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The boys of long-ago Turkey were as fond of jokes as boys of all times and all places have been. The boys of Ak Shehir had learned that a trick played on the cobbler might bring a piece of heavy leather flying at their heads. They knew that a trick played on the wagon driver might bring a lashing from his long whip. But a joke on Nasr-ed-Din Hodja was different. Nine times out of ten, to be sure, the joke would turn itself about and catch the boys instead of the Hodja, but it never hurt anyone. And there was always the hope that just this once the laugh would be on the Hodja. The boys never missed a chance to try.

One day four boys were wading in the brook that flowed from the hills outside of Ak Shehir, when they heard the clip-clip of donkey's hoofs.

"That sounds like Nasr-ed-Din Hodja's donkey!" said Jemal, the baker's son.

Soon, along the path that followed the brook, the watching boys saw a familiar gray donkey with the good Hodja, half a doze, on its back.

"The Hodja looks so sleepy, I'll bet we can play a trick on him," said Nouri, the son of the water seller.

"What trick?" asked Mahmoud, the candle-maker's son.

"We must think fast!" said Ismail, the weaver's son.

The four boys stood in the middle of the brook, with their heads close together. As they schemed and plotted, Jemal happened to look down into the water. He pointed and whispered. The boys giggled. They shuffled their feet about a bit and stood even closer together, as they waited for the donkey and its sleepy rider.

The clip-clip of the donkey's hoofs came nearer and nearer. The boys stood as still as though their feet had taken root at the bottom of the brook.

"Shall we call to him?" whispered Mahmoud.

"He always speaks to us," answered Ismail "If we let him speak first, he won't suspect anything."

The clip-clip of the donkey's hoofs stopped close to the boys.

"Good morning, youngsters!" said the Hodja. "What do you see in the water that makes you stand like trees growing in the brook?"

The boys nudged Jemal to speak.

"Oh, Hodja Effendi!" Jemal managed to make his voice sound like a distressed wail. "We are in the most terrible trouble! Aman, aman!"

"Trouble?" asked the Hodja, wide awake now. He jumped froni his donkey, kicked off his loose shoes, and splashed into the brook beside the boys. "Trouble? Can I help?"

"We hope you can help," moaned Mahmoud. "If you cannot help us, no one can, and we must stand here in the brook till we are so old that our beards swish in the water."

"Oh, ne yapalim, what shall we do?" echoed Ismail.

The Hodja was peering into the water to find what terrible thing could have happened. All he could see was a tangle of eight sturdy legs and eight stubby feet. The boys nudged Jemal to go on with the story.

"Don't you see what has happened, Hodja Effendi?" groaned Jemal. "Our feet are completely mixed up. I think that foot and that foot are mine, but Ismail says one of those is his."

The boys all began to point at their feet and talk at the same time.

"I say that and that are mine, but Nouri claims one and Mahmoud claims the other."

"I know the biggest feet are mine, but Jemal says the biggest are his."

"I know I have a blister on my big toe, but Mahmoud is sure his is the foot with the blister."

The Hodja watched and clucked his tongue in a way that might have meant he was sorry for the boys. Or it might have meant something quite different. The boys were so busy talking and looking into the water that they did not watch the man they were trying to trick.

Nasr-ed-Din Hodja reached over to the brook's bank and picked up a heavy stick that lay there.

"I can help you find which feet are whose," said the Hodja as he plunged the long stick into the water right toward the tangle of feet. The stick stopped just short of where the feet had been, but it need not have stopped. No feet were there. They were all on the brook's bank, each pair safely attached to quite the right boy.

"So glad I could be of help to you, my young friends!"

With a rumbling chuckle, the Hodja shook the water from his feet, slipped into his shoes, and climbed onto his donkey's back. "Call me next time you lose your feet or get into some other sort of trouble."

The donkey carried the Hodja out of sight, but the four boys stood on the brook's bank. They were talking about that next time when they hoped the joke could be turned onto the Hodja.


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