“The Joy of Reading”: The traveller

Once a traveller was wandering through a vast desert in which nothing grew, not a tree or even a blade of grass. By chance he came across a deep pit. He looked inside it, hoping that maybe it contained some water. He was astonished to find that all it contained were several wretched creatures. They had slipped down its steep and slippery sides and fallen into the pit. They were a monkey, a snake, a tiger and also a man.
'I would be doing a good deed if I were to rescue this poor man who has fallen among these dangerous animals,' the traveller said to himself.
The traveller happened to have with him a long rope, so he let it down into the pit and called out to the man to take hold of it. But the monkey, being such a nimble animal, was the first to grasp the end of the rope and to climb out to safety.
So the traveller let down the rope a second time, only to find that the snake had twirled itself round it and had come out. When he let down the rope a third time, the traveller was alarmed to find that the tiger, with its great strength, had caught hold of the rope with his claws and had made its way up into the open air.
The traveller now found himself facing these three animals and was amazed to find them bowing down in front of him in thanks for the good deed he had done. At the same time they said to him:
'But do not help the man to come out of the pit because there is nothing so ungrateful as a man and especially this one.'
Then the monkey said to the traveller: 'My home is in a mountain close by the city. One day I hope I may have the chance to repay you in some way for your kindness.'
'And my home,' said the tiger, 'is also in a mountain near to the city. I, too, am always at your service for having rescued me from certain death in that terrible pit.'
'And I,' said the snake, 'have my home in the walls of that city. If by any chance you should pass by my way and be in need or any help, be sure that I am always ready to do what I can for you.'
The three animals then bowed down again to the traveller in thanks and went on their way in the direction of the city.
The traveller then remembered that the man was still in the pit.
Paying no heed to the animals' warning, he again let the rope down into the pit. It was only with much difficulty that he was able to pull the man out of the pit.
The man immediately kissed his hands in thanks and said:
'I am a jeweller from the nearby city where I have a shop. If you are ever in need of help, do not hesitate to call on me. I shall be delighted to repay you for having saved my life.'
The two men shook hands and the jeweller made his way to the city. The traveller continued on his journey.
Now it so happened that some weeks later the traveller passed by the city and found the monkey coming towards him.
The monkey immediately bowed down in front of him saying: 'I wish I could give you a present to express my thanks to you but we monkeys own nothing in this world.'
'However, if you sit down here and rest a while I shall at least bring you something to refresh you after your journey.'
The monkey ran off and after a while brought back a variety of delicious fruits which they enjoyed together. The monkey left and the traveller continued on his way. As he approached the main gate to the city, the traveller was surprised to find the tiger appearing before him.
The tiger having bowed down in front or the traveller, said:
'How can I ever repay you for your kindness? I would like to bring you a present in gratitude for having rescued us from starvation in that pit. Just wait here and I shall see what I can find.'
The tiger bounded off and secretly entered the king's palace. With great stealth he made his way to the room where the King's daughter was still sleeping.
On a table by the bed the tiger saw a beautiful necklace. The tiger took it and brought it as a present to the traveller.
Not knowing that it had been stolen from the king's palace, the traveller accepted the necklace and thanked the tiger. He was amazed at the generosity of animals, how both the monkey and the tiger had insisted on repaying him for his kindness.
As the traveller had no use for a necklace, he called to mind the man he had saved from the pit and who had said that he was a jeweller. He went to see if he would buy the necklace.
The jeweller greeted the traveller in his shop. Directly he saw the necklace, he recognised it as one he himself had made for the king to give to his daughter.
Instead of asking the traveller how he had come by the necklace, the jeweller decided to go straight away to the palace. 'This is the chance of a lifetime,' he told himself. 'Let me go to the king and tell him that not only have I found the princess's necklace but I also know the man who stole it. The King will surely reward me handsomely.'
'Stay here while I arrange for you to be sent some food,' the jeweller told the traveller, and he hurried off to the palace.
The King immediately recognised the necklace as the one he had made for the princess and which she reported had just been stolen from her room.
'Go to the jeweller's shop,' the King ordered his guards, where you will find a young man who is a stranger to this city. Seize him and bring him here immediately.'
Turning to the jeweller, the king thanked him for the return of the precious necklace, then added:
'But I am especially grateful to you for having found the scoundrel who was so shameless as to go into my daughter's room and steal the necklace from beside her as she slept. I shall reward you well for what you have done.'
In the meantime the traveller who was still in the jeweller's shop awaiting the man's return, was roughly seized by the king's guards and taken to the palace. There he was thrown down in front or the Kind's throne.
He tried to explain that the necklace bad been given to him by a tiger, and this made the king even more angry against him.
'Do you take me for a fool?' the king shouted at the unfortunate man. 'Take him away and beat him, then put him in a cell by himself till tomorrow morning when I order that he be banged in the main square of our city as a warning to others.'
The poor traveller was thrown into a small dungeon from where he was taken out for regular beatings. During all this time he would call out:
'If only I had listened to the words of the monkey, the tiger and the snake and not taken that jeweller from the pit.'
It so happened that his words were heard by the snake who lived in a crevice in one of the city's walls. The snake immediately tried to think of some way of rescuing the traveller from the prison and so save him from being executed in the main square the following morning.
The snake immediately set out to the palace and quietly made its way to the room where the King's daughter lay sleeping. It then bit her on the arm and the poison entered her whole body. The girl called out in pain and right away the best doctors in the city were called to the bedside. Not one of them was able to do anything for her and she remained in a state between life and death, while the King shed bitter tears for his beloved daughter.
Next the snake went to one of its sisters who was a genie. It told the genie how the traveller had rescued it from the pit and how this man was now lying in prison.
So the sister snake who was a genie made itself invisible and entered the room of the girl without any of the doctors, or the king himself, noticing.
'Your cure,' she told the dying princess, 'lies in the hands of only one man. This man has been wrongfully imprisoned. Early tomorrow morning he will be put to death. Your only hope is for your father to have this man brought here at once.'
The sister snake then returned to the prison where the poor traveller was being held.
'You should have heeded brother's words,' it told him, 'and not rescued that ungrateful man from the pit. But I hope that the King will shortly order you to be taken to the palace where you will be asked to cure the princess of the poison that my brother has injected into her!'
'And how am I to do such a thing?' asked the traveller. 'I am no doctor and have no knowledge of such poisons.'
The sister snake then showed the traveller some leaves that it had taken from a special tree.
'Take these leaves,' she told the man, 'and soak them in water, then have the princess drink the water when you are taken to the palace. This medicine will immediately allow the princess to arise from her bed in perfect health.'
The princess had whispered to her father that a mysterious voice had told her that she could be cured only by a foreigner to the city who now lay in prison. This person, who was innocent of any crime, should be brought in all haste to the palace as she felt that her strength was steadily being taken from her by the poison that was in her body.
So the King, who had despaired of his lovely daughter recovering, ordered the prisoner to be brought to the room where the princess lay.
Then the traveller asked for a glass of water and he soaked the leaves in it and gave the water to the princess.
The King and those with him were amazed to see the princess rise up from her bed, healthy and as though nothing had happened to her. The king then asked the traveller to tell him his story and how it was that the necklace had been stolen from the princess's bedroom.
The traveller told the King his history from the very beginning, from the time he had rescued the monkey and the tiger and the snake from the pit, and also the man who turned out to be the jeweller.
He recounted how each of the animals had in a different way shown its gratitude and how the tiger had stupidly stolen the necklace and had then given it to him as a present.
Only the man, the jeweller, had failed to show his gratitude. Instead he harmed him by telling the king that it was the traveller who had stolen the necklace and had then tried to sell it.
So the King ordered that the jeweller should be brought to the palace. The King then told him that he should have made sure of the man's guilt before reporting against him.
'This man had saved your life and you owed him a favour,' the king told the jeweller. 'If it had not been for his friend, the snake, this traveller would have been wrongly put to death tomorrow morning.'
'All that you cared about was the reward that you would receive from me for having found the necklace.'
The king ordered that the jeweller be arrested for the bad way he had behaved towards the man who had rescued him from the pit.
'Truly,' said the king, 'animal is capable of showing more gratitude than man.'

Denys Johnson-Davies
The traveller
Dubai, Jerboa Books, 2006

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