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NASR-ED-DIN HODJA was sure that in all the world there were no plums so sweet as those that grew on his own plum trees. One day he picked three of the largest, bluest plums from his favorite tree. He put them on a copper tray, which he balanced carefully on his head, and started for Tamerlane's house. He was sure Tamerlane would think them the sweetest plums he had ever tasted.

They proved, however, to be the most bothersome of plums. As Nasr-ed-Din Hodja walked, they danced and they pranced on his carefully balanced tray.

"Because you are up there where I cannot see you," he scolded the plums, "you think you can whirl like three dervishes."

Still the three plums jigged and reeled with each step the Hodja took.

"Stop dancing!" called the Hodja. "If you keep that up, I'll punish you by eating you.

Still the three plums twirled and cavorted.

There was nothing for the Hodja to do but to keep his promise. He sat down under a poplar tree and ate one plum - then another.

He spoke sternly to the third plum. "If I give you another chance, will you ride quietly on the tray?"

This lone plum seemed better behaved. It sat quite calmly in the middle of the tray on the Hodja's head for the rest of the journey.

Now it happened to be one of Tamerlane's jolly days. He received Nasr-ed-Din Hodja with the courtesy due an honored guest. Vowing he had never tasted a sweeter plum, he did not so much as hint that it seemed a lonely one. He laughed at the Hodja's jokes, calling for more and more of them. Finally, when the Hodja realized that he must hurry to be home before dark, Tamerlane filled his tray with gifts - gifts that proved easy to carry. Nasr-ed-Din Hodja reached home just at dusk, well pleased with his day.

That satisfied feeling stayed with him for a week. Then he decided it was time to call on Tamerlane again.

"What gift shall I take him?" he mused as he looked at the empty tray. The plums were past their prime now - too soft to stand the jogging journey.

"What about some good red beets?" thought the Hodja, still staring at the empty tray. "Yes, beets will be just the thing. They are so hard that they will not bruise, even if they do dance and prance on the tray."

Into his garden went the Hodja to pull some of his reddest, firmest beets. He heaped on the tray, balanced the tray on his head, and swung off, humming happily, toward Tamer-lane's house.

On the way he met his good friend Hassan.

"Where are you taking those fine beets, Hodja Effendi?" asked Hassan.

"These beets are a gift for Tamerlane."

"Beets - for - Tamerlane?" Hassan was doubtful.

"Aren't beets a good gift for Tamerlane?" The Hodja took the tray from his head and looked at the beets as though for the first time. They did not seem quite as magnificent as when he was pulling them. "Perhaps something else would be better?"

"Yes, something else."

"For instance?"

"Figs!" Hassan seemed very sure. "Juicy ripe figs just fresh from the tree."

"Yes, figs would be a much better gift." Nasr-ed-Din Hodja wondered why he had not thought of it before. He turned into the market where he traded his firm red beets for a tray of juicy ripe figs.

"You are lucky," the fig seller told him, "to get so many luscious figs for a few common beets." However, the fig seller's next remark was not for the Hodja's ears. "I am lucky to get rid of those soft figs. They were so much too ripe that I was just ready to throw them away.

Pleased with his bargain, Nasr-ed-Din Hodja went on to Tamerlane's court. Now, it happened that this was not one of Tamerlane's jolly days. Instead, it was one of his grumpy, sulky, pouting days. The Hodja's cheerful grin and his tray of overripe figs were more than he could stand. All day he had been wanting someone to kick or to punch. Here was his chance.

"Come at once!" he shouted to his servants.

Six of them came running.

"Take this man's figs and throw them at him!" he shouted. "Throw every single one of them at him! And throw them hard!"

The Hodja turned and ran, but the servants and the figs followed him. Smack! Splash! Squash! Spatter! Not a fig missed him. Not a fig failed to pop open and spill its liquid on the fleeing Hodja. He looked as though he bad been sprayed with seeds and green water.

Nasr-ed-Din Hodja was still running, as fast as his loose flopping shoes would let him, when he met Hassan.

"Oh, Hassan Effendi, let me thank you seven times below the earth for what you have done for me!"

Hassan stared at the bespattered Hodja.

"Oh, Hassan Effendi, I thank you seven times above the heavens for what you did for me!"

Hassan, who knew the ways of Tamerlane, began to realize what must have happened. "Why do you thank me?" he asked.

"Oh, it is good that I took your advice - your wise, wise advice."

"Why?" Hassan was still bewildered.

"If it had been the hard red beets that I gave to Tamerlane," explained Nasr-ed-Din Hidja, "if it had been the hard red beets that his servants threw at me - " He could not sentence. He was thinking what a bruised and broken man he would have been. "Oh, Hassan Effendi, it is wise to take the advice of good friends. Allah be praised!"


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