The fourth planet belonged to a businessman. This man was so preoccupied that he did not even look up when the little prince arrived.
‘Hello there,’ the little prince said. ‘Your cigarette’s out.’
‘Three plus two is five. Five and seven make twelve. Twelve and three make fifteen. Oh hello! Fifteen plus seven is twenty-two. Twenty-two and six make twenty-eight. I do not have time to light it again. Twenty-six and five make thirty-one. Whew! That comes to five-hundred-and-one-million, six-hundred-twenty-two-thousand, seven-hundred-thirty-one.’
‘Five hundred million what?’
‘Eh? You are still here? Five hundred and one million … what was it … I have so much to do! I am very busy with important matters. I have no time to waste. Two and five make seven …’
‘Five hundred and one million what?’ repeated the little prince, who could never let go of a question.
The businessman looked up. ‘In all the fifty-four years I have spent on this planet, I have been interrupted only thrice. The first time was twenty-two years ago by an irate hornet, from goodness knows where – it made the most frightful racket and I made four mistakes in my sums. The second time was eleven years ago, when I suffered an attack of rheumatism. I don’t get enough exercise. I have no time to be lazy either. I have too many important things to do. The third time is, well, now! Five hundred and one million …’
The businessman finally realized that there was no way he could avoid the question.
‘Millions of those little objects in the sky.’
‘Oh no! The shiny ones.’
‘Are you talking about bees?’
‘No, no. The little golden objects that cause people to daydream. As for me, I have no time for that. I deal in matters of consequence.’
‘You mean the stars?’
‘Yes, the stars.’
‘And what will you do with five hundred million stars?’
‘Five hundred and one million, six hundred and twenty-two thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one. I am concerned with serious matters. I am always exact.’
‘And what do you do with these stars?’
‘What do I do with them?’
‘Nothing. I own them.’
‘You own the stars?’
‘But I met a king who …’
‘Kings do not own, they “rule”. It’s altogether different.’
‘And what good does it do to own stars?’
‘It makes me rich.’
‘And how does it help being rich?’
‘I can buy more stars, if any more are discovered.’
‘This man,’ the little prince said to himself, ‘argues like the drunkard …’
He continued to ask more questions. ‘How is it possible to own the stars?’
‘Who do they belong to?’ the businessman retorted, irritably.
‘I don’t know. To nobody.’
‘Then they belong to me. I was the first person to think of it.’
‘Is that it?’
‘Certainly. When you find a diamond that nobody claims, it becomes yours.
When you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When an idea comes to you before it does to anyone else, you put a patent on it: it too is yours. So, I own the stars because nobody else thought of owning them.’
‘Yes, I suppose that’s true,’ said the little prince. ‘And what do you do with the stars?’
‘I oversee them,’ replied the businessman. ‘I count and recount them. It isn’t easy work, but I am diligent.’
The little prince was not satisfied.
‘If I have a scarf,’ he said, ‘I could wrap it around my neck and take it with me. If I have a flower, I could pluck that flower and take it with me. But you cannot pluck the stars.’
‘No. But I can put them in the bank.’
‘Whatever do you mean?’
‘What it means is that, I write the number of my stars on a little piece of paper and then I put this paper in a drawer and lock it with a key.’
‘And that is all?’
‘That is enough,’ said the businessman.
‘This is entertaining,’ thought the little prince. ‘It is rather poetic in fact. But it’s of no great consequence.’
On important matters, the little prince’s ideas were completely different from those of the grown-ups.
‘I own a flower,’ he continued, ‘that I water every day. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week. I also clean out the extinct one because one never knows. It is of some use to my volcanoes and to my flower that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars.’
The businessman opened his mouth, but there came no answer.
So the little prince went away.
‘Grown-ups are quite astonishing,’ he said to himself as he continued on his travels.