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- Tales Of The Punjab - 5/50 -
'I can't live on wild plums!' retorted the weeping bride; 'nobody could; besides, they are only half ripe, and I can't reach them.'
'Rubbish!' cried the Rat; 'ripe or unripe, they must do you for to-night, and to-morrow you can gather a basketful, sell them in the city, and buy sugar-drops and sweet eggs to your heart's content!'
So the next morning the Rat climbed up into the plum-tree, and nibbled away at the stalks till the fruit fell down into the bride's veil. Then, unripe as they were, she carried them into the city, calling out through the streets--
'Green plums I sell! green plums I sell! Princess am I, Rat's bride as well!'
As she passed by the palace, her mother the Queen heard her voice, and, running out, recognised her daughter. Great were the rejoicings, for every one thought the poor bride had been eaten by wild beasts. In the midst of the feasting and merriment, the Rat, who had followed the Princess at a distance, and had become alarmed at her long absence, arrived at the door, against which he beat with a big knobby stick, calling out fiercely, 'Give me my wife! give me my wife! She is mine by fair bargain. I gave a stick and I got a loaf; I gave a loaf and I got a pipkin; I gave a pipkin and I got a buffalo; I gave a buffalo and I got a bride. Give me my wife! give me my wife!'
'La! son-in-law! what a fuss you do make!' said the wily old Queen, through the door, 'and all about nothing! Who wants to run away with your wife? On the contrary, we are proud to see you, and I only keep you waiting at the door till we can spread the carpets, and receive you in style.'
Hearing this, the Rat was mollified, and waited patiently outside whilst the cunning old Queen prepared for his reception, which she did by cutting a hole in the very middle of a stool, putting a red-hot stone underneath, covering it over with a stew-pan-lid, and then spreading a beautiful embroidered cloth over all.
Then she went to the door, and receiving the Rat with the greatest respect, led him to the stool, praying him to be seated.
'Dear! dear! how clever I am! What bargains I do make, to be sure!' said he to himself as he climbed on to the stool. 'Here I am, son-in-law to a real live Queen! What will the neighbours say?'
At first he sat down on the edge of the stool, but even there it was warm, and after a while he began to fidget, saying, 'Dear me, mother-in-law! how hot your house is! Everything I touch seems burning!'
'You are out of the wind there, my son,' replied the cunning old Queen; 'sit more in the middle of the stool, and then you will feel the breeze and get cooler.'
But he didn't! for the stewpan-lid by this time had become so hot, that the Rat fairly frizzled when he sat down on it; and it was not until he had left all his tail, half his hair, and a large piece of his skin behind him, that he managed to escape, howling with pain, and vowing that never, never, never again would he make a bargain!
THE FAITHFUL PRINCE
Long ago there lived a King who had an only son, by name Prince Bahrâmgor, who was as splendid as the noonday sun, and as beautiful as the midnight moon. Now one day the Prince went a-hunting, and he hunted to the north, but found no game; he hunted to the south, yet no quarry arose; he hunted to the east, and still found nothing. Then he turned towards the setting sun, when suddenly from a thicket flashed a golden deer. Burnished gold were its hoofs and horns, rich gold its body. Dazzled by the wonderful sight, the astonished Prince bade his retainers form a circle round the beautiful strange creature, and so gradually enclose and secure it.
'Remember,' said the Prince, 'I hold him towards whom the deer may run to be responsible for its escape, or capture.'
Closer and closer drew the glittering circle of horsemen, while in the centre stood the golden deer, until, with marvellous speed, it fled straight towards the Prince, But he was swifter still, and caught it by the golden horns. Then the creature found human voice, and cried, 'Let me go, oh! Prince Bahrâmgor and I will give you countless treasures!'
But the Prince laughed, saying, 'Not so! I have gold and jewels galore, but never a golden deer.'
'Let me go,' pleaded the deer, 'and I will give you more than treasures!'
'And what may that be?' asked the Prince, still laughing.
'I will give you a ride on my back such as never mortal man rode before,' replied the deer.
'Done!' cried the gay Prince, vaulting lightly to the deer's back; and immediately, like a bird from a thicket, the strange glittering creature rose through the air till it was lost to sight. For seven days and seven nights it carried the Prince over all the world, so that he could see everything like a picture passing below, and on the evening of the seventh day it touched the earth once more, and instantly vanished. Prince Bahrâmgor rubbed his eyes in bewilderment, for he had never been in such a strange country before. Everything seemed new and unfamiliar. He wandered about for some time looking for the trace of a house or a footprint, when suddenly from the ground at his feet popped a wee old man.
'How did you come here? and what are you looking for, my son?' quoth he politely.
So Prince Bahrâmgor told him how he had ridden thither on a golden deer, which had disappeared, and how he was now quite lost and bewildered in this strange country.
'Do not be alarmed, my son,' returned the wee old man; 'it is true you are in Demonsland, but no one shall hurt you, for I am the demon Jasdrűl whose life you saved when I was on the earth in the shape of a golden deer.'
Then the demon Jasdrűl took Prince Bahrâmgor to his house, and treated him right royally, giving him a hundred keys, and saying, 'These are the keys of my palaces and gardens. Amuse yourself by looking at them, and mayhap somewhere you may find a treasure worth having.'
So every day Prince Bahrâmgor opened a new garden, and examined a new palace, and in one he found rooms full of gold, and in another jewels, and in a third rich stuffs, in fact everything the heart could desire, until he came to the hundredth palace, and that he found was a mere hovel, full of all poisonous things, herbs, stones, snakes, and insects. But the garden in which it stood was by far the most magnificent of all. It was seven miles this way, and seven miles that, full of tall trees and bright flowers, lakes, streams, fountains, and summer-houses. Gay butterflies flitted about, and birds sang in it all day and all night. The Prince, enchanted, wandered seven miles this way, and seven miles that, until he was so tired that he lay down to rest in a marble summer-house, where he found a golden bed, all spread with silken shawls. Now while he slept, the Fairy Princess Shâhpasand, who was taking the air, fairy-fashion, in the shape of a pigeon, happened to fly over the garden, and catching sight of the beautiful, splendid, handsome young Prince, she sank to earth in sheer astonishment at beholding such a lovely sight, and, resuming her natural shape--as fairies always do when they touch the ground--she stooped over the young man and gave him a kiss.
He woke up in a hurry, and what was his astonishment on seeing the most beautiful Princess in the world kneeling gracefully beside him!
'Dearest Prince!' cried the maiden, clasping her hands,'I have been looking for you everywhere!'
Now the very same thing befell Prince Bahrâmgor that had happened to the Princess Shâhpasand--that is to say, no sooner did he set eyes on her than he fell desperately in love, and so, of course, they agreed to get married without any delay. Nevertheless, the Prince thought it best first to consult his host, the demon Jasdrűl, seeing how powerful he was in Demonsland. To the young man's delight, the demon not only gave his consent, but appeared greatly pleased, rubbing his hands and saying, 'Now you will remain with me and be so happy that you will never think of returning to your own country any more.'
So Prince Bahrâmgor and the Fairy Princess Shâhpasand were married, and lived ever so happily, for ever so long a time.
At last the thought of the home he had left came back to the Prince, and he began to think longingly of his father the King, his mother the Queen, and of his favourite horse and hound. Then from thinking of them he fell to speaking of them to the Princess, his wife, and then from speaking he took to sighing and sighing and refusing his dinner, until he became quite pale and thin. Now the demon Jasdrűl used to sit every night in a little echoing room below the Prince and Princess's chamber, and listen to what they said, so as to be sure they were happy; and when he heard the Prince talking of his far-away home on the earth, he sighed too, for he was a kindhearted demon, and loved his handsome young Prince.
At last he asked Prince Bahrâmgor what was the cause of his growing so pale and sighing so often--for so amiable was the young man that he would rather have died of grief than have committed the rudeness of telling his host he was longing to get away; but when he was asked he said piteously, 'Oh, good demon! let me go home and see my father the King, my mother the Queen, my horse and my hound, for I am very weary. Let me and my Princess go, or assuredly I shall die!'
At first the demon refused, but at last he took pity on the Prince, and said, 'Be it so; nevertheless you will soon repent and long to be back in Demonsland; for the world has changed since you left it, and you will have trouble. Take this hair with you, and when you need help, burn it, then I will come immediately to your assistance.'
Then the demon Jasdrűl said a regretful goodbye, and, Hey presto!-- Prince Bahrâmgor found himself standing outside his native city, with his beautiful bride beside him.
But, alas! as the good-natured demon had foretold, everything was changed. His father and mother were both dead, a usurper sat on the
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