The Ragged Pedlar
A T the foot of a big, bleak mountain stood a small town in which all the people were grumblers. They were never satisfied with anything and they were always unhappy.
"Ours is only a very small town," said the tradesmen. "Visitors never come to us, merchants never tarry with their caravans."
"We have no beautiful buildings, no fine squares and streets," said others, "and the mountain which frowns on us is bare of vegetation and always looks gloomy and even threatening."
"We have no rich inhabitants," said those who were lazy. "We have all to work, work continually for a bare subsistence."
Even the children were discontented, and lay idly on the ground at the street corners when the day was hot. Nobody seemed to notice that the fields at the foot of the mountain were bright and fresh and beautifully green for several months in the year, and that when the snow covered the mountain it glistened and shone dazzlingly white in the sunshine and glowed rosy pink in the sunset.
It was true that nothing seemed to happen in the town, but if there were no wealthy dwellers, there were also very few poor people. Nobody had much to give away, and so everybody was compelled to work to earn his living. But people who grumble do not notice these things.
One day when the weather had been very hot and the people lazier than ever, a strange visitor came into town just before the sun began to set. The heat was passing, a little breeze was beginning to spring up, and even the barren mountain began to look a little beautiful under the rosy glow of the sky. Some of the huge, frowning boulders and great stones began to reflect the setting sun until they shone like gold.
Perhaps the strange visitor noticed this, if the
inhabitants did not, and he called out, in a loud,
"Come hither, ye dwellers of this beautiful city of the setting sun. Yon mountain shines like burnished gold, your hundreds of roofs and minarets and domes and spires reflect the rosy hue of the sky. Yet ye are not happy. Come to me and I will sell you happiness."
The people all laughed loudly.
"What manner of fool are you?" they said to the visitor, "and where did you get those strange clothes?"
"Yes, and what did you pay for them?" asked the children.
"I paid naught for this magnificent traveling outfit," replied the stranger.
Everybody roared with laughter when he said this, because the man was dressed in rags! Except for a huge basket slung from his shoulders and a long rope wound round his body, he wore almost nothing. The rest was made up of a few patches of different colours. In his quaint cap were many holes through which his unkempt hair wound itself in fantastic fashion.
"It must take you an hour to remove your hat," said one.
"Oh, no," answered the pedlar, and he took it off with a flourish and put it back again, and every hair found its way through its old hole as if by magic!
"Thou art no ordinary pedlar, sir stranger," said Ahmed, the fishmonger, to him.
"Have I not said so?" replied the pedlar. "I sell happiness."
"If thou but sellest cheaply," returned Ahmed, "thou shouldst do well here. Set down thy basket."
The big basket jumped from the man's shoulders by itself and stood itself upside down in the midst of the crowd that had gathered. The people stared in great wonderment.
"There can be nothing in it," they said.
Immediately the basket of its own accord turned a somersault and stood the other way up. It was empty.
"The man must be mad," cried Ahmed.
"And the basket bewitched," added Mustapha Ben, the tailor.
The pedlar said nothing, but handed the end of the rope which was round his waist to one of the children. The child took it and began to pull. The pedlar spun round and round like a top until the people could hardly see him, and the rope that unwound itself seemed endless. It lay coil upon coil upon the ground until it made a pile as high as the basket. Then the man stopped spinning. He took one end of the rope and threw it up in the air. Away it spun, uncoiling itself right to the other end of the street where it caught itself neatly on a post. There was a post a few yards away from where the pedlar was standing, and he threw the loose end of the rope towards that. Again it caught, and the people then noticed that the rope was just the length of the distance between the two posts.
"A funny performance," they all said. "What does it mean, sir pedlar?"
"My store is open; I am ready to begin business," he replied.
"But where are your wares?"
"You will supply those," was the answer, as the man took up his basket.
"Now then," he cried, "all you who are unhappy bring here your miseries, your discontentments. I will exchange them for happiness."
Everybody found that they could each bring their unhappiness and they rushed forward eagerly to put it into the basket. Soon it seemed quite full. There was not a man or woman in the town that did not bring something. Even many of the children had some thing to put into the basket.
"Observe now," said the pedlar, and he took the basket and lifted it on to the rope. It stood there, balancing itself like a tight-rope walker.
"Do your duty," commanded the pedlar, and the basket began to roll over and over along the rope. All along it tumbled merrily, dropping the troubles as it went until everyone of them hung nicely across the rope. There was Ahmed's lame leg, Mustapha Ben's red hair, Granny Yochki's crutch, Suliman's empty pockets, and lots of other queer things. Every cause of unhappiness and discontent in the town was hung upon the line.
"Hearken now unto me, ye good people of the city of the setting sun," cried the pedlar, in his loud, musical voice. "The day is waning fast, and I cannot stay with you. I promised to barter all your miseries for happiness. It is a simple task. Take each of you from the line the smallest trouble that you can see."
At once there was a big rush forward and a general scramble to snatch the smallest thing from the line. Everybody to his surprise, as he looked over other peoples' troubles, found that his own was the smallest. In a few seconds the line was quite empty.
"Have each of you taken the smallest trouble?" asked the pedlar.
"Yes," answered Mustapha Ben, fixing on his red hair again.
"Yes," cried the others in chorus.
"Then rest ye content, good people of the city of the setting sun," answered the pedlar, in his strong, musical voice. "Come, my faithful basket and rope," and the basket jumped on to his shoulder and the rope wound itself rapidly round his body.
"Farewell, be contented," he sang out in a cheerful voice, and the people saw him ascend the barren mountain still glowing like gold in the setting sun. When he got to the top, he waved his hand and disappeared.
And ever after the people ceased to grumble.
The Pedlar's Song