(An Italian Folktale)
Matteo the merchant was a kind, generous man. Everyone knew that about him. And people loved him for that. Well, most people did. His neighbor, Remo, was also a merchant, but he was the very opposite; he was careful not to give too much away.
One day, Matteo set off on a journey, his ship loaded with wares. He was traveling east, hoping to trade his silks for spices. One morning, he arrived in a glorious harbor, but no one was anywhere in sight.
“This is unusual,” he said to his crew, and he went out searching for the people of this land.
At last, he came to the palace and asked to see the king. “We wish to trade with your people,” Matteo explained.
The servants showed him to the king’s chambers, but Matteo found only a gloomy man.
“We wish to trade,” the king said, “but a plague of mice and rats has destroyed everything. We have nothing to trade with you but mice and rats.” The poor king was so sad he nearly wept.
This gave Matteo an idea, so he asked the king to be patient. He ran back to his ship and gathered his two favorite cats. Baccio was a blue-eyed Tom and Bianca was long, sleek and beautiful.
Matteo returned to the palace with his cats and set them free.
The king and his people stood and stared as the cats set to work. Within days, the mice were gone and so were most of the rats.
The king was overjoyed, so he showered Matteo and his men with gifts. They sailed home without the spices they had wanted, but they were satisfied.
“There’s nothing better than bringing peace and joy to others,” Matteo said.
When he returned home, word soon spread about what had happened. Remo was filled with envy for his neighbor’s success. He decided that he must also visit this land. He would flatter the king and return with a treasure as fine as Matteo’s.
And so Remo went to see Matteo and asked where he might find this beautiful land. Naturally, Matteo generously gave him directions, and a few days later Remo and his men set sail.
When they reached the beautiful harbor, they immediately went to the palace, where Remo introduced himself to the king.
“I am a friend of Matteo, the man with the cats,” he said. “I, too, have brought you gifts.”
With that, he unloaded the beautiful silks he had brought to trade.
The king was pleased, and he wished to offer generosity in return. And so he met with his wise men to seek their advice.
The king and his men, generous beyond words, met for hours, discussing the situation. How could a king of such a small island possibly hope to be so kind?
Finally, one of wise men spoke. “Your highness,” he said, “our spices are worth very little because they are so plentiful. But remember, we do have something priceless we might give in return.”
The king smiled. He knew exactly what the wise man meant. He sent his servants to fetch this gift to give to the good merchant Remo.
The next morning, the king called Remo to the palace and announced with great fanfare that the people of the island wished to reward him with their finest gift of all.
Remo’s heart swelled as he imagined the great bounty he would soon possess. He waited as the king sent for his servants.
They returned carrying a beautiful golden cage. Inside sat two pretty kittens: one tiger-striped and one as white as snow.
“We wish to give you the greatest gift we can imagine,” the king said.
Remo’s heart sank, but he could hardly say a word.
“Thank you,” he whispered as he accepted the cage and the kittens.
Then he and his men set off for home. As they sailed, Remo thought about the strange turn of events. What would he do to compete with Matteo? Where might he find treasures too? How could he possess the kind of happiness that seemed beyond his reach?
Then one morning Remo awakened and it hit him. He finally understood what he would have to do to be happy like his neighbor. In order to receive that kind of joy, he would have to bestow it upon others. Remo would have to learn kindness and generosity because only those who give to others reap the greatest rewards.