Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There was a bald-headed man who was the owner of a cow. His son grew up and said one day: "Father, I want you to find a wife for me and let me get married." "My son," said the father, "I have no money, but come, take the cow into town and sell her and bring me the money, and with it I shall arrange a marriage for you with your uncle's daughter." The boy was greatly pleased, took the cow, and came into the town of Isfahan.
Now there were forty scanty-bearded men in the town who were very evil and mischievous, and they made it their business to cheat the unwary. As the boy arrived at the city gate with his cow, one Scanty-Beard came up and said: "What will you sell the goat for?" He laughed and answered: "What a donkey you must be if you don't know the difference between a goat and a cow!" "All right," said the Scanty-Beard, "then there can be no bargain between us, but if other people want to buy it from you for thirty shahis, God be my witness, I am willing to give you thirty-five for it."
The boy took his cow further, and soon a second Scanty-Beard came up and spoke in just the same way, till seventeen or eighteen of them had come. Each of them said: "What will you sell the goat for?" At last the poor boy began to get confused himself, and to wonder whether it really was a cow or was perhaps after all only a goat. "What will you give for it?" he asked at length. "Well, since you come from the village and are a stranger to the town," said the rascal, "I am willing to oblige you and to pay five qrans for your goat." A second one broke in, saying: "I'll give you six." Then a third one turned up who offered seven, and the boy took the seven qrans while the Scanty-Beard carried off the cow, which he still called a goat.
Then the lad went and spent two qrans in making various purchases, and then spent the remaining five in having a good meal at an eating-house, and went back to Baldhead, his father. When he got home his father's first question was: "Well, did you sell the cow?" "By the soul of your father," replied his son, "you had given me a goat instead of a cow!" "What do you mean?" asked the father. So the boy told him how the Scanty-Beards had come, one after another, and said: "That's a goat," and how everybody had said: "That's a goat" - "so I sold it for seven qrans and took the money and spent it, and I brought home a kerchief for my uncle's daughter."
"Well, well," said his father, "those Scanty-Beards cheated you and made a fool of you, but never mind, I'll burn their fathers for them yet!" Now Baldhead had a donkey, and he took it and went out into the plains to his landlord and said: "Master, I'll give you a mortgage on one-sixth of the village if you can let me have seven gold pieces for ten days." And he took the gold coins from his lord and went off to the city.
That night he halted in the ruins outside Isfahan till sunrise, then he went straight to the house where he knew the Scanty-Beards used to meet. He knocked at the door and went in with a "Salam 'aleikum!" They whispered to each other: "That's a wonderfully nice, strong, fat donkey, we must try to swindle him out of it." Meantime he had been tending the donkey, and he said: "Masters, I have one request. Would you be kind enough to let me have a little hay for my donkey? Then we must start out again."
As he said this he quietly slipped the seven pieces of gold into the donkey's mouth. They made haste to bring hay and water, and when the donkey saw the food coming he threw his heels in the air and began to bray, and all the gold pieces fell jingling, jangling on the ground. Then Baldhead picked them up as a matter of course and put them in his pocket, and kicked the donkey two or three times, saying: "Why were you late in giving me my gold pieces to-day? There are a thousand things I want to buy in the bazar to take back to the village."
Then the one looked at the other and the other looked at the one, and they whispered: "This is a good donkey, it ought to belong to us and not to this Baldhead." Finally they all crowded round him and said: "We will give you whatever you like to ask, but you must let us have the donkey." "But," answered Baldhead, "I have nothing in the world save this donkey, and the wealth he gives me is my only means of livelihood. If you were to take my donkey from me my days would be black indeed! Money comes to an end, but the money which the donkey gives me has no end; it is like a piece of land which always goes oh yielding new crops." At last they succeeded in contenting Baldhead by giving him a thousand tumans and taking the donkey.
When the bargain was concluded and the animal had changed hands, Baldhead said: "There's one condition attached: you must shut him up in a room where the wind won't blow on his body, and you must fill one manger full of sugar-candy juice and another full of pashmak, and into a third you must pour five mann of barley. Then set a large jar of water beside him and shut the door for forty days. On the fortieth day open the door and collect the gold coins he has given." And they did exactly as he had said.
On the fortieth day they went to open the door to divide the money, but it was so heavy that they could not move it. They said to themselves: "The donkey has given so much gold that the room is full and the door won't open." At last, with the greatest labour and trouble, they forced the door, and they found that the donkey had fallen down behind it dead and there were no gold coins nor anything else. He had eaten all the barley and drunk all the water, and swollen up and burst and gone to his own place. "We must burn the father of that Baldhead!" said they.
Now listen while I tell what Baldhead had been doing. He knew that they would go on the fortieth day to their rendezvous with the donkey and would find it dead, and would then come to burn his father. So he looked about and found two baby foxes exactly the same size and colour. One he tied up outside the door of his house, the other he took out into the plains and made it fast to the side of his little sun-shelter. Then he said to his wife: "I have forty guests coming to-day. Make everything ready for forty - forty dishes of everything, forty qalians, forty trays, forty bowls, and when the guests have come I'll ask you in front of them: 'How did you know I was going to have guests to-day?' Then you must answer: 'The little fox brought me word who's tied up outside.'"