The Merchant and his Home French folktale

There was once a merchant who had managed to sail his ship so profitably that he had become rich. But he had grown old too. The only thing he now cared for in life was his son. He indulged the lad's every whim. Nothing was too beautiful or too expensive for his son, whether gilded sword or golden chain, silken cloak or silky-coated horse.

Now, this son fell in love with a lord's daughter. He knew neither peace nor rest till his father had gone to ask for the girl's hand in marriage. This lord loved luxury, and had spent all his wealth at the court of the king. He let the merchant speak, then for a good while remained silent. "Master Jacques," said he finally, crossing his legs, "if I understand you correctly, you and your son wish to marry into a great and noble house. If so, you must at least do what one does before entering a monastery: one gives the monastery all one's worldly goods. Make me this gift, and then we shall see."

The merchant had said it dozens of times earlier in life, that it's madness to let your worth go before you die, but now all he wanted was what pleased his son. So he agreed.

The request was made on Monday, and on Tuesday the marriage contract was signed.

She was proud, that girl, and she wrinkled up her nose before this father-in-law who, for her, still stank of hard-earned money. The servants and maids of the new masters of the house saw it well enough, and soon they too followed suit and seemed to have lost their respect for their former master. In this house that had once been his, he could barely get himself served some toast in the morning, or, at four o'clock, a glass of his own white wine.

Then he had to learn to ask for nothing at all, to make himself very small, and to step aside. He would go to sun himself in the courtyard, sitting in a corner, his chin on his hands and his hands on the head of his stick.

Year after dreary year went by, and his troubles aged him still more. He had once enjoyed telling his grandson stories about his sea voyages, when he went to buy cargoes of spices or stock up on amber and pink coral. But now the boy was over seven, and they had sent him off to school.

Late one fall, the old man was pondering all that - the grandson he hardly saw any more, the son he never saw at all, this house that was his no longer, and the coffin that awaited him - when suddenly he saw from his courtyard corner his son coming.

"In my wife's opinion you can hardly be feeling at ease here in this house," the son began. "Don't you think you had better go and live elsewhere?"

"But son, surely you are not going to tell me I should leave our home?"

"My wife insists on it, angrily and in tears. When her friends go to see her, they run into you on the steps, looking like a broken-down old beggar, nodding your head, and with a drop dangling from your nose."

"Surely I'm not much in the way, in this corner of the courtyard." The old man began shaking and choking.

"From her room she can hear you coughing and spitting. She just can't stand it any more."

"She won't have to hear me much longer. My death isn't far off."

"Your death? Hardly. Anyway father, you will have to leave this house."

"And where will I go, son? Who in this city will welcome me, if my own son will not have me?"

"We're just wasting time with this talk. We have lodged you here for seven years and more. The time has come for us to part."

"Very well, son. I'll go. For the winter I only ask for a blanket - the blanket from one of your horses. In my own father's day, you always put a bagl in someone's kit to remind him that he who does not save will have to beg. I'll do without the bag, but I do ask for a blanket."

The little boy, just back from school, had stopped a few paces away. He could tell something serious was going on. Stock-still, he stared at them wide-eyed.

"My boy," said his father, "go fetch my horse's blanket, the big two-coloured one's, and bring it right back to your grandfather."

The boy ran to the stable and was soon back with the blanket. He opened it out, folded it in two, nicked its edge with his pocket knife, and tore it in half from top to bottom.

The old man sighed and as he took the half-blanket with a trembling hand he said to the little boy, "Oh, my boy, my boy, I would never have believed you were twice as cruel even as your father."

"What will you do with the other half?" asked the father in a low voice. Too surprised to stop the boy, he was now watching him fold his half of the blanket like a woman folding a sheet to put it away.

"This half is for you. I'll give it to you on the day I send you away."

The father suddenly turned very red. "Father," said he to the old man, "will you forgive me? Now I see what I have done. I went wrong. I'll get my wife and all our maids and servants here to heed this: This house is your house. From this day on, and all your life, you'll have here cthe place that is yours."