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- Tales Of The Punjab - 40/50 -
'That's just what I was saying to myself!' returned the _faqîr_ sleepily; 'I thought--it couldn't--be only--the spices--that--- '---Snore, snore, snore!
'Look here!' cried King Karan, in a rage, shaking the _faqîr_,'you must eat me too!'
'Couldn't!' nodded the holy but satisfied _faqîr_, 'really--not another morsel--no, thanks!'
'Then give me my gold!' shrieked King Karan; 'you're bound to do that, for I'm ready to fulfil my part of the contract!'
'Sorry I can't oblige, but the devil--I mean the other person--went off with the coat!' nodded the _faqîr_.
Hearing this, King Karan returned home in despair and ordered the royal treasurer to send him gold; so that day he ate his breakfast in peace.
And the next day also, by ransacking all the private treasuries, a hundredweight of gold was forthcoming; so King Karan ate his breakfast as usual, though his heart was gloomy.
But the third day, the royal treasurer arrived with empty hands, and, casting himself on the ground, exclaimed, 'May it please your majesty! there is not any more gold in your majesty's domains!'
Then King Karan went solemnly to bed, without any breakfast, and the crowd, after waiting for hours expecting to see the palace doors open and the servants come out with the baskets of gold, melted away, saying it was a great shame to deceive poor folk in that way!
By dinner-time poor King Karan was visibly thinner; but he was a man of his word, and though the wily Bikrû came and tried to persuade him to eat, by saying he could not possibly be blamed, he shook his head, and turned his face to the wall.
Then Bikrû, or Bikramâjît, took the _faqîr's_ old coat, and shaking it before the King, said, 'Take the money, my friend; and what is more, if you will set the wild swans you have in that cage at liberty, I will give you the coat into the bargain!'
So King Karan set the wild swans at liberty, and as the pair of them flew away to the great Mansarobar Lake, they sang as they went, 'Glory to Bikramâjît! the generous Bikramâjît!'
Then King Karan hung his head, and said to himself, 'The swans' song is true!--Bikramâjît is more generous than I; for if I was fried for the sake of a hundredweight of gold and my breakfast, he was devilled in order to set a bird at liberty!'
Once upon a time there was a King who had no children, and this disappointment preyed so dreadfully upon his mind that he chose the dirtiest and most broken-down old bed he could find, and lay down on it in the beautiful palace gardens. There he lay, amid the flowers and the fruit trees, the butterflies and the birds, quite regardless of the beauties around him;--that was his way of showing grief.
Now, as he lay thus, a holy _faqîr_ passed through the garden, and seeing the King in this pitiful plight, asked him what the sorrow was which drove him to such a very dirty old bed.
'What is the use of asking?' returned the King; but when the _faqîr_ asked for the third time what the sorrow was, the King took heart of grace, and answered gloomily, 'I have no children!'
'Is that all?' said the _faqîr_; 'that is easily remedied. Here! take this stick of mine, and throw it twice into yonder mango tree. At the first throw five mangoes will fall, at the second two. So many sons you shall have, if you give each of your seven Queens a mango apiece.'
Then the King, greatly delighted, took the _faqîr's_ stick and went off to the mango tree. Sure enough, at the first throw five mangoes fell, at the second, two. Still the King was not satisfied, and, determining to make the most of the opportunity, he threw the stick into the tree a third time, hoping to get more children But, to his surprise and consternation, the stick remained in the tree, and the seven fallen mangoes flew back to their places, where they hung temptingly just out of reach.
[Illustration: The king and the faqîr]
There was nothing to be done but to go back to the _faqîr_, and tell him what had happened.
'That comes of being greedy!' retorted the _faqîr_; 'surely seven sons are enough for anybody, and yet you were not content! However, I will give you one more chance. Go back to the tree; you will find the stick upon the ground; throw it as I bade you, and beware of disobedience, for if you do not heed me this time, you may lie on your dirty old bed till doomsday for all I care!'
Then the King returned to the mango tree, and when the seven mangoes had fallen--the first time five, the second time two--he carried them straight into the palace, and gave them to his Queens, so as to be out of the way of temptation.
Now, as luck would have it, the youngest Queen was not in the house, so the King put her mango away in a tiny cupboard in the wall, against her return, and while it lay there a greedy little mouse came and nibbled away one half of it. Shortly afterwards, the seventh Queen came in, and seeing the other Queens just wiping their mouths, asked them what they had been eating.
'The King gave us each a mango,' they replied, 'and he put yours in the cupboard yonder.'
But, lo! when the youngest Queen ran in haste to find her mango, half of it was gone; nevertheless she ate the remaining half with great relish.
Now the result of this was, that when, some months afterwards, the six elder Queens each bore a son, the youngest Queen had only half-a-son--and that was what they called him at once,--just half-a-son, nothing more: he had one eye, one ear, one arm, one leg; in fact, looked at sideways, he was as handsome a young prince as you would wish to see, but frontways it was as plain as a pikestaff that he was only half-a-prince. Still he throve and grew strong, so that when his brothers went out shooting he begged to be allowed to go out also.
'How can _you_ go a-shooting?' wept his mother, who did nothing but fret because her son was but half-a-son; 'you are only half-a-boy; how can you hold your crossbow?'
'Then let me go and play at shooting,' replied the prince, nothing daunted. 'Only give me some sweets to take with me, dear mother, as the other boys have, and I shall get on well enough.'
[Illustration: The youngest queen and her half-a-son]
'How can I make sweets for half-a-son?' wept his mother; 'go and ask the other Queens to give you some,'
So he asked the other Queens, and they, to make fun of the poor lad, who was the butt of the palace, gave him sweets full of ashes.
Then the six whole princes, and little Half-a-son, set off a-shooting, and when they grew tired and hungry, they sat down to eat the sweets they had brought with them. Now when Prince Half-a-son put his into his half-a-mouth, lo and behold! though they were sweet enough outside, there was nothing but ashes and grit inside. He was a simple-hearted young prince, and imagining it must be a mistake, he went to his brothers and asked for some of theirs; but they jeered and laughed at him.
By and by they came to a field of melons, so carefully fenced in with thorns that only one tiny gap remained in one corner, and that was too small for any one to creep through, except half-a-boy; so while the six whole princes remained outside, little Half-a-son was feasting on the delicious melons inside, and though they begged and prayed him to throw a few over the hedge, he only laughed, saying, 'Remember the sweets!--it is my turn now!'
When they became very importunate, he threw over a few of the unripe and sour melons; whereupon his brothers became so enraged that they ran to the owner of the field and told him that half-a-boy was making sad havoc amongst his fruit. Then they watched him catch poor Prince Half-a-son, who of course could not run very fast, and tie him to a tree, after which they went away laughing.
But Prince Half-a-son had some compensation for being only half-a-boy, in that he possessed the magical power of making a rope do anything he bade it. Therefore, when he saw his brothers leaving him in the lurch, he called out, 'Break, rope, break! my companions have gone on,' and the rope obeyed at once, leaving him free to join his brothers.
By and by they came to a plum tree, where the fruit grew far out on slender branches that would only bear the weight of half-a-boy.
'Throw us down some!' cried the whole brothers, as they saw Half-a-son with his half-mouth full.
'Remember the sweets!' retorted the prince.
This made his brothers so angry that they ran off to the owner of the tree, and telling him how half-a-boy was feasting on his plums, watched while he caught the offender and tied him to the tree. Then they ran away laughing; but Prince Half-a-son called out, 'Break, rope, break! my companions have gone on,' and before they had gone out of sight he rejoined his brothers, who could not understand how this miserable half-a-boy outwitted them.
Being determined to be revenged on him, they waited until he began to draw water from a well, where they stopped to drink, and then they pushed him in.
'That is an end of little Half-a-son!' they said to themselves, and ran away laughing.
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