The Story of a Gazelle (African Folk Tale)

Once upon a time there lived a man who wasted all his money, and grew so poor that his only food was a few grains of corn, which he scratched like a fowl from out of a dust-heap.

One day he was scratching as usual among a dust-heap in the street, hoping to find something for breakfast, when his eye fell upon a small silver coin, called an eighth, which he greedily snatched up. “Now I can have a proper meal,” he thought, and after drinking some water at a well he lay down and slept so long that it was sunrise before he woke again. Then he jumped up and returned to the dust-heap. “For who knows,” he said to himself, “whether I may not have some good luck again.”

As he was walking down the road, he saw a man coming towards him, carrying a cage made of twigs. “Hi! you fellow!” called he, “what have you got inside there?”

“Gazelles,” replied the man.

“Bring them here, for I should like to see them.”

As he spoke, some men who were standing by began to laugh, saying to the man with the cage: “You had better take care how you bargain with him, for he has nothing at all except what he picks up from a dust-heap, and if he can”t feed himself, will he be able to feed a gazelle?”

But the man with the cage made answer: “Since I started from my home in the country, fifty people at the least have called me to show them my gazelles, and was there one among them who cared to buy? It is the custom for a trader in merchandise to be summoned hither and thither, and who knows where one may find a buyer?” And he took up his cage and went towards the scratcher of dust-heaps, and the men went with him.

“What do you ask for your gazelles?” said the beggar. “Will you let me have one for an eighth?”

And the man with the cage took out a gazelle, and held it out, saying, “Take this one, master!”

And the beggar took it and carried it to the dust-heap, where he scratched carefully till he found a few grains of corn, which he divided with his gazelle. This he did night and morning, till five days went by.

Then, as he slept, the gazelle woke him, saying, “Master.”

And the man answered, “How is it that I see a wonder?”

“What wonder?” asked the gazelle.

“Why, that you, a gazelle, should be able to speak, for, from the beginning, my father and mother and all the people that are in the world have never told me of a talking gazelle.”

“Never mind that,” said the gazelle, “but listen to what I say! First, I took you for my master. Second, you gave for me all you had in the world. I cannot run away from you, but give me, I pray you, leave to go every morning and seek food for myself, and every evening I will come back to you. What you find in the dust-heaps is not enough for both of us.”

“Go, then,” answered the master; and the gazelle went.

When the sun had set, the gazelle came back, and the poor man was very glad, and they lay down and slept side by side.

In the morning it said to him, “I am going away to feed.”

And the man replied, “Go, my son,” but he felt very lonely without his gazelle, and set out sooner than usual for the dust-heap where he generally found most corn. And glad he was when the evening came, and he could return home. He lay on the grass chewing tobacco, when the gazelle trotted up.

“Good evening, my master; how have you fared all day? I have been resting in the shade in a place where there is sweet grass when I am hungry, and fresh water when I am thirsty, and a soft breeze to fan me in the heat. It is far away in the forest, and no one knows of it but me, and to-morrow I shall go again.”

So for five days the gazelle set off at daybreak for this cool spot, but on the fifth day it came to a place where the grass was bitter, and it did not like it, and scratched, hoping to tear away the bad blades. But, instead, it saw something lying in the earth, which turned out to be a diamond, very large and bright. “Oh, ho!” said the gazelle to itself, “perhaps now I can do something for my master who bought me with all the money he had; but I must be careful or they will say he has stolen it. I had better take it myself to some great rich man, and see what it will do for me.”

Directly the gazelle had come to this conclusion, it picked up the diamond in its mouth, and went on and on and on through the forest, but found no place where a rich man was likely to dwell. For two more days it ran, from dawn to dark, till at last early one morning it caught sight of a large town, which gave it fresh courage.

The people were standing about the streets doing their marketing, when the gazelle bounded past, the diamond flashing as it ran. They called after it, but it took no notice till it reached the palace, where the sultan was sitting, enjoying the cool air. And the gazelle galloped up to him, and laid the diamond at his feet.

The sultan looked first at the diamond and next at the gazelle; then he ordered his attendants to bring cushions and a carpet, that the gazelle might rest itself after its long journey. And he likewise ordered milk to be brought, and rice, that it might eat and drink and be refreshed.

And when the gazelle was rested, the sultan said to it: “Give me the news you have come with.”

And the gazelle answered: “I am come with this diamond, which is a pledge from my master the Sultan Darai. He has heard you have a daughter, and sends you this small token, and begs you will give her to him to wife.”

And the sultan said: “I am content. The wife is his wife, the family is his family, the slave is his slave. Let him come to me empty-handed, I am content.”

When the sultan had ended, the gazelle rose, and said: “Master, farewell; I go back to our town, and in eight days, or it may be in eleven days, we shall arrive as your guests.”

And the sultan answered: “So let it be.”

All this time the poor man far away had been mourning and weeping for his gazelle, which he thought had run away from him for ever.

And when it came in at the door he rushed to embrace it with such joy that he would not allow it a chance to speak.

“Be still, master, and don”t cry,” said the gazelle at last; “let us sleep now, and in the morning, when I go, follow me.”

With the first ray of dawn they got up and went into the forest, and on the fifth day, as they were resting near a stream, the gazelle gave its master a sound beating, and then bade him stay where he was till it returned. And the gazelle ran off, and about ten o”clock it came near the sultan”s palace, where the road was all lined with soldiers who were there to do honour to Sultan Darai. And directly they caught sight of the gazelle in the distance one of the soldiers ran on and said, “Sultan Darai is coming: I have seen the gazelle.”

Then the sultan rose up, and called his whole court to follow him, and went out to meet the gazelle, who, bounding up to him, gave him greeting. The sultan answered politely, and inquired where it had left its master, whom it had promised to bring back.

“Alas!” replied the gazelle, “he is lying in the forest, for on our way here we were met by robbers, who, after beating and robbing him, took away all his clothes. And he is now hiding under a bush, lest a passing stranger might see him.”

The sultan, on hearing what had happened to his future son-in-law, turned his horse and rode to the palace, and bade a groom to harness the best horse in the stable and order a woman slave to bring a bag of clothes, such as a man might want, out of the chest; and he chose out a tunic and a turban and a sash for the waist, and fetched himself a gold-hilted sword, and a dagger and a pair of sandals, and a stick of sweet-smelling wood.

“Now,” said he to the gazelle, “take these things with the soldiers to the sultan, that he may be able to come.”

And the gazelle answered: “Can I take those soldiers to go and put my master to shame as he lies there naked? I am enough by myself, my lord.”

“How will you be enough,” asked the sultan, “to manage this horse and all these clothes?”

“Oh, that is easily done,” replied the gazelle. “Fasten the horse to my neck and tie the clothes to the back of the horse, and be sure they are fixed firmly, as I shall go faster than he does.”

Everything was carried out as the gazelle had ordered, and when all was ready it said to the sultan: “Farewell, my lord, I am going.”

“Farewell, gazelle,” answered the sultan; “when shall we see you again?”

“To-morrow about five,” replied the gazelle, and, giving a tug to the horse”s rein, they set off at a gallop.

The sultan watched them till they were out of sight: then he said to his attendants, “That gazelle comes from gentle hands, from the house of a sultan, and that is what makes it so different from other gazelles.” And in the eyes of the sultan the gazelle became a person of consequence.

Meanwhile the gazelle ran on till it came to the place where its master was seated, and his heart laughed when he saw the gazelle.

And the gazelle said to him, “Get up, my master, and bathe in the stream!” and when the man had bathed it said again, “Now rub yourself well with earth, and rub your teeth well with sand to make them bright and shining.” And when this was done it said, “The sun has gone down behind the hills; it is time for us to go”: so it went and brought the clothes from the back of the horse, and the man put them on and was well pleased.

“Master!” said the gazelle when the man was ready, “be sure that where we are going you keep silence, except for giving greetings and asking for news. Leave all the talking to me. I have provided you with a wife, and have made her presents of clothes and turbans and rare and precious things, so it is needless for you to speak.”

“Very good, I will be silent,” replied the man as he mounted the horse. “You have given all this; it is you who are the master, and I who am the slave, and I will obey you in all things.”

“So they went their way, and they went and went till the gazelle saw in the distance the palace of the sultan. Then it said, “Master, that is the house we are going to, and you are not a poor man any longer: even your name is new.”

“What IS my name, eh, my father?” asked the man.

“Sultan Darai,” said the gazelle.

Very soon some soldiers came to meet them, while others ran off to tell the sultan of their approach. And the sultan set off at once, and the viziers and the emirs, and the judges, and the rich men of the city, all followed him.

Directly the gazelle saw them coming, it said to its master: “Your father-in-law is coming to meet you; that is he in the middle, wearing a mantle of sky-blue. Get off your horse and go to greet him.”

And Sultan Darai leapt from his horse, and so did the other sultan, and they gave their hands to one another and kissed each other, and went together into the palace.

The next morning the gazelle went to the rooms of the sultan, and said to him: “My lord, we want you to marry us our wife, for the soul of Sultan Darai is eager.”

“The wife is ready, so call the priest,” answered he, and when the ceremony was over a cannon was fired and music was played, and within the palace there was feasting.

“Master,” said the gazelle the following morning, “I am setting out on a journey, and I shall not be back for seven days, and perhaps not then. But be careful not to leave the house till I come.”

And the master answered, “I will not leave the house.”

And it went to the sultan of the country and said to him: “My lord, Sultan Darai has sent me to his town to get the house in order. It will take me seven days, and if I am not back in seven days he will not leave the palace till I return.”

“Very good,” said the sultan.

And it went and it went through the forest and wilderness, till it arrived at a town full of fine houses. At the end of the chief road was a great house, beautiful exceedingly, built of sapphire and turquoise and marbles. “That,” thought the gazelle, “is the house for my master, and I will call up my courage and go and look at the people who are in it, if any people there are. For in this town have I as yet seen no people. If I die, I die, and if I live, I live. Here can I think of no plan, so if anything is to kill me, it will kill me.”

Then it knocked twice at the door, and cried “Open,” but no one answered. And it cried again, and a voice replied:

“Who are you that are crying “Open”?”

And the gazelle said, “It is I, great mistress, your grandchild.”

“If you are my grandchild,” returned the voice, “go back whence you came. Don”t come and die here, and bring me to my death as well.”

“Open, mistress, I entreat, I have something to say to you.”

“Grandchild,” replied she, “I fear to put your life in danger, and my own too.”

“Oh, mistress, my life will not be lost, nor yours either; open, I pray you.” So she opened the door.

“What is the news where you come from, my grandson,” asked she.

“Great lady, where I come from it is well, and with you it is well.”

“Ah, my son, here it is not well at all. If you seek a way to die, or if you have not yet seen death, then is to-day the day for you to know what dying is.”

“If I am to know it, I shall know it,” replied the gazelle; “but tell me, who is the lord of this house?”

And she said: “Ah, father! in this house is much wealth, and much people, and much food, and many horses. And the lord of it all is an exceeding great and wonderful snake.”

“Oh!” cried the gazelle when he heard this; “tell me how I can get at the snake to kill him?”

“My son,” returned the old woman, “do not say words like these; you risk both our lives. He has put me here all by myself, and I have to cook his food. When the great snake is coming there springs up a wind, and blows the dust about, and this goes on till the great snake glides into the courtyard and calls for his dinner, which must always be ready for him in those big pots. He eats till he has had enough, and then drinks a whole tankful of water. After that he goes away. Every second day he comes, when the sun is over the house. And he has seven heads. How then can you be a match for him, my son?”

“Mind your own business, mother,” answered the gazelle, “and don”t mind other people”s! Has this snake a sword?”

“He has a sword, and a sharp one too. It cuts like a dash of lightning.”

“Give it to me, mother!” said the gazelle, and she unhooked the sword from the wall, as she was bidden. “You must be quick,” she said, “for he may be here at any moment. Hark! is not that the wind rising? He has come!”

They were silent, but the old woman peeped from behind a curtain, and saw the snake busy at the pots which she had placed ready for him in the courtyard. And after he had done eating and drinking he came to the door:

“You old body!” he cried; “what smell is that I smell inside that is not the smell of every day?”

“Oh, master!” answered she, “I am alone, as I always am! But to-day, after many days, I have sprinkled fresh scent all over me, and it is that which you smell. What else could it be, master?”

All this time the gazelle had been standing close to the door, holding the sword in one of its front paws. And as the snake put one of his heads through the hole that he had made so as to get in and out comfortably, it cut it of so clean that the snake really did not feel it. The second blow was not quite so straight, for the snake said to himself, “Who is that who is trying to scratch me?” and stretched out his third head to see; but no sooner was the neck through the hole than the head went rolling to join the rest.

When six of his heads were gone the snake lashed his tail with such fury that the gazelle and the old woman could not see each other for the dust he made. And the gazelle said to him, “You have climbed all sorts of trees, but this you can”t climb,” and as the seventh head came darting through it went rolling to join the rest.

Then the sword fell rattling on the ground, for the gazelle had fainted.

The old woman shrieked with delight when she saw her enemy was dead, and ran to bring water to the gazelle, and fanned it, and put it where the wind could blow on it, till it grew better and gave a sneeze. And the heart of the old woman was glad, and she gave it more water, till by-and-by the gazelle got up.

“Show me this house,” it said, “from beginning to end, from top to bottom, from inside to out.”

So she arose and showed the gazelle rooms full of gold and precious things, and other rooms full of slaves. “They are all yours, goods and slaves,” said she.

But the gazelle answered, “You must keep them safe till I call my master.”

For two days it lay and rested in the house, and fed on milk and rice, and on the third day it bade the old woman farewell and started back to its master.

And when he heard that the gazelle was at the door he felt like a man who has found the time when all prayers are granted, and he rose and kissed it, saying: “My father, you have been a long time; you have left sorrow with me. I cannot eat, I cannot drink, I cannot laugh; my heart felt no smile at anything, because of thinking of you.”

And the gazelle answered: “I am well, and where I come from it is well, and I wish that after four days you would take your wife and go home.”

And he said: “It is for you to speak. Where you go, I will follow.”

“Then I shall go to your father-in-law and tell him this news.”

“Go, my son.”

So the gazelle went to the father-in-law and said: “I am sent by my master to come and tell you that after four days he will go away with his wife to his own home.”

“Must he really go so quickly? We have not yet sat much together, I and Sultan Darai, nor have we yet talked much together, nor have we yet ridden out together, nor have we eaten together; yet it is fourteen days since he came.”

But the gazelle replied: “My lord, you cannot help it, for he wishes to go home, and nothing will stop him.”

“Very good,” said the sultan, and he called all the people who were in the town, and commanded that the day his daughter left the palace ladies and guards were to attend her on her way.

And at the end of four days a great company of ladies and slaves and horses went forth to escort the wife of Sultan Darai to her new home. They rode all day, and when the sun sank behind the hills they rested, and ate of the food the gazelle gave them, and lay down to sleep. And they journeyed on for many days, and they all, nobles and slaves, loved the gazelle with a great love– more than they loved the Sultan Darai.

At last one day signs of houses appeared, far, far off. And those who saw cried out, “Gazelle!”

And it answered, “Ah, my mistresses, that is the house of Sultan Darai.”

At this news the women rejoiced much, and the slaves rejoiced much, and in the space of two hours they came to the gates, and the gazelle bade them all stay behind, and it went on to the house with Sultan Darai.

When the old woman saw them coming through the courtyard she jumped and shouted for joy, and as the gazelle drew near she seized it in her arms, and kissed it. The gazelle did not like this, and said to her: “Old woman, leave me alone; the one to be carried is my master, and the one to be kissed is my master.”

And she answered, “Forgive me, my son. I did not know this was our master,” and she threw open all the doors so that the master might see everything that the rooms and storehouses contained. Sultan Darai looked about him, and at length he said:

“Unfasten those horses that are tied up, and let loose those people that are bound. And let some sweep, and some spread the beds, and some cook, and some draw water, and some come out and receive the mistress.”

And when the sultana and her ladies and her slaves entered the house, and saw the rich stuffs it was hung with, and the beautiful rice that was prepared for them to eat, they cried: “Ah, you gazelle, we have seen great houses, we have seen people, we have heard of things. But this house, and you, such as you are, we have never seen or heard of.”

After a few days, the ladies said they wished to go home again. The gazelle begged them hard to stay, but finding they would not, it brought many gifts, and gave some to the ladies and some to their slaves. And they all thought the gazelle greater a thousand times than its master, Sultan Darai.

The gazelle and its master remained in the house many weeks, and one day it said to the old woman, “I came with my master to this place, and I have done many things for my master, good things, and till to-day he has never asked me: “Well, my gazelle, how did you get this house? Who is the owner of it? And this town, were there no people in it?” All good things I have done for the master, and he has not one day done me any good thing. But people say, “If you want to do any one good, don”t do him good only, do him evil also, and there will be peace between you.” So, mother, I have done: I want to see the favours I have done to my master, that he may do me the like.”

“Good,” replied the old woman, and they went to bed.

In the morning, when light came, the gazelle was sick in its stomach and feverish, and its legs ached. And it said “Mother!”

And she answered, “Here, my son?”

And it said, “Go and tell my master upstairs the gazelle is very ill.”

“Very good, my son; and if he should ask me what is the matter, what am I to say?”

“Tell him all my body aches badly; I have no single part without pain.”

The old woman went upstairs, and she found the mistress and master sitting on a couch of marble spread with soft cushions, and they asked her, “Well, old woman, what do you want?”

“To tell the master the gazelle is ill,” said she.

“What is the matter?” asked the wife.

“All its body pains; there is no part without pain.”

“Well, what can I do? Make some gruel of red millet, and give to it.”

But his wife stared and said: “Oh, master, do you tell her to make the gazelle gruel out of red millet, which a horse would not eat? Eh, master, that is not well.”

But he answered, “Oh, you are mad! Rice is only kept for people.”

“Eh, master, this is not like a gazelle. It is the apple of your eye. If sand got into that, it would trouble you.”

“My wife, your tongue is long,” and he left the room.

The old woman saw she had spoken vainly, and went back weeping to the gazelle. And when the gazelle saw her it said, “Mother, what is it, and why do you cry? If it be good, give me the answer; and if it be bad, give me the answer.”

But still the old woman would not speak, and the gazelle prayed her to let it know the words of the master. At last she said: “I went upstairs and found the mistress and the master sitting on a couch, and he asked me what I wanted, and I told him that you, his slave, were ill. And his wife asked what was the matter, and I told her that there was not a part of your body without pain. And the master told me to take some red millet and make you gruel, but the mistress said, “Eh, master, the gazelle is the apple of your eye; you have no child, this gazelle is like your child; so this gazelle is not one to be done evil to. This is a gazelle in form, but not a gazelle in heart; he is in all things better than a gentleman, be he who he may.”

And he answered her, “Silly chatterer, your words are many. I know its price; I bought it for an eighth. What loss will it be to me?”

The gazelle kept silence for a few moments. Then it said, “The elders said, “One that does good like a mother,” and I have done him good, and I have got this that the elders said. But go up again to the master, and tell him the gazelle is very ill, and it has not drunk the gruel of red millet.”

So the old woman returned, and found the master and the mistress drinking coffee. And when he heard what the gazelle had said, he cried: “Hold your peace, old woman, and stay your feet and close your eyes, and stop your ears with wax; and if the gazelle bids you come to me, say your legs are bent, and you cannot walk; and if it begs you to listen, say your ears are stopped with wax; and if it wishes to talk, reply that your tongue has got a hook in it.”

The heart of the old woman wept as she heard such words, because she saw that when the gazelle first came to that town it was ready to sell its life to buy wealth for its master. Then it happened to get both life and wealth, but now it had no honour with its master.

And tears sprung likewise to the eyes of the sultan”s wife, and she said, “I am sorry for you, my husband, that you should deal so wickedly with that gazelle”; but he only answered, “Old woman, pay no heed to the talk of the mistress: tell it to perish out of the way. I cannot sleep, I cannot eat, I cannot drink, for the worry of that gazelle. Shall a creature that I bought for an eighth trouble me from morning till night? Not so, old woman!”

The old woman went downstairs, and there lay the gazelle, blood flowing from its nostrils. And she took it in her arms and said, “My son, the good you did is lost; there remains only patience.”

And it said, “Mother, I shall die, for my soul is full of anger and bitterness. My face is ashamed, that I should have done good to my master, and that he should repay me with evil.” It paused for a moment, and then went on, “Mother, of the goods that are in this house, what do I eat? I might have every day half a basinful, and would my master be any the poorer? But did not the elders say, “He that does good like a mother!” “

And it said, “Go and tell my master that the gazelle is nearer death than life.”

So she went, and spoke as the gazelle had bidden her; but he answered, “I have told you to trouble me no more.”

But his wife”s heart was sore, and she said to him: “Ah, master, what has the gazelle done to you? How has he failed you? The things you do to him are not good, and you will draw on yourself the hatred of the people. For this gazelle is loved by all, by small and great, by women and men. Ah, my husband! I thought you had great wisdom, and you have not even a little!”

But he answered, “You are mad, my wife.”

The old woman stayed no longer, and went back to the gazelle, followed secretly by the mistress, who called a maidservant and bade her take some milk and rice and cook it for the gazelle.

“Take also this cloth,” she said, “to cover it with, and this pillow for its head. And if the gazelle wants more, let it ask me, and not its master. And if it will, I will send it in a litter to my father, and he will nurse it till it is well.”

And the maidservant did as her mistress bade her, and said what her mistress had told her to say, but the gazelle made no answer, but turned over on its side and died quietly.

When the news spread abroad, there was much weeping among the people, and Sultan Darai arose in wrath, and cried, “You weep for that gazelle as if you wept for me! And, after all, what is it but a gazelle, that I bought for an eighth?”

But his wife answered, “Master, we looked upon that gazelle as we looked upon you. It was the gazelle who came to ask me of my father, it was the gazelle who brought me from my father, and I was given in charge to the gazelle by my father.”

And when the people heard her they lifted up their voices and spoke:

“We never saw you, we saw the gazelle. It was the gazelle who met with trouble here, it was the gazelle who met with rest here.

So, then, when such an one departs from this world we weep for ourselves, we do not weep for the gazelle.”

And they said furthermore:

“The gazelle did you much good, and if anyone says he could have done more for you he is a liar! Therefore, to us who have done you no good, what treatment will you give? The gazelle has died from bitterness of soul, and you ordered your slaves to throw it into the well. Ah! leave us alone that we may weep.”

But Sultan Darai would not heed their words, and the dead gazelle was thrown into the well.

When the mistress heard of it, she sent three slaves, mounted on donkeys, with a letter to her father the sultan, and when the sultan had read the letter he bowed his head and wept, like a man who had lost his mother. And he commanded horses to be saddled, and called the governor and the judges and all the rich men, and said:

“Come now with me; let us go and bury it.”

Night and day they travelled, till the sultan came to the well where the gazelle had been thrown. And it was a large well, built round a rock, with room for many people; and the sultan entered, and the judges and the rich men followed him. And when he saw the gazelle lying there he wept afresh, and took it in his arms and carried it away.

When the three slaves went and told their mistress what the sultan had done, and how all the people were weeping, she answered:

“I too have eaten no food, neither have I drunk water, since the day the gazelle died. I have not spoken, and I have not laughed.”

The sultan took the gazelle and buried it, and ordered the people to wear mourning for it, so there was great mourning throughout the city.

Now after the days of mourning were at an end, the wife was sleeping at her husband”s side, and in her sleep she dreamed that she was once more in her father”s house, and when she woke up it was no dream.

And the man dreamed that he was on the dust-heap, scratching. And when he woke, behold! that also was no dream, but the truth.

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