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The Simpleton

from The Grey Fairy Book





There lived, once upon a time, a man who was as rich as he could
be; but as no happiness in this world is ever quite complete, he
had an only son who was such a simpleton that he could barely add
two and two together. At last his father determined to put up
with his stupidity no longer, and giving him a purse full of
gold, he sent him off to seek his fortune in foreign lands,
mindful of the adage:

How much a fool that's sent to roam
Excels a fool that stays at home.

Moscione, for this was the youth's name, mounted a horse, and set
out for Venice, hoping to find a ship there that would take him
to Cairo. After he had ridden for some time he saw a man standing
at the foot of a poplar tree, and said to him: ‘What's your name,
my friend; where do you come from, and what can you do?'

The man replied, ‘My name is Quick-as-Thought, I come from
Fleet-town, and I can run like lightning.'

‘I should like to see you,' returned Moscione.

‘Just wait a minute, then,' said Quick-as-Thought, ‘and I will
soon show you that I am speaking the truth.'

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a young doe ran right
across the field they were standing in.

Quick-as-Thought let her run on a short distance, in order to
give her a start, and then pursued her so quickly and so lightly
that you could not have tracked his footsteps if the field had
been strewn with flour. In a very few springs he had overtaken
the doe, and had so impressed Moscione with his fleetness of foot
that he begged Quick-as-Thought to go with him, promising at the
same time to reward him handsomely.

Quick-as-Thought agreed to his proposal, and they continued on
their journey together. They had hardly gone a mile when they met
a young man, and Moscione stopped and asked him: ‘What's your
name, my friend; where do you come from, and what can you do?'

The man thus addressed answered promptly, ‘I am called
Hare's-ear, I come from Curiosity Valley, and if I lay my ear on
the ground, without moving from the spot, I can hear everything
that goes on in the world, the plots and intrigues of court and
cottage, and all the plans of mice and men.'

‘If that's the case,' replied Moscione, ‘just tell me what's
going on in my own home at present.'

The youth laid his ear to the ground and at once reported: ‘An
old man is saying to his wife, "Heaven be praised that we have
got rid of Moscione, for perhaps, when he has been out in the
world a little, he may gain some common sense, and return home
less of a fool than when he set out."'

‘Enough, enough,' cried Moscione. ‘You speak the truth, and I
believe you. Come with us, and your fortune's made.'

The young man consented; and after they had gone about ten miles,
they met a third man, to whom Moscione said: ‘What's your name,
my brave fellow; where were you born, and what can you do?'

The man replied, ‘I am called Hit-the-Point, I come from the city
of Perfect-aim, and I draw my bow so exactly that I can shoot a
pea off a stone.'

‘I should like to see you do it, if you've no objection,' said
Moscione.

The man at once placed a pea on a stone, and, drawing his bow, he
shot it in the middle with the greatest possible ease.

When Moscione saw that he had spoken the truth, he immediately
asked Hit-the-Point to join his party.

After they had all travelled together for some days, they came
upon a number of people who were digging a trench in the blazing
sun.

Moscione felt so sorry for them, that he said: ‘My dear friends,
how can you endure working so hard in heat that would cook an egg
in a minute?'

But one of the workmen answered: ‘We are as fresh as daisies, for
we have a young man among us who blows on our backs like the west
wind.'

‘Let me see him,' said Moscione.

The youth was called, and Moscione asked him: ‘What's your name;
where do you come from, and what can you do?'

He answered: ‘I am called Blow-Blast, I come from Wind-town, and
with my mouth I can make any winds you please. If you wish a west
wind I can raise it for you in a second, but if you prefer a
north wind I can blow these houses down before your eyes.'

‘Seeing is believing,' returned the cautious Moscione.

Blow-Blast at once began to convince him of the truth of his
assertion. First he blew so softly that it seemed like the gentle
breeze at evening, and then he turned round and raised such a
mighty storm, that he blew down a whole row of oak trees.

When Moscione saw this he was delighted, and begged Blow-Blast to
join his company. And as they went on their way they met another
man, whom Moscione addressed as usual: ‘What's your name: where
do you come from, and what can you do?'

‘I am called Strong-Back; I come from Power-borough, and I
possess such strength that I can take a mountain on my back, and
it seems a feather to me.'

‘If that's the case,' said Moscione, ‘you are a clever fellow;
but I should like some proof of your strength.'

Then Strong-Back loaded himself with great boulders of rock and
trunks of trees, so that a hundred waggons could not have taken
away all that he carried on his back.

When Moscione saw this he prevailed on Strong-Back to join his
troop, and they all continued their journey till they came to a
country called Flower Vale. Here there reigned a king whose only
daughter ran as quickly as the wind, and so lightly that she
could run over a field of young oats without bending a single
blade. The king had given out a proclamation that anyone who
could beat the princess in a race should have her for a wife, but
that all who failed in the competition should lose their head.

As soon as Moscione heard of the Royal Proclamation, he hastened
to the king and challenged the princess to race with him. But on
the morning appointed for the trial he sent word to the king that
he was not feeling well, and that as he could not run himself he
would supply someone to take his place.

‘It's just the same to me,' said Canetella, the princess; ‘let
anyone come forward that likes, I am quite prepared to meet him.'

At the time appointed for the race the whole place was crowded
with people anxious to see the contest, and, punctual to the
moment, Quick-as-Thought, and Canetella dressed in a short skirt
and very lightly shod, appeared at the starting-point.

Then a silver trumpet sounded, and the two rivals started on
their race, looking for all the world like a greyhound chasing a
hare.

But Quick-as-Thought, true to his name, outran the princess, and
when the goal was reached the people all clapped their hands and
shouted, ‘Long live the stranger!'

Canetella was much depressed by her defeat; but, as the race had
to be run a second time, she determined she would not be beaten
again. Accordingly she went home and sent Quick-as-Thought a
magic ring, which prevented the person who wore it, not only from
running, but even from walking, and begged that he would wear it
for her sake.

Early next morning the crowd assembled on the race-course, and
Canetella and Quick as-Thought began their trial afresh. The
princess ran as quickly as ever, but poor Quick-as-Thought was
like an overloaded donkey, and could not go a step.

Then Hit-the-Point, who had heard all about the princess's
deception from Hare's-ear, when he saw the danger his friend was
in, seized his bow and arrow and shot the stone out of the ring
Quick-as-Thought was wearing. In a moment the youth's legs became
free again, and in five bounds he had overtaken Canetella and won
the race.

The king was much disgusted when he saw that he must acknowledge
Moscione as his future son-in-law, and summoned the wise men of
his court to ask if there was no way out of the difficulty. The
council at once decided that Canetella was far too dainty a
morsel for the mouth of such a travelling tinker, and advised the
king to offer Moscione a present of gold, which no doubt a beggar
like him would prefer to all the wives in the world.

The king was delighted at this suggestion, and calling Moscione
before him, he asked him what sum of money he would take instead
of his promised bride.

Moscione first consulted with his friends, and then answered: ‘I
demand as much gold and precious stones as my followers can carry
away.'

The king thought he was being let off very easily, and produced
coffers of gold, sacks of silver, and chests of precious stones;
but the more Strong-Back was loaded with the treasure the
straighter he stood.

At last the treasury was quite exhausted, and the king had to
send his courtiers to his subjects to collect all the gold and
silver they possessed. But nothing was of any avail, and
Strong-Back only asked for more.

When the king's counsellors saw the unexpected result of their
advice, they said it would be more than foolish to let some
strolling thieves take so much treasure out of the country, and
urged the king to send a troop of soldiers after them, to recover
the gold and precious stones.

So the king sent a body of armed men on foot and horse, to take
back the treasure Strong-Back was carrying away with him.

But Hare's-ear, who had heard what the counsellors had advised
the king, told his companions just as the dust of their pursuers
was visible on the horizon.

No sooner had Blow-Blast taken in their danger than he raised
such a mighty wind that all the king's army was blown down like
so many nine-pins, and as they were quite unable to get up again,
Moscione and. his companions proceeded on their way without
further let or hindrance.

As soon as they reached his home, Moscione divided his spoil with
his companions, at which they were much delighted. He, himself,
stayed with his father, who was obliged at last to acknowledge
that his son was not quite such a fool as he looked.





Next: The Street Musicians

Previous: The Unlooked-for Prince



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