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Tibetan Folk Tales, by A.L. Shelton, [1925], at

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A Wise Idiot

If shortsighted you cannot see far, but with sharp ears you can hear far.
                            Tibetan Proverb.

A LONG time ago there lived a family of good lineage that had been very rich, but had grown poor. In the same place also was a family who had been very poor but now was rich. Two women, one the wife of the former rich man and the other the wife of the present rich man, met one day in a temple where they had gone to worship. The rich woman said to the poor one, "Yes, we are rich, but everybody says our ancestors are bad or that we have none at all. Now you are poor, but your ancestors are fine, so let me have your son for my daughter." The poor woman said, "All right, you can have him." Her son had been very bright, but now he was going crazy. The rich people found out about the son's condition and without telling the poor family, secured a son from another family, whom their daughter married.

When the poor people saw this they were very angry with their son and said, "If you had any sense you would have gone to that rich family, but now, half idiot as you are, nobody wants you."

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The son said, "Do not blame me, for if my ancestors had been all right, I would have been all right. It is their sins being visited upon me."

His father and mother gave him four gold pieces and told him to go away to a distant city and see if he could not improve.

As he journeyed along the road a shepherd was walking before him, and before the shepherd tripped a little bird, singing very sweetly. As soon as the shepherd came close to him he stopped singing and the shepherd said to him, "Your voice is very sweet, but why do you stop singing when I come near?"

The half idiot walking behind the shepherd now came up and said, "Teach me to say what you said to that bird and I will give you a gold piece." So he taught him, and the boy gave him one of his gold pieces and went on. Soon he heard a hunter say to a fox, "You have nice fur, and some day I will kill you and get it." So the idiot said to the hunter, "You teach me to say what you said to the fox and I will give you a gold piece." They talked a while and he taught him how to say it, and the boy gave up another of his gold pieces to the hunter.

Now this fool went on until he came to a place where there were two bridges, one made of one log, the other of two logs, and here were two men talking. One said to the other, "Let's run a race over these bridges. I'll run over the one log, as it is shorter, and will be quicker, you run over the other built of two logs."

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The silly fellow heard them, came up and said, "Teach me what you have been saying and I will give you a gold piece." So they taught him and he parted with another piece of his money.

He went on and saw two fellows fighting, and one of them said, "If you don't behave I'll send you to the official." The fool asked to be taught that, and parted with his last gold piece.

Now, since his money was all gone, he decided to return to his own country. When he reached home, they were celebrating the wedding of the rich girl and her husband and the fool mixed with the crowd. The girl saw him and said, "It won't do for me to go out, it will make him sad to see me." But he saw her anyway, and as he had learned only four sentences he began to say the first one to her thus: "You're a nice bird and your voice is beautiful. Why did you stop singing when I came near?"

She went into the house and said to her parents, "You know that half-witted fellow to whom you were going to marry me? Well, he is pretty sharp, I can tell you." So they told her to bring him up to the top of the house and they would at least give him something good to eat.

Then he said his next sentence, "You she-fox, you've got mighty nice hair, and some day you will fall into my hands." The bride ran and told her father and mother, "Oh, he was awfully fierce, you should have heard what he said to me."

After a while, when they were all eating, there were not enough chopsticks to go round, so this

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fool got only one, but he ate his food quickly and said his third sentence, "When there are two bridges, one of one log and one of two logs, go over the one-log bridge, it is always the quickest." The girl told her father and mother this and they concluded he wasn't a fool at all. So when the guests were all gone and this man still remained, he said his last sentence, "If you treat me like this, I am going to take you to the official." "This will never do, to have him take you to the official. He hasn't said much to-day, but it has all been mighty smart; so we will give this other man a lot of money and send him back home, and keep this man for your husband."

Next: Thirty-Nine: The Man and the Monkeys