250 THE NUNDA, EATER OF PEOPLE
The first thing the youth did was to summon his slaves, and bid them beat drums all night under the date tree, for he feared to fall asleep. So the slaves beat the drums, and the young man danced till four o'clock, and then it grew so cold he could dance no longer, and one of the slaves said to him : ' It is getting light; the tree is safe ; lie down, master, and go to sleep.'
So he lay down and slept, and his slaves slept likewise.
A few minutes went by, and a bird flew down from a neighbouring thicket, and ate all the dates, without leaving a single one. And when the tree was stripped bare, the bird went as it had come. Soon after, one of the slaves woke up and looked for the dates, but there were no dates to see. Then he ran to the young man and shook him, saying:
' Your father set you to watch the tree, and you have not watched, and the dates have all been eaten by a bird.'
The lad jumped up and ran to the tree to see for himself, but there was not a date anywhere. And he cried aloud, 'What am I to say to my father? Shall I tell him that the dates have been stolen, or that a great rain fell and a great storm blew? But he will send me to gather them up and bring them to him, and there are none to bring! Shall I tell him that Bedouins drove me away, and when I returned there were no dates? And he will answer, " You had slaves, did they not fight with the Bedouins?" It is the truth that will be best, and that will I tell him.'
Then he went straight to his father, and found him sitting in his verandah with his five sons round him; and the lad bowed his head.
' Give me the news from the garden,' said the sultan.
And the youth answered, ' The dates have all been eaten by some bird: there is not one left.'