Few stories are more familiar and widely spread than that of the Lost Camel, which occurs in the opening of the romance. It was formerly, and perhaps is still, reproduced in English school reading-books. Voltaire, in chapter iii. of his “Zadig; ou, La Destinée” (the materials of which he is said to have derived from Geuelette’s “Soirées Bretonnes,”) has a version in which a lost palfrey and a she dog are described by the “sage” from the traces they had left on the path over which they passed. The great Arabian historian and traveller Mas’udi, in his “Meadows of Gold, and Mines of Gems,” written A.D. 943, gives the story of the Lost Camel, and from Mas’udi it was probably taken into the MS. text of the “Thousand and One Nights,” procured in the East (?Constantinople) by Wortley Montague, and now preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In that MS. it forms an incident in the story of the Sultan of Yeman and his Three Sons: the princes, after their father’s death, quarrel over the succession to the throne, and at length agree to lay their respective claims before one of the tributary princes. On the road one of them remarks, “A camel has lately passed this way loaded with grain on one side, and with sweetmeats on the other.” The second observes, “and the camel is blind of one eye.” The third adds, “and it has lost its tail.” The owner comes up, and on hearing their description of his beast, forces them to go before the king of the country, to whom they explain how they discovered the defects of the camel and its lading. In a Persian work, entitled “Nigaristan,” three brothers rightly conjecture in like manner that a camel which had passed, and which they had not seen, was blind of an eye, wanted a tooth, was lame, and laden with oil on the one side, and honey on the other. The story is also found in the Hebrew Talmud. Two slaves are overheard by their master conversing about a camel that had gone before them along the road. It was blind of an eye, and laden with two skin bottles, one of which contained wine, the other oil. In a Siberian version (Radloff), three youths are met by a man who asks them if they had seen his camel, to which they reply by describing the colour and defects of the animal so exactly that he accuses them to the Prince of having stolen it. “I have lost a camel, my lord,” said he, “and when I met these three young men we saluted, and I told them that I had lost my camel. Quoth one of these youths, ‘Was thy camel of a light colour?’ The second asked, ‘was thy camel lame?’ And the third, ‘Was it not blind of an eye?’ I answered Yes to their questions. Now decide, my lord. It is evident these young men have stolen my camel.” Then the Prince asked the eldest, “How did you know that the camel was of a light colour?” He replied, “By some hairs which has fallen on the ground when it had rubbed itself against trees.” The two others gave answers similar to those in our version. Then said the Prince to the man, “Thy camel is lost; go and look for it.” So the stranger mounted his horse and departed.
The Hunter and his Faithful Dog.—A variety of this story is cited from a Cawnpore newspaper, in the “Asiatic Journal,” Vol. XV. (new series), Part II. October, 1834, p. 78, which is to the following effect:—A Bunjarrah named Dabee had a dog called Bhyro, the faithful companion of his travels, who guarded his goods from robbers while he slept. He wished to go to a distant part of the country to trade in grain, but had not sufficient funds for the purpose. After much cogitation, he at length resolved to pledge his dog for 1,000 rupees, and when he applied to several persons was laughed at for his folly; but a wealthy merchant named Dyaram gave the money, on condition that it should be paid back within twelve months, taking the dog Bhyro in pledge. When eleven months had passed, the merchant began to bewail the stupidity which had induced him to lend so large a sum on so precarious a security. His relentings were, however, premature. One dark and dreary night he was aroused from his slumbers by a great noise, occasioned by the clashing of swords and the barking of Bhyro. A band of armed men had entered the house with intent to plunder, but before they could effect their purpose they had been observed by the faithful Bhyro, who commenced an attack upon them. Before Dyaram could render any assistance, Bhyro had laid two of the robbers dead at his feet; a third, on the approach of Dyaram, aimed a blow at his head, which was prevented from taking effect by Bhyro seizing the ruffian by the throat and laying him prostrate on the ground. After peace was restored, Dyaram congratulated himself on having received Bhyro in pledge for the Bunjarrah, by which act he not only escaped being plundered, but in all probably murdered. Next morning Dyaram called Bhyro, and after caressing him, said:—“The service you rendered me last night is more than an equivalent for the 1,000 rupees I lent your master; go, faithful creature. I give you a free discharge from your obligation as security for him.” Bhyro shook his head in token that it was impossible for him to go until his master returned; but Dyaram, comprehending his meaning, soon arranged matters by writing a statement of the circumstances, and giving a voucher for the 1,000 rupees. This document he tied round Bhyro’s neck, which done, Bhyro expressed his delight by leaping about in every direction, and, after licking the hands of Dyaram, darted out of the house and set off in quest of his master. While these scenes were transpiring in Dyaram’s house, Dabee was not unmindful of the pledge he had left behind him, and, having succeeded in his speculation, was returning with all haste to redeem it. At his last stage homewards he was surprised to see Bhyro approaching him with every demonstration of joy, but at sight of him Dabee’s rage was kindled, and repulsing Bhyro as he fawned upon him he thus addressed him:—“O, ungrateful wretch! is this the return you have made for my kindness to you? and is this the manner in which you have established my character for veracity? You remained faithful to your trust during eleven months—could you not have held out for thirty short days? You have, by your desertion from your post, entailed dishonour upon me, and for this you shall die.” And, so saying, he drew his sword and slew him. After having committed this deed, he observed a paper tied round Bhyro’s neck; having read it, his grief was indescribable. To atone in some measure for his rash act, caused poor Bhyro to be buried on the spot where he fell, and a superb monument to be erected over his remains. To the grave of Bhyro, even at the present day, resort natives who have been bitten by dogs, they believing that the dust collected there, when applied to the wounds, is an antidote for hydrophobia.
The Brahman’s Wife and the Mongoose.—We have, in this story, an Indian variety of the well-known Welsh legend of Llewellyn and his dog Gellert. A similar legend was current in France during the Middle Ages. But our story—mutatis mutandis—is as old as the third century B.C., since it is found in a Buddhist work of that period. It also occurs in two Sanskrit forms of the celebrated Fables of Pilpay, or Bidnaia namely the “Pancha Tantra” (five chapters), which is said to date as far back as the 5th century A.D., and the “Hitopadesa” (Friendly Counsels); also in the Arabian and other Eastern versions of the same work. It is found in all the texts of the Book of Sindibad—Greek, Syriac, Persian, Hebrew, Old Castilian, Arabic, &c., and in the several European versions, known generally under the title of “The History of the Seven Wise Masters,” the earliest form of which being a Latin prose work entitled “Dolopathos.” There are, of course, differences in the details of the numerous versions both Western and Eastern, but the fundamental outline is the same in all. In my work on the migrations of popular tales, I have reproduced all the known versions of this world-wide story, with the exception of that in the present romance, which is singular in representing the woman as killing herself after she had discovered her fatal mistake, and her husband as slaying his little son and himself. The author of the romance probably added these tragedies, in order to enable the supposed narrator to more forcibly impress the king with the grievous consequences of acting in affairs of moment with inconsiderateness and precipitation. In most versions it is the husband who kills the faithful animal. Among the Malays the story of the Snake and the Mongoose is current in this form:—A man left a tame bear in charge of his house, and of his sleeping child, while he was absent from home. On his return he missed his child, the house was in disorder, as if some great struggle had taken place, and the floor was covered with blood. Hastily concluding that the bear had killed and devoured the child, the enraged father slew the animal with his spear, but almost immediately afterwards found the carcase of a tiger, which the faithful bear had defeated and killed, and the child emerged unharmed from the jungle, where it had taken refuge.
In a black-letter English edition of the “Seven Wise Masters,” the knight, having slain his hound and discovered his child safe in its cradle, exclaims (and here the hand of the misogynist monkish writer is very evident!)—“Woe be to me, that, for the words of my wife, I have slain my good and best greyhound, the which had saved my child’s life, and hath slain the serpent; therefore I will put myself to penance.” And so he brake his sword in three pieces, and travelled in the direction of the Holy Land, and abode there all the days of his life. The preceding story of the Hunter and his Dog, it will be observed, is closely allied to that of the Brahman’s Wife and the Mongoose; and in conclusion, where the hunter erects a stately tomb over his dog’s remains, it presents a striking resemblance to the Welsh legend of Llewellyn and the dog Gellert, which is probably not merely fortuitous.
A very curious version is found in a black-letter chapter-book, entitled the “Seven Wise Mistresses,” written in imitation of the “Seven Wise Masters,” by one Thomas Howard, about the end of the seventeenth century, in which a knight and his lady are wrecked and cast ashore on a desert island, and the knight soon afterwards dies. His wife takes a thorn out of a lion’s foot (Androcles in petticoats), and the grateful animal follows her about, and provides her with food, and this is how the story goes on:—
“At last she began mourning to herself, deploring her condition in living in such obscurity in a foreign Country, and as her daily companion, a savage Beast, her mind yearning after her own habitation, she thus complained: ’Oh, how hath fortune frowned on me that I am driven out from all human knowledge, and am glad to take up my habitation with the Beast of the Field!’
“As she thus complained to herself, the Devil chanced to appear to her, and demanded the cause of her complaint, and she related all to him as you have heard. Then said he to her: ‘What wilt thou give and I will provide a ship which shall carry thee home to thy own country.’ She answered: ‘Half my Estates.’
“‘Nay,’ said the Devil, ‘If thou wilt give me thy Soul at the term of twelve years, I will set thee down in thy own country, and thou shalt live and flourish so long.’ ‘God forbid,’ said the Lady. ‘I would rather end my wretched life in this solitary island than that.’ ‘Why then,’ said the Devil, ‘I will make this bargain with you, that if you abstain from sleeping all the time of our voyage, which shall be but three days, I will have nothing to do with your Soul; if you sleep, I will have it as I have said.’
“And upon this bargain the lady ventured, provided she might have her Lion with her. So ‘twas concluded, and a brave Ship came and took the Lady and her Lion. When she lay down the Lion lay by her, and if she slumbered the Lion would touch her with his paw, by which means he kept her awake all the voyage, until she landed in her own country, and being come to her Father’s house, she knocked at the gate. Then the Porter coming with all speed opened the gate and thought that it was a Beggar.
“Frowningly he shut it again, saying, ‘There’s nothing here for you.’ Then she bounced at the gate again, and asked the Porter if such a Knight lived there, meaning her Father, and he said ‘Yes.’ ‘Then,’ said she, ‘Pray, deliver this piece of ring unto him.’ Now this ring was it she brake betwixt her Father and she at her departure out of the land. Then the Porter delivered the Ring to his Master, saying: ‘The Beggar woman at the gate willed me to deliver the piece of ring unto you.’
“When the Knight saw the ring he fell down in a swound but when he was revived he said, ‘Call her in, for she is my only Daughter, whom I thought was dead.’ ‘Then,’ said the Porter, ‘I dare not call her in, for there is a mighty Lion with her.’ ‘Though it be,’ said the Knight, ‘call her in.’ Then said the Porter [to the Lady], ‘You are to come in, but leave your Lion outside.’ ‘No,’ said the Lady, ‘my Lion goes whereever I go, and where he is not, there will I not be.’
“And when she came to her Father she fell down on her knees and wept. Her Father took her up in his arms and kissed her, weeping as fast, and after he clothed her in purple, and placed her by him in a chair, and demanded an account of her travels, and she told him all that had happened, and how the Lion had saved her life, and was the greatest comfort she had in the Wilderness. It chanced afterwards that as the Knight was going into his Wood to look after his young Horses, he met with a wild Boar, with whom he fell in combat. The Lion loved the Old Knight, and by accident walking along he scented the Boar, and as the Lion ran toward the place where the Boar was, the Steward espied him, and he ran into the Palace, and cryed out, ‘the Lion is running after my Master to destroy him.’
“Then the Lady sent after him ten of her servants, who met the Lion, his mouth all bloody, and they ran back and told the Lady the Lion had destroyed her aged Father. Then said the Lady, ‘O woe is me that ever I was born, that have brought a Lion from far to destroy my own Father.’ Therefore she commanded her servants to slay the Lion, which no sooner was done but her Father came in, and said; ‘O, I have met with a wild Boar, with whom I fought, and there came the Lion to my aid, and slew the Boar, and so saved my life, else I had died by the Boar.’
“When the Lady heard this, O how she wept and wrung her hands, saying, ‘For the words of a wicked Steward, I have slain my good Lion, who hath saved my life and my Father’s. Cursed be the time I was advised by him.’”
The Faithless Wife and the Ungrateful Blind Man.—I do not remember having met with this story in any other collection, although there are there many tales in Asiatic story-books of women abandoning their blind or infirm husbands, and going off with strange men. A very considerable proportion, in fact of Eastern stories turn upon the alleged wickedness and profligacy and intrigues of women. This most unjust estimate of “the sex” seems to have been universal in Asiatic countries from every remote times and probably was introduced into Europe through the Crusades. Not a few of the mediæval Monkish tales represent women in a very unfavourable light, and this is also the case in our early English jest-books, which were compiled soon after the invention of printing. In the oldest Indian literature, however, especially the two grand epics “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata,” occur several notable tales of noble women, such as “Dushyanta and Sakuntala,” and the charming romance of “Nala and Damayanti;” and in another work, the “Adventures of the Ten princes,” (“Dasa Kumara Charita,”) the fine story of Gomiui, who is held up as a pattern to her sex.
The Wonderful Mango-fruit.—A variety of this story occurs in the Persian “Tuti Nama” of Nakhshabi:—A Prince, who is very ill, sends a parrot of great sagacity to procure him some fruit of the Tree of Life. When at length the bird returns with the life-giving fruit, the Prince scruples to eat of it, upon which the parrot relates the legend of “Solomon and the Water of Immortality;” how that wise monarch declined to procure immunity from death, on consideration that he should thus survive all his friends and female favourites. The Prince, however, being suspicious regarding the fruit, sent some trusty messengers to “bring the first apple that fell from the Tree of Existence.” But it happened that a black snake had poisoned it by seizing it in its mouth and then letting it drop again. When the messengers returned with the fruit, the Prince tried the effect on a holy man, who instantly falls down dead. Upon seeing this, the Prince dooms the parrot to death; but the sagacious bird suggests that, before the Prince should execute him for treason, he should himself go to the Tree of Life and make another experiment with its fruit. The Prince does so, and, returning home, gives part of the fruit to an old woman, “who, from age and infirmity, had not stirred abroad for many years;” and, no sooner had she tasted it, than she was changed into a charming girl of eighteen. But more closely resembling our story is a version in a Canarese collection, entitled “Katha Manjari”:—A certain king had a magpie that flew one day to heaven with another magpie. From thence it took away some mango seed, and, having returned, gave it to the king, saying:—
“If you cause this to be planted and grow, whoever eats of its fruit old age will forsake him and his youth be restored.”
The king was much pleased, and caused it to be planted in his favourite garden. After some years, buds appeared and became flowers, then young fruit, then full grown; and when the fruit was ripe the king ordered one to be plucked and brought to him, when he gave it to an old man. But on it had fallen poison from a serpent as it was carried through the air by a kite, so the old man immediately withered and died. The king, on seeing this, exclaimed in wrath:—
“Is not this bird attempting to kill me?” And he seized the magpie and wrung off its head. Afterwards in the village the tree had the name of the poisonous mango. Now, it happened that a washerman, taking the part of his wife in a quarrel with his old mother, struck the latter, who was so angry at her son that she resolved to die, in order that the blame of her death should fall upon him; and having gone to the poisonous mango-tree in the garden, she cut off a fruit and ate it, when instantly she became more blooming than a girl of sixteen. This miracle she published everywhere and it came to the king’s ears, who, having called her and seen her, caused the fruit to be given to other old people. Having seen what was thus done by the marvelous virtue of the mango-fruit, the king sorrowfully exclaimed:—
“Alas, the faithful magpie is killed which gave me this divine tree! How guilty am I!” And he pierced himself with his sword and died.
“Therefore,” adds the story-teller, “those who act without thought are certain to be ruined.” The old Brahman’s generously presenting the king with the wonderful mango-fruit in our story, finds its parallel with a difference, in the Hindu romance entitled “Simhasana Dwatrinsatri,” or Thirty-two Tales of a throne, where a Brahman having received from the gods, as a reward for his devotional austerities, the fruit of immortality, joyfully proceeds home and shows it to his wife, who advises him to give it to the Raja Bhartrihari, as the wealth he should receive in return were preferable to an endless life of poverty. He goes to the palace, and presenting the fruit to the Raja, acquaints him of its nature, and is rewarded with a lakh of rupees. The Raja gives the fruit to his wife, telling her that if she ate it her beauty would increase day by day, and she should be immortal. The Kani gives it to her paramour, the chief of police, who, in his turn, presents it as the choicest of gifts to a courtesan, who, after reflecting that it would only enable her to commit innumerable sins, resolves to offer it to the Raja, in hope of a reward in a future life. When Raja Bhartrihari receives the fruit again he is astonished, and, on learning from the hætera from whom she had obtained it, he knew that his queen was unfaithful, and, abandoning his throne and kingdom, departs into the jungle, where he became an ascetic.
The Poisoned Food.—This is a third instance of food or fruit being poisoned by serpents, and it occurs very frequently in Eastern stories. The oldest form of this tale is found in a Sanskrit collection entitled “Twenty-five Tales of a Vampyre” (Vetalapanchavimsati), which is probably of Buddhist extraction, and which also exists in many of the vernacular languages of India. The wife of a man named Harisvamin having been stolen from him one night by a Vidyadhara Prince, he gave away all his wealth to the Brahmans, and resolved to visit the sacred waters to wash away his sins, after which he hoped to recover his beloved wife; and the story thus proceeds:—Then he left the country, with his Brahman birth as his only fortune, and began to go round to all the sacred bathing-places in order to recover his beloved. And as he was roaming about there came upon him the terrible lion of the hot season, with the blazing sun for mouth and with a mane composed of his fiery rays. And the winds blew with excessive heat, as if warmed by the breath of sighs furnaced forth by travellers grieved at being separated from their wives. And the tanks, with their supply of water diminished by the heat and their drying white mud, appeared to be showing their broken hearts. And the trees by the roadside seemed to lament on account of the departure of the glory of spring, making their wailing heard in the shrill moaning of their bark, with leaves, as it were, lips, parched with heat.
At that season Harisvamin, wearied out with the heat of the sun, with bereavement, hunger and thirst, and continual travelling, emaciated and dirty, and pining for food, reached in the course of his wanderings a certain village, and found in it the house of a Brahman named Padmanabha, who was engaged in a sacrifice. And, seeing that many Brahmans were eating in his house, he stood leaning against the door-post, silent and motionless. And the good wife of that Brahman named Padmanabha, seeing him in this position, felt pity for him, and reflected:—
“Alas! mighty is hunger! Whom will it not bring down? For here stands a man at the door, who appears to be a householder, desiring food, with downcast countenance; evidently come from a long journey, and with all his faculties impaired by hunger. So is not he a man to whom food ought to be given?” Having gone through these reflections, that kind woman took up in her hand a vessel full of rice boiled in milk, with ghî and sugar, and brought it, and courteously presented it to him, and said:—
“Go and eat this somewhere on the bank of the lake, for this place is unfit to eat in, as it is filled with feasting Brahmans.” He said “I will do so,” and took the vessel of rice and placed it at no great distance under a banyan-tree on the edge of the lake; and he washed his hands and feet in the lake, and rinsed his mouth, and then came back in high spirits to eat the rice. But while he was thus engaged a kite, holding a black cobra with its beak and claws, came and sat on that tree. And it so happened that poisonous saliva issued from the mouth of that dead snake, which the bird had captured and was carrying along. The saliva fell into the dish of rice which was placed under the tree, and Harisvamin, without observing it, came and ate up that rice. As soon as in his hunger he had devoured all that food, he began to suffer terrible agonies, caused by the poison. He exclaimed:—
“When fate has turned against a man, everything in this world turns also; accordingly this rice has become poison to me.” Thus speaking, Harisvamin, tortured with the poison, tottered to the house of that Brahman who was engaged in a sacrifice, and said to his wife:—
“The rice which you gave me has poisoned me; so fetch me quickly a charmer who can counteract the operation of poison; otherwise you will be guilty of the death of a Brahman.” When Harisvamin had said this to the good woman, who was beside herself to think what it could all mean, his eyes closed and he died.
Then the Brahman who was engaged in a sacrifice drove his wife out of the house, though she was innocent and hospitable, being enraged with her for the supposed murder of her guest. The good woman, for her part, having incurred groundless blame from her charitable deed, and so become burdened with infamy, went to a holy bathing-place, to perform penance. Then there was a discussion before the superintendent of religion as to which of the four parties, the kite, the snake, and the couple who gave rice, was guilty of the murder of a Brahman; but the question was not decided.
It will be seen that our story differs very considerably from the foregoing, which we must regard as the original. The same story occurs in all the Eastern versions of the Book of Sindibad, but in most of these it is not a traveller who is thus poisoned, but a wealthy man and his guests; having sent a domestic to the market to buy sour curds, which she carried back in an open vessel, poison from a serpent in a stork’s mouth dropped into the curds, of which the master of the house and his guests partook and died. The story is probably more than 2,000 years old.
“Eating up the Protector.” Akin to this, but with a very different conclusion, is the well-known story of the traveller who released a tiger from a trap into which he had fallen. The Brahman’s fidelity to his pact with the serpent reminds one of the Arabian story of the Merchant and the Genie. In a Tamil tale, a cow having given herself up to a tiger to redeem her owner (it is to be understood, of course, that both animals are human beings re-born in those forms) she obtains leave to go and suckle her calf, after which she returns when the tiger, moved by her fidelity, lets her go free.
The serpent’s emitting gems recalls Shakespeare’s allusion to the popular notion of the “toad, ugly and venomous, which bears a precious jewel in its head.” It is a very ancient and widespread belief that serpents are the guardians of hidden treasures. Preller, in his work on Grecian mythology, refers to a Servian story in which a shepherd, as in our tale, saves the life of a snake in a forest fire, and, in return for this service, the snake’s father gives him endless treasures and teaches him the language of birds. There is a very similar story in Dozon’s “Contes Albanais.”
In the charming tale of “Nala and Damayanti,” which occurs in the third part (“Vana Parva”) of the grand Indian epic “Mahabharata,” the exiled king perceives a snake with a ray of jewels in its crest, writhing in a jungle fire, and lifting it out, carries it some distance, and is about to set it down, when the snake says to him, “Carry me ten steps farther, and count them aloud as you go.” So Nala proceeds, counting the steps—one, two, three—and when he said “ten” (dasa, which means “ten” and also “bite”) the snake took him at his word, and bit the king in the forehead, upon which he became black and deformed.
An abstract of a considerably modified form of our romance orally current among the people of Bengal may be given in conclusion: A king appoints his three sons to patrol in turn the streets of his capital during the night. It happens that the youngest Prince in going his rounds one night sees a beautiful woman issuing from the royal palace, and accosting her, asks her business at such an hour. She replies:—
“I am the guardian deity of this palace; the king will be killed this night, therefore I am going away.”
The Prince persuades the goddess to return into the palace and await the event. As in our story, he enters his father’s sleeping chamber and discovers a huge cobra near the royal couch. He cuts the serpent into many pieces, which he puts inside a brass vessel that is in the room. Then seeing that some drops of the serpent’s blood had fallen on his step-mother’s breast, he wraps a piece of cloth round his tongue to protect it from the poison, and licks off the blood. The lady awakes, and recognises him as he is leaving the room. She accuses him to the king of having used an unpardonable freedom with her. In the morning the king sends for his eldest son, and asks him: “If a trusted servant should prove faithless how should he be punished?”
Quoth the Prince: “Surely his head should be parted from his body; but before doing so you should ascertain whether the man is actually guilty.”
And then he proceeds to relate the following story:—“Once upon a time there was a goldsmith who had a grown-up son, whose wife was acquainted with the language of animals, but she kept secret from her husband and all others the fact of her being endowed with such a rare gift. It happened one night she heard a jackal exclaim: ‘There is a dead body floating on the river; would that some one might give me that body to eat, and for his pains take the diamond ring from the finger of the dead man.’
“The woman arose from her bed and went to the bank of the river, and her husband, who was not asleep, followed her unobserved. She went into the water, drew the corpse to land, and unable to loosen the ring from the dead man’s finger, which had swelled, she bit off the finger, and leaving the corpse on the bank, returned home, whither she had been preceded by her husband. Almost petrified with fear, the young goldsmith concluded from what he had seen that his wife was not a human being, but a ghoul (rakshasi), and early in the morning he hastened to his father and related the whole affair to him—how the woman had got up during the night and gone to the river, out of which she dragged a dead body to the land, and was busy devouring it when he ran home in horror.
“The old man was greatly shocked, and advised his son to take his wife on some pretext into the forest and leave her there to be destroyed by wild beasts. So the husband caused the woman to get herself ready to go on a visit to her father, and after a hasty breakfast they set out. In going through a dense jungle, where the goldsmith proposed abandoning his wife, she heard a serpent cry, ‘O, passenger, I pray thee to seize and give me that croaking frog, and take for thy reward the gold and precious stones concealed in yonder hole.’ The woman at once seized the frog and threw it towards the serpent, and then began digging into the ground with a stick. Her husband quaked with fear, thinking that his ghoul-wife was about to kill him, but she called to him, saying, ‘My dear husband, gather up all this gold and precious gems.’
“Approaching the spot with hesitation he was surprised to perceive an immense treasure laid bare by his wife, who then explained to him how she had learned of it from the snake that lay coiled up near them, whose language she understood. Then he said to his wife—’It is now so late that we cannot reach your father’s house before dark, and we might be slain by wild beasts. Let us therefore return home.’ So they retraced their steps, and approaching the house the goldsmith said to his wife—’Do, you, my dear, go in by the back door, while I enter by the front and show my father all this treasure.’
The woman went in by the back door and was met by her father-in-law, who, on seeing her, concluded that she had killed and devoured his son, and striking her on the head with a hammer which he happened to have in his hand, she instantly expired. Just then the son came into the room, but it was too late.”
“I have told your Majesty this story,” adds the eldest Prince, “in order that before putting the man to death you should make sure that he is guilty.”
The king next calls his second son and asks him the same question, to which he replies by relating a story to caution his father against rash actions.
“A king, separated from his attendants while engaged in the chase, saw what he conceived to be rain-water dropping from the top of a tree, and, being very thirst, held his drinking cup under it until it was nearly filled, and, just as he was about to put it to his lips, his horse purposely moved so as to cause the contents to be spilled on the ground, upon which the king in a rage drew his sword and killed the faithful animal; but afterwards discovering that what he had taken for rain-water was poison that dropped from a cobra in the tree, his grief knew no bounds.”
Calling lastly his third son, the king asks him what should be done to the man who proved false to his trust. The Prince tells the story of the wonderful tree, the fruit of which bestowed on him who ate of it perennial youth, with unimportant variations from the version in our romance.
Then the Prince explained the occasion of his presence in the Royal bedchamber, and how he had saved the king and his consort from the cobra’s deadly bite. And the king, overjoyed and full of gratitude, strained his faithful son to his heart, and ever after cherished and loved him with all a father’s love.
Notes: The book holds 26 Indian folktales.
Author: Mrs. Howard Kingscote and
Pandit Natesa Sastri
Publisher: W. H. Allen & Co. 13 Waterloo Place, London & Calcutta