The Shepherd’s Daughter

It is the opinion of my grandmother that all men should labor, and at the table, a moment ago, she said to me: Necessity is the mother of invention; you must learn to do some good work, make some item useful to man, something out of clay, or out of wood, or metal, or cloth. It is not proper for a young man to be ignorant of an honorable craft. Is there anything you can make? Can you make a simple table, a chair, a plain dish, a rug, a coffee pot? Is there anything you can do?

And my grandmother looked at me with anger and took up a broom, ready to beat me. “As an old saying goes, spare the rod, spoil the child,” she said, “You are supposed to be a writer and I suppose you can make writing your occupation. You certainly smoke enough cigarettes to be anything; smoking is a vice and a hazard to your health and the whole house is full of the smoke. But you must learn to make solid things, they do not need to be very complicated, just things that can be used, that can be seen and touched, so that you can contribute to society. If you never saw, you will never reap.”

There was a king of the prosperous Persians with a powerful fleet of naval vessels, said my grandmother, and he had a son, and this son fell in love with a shepherd’s daughter, who lived in a small cottage on the coast. He went to his father and he said, “My Lord, I love a shepherd’s daughter, and I want to have her as my bride.” And the king said, “I am king and you are my son, and when I die you shall be king, how can it be that you would marry the daughter of a shepherd?” And the son said, “My Lord, I do not know but I know that I love this girl and want to have her for my queen and I’m not going to accept any compromise in this issue.”

The king saw that his son’s love for the girl was from God, and he said, “I will send a message to her.” And he called a messenger to him and he said, “Go to the shepherd’s daughter and say that my son loves her and wants to have her for his wife.” And the messenger went to the girl and he said, “The king’s son loves you and wants to have you for his wife.” And the girl said, “What labor does he do?” And the messenger said, “Why? he is the son of the king; he does no labor.” And the girl said, “He can have me provided that he must learn to do some labor, for instance, like a carpenter or butcher.” And the messenger returned to the king’s castle and spoke the words of the shepherd’s daughter.

The king said to his son, “The shepherd’s daughter wishes you to learn some craft. Would you still have her for your wife?” And the son said, “Absolutely, I will learn to weave straw rugs.” And the boy was taught to weave rugs of straw, in patterns and in colors and with ornamental designs, and at the end of three days he was making very fine straw rugs, and the messenger returned to the shepherd’s daughter, and he said, “There rugs of straw are the work of the king’s son.” And the girl went with the messenger to the king’s palace, and she became the wife of the king’s son.

One day, said my grandmother, the king’s son was walking through the downtown streets of Baghdad, and he came upon and eating-place which was so clean and cool that he entered it and sat at a table for some dessert.

This place, said my grandmother, was a place of thieves and murderers, and they took the king’s son and placed him in a large jail where many great men of the city were being held, and the thieves and murderers were executing the fattest of the men with and axe and feeding them to the leanest of them, and making sport of it. The king’s son was of the leanest of the men, and it was not known that he was the son of the king of the Persians, so his life was spared, and he said to the thieves and murderers, “I am a waver of straw rugs and I swear to God that these rugs have great value.” And they brought him straw and asked him to weave and in three days he superb rugs, and he said, “Garry these to the palace of the king of the Persians, and for each rug he will give you a hundred gold pieces of money.” And the rugs were carried to the palace of the king, and when the king saw the rigs he saw that they were the work of his son and he took the rugs to the shepherd’s daughter and he said, “These rugs were brought to the palace and they are the work of my son who is lost.” And the shepherd’s daughter took each rug and looked at it closely and in the design of each rug she saw in the written language of the Persians a message from her husband, and she related this message to the king.

And the king, said my grandmother, sent many soldiers to conduct a swift raid on the location of the gang of criminals, and the soldiers rescued all the prisoners and arrested all the thieves and murderers, who were subsequently accused and convicted of horrible crimes in court trials, and the king’s son returned safely to the palace of his father, and to the company of his wife, the little shepherd’s daughter. And after the boy regained his freedom, he went into the palace and saw again his wife, he humbled himself before her and he embraced her feet, and he said, “My love, it is because of you that I am alive.” And the king was exceedingly pleased with the shepherd’s daughter.

“Now,” said my grandmother, “do you see why every man should learn an honorable craft?”

“I see very clearly,” I said, “and as soon as I earn enough money to buy a handy saw, a hammer and some nails and a piece of timber I shall do my best to make a simple chair or shelf for books or some other stuff.”