The History of Little Mouk
ONCE upon a time there was a dwarf; whose name was Mukrah, but who was nicknamed Little Mouk.
The title fitted him well, for, although quite an old fellow, he was only about three feet high.
But, though his body was small, his head was larger and rounder than those of many of his townspeople.
Mouk lived all alone in a large house; but so peculiar was he that no one would have known if he were dead or alive, except that he always went out on one particular day each month.
That was a joyful occasion for the street boys! They always assembled near his house and waited to greet him.
When the door opened, and first his huge head with a still larger turban peeped out, when his little figure followed clad in a shabby coloured coat and bulgy knickerbockers tied round with a broad sash through which was thrust a large dagger — so large that they never felt sure whether Mouk belonged to the dagger or the dagger to Mouk — when the little dwarf thus made his appearance, their shouts and jeers filled the air.
Some of them threw their caps in the air; others danced round him singing :
"Little Mouk, Little Mouk,
Come and catch us, little Mouk!
Every day you stay at home,
Only once a month you roam.
Though your body's very small,
Your head is large enough for all,
Little Mouk, Little Mouk,
Come and catch us, little Mouk!"
Little Mouk did not mind their teasing ways, neither did he run after the boys as they would have liked him to do, but greeted them with good-humoured noddings of his head, as he slowly shuffled by with his feet in huge slippers.
When his walk was done he went home, and remained indoors for another month.
Although Little Monk was believed to be well off, he was never seen in any clothes but those described.
Why was this?
Listen, and I will tell you:
These clothes were the only legacy Mouk's father left when he died.
Mouk was then about sixteen years old.
As his father was a fine, tall man, naturally his clothes did not fit the dwarfish son very well.
But Mouk was not easily cast down; so cut off the parts that were too long, threw his rags away, put on his late father's apparel, stuck the famous dagger through his waist-scarf like a sword, took a stick in his hand, and wandered forth in search of fortune.
Happily enough he went along.
Most of the people he met laughed heartily at his comical appearance, but he seemed pot to notice this, for as Mouk's father's had been ashamed of his pigmy son, Mouk was generally kept indoors, and now he rejoiced in his freedom and the glorious sunshine.
And when its rays gilded the distant dome of a mosque, or caused the waves of the lake to sparkle, the dwarf was filled with delight, thinking that at last he was reaching fairyland.
But alas! the pleasures faded as his fatigue asserted itself, and pains of hunger brought him back to sad reality.
For two days he wandered about; the wild field-fruits were his food, the hard earth his bed.
On the morning of the third day he saw a large town in the distance.
Summoning all his strength, he started in its direction, and arrived there about mid-day.
Gladly he passed through its gates and walked through its streets.
But how disappointed was he! He thought the people would come out of their houses and say: "Little Mouk, come in, and eat and drink and rest your weary bones!"
But no one offered him hospitality.
At last, as he was looking anxiously at a fine, large house, a window was thrown open, and an old woman leant out and cried in a sing-song voice:
"Come in, come in, you’re welcome here,
The table's laid, you need not fear;
Friends are waiting, don't be late,
Well-cooked food is on each plate."
The door of the house opened, and Mouk saw a number of dogs and cats run in.
Reassured, he followed them, and as he entered the house, the old woman who had looked out of the window asked his business.
"You invited every one to your feast," said Little Mouk; "and as I am hungry I came!"
The old woman laughed, and said; "And where do you come from, you comical little fellow?
The whole town knows that I only cook for my cats, and now and then invite their acquaintances."
Little Mouk then told the old woman how, in consequence of his father's death, he was quite homeless, and how unhappy he was.
The woman, whose name was Ahavzi, felt so sorry for the little man that she offered to take him into her service.
Here his duties were light, but rather monotonous.
Ahavzi had six cats, and every morning Mouk had to comb out their fur and rub them with costly ointment; at night he had to lay them on silken cushions and cover them with beautiful embroideries.
He had also to attend to a little dog, though there was less fuss made about its comfort.
For some time Mouk was quite happy, for he had plenty to eat and little to do.
Then he began to feel tired of it all.
When Ahavzi went out for a walk, the cats were very troublesome; they raced round and round the room as if possessed, threw things down and broke several beautiful goblets which were in their way.
But when they heard their mistress returning they became quite well-behaved again, and as if they never thought of mischief.
And when Ahavzi saw her room in such disorder, she threw all the blame on little Mouk, scolded or beat him, no matter how much he protested his innocence.
That he had not found good fortune here, as he had hoped, troubled Little Mouk.
He decided to leave the old woman's service; but ere doing so very much wished to discover the mystery of a room into which Ahavzi continually went, but which she always kept locked, whether she was at home or not.
One morning, when she had gone out, and Mouk was wondering how he could get into this room, the little dog, who had become attached to him, pulled him by his knickerbockers as if to say, "Follow me."
Mouk, who loved to play with the dog, went with him, and the dog led him through a secret door into the chamber about which he had felt so curious.
With great interest he looked around, but could see nothing but old clothes and wonderfully shaped goblets.
One of these was of crystal, carved with beautiful figures.
He took it in his hand to look more closely at it.
But, oh horror! He dropped it, and it broke into a thousand atoms.
Mouk stood for a while quite terror-stricken.
Now his course was clear.
He must get away at once, or the old woman would beat him to death.
As he was leaving the room, the dog whispered to him:
"Take that big pair of slippers, and the walking-stick with the lion's head, and your fortune is made."
Quickly Mouk took off his shoes, and put on the huge slippers; took also the walking-stick with the lion's head, rushed out of the room, put his coat on, set his father's turban on his head, stuck his dagger in his waistband, and ran out of the house and the town.
And he ran so much faster than he had ever run in all his life, yet was unable to stop, a secret power seemed forcing him along.
At last he noticed that the slippers seemed to take him where they wished.
He tried several times to stop; but could not, until he cried in despair, "Oh! Oh! Stop! Oh!"
Then the slippers stopped, and Mouk threw himself exhausted on the ground and slept heavily.
While he slept, he dreamt that the little dog whispered in his ear:
"Dear little Mouk, turn yourself once on the heel of your right slipper, then you can fly wherever you will; and with the cane you can discover where treasure is hidden.
For gold, strike the earth three times; for silver twice."
As soon as Mouk awoke, he thought of his dream; so he put on his slippers, raised the left foot, and began to turn on the right heel.
Immediately he fell and bruised his nose.
At last he thought of the magic cane; and thus aided turned easily on heel, wishing himself in a large town far away, and behold, the slippers rose up with him, and took him swiftly through the air.
Before the little "airship" could well understand this magic, Mouk found himself in the town, and right in front of the King's Palace.
Beneath its entrance gate stood the Captain of the Guard, who asked him what he wanted.
Mouk replied that he "might probably become chief runner to the King."
"You, with your little feet and dwarfish body?"
said the Captain of the Guard, laughing.
"Go away, I am not here to joke with fools!"
But when Mouk assured him that he was in earnest, the overseer went and told the King about the little man and his desire.
The King, a jovial person, ordered that his subjects should meet in the large grounds behind the Castle, and that a competition should be held which he with his Court would attend.
As soon as possible all who could were hastening to the spot where the course was marked out, in order to see the boastful little dwarf run.
The King with his sons and daughters had the chief places; and when they were seated, Little Mouk with his competitors, who were the best runners in the Court, presented themselves before the King with great ceremony.
A universal shout of amusement went up when every one saw the funny little man, for no one so eccentric had ever been to their town.
But the competition had scarcely begun ere their laughter was turned to a wondering surprise.
Mouk gave each of his opponents several yards start, yet even in his huge slippers he passed them easily and stood waiting at the winning post, while they ran in panting for breath.
Lustily the crowd applauded the winner, and cried, "Long live Little Mouk, the champion runner!"
The King, however, called him up and said: "Little Mouk, you shall be my high Court runner, and always be near my person.
You shall have one hundred gold pieces as a reward, and each day shall eat at table with my courtiers."
Little Mouk thought that at last his good fortune was assured.
But he soon perceived that the courtiers were jealous of the favour shown him by the King.
This made him sad, and he bethought himself how he could gain their friendship.
Pondering deeply, he walked one evening in an outlying part of the Castle gardens.
He happened to have his walking-stick in his hand.
Suddenly he felt it knock his hand, and then tap the ground three times.
With his dagger he made a mark on the nearest tree and returned to the Castle.
So soon as night fell, he took a spade and went to the spot to dig for the gold.
After long digging he found a pot which contained many golden ducats.
Little Mouk took as many as he could safely carry away, then covered up the hole carefully, and took his treasure to his chamber and hid it beneath his pillow.
The next day he divided the gold liberally between the courtiers, thinking thereby to make friends of them.
But he was mistaken: for when the courtiers saw he had so much money, they were more jealous than ever.
"He is a magician," said one.
"No," said another; "he is a stupid bungler, and has stolen this money from the King's coffer; there has been a large sum missing for several days."
When the King heard about it, he ordered that a secret watch be set on Little Mouk, so as to catch him in the act of stealing.
So when night came, and Mouk, spade in hand, went to fetch some more gold pieces he was followed by Ahuli, the major-domo, and Archaz, the treasurer, and just as he was taking the money out of the jar and hiding it in his jacket, they seized him and led him before the King.
As they rather rudely disturbed his slumbers, the King received his poor Runner-in-Chief to the Court very ungraciously.
The spies had brought with them the jar which was in the ground and the jacket wherein the gold was wrapped and laid them at the King's feet, The treasurer said also that he had, while watching, seen Mouk at once find the spot where this gold was buried.
The King asked the little dwarf if this were true, and whence he obtained the gold which he had buried.
Little Mouk in the fulness of his misery said that he had discovered this jar in the garden, that he had not buried it there first.
The bystanders laughed loudly at this confession, but the King, though much amused at the simplicity of the dwarf, said:
"What, you miserable wretch! You think your King is stupid enough to believe these lies! What ho! Treasurer Archaz! I desire you to say if this sum of money tallies with that missing from my treasury."
The treasurer answered he knew for certain that as much and more had been missing from the treasury for a long time, and he could swear that this had been stolen.
Then the King commanded Little Mouk to be put in an iron cage and confined in one of the towers.
But the treasurer must first count the gold.
When, however, the jar was emptied before the King's eyes, to the surprise of every one there fell out a paper on which was written, "Whoever finds this treasure shall be pardoned by my son.
Signed, King Said."
King Said, the father of the reigning lord, had buried this treasure during a war, without being able before his death to tell his son about it.
The King was so convinced that Little Mouk had been conspired against, that he ordered the treasurer to be hanged, as he believed that he had stolen the money from the royal coffers.
To Little Mouk the King said:
"I will give you your freedom, if you will tell me the secret of you running power."
Little Mouk admitted that his power lay in his slippers, but the secret of turning three times on the right heel he did not disclose.
The King slipped on the shoes to try if it were true, and ran round and round the garden like a madman.
He longed to stop, but did not know how to keep the shoes from running; and Little Mouk let the King continue till he fell fainting from exhaustion.
When the King recovered consciousness, he was naturally furious with Little Mouk.
"I have promised you your freedom," he said, "but within twelve hours you must leave this kingdom, or I will hang you on the same gallows as the treasurer."
So poor Little Mouk wandered away, poorer far than when he came; for his slippers and his stick were taken from him and placed in the King's treasure chamber.
As he walked along he came to a thick wood, through which ran a brook overshadowed by fig-trees.
Here he lay down to wait for the day.
As he watched the ripe figs which swung from the branches, he murmured a blessing and picked and eat the delicious fruit.
Then he went to the brook to quench his thirst.
But he started back in alarm when he saw his reflection.
His head had now two huge ears and a long, thick nose.
Horrified, he grasped his ears with both hands.
It seemed as if they were a quarter of a yard long.
"I have got ass's ears," he cried, "because like an ass I trod my luck under foot."
Thinking deeply he went along under the shade of the trees: and as he still felt hungry he picked and ate some more figs, but from another tree.
After a while, he thought he would try to tuck his long ears inside his turban; but when he felt for them, they had disappeared.
Hastily he returned to the brook to examine his looks; and saw to his delight that his own nose and ears were as before.
Now he perceived that the figs had two properties: one sort disfigured his face, the other cured the disfigurement.
At once he had a lucky thought.
He picked from both trees as many figs as he could carry, and went into the nearest town.
Here he bought a, flaxen beard and some colouring for his face which completely disguised him, and so went back to the capital of the King, his late master, and sat himself down before the door of the Palace.
He had not waited long before the major-domo came along, who was much pleased with the fruit, and said it should be served at the royal table.
The King was very delighted with his dinner that night, and frequently praised the major-domo for his excellent catering, and for the quality and variety of the dishes.
The major - domo, however, thinking of the figs, only smiled and said, "All's well that ends well," "The evening is sometimes finer than the afternoon," and quoted other wise saws; so that the Princesses became quite curious to know what surprise he had in store.
When the figs were brought every one exclaimed, "Oh! What fine fruit!"
cried the King.
"Major-domo, you are a treasure, and worthy of our highest commendation!"
In his delight the King served the dessert with a lavish hand.
Each Prince and Princess had two figs each, the Court ladies and viziers one each.
The remainder the King reserved for himself.
"But, my dear father!"
cried the Princess Amaza, "how strange you look!"
Every one looked at the King, amazed.
Frightful ears hung each side of his head, and a long nose stuck out from his face.
But not only he, but all who had eaten the figs were also disfigured in the same way.
Their horror when the courtiers discovered their condition, can only be imagined.
The King sent at once for all the doctors in the city, but their pills and mixtures did no good, and if they cut the ears and noses off, they quickly grew again.
Now was Little Mouk's opportunity.
He first of all disguised himself, put on a long gown, and had himself brought to the King as one who could cure the nose and ears illness.
At first no one would believe him; when, however, one of the Princesses ventured to eat a healing fig and immediately regained her former looks, every one wished to consult the strange doctor.
The King led Mouk into his treasure chamber and said:
"Here are my treasures; choose what you will, only cure me of this hateful disease."
Mouk had noticed immediately his slippers and his stick.
He walked slowly round the chamber and pretended to be choosing something; at last he came to his slippers, and hastily putting them on and seizing his stick, he tore off his false beard and showed the astonished King who he really was.
"Faithless King," cried he, "with ingratitude have you treated me.
I leave you your long nose and ass's ears as a souvenir."
Then he turned three times round on his right heel, wished himself far away, and before the King could call for help, he was gone.
Where Little Mouk wished to go, no one ever knew; but it is certain that with the help of his stick, he became a rich man.
And with his wealth he returned in time to his own native city, and lived in an eccentric manner until his death; and, as I told you at the beginning of the story, only went out once a month, and then much to the delight of the street boys, owing to his droll figure and extraordinary Costume.