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Book 3. Crows and Owls

The Snake Who Paid Cash

There was once a Brahman in a certain place. His time was wholly spent in unproductive farming. Now one day, toward the end of summer, the heat was too much for him, and he dozed in the shade of a tree in the middle of his field. Not far away he saw, peering over an ant-hill, a terrifying snake that thrust forward a great, swelling hood. And he reflected: "Surely, this is the guardian deity of the field, and I never paid him honour. That is why my farm-work is unproductive. I will pay him honour." [332}

Thereupon he begged milk from somebody, put it in a saucer, went to the ant-hill, and said: "O guardian of the field! All this long time I did not know that you were living here. Therefore I paid you no honour. From now on, please be gracious to me." With this he presented the milk and went home.

Now when he came back in the morning and looked about, he found a gold dinar in the saucer. So he went there every day alone, and offered milk, receiving a dinar each time. One day, however, the Brahman went to town, instructing his son to carry milk to the ant-hill. And the boy took the milk there, set it down, and went home again.

The next day he went there, found a single dinar, and thought: "Surely, this ant-hill is full of dinars. I will kill that fellow and get them all." With this purpose, while offering milk the next day, the Brahman's boy struck the snake on the head with a cudgel. Yet somehow - for fate willed it so - the snake did not die. Instead, he furiously struck the boy with his sharp fangs to such effect that the boy died at once. And the relatives cremated him on a woodpile near the field.

On the second day the father returned. And learning from his relatives the cause of his son's death, he found the facts as stated. And he said:

Be generous to all that lives;

Receive the needy guest:

If not, your own life fades away

Like swans from lotus nest. [333}

"How was that?" asked the men. And the Brahman told the story of

The Unsocial Swans

There was once a king named Gay-Chariot in a certain place. He owned a lake named Lotus Lake, which his soldiers guarded carefully. For many golden swans lived there, and they gave one tail feather apiece every six months.

Now to that lake came a great bird, all of gold. And they told him: "You cannot live among us. For we have rented this lake at the rate of a tail feather for six months." And so, to cut a long story short, a dispute arose.

Then the great bird sought the king's protection, saying: "O King, those birds ask: 'What will our king do? We give lodging to nobody.' And I said: 'You are not very polite. I will go and tell the king. This is the situation. The king must decide."

Then the king said to his men: "Go, you. Kill all the birds and bring them here at once." And they started immediately, obeying the king's command. Now one old bird saw the king's men with clubs in their hands, and he said: "Well, kinsmen, this is rather unpleasant. We must all hang together. Let us fly up and away." And they did so.

"And that is why I say:

Be generous to all that lives, . . .

and the rest of it." [334}

So in the morning the Brahman took milk again, went to the spot, and called out, in an effort to win the snake's confidence: "My son met the death that suited his intelligence." Then the snake said:

The lighted funeral pile you may

Break up and fling apart;

But love, when torn and patched again,

Lives in an aching heart.

"Thus, when he is dead, you will without effort enjoy a thornless kingdom."

Having listened to this proposal, the king asked Fierce-Eye: "My worthy sir, what is your opinion?" And Fierce-Eye said: "O King, his advice is heartless. For one does not kill a suppliant. No doubt you have heard the old story:

The dove (there mentioned) entertained

His suppliant foeman slaughter-stained;

Paid honour due, his guest to greet;

And sacrificed himself for meat."

"How was that?" asked Foe-Crusher. And Fierce-Eye told the story of

The Self-Sacrificing Dove

A ghastly fowler plied his trade

Of horror in a forest; made

All living creatures hold their breath:

He seemed to them the god of death.

He had no comrade on the earth,

No friend, no relative by birth.

They all renounced him; he had made

Them do so by his horrid trade. [335}

For you know

The dreadful wretches bringing death

On those who love their living breath,

With natural repulsion (like

Fierce serpents) fill before they strike.

To snare, to imprison, and to drub

He took a net, a cage, a club,

And wandering daily in the wood,

He brought all creatures harm, not good.

While he was in the wood one day,

The sky grew black with clouds straightway;

So wild the wind, so fierce the rain,

It seemed the world dissolved in pain.

Then, as the heart within him quivered,

And every limb grew numb and shivered,

He sought where might a refuge be,

And chanced to come upon a tree.

Now as he rested, near and far

In sudden-clearing skies, each star

Shone bright; and he had wit to pray:

"O Lord, be kind to me today."

There was a dove upon the tree

Whose nest was in a cavity;

And since his wife was absent long,

He grieved for her in mournful song:

"The wind and rain were very great,

And my belov&d wife is late

In coming home. When she is not

At home, home is an empty spot. [336}

"The house is not the home; but where

The wife is found, the home is there.

The home without the wife is less

To me than some wild wilderness.

"Some wives their life's devotion give,

And in and for the husband live;

Whatever man has such a wife

Is heaped with blessings all his life."

From fowling-cage the female dove

Had caught the speech of grief and love;

And she was deeply gratified,

And to her husband thus replied:

"No woman earns the name of bride

Whose husband is not satisfied.

If he is happy, she may know

The gods she venerates are so.

"That woman should be burned entire

(Like vines that fade in forest-fire

While blossoms drop from clustered side)

Whose husband is not satisfied."

And she continued:

"Oh, hearken heedfully, my dear;

My words are good for you to hear;

Though it should cost your life, defend

The guest who seeks in you a friend.

"Here lies a fowler; as a guest

He asks for comfort at your nest.

Since cold and hunger press him sore,

Begrudge him not from honour's store. [337}

And the Scripture says:

"Whoever does not give his best

To cheer the late-arriving guest

Will see his merit borne away,

And for the other's sins will pay.

"Oh, let no hate against him rise

Who caged the wife you idolize;

It is my sins of former lives

That, fateful, hold me in the gives [fetters].

For well you know:

"Disease, and poverty, and pain,

With woe that prison brings amain

[with great strength, speed, or haste],

Are all the fruit of one sole tree,

Our own, our past iniquity.

"Abandon, therefore, thoughts of hate

Deriving from my captive state;

On virtue set your heart; and pay

This man such honour as you may."

On listening to his darling, who

Seemed virtue-woven through and through,

An unknown courage fired the dove;

He gave the fowler words of love.

"A hearty welcome, sir, to you;

What for your service may I do?

No more let anxious fancies roam,

For here with me you are at home."

In answer to his kindly words

Replied the murderer of birds:

"Well, dove, the cold is in me still;

Give me a remedy for chill." [338}

The dove then brought a bonfire's sole

Surviving ember - one live coal,

And where a pile of dry leaves lay,

He kindled it to fire straightway.

"Now, sir, take heart; forgetting fear,

Resuscitate your members here;

Alas! I cannot put to flight

The cravings of your appetite.

"One patron feeds a thousand men;

One feeds a hundred; one feeds ten.

But I, whose virtue does not thrive,

Scarce keep my puny self alive.

"Ah, if you have not in your nest

Provision for a single guest,

Why occupy today, tomorrow

A nest that harbours nothing but sorrow?

"I shall destroy my body, fain

To end its living with its pain,

That nevermore I stand confessed

Powerless to aid a needy guest."

And thus he blamed himself, you see;

The greedy fowler went scot-free:

Then - "I may yet your craving sate,

If one mere moment you will wait."

Whereat that creature free from sin,

Joy-quivering his soul within,

Walked round the fire, as it had been

His cherished home, and entered in.

When this the greedy fowler saw,

Compassion filled his soul, and awe. [339}

He, while the dove was cooking, spoke

What from his heart a passage broke:

"None loves his soul, it's very plain,

Who smears it with a sinful stain.

The soul commits the sin; and late

Or soon, the soul must expiate.

"My thoughts are evil; my desire

Is ever set on what is dire:

It needs but little wit to tell

I steer my course for ghastly hell.

"A moral lesson let me draw

From what my savage spirit saw.

The high-souled dove, that I may eat,

Has sacrificed himself for meat.

"Henceforth let all enjoyment be

An unfamiliar thing to me;

I'll share the shallow water's fate

In August; will evaporate.

"Cold, wind, and heat I will embrace,

Grow thin and dirty, form and face,

Will fast by every method known,

Seek virtue, perfect and alone."

The fowler then a-pieces tore

Club, peg, net, cage - and what is more,

Set free the wretched female dove

Who sorrowed for her perished love.

But she, released from clutches dire,

Beheld her husband in the fire;

Whereat she gave expression so

To thoughts of horror and of woe: [340}

"My lord! My love! What shall I do

With life that drags, apart from you?

What profit has a wretched wife,

Without a husband, of her life?

"For self-esteem, respect, and pride,

The family honour paid a bride,

Authority with all the brood

Of servants, die with widowhood."

Now after this lamenting sore,

This sorrow bitter evermore,

She went where lay her heart's desire,

Walked straight into the blazing fire.

And lo! She sees her husband shine -

Oh, wonder! - in a car divine;

Her body wears a heavenly gown;

And heavenly gems hang pendent down.

While he, become a god, addressed

True consolation to her breast:

"The deed that you have done, is meet

In following your husband, sweet.

"There grow upon a man alive

Some thirty million hairs and five;

So many years in heaven spend

Wives following husbands to the end."

So he joyfully took her into the chariot, embraced her, and lived happily. But the fowler sank into the deepest despondency, and plunged into a great forest, meditating death.

And there he saw a forest-fire

And entered it; for all desire [341}

Was dead. His sins were burned away;

He went to heaven, there to stay.

"And that is why I say:

The dove (there mentioned) entertained, . . .

and the rest of it."

Having listened to this, Foe-Crusher asked Flame-Eye: "What is your opinion, sir, things standing as they do?" And Flame-Eye said:

"She who always shrank from me

Hugs me to her breast.

Thank you, benefactor! Take

What you like the best."

And the thief replied:

"Nothing here that I should like;

Should I want a thing,

I'll return if she does not

Passionately cling."

"But," asked Foe-Crusher, "who is she that does not cling? And who is the thief? I should like to hear this one in detail." And Flame-Eye told the story of

The Old Man With the Young Wife

There was once an aged merchant in a certain town, and his name was Lovelorn. To such an extent had love clouded his reason that, when his wife died, he gave much money in order to marry the daughter of a penniless shopkeeper. But the girl was heartbroken and could not bear to look at the old merchant. This, indeed, might have been anticipated. [342}

The silvered head will sue in vain,

A maiden's love beseeching;

The maid, despising it, is fain

To flee afar with screeching;

Like Hangman's Well it causes pain,

Where dead men's bones are bleaching.

And furthermore:

Slow, tottering steps the strength exhaust;

The eye unsteady blinks;

From drivelling mouth the teeth are lost;

The handsome figure shrinks;

The limbs are wrinkled; relatives

And wife contemptuous pass;

The son no further honour gives

To doddering age. Alas!

Now one night, while she was turning her back to him in bed, a thief entered the house. And she was terrified at seeing a thief, and embraced her husband, old as he was. He, for his part, felt every limb thrill with astonishment and love, and he thought: "Gracious me! Why does she hug me tonight?"

Then, peering narrowly about, he discovered the thief in a corner, and reflected: "No doubt she embraces me from fear of him." So he said to the thief:

"She who always shrank from me,

Hugs me to her breast;

Thank you, benefactor! Take

What you like the best."

And the thief made reply:

"Nothing here that I should like;

Should I want a thing, [343}

I'll return if she does not

Passionately cling."

"Thus advantage may be anticipated from a benefactor, thief though he be. How much more from a suppliant guest? Besides, having been maltreated by them, he will labour for our success, or for the revelation of their vulnerable point. In view of this, he should not be killed."

Having listened to this view, Foe-Crusher questioned another counsellor, namely, Hook-Nose. "My worthy sir, what should be done under the present circumstances?"

And Hook-Nose answered: "O King, he should not be killed. For

From enemies expect relief,

If discord pierce their host;

Thus, life was given by the thief

And cattle by the ghost."

"How was that?" asked Foe-Crusher. And Hook-Nose told the story of

The Brahman, the Thief, and the Ghost

There was once a poor Brahman in a certain place. He lived on presents, and always did without such luxuries as fine clothes and ointments and perfumes and garlands and gems and betel-gum. His beard and his nails were long, and so was the hair that covered his head and his body. Heat, cold, rain, and the like had dried him up. [344}

Then someone pitied him and gave him two calves. And the Brahman began when they were little and fed them on butter and oil and fodder and other things that he begged. So he made them very plump. Then a thief saw them and the idea came to him at once: "I will steal these two cows from this Brahman."

So he took a rope and set out at night. But on the way he met a fellow with a row of sharp teeth set far apart, with a high-bridged nose and uneven eyes, with limbs covered with knotty muscles, with hollow cheeks, with beard and body as yellow as a fire with much butter in it.

And when the thief saw him, he started with acute fear and said: "Who are you, sir?"

The other said: "I am a ghost named Truthful. It is now your turn to explain yourself."

The thief said: "I am a thief, and my acts are cruel. I am on my way to steal two cows from a poor Brahman."

Then the ghost felt relieved and said: "My dear sir, I take one meal every three days. So I will just eat this Brahman today. It is delightful that you and I are on the same errand."

So together they went there and hid, waiting for the proper moment. And when 'the Brahman went to sleep, the ghost started forward to eat him. But the thief saw him and said: "My dear sir, this is not right. You are not to eat the Brahman until I have stolen his two cows." [345}

The ghost said: "The racket would most likely wake the Brahman. In that case all my trouble would be vain." "But, on the other hand," said the thief, "if any hindrance arises when you start to eat him, then I cannot steal the two cows either. First I will steal the two cows, then you may eat the Brahman."

So they disputed, each crying "Me first! Me first!" And when they became heated, the hubbub waked the Brahman.

Then the thief said: "Brahman, this is a ghost who wishes to eat you."

And the ghost said: "Brahman, this is a thief who wishes to steal your two cows."

When the Brahman heard this, he stood up and took a good look. And by remembering a prayer to his favourite god, he saved his life from the ghost, then lifted a club and saved his two cows from the thief.

"And that is why I say:

From enemies expect relief,

and the rest of it. Besides:

The Scriptures tell a holy tale

Of sacrificial love,

How Shibi gave the hawk his flesh

As ransom for the dove -

showing that it is contrary to religion to slay a suppliant."

Having listened to this opinion, the king asked [346} Wall-Ear: "What is your view, sir? Tell me."

And Wall-Ear said: "O King, he certainly should not be killed. For if you spare his life, you two may well grow fond of each other, and spend the time pleasantly. There is a saying:

Be quick with mutual defence

In honest give-and-take;

Or perish, like the ant-hill beast

And like the belly-snake."

"How was that?" asked Foe-Crusher. And Wall-Ear told the story of the snake in the prince's belly (next page).


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