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- Tales Of The Punjab - 2/50 -
floors, and roofs, has left a legacy of warmth behind it, and not till midnight will the cool breeze spring up, bringing with it refreshment and repose. How then are the long dark hours to be passed? In all the village not a lamp or candle is to be found; the only light--and that too used but sparingly and of necessity--being the dim smoky flame of an oil-fed wick. Yet, in spite of this, the hours, though dark, are not dreary, for this, in an Indian village, is _story-telling time_; not only from choice, but from obedience to the well-known precept which forbids such idle amusement between sunrise and sunset. Ask little Kaniyâ, yonder, why it is that he, the best story-teller in the village, never opens his lips till after sunset, and he will grin from ear to ear, and with a flash of dark eyes and white teeth, answer that travellers lose their way when idle boys and girls tell tales by daylight. And Naraini, the herd-girl, will hang her head and cover her dusky face with her rag of a veil, if you put the question to her; or little Râm Jas shake his bald shaven poll in denial; but not one of the dark-skinned, bare-limbed village children will yield to your request for a story.
No, no!--from sunrise to sunset, when even the little ones must labour, not a word; but from sunset to sunrise, when no man can work, the tongues chatter glibly enough, for that is story-telling time. Then, after the scanty meal is over, the bairns drag their wooden-legged, string-woven bedsteads into the open, and settle themselves down like young birds in a nest, three or four to a bed, while others coil up on mats upon the ground, and some, stealing in for an hour from distant alleys, beg a place here or there.
The stars twinkle overhead, the mosquito sings through the hot air, the village dogs bark at imaginary foes, and from one crowded nest after another rises a childish voice telling some tale, old yet ever new,--tales that were told in the sunrise of the world, and will be told in its sunset. The little audience listens, dozes, dreams, and still the wily Jackal meets his match, or Bopolûchî brave and bold returns rich and victorious from the robber's den. Hark!--that is Kaniyâ's voice, and there is an expectant stir amongst the drowsy listeners as he begins the old old formula--
'Once upon a time--'
TALES OF THE PUNJAB
FOLKLORE OF INDIA
Once upon a time a soldier died, leaving a widow and one son. They were dreadfully poor, and at last matters became so bad that they had nothing left in the house to eat.
'Mother,' said the son, 'give me four shillings, and I will go seek my fortune in the wide world.'
'Alas!' answered the mother, 'and where am I, who haven't a farthing wherewith to buy bread, to find four shillings?'
'There is that old coat of my father's,' returned the lad; 'look in the pocket--perchance there is something there.'
So she looked, and behold! there were six shillings hidden away at the very bottom of the pocket!
'More than I bargained for,' quoth the lad, laughing.' See, mother, these two shillings are for you; you can live on that till I return, the rest will pay my way until I find my fortune.'
So he set off to find his fortune, and on the way he saw a tigress, licking her paw, and moaning mournfully. He was just about to run away from the terrible creature, when she called to him faintly, saying, 'Good lad, if you will take out this thorn for me, I shall be for ever grateful.'
'Not I!' answered the lad. 'Why, if I begin to pull it out, and it pains you, you will kill me with a pat of your paw.'
[Illustration: Boy pulling thorn out of a tigress's paw]
'No, no!' cried the tigress, 'I will turn my face to this tree, and when the pain comes I will pat _it_.'
To this the soldier's son agreed; so he pulled out the thorn, and when the pain came the tigress gave the tree such a blow that the trunk split all to pieces. Then she turned towards the soldier's son, and said gratefully, 'Take this box as a reward, my son, but do not open it until you have travelled nine miles'
So the soldier's son thanked the tigress, and set off with the box to find his fortune. Now when he had gone five miles, he felt certain that the box weighed more than it had at first, and every step he took it seemed to grow heavier and heavier. He tried to struggle on-- though it was all he could do to carry the box--until he had gone about eight miles and a quarter, when his patience gave way. 'I believe that tigress was a witch, and is playing off her tricks upon me,' he cried, 'but I will stand this nonsense no longer. Lie there, you wretched old box!--heaven knows what is in you, and I don't care.'
So saying, he flung the box down on the ground: it burst open with the shock, and out stepped a little old man. He was only one span high, but his beard was a span and a quarter long, and trailed upon the ground.
The little mannikin immediately began to stamp about and scold the lad roundly for letting the box down so violently.
'Upon my word!' quoth the soldier's son, scarcely able to restrain a smile at the ridiculous little figure, 'but you are weighty for your size, old gentleman! And what may your name be?'
'Sir Buzz!' snapped the one-span mannikin, still stamping about in a great rage.
'Upon my word!' quoth the soldier's son once more, 'if _you_ are all the box contained, I am glad I didn't trouble to carry it farther.'
'That's not polite,' snarled the mannikin; 'perhaps if you had carried it the full nine miles you might have found something better; but that's neither here nor there. I'm good enough for you, at any rate, and will serve you faithfully according to my mistress's orders.'
'Serve me!--then I wish to goodness you'd serve me with some dinner, for I am mighty hungry! Here are four shillings to pay for it.'
No sooner had the soldier's son said this and given the money, than with a _whiz! boom! bing!_ like a big bee, Sir Buzz flew through the air to a confectioner's shop in the nearest town. There he stood, the one-span mannikin, with the span and a quarter beard trailing on the ground, just by the big preserving pan, and cried in ever so loud a voice, 'Ho! ho! Sir Confectioner, bring me sweets!'
The confectioner looked round the shop, and out of the door, and down the street, but could see no one, for tiny Sir Buzz was quite hidden by the preserving pan. Then the mannikin called out louder still, 'Ho! ho! Sir Confectioner, bring me sweets!' And when the confectioner looked in vain for his customer, Sir Buzz grew angry, and ran and pinched him on the legs, and kicked him on the foot, saying, 'Impudent knave! do you mean to say you can't see _me?_ Why, I was standing by the preserving pan all the time!'
The confectioner apologised humbly, and hurried away to bring out his best sweets for his irritable little customer. Then Sir Buzz chose about a hundredweight of them, and said, 'Quick, tie them up in something and give them into my hand; I'll carry them home.'
'They will be a good weight, sir,' smiled the confectioner.
'What business is that of yours, I should like to know?' snapped Sir Buzz. 'Just you do as you're told, and here is your money.' So saying he jingled the four shillings in his pocket.
'As you please, sir,' replied the man cheerfully, as he tied up the sweets into a huge bundle and placed it on the little mannikin's outstretched hand, fully expecting him to sink under the weight; when lo! with a _boom! bing!_ he whizzed off with the money still in his pocket.
He alighted at a corn-chandler's shop, and, standing behind a basket of flour, called out at the top of his voice, 'Ho! ho! Sir Chandler, bring me flour!'
And when the corn-chandler looked round the shop, and out of the window, and down the street, without seeing anybody, the one-span mannikin, with his beard trailing on the ground, cried again louder than before, 'Ho! ho! Sir Chandler, bring me flour!'
Then on receiving no answer, he flew into a violent rage, and ran and bit the unfortunate corn-chandler on the leg, pinched him, and kicked him, saying, 'Impudent varlet! don't pretend you couldn't see _me!_ Why, I was standing close beside you behind that basket!'
So the corn-chandler apologised humbly for his mistake, and asked Sir Buzz how much flour he wanted.
'Two hundredweight,' replied the mannikin, 'two hundredweight, neither more nor less. Tie it up in a bundle, and I'll take it with me.'
'Your honour has a cart or beast of burden with you, doubtless?' said the chandler, 'for two hundredweight is a heavy load.'
'What's that to you?' shrieked Sir Buzz, stamping his foot, 'isn't it enough if I pay for it?' And then he jingled the money in his pocket again.
So the corn-chandler tied up the flour in a bundle, and placed it in the mannikin's outstretched hand, fully expecting it would crush him, when, with a whiz! Sir Buzz flew off, with the shillings still in his pocket. _Boom! bing! boom!_
The soldier's son was just wondering what had become of his one-span servant, when, with a whir! the little fellow alighted beside him, and wiping his face with his handkerchief, as if he were dreadfully hot and tired, said thoughtfully, 'Now I do hope I've brought enough, but you men have such terrible appetites!'
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