The Wise and the Foolish Merchant
Once upon a time in a certain country a thrifty
merchant visited a great city and bought a great
supply of goods. He loaded wagons with the
goods, which he was going to sell as he traveled
through the country.
A stupid young merchant was buying goods in the
same city. He, too, was going to sell what he
bought as he traveled through the country.
They were both ready to start at the same time.
The thrifty merchant thought, "We cannot travel
together, for the men will find it hard to get
wood and water, and there will not be enough
grass for so many oxen. Either he or I ought to
So he went to the young man and told him this,
saying, "Will you go before or come on after
The other one thought, "It will be better for me
to go first. I shall then travel on a road that
is not cut up. The oxen will eat grass that has
not been touched. The water will be clean. Also,
I shall sell my goods at what price I like." So
he said, "Friend, I will go on first."
This answer pleased the thrifty merchant. He
said to himself, "Those who go before will make
the rough places smooth. The old rank grass will
have been eaten by the oxen that have gone
before, while my oxen will eat the freshly grown
tender shoots. Those who go before will dig
wells from which we shall drink. Then, too, I
will not have to bother about setting prices,
but I can sell my goods at the prices set by the
other man." So he said aloud, "Very well,
friend, you may go on first."
At once the foolish merchant started on his
journey. Soon he had left the city and was in
the country. By and by he came to a desert which
he had to cross. So he filled great water-jars
with water, loaded them into a large wagon and
started across the desert.
Now on the sands of this desert there lived a
wicked demon. This demon saw the foolish young
merchant coming and thought to himself, "If I
can make him empty those water-jars, soon I
shall be able to overcome him and have him in my
So the demon went further along the road and
changed himself into the likeness of a noble
gentleman. He called up a beautiful carriage,
drawn by milk-white oxen. Then he called ten
other demons, dressed them like men and armed
them with bows and arrows, swords and shields.
Seated in his carriage, followed by the ten
demons, he rode back to meet the merchant. He
put mud on the carriage wheels, hung
water-lilies and wet grasses upon the oxen and
the carriage. Then he made the clothes the
demons wore and their hair all wet. Drops of
water trickled down over their faces just as if
they had all come through a stream.
As the demons neared the foolish merchant they
turned their carriage to one side of the way,
saying pleasantly, "Where are you going?"
The merchant replied, "We have come from the
great city back there and are going across the
desert to the villages beyond. You come dripping
with mud and carrying water-lilies and grasses.
Does it rain on the road you have come by? Did
you come through a stream?"
The demon answered, "The dark streak across the
sky is a forest. In it there are ponds full of
water-lilies. The rains come often. What have
you in all those carts?"
"Goods to be sold," replied the merchant.