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The Tale of the Bull and the Ass

KNOW, O my daughter, that there was once a merchant who owned much money and many men, and who was rich in cattle and camels. He had also a wife and family, and he dwelt in the country, being experienced in husbandry and devoted to agriculture. Now Allah Most High had endowed him with understanding the tongues of beasts and birds of every kind, but under pain of death if he divulged the gift to any. So he kept it secret for very fear. He had in his cow house a bull and an ass, each tethered in his own stall, one hard by the other. As the merchant was sitting near-hand one day with his servans and his children were playing about him, he heard and bull say to the ass:
"Hail and health to thee O Father of Waking! for that thou enjoyest rest and good ministering. All under thee is clean-swept and fresh-sprinkled. Men wait upon thee and feed thee, and thy provaunt is sifted barley and thy drink pure spring water, while I (unhappy creature!) am led forth in the middle of the night, when they set on my neck the plow and a something called yoke, and I tire at cleaving the earth from dawn of day till set of sun. I am forced to do more than I can and to bear all manner of ill-treatment from night to night. After which they take me back with my sides torn, my neck flayed, my legs aching, and mine eyelids sored with tears. Then they shut me up in the byre and throw me beans and crushed straw mixed with dirt and chaff, and I lie in dung and filth and foul stinks through the livelong night. But thou art ever in a place swept and sprinkled and cleansed, and thou art always lying at ease, save when it happens (and seldom enough!) that the master hath some business, when he mounts thee and rides thee to town and returns with thee forthright. So it happens that I am toiling and distrest while thou takest thine ease and thy rest. Thou sleepest while I am sleepless, I hunger still while thou eatest thy fill, and I win contempt while thou winnest goodwill."
When the bull ceased speaking, the ass turned toward him and said: "O Broad-o’-Brow, O thou lost one! He lied not who dubbed thee bullhead, for thou, O father of a bull, hast neither forethought nor contrivance. Thou art the simplest of simpletons, and thou knowest naught of good advisers. Hast thou not heard the saying of the wise?

"For others these hardships and labors I bear,
And theirs is the pleasure and mine is the care,
As the bleacher who blacketh his brow in the sun
To whiten the raiment which other men wear.

But thou, O fool, art full of zeal, and thou toilest and moilest before the master, and thou tearest and wearest and slayest thyself for the comfort of another. Hast thou never heard the saw that saith ’None to guide and from the way go wide’? Thou wendest forth at the call to dawn prayer and thou returnest not till sundown, and through the livelong day thou endurest all manner hardships: to wit, beating and belaboring and bad language.
"Now hearken to me, Sir Bull! When they tie thee to thy stinking manger, thou pawest the ground with thy forehand and lashest out with thy hind hoofs and pushest with thy horns and bellowest aloud, so they deem thee contented. And when they throw thee thy fodder, thou fallest on it with greed and hastenest to line thy fair fat paunch. But if thou accept any advice, it will be better for thee, and thou wilt lead an easier life even than mine. When thou goest afield and they lay the thing called yoke on thy neck, be down and rise not again, though haply they swings thee. And if thou rise, lie down a second time. And when they bring thee home and offer thee thy beans, fall backward and only sniff at thy meat and withdraw thee and taste it not, and be satisfied with thy crushed straw and chaff. And on this wise feign thou art sick, and cease not doing thus for a day or two days or even three days; so shalt thou have rest from toil and moil."
When the Bull heard these words, he knew the ass to be his friend and thanked him, saying, "Right is thy rede," and prayed that all blessings might requite him, and cried: "O Father Wakener! Thou hast made up for my failings." (Now the merchant, O my daughter, understood all that passed between them.) Next day the driver took the bull and, settling the plow on his neck, made him work as wont. But the bull began to shirk his plowing, according to the advice of the ass, and the plowman drubbed him till he broke the yoke and made off. But the man caught him up and leathered him till he despaired of his life. Not the less, however, would he do nothing but stand still and drop down till the evening. Then the herd led him home and stabled him in his stall, but he drew back from his manger and neither stamped nor ramped nor butted nor bellowed as he was wont to do, whereat the man wondered. He brought him the beans and husks, but he sniffed at them and left them and lay down as far from them as he could and passed the whole night fasting. The peasant came next morning and, seeing the manger full of beans, the crushed straw untasted, and the ox lying on his back in sorriest plight, with legs outstretched and swollen belly, he was concerned for him, and said to himself, "By Allah, he hath assuredly sickened, and this is the cause why he would not plow yesterday."
Then he went to the merchant and reported: "O my master, the bull is ailing. He refused his fodder last night- nay, more, he hath not tasted a scrap of it this morning." Now the merchant-farmer understood what all this meant, because he had overheard the talk between the bull and the ass, so quoth he, "Take that rascal donkey, and set the yoke on his neck, and bind him to the plow and make him do bull’s work." Thereupon the plowman took the ass, and worked him through the livelong day at the bull’s task. And when be failed for weakness, he made him eat stick till his ribs were sore and his sides were sunken and his neck was rayed by the yoke. And when he came home in the evening he could hardly drag his limbs along, either forehand or hind legs. But as for the bull, he had passed the day lying at full length, and had eaten his fodder with an excellent appetite, and he ceased not calling down blessings on the ass for his good advice, unknowing what had come to him on his account.
So when night set in and the ass returned to the byre, the bull rose up before him in honor, and said: "May good tidings gladden thy heart, O Father Wakener! Through thee I have rested all this day, and I have eaten my meat in peace and quiet." But the ass returned no reply, for wrath and heartburning and fatigue and the beating he had gotten. And he repented with the most grievous of repentance, and quoth he to himself: "This cometh of my folly in giving good counsel. As the saw saith, I was in joy and gladness, naught save my officiousness brought me this sadness. And now I must take thought and put a trick upon him and return him to his place, else I die." Then he went aweary to his manger while the bull thanked him and blessed him.
And even so, O my daughter (said the Wazir) thou wilt die for lack of wits. Therefore sit thee still and say naught and expose not thy life to such stress, for, by Allah, I offer thee the best advice, which cometh of my affection and kindly solicitude for thee. "O my father," she answered, "needs must I go up to this King and be married to him." Quoth he, "Do not this deed," and quoth she, "Of a truth I will." Whereat he rejoined, "If thou be not silent and bide still, I will do with thee even what the merchant did with his wife." "And what did be?" asked she.
Know then (answered the Wazir) that after the return of the ass the merchant came out on the terrace roof with his wife and family, for it was a moonlit night and the moon at its full. Now the terrace overlooked the cow house, and presently as he sat there with his children playing about him, the trader heard the ass say to the bull, "Tell me, O Father Broad-o’-Brow, what thou purposest to do tomorrow." The bull answered: "What but continue to follow thy counsel, O Aliboron? Indeed it was as good as good could be, and it hath given me rest and repose, nor will I now depart from it one tittle. So when they bring me my meat, I will refuse it and blow out my belly and counterfeit crank." The ass shook his head and said, "Beware of so doing, O Father of a Bull!" The buff asked, "Why?" and the ass answered, "Know that I am about to give thee the best of counsel, for verily I heard our owner say to the herd, ’If the bull rise not from his place to do his work this morning and if he retire from his fodder this day, make him over to the butcher that he may slaughter him and give his flesh to the poor, and fashion a bit of leather from his hide.’ Now I fear for thee on account of this. So take my advice ere a calamity befall thee, and when they bring thee thy fodder, eat it and rise up and bellow and paw the ground, or our master will assuredly slay thee. And peace be with thee!"
Thereupon the bull arose and lowed aloud and thanked the ass, and said, "Tomorrow I will readily go forth with them." And he at once ate up all his meat and even licked the manger. (All this took place and the owner was listening to their talk.) Next morning the trader and his wife went to the bull’s crib and sat down, and the driver came and led forth the bull, who, seeing his owner, whisked his tail and brake wind, and frisked about so lustily that the merchant laughed a loud laugh and kept laughing till he fell on his back. His wife asked him, "Whereat laughest thou with such loud laughter as this?" and he answered her, "I laughed at a secret something which I have heard and seen but cannot say lest I die my death." She returned, "Perforce thou must discover it to me, and disclose the cause of thy laughing even if thou come by thy death!" But he rejoined, "I cannot reveal what beasts and birds say in their lingo for fear I die." Then quoth she: "By Allah, thou liest! This is a mere pretext. Thou laughest at none save me, and now thou wouldest hide somewhat from me. But by the Lord of the Heaven, an thou disclose not the cause I will no longer cohabit with thee, I will leave thee at once." And she sat down and cried.

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