The young king alighted on the ledge of the window of the princess' room, and looked in. There, on a golden bed, amongst soft cushions and embroidered coverings, lay the most lovely creature he had ever beheld, so lovely that he fell in love with her at once and gave a loud cry of delight. This woke the princess, who started up and was about to scream out aloud in her terror at seeing a man looking in at the window, when Putraka with the aid of his magic staff made himself invisible. Then, thinking she had been dreaming, Patala lay down again, and the king began talking to her in a low voice, telling her he had heard of her beauty and had flown from far away to see her. He begged her to allow him to show himself to her, and added: "I will go away again directly afterwards if you wish it."
Putraka's voice was so gentle, and it seemed to Patala so wonderful that a man could fly and make himself invisible, that she was full of curiosity to see him and find out all about him. So she gave her consent, and immediately afterwards the young king stood within the room, looking so noble and so handsome that she too fell in love at first sight. Putraka told her all about his life and adventures, which interested her very much. She was glad, she said, that he was a king; but she would have loved him just as well, whoever he might have been.
After a long talk, Patala begged him to leave her for fear her attendants should discover him and tell her father about him. "My father would never let me marry you," she declared, "unless you were to come with many followers as a king to ask my hand; and how can you do that when you are only a wandering exile?"
25. Was there any reason to fear that Putraka would be discovered when he could make himself invisible at any moment?
26. What do you think would have been the right thing for Putraka and Patala to do when they found out that they loved each other?
It was very difficult to persuade Putraka to go, but at last he flew away. Every night after that, however, he came to see Patala, spending the days sometimes in one place, sometimes in another, and using his magic bowl to supply himself with food. Alas, he forgot all about the dear old woman to whom he owed all his happiness, and she slowly gave up hope of ever seeing him again. He might quite easily have flown to her cottage and cheered her with his presence; but he was so wrapped up in his love for Patala that everything else went out of his head. This selfishness on his part presently got him into serious trouble, for he became careless about making himself invisible when he flew up to the princess' window. So that one night he was discovered by a guardian of the palace. The matter was at once reported to the king, who could not at first believe such a thing was possible. The man must have seen a big bird, that was all. The king, however, ordered one of his daughter's ladies to keep watch every night in an ante-room, leaving the door open with the tapestry, in which there was a slit, drawn carefully over it, and to come and tell him in the morning if she had seen or heard anything unusual.
Now the lady chosen loved the princess, and, like many of her fellow-attendants, thought it was very cruel of the king to punish his own child for being so beautiful, by shutting her up as he did. It so happened that the very first night she was on guard, Putraka had flown a very, very long way, not noticing where he was going, because he was thinking so earnestly of Patala. When at last he flew in at her window, he was so weary that he sank down on a couch and fell fast asleep. The princess too was tired, because she had lain awake talking to her lover so many nights running that she had had hardly any rest. So when the lady peeped through the slit in the tapestry, there, by the light of the night lamp, she saw the young king lying unconscious, whilst the princess also was asleep.
Very cautiously the attendant crept to the side of Putraka, and took a long, long look at him. She noticed how handsome he was, and that he was dressed in beautiful clothes. She especially remarked the turban he wore, because in India the rank to which men belong is shown by the kind of turbans they wear. "This is no common man," she thought, "but a prince or king in disguise. What shall I do now? I will not raise an alarm which might lead to this beautiful young lover being killed and the heart of my dear mistress broken."
27. If you had been the lady who found Putraka in Patala's room, what would you have done?
28. What could Putraka have done to guard against being discovered?
After hesitating a long time, the lady made up her mind that she would only put some mark in the turban of Putraka, so that he could be known again, and let him escape that night at least. So she stole back to her room, fetched a tiny, brooch, and fastened it in the folds of the turban, where the wearer was not likely to notice it himself. This done, she went back to listen at the door.
It was nearly morning when Putraka woke up, very much surprised at finding himself lying on the couch, for he did not remember throwing himself down on it. Starting up, he woke Patala, who was terribly frightened, for she expected her ladies to come in any minute to help her to dress. She entreated Putraka to make himself invisible and fly away at once. He did so; and, as usual, wandered about until the time should come to go back to the palace. But he still felt too tired to fly, and instead walked about in the town belonging to Patala's father.
The lady who had been on guard had half a mind to tell her mistress that her secret was discovered. But before she could get a chance to do so, she was sent for by the king, who asked her if she had seen or heard anything during the night. She tried very hard to escape from betraying Patala; but she hesitated so much in her answers that the king guessed there was something she wanted to hide, and told her, if she did not reveal the whole truth, he would have her head shaved and send her to prison. So she told how she had found a handsome man, beautifully dressed, fast asleep in Patala's room; but she did not believe her mistress knew anything about it, because she too was asleep.
The king was of course in a terrible rage, and the lady was afraid he would order her to be punished; but he only went on questioning her angrily about what the man was like, so that he might be found and brought before him. Then the lady confessed that she had put the brooch in the turban, comforting herself with the thought that, when the king saw Putraka and knew that Patala loved him, he might perhaps relent and let them be married.
When the king heard about the brooch, he was greatly pleased; and instead of ordering the lady to be punished, he told her that, when the man who had dared to approach his daughter was found, he would give her a great reward. He then sent forth hundreds of spies to hunt for the man with a brooch in his turban, and Putraka was very soon found, strolling quietly about in the market-place. He was so taken by surprise that, though he had his staff in his hand and his shoes and bowl in the pocket of his robes, he had no time to write his wishes with the staff, or to put on the shoes, so he was obliged to submit to be dragged to the palace. He did all he could to persuade those who had found him to let him go, telling them he was a king and would reward them well. They only laughed at him and dragged him along with them to the palace, where he was at once taken before the king, who was sitting on his throne, surrounded by his court, in a great hall lined with soldiers. The big windows were wide open; and noticing this, Putraka did not feel at all afraid, for he knew he had only to slip on his shoes and fly out of one of the windows, if he could not persuade the king to let him marry Patala. So he stood quietly at the foot of the throne, and looked bravely into the face of his dear one's father.
This only made the king more angry, and he began calling Putraka all manner of names and asking him how he dared to enter the room of his daughter. Putraka answered quietly that he loved Patala and wished to marry her. He was himself a king, and would give her all she had been used to. But it was all no good, for it only made the king more angry. He rose from his throne, and stretching out his hand, he cried:
"Let him be scourged and placed in close confinement!"
Then Putraka with his staff wrote rapidly on the ground his wish that no one should be able to touch him, and stooping down slipped on his magic shoes. The king, the courtiers and the soldiers all remained exactly as they were, staring at him in astonishment, as he rose up in the air and flew out of one of the windows. Straight away he sped to the palace of Patala and into her room, where she was pacing to and fro in an agony of anxiety about him; for she had heard of his having been taken prisoner and feared that her father would order him to be killed.
29. What do you think would have been the best thing for the king to do when Putraka was brought before him?
30. If Putraka had not had his shoes with him, how could he have escaped from the king's palace?
Great indeed was the delight of Patala when her beloved Putraka once more flew in at her window; but she was still trembling with fear for him and begged him to go away back to his own land as quickly as possible.
"I will not go without you," replied Putraka. "Wrap yourself up warmly, for it is cold flying through the air, and we will go away together, and your cruel father shall never see you again."
Patala wept at hearing this, for it seemed terrible to her to have to choose between the father she loved and Putraka. But in the end her lover got his own way, and just as those who were seeking him were heard approaching, he seized his dear one in his arms and flew off with her. He did not return to his own land even then, but directed his course to the Ganges, the grand and beautiful river which the people of India love and worship, calling it their Mother Ganga. By the banks of the sacred stream the lovers rested, and with the aid of his magic bowl Putraka soon had a good and delicious meal ready, which they both enjoyed very much. As they ate, they consulted together what they had better do now, and Patala, who was as clever as she was beautiful, said:
"Would it not be a good thing to build a new city in this lovely place? You could do it with your marvellous staff, could you not?"
"Why, of course, I could," said Putraka laughing. "Why didn't I think of it myself?" Very soon a wonderful town rose up, which the young king wished to be as much as possible like the home he had left, only larger and fuller of fine buildings than it. When the town was made, he wished it to be full of happy inhabitants, with temples in which they might worship, priests to teach them how to be good, markets in which food and all that was needed could be bought, tanks and rivulets full of pure water, soldiers and officers to defend the gates, elephants on which he and his wife could ride, everything in fact that the heart of man or woman could desire.
The first thing Putraka and Patala did after the rise of their own town, which they named Patali-Putra  after themselves, was to get married in accordance with the rites of their religion; and for many, many years they reigned wisely over their people, who loved them and their children with all their hearts. Amongst the attendants on those children was the old woman who had shown kindness to Putraka in his loneliness and trouble. For when he told Patala the story of his life, she reproached him for his neglect of one to whom he owed so much. She made him feel quite ashamed of himself, and he flew away and brought the dear old lady back with him, to her very great delight.
31. Which of the people in this story do you like best?
32. Do you think Putraka deserved all the happiness which came to him through stealing the wand, the shoes and the bowl?
33. Can you suggest any way in which he could have atoned for the wrong he did to the brothers whose property he took?
34. What is the chief lesson to be learnt from this story?
The Jewelled Arrow.
In the city of Vardhamana in India there lived a powerful king named Vira-Bhuja, who, as was the custom in his native land, had many wives, each of whom had several sons. Of all his wives this king loved best the one named Guna-Vara, and of all his sons her youngest-born, called Sringa-Bhuja, was his favourite. Guna-Vara was not only very beautiful but very good. She was so patient that nothing could make her angry, so unselfish that she always thought of others before herself, and so wise that she was able to understand how others were feeling, however different their natures were from her own.
Sringa-Bhuja, the son of Guna-Vara, resembled his mother in her beauty and her unselfishness; he was also very strong and very clever, whilst his brothers were quite unlike him. They wanted to have everything their own way, and they were very jealous indeed of their father's love for him. They were always trying to do him harm, and though they often quarrelled amongst themselves, they would band together to try and hurt him.
It was very much the same with the king's wives. They hated Guna-Vara, because their husband loved her more than he did them, and they constantly came to him with stories they had made up of the wicked things she had done. Amongst other things they told the king that Guna-Vara did not really love him but cared more for some one else than she did for him. The most bitter of all against her was the wife called Ayasolekha, who was cunning enough to know what sort of tale the king was likely to believe. The very fact that Vira-Bhuja loved Guna-Vara so deeply made him more ready to think that perhaps after all she did not return his affection, and he longed to find out the truth. So he in his turn made up a story, thinking by its means to find out how she felt for him. He therefore went one day to her private apartments, and having sent all her attendants away, he told her he had some very sad news for her which he had heard from his chief astrologer. Astrologers, you know, are wise men, who are supposed to be able to read the secrets of the stars, and learn from them things which are hidden from ordinary human beings. Guna-Vara therefore did not doubt that what her husband was about to tell her was true, and she listened eagerly, her heart beating very fast in her fear that some trouble was coming to those she loved.
Great indeed was her sorrow and surprise, when Vira-Bhuja went on to say that the astrologer had told him that a terrible misfortune threatened him and his kingdom and the only way to prevent it was to shut Guna-Vara up in prison for the rest of her life. The poor queen could hardly believe that she had heard rightly. She knew she had done no wrong, and could not understand how putting her in prison could help anybody. She was quite sure that her husband loved her, and no words could have expressed her pain at the thought of being sent away from him and her dear son. Yet she made no resistance, not even asking Vira-Bhuja to let her see Sringa-Bhuja again. She just bowed her beautiful head and said: "Be it unto me as my Lord wills. If he wishes my death, I am ready to lay down my life."
This submission made the king feel even more unhappy than before. He longed to take his wife in his arms and tell her he would never let her go; and perhaps if she had looked at him then, he would have seen all her love for him in her eyes, but she remained perfectly still with bowed head, waiting to hear what her fate was to be. Then the thought entered Vira-Bhuja's mind: "She is afraid to look at me: what Ayasolekha said was true."
1. Can true love suspect the loved one of evil?
2. Is true love ever jealous?
So the king summoned his guards and ordered them to take his wife to a strong prison and leave her there. She went with them without making any resistance, only turning once to look lovingly at her husband as she was led away. Vira-Bhuja returned to his own palace and had not been there very long when he got a message from Ayasolekha, begging him to give her an interview, for she had something of very great importance to tell him. The king consented at once, thinking to himself, "perhaps she has found out that what she told me about my dear Guna-Vara is not true."
Great then was his disappointment when the wicked woman told him she had discovered a plot against his life. The son of Guna-Vara and some of the chief men of the kingdom, she said, had agreed together to kill him, so that Sringa-Bhuja might reign in his stead. She and some of the other wives had overheard conversations between them, and were terrified lest their beloved Lord should be hurt. The young prince, she declared, had had some trouble in persuading the nobles to help him, but he had succeeded at last.
Vira-Bhuja simply could not believe this story, for he trusted his son as much as he loved him; and he sent the mischief maker away, telling her not to dare to enter his presence again. For all that he could not get the matter out of his head. He had Sringa-Bhuja carefully watched; and as nothing against him was found out, he was beginning to feel more easy in his mind, and even to think of going to see Guna-Vara in her prison to ask her to confide in him, when something happened which led him to fear that after all his dear son was not true to him. This was what made him uneasy. He had a wonderful arrow, set with precious jewels, which had been given to him by a magician, and had the power of hitting without fail whatever it was aimed at from however great a distance. The very day he had meant to visit his ill-treated wife, he missed this arrow from the place in which he kept it concealed. This distressed him very much; and after seeking it in vain, he summoned all those who were employed in the palace to his presence, and asked if any of them knew anything about the arrow. He promised that he would forgive any one who helped him to get it back, even if it were the thief himself; but added that, if it was not found in three days, he would have all the servants beaten until the one who had stolen it confessed.
3. Do you think this was the best way to find out who had taken the arrow?
4. How would you have set about learning the truth if you had been the king?
Now the fact of the matter was that Ayasolekha, who had told the wicked story about Guna-Vara, knew where the king kept the arrow, had taken it to her private rooms, and had sent for her own sons and those of the other wives, all of whom hated Sringa-Bhuja, to tell them of a plot to get their brother into disgrace, "You know," she said to them, "how much better your father loves Sringa-Bhuja than he does any of you; and that, when be dies, he will leave the kingdom and all his money to him. Now I will help you to prevent this by getting rid of Sringa-Bhuja.
"You must have a great shooting match, in which your brother will be delighted to take part, for he is very proud of his skill with the bow and arrow. On the day of the match, I will send for him and give him the jewelled arrow belonging to your father to shoot with, telling him the king had said I might lend it to him. Your father will then think he stole it and order him to be killed."
The brothers were all delighted at what they thought a very clever scheme, and did just what Ayasolekha advised. When the day came, great crowds assembled to see the shooting at a large target set up near the palace. The king himself and all his court were watching the scene from the walls, and it was difficult for the guards to keep the course clear. The brothers, beginning at the eldest, all pretended to try and hit the target; but none of them really wished to succeed, because they thought that, when Sringa-Bhuja's turn came, as their father's youngest son, he would win the match with the jewelled arrow. Then the king would order him to be brought before him, and he would be condemned to death or imprisonment for life.
Now, as very often happens, something no one in the least expected upset the carefully planned plot. Just as Sringa-Bhuja was about to shoot at the target, a big crane flew on to the ground between him and it, so that it was impossible for him to take proper aim. The brothers, seeing the bird and anxious to shoot it for themselves, all began to clamour that they should be allowed to shoot again. Nobody made any objection, and Sringa-Bhuja stood aside, with the jewelled arrow in the bow, waiting to see what they would do, but feeling sure that he would be the one to kill the bird. Brother after brother tried, but the great creature still remained untouched, when a travelling mendicant stepped forward and cried aloud:
"That is no bird, but an evil magician who has taken that form to deceive you all. If he is not killed before he takes his own form again, he will bring misery and ruin upon this town and the surrounding country."
You know perhaps that mendicants or beggars in India are often holy men whose advice even kings are glad to listen to; so that, when everyone heard what this beggar said, there was great excitement and terror. For many were the stories told of the misfortunes Rakshas or evil magicians had brought on other cities. The brothers all wanted to try their luck once more, but the beggar checked them, saying:
"No, no. Where is your youngest brother Sringa-Bhuja? He alone will be able to save your homes, your wives and your children, from destruction,"
Then Sringa-Bhuja came forward; and as the sun flashed upon the jewels in the stolen arrow, revealing to the watching king that it was his own beloved son who had taken it, the young prince let it fly straight for the bird. It wounded but did not kill the crane, which flew off with the arrow sticking in its breast, the blood dripping from it in its flight, which became gradually slower and slower. At the sight of the bird going off with the precious jewelled arrow, the king was filled with rage, and sent orders that Sringa-Bhuja should be fetched to his presence immediately. But before the messengers reached him, he had started in pursuit of the bird, guided by the blood-drops on the ground.
5. Did the brothers show wisdom in the plot they laid against their brother?
6. What do you think from this story, so far as you have read it, were the chief qualities of Sringa-Bhuja?
As Sringa-Bhuja sped along after the crane, the beggar made some strange signs in the air with the staff he used to help him along; and such clouds of dust arose that no one could see in which direction the young prince had gone. The brothers and Ayasolekha were very much dismayed at the way things had turned out, and greatly feared that the king's anger would vent itself on them, now that Sringa-Bhuja had disappeared. Vira-Bhuja did send for them, and asked them many questions; but they all kept the secret of how Sringa-Bhuja had got the arrow, and promised to do all they could to help to get it back. Again the king thought he would go and see the mother of his dear youngest son; but again something held him back, and poor Guna-Vara was left alone, no one ever going near her except the gaoler who took her her daily food. After trying everything possible to find out where Sringa-Bhuja had gone, the king began to show special favour to another of his sons; and as the months passed by, it seemed as if the young prince and the jewelled arrow were both forgotten.
Meanwhile Sringa-Bhuja travelled on and on in the track of the drops of blood, till he came to the outskirts of a fine forest, through which many beaten paths led to a very great city. He sat down to rest at the foot of a wide-spreading tree, and was gazing up at the towers and pinnacles of the town, rising far upwards towards the sky, when he had a feeling that he was no longer alone. He was right: for, coming slowly along one of the paths, was a lovely young girl, singing softly to herself in a beautiful voice. Her eyes were like those of a young doe, and her features were perfect in their form and expression, reminding Sringa-Bhuja of his mother, whom he was beginning to fear he would never see again.
When the young girl was quite close to him, he startled her by saying, "Can you tell me what is the name of this city?"
"Of course, I can," she replied, "for I live in it. It is called Dhuma-Pura, and it belongs to my father: he is a great magician named Agni-Sikha, who loves not strangers. Now tell me who you are and whence you come?"
Then Sringa-Bhuja told the maiden all about himself, and why he was wandering so far from home. The girl, whose name was Rupa-Sikha, listened very attentively; and when he came to the shooting of the crane, and how he had followed the bleeding bird in the hope of getting back his father's jewelled arrow, she began to tremble.
"Alas, alas!" she said. "The bird you shot was my father, who can take any form he chooses. He returned home but yesterday, and I drew the arrow from his wound and dressed the hurt myself. He gave me the jewelled arrow to keep, and I will never part with it. As for you, the sooner you depart the better; for my father never forgives, and he is so powerful that you would have no chance of escape if he knew you were here."
Hearing this, Sringa-Bhuja became very sad, not because he was afraid of Agni-Sikha, but because he knew that he already loved the fair maiden who stood beside him, and was resolved to make her his wife. She too felt drawn towards him and did not like to think of his going away. Besides this, she had much to fear from her father, who was as cruel as he was mighty, and had caused the death already of many lovers who had wished to marry her. She had never cared for any of them, and had been content to live without a husband, spending her life in wandering about near her home and winning the love of all who lived near her, even that of the wild creatures of the forest, who would none of them dream of hurting her. Often and often she stood between the wrath of her father and those he wished to injure; for, wicked as he was, he loved her and wanted her to be happy,
7. Do you think that a really wicked man is able to love any one truly?
8. What would have been the best thing for Sringa-Bhuja to do, when he found out who the bird he had shot really was?
Rupa-Sikha did not take long to decide what was best for her to do. She said to the prince, "I will give you back your golden arrow, and you must make all possible haste out of our country before my father discovers you are here."
"No! no! no! a thousand times no!" cried the prince. "Now I have once seen you, I can never, never leave you. Can you not learn to love me and be my wife?" Then he fell prostrate at her feet, and looked up into her face so lovingly that she could not resist him. She bent down towards him, and the next moment they were clasped in each other's arms, quite forgetting all the dangers that threatened them. Rupa-Sikha was the first to remember her father, and drawing herself away from her lover, she said to him:
"Listen to me, and I will tell you what we must do. My father is a magician, it is true, but I am his daughter, and I inherit some of his powers. If only you will promise to do exactly as I tell you, I think I may be able to save you, and perhaps even become your wife. I am the youngest of a large family and my father's favourite. I will go and tell him that a great and mighty prince, hearing of his wonderful gifts, has come to our land to ask for an interview with him. Then I will tell him that I have seen you, fallen in love with you, and want to marry you. He will be flattered to think his fame has spread so far, and will want to see you, even if he refuses to let me be your wife. I will lead you to his presence and leave you with him alone. If you really love me, you will find the way to win his consent; but you must keep out of his sight till I have prepared the way for you. Come with me now, and I will show you a hiding-place."
Rupa-Sikha then led the prince far away into the depths of the forest, and showed him a large tree, the wide-spreading branches of which touched the ground, completely hiding the trunk, in which there was an opening large enough for a man to pass through. Steps cut in the inside of the trunk led down to a wide space underground; and there the magician's daughter told her lover to wait for her return. "Before I go," she said, "I will tell you my own password, which will save you from death if you should be discovered. It is LOTUS FLOWER; and everyone to whom you say it, will know that you are under my protection."
When Rupa-Sikha reached the palace she found her father in a very bad humour, because she had not been to ask how the wound in his breast was getting on. She did her best to make up for her neglect; and when she had dressed the wound very carefully, she prepared a dainty meal for her father with her own hands, waiting upon him herself whilst he ate it. All this pleased him, and he was in quite an amiable mood when she said to him:
"Now I must tell you that I too have had an adventure. As I was gathering herbs in the forest, I met a man I had never seen before, a tall handsome young fellow looking like a prince, who told me he was seeking the palace of a great and wonderful magician, of whose marvellous deeds he had heard. Who could that magician have been but you, my father?" She added, "I told him I was your daughter, and he entreated me to ask you to grant him an interview."
Agni-Sikha listened to all this without answering a word. He was pleased at this fresh proof that his fame had spread far and wide; but he guessed at once that Rupa-Sikha had not told him the whole truth. He waited for her to go on, and as she said no more, he suddenly turned angrily upon her and in a loud voice asked her:
"And what did my daughter answer?"
Then Rupa-Sikha knew that her secret had been discovered. And rising to her full height, she answered proudly, "I told him I would seek you and ask you to receive him. And now I will tell you, my father, that I have seen the only man I will ever marry; and if you forbid me to do so, I will take my own life, for I cannot live without him."
"Send for the man immediately," cried the magician, "and you shall hear my answer when he appears before me."
"I cannot send," replied Rupa-Sikha, "for none knows where I have left him; nor will I fetch him till you promise that no evil shall befall him."
At first Agni-Sikha laughed aloud and declared that he would do no such thing. But his daughter was as obstinate as he was; and finding that he could not get his own way unless he yielded to her, he said crossly:
"He shall keep his fine head on his shoulders, and leave the palace alive; but that is all I will say."
"But that is not enough," said Rupa-Sikha. "Say after me, Not a hair of his head shall be harmed, and I will treat him as an honoured guest, or your eyes will never rest on him."
At last the magician promised, thinking to himself that he would find some way of disposing of Sringa-Bhuja, if he did not fancy him for a son-in-law. The words she wanted to hear were hardly out of her father's mouth before Rupa-Sikha sped away, as if on the wings of the wind, full of hope that all would be well. She found her lover anxiously awaiting her, and quickly explained how matters stood. "You had better say nothing about me to my father at first," she said; "but only talk about him and all you have heard of him. If only you could get him to like you and want to keep you with him, it would help us very much. Then you could pretend that you must go back to your own land; and rather than allow you to do so, he will be anxious for us to be married and to live here with him."
9. Do you think the advice Rupa-Sikha gave to Sringa-Bhuja was good?
10. Can you suggest anything else she might have done?
Sringa-Bhuja loved Rupa-Sikha so much that he was ready to obey her in whatever she asked. So he at once went with her to the palace. On every side he saw signs of the strength and power of the magician. Each gate was guarded by tall soldiers in shining armour, who saluted Rupa-Sikha but scowled fiercely at him. He knew full well that, if he had tried to pass alone, they would have prevented him from doing so. At last the two came to the great hall, where the magician was walking backwards and forwards, working himself into a rage at being kept waiting. Directly he looked at the prince, he knew him for the man who had shot the jewelled arrow at him when he had taken the form of a crane, and he determined that he would be revenged. He was too cunning to let Sringa-Bhuja guess that he knew him, and pretended to be very glad to see him. He even went so far as to say that he had long wished to find a prince worthy to wed his youngest and favourite daughter. "You," he added, "seem to me the very man, young, handsome and—to judge from the richness of your dress and jewels—able to give my beloved one all she needs."
The prince could hardly believe his ears, and Rupa-Sikha also was very much surprised. She guessed however that her father had some evil purpose in what he said, and looked earnestly at Sringa-Bhuja in the hope of making him understand. But the prince was so overjoyed at the thought that she was to be his wife that he noticed nothing. So when Agni-Sikha added, "I only make one condition: you must promise that you will never disobey my commands, but do whatever I tell you without a moment's hesitation," Sringa-Bhuja, without waiting to think, said at once, "Only give me your daughter and I will serve you in any way you wish."
"That's settled then!" cried the magician, and he clapped his hands together. In a moment a number of attendants appeared, and their master ordered them to lead the prince to the best apartments in the palace, to prepare a bath for him, and do everything he asked them.
11. What great mistake did the prince make when he gave this promise?
12. What answer should he have made?
As Sringa-Bhuja followed the servants, Rupa-Sikha managed to whisper to him, "Beware! await a message from me!" When he had bathed and was arraying himself in fresh garments provided by his host, waited on, hand and foot, by servants who treated him with the greatest respect, a messenger arrived, bearing a sealed letter which he reverently handed to the prince. Sringa-Bhuja guessed at once from whom it came; and anxious to read it alone, he hastily finished his toilette and dismissed the attendants.
"My beloved," said the letter—which was, of course, from Rupa-Sikha—"My father is plotting against you; and very foolish were you to promise you would obey him in all things. I have ten sisters all exactly like me, all wearing dresses and necklaces which are exact copies of each other, so that few can tell me from the others, Soon you will be sent for to the great Hall and we shall all be together there. My father will bid you choose your bride from amongst us; and if you make a mistake all will be over for us. But I will wear my necklace on my head instead of round my neck, and thus will you know your own true love. And remember, my dearest, to obey no future command without hearing from me, for I alone am able to outwit my terrible father,"
Everything happened exactly as Rupa-Sikha described. The prince was sent for by Agni-Sikha, who, as soon as he appeared, gave him a garland of flowers and told him to place it round the neck of the maiden who was his promised bride. Without a moment's hesitation Sringa-Bhuja picked out the right sister; and the magician, though inwardly enraged, pretended to be so delighted at this proof of a lover's clear-sightedness that he cried:
"You are the son-in-law for me! The wedding shall take place to-morrow!"
13. Can you understand how it was that the magician did not notice the trick Rupa-Sikha had played upon him?
14. What fault blinds people to the truth more than any other?
When Sringa-Bhuja heard what Agni-Sikha said, he was full of joy; but Rupa-Sikha knew well that her father did not mean a word of it. She waited quietly beside her lover, till the magician bade all the sisters but herself leave the hall. Then the magician, with a very wicked look on his face, said:
"Before the ceremony there is just one little thing you must do for me, dear son-in-law that is to be. Go outside the town, and near the most westerly tower you will find a team of oxen and a plough awaiting you. Close to them is a pile of three hundred bushels of sesame seed. This you must sow this very day, or instead of a bridegroom you will be a dead man to-morrow."
Great was the dismay of Sringa-Bhuja when he heard this. But Rupa-Sikha whispered to him, "Fear not, for I will help you." Sadly the prince left the palace alone, to seek the field outside the city; the guards, who knew he was the accepted lover of their favourite mistress, letting him pass unhindered. There, sure enough, near the western tower were the oxen, the plough and a great pile of seed. Never before had poor Sringa-Bhuja had to work for himself, but his great love for Rupa-Sikha made him determine to do his best. So he was about to begin to guide the oxen across the field, when, behold, all was suddenly changed. Instead of an unploughed tract of land, covered with weeds, was a field with rows and rows of regular furrows. The piles of seed were gone, and flocks of birds were gathering in the hope of securing some of it as it lay in the furrows.
As Sringa-Bhuja was staring in amazement at this beautiful scene, he saw Rupa-Sikha, looking more lovely than ever, coming towards him. "Not in vain," she said to him, "am I my father's daughter. I too know how to compel even nature to do my will; but the danger is not over yet. Go quickly back to the palace, and tell Agni-Sikha that his wishes are fulfilled."
15. Can the laws of nature ever really be broken?
16. What is the only way in which man can conquer nature?
The magician was very angry indeed when he heard that the field was ploughed and the seed sown. He knew at once that some magic had been at work, and suspected that Rupa-Sikha was the cause of his disappointment. Without a moment's hesitation he said to the prince: "No sooner were you gone than I decided not to have that seed sown. Go back at once, and pile it up where it was before."
This time Sringa-Bhuja felt no fear or hesitation, for he was sure of the power and will to help him of his promised bride. So back he went to the field, and there he found the whole vast space covered with millions and millions of ants, busily collecting the seed and piling it up against the wall of the town. Again Rupa-Sikha came to cheer him, and again she warned him that their trials were not yet over. She feared, she said, that her father might prove stronger than herself; for he had many allies at neighbouring courts ready to help him in his evil purposes. "Whatever else he orders you to do, you must see me before you leave the palace. I will send my faithful messenger to appoint a meeting in some secret place."
Agni-Sikha was not much surprised when the prince told him that his last order had been obeyed, and thought to himself, "I must get this tiresome fellow out of my domain, where that too clever child of mine will not be able to help him." "Well," he said, "I suppose the wedding must take place to-morrow after all, for I am a man of my word. We must now set about inviting the guests. You shall have the pleasure of doing this yourself: then my friends will know beforehand what a handsome young son-in-law I shall have. The first person to summon to the wedding is my brother Dhuma Sikha, who has taken up his abode in a deserted temple a few miles from here. You must ride at once to that temple, rein up your steed opposite it, and cry, 'Dhuma Sikha, your brother Agni-Sikha has sent me hither to invite you to witness my marriage with his daughter Rupa-Sikha to-morrow. Come without delay!' Your message given, ride back to me; and I will tell you what farther tasks you must perform before the happy morrow dawns."
When Sringa-Bhuja left the palace, he knew not where to seek a horse to bear him on this new errand. But as he was nearing the gateway by which he had gone forth to sow the field with seed, a handsome boy approached him and said, "If my lord will follow me, I will tell him what to do." Somehow the voice sounded familiar; and when the guards were left far enough behind to be out of hearing, the boy looked up at Sringa-Bhuja with a smile that revealed Rupa-Sikha herself. "Come with me," she said; and taking his hand, she led him to a tree beneath which stood a noble horse, richly caparisoned, which pawed the ground and whinnied to its mistress, as she drew near.
"You must ride this horse," said Rupa-Sikha, "who will obey you if you but whisper in his ear; and you must take earth, water, wood and fire with you, which I will give you. You must go straight to the temple, and when you have called out your message, turn without a moment's delay, and ride for your life as swiftly as your steed will go, looking behind you all the time. No guidance will be necessary; for Marut—that is my horse's name—knows well what he has to do."
Then Rupa-Sikha gave Sringa-Bhuja a bowl of earth, a jar of water, a bundle of thorns and a brazier full of burning charcoal, hanging them by strong thongs upon the front of his saddle so that he could reach them easily. "My father," she told him, "has given my uncle instructions to kill you, and he will follow you upon his swift Arab steed. When you hear him behind you, fling earth in his path; if that does not stop him, pour out some of the water; and if he still perseveres, scatter the burning charcoal before him."
17. Can you discover any hidden meaning in the use of earth, water, thorns and fire, to stop the course of the wicked magician?
18. Do you think the prince loved Rupa-Sikha better than he loved himself?
Away went the prince after he had received these instructions; and very soon he found himself opposite the temple, with the images of three of the gods worshipped in India to prove that it had been a sanctuary before the magician took up his abode in it. Directly Sringa-Bhuja shouted out his message to Dhuma-Sikha, the wicked dweller in the temple came rushing forth from the gateway, mounted on a huge horse, which seemed to be belching forth flames from its nostrils as it bounded along. For one terrible moment Sringa-Bhuja feared that he was lost; but Marut, putting forth all his strength, kept a little in advance of the enemy, giving the prince time to scatter earth behind him. Immediately a great mountain rose up, barring the road, and Sringa-Bhuja felt that he was saved. He was mistaken: for, as he looked back, he saw Dhuma-Sikha coming over the top of the mountain. The next moment the magician was close upon him. So he emptied his bowl of water: and, behold, a huge river with great waves hid pursuer and pursued from each other. Even this did not stop the mighty Arab horse, which swam rapidly across, the rider loudly shouting out orders to the prince to stop. When the prince heard the hoofs striking on the dry ground behind him again, he threw out the thorns, and a dense wood sprouted up as if by magic, which for a few moments gave fresh hope of safety to Sringa-Bhuja; for it seemed as if even the powerful magician would be unable to get through it. He did succeed however; but his clothes were nearly torn off his back, and his horse was bleeding from many wounds made by the cruel thorns. Sringa-Bhuja too was getting weary, and remembered that he had only one more chance of checking his relentless enemy. He could almost feel the breath of the panting steed as it drew near; and with a loud cry to his beloved Rupa-Sikha, he threw the burning charcoal on the road. In an instant the grass by the wayside, the trees overshadowing it, and the magic wood which had sprung from the thorns, were alight, burning so fiercely that no living thing could approach them safely. The wicked magician was beaten at last, and was soon himself fleeing away, as fast as he could, with the flames following after him as if they were eager to consume him.
Whether his enemy ever got back to his temple, Sringa-Bhuja never knew. Exhausted with all he had been through, the young prince was taken back to the palace by the faithful Marut, and there he found his dear Rupa-Sikha awaiting him. She told him that her father had promised her that, if the prince came back, he would oppose her marriage no longer. "For," he said, "if he can escape your uncle, he must be more than mortal, and worthy even of my daughter." "He does not in the least expect to see you again," added Rupa-Sikha; "and even if he allows us to marry, he will never cease to hate you; for I am quite sure he knows that you shot the jewelled arrow at him when he was in the form of a crane. If I ever am your wife, he will try to punish you through me. But have no fear: I shall know how to manage him. Fresh powers have been lately given to me by another uncle whose magic is stronger than that of any of my other relations."
When Sringa-Bhuja had bathed and rested, he robed himself once more in the garments he had worn the day he first saw Rupa-Sikha; and together the lovers went to the great hall to seek an interview with Agni-Sikha. The magician, who had made quite sure that he had now got rid of the unwelcome suitor for his daughter's hand, could not contain his rage, at seeing him walk in with her as if the two were already wedded.
He stamped about, pouring out abuse, until he had quite exhausted himself, the lovers looking on quietly without speaking. At last, coming close to them, Agni-Sikha shouted, in a loud harsh voice: "So you have not obeyed my orders. You have not bid my brother to the wedding. Your life is forfeit, and you will die to-morrow instead of marrying Rupa-Sikha. Describe the temple in which Dhuma Sikha lives and the appearance of its owner."
Then Sringa-Bhuja gave such an exact account of the temple, naming the gods whose images still adorned it, and of the terrible man riding the noble steed who had pursued him, that the magician was convinced against his will; and knowing that he must keep his word to Rupa-Sikha, he gave his consent for the preparations for the marriage on the morrow to begin.
19. What is your opinion of the character of Agni-Sikha?
20. Do you think he was at all justified in the way in which he treated his daughter and Sringa-Bhuja?
The marriage was celebrated the next day with very great pomp; and a beautiful suite of rooms was given to the bride and bridegroom, who could not in spite of this feel safe or happy, because they knew full well that Agni-Sikha hated them. The prince soon began to feel home-sick and anxious to introduce his beautiful wife to his own people. He remembered that he had left his dear mother in prison, and reproached himself for having forgotten her for so long. So he said to Rupa-Sikha:
"Let us go, beloved, to my native city, Vardhamana. My heart yearns after my dear ones there, and I would fain introduce you to them."
"My lord," replied Rupa-Sikha, "I will go with you whither you will, were it even to the ends of the earth. But we must not let my father guess we mean to go; for he would forbid us to leave the country and set spies to watch our every movement. We will steal away secretly, riding together on my faithful Marut and taking with us only what we can carry." "And my jewelled arrow," said the prince, "that I may give it back to my father and explain to him how I lost it. Then shall I be restored to his favour, and maybe he will forgive my mother also."
"Have no fear," answered Rupa-Sikha: "all will surely go well with us. Forget not that new powers have been given to me, which will save us from my father and aid me to rescue my dear one's mother from her evil fate."
Before the dawn broke on the next day, the two set forth unattended, Marut seeming to take pride in his double burden and bearing them along so swiftly that they had all but reached the bounds of the country under the dominion of Agni-Sikha as the sun rose. Just as they thought they were safe from pursuit, they heard a loud rushing noise behind; and looking round, they saw the father of the bride close upon them on his Arab steed, with sword uplifted in his hand to strike. "Fear not," whispered Rupa-Sikha to her husband. "I will show you now what I can do." And waving her arms to and fro, as she muttered some strange words, she changed herself into an old woman and Sringa-Bhuja into an old man, whilst Marut became a great pile of wood by the road-side.
When the angry father reached the spot, the bride and bridegroom were busily gathering sticks to add to the pile, seemingly too absorbed in their work to take any notice of the angry magician, who shouted out to them:
"Have you seen a man and a woman pass along this way?"
The old woman straightened herself, and peering, up into his face, said:
"No; we are too busy over our work to notice anything else."
"And what, pray, are you doing in my wood?" asked Agni-Sikha.
"We are helping to collect the fuel for the pyre of the great magician Agni-Sikha." answered Rupa-Sikha. "Do you not know that he died yesterday?"
The Hindus of India do not bury but burn the dead; so that it was quite a natural thing for the people of the land over which the magician ruled to collect the materials for the pyre or heap of wood on which his body would be laid to be burnt. What surprised Agni-Sikha, and in fact nearly took his breath away, was to be quietly told that he was dead. He began to think that he was dreaming, and said to himself, "I cannot really be dead without knowing it, so I must be asleep." And he quietly turned his horse round and rode slowly home again. This was just what his daughter wanted; and as soon as he was out of sight, she turned herself, her husband and Marut, into their natural forms again, laughing merrily, as she did so, at the thought of the ease with which she had got rid of her father.
21. Do you think it was clever of Rupa-Sikha to make up this story?
22. Do you think it is better to believe all that you are told or to be more ready to doubt when anything you hear seems to be unusual?
Once more the bride and bridegroom set forth on their way, and once more they soon heard Agni-Sikha coming after them. For when he got back to his palace, and the servants hastened out to take his horse, he guessed that a trick had been played on him. He did not even dismount, but just turned his horse's head round and galloped back again. "If ever," he thought to himself, "I catch those two young people, I'll make them wish they had obeyed me. Yes, they shall suffer for it. I am not going to stand being defied like this."
This time Rupa-Sikha contented herself with making her husband and Marut invisible, whilst she changed herself into a letter-carrier, hurrying along the road as if not a moment was to be lost. She took no notice of her father, till he reined up his steed and shouted to her:
"Have you seen a man and woman on horseback pass by?"
"No, indeed," she said: "I have a very important letter to deliver, and could think of nothing but making all the haste possible."
"And what is this important letter about?" asked Agni-Sikha. "Can you tell me that?"
"Oh, yes, I can tell you that," she said. "But where can you have been, not to have heard the terrible news about the ruler of this land?"
"You can't tell me anything I don't know about him," answered the magician, "for he is my greatest friend."
"Then you know that he is dying from a wound he got in a battle with his enemies only yesterday. I am to take this letter to his brother Dhuma-Sikha, bidding him come to see him before the end."
Again Agni-Sikha wondered if he were dreaming, or if he were under some strange spell and did not really know who he was? Being able, as he was, to cast spells on other people, he was ready to fancy the same thing had befallen him. He said nothing when he heard that he was wounded, and was about to turn back again when Rupa-Sikha said to him:
"As you are on horseback and can get to Dhuma-Sikha's temple quicker than I can, will you carry the message of his brother's approaching death to him for me, and bid him make all possible haste if he would see him alive?"
This was altogether too much for the magician, who became sure that there was something very wrong about him. He knew he was not wounded or dying, but he thought he must be ill of fever, fancying he heard what he did not. He stared fixedly at his daughter, and she stared up at him, half-afraid he might find out who she was, but he never guessed.
"Do your own errands," he said at last; and slashing his poor innocent horse with his whip, he wheeled round and dashed home again as fast as he could. Again his servants ran out to receive him, and he gloomily dismounted, telling them to send his chief councillor to him in his private apartments. Shut up with him, he poured out all his troubles, and the councillor advised him to see his physician without any delay, for he felt sure that these strange fancies were caused by illness.
The doctor, when he came, was very much puzzled, but he looked as wise as he could, ordered perfect rest and all manner of disagreeable medicines. He was very much surprised at the change he noticed in his patient, who, instead of angrily declaring that there was nothing the matter with him, was evidently in a great fright about his health. He shut himself up for many days, and it was a long time before he got over the shock he had received, and then it was too late for him to be revenged or the lovers.
23. Can you explain what casting a spell means?
24. Can you give an instance of a spell being cast on any one you have heard of?
Having really got rid of Agni-Sikha, Rupa-Sikha and her husband were very soon out of his reach and in the country belonging to Sringa-Bhuja's father, who had bitterly mourned the loss of his favourite son. When the news was brought to him that two strangers, a handsome young man and a beautiful woman, who appeared to be husband and wife, had entered his capital, he hastened forth to meet them, hoping that perhaps they could give him news of Sringa-Bhuja. What was his joy when he recognised his dear son, holding the jewelled arrow, which had led him into such trouble, in his right hand, as he guided Marat with his left! The king flung himself from his horse, and Sringa-Bhuja, giving the reins to Rupa-Sikha, also dismounted. The next moment he was in his father's arms, everything forgotten and forgiven in the happy reunion.
Great was the rejoicing over Sringa-Bhuja's return and hearty was the welcome given to his beautiful bride, who quickly won all hearts but those of the wicked wives and sons who had tried to harm her husband and his mother. They feared the anger of the king, when he found out how they had deceived him, and they were right to fear. Sringa-Bhuja's very first act was to plead for his mother to be set free. He would not tell any of his adventures, he said, till she could hear them too; and the king, full of remorse for the way he had treated her, went with him to the prison in which she had been shut up all this time. What was poor Guna-Vara's joy, when the two entered the place in which she had shed so many tears! She could not at first believe her eyes or ears, but soon she realised that her sufferings were indeed over. She could not be quite happy till her beloved husband said he knew she had never loved any one but him. She had been accused falsely, she said, and she wanted the woman who had told a lie about her to be made to own the truth.
This was done in the presence of the whole court, and when judgment had been passed upon Ayasolekha, the brothers of Sringa-Bhuja were also brought before their father, who charged them with having deceived him. They too were condemned, and all the culprits would have been taken to prison and shut up for the rest of their lives, if those they had injured had not pleaded for their forgiveness. Guna-Vara and her son prostrated themselves at the foot of the throne, and would not rise till they had won pardon for their enemies. Ayasolekha and the brothers were allowed to go free; but Sringa-Bhuja, though he was the youngest of all the princes, was proclaimed heir to the crown after his father's death. His brothers, however, never ceased to hate him; and when he came to the throne, they gave him a great deal of trouble. He had many years of happiness with his wife and parents before that, and never regretted the mistake about the jewelled arrow; since but for it he would, he knew, never have seen his beloved Rupa-Sikha.
25. What is the chief lesson to be learnt from this story?
26. Do yon think it was good for those who had told lies about Guna-Vara and her son to be forgiven so easily?
27. Can you give any instances of good coming out of evil and of evil coming out of what seemed good?
28. Do you think Rupa-Sikha deserved all the happiness that came to her?
The Beetle and the Silken Thread. 
The strange adventures related in the story of the Beetle and the Silken Thread took place in the town of Allahabad, "the City of God," so called because it is situated near the point of meeting of the two sacred rivers of India, the Ganges, which the Hindus lovingly call Mother Ganga because they believe its waters can wash away their sins, and the Jumna, which they consider scarcely less holy.
The ruler of Allahabad was a very selfish and hot-tempered Raja named Surya Pratap, signifying "Powerful as the Sun," who expected everybody to obey him without a moment's delay, and was ready to punish in a very cruel manner those who hesitated to do so. He would never listen to a word of explanation, or own that he had been mistaken, even when he knew full well that he was in the wrong. He had a mantri, that is to say, a chief vizier or officer, whom he greatly trusted, and really seemed to be fond of, for he liked to have him always near him. The vizier was called Dhairya-Sila, or "the Patient One," because he never lost his temper, no matter what provocation he received. He had a beautiful house, much money and many jewels, carriages to drive about in, noble horses to ride and many servants to wait upon him, all given to him by his master. But what he loved best of all was his faithful wife, Buddhi-Mati, or "the Sensible One," whom he had chosen for himself, and who would have died for him.
Many of the Raja's subjects were jealous of Dhairya-Sila, and constantly brought accusations against him, of none of which his master took any notice, except to punish those who tried to set him against his favourite. It really seemed as if nothing would ever bring harm to Dhairya-Sila; but he often told his wife that such good fortune was not likely to last, and that she must be prepared for a change before long.
It turned out that he was right. For one day Surya Pratap ordered him to do what he considered would be a shameful deed. He refused; telling his master that he was wrong to think of such a thing, and entreating him to give up his purpose. "All your life long," he said, "you will wish you had listened to me; for your conscience will never let you rest!"
On hearing these brave words, Surya Pratap flew into a terrible rage, summoned his guards, and ordered them to take Dhairya-Sila outside the city to a very lofty tower, and leave him at the top of it, without shelter from the sun and with nothing to eat or drink. The guards were at first afraid to touch the vizier, remembering how others had been punished for only speaking against him. Seeing their unwillingness, the Raja got more and more angry; but Dhairya-Sila himself kept quite calm, and said to the soldiers:
"I go with you gladly. It is for the master to command and for me to obey."
1. What is the best way to learn to keep calm in an emergency?
2. Why does too much power have a bad influence on those who have it?
The guards were relieved to find they need not drag the vizier away; for they admired his courage and felt sure that the Raja would soon find he could not get on without him. It might go hardly with them if he suffered harm at their hands. So they only closed in about him; and holding himself very upright, Dhairya-Sila walked to the tower as if he were quite glad to go. In his heart however he knew full well that it would need all his skill to escape with his life.
When her husband did not come home at night, Buddhi-Mati was very much distressed. She guessed at once that something had gone wrong, and set forth to try and find out what had happened. This was easy enough; for as she crept along, with her veil closely held about her lest she should be recognised, she passed groups of people discussing the terrible fate that had befallen the favourite. She decided that she must wait until midnight, when the streets would be deserted and she could reach the tower unnoticed. It was almost dark when she got there, but in the dim light of the stars she made out the form of him she loved better than herself, leaning over the edge of the railing at the top.
"Is my dear lord still alive?" she whispered, "and is there anything I can do to help him?"
"You can do everything that is needed to help me," answered Dhairya-Sila quietly, "if you only obey every direction I give you. Do not for one moment suppose that I am in despair. I am more powerful even now than my master, who has but shown his weakness by attempting to harm me. Now listen to me. Come to-morrow night at this very hour, bringing with you the following things: first, a beetle; secondly, sixty yards of the finest silk thread, as thin as a spider's web; thirdly, sixty yards of cotton thread, as thin as you can get it, but very strong; fourthly, sixty yards of good stout twine; fifthly, sixty yards of rope, strong enough to carry my weight; and last, but certainly not least, one drop of the purest bees' honey."
3. Do you think the vizier thought of all these things before or after he was taken to the tower?
4. What special quality did he display in the way in which he faced his position on the tower?
Buddhi-Mati listened very attentively to these strange instructions, and began to ask questions about them. "Why do you want the beetle? Why do you want the honey?" and so on. But her husband checked her. "I have no strength to waste in explanations," he said. "Go home in peace, sleep well, and dream of me." So the anxious wife went meekly away; and early the next day she set to work to obey the orders she had received. She had some trouble in obtaining fine enough silk, so very, very thin it had to be, like a spider's web; but the cotton, twine and rope were easily bought; and to her surprise she was not asked what she wanted them for. It took her a good while to choose the beetle. For though she had a vague kind of idea that the silk, the cotton, twine, and rope, were to help her husband get down from the tower, she could not imagine what share the beetle and the honey were to take. In the end she chose a very handsome, strong-looking, brilliantly coloured fellow who lived in the garden of her home and whom she knew to be fond of honey.
5. Can you guess how the beetle and the honey were to help in saving Dhairya-Sila?
6. Do you think it would have been better if the vizier had told his wife how all the things he asked for were to be used?
All the time Buddhi-Mati was at work for her husband, she was thinking of him and looking forward to the happy day of his return home. She had such faith in him that she did not for a moment doubt that he would escape; but she was anxious about the future, feeling sure that the Raja would never forgive Dhairya-Sila for being wiser than himself. Exactly at the time fixed the faithful wife appeared at the foot of the tower, with all the things she had been told to bring with her.
"Is all well with my lord?" she whispered, as she gazed up through the darkness. "I have the silken thread as fine as gossamer, the cotton thread, the twine, the rope, the beetle and the honey."
"Yes," answered Dhairya-Sila, "all is still well with me. I have slept well, feeling confident that my dear one would bring all that is needed for my safety; but I dread the great heat of another day, and we must lose no time in getting away from this terrible tower. Now attend most carefully to all I bid you do; and remember not to speak loud, or the sentries posted within hearing will take alarm and drive you away. First of all, tie the end of the silken thread round the middle of the beetle, leaving all its legs quite free. Then rub the drop of honey on its nose, and put the little creature on the wall, with its nose turned upwards towards me. It will smell the honey, but will not guess that it carries it itself, and it will crawl upwards in the hope of getting to the hive from which that honey came. Keep the rest of the silk firmly held, and gradually unwind it as the beetle climbs up. Mind you do not let it slip, for my very life depends on that slight link with you."
7. Which do you think had the harder task to perform—the husband at the top of the tower or the wife at the foot of it?
8. Do you think the beetle was likely to imagine it was on the way to a hive of bees when it began to creep up the tower?
Buddhi-Mati, though her hands shook and her heart beat fast as she realized all that depended on her, kept the silk from becoming entangled; and when it was nearly all unwound, she heard her husband's voice saying to her: "Now tie the cotton thread to the end of the silk that you hold, and let it gradually unwind." She obeyed, fully understanding now what all these preparations were for.
When the little messenger of life reached the top of the tower, Dhairya-Sila took it up in his hand and very gently unfastened the silken thread from its body. Then he placed the beetle carefully in a fold of his turban, and began to pull the silken thread up—very, very slowly, for if it had broken, his wonderful scheme would have come to an end. Presently he had the cotton thread in his fingers, and he broke off the silk, wound it up, and placed it too in his turban. It had done its duty well, and he would not throw it away.
"Half the work is done now," he whispered to his faithful wife. "You have all but saved me now. Take the twine and tie it to the end of the cotton thread."
Very happily Buddhi-Mati obeyed once more; and soon the cotton thread and twine were also laid aside, and the strong rope tied to the last was being quickly dragged up by the clever vizier, who knew that all fear of death from sunstroke or hunger was over. When he had all the rope on the tower, he fastened one end of it to the iron railing which ran round the platform on which he stood, and very quickly slid down to the bottom, where his wife was waiting for him, trembling with joy.
9. Do you see anything very improbable in the account of what the beetle did?
10. If the beetle had not gone straight up the tower, what do you think would have happened?
After embracing his wife and thanking her for saving him, the vizier said to her: "Before we return home, let us give thanks to the great God who helped me in my need by putting into my head the device by which I escaped." The happy pair then prostrated themselves on the ground, and in fervent words of gratitude expressed their sense of what the God they worshipped had done for them. "And now," said Dhairya-Sila, "the next thing we have to do is to take the dear little beetle which was the instrument of my rescue back to the place it came from." And taking off his turban, he showed his wife the tiny creature lying in the soft folds.
Buddhi-Mati led her husband to the garden where she had found the beetle, and Dhairya-Sila laid it tenderly on the ground, fetched some food for it, such as he knew it loved, and there left it to take up its old way of life. The rest of the day he spent quietly in his own home with his wife, keeping out of sight of his servants, lest they should report his return to his master. "You must never breathe a word to any one of how I escaped," Dhairya-Sila said, and his wife promised that she never would.
11. When the vizier got this promise, what did he forget which could betray how he got down from the tower, if any one went to look at it?
12. Do you think there was any need for the vizier to tell his wife to keep his secret?
All this time the Raja was feeling very unhappy, for he thought he had himself caused the death of the one man he could trust. He was too proud to let anybody know that he missed Dhairya-Sila, and was longing to send for him from the tower before it was too late. What then was his relief and surprise when a message was brought to him that the vizier was at the door of the palace and begged for an interview.
"Bring him in at once," cried Surya Pratap. And the next moment Dhairya-Sila stood before his master, his hands folded on his breast and his head bent in token of his submission. The attendants looked on, eager to know how he had got down from the tower, some of them anything but glad to see him back. The Raja took care not to show how delighted he was to see him, and pretending to be angry, he said:
"How dare you come into my presence, and which of my subjects has ventured to help you to escape the death on the tower you so richly deserved?"
"None of your subjects, great and just and glorious ruler," replied Dhairya-Sila, "but the God who created us both, making you my master and me your humble servant. It was that God," he went on, "who saved me, knowing that I was indeed guiltless of any crime against you. I had not been long on the tower when help came to me in the form of a great and noble eagle, which appeared above me, hovering with outspread wings, as if about to swoop down upon me and tear me limb from limb. I trembled greatly, but I need have had no fear; for instead of harming me, the bird suddenly lifted me up in its talons and, flying rapidly through the air, landed me upon the balcony of my home and disappeared. Great indeed was the joy of my wife at my rescue from what seemed to be certain death; but I tore myself away from her embraces, to come and tell my lord how heaven had interfered to prove my innocence."
Fully believing that a miracle had taken place, Surya Pratap asked no more questions, but at once restored Dhairya-Sila to his old place as vizier, taking care not again to ill-treat the man he now believed to be under the special care of God. Though he certainly did not deserve it, the vizier prospered greatly all the rest of his life and as time went on he became the real ruler of the kingdom, for the Raja depended on his advice in everything. He grew richer and richer, but he was never really happy again, remembering the lie he had told to the master to whom he owed so much. Buddhi-Mati could never understand why he made up the story about the eagle, and constantly urged him to tell the truth. She thought it was really far more wonderful that a little beetle should have been the means of rescuing him, than that a strong bird should have done so; and she wanted everyone to know what a very clever husband she had. She kept her promise never to tell anyone what really happened, but the secret came out for all that. By the time it was known, however, Dhairya-Sila was so powerful that no one could harm him, and when he died his son took his place as vizier,
13. What lessons can be learnt from this story?
14. What do you think was Dhairya-Sila's motive for telling the Raja the lie about the eagle?
15. What did Surya Pratap's ready belief in the story show?
16. How do you think the secret the husband and wife kept so well was discovered?
A Crow and His Three Friends
In the branches of a great tree, in a forest in India, lived a wise old crow in a very comfortable, well-built nest. His wife was dead, and all his children were getting their own living; so he had nothing to do but to look after himself. He led a very easy existence, but took a great interest in the affairs of his neighbours. One day, popping his head over the edge of his home, he saw a fierce-looking man stalking along, carrying a stick in one hand and a net in the other.
"That fellow is up to some mischief, I'll be bound," thought the crow: "I will keep my eye on him." The man stopped under the tree, spread the net on the ground; and taking a bag of rice out of his pocket, he scattered the grains amongst the meshes of the net. Then he hid himself behind the trunk of the tree from which the crow was watching, evidently intending to stop there and see what would happen. The crow felt pretty gore that the stranger had designs against birds, and that the stick had something to do with the matter. He was quite right; and it was not long before just what he expected came to pass.
A flock of pigeons, led by a specially fine bird who had been chosen king because of his size and the beauty of his plumage, came flying rapidly along, and noticed the white rice, but did not see the net, because it was very much the same colour as the ground. Down swooped the king, and down swept all the other pigeons, eager to enjoy a good meal without any trouble to themselves. Alas, their joy was short lived! They were all caught in the net and began struggling to escape, beating the air with their wings and uttering loud cries of distress.
The crow and the man behind the tree kept very quiet, watching them; the man with his stick ready to beat the poor helpless birds to death, the crow watching out of mere curiosity. Now a very strange and wonderful thing came to pass. The king of the pigeons, who had his wits about him, said to the imprisoned birds:
"Take the net up in your beaks, all of you spread out your wings at once, and fly straight up into the air as quickly as possible."
1. What special qualities did the king display when he gave these orders to his subjects?
2. Can you think of any other advice the king might have given?
In a moment all the pigeons, who were accustomed to obey their leader, did as they were bid; each little bird seized a separate thread of the net in his beak and up, up, up, they all flew, looking very beautiful with the sunlight gleaming on their white wings. Very soon they were out of sight; and the man, who thought he had hit upon a very clever plan, came forth from his hiding-place, very much surprised at what had happened. He stood gazing up after his vanished net for a little time, and then went away muttering to himself, whilst the wise old crow laughed at him.
When the pigeons had flown some distance, and were beginning to get exhausted, for the net was heavy and they were quite unused to carrying loads, the king bade them rest awhile in a clearing of the forest; and as they all lay on the ground panting for breath, with the cruel net still hampering them, he said:
"What we must do now is to take this horrible net to my old friend Hiranya the mouse, who will, I am quite sure, nibble through the strings for me and set us all free. He lives, as you all know, near the tree where the net was spread, deep underground; but there are many passages leading to his home, and we shall easily find one of the openings. Once there, we will all lift up our voices, and call to him at once, when he will be sure to hear us." So the weary pigeons took up their burden once more, and sped back whence they had come, greatly to the surprise of the crow, who wondered at their coming back to the very place where misfortune had overtaken them. He very soon learnt the reason, and got so excited watching what was going on, that he hopped out of his nest and perched upon a branch where he could see better. Presently a great clamour arose, one word being repeated again and again: "Hiranya! Hiranya! Hiranya."
"Why, that's the name of the mouse who lives down below there!" thought the crow. "Now, what good can he do? I know, I know," he added, as he remembered the sharp teeth of Hiranya. "That king of the pigeons is a sensible fellow. I must make friends with him."
Very soon, as the pigeons lay fluttering and struggling outside one of the entrances to Hiranya's retreat, the mouse came out. He didn't even need to be told what was wanted, but at once began to nibble the string, first setting free the king, and then all the rest of the birds. "A friend in need is a friend indeed," cried the king; "a thousand thousand thanks!" And away he flew up into the beautiful free air of heaven, followed by the happy pigeons, none of them ever likely to forget the adventure or to pick up food from the ground without a good look at it first.
3. What was the chief virtue displayed by the mouse on this occasion?
4. Do you think it is easier to obey than to command?
The mouse did not at once return to his hole when the birds were gone, but went for a little stroll, which brought him to the ground still strewn with rice, which he began to eat with great relish. "It's an ill wind," he said to himself, "which brings nobody any good. There's many a good meal for my whole family here."
Presently he was joined by the old crow, who had flown down from his perch unnoticed by Hiranya, and now addressed him in his croaky voice:
"Hiranya," he said, "for that I know is your name, I am called Laghupatin and I would gladly have you for a friend. I have seen all that you did for the pigeons, and have come to the conclusion that you are a mouse of great wisdom, ready to help those who are in trouble, without any thought of yourself."
"You are quite wrong," squeaked Hiranya. "I am not so silly as you make out. I have no wish to be your friend. If you were hungry, you wouldn't hesitate to gobble me up. I don't care for that sort of affection."
With that Hiranya whisked away to his hole, pausing at the entrance, when he knew the crow could not get at him, to cry, "You be off to your nest and leave me alone!"
The feelings of the crow were very much hurt at this speech, the more that he knew full well it was not exactly love for the mouse, which had led him to make his offer, but self-interest: for who could tell what difficulties he himself might some day be in, out of which the mouse might help him? Instead of obeying Hiranya, and going back to his nest, he hopped to the mouse's hole, and putting his head on one side in what he thought was a very taking manner, he said:
"Pray do not misjudge me so. Never would I harm you! Even if I did not wish to have you for a friend, I should not dream of gobbling you up, as you say, however hungry I might be. Surely you are aware that I am a strict vegetarian, and never eat the flesh of other creatures. At least give me a trial. Let us share a meal together, and talk the matter over."
5. Can a friendship be a true one if the motive for it is self-interest?
6. Would it have been wise or foolish for the mouse to agree to be friends with the crow?
Hiranya, on hearing the last remark of Laghupatin, hesitated, and in the end he agreed that he would have supper with the crow that very evening. "There is plenty of rice here," he said, "which we can eat on the spot. It would be impossible for you to get into my hole, and I am certainly not disposed to visit you in your nest." So the two at once began their meal, and before it was over they had become good friends. Not a day passed without a meeting, and when all the rice was eaten up, each of the two would bring something to the feast. This had gone on for some little time, when the crow, who was fond of adventure and change, said one day to the mouse: "Don't you think we might go somewhere else for a time? I am rather tired of this bit of the forest, every inch of which we both know well. I've got another great friend who lives beside a fine river a few miles away, a tortoise named Mandharaka; a thoroughly good, trustworthy fellow he is, though rather slow and cautious in his ways. I should like to introduce you to him. There are quantities of food suitable for us both where he lives, for it is a very fruitful land. What do you say to coming with me to pay him a visit?"
"How in the world should I get there?" answered Hiranya. "It's all very well for you, who can fly. I can't walk for miles and miles. For all that I too am sick of this place and would like a change."
"Oh, there's no difficulty about that," replied Laghupatin. "I will carry you in my beak, and you will get there without any fatigue at all." To this Hiranya consented, and very early one morning the two friends started off together.
7. Is love of change a good or a bad thing?
8. What did Hiranya's readiness to let Laghupatin carry him show?
After flying along for several hours, the crow began to feel very tired. He was seized too with a great desire to hear his own voice again. So he flew to the ground, laid his little companion gently down, and gave vent to a number of hoarse cries, which quite frightened Hiranya, who timidly asked him what was the matter.
"Nothing whatever," answered Laghupatin, "except that you are not quite so light as I thought you were, and that I need a rest; besides which, I am hungry and I expect you are. We had better stop here for the night, and start again early to-morrow morning." Hiranya readily agreed to this, and after a good meal, which was easily found, the two settled down to sleep, the crow perched in a tree, the mouse hidden amongst its roots. Very early the next day they were off again, and soon arrived at the river, where they were warmly welcomed by the tortoise. The three had a long talk together, and agreed never to part again. The tortoise, who had lived a great deal longer than either the mouse or the crow, was a very pleasant companion; and even Laghupatin, who was very fond of talking himself, liked to listen to his stories of long ago.
"I wonder," said the tortoise, whose name was Mandharaka, to the mouse, "that you are not afraid to travel about as you have done, with your soft little body unprotected by any armour. Look how different it is for me; it is almost impossible for any of the wild creatures who live near this river to hurt me, and they know it full well. See how thick and strong my armour is. The claws even of a tiger, a wild cat or an eagle, could not penetrate it. I am very much afraid, my little friend, that you will be gobbled up some fine day, and Laghupatin and I will seek for you in vain."
"Of course," said the mouse, "I know the truth of what you say; but I can very easily hide from danger—much more easily than you or Laghupatin. A tuft of moss or a few dead leaves are shelter enough for me, but big fellows like you and the crow can be quite easily seen. Nobody saw me when the pigeons were all caught except Laghupatin; and I would have kept out of his sight if I had not known that he did not care to eat mice."
In spite of the fears of Mandharaka, the mouse and the crow lived as his guests for a long time without any accident; and one day they were suddenly joined by a new companion, a creature as unlike any one of the three friends as could possibly be imagined. This was a very beautiful deer, who came bounding out of the forest, all eager to escape from the hunters, by whom he had been pursued, but too weary to reach the river, across which he had hoped to be able to swim to safety. Just as he reached the three friends, he fell to the ground, almost crushing the mouse, who darted away in the nick of time. Strange to say, the hunters did not follow the deer; and it was evident that they had not noticed the way he had gone.
The tortoise, the crow and the mouse were all very sorry for the deer, and, as was always the case, the crow was the first to speak. "Whatever has happened to you?" he asked. And the deer made answer:
"I thought my last hour had come this time, for the hunters were close upon me; and even now I do not feel safe."
"I'll fly up and take a look 'round," said Laghupatin; and off he went to explore, coming back soon, to say he had seen the hunters disappearing a long distance off, going in quite another direction from the river. Gradually the deer was reassured, and lay still where he had fallen; whilst the three friends chatted away to him, telling him of their adventures. "What you had better do," said the tortoise, "is to join us. When you have had a good meal, and a drink from the river, you will feel a different creature. My old friend Laghupatin will be the one to keep watch for us all, and warn us of any danger approaching; I will give you the benefit of my long experience; and little Hiranya, though he is not likely to be of any use to you, will certainly never do you any harm."
9. Is it a good thing to make friends easily?
10. What was the bond of union between the crow, the mouse, the tortoise and the deer?
The deer was so touched by the kind way in which he had been received, that he agreed to stop with the three friends; and for some weeks after his arrival all went well. Each member of the party went his own way during the day-time, but all four met together in the evening, and took it in turns to tell their adventures. The crow always had the most to say, and was very useful to the deer in warning him of the presence of hunters in the forest. One beautiful moonlight night the deer did not come back as usual, and the other three became very anxious about him. The crow flew up to the highest tree near and eagerly sought for some sign of his lost friend, of whom he had grown very fond. Presently he noticed a dark mass by the river-side, just where the deer used to go down to drink every evening. "That must be he," thought the crow; and very soon he was hovering above the deer, who had been caught in a net and was struggling in vain to get free.
The poor deer was very glad indeed to see the crow, and cried to him in a piteous voice: "Be quick, be quick, and help me, before the terrible hunters find me and kill me."
"I can do nothing for you myself," said the crow, "but I know who can. Remember who saved the pigeons!" And away he flew to fetch little Hiranya, who with the tortoise was anxiously awaiting his return. Very soon Laghupatin was back by the river-side with the little mouse in his beak; and it did not take long for Hiranya, who had been despised by the deer and the tortoise as a feeble little thing, to nibble through the cords and save the life of the animal a hundred times as big as himself.
How happy the deer was when the cruel cords were loosed and he could stretch out his limbs again! He bounded up, but took great care not to crush the mouse, who had done him such a service. "Never, never, never," he said, "shall I forget what you have done for me. Ask anything in my power, and I will do it."
"I want nothing," said Hixanya, "except the joyful thought of having saved you."
By this time the tortoise had crept to the river-bank, and he too was glad that the deer had been saved. He praised the mouse, and declared that he would never again look down upon him. Then the four started to go back to their usual haunt in the forest; the deer, the crow, and the mouse soon arriving there quite safely, whilst the tortoise, who could only get along very slowly, lagged behind. Now came the time for him to find out that armour was not the only thing needed to save him from danger. He had not got very far from the riverbank before the cruel hunter who had set the net to catch the deer, came to see if he had succeeded. Great was his rage when he found the net lying on the ground, but not exactly where he had left it. He guessed at once that some animal had been caught in it and escaped after a long struggle. He looked carefully about and noticed that the cords had been bitten through here and there. So he suspected just what had happened, and began to search about for any creature who could have done the mischief.
There was not a sign of the mouse, but the slow-moving tortoise was soon discovered, and pouncing down upon him, the hunter rolled him up in another net he had with him, and carried him off, "It's not much of a prize," said the hunter to himself, "but better than nothing. I'll have my revenge on the wretched creature anyhow, as I have lost the prey I sought."
11. Which of the four friends concerned in this adventure do you admire most?
12. What was the chief mistake made by the tortoise?
When the tortoise in his turn did not come home, the deer, the crow and the mouse were very much concerned. They talked the matter over together and decided that, however great the risk to themselves, they must go back and see what had become of their friend. This time the mouse travelled in one of the eats of the deer, from which he peeped forth with his bright eyes, hoping to see the tortoise toiling along in his usual solemn manner; whilst the crow, also on the watch, flew along beside them. Great was the surprise and terror of all three when, as they came out of the forest, they saw the hunter striding along towards them, with the tortoise in the net under his arm. Once more the little mouse showed his wisdom. Without a moment's hesitation he said to the deer: "Throw yourself on the ground and pretend to be dead; and you," he added to the crow, "perch on his head and bend over as if you were going to peck out his eyes."