An old usurer had lent thirty strings of coins to a poverty-stricken peasant. What with the interest which had accumulated, the peasant found it impossible to pay his creditor.
One day, the usurer came to see the peasant to demand his money for the umpteeth time. The house was empty. There was only a little child playing in the yard.
– Where are your parents? – asked the rich man. The child did not say a word.
– I’m asking you where your parents are? Just you look out if you go on being stubborn!
The child replied with deliberate slowness:
– My father’s gone to behead living plants and plant dead ones. My mother’s gone top sell wind!
The usurer racked his brains but could not understand what the child meant. He begged him in vain to explain to him what he had said.
– If you tell me, I’ll release your father from the debt! – He let out as a bait at last.
– You are trying to fool me, sir!
– Not at all, upon my word of honour!
– Who’ll be a witness to your promise?
– The gecko lizard crawling round the edge of that bowl!
– O.K.! My father’s gone to transplant rice seedlings and my mother to sell fans.
Now the old fox, who had no more intention of making a present to the father than of keeping his word to the son, returned to demand his strings of coins.
– Now you don’t owe him anything, Dad – said the child – The other day he formally acquitted us of our debt.
– Wretched liar! – roared the usurer.
– I have a witness, don’t forget!
The old miser went off to lodge a complaint.
– I don’t deny the debt – the peasant said to the mandarin in charge of the enquiry – But my son positively maintained that the gentleman gave his word to acquit us of it.
The child was called, and he described what happened.
– Have you got any proof of what you allege? – asked the mandarin.
– I have a witness!
– Bring him here, you liar – sneered the usurer.
– Your Excellency – said the child imperturbably – Sir here himself took as a witness a gecko lizard climbing up a column in my house.
– He’s lying, Mr. Mandarin! The lizard was on the edge of a bowl and not on a column.
The mandarin, who happened to appreciate wit and believe in fairness, burst out laughing.
-You’re betrayed yourself, you perjurious usurer. The lashes you are going to receive will teach you how to keep your word, even if it’s given to a child.
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