nce upon a time there lived in India a poor old baldheaded man whose name was Wali Dâd. He had no family but lived all by himself in a little mud hut far from any town, and he made his living by cutting grass in the jungle and selling it as feed for horses. He only earned five halfpence a day, but he was a simple old man and needed so little that he saved up one halfpenny each day and spent the rest on food and clothing as he needed.
In this way he lived for many years. One night, he thought that he would count the money he had hidden away in the great earthen pot under the floor of his hut. So with much trouble he pulled the bag out onto the floor and sat gazing in astonishment at the heap of coins that tumbled out of it. What should he do with this pile of money? He never thought of spending the money on himself, because he was content to pass the rest of his days as he had been doing for ever so long, and he had no desire for any greater comfort or luxury.
At last, he threw all the money into an old sack, which he pushed under his bed, and fell asleep under his ragged old blanket. Early next morning, he staggered off with his sack of money to the shop of a jeweler whom he knew in the town, and bargained with him for a beautiful gold bracelet. With this carefully wrapped up in his cotton waistband, he went to the house of a rich friend. His friend was a traveling merchant and wandered about with his camels and merchandise through many countries. Wali Dâd was lucky enough to find him at home. After a little talk, he asked the merchant who was the most virtuous and beautiful lady he had ever met. The merchant quickly replied that without a doubt, that would be the Princess of Khaistan, who was renowned everywhere as much for her beauty as for her kind and generous disposition.
"Then," said Wali Dâd, "next time you go that way, give her this little bracelet, with the respectful compliments of one who admires virtue far more than he desires wealth."
With that he pulled the bracelet from his waistband and handed it to his friend. The merchant was naturally much astonished, but he said nothing and made no objection to carrying out his friend's plan.
At length, the merchant arrived at the capital of Khaistan. He presented himself at the palace and sent in the bracelet, neatly packed in a little perfumed box he himself had provided, giving at the same time the message entrusted to him by Wali Dâd.
The princess could not imagine who could have bestowed this present on her, but graciously offered a return gift of a camel-load of rich silks, besides a present of money for himself. With those he set out on his journey.
Some months later he reached home again and at once he took the princess' present to Wali Dâd. Great was the perplexity of that good man to find a camel-load of silk tumbled at his door! What was he to do with these costly things? After much thought, he begged the merchant to consider if he knew of some young prince to whom such treasures might be useful.
"Of course," the merchant said, greatly amused. "From Delhi to Baghdad, and from Constantinople to Lucknow, I know them all; and there lives no prince worthier than the gallant and wealthy young Prince of Nekabad."
"Very well, then, take these silks to him with the blessing of an old man," said Wali Dâd, much relieved to be rid of them.
The merchant in due course arrived at Nekabad, where he sought an audience with the prince. There he produced the beautiful gift of silks from Wali Dâd, and he begged the young man to accept them as a humble tribute to his worth and greatness. The prince was much touched, and ordered twelve of the finest horses for which his country was famous to be delivered over as a return present for Wali Dâd. The prince also gave the merchant a large reward for his services.
As before, Wali Dad could not imagine what to do with the twelve fine horses. Finally, he gave two to the merchant, and begged him to take the other ten back to the worthy Princess of Khaistan.
True to his old friend's request, the merchant took the horses with him on his next journey and eventually presented them to the princess. This time the princess sent for the merchant and questioned him about the giver. Now the merchant was usually a most honest man; yet he did not quite like to describe Wali Dâd in his true light as an old man whose income was five halfpence a day and who hardly had clothes to cover himself. So he told her that his friend had heard of her beauty and goodness and had longed to lay the best he had at her feet. The princess then took her father into her confidence and begged him to advise what courtesy she might return to the man who persisted in making her such presents.
"Well," said the king, "you cannot refuse them. The best thing you can do is to send this unknown friend at once a present so magnificent that he is not likely to be able to send you anything better -- and so will be ashamed to send anything at all!"
He then ordered that in return for each of the ten horses, the princess should send back twenty mules laden with silver. Thus in a few hours the merchant found himself in charge of such a splendid caravan that he had to hire a number of armed men to defend it against robbers. He was glad indeed to find himself back again in Wali Dâd's hut.
"What is this?" Wali Dâd exclaimed as he viewed all the wealth laid at his door, "My friend, kindly accept four mules and their load for your trouble and expense, and take the rest of the mules and the silver straight to that kind prince of Nekabad."
The merchant felt handsomely paid for his trouble. As soon as he could get things ready, he set out to Nekabad with this new and princely gift.
This time the prince, too, was embarrassed, and he questioned the merchant closely. The merchant could not help describing Wali Dâd in such glowing terms that the old man would never have known himself had he heard them. The prince, like the King of Khaistan, determined to return a gift that would be truly royal and that would perhaps prevent the unknown giver from sending him anything more. So he made up a caravan of twenty splendid horses decorated in gold-embroidered cloth, with fine morocco saddles and silver bridles and stirrups; also twenty camels of the very best breed; and what's more, twenty elephants with magnificent silver seats having silver canopies and covered by silk embroidered with pearls. It was necessary for the merchant to hired a little army of men to protect these fine animals, and the troop made a great show as it traveled along the roads of India.
"More riches!" cried Wali Dâd when the caravan arrived at his door. "What has an old man like me with one foot in the grave to do with riches? That beautiful young princess, now -- she'd be the one to enjoy all these fine things! My friend, take for yourself two horses, two camels and two elephants with all their decorations, and present the rest to her."
The merchant at first objected and pointed out to Wali Dâd that he was beginning to find these visits a little awkward. Of course he was himself richly repaid, but still he did not like going so often and he was getting nervous. At length, however, he consented to go once more, but he promised himself never to embark on another such enterprise.
So, after a few days' rest, the caravan started off once more for Khaistan. The King of Khaistan was dumbstruck when he heard that these were another present from the princely Wali Dâd to the princess, his daughter. He went hastily off to his daughter and said, "My dear, this man wants to marry you -- that must be the meaning of all these presents! He must be a man of immense wealth, and as he is so devoted to you, perhaps you might do worse than marry him! There is nothing for it but to go and pay him a visit in person."
The princess agreed, and arrangements were made for the king and the princess to pay a visit to the great and munificent Prince Wali Dâd. The merchant, at the king's command, was to guide the party.
Willingly would the poor merchant have run away, but he was treated with so much hospitality, as Wali Dâd's representative, that he hardly got an instant's peace and never any opportunity of slipping away. In fact, after a few days, despair possessed him to such a degree he made up his mind that it was fate and escape was impossible.
Day after day they moved on, and each day the poor merchant felt more miserable. He wondered what kind of death the king would invent for him, and he went through almost as much torture lying awake at night thinking over his situation as he would have suffered if the king's executioners were already setting to work upon his neck.
At last they were only one day's march from Wali Dâd's little mud hut. Here a great encampment was made, and the merchant was sent on to tell Wali Dâd that the King and Princess of Khaistan had arrived and were seeking an interview. The merchant found Wali Dâd eating his evening meal of onions and dry bread, and when he told him of all that had happened, he had not the heart also to scold him. For Wali Dâd was overwhelmed with grief and shame for himself as well as for his friend, and for the name and honor of the princess; and he wept and plucked at his beard and groaned most piteously. With tears he begged the merchant to detain them for one day with any excuse he could think of and to come back the next morning to discuss what they should do.
As soon as the merchant was gone, Wali Dâd went off in the middle of the night. Where he headed was a place where the river ran at the base of steep, rocky cliffs; there he was determined to throw himself over and put an end to his life. At the very edge of that dreadful black gulf, he stopped short. He could not do it!
Soon he was aware of a gentle radiance close by. Surely morning had not yet come to reveal his disgrace! He took his hands away from his face and saw two lovely fairies.
"Why do you weep, old man?" said one, her voice as clear and musical as that of a nightingale.
"I weep for shame," he replied.
"What are you doing here?" said the other.
"I came here to die," said Wali Dâd. And as they questioned him, he confessed his whole story.
When he had told all, the first fairy stepped forward and laid a hand upon his shoulder. Now Wali Dâd began to feel that something strange -- he did not know what -- was happening to him. His old cotton rags had become beautiful linen and embroidered cloth. On his callused feet he felt warm, soft shoes. On his head was a great jeweled turban. As he stood in wonder, like a man in a dream, the other fairy waved her hand and bade him turn his head. Lo, before him a noble gateway stood open to an avenue of giant plane trees. Up this avenue the fairies led him, dumb with amazement; and at the end of the avenue, on the very spot where his hut had stood, a shining palace appeared, ablaze with light. At last Wali Dâd stood before the palace, stunned and helpless.
"Fear not," said one of the fairies. "This is as rich as your generous spirit." Then both fairies disappeared. He walked into the palace, still thinking that he must be dreaming, and retired to rest in a splendid room, far grander than any he had ever dreamed of. When he woke at dawn he found that the palace and his servants were all real, and that he was not dreaming, after all!
If Wali Dâd was dumbfounded, you can only imagine the surprise of his old friend the merchant, who was ushered into the palace soon after sunrise. The merchant told Wali Dâd that he had not slept all night and had started at dawn to seek him. What a search he had had! The great stretch of wild country the merchant remembered that surrounded his friend's mud hut had changed in the middle of the night to parks and gardens! Had it not been for some of Wali Dâd's new servants, who brought the merchant to the palace, he would have fled thinking that his troubles had driven him mad, and that what he had seen was a hallucination.
Then Wali Dâd told the merchant all that had happened. On the merchant's advice, he sent an invitation to the King and Princess of Khaistan, together with all their retinue down to the very humblest servant. For three nights and days a great feast was held in honor of the royal guests. Each evening the king and his nobles were served on golden plates and with golden cups, those of lesser rank on silver plates and silver cups, and each time the guests were requested to keep the plates and cups as a remembrance. Never had anything so splendid been seen. Besides the feasting, there were sports and hunting, dances and amusements of all kinds.
On the fourth day the King of Khaistan took his host aside and asked him whether it was true, as he suspected, that Wali Dâd wished to marry his daughter. Wali Dâd, after thanking him very much for the compliment, said that he had never dreamed of so great an honor and that he was far too old and ugly for so fair a lady. But he begged the king to stay with him until he could send for the Prince of Nekabad, who was a most excellent, brave and honorable young man and would surely be delighted to win the hand of the beautiful princess.
To this the king agreed, and Wali Dâd sent the merchant to Nekabad with a number of attendants and with such handsome presents that the prince came at once, fell head over ears in love with the princess and married her in Wali Dâd's palace amidst great rejoicing.
As for Wali Dâd, he lived to a good old age, befriending all who were in trouble, and preserving in his prosperity the simple-hearted and generous nature that had been his when he had been only Wali Dâd, the grass cutter.