Tales of Old Lusitania/The Magician's Servant

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The hero of this story was a lad who left his home to seek for employment. He had not been long seeking a master when he was told of a house where a servant was required; he therefore applied for the situation. The very first question they asked him was whether he could read, and as he answered in the affirmative they informed him that that would be an objection to their engaging him, as they wanted a servant who could not read. After this he called at another house, where a domestic was wanted, but here again he was asked the same question as at the former house. The lad, fearing to make another mistake by owning that he could read, answered that he was so very ignorant that he did not even know his letters; and as it happened that they wanted an ignorant person, they gladly engaged him, believing that what he said was the truth.

The master of this house was a magician and a sorcerer. He spent all night writing upon the sciences of necromancy and geomancy, explaining divination by means of lines, dots, and points, and also how to practise legerdemain. He had books from which he gathered much of his information, and therefore it was absolutely necessary that his servant should not be able to understand them, and so become as clever as himself. But our lad read in the morning what his master wrote at night, and on one occasion, when his master was away from home for a few days, he read all his books and writings on magic, by which he learnt the science, and being now satisfied that he could work at this mysterious art as cleverly as his master, he left his situation and returned home to his parents.

When his mother saw him coming in she said,

"My son, how thin you have grown!"

"Never mind, mother, I have learnt an art by the practice of which we shall become very rich, and then I shall have time to grow stout again with better food and less work. You must know that I am going to transform myself into a greyhound, and my father must take me to the fair and sell me; but he must be careful not to sell the leash, as there is a charm in it, and it would be a great misfortune to me were it to fall into the possession of another person."

The lad, transformed into a dog, was accordingly taken to the fair by his father, and it soon attracted much attention on account of its remarkable appearance; and as it possessed all the points necessary for a good sporting dog, the hunters present all bid against each other, wishing to be the possessor of so valuable a dog, so that the father had no difficulty in selling the dog for a great price; but when the hunter offered to buy the leash as well, the father refused, and put it into his pocket. The hunters then drove over to a meet of the hounds, on a well-wooded mountain, and on arriving there they let all the dogs loose; but this greyhound, going over the hill, disappeared from sight, and again taking his former shape of man, returned and joined the hunters.

"Oh, my good man," said they, "did you happen to see a greyhound on your way? We have just lost a very valuable one, which we brought with us."

"Oh, yes," replied the lad, "he goes in front of you, running swiftly away."

"We shall be very sorry to lose him, as he cost us much money."

"You may consider your money lost then, for you will never catch the animal; it is too swift to be easily overtaken."

After this the lad left the hunters and went home On arriving, his father asked him why he had been so long away, and the boy answered that he was taken as a dog to a mountain, there to hunt the hare, but that he escaped from the hunters by stratagem.

"To-morrow," said he, "there is to be another fair, and I shall go to it under the disguise of a horse, and a fine horse I shall be! You must sell me at a high price, but be careful to keep the bridle, and do not sell it on any account."

The father went to the fair with his son changed into a horse, and whom should he meet at the fair but the lad's master, the magician, who recognised his servant in the disguised horse, and being determined to be the possessor, he offered to give any sum of money he might ask for it, but when the father refused to let the magician have the bridle with the horse, a dispute arose in which those present took the part of the purchaser, for, as they said, the bridle was included in the bargain. The poor father, being pressed by the crowds to give up the bridle, at last consented to let the magician have it.

The magician now gave the horse to a groom to take home, and cautioned him, as he pointed to a fountain at a short distance, not to let the horse approach it, threatening to kill him if he did so. As the groom went along with the horse, everyone that passed it praised its symmetry and beautiful shape; and seeing that the horse was not allowed to approach the fountain, though it made frantic efforts to do so, and to drink the water, all the bystanders appealed to the groom to let the beautiful horse drink, as it would be cruel to deprive it of water on such a hot day. The horse, however, taking advantage of a moment when the groom's attention was diverted from him, jumped over him, ran up to the fountain, and instantly taking the form of a fish disappeared in the water.

When the magician arrived and found that the horse had given his groom the slip, he was very angry with the man, but the people who had seen the occurrence said, "Do not blame the poor man, for when he least expected it the horse jumped over him, and, taking the form of a fish, leaped into the water and disappeared in the fountain."

The magician, on hearing this, at once transformed himself into an otter, and jumped into the fountain to eat up the fish; but the fish took the form of a dove and flew away. The otter then changed itself into a kite, and chased the dove; but just as the kite was on the point of darting upon the dove to carry it off, the dove turned into an apple, and fell on the lap of a lady who was sitting on a balcony with some friends. The kite now returned into a man, its natural form, and begged the holder of the apple to let him have it; but the lady, wishing to keep it because she thought it had fallen from heaven, refused to give it up. The magician began to wring his hands in despair, and, weeping bitterly, said to the ladies, "Dear good ladies, if you refuse to let me have the apple I shall certainly die; it is a charm which I have lost, and I must regain it if I would live. You surely would not wish to see me dead."

The lady, compassionating the man's distress, was on the point of giving up the apple, when the apple, changing itself into millet seeds, fell into her hand. The man, however, equal to the occasion, now turned into a hen with a number of chickens, so as to eat up the seeds; but the millet seeds began to swell till they took the shape of a fox, and then jumped down and ate up the hen and her chicks, after which it once more took the form of a man and went home.

When the father saw his son return, he said to him, "My son, what a time you have been away! What has kept you so long?"

To which the son replied, "It is all your own fault if I have been absent long, my father. You will never be rich, however much I may try, for you would always cross my plans. By your foolishness in giving up the bridle you have put me in danger of losing my life over and over again. It is therefore high time I sought my fortune elsewhere."


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