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Foolish Dennis

Once upon a time there was a little boy called Dennis. Everyone called him foolish because . . . well, read on and you will see why. Dennis lived with his mother in a nice house with a courtyard, vegetable plot, cellar and a hen run.

One day his mother, since she had to go shopping, said to him, "I'll be away for an hour or two, son. Now, the broody hen is sitting on her eggs."

" Make sure nobody goes near her. Keep the house tidy and don't touch the jar in the cupboard, it's full of poison."

"Don't worry, Mum," the little boy said, and when his mother had gone, he went into the yard to keep guard over the broody hen. However, tired of sitting, the hen got up to stretch her legs for a little before going back to the eggs. Dennis picked up a stick and yelled:

"You nasty creature, get right back on those eggs!"

But the broody hen, annoyed, only said, "Cluck!", and so Dennis hit her with his stick. He didn't really mean to do her any harm, but the blow fell on the middle of her neck and the poor hen dropped dead.

"Oh!" gasped the lad. "Who's going to sit on the eggs now? Well, I had better do something about that!" So he sat on the eggs . . . and broke the lot! Getting up with the seat of his trousers sticky with egg yolk, Dennis said to himself, "Mum will give me such a scolding. But to keep in her good books, I'll give her a surprise, I'll make the lunch." He picked up the hen, plucked its feathers and put it on the spit to roast.

"A roast calls for a good wine!" he said to himself. He took a jug and went down to the cellar where he started to draw sparkling red wine from a barrel. "Mum will be pleased with me," he told himself. At that moment, there was a dreadful noise in the kitchen. Dennis said to himself,

"Who can that be? I must go and see." And he went . . . forgetting to turn off the tap on the barrel.

Up he ran to the kitchen and saw the cat with the roast hen in its jaws and the spit overturned. "Hey thief!" shouted the lad. "Put my hen down!" He picked up a rolling pin and started to chase the cat which, terrified as it was, firmly held on to the roast chicken as it dashed from room to room. The pair of them knocked against the cupboards, overturned tables, sideboards and stools, smashed vases, pots, plates and glasses. The devastation ended when the cat dropped the hen, leapt out of a window and vanished from sight. Dennis picked up his roast, laid it on the table and said:

"Now, I'll go and fetch the wine." He went back to the cellar . . . which was flooded with the wine that had poured out of the barrel. "Good gracious!" gasped Dennis. "What am I to do now?" He didn't dare go in, for before him stretched a lake of red wine.

"I'll have to mop it all up," muttered Dennis to himself, "but how? I could go into the yard and get some sacks of sand, bring them into the cellar and scatter the sand over the floor . . . But that's much too hard work. I'd better think of something else, now then . . ." Seated on the bottom step, his elbows on his knees, holding his head in his hands, the lad tried to think of a good idea. It really was an alarming situation: there were nearly six inches of wine all over the floor and in it floated corks, bottles and bits of wood .

"I've got it!" Dennis suddenly exclaimed. He picked up one of the bags lying on a table, opened it . . . and started to scatter all the flour it contained. "Splendid! The flour will absorb the wine and I can walk about the cellar without wetting my feet," he cried.

In no time at all, he had spread not one but five bags of good flour on the floor. In the end, the floor was covered with a wine-colored, soft, sticky paste, and as he walked on it, it stuck to his shoes. Dennis went to get the jug he had filled and carried it in great delight back to the table, leaving red footprints everywhere.

"Mum is going to be really pleased," he said.

Nevertheless, when he thought of all the mess he had made, he began to fear a scolding and maybe punishment too. "Never mind," he said, "I'll drink the poison and die." So he went to the cupboard and picked up the jar. He thought the poison would be a black liquid, but the jar contained a red cream. He picked up a spoon and said, "I'll eat it then instead of drinking it."

Just as he was about to take his first spoonful, he realized how silly he was. Nobody should ever eat poison, not even when your name is foolish Dennis. Instead, he decided to hide from his mother so that she would not be able to punish him.

A quarter of an hour later, his mother returned. When she saw the overturned furniture, the broken plates and the red footprints, she got a fright and cried,

"Dennis! What has happened? Where are you? Answer me!"

There was no reply, but she suddenly noticed a pair of legs sticking out of the oven.

"I'm not surprised you are hiding from me, Dennis, after causing all this mess," she said. "Well, while I am clearing up after you, you can take this roll of cloth to the market and try and sell it for a good price." And she handed the boy a roll of cloth as she spoke. "Oh, I will," said Dennis. "Leave it to me."

When he got to market, Dennis began to shout, "Cloth! Who'll buy this lovely cloth?" Several women came over and asked him,

"What kind of cloth is it? Is it soft? Is it hard-wearing? Is it dear? How long is it? How much does it cost"? Dennis exclaimed:

"You talk too much, and I don't sell things to chatterboxes," and off he went. He passed by a statue and mistook it for a fine gentleman, so he asked it, "Sir, would you like to buy this fine cloth? Yes or no? If you don't say anything, that means you do. Look here! Do you like it? Yes? Good! Then take it," and he left the cloth beside the statue and went home.

"Mum! Mum!" he cried. "I've sold the cloth to a very well-dressed gentleman!" The woman asked:

"How much did he give you for it?" Dennis muttered,

"Oh! I forgot to ask him for the money! Don't worry, I'll go and ask him for it." He ran back to the statue but the cloth had gone. Someone had clearly taken it away. Said Dennis to the statue, "I see you've taken the cloth home already. Fine, now give me the money!" Of course, the statue did not reply. Dennis repeated his request, then losing his temper, he picked up a stick and began to beat the statue about the head . . . which broke off and rolled to the ground. Out of the head poured a handful of gold coins, hidden there by goodness knows who! Dennis picked up the coins, put the head back in position and went home.

"Look!" he called. And his mother stared in astonishment at this small fortune.

"Who gave you such a good price?" his mother asked him. The lad replied:

"A very dignified-looking gentleman. He didn't speak, and do you know where he kept his money? In his head!" At this, Dennis's mother exclaimed:

"Dennis, listen! You killed the broody hen, broke the eggs, flooded the cellar with wine, wasted five bags of flour, smashed plates, bottles, vases and glasses; you nearly ate the cream, if you think you're going to pull my leg as well you're badly mistaken! Get out of here!" And grabbing the broom, she chased him out of the house.

"I don't want to see you again till tonight! Off you go into the vegetable plot." But, as the boy was sitting on the doorstep and did not budge, his exasperated mother picked up the first thing that came within her grasp and hurled it at Dennis's head. It was a big basket of dried figs and sultanas. Dennis shouted then:

"Mum! Mum! Quick! Bring a bag! It's raining dry figs and sultanas!"

His mother slumped into a chair and said sorrowfully:

"What can I do with a boy like him?"

Now, since Dennis went about telling folk he had a lot of gold coins, the magistrates sent for him. "Where did you find those coins?" they asked him. Dennis replied:

"A gentleman gave me them in payment for a roll of cloth."

"What gentleman?" said the magistrates severely.

"The gentleman that is always standing at the corner of Plane Tree Street and Jasmine Road," replied the boy.

"But that's a statue!" gasped the magistrates. Dennis said:

"He didn't say what his name was, but maybe it is Mr. Statue. He kept his money in his head." The magistrates gaped at each other in utter astonishment. Then the chief magistrate asked:

"Tell us, Dennis, when did you do this piece of business?"

"It was the day it rained dry figs and sultanas!" the boy replied. Again the magistrates exchanged looks, and now certain that Dennis really was foolish, they said:

"You can go home, lad, you're free!"

And so Dennis went home and lived there happily with his mother. A bit foolish, yes, but he never did anybody any harm, and that's all that counts.

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