My friend Robert has a horde of young nieces and nephews who love to have him tell them bedtime stories. The problem? Robert rapidly runs out of stories. So, I've been making up silly stories for him to perform for the little ones.

The Fisherman and the Pearls

Once upon a time, there was a poor fisherman who lived in a rickety little house on the seashore. Every day he would throw his fishing line into the water and try to catch a fish for his dinner, or he would dive for oysters and clams to eat. In this way, he had enough to eat, and he was happy with his simple life. The fisherman lived like this for many years, but as he got older, he noticed that it was harder and harder for him to catch fish or to dig clams to eat. He worried a little about this, because he didn't want to starve to death, and he didn't have any family to help him find food to eat. One night, after he had said his prayers and fallen asleep worrying about his problems, he had a dream. In this dream, he was diving in the sea, searching for oysters, and a little fish swam up and tickled him with its fins. When he looked over at the little fish, it spoke to him!

The little fish said, "We in the sea have known you a long time, fisherman. You have never taken more fish than you can eat, and you have always given a merciful death to the fish you did catch. Now that you are too old to find anything to eat, we don't want to see you starve to death. Here is what you will do: go to the rock on the shore shaped like a seahorse, and pick one of the flowers that grow on it. Walk into the water, and you will find a great oyster bed. Take the flower and tickle an oyster under the chin, and see what you find! But, beware! No matter what, do not harm the oysters, and do not take more than ten!" The fisherman tried to ask, Ten of what? but only bubbles came out of his mouth, and he woke up with a start on the floor of his tiny house.

The fisherman sat up, amazed at his strange dream! At first he thought "I'm getting so old that my brain is playing tricks on me!" and he wasn't going to take the little fish's advice. But, as he got up and got ready to go fishing, he felt his knees creak, and his back was stiff, and he thought "Hmmm…I sure don't want to have to go swimming in the cold sea to catch my breakfast this morning! Why don't I go and take a look at that seahorse rock? At any rate, it can't hurt!"

So the fisherman got up, said his morning prayers, and took a walk down the shore to the sea horse rock as the sun came up over the water. When he got there, he found strange, beautiful flowers growing all over the rock, just as the little fish in his dream had said there would be!

"My goodness!" he thought. "Maybe my brain isn't so old after all!" The fisherman leaned over, picked one of the flowers, and, feeling very excited, walked down into the water. As soon as he was in up to his knees, he saw that the ocean bottom was covered with large oysters! He took a deep breath, reached down with the flower, and tickled an oyster under the chin. And what do you think happened? The oyster opened its mouth and pop! Out came a pearl! The fisherman was so excited he almost dropped his flower. He gathered up the pearl, and quickly moved to the next oyster, and tickled it under the chin with the flower. Pop! Another pearl! Soon, the fisherman had ten large, beautiful pearls. Remembering the fish's advice to never take more than ten, he stopped and waded back to shore, so happy that he sang all the way back to his little house, thanking God for his good fortune.

Later that day, the fisherman walked into town to sell his lovely pearls so he could buy food. He walked into the jeweler's shop in his shabby fishing clothes, and set a plain cloth bundle on the counter.

"And what do YOU want?" the jeweler said in a grumpy voice. He didn't like shabby old fishermen in his shop. They smelled like fish and made the place look bad. Then the fisherman opened the cloth bundle and the jeweler forgot all about being grumpy as he saw the beautiful pearls glowing on his counter. They were the most perfect pearls he had ever seen! He knew that even if he paid the fisherman a very good price, he would make a thousand times more by selling them in the big city nearby. Greed woke up in the jeweler’s heart, and he wondered if he could find out where the pearls were from so he could go get them himself and not have to pay the fisherman at all.

The jeweler gave the fisherman a big grin and said in his very nicest voice, "Well my good man, where did you get such nice pearls?"

But the simple, honest old fisherman just said, "In the sea," as if he were surprised that anyone would need to ask where pearls came from. The jeweler thought "What a stupid old man! His brain must be getting soft. I'll never get any useful information out of him this way."

But all he said out loud was "Would you like to sell me these pearls?" The fisherman thought the jeweler was just a little bit strange, but he thought to himself, "Well, he can't help it if he was born odd," and was happy to sell his pearls for a good price.

So the fisherman sold his pearls to the jeweler, and bought good food to eat, and a blanket to sleep under at night so his bones wouldn't creak so much when he woke up in the morning, and he walked home very happy, thanking God for his good fortune. The jeweler however, closed his shop early and spent the rest of the day polishing the pearls, and thinking about how he could get his hands on more of them.

The fisherman lived very happily for a month on the money that he had made from selling the pearls. He had good food to eat, a nice blanket to sleep under, and he could buy food and toys for all the little poor children who lived in his neighborhood. Eventually, he spent all the money from the pearls, and he thought to himself that maybe it was time for another trip down to the seahorse rock! So, he got up nice and early one morning, said his prayers, and walked down the seashore to the rock as the sun was rising over the ocean. The fisherman was so busy smelling the wonderful fresh sea air, and watching the sun make the water sparkle, that he didn't notice the jeweler sneaking along the shore behind him!

When the fisherman got to the seahorse rock, there were the beautiful flowers, still growing all over it. The jeweler watched like a hawk from behind a nearby rock while the fisherman picked a flower, and waded into the water. He tickled a large oyster under the chin with the flower and pop! There was a pearl! The fisherman smiled happily, picked up the pearl, and tucked it into his pocket. He tickled nine more oysters, and then stopped, remembering his friend the fish's warning to never take more than ten pearls. Then he walked back home, with a cheerful bounce in his step, singing a song and thanking God for his good fortune.

As soon as the fisherman was out of sight, the jeweler ran out to the seahorse rock, grabbed a flower, and jumped into the water. He splashed the flower down into the water and waited impatiently, but nothing happened! He hadn't seen the fisherman tickling the oysters under the chin, because he'd been too far away, hiding behind the rock.

"Humph!" he said. "What am I going to do now? That crazy old fisherman tricked me! I'd better go back to the shop and see if I can get anything out of him." And with that, he ran back to town as fast as his feet would carry him.

Soon, the fisherman came into town to sell his pearls to the jeweler, just as he had before. And, just as before, the jeweler gave the fisherman his biggest smile and said "Well, my fine fellow! Do you have more of those excellent pearls for me? You MUST tell me where you get such lovely pearls!"

But the fisherman simply gave the jeweler a puzzled look and replied, "In the sea."

When the jeweler heard that, he almost snarled, he was so frustrated! But he hid it all behind another big laugh, and he slapped the fisherman on the back as if it were all a joke between friends. The fisherman privately thought that the jeweler was more than a little odd, but he took his money, smiled and said good day, and went home, thanking God for his good fortune.

The fisherman lived in his quiet way for another month, until the money from the second batch of pearls began to run out. So, he got up bright and early one morning, said his prayers, and walked down the shore to the seahorse rock, watching the sun rise over the ocean and humming a tune to himself. The jeweler, who had been watching the fisherman every day that month, came sneaking down the shore behind him, determined to see how the fisherman got his pearls.

The fisherman came up to the seahorse rock, and plucked one of the lovely flowers growing there. He stepped into the water, bent down and tickled an oyster under the chin with the flower. Pop! A pearl! The fisherman picked up the pearl, and, whistling a happy song, moved to the next oyster.

The fisherman was whistling so loudly, and was looking so carefully into the water, that he didn't notice that the jeweler was creeping up behind him! The jeweler snuck closer and closer behind the fisherman, until he could almost have reached out to touch him. Leaning even closer, he saw the fisherman reach down for the tenth time and tickle an oyster under the chin with the flower. Pop! Out came a pearl!

"AHA!!!" thought the jeweler. He jumped forward, shoved the fisherman aside, and snatched the flower out of his hand. The fisherman came up out of the sea spluttering and wiping the water out of his eyes just in time to see the jeweler reaching down to tickle another oyster under the chin.

"STOP!!" he said, "You can't take more than ten!"

"Shut up you old fool!" bellowed the jeweler, "What do you know? These pearls are MINE now, and I'll do what I like!" The fisherman reached out to try and stop the jeweler, but it was too late. The jeweler tickled the oyster under the chin and waited, but no pearl popped out. The jeweler’s eyes bulged out, and his face turned red, he was so angry, and he reached down into the water and yanked at the oyster!

“Open up! I know you have pearls in there! Give them to me! They’re MINE!”

Suddenly, there was a deep rumbling sound, and the floor of the ocean shook. Bang! There was the little fish from the fisherman's dream! He swam up to them, poked his nose up out of the water and looked at the fisherman (who was still soaking wet), and then looked at the jeweler, who was clutching the flower tightly in one hand and staring at the little fish with his mouth hanging open.

The fish nodded his head and said, "I see." Then he turned to the fisherman and said "Jump out of the water, quick as you can!" The fisherman immediately turned to hop out onto the shore. The jeweler started to run the other way, but as he did, the fish slap! hit the water with his tail, and all the oysters jumped up! Slap! The little fish hit the water again, and snap! all the oysters took one nip and the jeweler was gone!

The fisherman was old, and his knees were stiff, so by the time he got on the shore and turned around, there was no jeweler to be seen; just the little fish, with his nose poking up out of the water.

The fisherman said, "Oh, hello there little fish! I'm so glad I got to see you again – I wanted to say thank you for giving me such a wonderful, generous gift and saving my life!"

The little fish gave him a fishy grin and said, "You're very welcome, my friend! These pearls will always be here when you need them, but I'm afraid you will have to find a new jeweler to sell them to! Remember: never take more than ten!" And with that, bang! he was gone again.

The fisherman blinked, and stared into the water, and scratched his head, but the little fish was nowhere to be seen! The fisherman looked around, shrugged his shoulders, and thought, "I wonder where that jeweler has gotten to? He certainly has been acting strange lately." And, not thinking another thought about it, he went on his way home, singing a happy song and thanking God for his good fortune.

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