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 go first."
So he went to the young man and told him this, saying, "Will you go before or come on after me?"
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 power."
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.