O NCE upon a time two brothers lived in a big house with their mother. The elder brother was a shrewd business man, but the younger brother, though willing, was kind and simple, and had no talent for sharp dealing. As a goldsmith, the elder brother had continued opportunities for getting the better of his customers, and as he was a skilful workman they admired the cunning of his art and never thought to question his assurances as to the purity of his gold.
But the younger brother had neither skill in devising of ornaments nor in mixing the gold with alloy, and moreover always answered the customers truthfully; so that one day the elder brother summoned him and told him to pack up and leave the house and seek his fortune elsewhere.
"You will do better as a farmer," said he. "I recommend you to grow nuts and peaches; or perhaps you could breed white eagles, or tend buffaloes. At any rate, I am not going to share my patrimony with you any longer, for while you are with me I shall never become rich."
Thus the younger brother was turned out of his home, with his few clothes as his sole start in life, while his brother remained in possession of their home and patrimony.
But the younger brother was destined to take with him the greatest treasure of all, for their mother was so grieved at the elder brother's behaviour, she packed up too and accompanied her younger son.
She had a little money and some household tools, and they travelled comfortably enough. Presently they came to a great mountain at the foot of which stood an empty hut which belonged to no one. It was not far from a town, and the boy took their axe and chopped some wood. This they bound into neat faggots which the boy carried into the town and sold. He returned with a store of black barley, apples, and figs; and some argol, as that was cheaper than wood for fuel.
Soon he had cut down the dead trees and bushes near their hut, and had to go increasingly farther in search of more. The mountain was very desolate and grand, and in his expeditions he never encountered a soul. In the town they had many tales to tell of the perils of the mountain, but because no one cared to climb the heights they were willing to pay good prices for his wood, and the boy was able to support his mother.
One day he ventured farther than he had yet climbed, and on the hillside came upon a life-sized lion carved out of stone.
"This must be the Guardian of the Mountain," thought the simple lad. There was abundance of dry wood near, and when he went down to the town he bought two large candles, and when he next went up the mountain sought out the lion, placed the candles on each side, and, kneeling before him, thanked him for the hut in which they lived and the protection of the mountain.
When the lion opened his mouth and spoke, the boy was neither afraid nor surprised, so exceedingly lifelike was the carving.
"What are you doing so far up the mountain?" asked the lion.
"Chopping wood," said the boy. "But I do not cut down the young trees; nor do I harm the older ones. I clear the thickets of the undergrowth and lop off the dead branches of the trees. My mother tells me I must first be a good forester, and second, a trader; for all the wealth in the world is not so valuable as a well-timbered mountain. She says the trees protect from drought and keep the streams full, and their roots hold the soil together. I beg for your patronage and assistance, and will readily observe any instructions you give me."
"Come again to-morrow without an axe, but with a bucket," said the Stone Lion, "and don't bring any more candles as I don't want the mountain set on fire." Then he snapped his jaws together and looked as if he never had opened them.
The boy thanked the lion and remained until the candles were burned out; then he went down to the town, sold his wood, and bought a new bucket to do the lion honour; also, his mother had only one and needed hers. But she brought out the only thing of value she possessed. This was a ceremonial scarf; she told the boy to put it on when he knelt before the lion.
The lion opened his mouth directly the boy knelt down, and said, "Hold the bucket under my mouth, but when it is nearly full you must tell me, for on no account must anything that I am going to give you fall to the ground."
The boy obeyed, and out of the lion's jaws poured a stream of gold. He told the lion directly the bucket was three-parts full, and the jaws promptly closed. But the boy carried his treasure down the mountain to his mother, who was thus enabled to purchase a large farmhouse. She also bought a good stock of oxen and buffalo and sheep, and they were able to live in comfortable prosperity, although they kept to fair dealing and never got the better of anyone.
They became both respected and popular, and presently news of their prosperity came to the elder brother. He could scarcely believe his ears when he heard of the big house and pasture lands, of the velvets the mother went dressed in, of the turquoise brooch the younger brother wore on market days, and the good table they kept and to which they welcomed every traveller.
They were living in better style than the elder brother himself, and he was so curious that he decided to pay them a visit. He set off, therefore, accompanied by his wife and carrying a very small piece of cloth as a present.
He pretended to be very surprised at finding them in such affluence, and told them he had been worrying as to how they were getting on and had come to offer them assistance.
But his mother and younger brother assured him they had no need of anything, and instead they pressed all kinds of good things on him, and at last, as the younger brother took no notice of his hints, the elder came out with a plain question.
The younger brother was ready enough to tell him where the wealth came from; ready, too, to describe the Stone Lion and to tell exactly what the lion had commanded.
When the elder brother and his wife retired for the night, they talked everything over and decided there was no need to go up the mountain to chop wood, nor to burn candles before the lion.
"You had better take him a couple of candles," said the wife, "and if he does not wish them to burn on account of the mountain being set on fire, you can just light them and immediately blow them out and bring them down again.
"But you had better take them. It will look rather crude if you only go up with a bucket."
"I was thinking of borrowing one of my brother's oxen," said the elder brother, "then I could take up a vat in the ox-cart. It seems a pity to confine oneself to a bucket."
"But, as he is evidently a tyrant, he will expect you to do exactly what he says," replied his wife. "Besides, it looks as if you were ready to take trouble in the matter if you lug a great heavy bucket all the way up the mountain with your own hands. I will help you, of course."
So the elder brother borrowed the largest bucket his brother possessed, the one into which they milked the buffaloes. When the lion saw him stagger up and set the huge receptacle under his chin, he opened his mouth with a terrible expression and said, "What do you want?"
"To do you honour, sire," said the elder brother, feeling in his pouch for the candles. They were so small, it was not easy to find them.
He set the candles on either side of the Stone Lion, and took out his tinder-box. And then he hesitated. It had just occurred to him that if he did not light them he could take them back to the trader and exchange them for something more useful, or perhaps get the money back.
"I am thinking of all this dry grass," said the elder brother, after he had pretended great difficulty in getting a spark so that the lion had plenty of time to stop him. But the lion's jaws were closed tightly, with the grimmest expression.
"It would be such a pity if the mountain took fire," said the elder brother.
Still the lion did not answer. The elder brother waited a while, then very unwillingly lit his candles.
At this the lion opened his mouth. How terrible he looked! Great storm-clouds were hanging low upon the mountain's crest, and the lion seemed to crouch with awful majesty. Again he roared, so that the rocks echoed with dull thunder and the mountain shivered. A cold blast came from his jaws, and circled on and on amongst the jagged peaks, wafting the storm-clouds into wreaths and whirls.
"What is this under my chin?" said the lion.
"A bucket, your Highness," faltered the elder brother. "My brother told me you commanded him to bring one."
"Tell me when the bucket is nearly full, as nothing that I give you must fall to the ground," said the lion, and thereupon a stream of gold issued from its jaws.
The elder brother took no heed of the lowering clouds, the snow that was beginning to eddy in the icy air, or the growing darkness. The stream of gold usurped his vision; he pressed the gold pieces down so that they might lie well together, but though the bucket was brimming he could not bring himself to tell the lion to stop. Instead he gave the bucket a shake, hoping to shake down the gold. But the glittering pieces slid over the side and scattered on the ground.
Immediately the stream ceased. But the lion's mouth remained open.
Then in a hoarse voice it said, "The largest piece has stuck in my throat; put your hand in my mouth and pull it out."
The elder brother was only too delighted to obey; but directly his hand and arm were inside, the cavernous jaws snapped together, and there was the elder brother held fast in the insensible stone.
Then the storm broke in its full fury.
When his wife came out of the shelter of the thicket where he had left her, she found him half hanging to the lion's mouth with a bucket full of stones and earth beside him.
"Say no word to my mother and brother," he whimpered, "or they will come out and slay me, because I have been so unhappy as to annoy his Majesty the lion through a most unfortunate accident: a pure oversight on my part, I assure his Majesty."
But the lion remained stonily silent; and the man commanded his wife to return to their own home and bring him food and rugs, as the nights were bitterly cold so high up on the mountain.
She did as she was bid, and through her faithful service the man was able to remain alive, uncomfortable as his condition was. But after many months she came weeping.
"I have sold the last of our household goods," said she, "and the last of your goldsmith's stock has gone: we have no home, no shop, and no possessions. Would that you had never sought the lion in order to become rich!"
At this, the lion's jaws suddenly opened wide, and a mighty roar of laughter resounded through the mountain.
"Quick!" cried the wife; but the man's arm was already out of the lion's jaws and he was running down the mountain as fast as he could.
He went straight to his younger brother to plead for help for his wife and child, and received money to buy a small farm, at his request, a long way from the mountain. There they spent the rest of their days in humble circumstances, and never did they come near the mountain again.