Laos: The Words of Untold Value

This story is part of the Laos unit. Story source: Laos Folk-Lore by Katherine Neville Fleeson, with photographs by W.A. Briggs (1899).

The Words of Untold Value

In the days long since gone by, a young man, a son of a poor widow, desired to go with two of his friends to Tuck Kasula, the country where one could learn the wisdom of all the world, but he had no gold with which to buy the wisdom, for does not everyone know that wisdom is difficult to obtain, and is therefore of great price?

Now, the two young friends had each two puns of gold, but the widow’s son had but two hairs of his mother’s which, when he wept because he had no money, the widow had given him, saying, “I have naught but these two fine hairs to give thee, my son, but go with thy friends; each hair will be to thee as a pun of gold.”

Then the son placed the two hairs in a package with his clothing, and sealed the package with wax, and set out with his friends to visit Tuck Kasula.

After they had travelled some time, they grew hungry, and on arriving in a village, they entered a house for food.

The widow’s son left his package and his other goods on the veranda. While he was within the house, a hen ran away with the package and lost it. The owners of the hen offered the son anything they had either of food or clothing to replace his loss, but he would be content with nothing but the hen, and they gave it to him.

And again when they entered another house for food, the widow’s son tied the hen to a small bush in the compound and lo, an elephant stepped upon it and killed it!

The people offered the young man many things to make good his loss, but he would be content with nothing but the elephant, and they gave him the elephant.

At last they reached Tuck Kasula, and while his two friends, with their gold, sought the house of the teachers, the widow’s son stayed under a tree where he could hear the teachers instructing their disciples.

“If you wish to know others, sleep. If you wish to see, go and look,” said a wise man. “These words are of untold value, but for only two puns of gold will I give them unto you,” he added.

The widow’s son knew he had heard without price the wisdom for which his two friends would each have to pay two puns of gold, so he quietly turned the elephant and returned home.

“I will buy your words of wisdom, if you will sell them,” said the judge to the widow’s son.

“For two puns of gold I will sell them,” answered the widow’s son.

“Two puns of gold will I give thee,” said the judge.

“‘If you wish to know others, sleep. If you wish to see, go and look,’” said the widow’s son, when he had in his possession the two puns of gold.

The judge, desiring to test the truth of the words as he understood them, called unto him his four wives, and said, “I am not well. Give me water to drink and fan me.” Soon he seemed to be asleep, and his wives talked thus together in low voices:

“It is not pleasant to be the wife of this foolish man,” said the first.

“I like another man better,” said the second.

“I wish I could steal his goods and flee while he sleeps,” said the third.

“I would like to make him a savory dish with poison in it to kill him,” said the fourth.

Then the judge sprang up and cruelly punished his wives and put them in chains.

And upon another day, the judge arose early and went out to see how his slaves worked. Under the house, hunting for something, he saw a man.

“What do you seek?” asked the judge.

“I have just stolen from the judge all of his silver, and in trying to get it through a small opening, I broke my fingernail. If I do not find it, the judge will die and all his possessions will be destroyed for, as thou knowest, ever is it thus if a fingernail falls near a house.”

When the man had found the broken nail, the judge said, “I, who stand here, am the judge. I will but take from you the silver which you have stolen and no punishment shall be yours, because of the truth which you have told.”

Then the judge said to himself, “The two puns of gold was a small price to pay for the wisdom which I have obtained.”

(800 words)

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