I N my native town of Nicea lived a man known as little Muck. Although I was very young at that time I can still recall him distinctly, and particularly remember him as having been the cause of my father on one occasion nearly beating me to death. Little Muck was already an old man when I knew him, but not above three or four feet in height; he had, moreover, a most peculiar figure, for, although his body was small and slender, he carried a head bigger and heavier than that of anyone else. He lived quite alone in a large house, and did all his own cooking, and no one in the town would have known whether he was alive or dead, as he only went out of doors once a month, if it had not been for the thick smoke which rose from his house every day at noon, and that he could be seen in the evening walking up and down on his roof, the appearance from the street giving that only his head was running about. I and my young companions were mischievous boys, who loved to tease everybody, and to make fun of them, and it was always a day of amusement to us when little Muck went out. We used to assemble before his house and wait for him to come out, and when at last the door opened—and first the large head, with its still larger turban, appeared, and then the little body clad in its shabby cloak, wide trousers, and broad girdle, from which hung a long dagger, so long that one could not say whether the dagger were fastened to him or he to the dagger—then we filled the air with our shouts of delight, threw up our caps, and danced round about him like mad things. But little Muck only greeted us with a grave bow of his head, and went slowly on down the street, shuffling as he walked; for he wore large, loose slippers, bigger than I have ever seen elsewhere. We boys would run after him, calling out: "Little Muck, little Muck!" and we had also a comic verse of poetry, which we sang now and again:
We had amused ourselves with this game of ours for some time, and, to my shame be it said, I was one of the foremost in pursuing it; for I used often to hang on to his cloak, and at last one day I went behind him, and trod on his slippers, so that he fell. This seemed to me a capital joke, but I left off laughing when I saw little Muck going towards my father's house. He went straight in, and remained there some time. I hid myself behind the door, and saw him come out again, accompanied by my father, who held him respectfully by the hand, and parted from him with many bows. I did not feel very comfortable after this, and remained in my hiding-place until hunger, which I dreaded even more than blows, drove me forth, and I went and stood humbly and with bent head before my father.
"You have, I hear, been insulting kind, good Muck," he said, in his severest tone. "I will tell you Muck's tale, and you will not again laugh at him; but both before and after you will receive the usual punishment,"—the usual punishment being five-and-twenty stripes, which my father always counted with unerring exactness. Whereupon he took a long tobacco-pipe tube, screwed off the amber mouthpiece, and laid on to me with more than customary vigour. When the five and twenty had been duly administered he ordered me to pay attention, and then related to me the history of little Muck.
Little Muck's father, whose actual name was Mukrah, was a man of position, but poor, living here in Nicea. He led almost as hermit-like a life as his son. He could not bear the sight of the latter, for he was ashamed of his being a dwarf, and he let him grow up in ignorance. Little Muck was still but a merry little fellow when sixteen years of age, and his father, who was a serious-minded man, was wont to scold him for being so trifling and silly, now that he was no longer a child.
The old man, however, had a bad fall one day, from the consequences of which he died, leaving little Muck behind poor and uneducated. The cruel relations, to whom the deceased owed more than there was money to pay, drove the poor boy out of the house, and advised him to go out into the world to seek his fortune. Little Muck answered that he was quite ready to start on his travels; all he asked for was his father's dress, and this was given him. Now, as his father had been a tall, big man, his clothes did not fit him very well. But Muck was at no loss what to do; where they were too long he cut a piece off, and then put them on. He had forgotten, however, that they also required lessening in the breadth, and hence the peculiar-looking costume in which he still appears. The large turban, the broad girdle, the loose stockings, the blue cloak—all these are heirlooms from his father, which he has worn ever since; the long Damascus dagger, also his father's, he stuck into his girdle, and, taking a short stick, he passed out over the threshold of his home.
He wandered happily about the whole day; for had he not started forth to seek his fortune? If he saw a bit of broken pot upon the ground shining in the sun he did not fail to put it into his pocket, in the belief that it would turn into the finest diamond; the sparkling dome of a mosque in the distance appeared to him like the bright surface of a lake, and he hurried joyfully towards it, for he thought that he must have come to some fairy land. But, alas! all these delightful phantoms vanished as he approached them, and too soon his fatigue, and the hunger gnawing at his vitals, reminded him that he was still in the world of mortals. He went about like this for two days, in company with his hunger and distress, and began to despair of finding his fortune: wild fruits were his only food, the hard earth his bed. On the morning of the third day he came to a height, and suddenly saw a large town in front of him; the crescent flashed above its battlements, bright pennons floated gaily over its roofs, and everything seemed to beckon little Muck. Surprised and overcome, little Muck stood still, gazing at the town and the surrounding country.
"Yes; there little Muck will find his fortune," he said to himself, and, in spite of his weariness, he gave a leap of joy—"there or nowhere." He gathered all his remaining strength together, and started towards the town, but, although it had appeared quite near, it was going on for midday when he reached it; for his legs almost refused to do their duty, and he was obliged to sit down at intervals under the shade of a palm-tree to rest. At last, however, he came to the gates; he straightened his cloak, wound his turban more becomingly around his head, arranged his girdle to look broader than ever, and stuck his dagger more aslant; then he wiped the dust from his shoes, seized his stick, and walked boldly into the town. He had already gone along several of the streets, but as yet no one had opened to him, no one had called to him: "Little Muck, come in, and eat and drink, and give your little feet a rest!" when, just as he was looking longingly at a large and beautiful house, a window was thrown open, and an old woman looked out, calling in a sing-song voice:
The door of the house opened, and Muck saw several dogs and cats going in. He stood for a moment or two in doubt whether he too would accept the invitation, but finally took courage, and walked in. He saw two young kittens in front of him, and, thinking that they probably knew the way to the kitchen better than he did, he decided to follow them.
As Muck reached the top of the stairs he came face to face with the old woman whom he had seen looking out of the window. She scowled at him, and asked him what he wanted.
"You invited everybody in to taste your broth," answered little Muck, "and as I was so desperately hungry I came in too."
The old woman laughed, and said: "Whence come you, you droll little fellow? The whole town knows that I do not cook for anybody but my beloved cats, and now and then, as you see, I invite the company of those in the neighbourhood."
Little Muck then told her how badly things had gone with him after his father's death, and begged her, for that day at least, to let him eat with her cats. The old woman, who was pleased with his frank recital, made him her guest, and plentifully supplied him with food and drink. When he had satisfied himself, and was feeling revived, the old woman, who had been looking at him for a long time, said: "Little Muck, stay and take service with me; you will have but light work, and will be well treated."
Little Muck, who had found the cats' broth very much to his taste, consented, and so became Madam Ahavzi's servant. He had easy but singular duties to perform. Madam Ahavzi had six cats, two of which were tom-cats, and every morning little Muck had to comb their fur, and rub in costly ointment; when the old lady went out he had to look after them, and, when they ate, to place the dishes before them, and at night to put them to bed on silk cushions, and wrap them up in velvet coverlets. Besides these, there were some little dogs in the house, which he had to attend upon; but there was not so much fuss made over these as over the cats, which Madam Ahavzi looked upon quite as her own children. Muck lived as lonely a life as in his father's house, for beyond his mistress and the cats and dogs he saw no one from day to day.
For some time all went well with little Muck; he always had plenty to eat and very little work, and the old lady seemed in every way pleased with him. The cats, however, became more and more troublesome; when their mistress was out they leaped about the rooms as if possessed, threw things in all directions, and broke many handsome dishes; when they heard her coming upstairs, however, they went and lay down on their cushions, and began wagging their tails, as if nothing had happened. But Madam Ahavzi grew very angry when she saw the havoc that had been made in the rooms, and threw the blame of everything on Muck, and, protest as he might as to his innocence, she believed her cats, who looked so guiltless, sooner than her servant.
And now little Muck felt very unhappy, seeing that even here he had not found his fortune, and he inwardly determined to quit Madam Ahavzi's service. Remembering, however, what painful experiences he had gone through from the lack of money during his first journey he made up his mind that he would somehow or other get hold of the money which she had promised, but never given him, for his wages. There was one room in the house which was always kept locked, the inside of which Muck had never seen, although he had frequently heard Madam Ahavzi moving about in it, and had often felt that he would give a great deal to know what she had hidden there. As he sat considering about the money that he should want for his journey it occurred to him that possibly it was in that room that she hid her cash and valuables; but the door remained firmly closed, and he could not get at them. One morning, after Madam Ahavzi had gone out, one of the dogs, that she treated in rather a stepmotherly fashion, although he richly deserved her favour in return for many of his friendly services, came and took hold of Muck by his wide trousers, at the same time making gestures to show that he wanted Muck to follow him. Muck, who was fond of playing with the dog, went after him, and what should the little thing do but lead him into Madam Ahavzi's sleeping-room and up to a little door which he had never before noticed. He quickly opened it, and went in after the dog, and he was agreeably surprised to find that he was in the very room which he had so long been desirous of entering. He went prying about to try if he could find money anywhere, but could see nothing except old clothes and curiously-shaped vessels. One of these in particular attracted his attention; it was made of crystal, and had beautiful figures carved upon it. He lifted it up, and turned it round so as to examine it on all sides, when, horror! he had not noticed that there was a cover to it, and, this being but shallow, now fell to the ground, and broke into a thousand pieces.
Little Muck stood for some time unable to move. His fate was now settled: he must fly, or his old mistress would slay him. He forthwith determined to start, and thought he would only give one more look round to see if there were anything among Madam Ahavzi's property which would be useful to him on his journey. An immense pair of slippers caught his eye; they were certainly not beautiful, but his own were not in a condition to go with him on another journey; and, indeed, it was their very size which so attracted him, for with these slippers on everybody would, it was to be hoped, see that he was no longer a child. So he quickly drew off his own small slippers and got into the large ones. Then a walking-stick with a lion's head finely carved on the top struck him as standing useless in the corner, so he took that also, and hurried out of the room. He went to his own room, and as fast as possible put on his cloak, set the paternal turban on his head, stuck the dagger into his girdle, and ran as fast as his legs would carry him out of the house and out of the town. Once outside he still went on running, in terror of his old mistress, until he was almost dead with fatigue. He had never gone so quickly before in his life, and, indeed, he felt as if he should never be able to stop himself, and as if some unseen power were forcing him along. At last he became aware that the slippers seemed to be in the same condition, for they continued to shoot along the ground, carrying him with them. He tried his utmost to stand still, but in vain; then in his distress he called out to himself: "Wo-o-ah," as one does to horses, whereupon the slippers stopped running, and Muck threw himself exhausted on the ground. He was uncommonly delighted with the slippers; he had after all, then, he thought, gained something by his service, which would help, as he went his way through the world, to make his fortune. In spite of his pleasure, however, he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion; for little Muck's small body, which had to carry such a heavy head, could not stand much exertion. While sleeping he dreamt that Madam Ahavzi's little dog, that had helped him to the slippers, spoke to him, and said: "Dear Muck, you do not rightly understand the use of those slippers. Know then, that if when you have them on you turn round on your heel three times you can fly to whatever place you like; with the stick you can discover where money is buried, for it will knock on the earth three times for gold and twice for silver." Thus little Muck dreamed, and when he awoke he thought of this strange dream, and determined to try the truth of it at once. So he put on the slippers, and, lifting one foot, began to turn round on his heel. Whoever has tried to perform this feat in an enormously wide slipper will not be surprised to hear that little Muck was not immediately successful, particularly if it is taken into consideration that his large head went tumbling over first one way and then another.
The poor little man had several bad falls on his nose, but still he was not to be discouraged, and he continued in his attempts until he at last succeeded. He went turning round like a wheel on his heel, at the same time wishing himself in the nearest large town, and up went the slippers into the air, soaring along through the clouds with the swiftness of the wind, and before little Muck could think where he was, and what had happened, he found himself in a market-place where a number of booths were erected and an endless stream of people were busily passing backward and forward. He went in and out among them, but decided that it would be better to retire into one of the more secluded streets; for here in the market-place first someone trod on his slippers, so that he nearly fell, and next he ran against this one or that with his dagger, which stuck out some distance from his person, so that he narrowly escaped receiving blows.
Little Muck now began seriously to consider what he could be about so as to earn some money. It was true that he had a stick that would show him where treasure was hidden; but, then, where was he all in a minute to find a place where gold and silver were buried? He could also, he knew, earn enough for his wants by making an exhibition of himself, but his pride forbade him to do this. At last the thought of his wonderful shoes occurred to him; they might, perhaps, win a living for him, and he thereupon made up his mind to hire himself out as a runner. Thinking that the King would probably be the one to pay best for service of this kind he asked the way to the palace. On coming up to the gates a sentinel, who was stationed there, asked him what he wanted, and upon his answering that he had come to seek work he was directed to go to the overseer of the slaves. He explained to the latter the service he offered, and begged him to obtain him a post among the King's messengers.
The overseer looked at him from head to foot. "What!" he said, "you with your little feet hardly a span long—you ask to be taken on as one of the royal runners? Be off with you; I am not here to waste my time with every fool that presents himself."
But little Muck assured him that he was perfectly serious in making his request, and that he would run for a wager with the quickest. The whole thing struck the overseer as highly amusing, and he ordered him to be in readiness to run a race that evening, and meanwhile took him into the kitchen, and saw that he had what he wanted in the way of food and drink. He went himself to the King, and told him of the dwarf and what he proposed to do. The King was a gay sort of person, and delighted that the overseer had detained little Muck to make some sport for him. He ordered all preparation to be made in a large meadow behind the castle, so that the whole of his Court might have a good sight of the races, and bade the overseer, also, to take every care of the dwarf. The King went and told the princes and princesses of the entertainment preparing for them, and these repeated the news to their retainers, so that by evening everybody had reached the highest pitch of expectation, and all who had legs to go upon, flocked into the meadow, where stands had been erected, whence the boastful dwarf could be seen as he ran.
When the King and his sons and daughters had taken their seats little Muck stepped into the meadow, and bowed before their highnesses in quite an elegant manner. A shout of amusement from all sides was heard as the little figure came in sight, for nothing like it had ever been seen there before. The tiny body with the huge head, the little cloak and the wide trousers, the long dagger in the broad girdle, the small feet in the immense slippers—no, indeed! It was all too droll, and quite impossible for anyone not to laugh. Little Muck was not going to let himself be put out of countenance by the laughter; he walked proudly to his place, and waited, leaning on his stick, for his opponent to appear. In accordance with Muck's desire, the overseer had chosen the best among the runners to race with him; the man now came out, and placed himself beside the dwarf, and they both stood waiting for the signal to start. As prearranged, the Princess Amarza waved her veil, and like two arrows shot at the same mark the racers both flew across the meadow.
Muck's rival had the start of him at first, and got considerably ahead; but Muck pursued him with his slippers, as if on wheels, overtook him, passed him, and had been at the goal some time before the other came up, panting for breath. The spectators looked on, their eyes riveted with surprise and astonishment, but as soon as the King clapped his hands the whole throng began loudly to cheer, calling out: "Hurrah for little Muck, the victor in the race!"
Little Muck had now been conducted to the King. He threw himself down before him, saying: "Most high and mighty King, I have given you to-day but a small proof of my powers. I pray you to grant me a post among your runners." But the King answered him: "No; you shall be my own private messenger, and I will keep you about my person, dear Muck; as wages you shall receive a hundred gold pieces yearly, and you shall sit at table with my head attendants."
So little Muck thought that he had at last found his fortune, of which he had been so long in search, and he was cheerful and well content at heart. He was glad also at being picked out by the King for such special favour; for the latter sent him on all his most private messages, as well as on those requiring the greatest speed, and he fulfilled all his missions with the utmost accuracy and with incredible swiftness.
The other attendants of the King, however, were not so well disposed towards him, for they were not pleased at being superseded in the favour of the King by a dwarf who knew how to run quickly and that was all. They accordingly hatched several conspiracies with a view to bringing about his downfall, but they all failed on account of the perfect confidence which the King placed in his Master-in-Chief of the private runners, for to this dignity had Muck in so short a time attained.
Muck, who was well aware of what was going on, had much too kind a heart to harbour any thought of revenge, and only sought for some means whereby to make himself beloved by his enemies and of use to them. Being so well off he had forgotten about his stick, but now it suddenly occurred to him that if he could find some treasure the lordly gentlemen would assuredly feel better inclined towards him. He had often been told that the King's father had buried a great quantity of treasure when his land was invaded by the enemy; and, moreover, he had heard that the old King had died at that time without revealing the place of hiding to his son. So after this Muck took his stick with him wherever he went, in the hope that he might one day pass over the spot where the old King's treasure was hidden. One evening he happened by chance to be walking in a more secluded part of the royal gardens, which he seldom visited, and all at once he felt the stick in his hand give a jerk, and thrice it struck the ground. He knew well enough what this signified, and accordingly drew out his dagger, cut marks on the surrounding trees, and went quietly back to the castle; he there procured himself a spade, and waited for the night to fall.
Digging for the treasure was harder work for little Muck than he had expected. His arms were much too weak for such a job, and the spade large and heavy, and he had only dug to a depth of two feet after labouring for a good two hours. At last, however, his spade struck against something hard, which rang like iron. He now began to dig more indefatigably than ever, and in a very little while he had uncovered a large iron lid, and, getting down himself into the hole to see what was underneath it, he found, sure enough, a pot full of gold pieces. To lift it, however, was quite an impossibility for his weakly strength, and he, therefore, crammed his trousers and girdle with as much gold as he could, and also filled his mantle, and then, carefully covering up the remainder, slung the burden over his shoulders. But if it had not been for his slippers Muck would have found himself incapable of stirring from the spot, so weighted down was he by the gold. As it was, he got back to his room unobserved, and hid the gold away under the cushions of his sofa.
When little Muck saw himself the possessor of so much money he thought that his enemies would now turn over a new leaf, and that he would have many patrons and warm adherents about the Court. And it is just here that we recognise how little care had been expended on poor Muck's upbringing, or he would surely never have imagined that any real friends are to be won by gold! Ah, if he had but put on his slippers and, with his cloak full of gold, gone off there and then! The money which little Muck now began to disperse with such a liberal hand awakened the envy of his fellow-attendants. The head cook, Ahuli, gave it as his opinion that he was a coiner; the overseer of the slaves, Achmed, that he had wheedled it out of the King. Archaz, the treasurer, however, who was his bitterest enemy, and who himself now and again had dipped his hand into the King's cashbox, said outright: "He has stolen it." To make sure of their point they consulted together, and one day the chief cupbearer appeared before the King with the most doleful expression of countenance. He made his miserable demeanour so palpable that the King at last asked him what was the matter.
"Alas!" he answered, "I am in sorrow at having lost my lord's favour."
"What nonsense are you talking, friend Korchuz?" replied the King. "Since when has the sun of my favour ceased to shine upon you?"
The chief cupbearer made answer that the King loaded his chief runner with gold and gave his poor, faithful servant nothing.
This news was a surprise to the King, and he made inquiries concerning all this lavish expenditure on the part of little Muck, and the conspirators had little difficulty in arousing his suspicion that Muck in some way or other had found his way to the treasury. This turn of affairs just suited the treasurer, who was not prepared just then to make up accounts. The King gave orders for watch to be kept on Muck's movements, so that, if possible, he might be caught in the act. Accordingly, on the night that followed this ill-fated day, when little Muck, whose prodigality had brought him to the end of his money, took his spade, and slipped out into the garden to renew his store from the hidden treasure he was secretly followed by the night sentinels, headed by the head cook, Ahuli, and Archaz, the treasurer, and just as he was going to fill his cloak from the pot these fell upon him, bound him, and carried him before the King. The latter, who was doubly grumpy at having his sleep broken in upon, received the poor Master-in-Chief of the runners in anything but a gracious manner, and arranged to have the case tried on the spot. The pot had been taken up out of the ground, and this, with the spade and the little cloak filled with gold, were laid before the King. The treasurer declared that he and the watch had surprised Muck just as he was burying this pot with gold in the ground.
The King then questioned the accused as to whether this were true, and where he had found the gold that he was about to bury.
Little Muck, aware of his innocence, replied that he had discovered the pot in the garden, and that he had not wished to bury it but to dig it out.
All those who were present laughed loudly on hearing this confession, but the King, highly incensed at what he took for the impudence of the dwarf, exclaimed:
"What, you dishonest wretch! you dare to lie in that stupid and shameless manner to your King after having first stolen his money? Treasurer Archaz! I ask you, does this sum of money correspond with what you miss in my treasury?"
The treasurer replied that he was perfectly sure of the thing—that just that sum, and indeed more, had for some time been missing in the royal treasury, and he could take his oath that this gold was the stolen money. Whereupon the King commanded that little Muck be put in chains, and taken to the tower, while he handed over the gold to the treasurer to be replaced. Delighted at this fortunate termination of affairs the latter went off, and when he got home began counting the shining gold pieces. But the wicked man never noticed that there was a paper at the bottom of the pot, on which was written: "The enemy has overrun my country. I, therefore, am burying in this spot a portion of my riches; whoever finds the same, on him shall fall a king's curse if he does not immediately restore it to my son.—KING SADI."
Little Muck in his prison was engaged in melancholy reflection. Death, he knew, was the punishment for theft of royal belongings, and yet he did not dare to reveal the secret of his stick to the King, fearing, with reason, that he would be robbed of this and his slippers. Unfortunately, his slippers were just now of no help to him, for, as he was firmly chained to the wall, he could not anyhow, whatever painful efforts he might make, turn round on his heel. When, however, he was apprised next morning of the sentence of death upon him, he thought that it would assuredly be better to live without the stick than to die in possession of it, and he sent, therefore, and begged the King to grant him a private interview, and then told him the secret. The King, at first, refused credence to his confession, but little Muck promised to prove the truth of what he said if the King would grant him his life. The King gave him his word, then, unseen by Muck, had some gold buried in the earth, and ordered Muck to find it with his stick. It was not long before the stick distinctly struck the earth three times; then the King knew that his treasurer had deceived him, and, as is the custom in the East, he sent him a silk cord wherewith to strangle himself. To little Muck, however, he said: "I have, it is true, promised to spare your life, but it strikes me that this secret about the stick is not the only one you possess; therefore you will remain in perpetual imprisonment if you do not confess what is at the back of your swiftness of running." His one night in the tower had taken away all desire from Muck of any longer imprisonment, and so he acknowledged that all his swiftness lay in his slippers, but he said nothing to the King of the further secret about turning round three times on one's heel. The King put the shoes on himself, to test them, and began rushing like a madman all about the garden; he wanted to stop himself, but did not know how to bring the slippers to a standstill, and little Muck, who felt he could not deny himself this small revenge, let him run till he fell down swooning.
When the King recovered his consciousness he was frightfully angry with little Muck for letting him go on running till he was so out of breath. "I have given you my word that you shall keep your life and liberty, but, before twelve hours are over, out of my country you go, or I will have you strung up." The stick and the slippers he commanded to be locked up in his treasury.
And now, poor as ever, little Muck wandered forth again, cursing his folly, which had led him to imagine that he was fit to play his part as a dignitary of the Court. The territory from which he was banished was, happily, but a small one, and within eight hours he had reached the boundary, although, being accustomed to his beloved slippers, he found walking very troublesome. After he had crossed the boundary he left the main road, desirous of seeking the solitude of the thickest woods, and of living there to himself, for he bore a grudge against all his fellow-creatures. He came to a wood which appeared in every way to be the place he sought. A brook of clearest water, overshadowed by high, surrounding fig-trees with their thick foliage, and soft grass, offered an inviting retreat, and he threw himself down, determined not to taste again of food, but to lie here and await death. He fell asleep with melancholy thoughts of death, but when he awoke, and began to feel the pangs of hunger, he bethought him that a death from starvation was a terrible thing, and looked about him to see if there were anything to be found to eat.
Ripe, delicious figs were hanging on the trees under which he had been sleeping; he climbed up to get some, ate them with an excellent appetite, and then went down to the brook to quench his thirst. But what was his horror to see the reflection of his head in the water adorned with two immense ears and a thick, long nose! In terror he put up his hands to feel his ears—there was no mistake, they were nearly half-a-yard long.
"I deserve to have ass's ears!" he cried aloud, "for I have trampled my fortune underfoot like an ass!"
He walked up and down under the fig-trees, and when he began to feel hungry again he was obliged again to have recourse to the figs, for he could see nothing else on the trees that was fit to eat. As he was eating his second portion of figs he began to wonder whether he might not, perhaps, be able to hide his ears under his large turban, so as not to look quite such a laughing-stock, when, to his astonishment, he found they had disappeared. He ran back quickly to the brook, to assure himself that it was so, and, sure enough, his ears had resumed their normal shape, and his long, shapeless nose was no more to be seen. He now saw what had happened: the figs on the first tree had given him the long ears and nose, the figs on the second had taken them away, and so once more he joyfully recognised that kindly fate had again put it into his power to make his fortune. He thereupon gathered as many figs as he could carry from the two trees, and went straightway back into the country which he had just left. At the first village he came to he changed his clothes, and made himself quite unrecognisable, and then he walked on towards the town in which the King lived, and was not long in reaching it.
It happened to be just the season when ripe fruits were scarce, so little Muck took up his station under the gateway of the palace, for he knew from past experience that the chief cook was in the habit of coming there to buy dainties for the King's table. He had waited but a little while when he saw the chief cook coming his way across the courtyard; arrived under the gateway he examined all that the various sellers had brought with them, and at last his eye fell on Muck's little basket. "Ah! a scarce dainty," he said, "that His Majesty will highly relish; what do you want for the whole basketful?" Little Muck named a moderate price, and the bargain was soon completed. The chief cook handed the basket to one of the slaves, and went on; little Muck, meantime, made off, for he feared that as soon as the catastrophe befell the royal heads they would be after him, and he would get punished.
The King was in very good spirits at table, and repeatedly praised the chief cook for his excellent dinners and for the pains he took to try to procure the rarest dainties. The cook, who knew what a delicacy he had in reserve, gave an amiable smirk, and only let a word drop now and then, uttering enigmatic phrases such as "All's well that end's well," so that the princesses became very curious to know what he had yet to bring before them, but when he set the beautiful, inviting-looking figs on the table there was a general "Ah!" from the company.
"How ripe, how delicious!" cried the King. "Cook, you are a capital fellow, and deserve our most especial favour!"
So speaking, the King, with his own hand, for he was always very niggardly with such luxuries, divided the figs among those at his table; each prince and each princess was allowed two; the ladies of the Court, the viziers, and officers of high rank had one apiece; while the remainder he took for himself, swallowing them with great enjoyment.
But, all of a sudden, the Princess Amarza called out: "Gracious heavens! how extraordinary you look, father."
Everybody now turned, and gazed on the King in astonishment; for immense ears were hanging on each side of his head, a long nose depended over his chin, and then they all began staring at each other in wonder and alarm, for each one was more or less adorned with these singular appendages. One may imagine the dismay that reigned throughout the Court! All the doctors in the town were immediately sent for; they came in crowds, ordered pills and mixtures, but the ears and noses remained. They operated on one of the princes, but the ears grew again.
Muck, in the hiding-place to which he had retired, did not remain in ignorance of all that was going on, and he decided that the time had come to act. With the money he had already got from the sale of the figs he had been able to procure himself an outfit which gave him the air of a professional; a long beard made of goat's hair completed the disguise. Taking with him a little bag of figs he went to the palace, and, introducing himself as a physician from abroad, proffered his services. No one had much faith in him at first, but after Muck had given a fig to one of the princes, whose ears and nose immediately resumed their natural character, then everybody in the Court rushed to him to be cured. The King, however, took him silently by the hand into his room, and, flinging open the door that led into the treasury, made a sign to Muck to follow him.
"Here are all my valuables," said the King. "Choose what you will from among them, and it shall be yours, if only you will free me from this ignominious disfigurement."
The words fell like music on Muck's ears; he had spied his slippers on the floor at the moment of entering the room, and near them lay his stick. He went round the room, as if admiring the King's beautiful things; when he came to the slippers he quickly slipped his feet into them, and then, seizing his stick, and tearing off his false beard, he displayed to the astonished King the well-known face of the dwarf he had driven away.
"Faithless King," said the latter, "who rewardest honest service with ingratitude, take as your well-deserved punishment, the deformity which now disfigures you. I leave you the ears, that you may daily be reminded of little Muck."
As he spoke these words he turned himself round three times on his heel, wished himself far away, and, before the King could summon help, had flown into the air, and disappeared. Since then, little Muck has lived here, a well-to-do but lonely life, for he despises all mankind. He has become wise from experience, and, however singular he may be in outward appearance, is deserving of your admiration rather than of your mockery.