Once upon a time which was no time if it was a time, in the days when my mother was my mother and I was my mother's daughter, when my mother was my daughter and I was my mother's mother, in those days, I say, it happened that we once went along the road, and we went on and on and on. We went for a little way and we went for a long way, we went over mountains and over valleys, we went for a month continually, and when we looked behind us we hadn't gone a step. So we set out again, and we went on and on and on till we came to the garden of the Chin-i-Machin Pasha.1 We went in, and there was a miller grinding grain, and a cat was by his side. And the cat had woe in its eye, and the cat had woe on its nose, and the cat had woe in its mouth, and the cat had woe in its fore paw, and the cat had woe in its hind paw, and the cat had woe in its throat, and the cat had woe in its ear, and the cat had woe in its face, and the cat had woe in its fur, and the cat had woe in its tail.
1 Emperor of China.
Hard by this realm lived a poor wood-cutter, who had nothing in the world but his poverty and a horrid shrew of a wife. What little money the poor man made his wife always took away, so that he had not a single para 1 left. If his supper was over-salted - and so it was many a time - and her lord chanced to say to her: "Mother, thou hast put too much salt in the food," so venomous was she that next day she would cook the supper without one single grain of salt, so that there was no savour in it. But if he dared to say: "There is no savour in the food, mother!" she would put so much salt in it next day that her husband could not eat thereof at all.
Now what was it that befell this poor man one day? This is what befell. He put by a couple of pence from his earnings to buy a rope to hang himself withal. But his wife found them in her husband's pocket: "Ho, ho!" she cried, "so thou dost hide thy money in corners to give it to thy comrades, eh?" In vain the poor man swore by his head that it was not so, his wife would not believe him. "My dear," said her husband, "I wanted to buy me a rope with the money."
"To hang thyself with, eh?" inquired his affectionate spouse.
"Well, thou knowest what a hideous racket thou dost make sometimes," replied her husband, meaning to pacify her.
"What I have done hitherto is little enough for a blockhead like thee," she replied, and with that she gave her husband such a blow that it seemed to him as if the red dawn was flashing before him.
The next morning the wood-cutter rose early, saddled his ass, and went towards the mountains. All that he said to his wife before starting was to beg her not to follow him into the forest. This was quite enough for the wife. Immediately he was gone she saddled her ass, and after her husband she went without more ado. "Who knows," murmured she to herself, "what he may not be up to in the mountains, if I am not there to look after him!"
The man saw that his wife was coming after him, but he made as if he did not see, never spoke a word, and as soon as he got to the foot of the mountain he set about wood-cutting. His wife, however, for she was a restless soul, went up and down and all about the mountain, poked her nose into everything, till at last her attention was fixed by a deserted well, and she made straight for it.
Then her husband cried to her: "Take care, there's a well right before thee! "
The only effect this warning had upon the wife was to make her draw still nearer. Again he cried to her: "Dost thou not hear me speak to thee? Go not further on, for there's a well in front of thee."
"What do I care what he says'?" thought she. Then she took another step forward, but before she could take another the earth gave way beneath her, and into the well she plumped. As for the husband, he was thinking of something else, for he always minded his own business, so, his work over, he took his ass and never stopped till he got home.
The next day, at dawn, he again arose, saddled the ass, and went to the mountains, when the thought of his wife suddenly came into his mind. "I'll see what has become of the poor woman!" said he. So he went to the opening of the well and looked into it, but nothing was to be seen or heard of his wife. His heart was sore, for anyhow was she not his wife? and he began to think whether he could get her out of the well. So he took a rope, let it down into the well, and cried into the great depth thereof: "Catch hold of the rope, mother, and I'll draw thee up!"
Presently the man felt that the rope had become very heavy. He pulled away at it with all his might, he tugged and tugged - what creature of Allah's could it be that he was pulling out of the well? And lo! it was none other than a hideous ghost! The poor wood-cutter was sore afraid.
"Rise up, poor man, and fear not," said the ghost. "The mighty Allah rather bless thee for thy deed. Thou hast saved me from so great a danger, that to the very day of judgment I will not forget thy good deed."
Then the poor man began to wonder what this great danger might be.
"How many many years I lived peaceably in this well I know not," continued the ghost, "but up to this very day I knew no trouble. But yesterday - whence she came I know not - an old woman suddenly plumped down on my shoulders, and caught me so tightly by both my ears, that I could not get loose from her for a moment. By a thousand good fortunes thou didst come to the spot, let down thy rope, and call to her to seize hold of it. For in trying to get hold of it she let me go, and I at once seized the rope myself, and, the merciful Allah be praised for it, here I am on dry land again. Good awaits thee for thy good deed; list now to what I say to thee!"
With that the ghost drew forth three wooden tablets, gave them to the wood-cutter, and said to him: "I now go to take possession of the daughter of the Sultan. Up to this day the princess has been hale and well, but now she will have leeches and wise men without number, but all in vain, not one of them will be able to cure her. Thou also wilt hear of the matter, thou wilt hasten to the Padishah, moisten these three wooden tablets with water, lay them on the face of the damsel, and I will come out of her, and a rich reward will be thine."