WHY THE FISH LAUGHED
By Joseph Jacobs
As a certain fisherwoman passed by a palace crying her fish,
appeared at one of the windows and beckoned her to come near and
what she had. At that moment a very big fish jumped about in the
bottom of the basket.
"Is it a he or a she?" inquired the queen. "I
wish to purchase a she
On hearing this the fish laughed aloud.
"It's a he," replied the fisherwoman, and proceeded
on her rounds.
The queen returned to her room in a great rage; and on coming
her in the evening, the king noticed that something had disturbed
"Are you indisposed?" he said.
"No; but I am very much annoyed at the strange behavior
of a fish. A
woman brought me one to-day, and on my inquiring whether it was
or female, the fish laughed most rudely."
"A fish laugh! Impossible! You must be dreaming."
"I am not a fool. I speak of what I have seen with my own
heard with my own ears."
"Passing strange! Be it so. I will inquire concerning it."
On the morrow the king repeated to his vizier what his wife had
him, and bade him investigate the matter, and be ready with a
satisfactory answer within six mouths, on pain of death. The vizier
promised to do his best, though he felt almost certain of failure.
live months he labored indefatigably to find a reason for the
of the fish. He sought everywhere and from everyone. The wise
learned, and they who were skilled in magic and in all manner
trickery, were consulted. Nobody, however, could explain the matter;
and so he returned broken-hearted to his house, and began to arrange
his affairs in prospect of certain death, for he had had sufficient
experience of the king to know that His Majesty would not go back
his threat. Amongst other things, he advised his son to travel
time, until the king's anger should have somewhat cooled.
The young fellow, who was both clever and handsome, started off
whithersoever Kismet might lead him. He had been gone some days,
he fell in with an old farmer, who also was on a journey to a
village. Finding the old man very pleasant, he asked him if he
accompany him, professing to be on a visit to the same place.
farmer agreed, and they walked along together. The day was hot,
the way was long and weary.
"Don't yon think it would be pleasanter if you and I sometimes
another a lift?" said the youth.
"What a fool the man is!" thought the old farmer.
Presently they passed through a field of corn ready for the sickle,
looking' like a sea of gold as it waved to and fro in the breeze.
"Is this eaten or not?" said the young man.
Not understanding his meaning, the old man replied, "I don't
After a little while the two travelers arrived at a big village,
the young man gave his companion a clasp knife, and said, "Take
friend, and get two horses with it; but mind and bring it back,
is very precious."
The old man, looking half amused and half angry, pushed back
muttering something to the effect that his friend was either a
himself or else tying to play the fool with him. The young man
pretended not to notice his reply, and remained almost silent
reached the city, a short distance outside which was the old farmer's
They walked about the bazaar and went to the mosque, but nobody
them or invited them to come in and rest.
"What a large cemetery!" exclaimed the young man.
"What does the man mean," thought the old farmer, "calling
populated city a cemetery?"
On leaving the city their way led through a cemetery where a
were praying beside a grave and distributing chupatties and kulchas
Passers-by, in the name of their beloved dead. They beckoned to
two travelers and gave them as much as they would.
"What a splendid city this is!" said the young man.
"Now, the man must surely be demented!" thought the
old farmer. "I
wonder what he will do next? He will be calling the land water,
the water land; and be speaking of light where there is darkness,
of darkness where it is light." However, he kept his thoughts
Presently they had to wade through a stream that ran along the
the cemetery. The water was rather deep, so the old farmer took
his shoes and pajamas and crossed over; but the young man waded
it with his shoes and pajamas on.
"Well! I never did see such a perfect fool, both in word
and in deed,
said the old man to himself.
However, he liked the fellow; and thinking that he would amuse
and daughter, he invited him to come and stay at his house as
he had occasion to remain in the village.
"Thank you very much," the young man replied; "but
let me first
inquire, if you please, whether the beam of your house is strong.
The old farmer left him in despair, and entered his house laughing.
"There is a man in yonder field," he said, after returning
greetings. "He 'has come the greater part of the way with
me, and I
wanted him to put up here as long as he had to stay in this village.
But the fellow is such a fool that I cannot make anything out
He wants to know if the beam of this house is all right. The man
be mad!" and saying this he burst into a fit of laughter.
"Father," said the farmer's daughter, who was a very
sharp and wise
girl, "this man, whosoever he is, is no fool, as you deem
him. He only
wishes to know if you can afford to entertain him."
"Oh! of course," replied the farmer. "I see. Well
perhaps you can
help me to solve some of his other mysteries. While we were walking
together he asked whether he should carry me or I should carry
he thought that would be a pleasanter mode of proceeding."
"Most assuredly," said the girl. "He meant that
one of you should tell
a story to beguile the time."
"Oh, yes. Well, we were passing through a cornfield, when
he asked me
whether it was eaten or not."
"And didn't you know the meaning of this, father? He simply
know if the man was in debt or not; because if the owner of the
was in debt, then the produce of the field was as good as eaten
that is, it would have to go to his creditors."
"Yes, yes, yes; of course! Then, on entering a certain village,
bade me take his clasp knife and get two horses with it, and bring
the knife again to him."
"Are not two stout sticks as good as two horses for helping
on the road? He only asked you to cut a couple of sticks and be
careful not to lose his knife."
"I see," said time farmer. "While we were walking
over the city we did
not see anybody that we knew, and not a soul gave us a scrap of
anything to eat, till we were passing the cemetery; but there
people called to us and put into our hands some chupatties and
so my companion called the city a cemetery, and the cemetery a
"This also is to be understood, father, if one thinks of
the city as
the place where everything is to be obtained, and of inhospitable
people as worse than the dead. The city, though crowded with people,
was as if dead, as far as you were concerned; while, in the cemetery,
which is crowded with time dead, you were saluted by kind friends
provided with bread."
"True, true!" said the astonished farmer. "Then,
just now, when we
were crossing the stream, he waded through it without taking off
shoes and pajamas.''
"I admire his wisdom," replied time girl. "I have
often thought how
stupid people were to venture into that swiftly flowing stream
those sharp stones with bare feet. The slightest stumble and they
would fall, and be wetted from head to foot. This friend of yours
most wise man. I should like to see him and speak to him."
"Very well," said time farmer; "I will go and
find him, and bring him
"Tell him, father, that our beams are strong enough, and
then he will
come in. I'll send on ahead a present to the man, to show him
can afford to have him for our guest."
Accordingly she called a servant and sent him to the young man
present of a basin of ghee, twelve chupatties, and a jar of milk,
the following message: "O friend, time moon is full; twelve
a year, and the sea is overflowing with water."
Half-way the bearer of this present and message met his little
who, seeing what was in the basket, begged his father to give
of the food. His father foolishly complied. Presently he saw the
young man, and gave him the rest of the present and the message.
"Give your mistress my salaam," he replied, "and
tell her that the moon
is new, and that I can only find eleven mouths in the year, and
is by no means full."
Not understanding the meaning of these words, the servant repeated
word for word, as he had heard them, to his mistress; and thus
theft was discovered, and he was severely punished. After a little
while the young man appeared with the old farmer. Great attention
shown to him, and he was treated in every way as it he were the
a great man, although his humble host knew nothing of his origin.
length be told them everything-about the laughing of the fish,
father's threatened execution, and his own banishment-and asked
advice as to what he should do.
"The laughing of the fish,'' said the girl "which seems
to have been
the cause of all this trouble, indicates that there is a man in
palace who is plotting against the king's life."
"Joy, joy!" exclaimed the vizier's son. "There
is yet time for me to
return and save my father from an ignominious and unjust death,
king from danger."
The following day he hastened back to his own country, taking
the farmer's daughter. Immediately on arrival he ran to the palace
informed his father of what he had heard. The poor vizier, now
dead from the expectation of death, was at once carried to the
whom he repeated the news that his son had just brought.
"Never!" said the king.
"But it must be so, Your Majesty," replied the vizier;
"and in order to
prove the truth of what I have heard, I pray you call together
maids in your palace, and order them to jump over a pit, which
dug. We'll soon find out whether there is any man there."
The king had time pit dug, and commanded all the maids belonging
palace to try to jump it. All of them tried, but only one succeeded.
That one was found to be a man!
Thus was the queen satisfied, and the faithful old vizier saved.
Afterward, as soon as could be, the vizier's son married the
farmer's daughter; and a most happy marriage it was.