he betrothed his son to his brother's daughter. And in the greatest happiness they sat down, he and his son and the young wife, to live their lives together.
And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.