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- Tales Of The Punjab - 20/50 -

starling away; 'why, if any man eats _me_ he will without doubt become a King!'

Hearing these words, the brothers instantly drew out their crossbows, and aiming at the same time, both the birds fell dead at the selfsame moment. Now these two brothers were so fond of each other that neither would allow he had shot the parrot, for each wanted the other to be the King, and even when the birds had been cooked and were ready to eat, the two lads were still disputing over the matter. But at last the younger said, 'Dearest brother, we are only wasting time. You are the elder, and must take your right, since it was your fate to be born first.'

So the elder Prince ate the parrot, and the younger Prince ate the starling; then they mounted their pony and rode away. They had gone but a little way, however, when the elder brother missed his whip, and thinking he had perhaps left it under the tree, proposed to go back and find it.

'Not so,' said the younger Prince, 'you are King, I am only Minister; therefore it is my place to go and fetch the whip.'

'Be it as you wish,' replied the elder, 'only take the pony, which will enable you to return quicker. In the meantime I will go on foot to yonder town.'

The younger Prince accordingly rode back to the tree, but the Snake-demon, to whom it belonged, had returned during the interval, and no sooner did the poor Prince set foot within its shade than the horrid serpent flew at him and killed him.

Meanwhile, the elder Prince, loitering along the road, arrived at last at the town, which he found in a state of great commotion. The King had recently died, and though all the inhabitants had marched past the sacred elephant in file, the animal had not chosen to elect any one of them to the vacant throne by kneeling down and saluting the favoured individual as he passed by, for in this manner Kings were elected in that country. Therefore the people were in great consternation, and orders had been issued that every stranger entering the gates of the city was forthwith to be led before the sacred elephant. No sooner, therefore, had the elder Prince set foot in the town than he was dragged unceremoniously--for there had been many disappointments-- before the over-particular animal. This time, however, it had found what it wanted, for the very instant it caught sight of the Prince it went down on its knees and began in a great hurry to salute him with its trunk. So the Prince was immediately elected to the throne, amid general rejoicings.

[Illustration: The sacred elephant bowing before the prince]

All this time the younger Prince lay dead under the tree, so that the King his brother, after waiting and searching for him in vain, gave him up for lost, and appointed another Prime Minister.

But it so happened that a magician and his wife, who, being wise folk, were not afraid of the serpents which dwelt in the tree, came to draw water at the spring which flowed from the roots; and when the magician's wife saw the dead Prince lying there, so handsome and young, she thought she had never seen anything so beautiful before, and, taking pity on him, said to her husband, 'You are for ever talking of your wisdom and power: prove it by bringing this dead lad to life!'

At first the magician refused, but when his wife began to jeer at him, saying his vaunted power was all pretence, he replied angrily, 'Very well; you shall see that although I myself have no power to bring the dead back to life, I can force others to do the deed.'

Whereupon he bade his wife fill her brass drinking bowl at the spring, when, lo and behold! every drop of the water flowed into the little vessel, and the fountain was dry!

'Now,' said the magician, 'come away home, and you shall see what you will see.'

When the serpents found their spring had dried up, they were terribly put out, for serpents are thirsty creatures, and love water. They bore the drought for three days, but after that they went in a body to the magician, and told him they would do whatever he desired if he would only restore the water of their spring. This he promised to do, if they in their turn restored the dead Prince to life; and when they gladly performed this task, the magician emptied the brass bowl, all the water flowed back into the spring, and the serpents drank and were happy.

The young Prince, on coming back to life, fancied he had awakened from sleep, and fearing lest his brother should be vexed at his delay, seized the whip, mounted the pony--which all this time had been quietly grazing beside its master--and rode off. But in his hurry and confusion he took the wrong road, and so arrived at last at a different city from the one wherein his brother was king.

It was growing late in the evening, and having no money in his pocket, the young Prince was at a loss how to procure anything to eat; but seeing a good-natured-looking old woman herding goats, he said to her, 'Mother, if you will give me something to eat you may herd this pony of mine also, for it will be yours.'

To this the old woman agreed, and the Prince went to live in her house, finding her very kind and good-natured. But in the course of a day or two he noticed that his hostess looked very sad, so he asked her what was the matter.

'The matter is this, my son,' replied the old woman, tearfully; 'in this kingdom there lives an ogre, which every day devours a young man, a goat, and a wheaten cake--in consideration of receiving which meal punctually, he leaves the other inhabitants in peace. Therefore every day this meal has to be provided, and it falls to the lot of every inhabitant in turn to prepare it, under pain of death. It is my turn to-day. The cake I can make, the goat I have, but where is the young man?'

'Why does not some one kill the ogre?' asked the brave young Prince.

'Many have tried, but all have failed, though the King has gone so far as to promise his daughter in marriage, and half his kingdom, to a successful champion. And now it is my turn, and I must die, for where shall I find a young man?' said the poor old woman, weeping bitterly.

'Don't cry, Goody,' returned the good-natured Prince; 'you have been very kind to me, and I will do my best for you by making part of the ogre's dinner.'

And though the old woman at first refused flatly to allow so handsome a young man to sacrifice himself, he laughed at her fears, and cheered her up so that she gave in.

'Only one thing I ask of you, Goody,' quoth the Prince; 'make the wheaten cake as big as you can, and give me the finest and fattest goat in your flock.'

This she promised to do, and when everything was prepared, the Prince, leading the goat and carrying the cake, went to the tree where the ogre came every evening to receive and devour his accustomed meal. Having tied the goat to the tree, and laid the cake on the ground, the Prince stepped outside the trench that was dug round the ogre's dining-room, and waited. Presently the ogre, a very frightful monster indeed, appeared. Now he generally ate the young man first, for as a rule the cakes and goats brought to him were not appetising; but this evening, seeing the biggest cake and the fattest goat he ever set eyes upon, he just went straight at them and began to gobble them up. As he was finishing the last mouthful, and was looking about for his man's flesh, the Prince sprang at him, sword in hand. Then ensued a terrible contest. The ogre fought like an ogre, but in consequence of having eaten the cake and the goat, one the biggest and the other the fattest that ever was seen, he was not nearly so active as usual, and after a tremendous battle the brave Prince was victorious, and laid his enemy at his feet. Rejoicing at his success, the young man cut off the ogre's head, tied it up in a handkerchief as a trophy, and then, being quite wearied out by the combat, lay down to rest and fell fast asleep.

Now, every morning, a scavenger came to the ogre's dining-room to clear away the remains of the last night's feast, for the ogre was mighty fastidious, and could not bear the smell of old bones; and this particular morning, when the scavenger saw only half the quantity of bones, he was much astonished, and beginning to search for more, found the young Prince hard by, fast asleep, with the ogre's head by his side.

'Ho! ho!' thought the scavenger, 'this is a fine chance for me!'

So, lifting the Prince, who, being dead tired, did not awake, he put him gently into a clay-pit close by, and covered him up with clay. Then he took the ogre's head, and going to the King, claimed half the kingdom and the Princess in marriage, as his reward for slaying the ogre.

Although the King had his suspicions that all was not fair, he was obliged to fulfil his promise as far as giving up part of his kingdom was concerned, but for the present he managed to evade the dreadful necessity of giving his daughter in marriage to a scavenger, by the excuse that the Princess was desirous of a year's delay. So the Scavenger-king reigned over half the kingdom, and made great preparations for his future marriage.

Meanwhile, some potters coming to get clay from their pit were mightily astonished to find a handsome young man, insensible, but still breathing, hidden away under the clay. Taking him home, they handed him over to the care of their women, who soon brought him round. On coming to himself, he learnt with surprise of the scavenger's victory over the ogre, with which all the town was ringing. He understood how the wicked wretch had stepped in and defrauded him, and having no witness but his own word, saw it would be useless to dispute the point; therefore he gladly accepted the potters' offer of teaching him their trade.

Thus the Prince sat at the potters' wheel, and proved so clever, that ere long they became famous for the beautiful patterns and excellent workmanship of their wares; so much so, that the story of the handsome young potter who had been found in a clay-pit soon became noised abroad; and although the Prince had wisely never breathed a word of his adventures to any one, yet, when the news of his existence reached the Scavenger-king's ears, he determined in some way or another to get rid of the young man, lest the truth should leak out.

Now, just at this time, the fleet of merchant vessels which annually came to the city with merchandise and spices was detained in harbour by calms and contrary winds. So long were they detained that the merchants feared lest they should be unable to return within the year;

Tales Of The Punjab - 20/50

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