Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Special

The Special

There once was a young student who, though good at heart and quite intelligent, had made many bad decisions about which friends to choose and how to spend his money. Because of this he became quite impoverished and ended up living under a bridge along with the rough sort of people who inhabit such places. Now, for a hobo or ogre, the underside of a bridge is not such a bad place. But for a student it is one of the worst places of all to live. There is little light for studying and the drinking and carousing of the other inhabitants is very distracting.

Despite all of this the student worked hard and impressed his professors as a very able scholar. They also enjoyed his lively wit. Indeed, they often had difficulty maintaining their stuffy countenances when they saw his smiling face peering at them from the back row of the lecture hall. He always sat in the back because he was embarassed of the tattered appearance of his clothing.

One day the young student's professors had a meeting to discuss his case. They knew of his circumstances from overhearing the gossip of the other students who were always eager to insult him in order to make themselves look better.

"He is a intelligent lad and an able scholar." said the first professor. "I believe we should grant him a scholarship so that he might continue his studies in comfort."

"Besides being intelligent and scholarly, he is generous and good at heart." said the second professor. "For this reason I believe we should grant him a scholarship so that he might continue his studies in comfort."

"Not only is he intelligent, scholarly, and good at heart, but he has a lively wit and often makes me laugh with the comments he makes, though of course I must pretend to be stifling a cough as not to appear overly good-natured to the other students. For this reason I believe we should grant him a scholarship so that he might continue his studies in comfort."

Now the last of the young student's professors stepped up. He was the wisest of all the professors at the university. He cared for the student very much, perhaps more than any of the other professors. However, he knew in his heart that although the student was good, intelligent, and witty, he also lacked one characteristic that was as important as all of the others combined. And this was prudence.

"It is true that our young scholar is a good, intelligent, generous, and witty student." he began, "But he lacks one important characteristic that is necessary for him to be successful in the university. Indeed, it is the lack of this characteristic that has caused him to be in his present situation."

"What characteristic is that?" the other professors asked.

"He lacks prudence." replied the wisest professor. "Without it we can be certain that any scholarship we grant him will soon be wasted on merriment and he will once again find himself living under a bridge."

The other professors nodded their heads and stroked their beards in agreement.

"What, then, should we do?" asked the first professor.

"Yes, what should we do?" asked the second professor.

"Tell us what we should do." said the third professor.

"We must go to the dean and explain this student's case. It is clear that the four of us hold him too dear to our hearts to do what is truly good for him."

Now, the professors knew that the dean was a harsh and stupid man who had gained his post not by being a good scholar, but by being very tight-fisted with money. Still, they believed that he would know how to teach the young student prudence because prudence is often confused with stinginess, even by wise ones such as themselves.

When the professors had presented the student's case to the dean he let out a loud snort of contempt.

"He shall not recieve one penny from the university!" He bellowed. "I will not condone the financing of his lifestyle. Imagine granting a scholarsip to one who consorts with hobos and ogres. It is unheard of! It will not be done."

However, the professors pleaded that the student be given a chance to learn prudence. And, since the dean was truly quite stupid, they were able to sway him to their way of thinking.

"All right, all right." he said. "I will give him a chance. As you have pointed out there is no one better to teach prudence than myself. I will propose three tests to this student, and if he passes them all, he shall recieve a scholarship and will continue his studies in comfort."

The next day the student was called before the dean. At first he was quite afraid of the dean and had to wind his legs together to keep his knees from knocking. After a few moments in the dean's presence, however, he saw how stupid he truly was and lost all fear.

"As you may know," the dean began, "you have been recommended for a scholarship by your professors. However, it has been brought to my attention that you are a very imprudent young man and cannot be trusted to spend your disbursment wisely. Still, you are a good student. For this reason I am willing to give you a chance to learn prudence. I will give you one hundred dollars. With this money you must do three things. First, you must find and purchase a book that has the answers to every question in the world. Second, you must prepare a meal that will satisfy the most voracious appetite. Third, you must invest what money is left so that it earns enough that you can return the hundred dollars to the university, plus interest."

The young student took the hundred dollars and headed straight to the bookstore. He already knew which book he would purchase, and soon he was on his way back to the dean's office.

"Your honor," he began,"I have brought you the book that you requested."

"So soon?" the dean asked skeptically. "Show me this wonderous book!"

So the student laid the book before him. It was a large dictionary.

"Ho ho!" the dean laughed. "You are not so smart as your professors believed! This is a simple dictionary like the one I already have on my shelf. I am afraid you have failed your test." The dean was glad of this since nothing pleased his stingy and wicked heart more than to deny someone a scholarship.

"But, sir," the student replied, "this book has every word in the world. Therefore all one need do to answer every question in the world is to arrange the words correctly. Naturally one who is as wise as yourself can see this."

When the dean heard this, he was dumbfounded. He sat silent for a long moment while he tried to think of a flaw in the young student's argument. As he was truly quite stupid he was unable to, so he nodded his head in assent.

"I deem your argument to be valid." he said. "Now, using the money you have left, you must prepare a meal that will satisfy even the most voracious appetite." And in his wicked and stingy heart he was glad because he knew that after buying such a fine dictionary, the student would be hard pressed to do so.

The student left the dean's office unsure of how to proceed. Though he was intelligent enough to be considered crafty, he was above all very honest. He would not lie to himself or to the dean about who had the most voracious appetite. It was beyond a doubt the great evil troll who lived under the same bridge as the young student himself, but on the other side of the river. This troll was known to wade across the river and snatch up a handful of hobos to take home for his dinner. Even the ogres who lived under the bridge feared the troll's evil. He would not eat them, for it disagrees with a troll's digestion to eat another evil being, but he often killed them simply for the sport of it.

The student doubted if he had enough money left to feed this most voracious of appetites, and even if he did there would be none left to invest. He wandered about thinking how he should proceed. He thought he was heading towards his home under the bridge, but suddenly he found himself face to face with the very troll he was thinking about. Lost in his thoughts, he had gone down under the wrong side of the bridge.

"Who is this tasty morsel come to fill my belly?" the troll growled.

Now the student knew he was in grave danger, and the wheels in his brain began to spin faster than ever before.

"I am a waiter." he replied to the troll. "I have come to take your order for dinner."

"My order for dinner?" the troll asked. "I think you yourself will do nicely!"

"Oh, but I am but a tiny and tasteless morsel compared with what our chef can prepare for you. If you order the special, you may never have to eat again!" the student answered, barely holding back his fear.
The troll, being stupid as most trolls are, took a few moments to figure out what it was the student was saying. He scratched his head, squinted his one eye, and rubbed his chin. Finally he decided.

"Okay, then, my little morsel. I will order the special. But if I am still hungry after I have eaten it, you will be my desert."

"Of course, of course." replied the student, "Such is always our policy when serving trolls. There is just one thing more. It is also our policy when serving trolls to ask for payment in advance, for reasons you can no doubt understand."

The troll had to admit that this was a wise policy. He, being unable to count himself, opened his wallet and let the student remove as much money as he saw fit. He took just enough to repay the dean, with interest. Then he promised to return immediately with the troll's order and ran off to the dean's office.

The dean was surprised that the student had been able to return the money so quickly. However he recalled that there was still one requirement that the student had to fulfill before he passed the three tests.

"Now you have brought me the book I asked for, and you have returned the money with interest, but you have yet to feed the most voracious appetite." the dean charged. In his heart he was filled with glee at the prospect of denying the student a scholarship.

"Oh, yes," replied the student. "I had almost forgot. I have prepared a meal for the most voracious appetite I know of. It is that of the evil troll who lives under the bridge. However, in order to prove to you that his appetite has been satisfied, I ask that you return with me to witness the meal first hand. There is just one last thing that I must ask of you. In order to avoid angering the troll, you must refer to yourself as 'the special' when he asks who you are. Then you will be safe."

The dean was not very excited about the prospect of visiting the troll, but he decided that if the young student could do it, so could he. Besides, he thought, as long as he called himself 'the special' he would be safe.

When they reached the troll's side of the bridge, the dean and the young student found the troll wandering around mumbling to himself. He had almost forgotten about the waiter and had to keep reminding himself that he had ordered the special for dinner. When he smelled the two approach he let out a roar.

"I'm hungry!" he growled, "Where is the special?"

Before the young student had the chance to reply, the dean stepped forward and proclaimed in a loud voice, "I am the special!"

At that the troll pounced on him and began to devour him. First of all he bit off his head, then he pulled his arms and legs off and crunched them down, bones and all. He then went to work on the dean's torso and soon finished that, too. He found that, even though the dean had been quite fat, he was still hungry. He was about to eat the young student for desert when suddenly his stomach began to rumble.

"Ooh! My stomach hurts!" he cried. "What have you fed me?"

"Only the dean of the university, my good troll." replied the young student. "Surely a great troll like yourself should have no problem eating one such as him."

"Ooh, ooh, ooh!" cried the troll. "He must have had an evil nature to cause me such pain. I fear you and your special have slain me!"

And with that the trolls stomach burst open and he fell to the ground quite dead.

The student hurried back to the university and reported all that had happened to his professors. With the dean now dead, the wisest of the four professors was made the new dean. He reviewed the student's case, and decided that since he had passed all three of the former dean's tests, he would be granted a scholarship.

The student continued his studies in comfort and after many years eventually became dean himself. And as dean he never denied anyone a scholarship, nor did he ever order “the special.”

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