THE NUNDA, EATER OF PEOPLE 253
others, whom their father as a last hope sent together, lit bonfires. But whatever they did, the result was always the same. Towards dawn they fell asleep, and the bird ate the dates on the tree.
The sixth year had come, and the dates on the tree were thicker than ever. And the head-man went to the palace and told the sultan what he had seen. But the sultan only shook his head, and said sadly, ' What is that to me? I have had seven sons, yet for five years a bird has devoured my dates; and this year it will be the same as ever.'
Now the youngest son was sitting in the kitchen, as was his custom, when he heard his father say those words. And he rose up, and went to his father, and knelt before him. ' Father, this year you shall eat dates,' cried he. ' And on the tree are five great bunches, and each bunch I will give to a separate nation, for the nations in the town are five. This time, I will watch the date tree myself.' But his father and his mother laughed heartily, and thought his words idle talk.
One day, news was brought to the sultan that the dates were ripe, and he ordered one of his men to go and watch the tree. His sou, who happened to be standing by, heard the order, and he said :
' How is it that you have bidden a man to watch the tree, when I, your son, am left?'
And his father answered, ' Ah, six were of no use, and where they failed, will you succeed?'
But the boy replied : ' Have patience to-day, and let me go, and to-morrow you shall see whether I bring you dates or not.'
' Let the child go, Master,' said his wife ; ' perhaps we shall eat the dates — or perhaps we shall not — but let him go.'
And the sultan answered : ' I do not refuse to let him go, but my heart distrusts him. His brothers all promised fair, and what did they do ?'