Wisdom’s Wages And Folly’s Pay by Howard Pyle

Story type: Literature

Once upon a time there was a wise man of wise men, and a great magician to boot, and his name was Doctor Simon Agricola.

Once upon a time there was a simpleton of simpletons, and a great booby to boot, and his name was Babo.

Simon Agricola had read all the books written by man, and could do more magic than any conjurer that ever lived. But, nevertheless, he was none too well off in the world; his clothes were patched, and his shoes gaped, and that is the way with many another wise man of whom I have heard tell.

Babo gathered rushes for a chair-maker, and he also had too few of the good things to make life easy. But it is nothing out of the way for a simpleton to be in that case.

The two of them lived neighbor to neighbor, the one in the next house to the other, and so far as the world could see there was not a pin to choose between them–only that one was called a wise man and the other a simpleton.

One day the weather was cold, and when Babo came home from gathering rushes he found no fire in the house. So off he went to his neighbor the wise man. “Will you give me a live coal to start my fire?” said he.

“Yes, I will do that,” said Simon Agricola; “But how will you carry the coal home?”

“Oh!” said Babo, “I will just take it in my hand.”

“In your hand?”

“In my hand.”

“Can you carry a live coal in your hand?”

“Oh yes!” said Babo; “I can do that easily enough.”

“Well, I should like to see you do it,” said Simon Agricola.

“Then I will show you,” said Babo. He spread a bed of cold, dead ashes upon his palm. “Now,” said he, “I will take the ember upon that.”

Agricola rolled up his eyes like a duck in a thunder-storm. “Well,” said he, “I have lived more than seventy years, and have read all the books in the world; I have practised magic and necromancy, and know all about algebra and geometry, and yet, wise as I am, I never thought of this little thing.”

That is the way with your wise man.

“Pooh!” said Babo; “that is nothing. I know how to do many more tricks than that.”

“Do you?” said Simon Agricola; “then listen: to-morrow I am going out into the world to make my fortune, for little or nothing is to be had in this town. If you will go along with me I will make your fortune also.”

“Very well,” said Babo, and the bargain was struck. So the next morning bright and early off they started upon their journey, cheek by jowl, the wise man and the simpleton, to make their fortunes in the wide world, and the two of them made a pair. On they jogged and on they jogged, and the way was none too smooth. By-and-by they came to a great field covered all over with round stones.

“Let us each take one of these,” said Simon Agricola; “they will be of use by-and-by;” and, as he spoke, he picked up a great stone as big as his two fists, and dropped it into the pouch that dangled at his side.

“Not I,” said Babo; “I will carry no stone with me. It is as much as my two legs can do to carry my body, let along lugging a great stone into the bargain.”

“Very well,” said Agricola; “born a fool, live a fool, die a fool.’” And on he tramped, with Babo at his heels.

At last they came to a great wide plain, where, far or near, nothing was to be seen but bare sand, without so much as a pebble or a single blade of grass, and there night caught up with them.

“Dear, dear, but I am hungry!” said Babo.

“So am I,” said Simon Agricola. “Let’s sit down here and eat.”

So down they sat, and Simon Agricola opened his pouch and drew forth the stone.

The stone? It was a stone no longer, but a fine loaf of white bread as big as your two fists. You should have seen Babo goggle and stare! “Give me a piece of your bread, master,” said he.

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“Not I,” said Agricola. “You might have had a dozen of the same kind, had you chosen to do as I bade you and to fetch them along with you. Born a fool, live a fool, die a fool,’” said he; and that was all that Babo got for his supper. As for the wise man, he finished his loaf of bread to the last crumb, and then went to sleep with a full stomach and a contented mind.

The next morning off they started again bright and early, and before long they came to just such another field of stones as they left behind them the day before.

“Come, master,” said Babo, “let us each take a stone with us. We may need something more to eat before the day is over.”

“No,” said Simon Agricola; “we will need no stones to-day.”

But Babo had no notion to go hungry the second time, so he hunted around till he found a stone as big as his head. All day he carried it, first under one arm, and then under the other. The wise man stepped along briskly enough, but the sweat ran down Babo’s face like drops on the window in an April shower. At last they came to a great wide plain, where neither stock nor stone was to be seen, but only a gallows-tree, upon which one poor wight hung dancing upon nothing at all, and there night caught them again.

“Aha!” said Babo to himself. “This time I shall have bread and my master none.”

But listen to what happened. Up stepped the wise man to the gallows, and gave it a sharp rap with his staff. Then, lo and behold! The gallows was gone, and in its place stood a fine inn, with lights in the windows, and a landlord bowing and smiling in the doorway, and a fire roaring in the kitchen, and the smell of good things cooking filling the air all around, so that only to sniff did one’s heart good.

Poor Babo let fall the stone he had carried all day. A stone it was, and a stone he let fall.

“Born a fool, live a fool, die a fool,’” said Agricola. “But come in, Babo, come in; here is room enough for two.” So that night Babo had a good supper and a sound sleep, and that is a cure for most of a body’s troubles in this world.

The third day of their travelling they came to farms and villages, and there Simon Agricola began to think of showing some of those tricks of magic that were to make his fortune and Babo’s into the bargain.

At last they came to a blacksmith’s shop, and there was the smith hard at work, dinging and donging, and making sweet music with hammer and anvil. In walked Simon Agricola and gave him good-day. He put his fingers into his purse, and brought out all the money he had in the world; it was one golden angel. “Look, friend,” said he to the blacksmith; “if you will let me have your forge for one hour, I will give you this money for the use of it.”

The blacksmith liked the tune of that song very well. “You may have it,” said he; and he took off his leathern apron without another word, and Simon Agricola put it on in his stead.

Presently, who should come riding up to the blacksmith’s shop but a rich old nobleman and three servants. The servants were hale, stout fellows, but the nobleman was as withered as a winter leaf. “Can you shoe my horse?” said he to Simon Agricola, for he took him to be the smith because of his leathern apron.

“No,” says Simon Agricola; “that is not my trade: I only know how to make old people young.”

“Old people young!” said the old nobleman; “can you make me young again?”

“Yes,” said Simon Agricola, “I can, but I must have a thousand golden angels for doing it.”

“Very well,” said the old nobleman; “make me young, and you shall have them and welcome.”

So Simon Agricola gave the word, and Babo blew the bellows until the fire blazed and roared. Then the doctor caught the old nobleman, and laid him upon the forge. He heaped the coals over him, and turned him this way and that, until he grew red-hot, like a piece of iron. Then he drew him forth from the fire and dipped him in the water-tank. Phizz! The water hissed, and the steam rose up in a cloud; and when Simon Agricola took the old nobleman out, lo and behold! He was as fresh and blooming and lusty as a lad of twenty.

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But you should have seen how all the people stared and goggled!–Babo and the blacksmith and the nobleman’s servants. The nobleman strutted up and down for a while, admiring himself, and then he got upon his horse again. “But wait,” said Simon Agricola; “you forgot to pay me my thousand golden angels.”

“Pooh!” said the nobleman, and off he clattered, with his servants at his heels; and that was all the good that Simon Agricola had of this trick. But ill-luck was not done with him yet, for when the smith saw how matters had turned out, he laid hold of the doctor and would not let him go until he had paid him the golden angel he had promised for the use of the forge. The doctor pulled a sour face, but all the same he had to pay the angel. Then the smith let him go, and off he marched in a huff.

Outside of the forge was the smith’s mother–a poor old creature, withered and twisted and bent as a winter twig. Babo had kept his eyes open, and had not travelled with Simon Agricola for nothing. He plucked the smith by the sleeve: “Look’ee, friend,” said he, “how would you like me to make your mother, over yonder, young again?”

“I should like nothing better,” said the smith.

“Very well,” said Babo; “give me the golden angel that the master gave you, and I’ll do the job for you.”

Well, the smith paid the money, and Babo bade him blow the bellows. When the fire roared up good and hot, he caught up the old mother, and, in spite of her scratching and squalling, he laid her upon the embers. By-and-by, when he thought the right time had come, he took her out and dipped her in the tank of water; but instead of turning young, there she lay, as dumb as a fish and as black as coal.

When the blacksmith saw what Babo had done to his mother, he caught him by the collar, and fell to giving him such a dressing down as never man had before.

“Help!” bawled Babo. “Help! Murder!”

Such a hubbub had not been heard in that town for many a day. Back came Simon Agricola running, and there he saw, and took it all in in one look.

“Stop, friend,” said he to the smith, “let the simpleton go; this is not past mending yet.”

“Very well,” said the smith; “but he must give me back my golden angel, and you must cure my mother, or else I’ll have you both up before the judge.”

“It shall be done,” said Simon Agricola; so Babo paid back the money, and the doctor dipped the woman in the water. When he brought her out she was as well and strong as ever–but just as old as she had been before.

“Now be off for a pair of scamps, both of you,” said the blacksmith; “and if you ever come this way again, I’ll set all the dogs in the town upon you.”

Simon Agricola said nothing until they had come out upon the highway again, and left the town well behind them; then–“Born a fool, live a fool, die a fool!” says he.

Babo said nothing, but he rubbed the places where the smith had dusted his coat.

The fourth day of their journey they came to a town, and here Simon Agricola was for trying his tricks of magic again. He and Babo took up their stand in the corner of the market-place, and began bawling, “Doctor Knowall! Doctor Knowall! Who has come from the other end of Nowhere! He can cure any sickness or pain! He can bring you back from the gates of death! Here is Doctor Knowall! Here is Doctor Knowall!”

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Now there was a very, very rich man in that town, whose daughter lay sick to death; and when the news of this great doctor was brought to his ears, he was for having him try his hand at curing the girl.

“Very well,” said Simon Agricola, “I will do that, but you must pay me two thousand golden angels.”

“Two thousand golden angels!” said the rich man; “that is a great deal of money, but you shall have it if only you will cure my daughter.”

Simon Agricola drew a little vial from his bosom. From it he poured just six drops of yellow liquor upon the girl’s tongue. Then–lo and behold!–up she sat in bed as well and strong as ever, and asked for a boiled chicken and a dumpling, by way of something to eat.

“Bless you! Bless you!” said the rich man.

“Yes, yes; blessings are very good, but I would like to have my two thousand golden angels,” said Simon Agricola.

“Two thousand golden angels! I said nothing about two thousand golden angels,” said the rich man; “two thousand fiddlesticks!” said he. “Pooh! Pooh! You must have been dreaming! See, here are two hundred silver pennies, and that is enough and more than enough for six drops of medicine.”

“I want my two thousand golden angels,” said Simon Agricola.

“You will get nothing but two hundred pennies,” said the rich man.

“I won’t touch one of them,” said Simon Agricola, and off he marched in a huff.

But Babo had kept his eyes open. Simon Agricola had laid down the vial upon the table, and while they were saying this and that back and forth, thinking of nothing else, Babo quietly slipped it into his own pocket, without any one but himself being the wiser.

Down the stairs stumped the doctor with Babo at his heels. There stood the cook waiting for them.

“Look,” said he, “my wife is sick in there; won’t you cure her, too?”

“Pooh!” said Simon Agricola; and out he went, banging the door behind him.

“Look, friend,” said Babo to the cook, “here I have some of the same medicine. Give me the two hundred pennies that the master would not take, and I’ll cure her for you as sound as a bottle.”

“Very well,” said the cook, and he counted out the two hundred pennies, and Babo slipped them into his pocket. He bade the woman open her mouth, and when she had done so he poured all the stuff down her throat at once.

“Ugh!” said she, and therewith rolled up her eyes, and lay as stiff and dumb as a herring in a box.

When the cook saw what Babo had done, he snatched up the rolling-pin and made at him to pound his head to a jelly. But Babo did not wait for his coming; he jumped out of the window, and away he scampered with the cook at his heels.

Well, the upshot of the business was that Simon Agricola had to go back and bring life to the woman again, or the cook would thump him and Babo both with the rolling-pin. And, what was more, Babo had to pay back the two hundred pennies that the cook had given him for curing his wife.

The wise man made a cross upon the woman’s forehead, and up she sat, as well–but no better–as before.

“And now be off,” said the cook, “or I will call the servants and give you both a drubbing for a pair of scamps.”

Simon Agricola said never a word until they had gotten out of the town. There his anger boiled over, like water into the fire. “Look,” said he to Babo: “Born a fool, live a fool, die a fool.’ I want no more of you. Here are two roads; you take one, and I will take the other.”

“What!” said Babo, “am I to travel the rest of the way alone? And then, besides, how about the fortune you promised me?”

“Never mind that,” said Simon Agricola; “I have not made my own fortune yet.”

“Well, at least pay me something for my wages,” said Babo.

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“How shall I pay you?” said Simon Agricola. “I have not a single groat in the world.”

“What!” said Babo, “have you nothing to give me?”

“I can give you a piece of advice.”

“Well,” said Babo, “that is better than nothing, so let me have it.”

“Here it is,” said Simon Agricola: “Think well! Think well!–before you do what you are about to do, think well!’”

“Thank you!” said Babo; and then the one went one way, and the other the other.

(You may go with the wise man if you choose, but I shall jog along with the simpleton.)

After Babo had travelled for a while, he knew not whither, night caught him, and he lay down under a hedge to sleep. There he lay, and snored away like a saw-mill, for he was wearied with his long journeying.

Now it chanced that that same night two thieves had broken into a miser’s house, and had stolen an iron pot full of gold money. Day broke before they reached home, so down they sat to consider the matter; and the place where they seated themselves was on the other side of the hedge where Babo lay. The older thief was for carrying the money home under his coat; the younger was for burying it until night had come again. They squabbled and bickered and argued till the noise they made wakened Babo, and he sat up. The first thing he thought of was the advice that the doctor had given him the evening before.

“Think well!’” he bawled out; “think well! before you do what you are about to do, think well!’”

When the two thieves heard Babo’s piece of advice, they thought that the judge’s officers were after them for sure and certain. Down they dropped the pot of money, and away they scampered as fast as their legs could carry them.

Babo heard them running, and poked his head through the hedge, and there lay the pot of gold. “Look now,” said he: “this has come from the advice that was given me; no one ever gave me advice that was worth so much before.” So he picked up the pot of gold, and off he marched with it.

He had not gone far before he met two of the king’s officers, and you may guess how they opened their eyes when they saw him travelling along the highway with a pot full of gold money.

“Where are you going with that money?” said they.

“I don’t know,” said Babo.

“How did you get it?” said they.

“I got it for a piece of advice,” said Babo.

For a piece of advice! No, no–the king’s officers knew butter from lard, and truth from t’other thing. It was just the same in that country as it is in our town–there was nothing in the world so cheap as advice. Whoever heard of anybody giving a pot of gold and silver money for it? Without another word they marched Babo and his pot of money off to the king.

“Come,” said the king, “tell me truly; where did you get the pot of money?”

Poor Babo began to whimper. “I got it for a piece of advice,” said he.

“Really and truly?” said the king.

“Yes,” said Babo; “really and truly.”

“Humph!” said the king. “I should like to have advice that is worth as much as that. Now, how much will you sell your advice to me for?”

“How much will you give?” said Babo.

“Well,” said the king, “let me have it for a day on trial, and at the end of that time I will pay you what it is worth.”

“Very well,” said Babo, “that is a bargain;” and so he lent the king his piece of advice for one day on trial.

Now the chief councillor and some others had laid a plot against the king’s life, and that morning it had been settled that when the barber shaved him he was to cut his throat with a razor. So after the barber had lathered his face he began to whet the razor, and to whet the razor.

Just at that moment the king remembered Babo’s piece of advice. “Think well!” said he; “think well! Before you do what you are about to do, think well!”

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When the barber heard the words that the king said, he thought that all had been discovered. Down he fell upon his knees, and confessed everything.

That is how Babo’s advice saved the king’s life–you can guess whether the king thought it was worth much or little. When Babo came the next morning the king gave him ten chests full of money, and that made the simpleton richer than anybody in all that land.

He built himself a fine house, and by-and-by married the daughter of the new councillor that came after the other one’s head had been chopped off for conspiring against the king’s life. Besides that, he came and went about the king’s castle as he pleased, and the king made much of him. Everybody bowed to him, and all were glad to stop and chat awhile with him when they met him in the street.

One morning Babo looked out of the window, and who should he see come travelling along the road but Simon Agricola himself, and he was just as poor and dusty and travel-stained as ever.

“Come in, come in!” said Babo; and you can guess how the wise man stared when he saw the simpleton living in such a fine way. But he opened his eyes wider than ever when he heard that all these good things came from the piece of advice he had given Babo that day they had parted at the cross roads.

“Aye, aye!” said he, “the luck is with you for sure and certain. But if you will pay me a thousand golden angels, I will give you something better than a piece of advice. I will teach you all the magic that is to be learned from the books.”

“No,” said Babo, “I am satisfied with the advice.”

“Very well,” said Simon Agricola, “Born a fool, live a fool, die a fool’;” and off he went in a huff.

That is all of this tale except the tip end of it, and that I will give you now.

I have heard tell that one day the king dropped in the street the piece of advice that he had bought from Babo, and that before he found it again it had been trampled into the mud and dirt. I cannot say for certain that this is the truth, but it must have been spoiled in some way or other, for I have never heard of anybody in these days who would give even so much as a bad penny for it; and yet it is worth just as much now as it was when Babo sold it to the king.

I had sat listening to these jolly folk for all this time, and I had not heard old Sindbad say a word, and yet I knew very well he was full of a story, for every now and then I could see his lips move, and he would smile, and anon he would stroke his long white beard and smile again.

Everybody clapped their hands and rattled their canicans after the Blacksmith had ended his story, and methought they liked it better than almost anything that had been told. Then there was a pause, and everybody was still, and as nobody else spoke I myself ventured to break the silence. “I would like,” said I (and my voice sounded thin in my own ears, as one’s voice always does sound in Twilight Land), “I would like to hear our friend Sindbad the Sailor tell a story. Methinks one is fermenting in his mind.”

Old Sindbad smiled until his cheeks crinkled into wrinkles.

“Aye,” said every one, “will you not tell a story?”

“To be sure I will,” said Sindbad. “I will tell you a good story,” said he, “and it is about–“

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