Much shall have more and little shall have less.
 

Once upon a time there was a king who did the best he could to rule wisely and well, and to deal justly by those under him whom he had to take care of; and as he could not trust hearsay, he used every now and then to slip away out of his palace and go among his people to hear what they had to say for themselves about him and the way he ruled the land.

Well, one such day as this, when he was taking a walk, he strolled out past the walls of the town and into the green fields until he came at last to a fine big house that stood by the banks of a river, wherein lived a man and his wife who were very well to do in the world. There the king stopped for a bite of bread and a drink of fresh milk.

"I would like to ask you a question," said the king to the rich man; "and the question is this: Why are some folk rich and some folk poor?"

"That I cannot tell you," said the good man; "only I remember my father used to say that much shall have more and little shall have less."

"Very well," said the king; "the saying has a good sound, but let us find whether or not it is really true. See; here is a purse with three hundred pieces of golden money in it. Take it and give it to the poorest man you know; in a week's time I will come again, and then you shall tell me whether it has made you or him the richer."

Now in the town there lived two beggars who were as poor as poverty itself, and the poorer of the twain was one who used to sit in rags and tatters on the church step to beg charity of the good folk who came and went. To him went the rich man, and, without so much as a good-morning, quoth he: "Here is something for you," and so saying dropped the purse of gold into the beggar's hat. Then away he went without waiting for a word of thanks.

As for the beggar, he just sat there for a while goggling and staring like one moon-struck. But at last his wits came back to him, and then away he scampered home as fast as his legs could carry him. Then he spread his money out on the table and counted it--three hundred pieces of gold money! He had never seen such great riches in his life before. There he sat feasting his eyes upon the treasure as though they would never get their fill. And now what was he to do with all of it? Should he share his fortune with his brother? Not a bit of it. To be sure, until now they had always shared and shared alike, but here was the first great lump of good-luck that had ever fallen in his way, and he was not for spoiling it by cutting it in two to give half to a poor beggar-man such as his brother. Not he; he would hide it and keep it all for his very own.

Now, not far from where he lived, and beside the river, stood a willow-tree, and thither the lucky beggar took his purse of money and stuffed it into a knot-hole of a withered branch, then went his way, certain that nobody would think of looking for money in such a hiding-place. Then all the rest of the day he sat thinking and thinking of the ways he would spend what had been given him, and what he would do to get the most good out of it. At last came evening, and his brother, who had been begging in another part of the town, came home again.

"I nearly lost my hat to-day," said the second beggar so soon as he had come into the house.

"Did you?" said the first beggar. "How was that?"

"Oh! The wind blew it off into the water, but I got it again."

"How did you get it?" said the first beggar.

"I just broke a dead branch off of the willow-tree and drew my hat ashore," said the second beggar.

"A dead branch!!"

"A dead branch."

"Off of the willow tree!!"

"Off of the willow tree."

The first beggar could hardly breathe.

"And what did you do with the dead branch after that?"

"I threw it away into the water, and it floated down the river."

The beggar to whom the money had been given ran out of the house howling, and down to the river-side, thumping his head with his knuckles like one possessed. For he knew that the branch his brother had broken off of the tree and had thrown into the water, was the very one in which he had hidden the bag of money.

Yes; and so it was.

The next morning, as the rich man took a walk down by the river, he saw a dead branch that had been washed up by the tide. "Halloo!" says he, "this will do to kindle the fire with."

So he brought it to the house, and, taking down his axe, began to split it up for kindling. The very first blow he gave, out tumbled the bag of money.

But the beggar--well, by-and-by his grieving got better of its first smart, and then he started off down the river to see if he could not find his money again. He hunted up and he hunted down, but never a whit of it did he see, and at last he stopped at the rich man's house and begged for a bite to eat and lodgings for the night. There he told all his story--how he had hidden the money that had been given him from his brother, how his brother had broken off the branch and had thrown it away, and how he had spent the whole live-long day searching for it. And to all the rich man listened and said never a word. But though he said nothing, he thought to himself, "Maybe, after all, it is not the will of Heaven that this man shall have the money. Nevertheless, I will give him another trial."

So he told the poor beggar to come in and stay for the night; and, whilst the beggar was snoring away in his bed in the garret, the rich man had his wife make two great pies, each with a fine brown crust. In the first pie he put the little bag of money; the second he filled full of rusty nails and scraps of iron.

The next morning he called the beggar to him. "My friend," said he, "I grieve sadly for the story you told me last night. But maybe, after all, your luck is not all gone. And now, if you will choose as you should choose, you shall not go away from here comfortless. In the pantry yonder are two great pies--one is for you and one for me. Go in and take whichever one you please."

"A pie!" thought the beggar to himself; "does the man think that a big pie will comfort me for the loss of three hundred pieces of money?" Nevertheless, as it was the best thing to be had, into the pantry the beggar went and there began to feel and weigh the pies, and the one filled with the rusty nails and scraps of iron was ever so much the fatter and the heavier.

"This is the one that I shall take," said he to the rich man, "and you may have the other." And, tucking it under his arm, off he tramped.

Well, before he got back to the town he grew hungry, and sat down by the roadside to eat his pie; and if there was ever an angry man in the world before, he was one that day--for there was his pie full of nothing but rusty nails and bits of iron. "This is the way the rich always treat the poor," said he.

So back he went in a fume. "What did you give me a pie full of old nails for?" said he.

"You took the pie of your own choice," said the rich man; "nevertheless, I meant you no harm. Lodge with me here one night, and in the morning I will give you something better worth while, maybe."

So that night the rich man had his wife bake two loaves of bread, in one of which she hid the bag with the three hundred pieces of gold money.

"Go to the pantry," said the rich man to the beggar in the morning, "and there you will find two loaves of bread--one is for you and one for me; take whichever one you choose."

So in went the beggar, and the first loaf of bread he laid his hand upon was the one in which the money was hidden, and off he marched with it under his arm, without so much as saying thank you.

"I wonder," said he to himself, after he had jogged along awhile--"I wonder whether the rich man is up to another trick such as he played upon me yesterday?" He put the loaf of bread to his ear and shook it and shook it, and what should he hear but the chink of the money within. "Ah ha!" said he, "he has filled it with rusty nails and bits of iron again, but I will get the better of him this time."

By-and-by he met a poor woman coming home from market. "Would you like to buy a fine fresh loaf of bread?" said the beggar.

"Yes, I would," said the woman.

"Well, here is one you may have for two pennies," said the beggar.

That was cheap enough, so the woman paid him his price and off she went with the loaf of bread under her arm, and never stopped until she had come to her home.

Now it happened that the day before this very woman had borrowed just such a loaf of bread from the rich man's wife; and so, as there was plenty in the house without it, she wrapped this loaf up in a napkin, and sent her husband back with it to where it had started from first of all.

"Well," said the rich man to his wife, "the way of Heaven is not to be changed." And so he laid the money on the shelf until he who had given it to him should come again, and thought no more of giving it to the beggar.

At the end of seven days the king called upon the rich man again, and this time he came in his own guise as a real king. "Well," said he, "is the poor man the richer for his money?"

"No," said the rich man, "he is not"; and then he told the whole story from beginning to end just as I have told it.

"Your father was right," said the king; "and what he said was very true-- Much shall have more and little shall have less.' Keep the bag of money for yourself, for there Heaven means it to stay."

And maybe there is as much truth as poetry in this story.

And now it was the turn of the Blacksmith who had made Death sit in his pear-tree until the cold wind whistled through the ribs of man's enemy. He was a big, burly man, with a bullet head, and a great thick neck, and a voice like a bull's.

"Do you mind," said he, "about how I clapped a man in the fire and cooked him to a crisp that day that St. Peter came travelling my way?"

There was a little space of silence, and then the Soldier who had cheated the Devil spoke up. "Why yes, friend," said he, "I know your story very well."

"I am not so fortunate," said old Bidpai. "I do not know your story. Tell me, friend, did you really bake a man to a crisp? And how was it then?"

"Why," said the Blacksmith, "I was trying to do what a better man than I did, and where he hit the mark I missed it by an ell. Twas a pretty scrape I was in that day."

"But how did it happen?" said Bidpai.

"It happened," said the Blacksmith, "just as it is going to happen in the story I am about to tell."

"And what is your story about?" said Fortunatus.

"It is," said the Blacksmith, "about--