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The Violet Fairy Book

The Nunda, Eater Of People
Once upon a time there lived a sultan who loved his garden dearly, and planted it with
trees and flowers and fruits from all parts of the world. He went to see them three times
every day: first at seven o'clock, when he got up, then at three, and lastly at half-past five.
There was no plant and no vegetable which escaped his eye, but he lingered longest of all
before his one date tree.
Now the sultan had seven sons. Six of them he was proud of, for they were strong and
manly, but the youngest he disliked, for he spent all his time among the women of the
house. The sultan had talked to him, and he paid no heed; and he had beaten him, and he
paid no heed; and he had tied him up, and he paid no heed, till at last his father grew tired
of trying to make him change his ways, and let him alone.
Time passed, and one day the sultan, to his great joy, saw signs of fruit on his date tree.
And he told his vizir, 'My date tree is bearing;' and he told the officers, 'My date tree is
bearing;' and he told the judges, 'My date tree is bearing;' and he told all the rich men of
the town.
He waited patiently for some days till the dates were nearly ripe, and then he called his
six sons, and said: 'One of you must watch the date tree till the dates are ripe, for if it is
not watched the slaves will steal them, and I shall not have any for another year.'
And the eldest son answered, 'I will go, father,' and he went.
The first thing the youth did was to summon his slaves, and bid them beat drums all night
under the date tree, for he feared to fall asleep. So the slaves beat the drums, and the
young man danced till four o'clock, and then it grew so cold he could dance no longer,
and one of the slaves said to him: 'It is getting light; the tree is safe; lie down, master, and
go to sleep.'
So he lay down and slept, and his slaves slept likewise.
A few minutes went by, and a bird flew down from a neighbouring thicket, and ate all the
dates, without leaving a single one. And when the tree was stripped bare, the bird went as
it had come. Soon after, one of the slaves woke up and looked for the dates, but there
were no dates to see. Then he ran to the young man and shook him, saying:
'Your father set you to watch the tree, and you have not watched, and the dates have all
been eaten by a bird.'
The lad jumped up and ran to the tree to see for himself, but there was not a date
anywhere. And he cried aloud, 'What am I to say to my father? Shall I tell him that the
dates have been stolen, or that a great rain fell and a great storm blew? But he will send
me to gather them up and bring them to him, and there are none to bring! Shall I tell him
that Bedouins drove me away, and when I returned there were no dates? And he will
answer, "You had slaves, did they not fight with the Bedouins?" It is the truth that will be
best, and that will I tell him.'
Then he went straight to his father, and found him sitting in his verandah with his five
sons round him; and the lad bowed his head.
 
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