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Book 1. The Loss of Friends

The Girl Who Married a Snake

In Palace City lived a Brahman named Godly, whose childless wife wept bitterly when she saw the neighbours' youngsters. But one day the Brahman said: "Forget your sorrow, mother dear. See! When I was offering the sacrifice for birth of children, an invisible being said to me in the clearest words: 'Brahman, you shall have a son surpassing all mankind in beauty, character, and charm.'"

When she heard this, the wife felt her heart swell with supreme delight. "I only hope his promises come true," she said. Presently she conceived, and in course of time gave birth to a snake. When she saw him, she paid no attention to her companions, who all advised her to throw him away. Instead, she took him and bathed him, laid him with motherly tenderness in a large, clean box, and pampered him with [178} milk, fresh butter, and other good things, so that before many days had passed, he grew to maturity.

But one day the Brahman's wife was watching the marriage festival of a neighbour's son, and the tears streamed down her face as she said to her husband: "I know that you despise me, because you do nothing about a marriage festival for my boy."

"My good wife," answered he, "am I to go to the depths of the underworld and beseech Vasuki the serpent-king? Who else, you foolish woman, would give his own daughter to this snake?"

But when he had spoken, he was disturbed at seeing the utter woe in his wife's countenance. He therefore packed provisions for a long journey, and undertook foreign travel from love of his wife. In the course of some months he arrived at a spot called Kutkuta City in a distant land. There in the house of a kinsman whom he could visit with pleasure since each respected the other's character, he was hospitably received, was given a bath, food, and the like, and there he spent the night.

Now at dawn, when he paid his respects to his Brahman host and made ready to depart, the other asked him: "What was your purpose in coming hither? And where will your errand lead you?"

To this he replied: "I have come in search of a fit wife for my son."

"In that case," said his host, "I have a very beautiful daughter, and my own person is yours to command. Pray take her for your son." [179}

So the Brahman took the girl with her attendants and returned to his own place. But when the people of the country beheld her incomparable opulence of beauty, her supreme loveliness and superhuman graces, their eyes popped out with pleasure, and they said to her attendants: "How can right-thinking persons bestow such a pearl of a girl upon a snake?"

On hearing this, all her elderly relatives without exception were troubled at heart, and they said: "Let her be taken from this imp-ridden creature."

But the girl said: "No more of this mockery! Remember the text: Do once, once only, these three things:

Once spoken, stands the word of kings;

The speech of saints has no miscarriage;

A maid is given once in marriage.

And again:

All fated happenings, derived

From any former state,

Must changeless stand: the very gods

Endured poor Blossom's fate."

Whereupon they all asked in chorus: "Who was this Blossom person?"

And the girl told the story of

Poor Blossom

God Indra once had a parrot named Blossom. He enjoyed supreme beauty, loveliness, and various graces, while his intelligence was not blunted by his extensive scientific attainments.

One day he was resting on the palm of great [180} Indra's hand, his body thrilling with delight at that contact, and was reciting a variety of authoritative formulas, when he caught sight of Yama, lord of death, who had come to pay his respects at the time appointed. Seeing the god, the parrot edged away. And all the thronging immortals asked him: "Why did you move away, sir, upon beholding that personage?" "But," said the parrot, "he brings harm to all living creatures. Why not move away from him?"

Upon hearing this, they all desired to calm his fears, so said to Yama: "As a favour to us, you must please not kill this parrot."

And Yama replied: "I do not know about that. It is Time who determines these matters."

They therefore took Blossom with them, paid a visit to Time, and made the same request. To which Time replied: "It is Death who is posted in these affairs. Pray speak to him."

But when they did so, the parrot died at the mere sight of Death. And they were all distressed at seeing the occurrence, so that they said to Yama: "What does this mean?" And Yama said: "It was simply fated that he should die at the mere sight of Death." With this reply they went back to heaven.

"And that is why I say:

All fated happenings, . . .

and the rest of it. Furthermore, I do not wish my father reproached for double dealing on the part of [181} his daughter." When she had said this, she married the snake, with the permission of her companions, and at once began devoted attendance upon him by offering milk to drink and performing other services.

One night the serpent issued from the generous chest which had been set for him in her chamber, and entered her bed. "Who is this?" she cried. "He has the form of a man." And thinking him a strange man, she started up, trembling in every limb, unlocked the door, and was about to dart away when she heard him say: "Stay, my dear wife. I am your husband." Then, in order to convince her, he re-entered the body which he had left behind in the chest, issued from it again, and came to her.

When she beheld him flashing with lofty diadem, with earrings, bracelets, armbands, and rings, she fell at his feet, and then they sank into a glad embrace.

Now his father, the Brahman, rose betimes and discovered how matters stood. He therefore seized the serpent's skin that lay in the chest, and consumed it with fire, for he thought: "I do not want him to enter that again." And in the morning he and his wife, with the greatest possible joy, introduced to everybody as their own an extraordinarily handsome son, quite wrapped up in his love affair.

After Strong had related this parallel case to the king, he set fire to the cell that contained the naked monk. [182}

"And that is why I say:

The counsellor whose name was Strong, . . .

and the rest of it. Poor fool! Such men are true counsellors, not creatures like you, who make a living by a mere pretence of administrative competence, though quite ignorant of the ways of statecraft. Your evil conduct demonstrates an inherited lack of executive capacity. Surely, your father before you was the same kind of person. For

The character of sons

The father ever reflects:

Who, from a screw-pine tree,

An emblic fruit expects?

"While in men of learning and native dignity, an inner weakness is not detected even with the lapse of time. It remains hidden, unless of their own accord they cast dignity aside and display what is vulnerable in their minds. For

Did not the silly peacock wheel

In giddy dance at thunder's peal,

What peering effort could reveal

His nakedness?

"Since, then, you are a villain, good advice is thrown away upon you. As the saying goes:

No knife prevails against a stone;

Nor bends the unbending tree;

No good advice from Needle-Face

Helped indocility."

"How was that?" asked Victor. And Cheek told the story of [183}

The Unteachable Monkey

In a part of a forest was a troop of monkeys who found a firefly one winter evening when they were dreadfully depressed. On examining the insect, they believed it to be fire, so lifted it with care, covered it with dry grass and leaves, thrust forward their arms, sides, stomachs, and chests, scratched themselves, and enjoyed imagining that they were warm. One of the arboreal creatures in particular, being especially chilly, blew repeatedly and with concentrated attention on the firefly.

Thereupon a bird named Needle-Face, driven by hostile fate to her own destruction, flew down from her tree and said to the monkey: "My dear sir, do not put yourself to unnecessary trouble. This is not fire. This is a firefly." He, however, did not heed her warning but blew again, nor did he stop when she tried more than once to check him. To cut a long story short, when she vexed him by coming close and shouting in his ear, he seized her and dashed her on a rock, crushing face, eyes, head, and neck so that she died.

"And that is why I say:

No knife prevails against a stone; . . .

and the rest of it. For, after all,

Educating minds unfit

Cannot rescue sluggish wit,

Just as house-lamps wasted are,

Set within a covered jar. [184}

"Plainly, you are what is known as 'worse-born.' The technical explanation runs:

Sons of four divergent kinds

Are discerned by well-trained minds:

'Born,' and 'like-born,' 'better-born';

Lastly, 'worse-born' has their scorn.

'Born' the mother's image gives;

'Like-born' like the father lives;

'Better-born' more nobly acts;

'Worse-born' morally subtracts.

"Ah, there is wisdom in the saying:

By whom far-piercing wisdom or

Great wealth or power is won

To lift the family, in him

A mother has a son.


A merely striking beauty

Is not so hard to find;

A rarer gem is wisdom,

Far-reaching power of mind.

"Yes, there is sense in the story:

Right-Mind was one, and Wrong-Mind two;

I know the tale by heart:

The son in smoke made father choke

By being super-smart."

"How was that?" asked Victor. And Cheek told the story of

Right-Mind and Wrong-Mind

In a certain city lived two friends, sons of merchants, and their names were Right-Mind and [185} Wrong-Mind. These two travelled to another country far away in order to earn money. There the one named Right-Mind, as a consequence of favouring fortune, found a pot containing a thousand dinars, which had been hidden long before by a holy man. He debated the matter with Wrong-Mind, and they decided to go home, since their object was attained. So they returned together.

When they drew near their native city, Right-Mind said: "My good friend, a half of this falls to your share. Pray take it, so that, now that we are at home, we may cut a brilliant figure before our friends and those less friendly."

But Wrong-Mind, with a sneaking thought of his own advantage, said to the other: "My good friend, so long as we two hold this treasure in common, so long will our virtuous friendship suffer no interruption. Let us each take a hundred dinars, and go to our homes after burying the remainder. The decrease or increase of this treasure will serve as a test of our virtue."

Now Right-Mind, in the nobility of his nature, did not comprehend the hidden duplicity of his friend, and agreed to the proposal. Each then took a certain sum of money. They carefully hid the residue in the ground, and made their entrance into the city.

Before long, Wrong-Mind exhausted his preliminary portion because he practiced the vice of unwise expenditure and because his predetermined fate [186} offered vulnerable points. He therefore made a second division with Right-Mind, each taking a second hundred. Within a year this, too, had slipped in the same way through Wrong-Mind's fingers. As a result, his thoughts took this form: "Suppose I divide another two hundred with him, then what is the good of the remainder, a paltry four hundred, even if I steal it? I think I prefer to steal a round six hundred." After this meditation, he went alone, removed the treasure, and levelled the ground.

A mere month later, he took the initiative, going to Right-Mind and saying: "My good friend, let us divide the rest of the money equally." So he and Right-Mind visited the spot and began to dig. When the excavation failed to reveal any treasure, that impudent Wrong-Mind first of all smote his own head with the empty pot, then shouted: "What became of that good lucre? Surely, Right-Mind, you must have stolen it. Give me my half. If you don't, I will bring you into court."

"Be silent, villain!" said the other. "My name is Right-Mind. Such thefts are not in my line. You know the verse:

A man right-minded sees but trash,

Mere clods of earth, in others' cash;

A mother in his neighbour's wife;

In all that lives, his own dear life."

So together they carried their dispute to court and related the theft of the money. And when the [187} magistrates learned the facts, they decreed an ordeal for each

But Wrong-Mind said: "Come! This judgement is not proper. For the legal dictum runs:

Best evidence is written word;

Next, witnesses who saw and heard;

Then only let ordeals prevail

When witnesses completely fail.

In the present case, I have a witness, the goddess of the wood. She will reveal to you which one of us is guilty, which not guilty. And they replied: "You are quite right, sir. For there is a further saying:

To meanest witnesses, ordeals

Should never be preferred;

Of course much less, if you possess

A forest goddess' word.

Now we also feel a great interest in the case. You two must accompany us tomorrow morning to that part of the forest." With this they accepted bail from each and sent them home.

Then Wrong-Mind went home and asked his father's help. "Father dear," said he, "the dinars are in my hand. They only require one little word from you. This very night I am going to hide you out of sight in a hole in the mimosa tree that grows near the spot where I dug out the treasure before. In the morning you must be my witness in the presence of the magistrates."

"Oh, my son," said the father, "we are both lost. [188} This is no kind of a scheme. There is wisdom in the old story:

The good and bad of given schemes

Wise thought must first reveal:

The stupid heron saw his chicks

Provide a mongoose meal."

"How was that?" asked Wrong-Mind. And his father told the story of

A Remedy Worse Than the Disease

A flock of herons once had their nests on a fig tree in a part of a forest. In a hole in the tree lived a black snake who made a practice of eating the heron chicks before their wings sprouted.

At last one heron, in utter woe at seeing the young ones eaten by a snake, went to the shore of the pond, shed a flood of tears, and stood with downcast face.

And a crab who noticed him in this attitude, said: "Uncle, why are you so tearful today?"

"My good friend," said the heron, "what am I to do? Fate is against me. My babies and the youngsters belonging to my relatives have been eaten by a snake that lives in a hole in the fig tree. Grieved at their grief, I weep. Tell me, is there any possible device for killing him?"

On hearing this, the crab reflected: "After all, he is a natural-born enemy of my race. I will give him such advice - a kind of true lie - that other herons may also perish. For the proverb says:

Let your speech like butter be;

Steel your heart remorselessly: [189}

Stir an enemy to action

That destroys him with his faction."

And he said aloud: "Uncle, conditions being as they are, scatter bits of fish all the way from the mongoose burrow to the snake's hole. The mongoose will follow that trail and will destroy the villainous snake."

When this had been done, the mongoose followed the bits of fish, killed the villainous snake, and also ate at his leisure all the herons who made their home in the tree.

"And that is why I say:

The good and bad of given schemes, . . .

and the rest of it."

But Wrong-Mind disdained the paternal warning, and during the night he hid his father out of sight in the hole in the tree. When morning came, the scamp took a bath, put on clean garments, and followed Right-Mind and the magistrates to the mimosa tree, where he cried in piercing tones:

"Earth, heaven, and death, the feeling mind,

Sun, moon, and water, fire and wind,

Both twilights, justice, day and night

Discern man's conduct, wrong or right.

O blessèd goddess of the wood, which of us two is the thief? Speak."

Then Wrong-Mind's father spoke from his hole in the mimosa: "Gentlemen, Right-Mind took that [190} money."

And when all the king's men heard this statement, their eyes blossomed with astonishment, and they searched their minds to discover the appropriate legal penalty for stealing money, in order to visit it on Right-Mind.

Meanwhile Right-Mind heaped inflammable matter about the hole in the mimosa and set fire to it. As the mimosa burned, Wrong-Mind's father issued from the hole with a pitiful wail, his body scorched and his eyes popping out. And they all asked: "Why, sir! What does this mean?"

"It is all Wrong-Mind's doing," he replied. Whereupon the king's men hanged Wrong-Mind to a branch of the mimosa, while they commended Right-Mind and caused him satisfaction by conferring upon him the king's favour and other things.

"And that is why I say:

Right-mind was one, and Wrong-mind two, . . .

and the rest of it."

After telling the story, Cheek continued: "Poor fool! By your over-subtle wisdom you have burned your own family. Yes, there is wisdom in the saying:

Rivers find their ending

In the salty sea;

Household peace, as soon as

Women disagree;

Secrets end that do not

Every traitor shun;

Families are ended

In a wicked son. [191}

"Besides, who can trust a creature, whether human or not, that has two tongues in a single mouth? As the proverb says:

Mouths of snake and scamp

Bear a savage stamp;

Rough and ruthless still,

Only good for ill:

Where the tongue is double,

You may look for trouble.

"Consequently, your conduct makes me fearful for my own person. For

I would not trust a rascal;

His ways I understand:

The petted, pampered serpent

Will bite the feeding hand.


A fire will burn, though kindled

In fragrant sandalwood:

A rascal is a rascal,

Although his birth is good.

"After all, this is the very nature of rascals. As the proverb says:

Each self-advertising traitor,

Skilful as calumniator,

Fate condemns to ruin all

Who within his clutches fall.

Oh, any tongue in human mouth

That lends itself to slander's cant

Yet does not split a hundred times,

Is surely made of adamant. [192}

Oh, may no evil ever befall

The lion-man who loves his kind,

Who practices a silent vow

When others' faults are in his mind.

"Ah, one must use great circumspection in making acquaintances. As the proverb says:

With the shrewd and upright man

Seek a friendship rare;

Exercise with shrewd and false

Super-heedful care;

Pity for the upright fool

Find within your heart;

If a man be fool and false,

Shun him from the start.

"Yes, your efforts have tended to the destruction not only of your own family, but, toward the last, of the master too. Since you reduce your own master to this state, other persons mean no more to you than withered grass. As the saying goes:

Where mice eat balance-beams of iron

A thousand pals in weight,

A hawk might steal an elephant;

A boy is trifling freight."

"How was that?" asked Victor. And Cheek told the story of the mice that ate iron (next page).


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