The Story of Little Muck by Wilhelm Hauff

There lived at Nicea, my dear native town, a man named Little Muck. I can still remember him very well, although I was very young then, especially as I once received from my father a sound thrashing for his sake. Little Muck was already an old man when I knew him, and only three or four feet high. He presented a most extraordinary appearance, and although his body was stunted and thin, yet he had a head which was much larger and thicker than that of other people. He lived quite alone in a large house, and acted as his own cook; people, moreover, in the town would never have known whether he was alive or dead, for he only went out once a month, were it not that at mid-day a powerful steam arose from his house; but he was often seen during the evening walking up and down his roof, and people in the street thought that his immense head only promenaded on the roof. My playmates and myself were wicked youngsters, always ready enough to mock people and laugh at them, and whenever Little Muck came out it was a holiday for us. On the day he went out we met before his house, waiting for his appearance. When the door opened, and his immense head, together with a much larger turban, peeped out, followed by his little body, dressed in a shabby little cloak, wide trousers, and a broad girdle, to which was attached a long dagger of such an immense size that people did not know whether Muck was fastened to the dagger or the dagger to him—when he came out, the air resounded with our loud cries of joy; we threw up our caps into the air and danced like maniacs round about him. Little Muck, nevertheless, bowed to us with a grave and dignified air, and marched down the street with slow steps, dragging his feet as he walked, for he wore such large and broad slippers as I had never seen before.

We boys ran after him always shouting: ‘Little Muck! Little Muck!’ We had also made a little rhyme about him which we sang in honour of him now and then, namely:

‘Little Muck, Little Muck,
What an awful fright you look!
In a big house you reside,
Only once a month outside.
You are a plucky dwarf, but still
Your head is almost like a hill;
Do but just turn round and look,
Run and catch us, Little Muck!’

We had often played this joke, and I must confess to my shame mine was the worst. I often pulled him by his cloak, and once I planted my foot on the end of his great slippers from behind, so that he fell down. This at first caused me great delight, but I soon ceased to laugh when I saw Little Muck go towards my father’s house. He really entered it, and remained in it for some time. I secreted myself behind the door and saw Little Muck come out again, accompanied by my father, who held him respectfully by the hand, and took leave of him at the door, after many bows. I felt very uneasy, and remained for a long time in my hiding-place; but at length hunger, which I dreaded still more than the thrashing, forced me to come out, and, shame-faced and with bent head, I presented myself before my father. ‘I hear you have insulted the good Muck?’ he said in a very stern voice. ‘I want to tell you the history of this Muck, and I am certain you will never mock him again; in any case, however, before or after, you will get your punishment.’ This punishment meant twenty-five strokes, which he counted with only too great an exactness. He took his long pipe, screwed off the amber mouth-piece, and acquitted himself more vigorously of the task than he had ever done before.

After having received the five-and-twenty strokes, my father ordered me to pay attention, and related to me the story of Little Muck.

The father of Little Muck, whose real name was Mukrah, was a distinguished but poor man here in Nicea. He, too, lived in almost as solitary a manner as his son does at present. Unfortunately, he did not like him, because his dwarfed stature made him ashamed of the boy, and consequently he had him brought up in ignorance. Little Muck, when in his sixteenth year, was still a frolicsome child; and his father, a stern man, continually reproached him with still being so childish, and also on account of his ignorance and stupidity.

The old man, however, had a bad fall one day, in consequence of which he died, leaving behind little Muck, poor and ignorant. His harsh relatives, to whom the deceased owed more than he was able to pay, turned the poor little fellow out of the house, and advised him to go abroad to seek his fortune. Little Muck said that he was already prepared for the journey; and only asked to be allowed to take his father’s clothes with him, to which they agreed. His father had been a tall, powerful man, and therefore his clothes did not fit him. Muck, however, soon devised an expedient; he cut off all that was superfluous with respect to length, and then donned the garments. He seemed, however, to have forgotten the curtailing of them in their amplitude, hence his whimsical attire, which he wears to this day; the large turban, the broad girdle, the wide trousers, the little blue cloak, all these are heirlooms of his father, which he has always worn; his father’s long Damascus dagger he planted in his girdle, and with a little staff in his hand, he set out on his journey.

Joyfully he walked along all day, for he had set out to seek his fortune. If he saw a bit of broken glass on the road glittering in the sunshine, he would put it into his pocket, really believing it would turn into the most beautiful diamond. If he saw in the distance the glittering cupolas of a mosque, or the sea smooth as glass, he would hasten towards it joyously, thinking he had arrived in some enchanted country. But alas! These phantoms disappeared as he approached them, and only too soon did his fatigue and the complaints of his hungry stomach remind him that he was still in the land of mortals.

Thus he had travelled for two days, hungry, weary, and in despair, endeavouring to seek his fortune; the fruits of the field were his only food, the hard earth his couch. On the morning of the third day he perceived from the top of a hill a large town. The Crescent glittered upon the cupolas, coloured banners floated upon the roofs, seeming to beckon Little Muck to come to them. He stood still a moment quite surprised, looking upon the town and its environs. ‘Yes, that is the place where Little Muck will make his fortune,’ he said to himself; and notwithstanding his weariness he stepped forward, ‘there or nowhere.’ He summoned up all his strength and strode towards the city. But although it appeared so close, he did not reach it till mid-day, for his little legs almost entirely refused their office, so that he was obliged to sit down frequently under the shade of a palm-tree to take rest. At length he reached his destination. He arranged his little cloak, improved the position of his turban, broadened his girdle still more, and planted his long dagger in a still more oblique position; he then wiped the dust from his shoes, armed himself with his little staff, and bravely entered the city.

He had already strolled through many streets, but nowhere a door opened to him, nowhere people called out to him as he had imagined: ‘Little Muck, come in, eat and drink, and rest your tiny legs.’

He was again looking up very longingly before a large and beautiful house, when a window opened, an old woman looked out of it, and exclaimed in a singing voice:

‘Come on, come on,
The broth is done;
Laid is the cloth,
Enjoy the broth;
Neighbours come,
The broth is done.’

The door of the house opened, and Muck saw many dogs and cats go into the house. He remained for some moments in a state of uncertainty, as to whether he should respond to the invitation; at length, however, he summoned up sufficient courage and entered the house. Before him trotted a pair of young cats. He determined to follow them, because they might know the way to the kitchen better than he.

When Muck had reached the top of the stairs, he met the old woman who had looked out of the window. She looked at him sulkily, and demanded of him what he wanted. ‘I have heard you inviting everybody to your feast,’ answered little Muck, ‘and as I am terribly hungry I have come as well.’ The old woman laughed and said: ‘Where do you come from, you strange creature? The whole town knows that I cook for nobody except my dear cats, and now and again I invite company from the neighbourhood for them, as you see.’ Little Muck related to the old woman how badly he had fared after his father’s death, and entreated her to allow him to feast this day with her cats. The woman, who seemed pleased at the unaffected story of the little man, allowed him to be her guest, and gave him plenty to eat and drink. After having regaled himself, the woman looked at him for a long time and then said: ‘Little Muck, remain in my service, you will have little to do and plenty to eat.’ Little Muck, who seemed to have enjoyed the cats’ broth, agreed, and thus became Madam Ahavzi’s servant. His work was light but strange. Lady Ahavzi owned two cats and four kittens. Little Muck had to brush their fur and anoint them with precious ointment every morning; if their mistress was absent, he had to take care of them; at their meals he had to wait upon them, and at night put them upon silk cushions and wrap them up in velvet coverlets.

There were besides some little dogs in the house which he also had to wait upon, but not so much attention was bestowed upon these as upon the cats, who were treated like Lady Ahavzi’s own children. Altogether, Muck now lived almost as solitarily as when he was in his late father’s house; for, with the exception of his mistress, he only saw, during the whole day, cats and dogs. For a short time little Muck fared very well, he had always plenty to eat and little to do, and the old woman seemed to be quite satisfied with him; but by degrees the cats became troublesome; whenever the old lady was out they bounded about the room like mad, setting everything pell-mell, and breaking many valuable vases which stood in their way. But when they heard their mistress coming up the stairs they crept up to their cushions, wagging their little tails to welcome her as if nothing had occurred. Lady Ahavzi then became angry on seeing her rooms in such a disordered state, blaming Muck for it; and however much he might protest his innocence, she had more confidence in her cats, which looked so innocent, than in her own servant.

Little Muck was very sad that he had not found his fortune here, and resolved to quit the service of Madam Ahavzi. But as he had discovered during his former travels how difficult it was to live without money, he determined to obtain his wages, which his mistress had always promised, but never given him, by some means or other. In the house of Madam Ahavzi was a chamber which was always locked, and the interior of which he had never seen. He had, however, often heard the woman making a noise in it, and for the life of him he would have liked to know what she kept hidden there. While thinking of his money for travelling, it occurred to him that it was probably there that Madam Ahavzi kept her treasures. The door, however, was always firmly locked, and he was unable therefore to get near them.

One morning, after Madam Ahavzi had gone out, one of the little dogs which had always been treated by her very badly, whose favour, however, he had gained in a high degree by showing it many acts of kindness, pulled him by his full trousers, and made signs to him as if to induce Muck to follow him. Muck, who had always been fond of playing with the little dog, followed it, and behold, the little dog conducted him into the bedroom of Madam Ahavzi, and to a little door which he had never seen there before. The door was ajar. The little dog went in, Muck following it, and he was agreeably surprised to find himself in the room which had been so long the aim of his wishes. He spied in every corner to see if he could find any money, but all in vain. Only old clothes and strangely-shaped vases were lying about. One of these vases especially attracted his attention. It was of crystal, and beautiful figures were cut on it. He took it up and turned it about on all sides. But, oh terror! He had not noticed that it had a cover which was only lightly placed upon it. The cover dropped, and broke into a thousand pieces.

For a long time Little Muck stood there petrified with fear. His fate was now decided, and nothing remained for him but to run away, otherwise the old woman would kill him. He immediately determined upon going, but once more he looked round to see if he could make use of some of Lady Ahavzi’s property. His eyes fell on a mighty pair of slippers. They were not very pretty, but his own could not stand another journey. They also attracted his attention on account of their immense size, for if his feet were once in them, all must plainly see that he had discarded children’s boots. He quickly took off his little slippers, and put on the big ones. A pretty little staff with a lion’s head carved on its top seemed also to be standing idle in the corner, so taking possession of it, he hastened out of the room. He then went quickly to his room, donned his little cloak, put on his paternal turban, planted the dagger in his girdle, and ran as fast as his legs could carry him, out of the house and the gates of the town.

Outside the town he kept on running, being afraid of the old woman, until at last he was overcome by fatigue. Never in all his life had he gone so fast, nay, it seemed to him as if he could go on continually, for some invisible power seemed to urge him on. He perceived at last that his slippers were under the influence of some charm, for they kept on stepping forward, and dragging him along. He tried by all sorts of means to stand still, but all in vain. At last, being in the greatest danger, he called out just as if he were guiding horses: ‘Ho! ho! halt ho!’ The slippers immediately pulled up, and Muck threw himself exhausted on the ground.

He was immensely pleased with the slippers. After all, he had acquired something by his work, which might assist him on his way in the world, to make his fortune. In spite of his joy he fell asleep from fatigue, for the little body of Mr. Muck, which had to carry such an enormous head, was not very strong. In a dream the little dog which had assisted him in obtaining the slippers in Madam Ahavzi’s house appeared to him and said: ‘Dear Muck, you do not seem properly to understand the use of the slippers: Learn, if you turn in them three times on your heel, you can fly wherever you like, and with the little cane you can discover treasures: for wherever there is gold buried it will strike the ground three times, and where silver lies twice.’

Thus dreamt Little Muck. When he was awake he meditated upon the strange dream, and soon resolved to make a trial. He put on the slippers, lifted one foot in the air and turned himself about on the other. Whoever has tried the feat of turning round thrice successively in a slipper too large for him will not be astonished at hearing that Little Muck did not succeed very well in his first attempt, especially if one takes into consideration that his enormous head sometimes dragged him to the right and sometimes to the left.

The poor little fellow fell several times heavily on his nose; nevertheless he did not allow himself to be discouraged from repeating the experiment, and finally he succeeded. Like a wheel he turned round on his heel, wishing himself to be transported to the nearest large town, whereupon his slippers lifted him up into the air, fled through the clouds as if they had wings, and before he could recover his senses he found himself in a large market-place, where many booths were pitched, and where a number of people were busily running to and fro. He went about amongst the people, but found it advisable to go into a more quiet street, for in the market-place people put their feet upon his slippers, which nearly made him fall down; and further, his long dagger every now and then pushed against some one or other, so that he just escaped being beaten.

Little Muck now began seriously to think what he could do to earn some money. Though he had a little staff indicating to him hidden treasures, yet where could he discover a place, on the spur of the moment, where gold or silver was buried? He might have exhibited himself in case of necessity, but he was too proud for that. At length the quick movements of his limbs occurred to him. ‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘my slippers may support me,’ and he resolved to offer his services as courier, thinking it possible that the King of this town might remunerate him handsomely for such services, and he inquired after the palace. Near the gate of the palace stood a sentry, who asked him what he wanted. He said that he was looking for work, and was shown to the overseer of the slaves. He told the latter his request, and petitioned him to find him a place amongst the royal messengers. The overseer looked at him from head to foot, and said: ‘What! you, with your little limbs, which are scarcely a span in length, wish to become a royal messenger! Get away, I have no time for joking with a fool.’

Little Muck, however, assured him that he was quite in earnest with his offer, and that he would venture a wager to outstrip the swiftest runner. The affair seemed very ridiculous to the overseer. He ordered him to be prepared for a race in the evening, took him into the kitchen, and took care that he was supplied with plenty to eat and drink. The overseer himself went to the King, and told him about this little man and his offer. The King, who was a pleasant master, approved of the overseer for having kept Little Muck for a joke. He ordered him to make preparations on a large meadow behind the palace in order that the race might be conveniently seen by his whole royal household, and finally told him to look well after the dwarf.

The King related to the Princes and Princesses what sort of an entertainment they would have in the evening. The latter told their servants of it, and as the evening approached, all were in eager expectation; they hastened towards the meadow, where scaffolds were erected, in order to see the boasting dwarf run.

After the King, his sons and his daughters had taken their seats, Little Muck appeared upon the meadow, saluting the assemblage with an extremely courteous bow. General shouts of joy resounded on the little man appearing; such a figure had never been seen there before. The little man’s body with its immense head, his little cloak and large trousers, the long dagger in the broad girdle, his little feet in his slippers: No! this was too funny a sight for people not to laugh. Little Muck, however, did not allow himself to be abashed by the laughter. He proudly took his place, leaning on his little cane, and awaited his adversary. The overseer of the slaves had, at Muck’s request, selected the quickest runner. The latter now came forward, placing himself by the side of the little man, and both waited for the signal. Then the Princess Amarza, as had been arranged, nodded from under her veil, and like two arrows shot at the same target, the runners rushed forward over the meadow.

At first Muck’s adversary had a decided advantage, but the former on his slipper-conveyance chased him, overtook him, passed him, and reached the goal long before the other came along gasping for breath. The spectators were for some moments stupefied with admiration and astonishment, but when first the King applauded, then the whole multitude followed his example, and all shouted:

‘Long live Little Muck, the winner of the race!’

In the meantime Little Muck had been fetched. He prostrated himself before the King, and said: ‘All powerful King, this is merely a trifle of my art; and now condescend to assign me a place amongst your couriers.’ The King replied: ‘No, you shall be my private runner, and always about me. You shall have for your salary a hundred gold pieces annually, and you shall dine with my chief courtiers.’

Muck now at last thought he had found his fortune, which he had sought after for so long a time, and rejoiced inwardly. He also rejoiced at the special favour of the King, for the latter employed him for the quickest and most secret despatches, which Little Muck executed with the greatest exactitude, and with incomprehensible rapidity.

The other servants, however, were jealous of him, because they thought themselves lessened in the favour of their master, through a dwarf, who understood nothing else but running. Many conspiracies, therefore, were plotted against him in order to ruin him; but all failed, on account of the great confidence which the King placed in his chief private runner, for he had risen to this dignity in a short time.

Muck, who was not blind to these intrigues, did not think of avenging himself; he was too noble-hearted for that. No, he rather thought of some means by which he might make himself indispensable, and liked by his enemies. He then recollected his little staff, which he had forgotten in his fortunate circumstances; if he discovered treasures, he thought, then perhaps his companions might look upon him with a more favourable eye.

He had often been told that the father of the present King had buried a great part of his treasures at a time when the enemy invaded his country; it was also said that he had died since, without having been able to communicate his secret to his son. Henceforward Muck always took his little cane with him, hoping that some day he might pass the place where the money of the old King lay buried. One evening chance led him to a lonely spot in the King’s garden, a place which he little frequented, when suddenly he felt his little cane jerking in his hand, and striking the ground three times. He was already aware what this meant. He therefore drew his dagger, notched the trees surrounding the place, and returned to the castle: he now procured a spade, and waited until nightfall for his enterprise.

His searching for the treasures gave Little Muck more trouble than he had expected. His arms were very weak, his spade too large and heavy, and he worked for more than two hours before he had dug two feet in depth. At length he struck against something hard, which gave a metallic sound. He now dug away more vigorously, and soon succeeded in bringing to light a large iron lid; he himself got into the hole in order to discover what the lid might cover, and he really found a large urn filled with gold pieces. His feeble powers, however, were insufficient to lift the urn, and he therefore put into his trousers and girdle as much as he could carry; he stuffed his little cloak with as much as he could, and put it on his back, having concealed the rest very carefully. But, as a matter of fact, if he had not had his slippers on, he would not have been able to proceed, so heavily the gold weighed on him. Unobserved, he reached his room, and there concealed his gold underneath the cushions of his couch.

When Little Muck found himself the owner of so much gold he thought matters would now undergo a change, and that he would gain amongst his enemies at court many patrons and warm friends. Judging from this, it was but too obvious that Little Muck could not have received a very careful education, otherwise he would not have imagined that it was possible to gain real friends with gold. Alas! he had much better have greased his slippers then, and made his escape with his little cloak filled with gold as quickly as he could.

The gold which Little Muck now freely distributed excited the jealousy of the other courtiers. The chief cook Ahuli said: ‘He is a coiner.’ Achmet, the overseer of the slaves, said: ‘He has obtained it from the King by talking.’ Archaz, the treasurer, however, his bitterest enemy, who himself from time to time dipped into the King’s cash-box, said openly: ‘He has stolen it.’ Now in order to make quite sure of their affair, they plotted together, and the chief cup-bearer Korchuz presented himself one day very sad and downcast before the King. He dissimulated in such a way that the King asked him what was the matter with him. ‘Alas!’ he answered, ‘I am sad for having lost the grace of my master.’ ‘What are you raving about, friend Korchuz?’ said the King. ‘How long has the sunshine of my favour ceased to fall on you?’ The chief cup-bearer answered him that he had lavished so much gold on his private chief runner, and forgotten him, his poor and faithful servant, altogether.

The King was much astonished at this news, and caused little Muck’s distributions of gold to be related to him, and the conspirators easily made him suspect that Muck by some means or other had stolen the money from the treasury. The treasurer was very pleased at this turn of affairs, and besides, was reluctant to give an account of the state of his books. The King therefore ordered them to watch all the movements of Little Muck, in order to surprise him if possible in the act of stealing. When, therefore, during the night following this fatal day, Little Muck took the spade in order to go into the King’s garden to get a fresh supply from his secret treasure, because he had exhausted his store through his liberality, he was followed by the sentries, headed by the chief cook Ahuli and the treasurer Archaz; and just as he was about to put the gold into his little cloak they attacked him, bound him, and brought him immediately before the King. The latter, whose disturbed slumbers had not put him in a very good humour, received his poor chief private runner very ungraciously, and examined him immediately. The pot had been dug completely out of the ground, and with the spade, as well as the little cloak filled with gold, had been placed before the King. The treasurer alleged that he had surprised Muck with his sentinels at the moment when he had buried this pot of gold in the ground.

The King questioned the accused as to whether it was true, and where he had got the gold which he had buried. Little Muck assured him of his innocence, and said that he had discovered this pot in the garden, and that he was not going to bury it, but to dig it out.

All present laughed at this excuse; the King, however, greatly exasperated at the barefaced impudence of the little man, exclaimed: ‘You wretch! You dare to impose on your King in such a gross fashion, after having robbed him? Treasurer Archaz, I call upon you to say whether you recognise this sum of gold as the same which is missing from my treasury?’ The treasurer said he was quite sure that so much and still more had been missing for some time from the royal treasury, and that he was prepared to affirm it with an oath that this was the stolen money.

Thereupon the King ordered Little Muck to be put in heavy chains and taken to the tower; the gold he gave to the treasurer, in order to restore it to the treasury. Delighted at the fortunate result of the affair, he left, and counted the glittering gold pieces at home; but the bad man never announced that there had been at the bottom of the pot a piece of paper on which was written: ‘The enemy has inundated my country, therefore I bury here part of my treasures; whoever the finder may be is cursed by the King if he does not immediately deliver it up to my son. King Sadi.’

Little Muck made sad reflections in his prison; he knew that death was the punishment for stealing the King’s property, yet he did not intend to reveal the secret of the little staff to the King, fearing he should be deprived of it as well as of his slippers. His slippers could not assist him at all, for he was chained close to a wall, and could not, in spite of his endeavours, turn round on his heel. When, however, on the next day he was informed that he had to die, he thought it best after all to live without the magic wand rather than die with it, so he requested the King for a private interview, and revealed to him the secret. The King at first had not much faith in his confession; but Little Muck promised a trial if the King assured him that he should not be killed. The King gave him his word for it, and, unknown to Muck, had some gold buried in the ground, and told him to find it with his little staff. In a few moments he had discovered it, for the little staff struck three times distinctly upon the ground. The King now recognised that his treasurer had deceived him, and sent him, as is customary in the East, a silk cord to hang himself with. But to Little Muck he said: ‘Although I have promised to spare your life, yet it seems to me you possess more than the secret of this little staff; therefore you shall pass the rest of your days in captivity, unless you reveal the means by which you run so swiftly.’

Little Muck, for whom one night in the tower had been sufficient to make him hate captivity, confessed that all his art lay in his slippers; but he did not tell the King the secret of turning three times on the heel. The King himself slipped into the slippers in order to make a trial, and rushed about like a madman in his garden; he often wanted to stop, but he did not know how it was possible, and Little Muck, who could not help avenging himself a little, allowed him to run until he fell down fainting.

When the King had gained consciousness again, he was terribly angry with Little Muck for having let him run about breathless. ‘I have pledged my word to set you at liberty, and to spare your life. Quit my kingdom within twelve hours, else I will have you hung.’ The slippers and the little staff, however, were put into his treasury.

As poor as before, Little Muck left the country, cursing his folly which had deceived him in imagining that he might play a prominent part at Court. Fortunately, the country from which he was banished was not extensive, and after eight hours he reached the frontier, although he had some difficulty in walking, for he was accustomed to his dear slippers.

After he had crossed the frontier he struck out of the main path to find the most solitary spot of the forest, intending to live there only for himself, for he hated all mankind. In a dense forest he chanced upon a little place, which seemed quite suitable to him according to the plan which he had formed. A clear stream, surrounded by gigantic and shady fig-trees and a soft piece of turf, invited him to throw himself down, and it was here that he intended to take no more nourishment, but to await death. Over these reflections of death he fell asleep; but on awaking, and when hunger tormented him, he came to the conclusion that after all to die of hunger was a terrible thing, and looked around to see if he could find anything to eat.

There were some delicious ripe figs on the tree under which he had slept, so he climbed up the tree to gather some, enjoyed them heartily, and then came down to quench his thirst in the brook. But how great was his terror when his reflection in the water showed him his head ornamented with two immense ears and a thick long nose. In dismay he seized his ears with his hands; indeed they were more than half a yard long.

‘I deserve donkey’s ears!’ he exclaimed, ‘for I have, like an ass, trampled upon my fortune.’ He wandered amongst the trees, and on feeling hungry again, he ate once more of the figs, for there was nothing else eatable on the trees. Whilst he was eating the second lot of figs it occurred to him that there might be room enough for his ears under his great turban, so as not to appear too ridiculous; but he felt that his ears had disappeared! He immediately returned to the brook, in order to make sure of it. And indeed it was true; his ears had assumed their former appearance, and also his long and unshapely nose had changed. He now perceived how all this had happened; it was owing to the figs from the first tree that he had got the long nose and ears; the second had healed him. Gladly he recognised that his good fortune had once again given him the means of being happy. He therefore gathered from each tree as much as he could carry, and returned to the country which he had recently quitted. In the first little town he entered he disguised himself, and without stopping went towards the city where the King resided, and soon arrived there.

It happened to be the season of the year when ripe fruits were scarce; Little Muck therefore sat down near the gate of the palace, for he remembered that in former times the chief cook bought such rarities for the royal table. Muck had only just sat down when he saw the chief cook coming across the court. He inspected the wares of the sellers who had collected near the gate of the palace; at last his attention was directed towards Muck’s little basket. ‘Ah! a rare bit,’ he said, ‘which His Majesty will certainly enjoy. How much do you want for the whole basketful?’ Little Muck asked a moderate price, and they were soon agreed over the bargain. The chief cook gave the basket to a slave and continued his way. Little Muck, however, ran away in the meantime, for he feared that if the horrible developments were to appear on the heads of those at Court, he being the seller might be sought out and punished.

The King was in high spirits during dinner, and complimented the chief cook over and over again on account of his excellent cooking, and care in always selecting the best for him. The chief cook, however, who was well aware what delicacy was yet to come, smiled significantly, and merely said, ‘The day is not over yet,’ or ‘All’s well that ends well,’ so that the Princesses became very curious what else was to come. When, therefore, he had the splendid inviting figs served up, there was a universal cry of ‘Ah!’ from all present. ‘How beautiful, how inviting!’ exclaimed the King. ‘Chief cook, you are a capital fellow, and worthy of our entire favour.’ In speaking thus the King himself distributed these delicacies, with which he was always very frugal, to every one at table. Each Prince and each Princess received two, the ladies in waiting, the viziers, and the officers one each, the rest he placed before himself, and commenced to eat them with a good appetite.

‘But dear me, how peculiar you look, father!’ exclaimed Princess Amarza all at once. All looked at the King in surprise: immense ears hung down on his head, a long nose extended down his chin. All the guests looked at each other with astonishment and terror; all were more or less adorned with this peculiar head-dress.

The consternation of the Court may be easily imagined. They immediately sent for all the physicians in the town, who came in troops, prescribed pills and mixtures, but the ears and noses remained. An operation was performed on one of the Princes, but the ears budded out again.

Muck had heard of the whole affair in his hiding-place, and thought now was the time for him to act. He had already procured for himself a dress with the money which he had obtained for the figs, and now appeared as a wise man. A long beard of goat’s hair disguised him completely. He entered the palace of the King with a little bag filled with figs, and offered his services as a foreign physician. At first they were somewhat sceptical, but after Little Muck had given a fig to one of the Princes to eat, and when the latter’s ears and nose again assumed their original shape, then all desired to be cured by the foreign physician. The King, however, took him silently by the hand and led him into his apartment; he there unlocked a door which led into the treasury, beckoning Muck to follow him. ‘Here are my treasures,’ said the King; ‘make your selection, and whatever it be, you shall have, if you rid me of this frightful evil.’ This was sweet music to the ears of Little Muck; immediately on entering he had seen his slippers lying on the floor, together with his little staff. He now went about the room as if he were desirous of admiring the King’s treasures. Scarcely, however, had he come to his slippers when he quietly slipped into them, seized his little staff, tore off his false beard, and displayed to the amazed King the well-known features of the exiled Muck. ‘Perfidious King,’ he said, ‘who repay with ingratitude faithful services, take as a well-deserved punishment the deformity which has overtaken you. You shall wear the long ears in order that they may remind you daily of Little Muck.’

After having said this he quickly turned round on his heel, wishing himself far away, and before the King was able to call for assistance Little Muck was out of sight. Ever since Little Muck lives here in great wealth, but secluded, for he hates men. Experience has taught him wisdom, and notwithstanding his strange exterior, he rather deserves your admiration than your mockery.


That is the story which my father told me. I repented of my unworthy conduct towards the good little man, and my father remitted the other half of the punishment which was yet in store for me. I related to my comrades the marvellous adventures of the little man, and we became so fond of him that none of us ever mocked him again. On the contrary, we respected him as long as he lived, and always bowed to him with as much respect as we should have done before a Cadi or a Mufti.