Once upon a time, a very long time ago, when Brahmadatta was King in Benares, the Bodhisattva was born as the son of the King's treasurer, or gildmaster. When he grew up, he too became the King's gildmaster, and was called Gildmaster Little. The little gildmaster was wise and clever, with a keen eye for an omen.
One day Gildmaster Little came upon a dead mouse beside the road. Taking note of the positions of the stars at that moment, he remarked out loud, "Isn't this interesting? Any decent fellow with his wits about him has only to pick that mouse up and he might start a business and find a good wife."
It just happened that a young man, who was penniless but came from a good family, overheard the little gildmaster.
"Now there's a man who always has a reason for what he says," thought the fellow, and he picked up the mouse right away.
He then sold the mouse for a quarter of a penny at a tavern, where it made a fine dinner for their cat. Then he bought molasses with the money he got for the mouse. Next he took drinking water in a pot to the forest, where flower gatherers were returning after a hot day in the fields.
He gave each a tiny bit of molasses to go with the water, which he ladled out for them. They were so grateful to the boy that they each gave him a handful of flowers. In the evening he peddled the flowers along a street of open air cafes, and within two hours he had sold them all. He now had four pennies.
The young merchant returned the next day to the flower people with more molasses and water. This time the flower people gave him potted plants, which he then sold for eight pennies.
The next day a windy rainstorm blew down branches from the trees in the King's garden, and it was too much for the gardener to get rid of himself. The enterprising young man offered to do it for him if he could keep the branches. The gardener agreed. The young man then ran to a playground and, offering the children molasses as payment, got them to collect all the sticks and leaves into a heap at the entrance to the pleasure garden. After that was finished, the King's potter, on the lookout for fuel to fire his bowls, came upon the heap and took them from the youth for sixteen pennies.
The little businessman now jingled twenty-eight pennies in his pocket, and a new plan occurred to him. He went to the city gate with a jar full of water and supplied five hundred mowers with water to drink.
"You've done us a good turn, friend," they said, "now what can we do for you?"
"You can help me, but not right now; I'll let you know when, " he said, and he proceeded on his way.
Next, the busy fellow made friends with a land-trader and a sea-trader. The land-trader said, "Tomorrow a horse dealer will come to town to sell five hundred horses." Hearing this piece of news, the sharp entrepreneur returned to the mowers.
"I want each of you to give me one bundle of grass, and don't sell your own grass to anyone until I say that mine has been sold." The mowers agreed, and each one of them delivered a bundle of grass to him.
Now when the horse merchant came to town and tried to find grass there was none for sale anywhere, except the five hundred bundles the young man had obtained from the mowers, and these he bought for a thousand pieces of silver.
A few days later the young merchant's sea-trading friend brought him news: a large ship had arrived in port. Another plan struck him. He hired a fine carriage and went in great style to the port. He bought the whole ship on credit with a deposit of one thousand pieces of silver. He left his signet ring as security for the rest. Then the young man pitched a beautiful pavilion nearby, and said to his people as he took his seat inside, "When merchants are being shown in, you will pass them on to me by three successive ushers."
A hundred merchants, hearing that a ship had arrived in port, came down to buy her cargo, but they were told that a great merchant had already bought everything, and that if they wanted to buy the goods they needed they would have to deal with him. So away they all went to the young man. Each merchant was ushered past three chambers. A hundred buyers paid a thousand pieces of gold each to buy a share in the ship and then another thousand to buy a share of the goods. By the end of the day the young man had collected 200,000 pieces of gold.
Gildmaster Little handled the deposit at the city bank. "How came you to be so rich?" asked Gildmaster Little.
"In four short months, simply by following your advice." And he told him the whole story.
On hearing all this, Lord High Gildmaster, the King's treasurer, thought, "I must see that such a bright fellow stays close by and does not fall into anybody else's hands." So he married him to his own daughter, and when the old gildmaster died the young man became gildmaster in that city.