EVIL ALLURES, BUT GOOD ENDURES
THERE lived in olden times a good and kindly man. He had this world's goods
in abundance, and many slaves to serve him. And the slaves prided themselves
on their master, saying:
'There is no better lord than ours under the sun. He feeds and clothes us
well, and gives us work suited to our strength. He bears no malice and never
speaks a harsh word to any one. He is not like other masters, who treat their
slaves worse than cattle: punishing them whether they deserve it or not, and
never giving them a friendly word. He wishes us well, does good, and speaks
kindly to us. We do not wish for a better life.'
Thus the slaves praised their lord, and the Devil, seeing it, was vexed
that slaves should live in such love and harmony with their master. So getting
one of them, whose name was Aleb, into his power, the Devil ordered him to
tempt the other slaves. And one day, when they were all sitting together
resting and talking of their master's goodness, Aleb raised his voice, and
'It is stupid to make so much of our master's goodness. The Devil himself
would be kind to you, if you did what he wanted. We serve our master well, and
humour him in all things. As soon as he thinks of anything, we do it:
foreseeing all his wishes. What can he do but be kind to us? Just try how it
will be if, instead of humouring him, we do him some harm instead. He will act
like any one else, and will repay evil for evil, as the worst of masters do.
The other slaves began denying what Aleb had said and at last bet with him.
Aleb undertook to make their master angry. If he failed, he was to lose his
holiday garment; but if he succeeded, the other slaves were to give him
theirs. Moreover, they promised to defend him against the master, and to set
him free if he should be put in chains or imprisoned. Having arranged this
bet, Aleb agreed to make his master angry next morning.
Aleb was a shepherd, and had in his charge a number of valuable, pure-bred
sheep, of which his master was very fond. Next morning, when the master
brought some visitors into the inclosure to show them the valuable sheep, Aleb
winked at his companions, as if to say:
'See, now, how angry I will make him.'
All the other slaves assembled, looking in at the gates or over the fence,
and the Devil climbed a tree near by to see how his servant would do his work.
The master walked about the inclosure, showing his guests the ewes and lambs,
and presently he wished to show them his finest ram.
'All the rams are valuable,' said he, 'but I have one with closely twisted
horns, which is priceless. I prize him as the apple of my eye.'
Startled by the strangers, the sheep rushed about the inclosure, so that
the visitors could not get a good look at the ram. As soon as it stood still,
Aleb startled the sheep as if by accident, and they all got mixed up again.
The visitors could not make out which was the priceless ram. At last the
master got tired of it.
'Aleb, dear friend,' he said, 'pray catch our best ram for me, the one with
the tightly twisted horns. Catch him very carefully, and hold him still for a
Scarcely had the master said this, when Aleb rushed in among the sheep like
a lion, and clutched the priceless ram. Holding him fast by the wool, he
seized the left hind leg with one hand, and, before his master's eyes, lifted
it and jerked it so that it snapped like a dry branch. He had broken the ram's
leg and it fell bleating on to its knees. Then Aleb seized the right hind leg,
while the left twisted round and hung quite limp. The visitors and the slaves
exclaimed in dismay, and the Devil, sitting up in the tree, rejoiced that Aleb
had done his task so cleverly. The master looked as black as thunder, frowned,
bent his head, and did not say a word. The visitors and the slaves were
silent, too, waiting to see what would follow. After remaining silent for a
while, the master shook himself as if to throw off some burden. Then he lifted
his head, and raising his eyes heavenward, remained so for a short time.
Presently the wrinkles passed from his face, and he looked down at Aleb with a
'Oh, Aleb, Aleb! Your master bade you anger me; but my master is stronger
than yours. I am not angry with you, but I will make your master angry. You
are afraid that I shall punish you, and you have been wishing for your
freedom. Know, then, Aleb, that I shall not punish you; but, as you wish to be
free, here, before my guests, I set you free. Go where you like, and take your
holiday garment with you!'
And the kind master returned with his guests to the house; but the Devil,
grinding his teeth, fell down from the tree, and sank through the ground.