7. How Ahmet the Cobbler Became the Chief Astrologer
Every day, year after year, Ahmet the cobbler sat in his tiny cabin and stitched old shoes. To do this was his fate, and he was content. His business was quite sufficient to provide the necessities of life for both himself and his wife. And had it not been for a coincidence that occurred, in all probability he would have mended old boots and shoes to the end of his days.
One day Ahmet’s wife went to the baths, and while there she was much annoyed at being obliged to give up her compartment, owing to the arrival of the Harem and retinue of the Chief Astrologer to the Sultan. Much hurt, she returned home and vented her fury upon her innocent husband.
“Why are you not the Chief Astrologer to the Sultan?” she said. “I will never call or think of you as my husband until you have been appointed Chief Astrologer to his Majesty.”
Ahmet thought that this was another mood of the woman which in all probability would disappear before morning, so he took small notice of what his wife said. But Ahmet was wrong. His wife persisted so much in his giving up his present means of earning a livelihood and becoming an astrologer, that finally, for the sake of peace, he agreed to do as she asked. He sold his tools and collection of old boots and shoes, and, with the money purchased an inkwell and paper. But this, alas, did not make him an astrologer, and he explained to his wife that this mad idea of hers would bring him to an unhappy end. She, however, could not be moved, and insisted on his going to the highway, there to practice the art, and thus ultimately become the Chief Astrologer.
In obedience to his wife’s instructions, Ahmet sat down on the highroad, and his downcast spirit sought comfort in looking at the heavens and sighing deeply. While in this condition a lady in great excitement came and asked him if he communicated with the stars. Poor Ahmet sighed, saying that he did.
“Then please tell me where my diamond ring is, and I will both bless and handsomely reward you.”
The Lady, with this, immediately squatted on the ground, and began to tell Ahmet that she had gone to the bath that morning and that she was positive that she then had the ring, but every corner of the baths had been searched, and the ring was not to be found.
“Oh, astrologer, for the love of God, use your eyes to see the unseen.”
“Madam,” replied Ahmet, “I see a hole,” referring to a hole he had noticed in her baggy trousers. Up jumped the lady, exclaiming, “A thousand holy thanks! You are right! Now I remember! I put the ring in a crack of the cold water fountain.” And in her gratitude she handed Ahmet several gold pieces.
In the evening he returned to his home, and giving the gold to his wife, said: “Take this money, wife; may it satisfy you, and in return all I ask is that you allow me to go back to the trade of my father, and not expose me to the danger and suffering of trudging the road shoeless.”
But her determination was unmoved. Until he became the Chief Astrologer she would neither call him nor think of him as her husband.
In the meantime, owing to the discovery of the ring, the fame of Ahmet the cobbler spread far and wide. The tongue of the Lady never ceased to sound his praise.
It happened that the wife of a certain Lord had taken a valuable diamond necklace, and as a last resource, the Lord determined, seeing that all the astrologers, and diviners had failed to discover the article, to consult Ahmet the cobbler, whose praises were in every mouth.
The Lord went to Ahmet and, in fear and trembling, the wife who had taken the necklace sent her slave to overhear what the astrologer would say. The Lord told Ahmet all he knew about the necklace, but this gave no clue, and in despair he asked how many diamonds the necklace contained. On being told that there were twenty-four, Ahmet, to put off the evil hour, said it would take an hour to discover each diamond, consequently would the Lord come the next day at the same hour when he would perhaps be able to give him some news.
The Lord departed, and no sooner was he out of earshot, than the troubled Ahmet exclaimed in a loud voice:
“Oh woman! Oh woman! What evil influence made you go on the wrong path, and drag others with you! When the twenty-four hours are up, you will perhaps repent! Alas! Too late. Your husband gone from you forever! Without a hope even of being united in paradise.”
Ahmet was referring to himself and his wife, for he fully expected to be cast into prison on the following day as an impostor. But the slave who had been listening gave another interpretation to his words, and hurrying off, told her mistress that the astrologer knew all about the theft. The good man had even bewailed the separation that would inevitably take place. The Lord’s wife was distracted, and hurried off to plead her cause in person with the astrologer. On approaching Ahmet, the first words she said, in her excitement, were, “Oh learned priest, you are a great and good man. Have compassion on my weakness and do not expose me to the anger of my husband! I will do whatever you may order, and bless you five times daily as long as I live.”
“How can I save you?” innocently asked Ahmet. “What is decreed is decreed!”
“If you won’t pity me,” continued the Lady, in despair, “I will go and confess to my Lord, and perhaps he will forgive me.”
To this appeal Ahmet said he must ask the stars for their views on the subject. The Lady inquired if the answer would come before the twenty-four hours were up. Ahmet’s reply to this was a long and concentrated gaze at the heavens.
“Oh Sir, I must go now, or the Lord will miss me. Shall I give you the necklace to return to the Lord without explanation, when he comes tomorrow for the answer?”
Ahmet now realized what all the trouble was about, and for a fee, he promised not to reveal her theft on the condition that she would at once return home and place the necklace between the mattresses of her Lord’s bed. This, the grateful woman agreed to do, and departed calling blessings on Ahmet, who in return promised to use his influence on her behalf.
When the Lord came to the astrologer at the appointed time, he explained to him, that if he wanted both the necklace and the thief or thieves, it would take a long time, as it was impossible to hurry the stars. But if he would be content with the necklace alone, the horoscope indicated that the stars would oblige him at once. The Lord said that he would be quite satisfied if he could get his diamonds again, and Ahmet at once told him where to find them. The Lord returned to his home not a little skeptical, and immediately searched for the necklace where Ahmet had told him it was to be found. His joy and astonishment on discovering the long-lost article knew no bounds, and the fame of Ahmet the cobbler was on every tongue.
Having received handsome payment from both the Lord and the Lady, Ahmet earnestly begged his wife to stop and not bring down sorrow and calamity upon his head. But his pleadings were in vain. Resigned to his fate, all he could do was to consult the stars, and after some thought give their communication, or say that the stars had, for some reason, refused to communicate on the subject.
It happened that forty cases of gold were stolen from the Imperial Treasury, and every astrologer having failed to get even a clue as to where the money was or how it had disappeared, Ahmet was approached. Poor man, his case now looked hopeless! Even the Chief Astrologer was in disgrace. What his punishment might be he did not know—most probably death. Ahmet had no idea of the numerical importance of forty; but concluding that it must be large he asked for a delay of forty days to discover the forty cases of gold. Ahmet gathered up the implements of his art, and before returning to his home, went to a shop and asked for forty beans—neither one more nor one less. When he got home and laid them down before him he appreciated the number of cases of gold that had been stolen, and also the number of days he had to live. He knew it would be useless to explain to his wife the seriousness of the case, so that evening he took from his pocket the forty beans and mournfully said, “Forty cases of gold,—forty thieves,—forty days; and here is one of them,” handing a bean to his wife. “The rest remain in their place until the time comes to give them up.”
While Ahmet was saying this to his wife one of the thieves was listening at the window. The thief was sure he had been discovered when he heard Ahmet say, “And here is one of them,” and hurried off to tell his companions.
The thieves were greatly distressed, but decided to wait till the next evening and see what would happen then, and another of the number was sent to listen and see if the report would be verified. The listener had not long been stationed at his post when he heard Ahmet say to his wife: “And here is another of them,” meaning another of the forty days of his life. But the thief understood the words otherwise, and hurried off to tell his chief that the astrologer knew all about it and knew that he had been there. The thieves consequently decided to send a delegation to Ahmet, confessing their guilt and offering to return the forty cases of gold intact. Ahmet received them, and on hearing their confession, accompanied with their condition to return the gold, boldly told them that he did not require their aid; that it was in his power to take possession of the forty cases of gold whenever he wished, but that he had no special desire to see them all executed, and he would plead their cause if they would go and put the gold in a place he indicated. This was agreed to. He no longer feared the loss of his head. At last the final bean was given to his wife, and Ahmet was summoned to the Palace. He went, and explained to his Majesty that the stars refused both to reveal the thieves and the gold, but whichever of the two his Majesty wished would be immediately granted. The Treasury being low, it was decided that, provided the cases were returned with the gold intact, his Majesty would be satisfied. Ahmet conducted them to the place where the gold was buried, and amidst great rejoicing it was taken back to the Palace. The Sultan was so pleased with Ahmet that he appointed him to the office of Chief Astrologer, and his wife attained her desire.
The Sultan was one day walking in his Palace grounds accompanied by his Chief Astrologer; wishing to test his powers he caught a grasshopper, and holding his closed hand out to the astrologer asked him what it contained. Ahmet, in a pained tone, answered the Sultan by a much-quoted proverb: “Alas! Your Majesty! The grasshopper never knows where its third leap will land it,” meaning himself and the dangerous hazard of guessing what was in the clenched hand of his Majesty. The Sultan was so struck by the reply that Ahmet was never again troubled to demonstrate his powers.