A Story From: India
Read Time: 10 to 15 mins.
For Ages: 5 to 10yrs.
In a certain city in India there lived a boy with his mother, a poor young widow. Though in difficult circumstances, the mother managed to provide her son with an education in writing and arithmetic.
One day, when the boy had become a young man, the widow said to him, “Son, though we are poor, you are the son of a merchant. I’ve heard about a rich merchant in the city who’s in the habit of lending money to worthy young men who show an interest in business and the willingness to work hard. This may be your best chance to get started in earning a livelihood for yourself. Go see him, please.”
So the young man went to the rich merchant’s house. Just as he entered the front door, he overheard an angry conversation. “You see this dead mouse lying on the floor?” the rich merchant said to another young man. “A capable young man could build wealth from something as lowly as that. But I gave you, you good-for-nothing fellow, a small fortune, and far from increasing it, you haven’t even been able to keep the amount that I lent you!”
When he heard this, our young man stepped into the room, picked up the dead mouse, and announced to the merchant, “Sir, I accept this dead mouse as a loan from you to me.” The merchant was much astonished, even more so when the youth wrote out a receipt for the dead mouse and attached it to the merchant’s ledger.
Then the youth traded the dead mouse to a family who had a cat, and for the dead mouse the young man received two handfuls of chickpeas. The chickpeas he ground into meal, and taking a jar of water, he went and stood in a shady spot by the road.
It was midday and the hot sun shone down brightly. Soon a band of woodcutters passed by, and the young man politely offered them food and drink, a refreshment they gratefully accepted. In return, each of the woodcutters gave the youth two pieces of wood. The wood he sold, and with part of the price he bought four handfuls of chickpeas this time, ground them also into meal, and in the same way he obtained more wood from the woodcutters the very next day. And so in time he was able to buy all the wood that they had cut.
It so happened that a period of heavy rains followed, when no dry firewood could be bought anywhere, and the youth sold his stock of wood for a large sum. With these proceeds he set up a shop, began to engage in trade, and before long became wealthy by his own ability.
One day, the young man commissioned a golden mouse to be made and he sent it to the rich merchant from whom he had gotten his start. The merchant was flabbergasted to receive such a fine gift, and he barely remembered the youth, except for a crumpled and torn receipt still tucked in his ledger. He invited the youth to visit him and his daughter for supper one evening. As one thing so often leads to another, the young man and the merchant’s daughter soon fell in love and were married.
For the rest of his life the merchant was known as “Mousey the Merchant” because of the dead mouse that provided his start and he never minded the nickname, not one bit.
"Mousey the Merchant" from Filipino Popular Tales, edited by Dean S. Fansler, Ph.D., published by the American Folklore Society, NY, 1921, pp. 38-39. Retold by Elaine Lindy.
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