Old Deccan Days/How the three clever Men outwitted the Demons

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Old Deccan Days by Mary Frere
How the three clever Men outwitted the Demons


XXIII.


HOW THE THREE CLEVER MEN OUTWITTED THE DEMONS.


THERE was once upon a time a very rich man who had a very beautiful wife, and this man's chief amusement used to be shooting with a bow and arrow, at which he was so clever, that every morning he would shoot through one of the pearls in his wife's nose-ring without hurting her at all.[1] One fine day, that was a holiday, the Pearlshooter's brother-in-law came to take his sister to their father and mother's house to pay her own family a little visit; and when he saw her, he said, 'Why do you look so pale, and thin, and miserable? is your husband unkind to you, or what is the matter?'—'No,' she answered; 'my husband is very kind to me, and I have plenty of money, and jewels, and as nice a house as I could wish; my only grief is that every morning he amuses himself by shooting one of the pearls from my nose-ring, and that frightens me; for I think perhaps some day he may miss his aim, and the arrow run into my face and kill me. So I am in constant terror of my life; yet I do not like to ask him not to do it, because it gives him so much pleasure; but if he left off of his own accord I should be very glad.'—'What does he say to you himself about it? ' asked the brother. 'Every day,' she replied, 'when he has shot the pearl, he comes to me quite happy and proud, and says, "Was there ever a man as clever as I am?" and I answer him, "No, I do not think there ever was any as clever as you."'—'Do not say so again,' said the brother, 'but next time he asks you the question, answer, "Yes, there are many men in the world more clever than you." The Pearlshooter's wife promised to take her brother's advice. So next time her husband shot the pearl from her nose-ring, and said to her, 'Was there ever a man as clever as I am?' she answered, 'Yes, there are many men in the world more clever than you.' Then he said, 'If so be that there are, I will not rest until I have found them.'

And he left her, and went a far journey into the jungle, in order to find, if possible, a cleverer man than himself.

On, on, on he journeyed a very long way, until at last he came to a large river, and on the river-bank sat a traveller eating his dinner. The Pearlshooter sat down beside him, and the two began conversing together. At last the Pearlshooter said to his friend, 'What is the reason of your journey, and where are you going?' The stranger answered, 'I am a Wrestler, and the strongest man in all this country; I can do many wonderful things in the way of wrestling and carrying heavy weights, and I began to think that in all this world there was no one so clever as I; but I have lately heard of a still more wonderful man who lives in a distant country, and who is so clever that every morning he shoots one of the pearls from his wife's nose-ring without hurting her. So I go to find him, and learn if this is true.' The Pearlshooter answered, 'Then you need travel no further, for I am that man of whom you heard.'—'Why are you travelling about, and where are you going?' asked the Wrestler. 'I,' replied the other, 'am also travelling to see if in all the world I can find a cleverer man than myself; therefore, as we have both the same object in view, let us be as brothers, and go about together; perhaps there is still in the world a better man than we.'

The Wrestler agreed; so they both started on their way together.

They had not gone very far before they came to a place where three roads met, and there sat another man whom neither of them had ever seen before. He accosted the Wrestler and the Pearlshooter, and said to them, 'Who are you, friends, and where are you going?'—'We,' answered they, 'are two clever men, who are travelling through the world to see if we can find a cleverer man than we; but who may you be, and where are you going?'—'I,' replied the third man, 'am a Pundit,[2] a man of memory, renowned for my good head, a great thinker; and verily I thought there was not in the world a more wonderful man than I; but having heard of two men in distant lands of very great cleverness, the one of whom is a Wrestler, and the other a shooter of Pearls from his wife's nose-ring, I go to find them and learn if the things I heard are true.'—'They are true,' said the other; 'for we, O Pundit, are the very two men of whom you speak.'

At this news the Pundit was overjoyed, and cried, 'Then let us be as brothers; since your homes are far distant, return with me to my house, which is close by; there you can rest a while, and each of us put our various powers to the proof.' This proposal pleased the Wrestler and the Pearlshooter, who accompanied the Pundit to his house.

Now, in the Pundit's kitchen there was an enormous caldron of iron, so heavy that five-and-twenty men could hardly move it; and in the dead of night, the Wrestler, to prove his power, got up from the verandah where he was sleeping, and as quietly as possible lifted this great caldron on to his shoulders, and carried it down to the river, where he waded with it into the deepest part of the water, and there buried it. After having accomplished this feat, he returned to the Pundit's house as quietly as he had left it, and, rolling himself up in his blanket fell fast asleep. But though he had come never so softly, the Pundit's wife heard him, and waking her husband, she said, 'I hear footsteps as of people creeping quietly about and not wishing to be heard, and but a little while ago I noticed the same thing; perhaps there are thieves in the house, let us go and see; it is strange they should choose such a bright moonlight night.' And they both got up quickly, and walked round the house. They found nothing, however, out of order, nor any signs of anything having been touched or disarranged, until they came to the kitchen. And, indeed, at first they thought all was as they left it there, when, just as they were going away, the Pundit's wife cried out to him, 'Why, what has become of the great caldron? I never thought of looking to see if that were safe; for it did not seem possible that it could have been moved.' And they both looked inside the house and outside, but the caldron was nowhere to be seen. At last, however, they discovered deep footprints in the sand close to the kitchen-door, as of some one who had been carrying a very heavy weight, and these they traced down to the river-side.

Then the Pundit said, 'Some one immensely strong has evidently done this, for here are the footprints of one man only; and he must have buried the caldron in the water, for see, there is no continuation of footprints on the other side. I wonder who can have done it. Let us go and see that our two guests are asleep; perhaps the Wrestler played us this trick to prove his great strength.' And, with his wife, he went into the verandah where the Pearlshooter and the Wrestler lay rolled up in their blankets, fast asleep. First they looked at the Pearlshooter; but, on seeing him, the Pundit shook his head, saying, 'No, he certainly has not done this thing.' They then looked at the Wrestler, and the cunning Pundit licked the skin of the sleeping man, and, turning to his wife, whispered, 'This assuredly is the man who stole the caldron and put it in the river, for he must have been but lately up to his neck in fresh water, since there's no taste of salt on his skin from his foot even to his shoulders. To-morrow I will surprise him by showing him I know this.' And so saying, the Pundit crept back into the house followed by his wife.

Next morning early, as soon as it was light, the Pearlshooter and the Wrestler were accosted by their host, who said to them, 'Let us come down to the river and have a bathe, for I cannot offer you a bath, since the great caldron, in which we generally wash, has been mysteriously carried away this very night.'—'Where can it have gone?' said the Wrestler. 'Ah! where indeed?' answered the Pundit, and he led them down to where the caldron had been put into the river by the Wrestler the night before, and, wading about in the water until he found it, pointed it out to him, saying, 'See, friend, how far this caldron travelled!' The Wrestler was much surprised to find that the Pundit knew where the caldron was hidden, and said, 'Who can have put it there?'—'I will tell you,' answered the Pundit, 'why I think it was you!' And then he related how his wife had heard footsteps, and being afraid of thieves, had awakened him the night before, and how they had discovered that the caldron was missing, and traced it down to the river-side; and then how he had found out that the Wrestler had just before been into the water up to his neck. The Wrestler and the Pearlshooter were both much astonished at the Pundit's wisdom in having found this out; and the Pearlshooter said to himself, 'Both these men are certainly more clever than I.' Then the three clever men returned to the house, and were very happy and joyful, and amused themselves laughing and talking all the rest of the day; and when evening came, the Pundit said to the Wrestler, 'Let us to-night forego all meagre fare, and have a royal feast; friend Strongman, pray you go and catch the fattest of those goats that we see upon the hills yonder, and we will cook it for our dinner.' The Wrestler assented, and ran on and on, until he reached the flock of goats which were browsing upon the hillside. Now, just at that moment a wicked little Demon came by that way, and on seeing the Wrestler looking at the goats (to see which seemed the finest to take home to dinner), he thought to himself, 'If I can make him choose me, and take me home with him for his dinner, I shall be able to play him and his friends some fine tricks.' So, quick as thought, he changed himself into a very handsome goat, and when the Wrestler saw this one goat so much taller, and finer, and fatter than all the rest, he ran and caught hold of him, and tucked him under his arm, to carry him home for dinner. The goat kicked and kicked, and jumped about, and tried to butt more fiercely than the Wrestler had ever known any mortal goat do before, but still he held him tight, and brought him in triumph to the Pundit's door. The Pundit heard him coming, and ran out to meet him; but when he saw the goat, he started back terrified, for the Wrestler was holding it so tight that its eyes were almost starting out of its head, and they were fiery and evil-looking, and burning like two living coals, insomuch that the Pundit saw at once that it was a Demon, and no goat that his friend held. Then he thought quickly, 'If I appear to be frightened this cruel Demon will get into the house and devour us all; I must endeavour to intimidate him.' So, in a bold voice, he cried, 'O Wrestler! Wrestler! foolish friend! what have you done? We asked you to fetch a fat goat for our dinner, and here you have only brought one wretched little Demon. If you could not find goats, while you were about it you might as well have brought more Demons, for we are hungry people. My children are each accustomed to eat one Demon a day, and my wife eats three, and I myself eat twelve, and here you have only brought one between us all! What are we to do?' At hearing these reproaches the Wrestler was so much astonished that he dropped the Demon goat, who, for his part, was so frightened at the Pundit's words, that he came crawling along quite humbly upon his knees, saying, 'O sir! do not eat me, do not eat me, and I will give you anything you like in the world. Only let me go, and I will fetch you mountains of treasure, rubies and diamonds and gold and precious stones beyond all count. Do not eat me; only let me go!'—'No, no,' said the Pundit; 'I know what you'll do; you'll just go away and never return; we are very hungry; we do not want gold and precious stones, but we want a good dinner; we must certainly eat you.' The Demon thought all that the Pundit said must be true, he spoke so fearlessly and naturally. So he only repeated more earnestly, 'Only let me go; I promise you to return and bring you all the riches that you could desire.' The Pundit was too wise to seem glad; but he said sternly, 'Very well, you may go; but unless you return quickly, and bring the treasure you promise, be you in the uttermost part of the earth, we will find you and eat you, for we are more powerful than you and all your fellows.'

The Demon, who had just experienced how much stronger the Wrestler was than ordinary men, and then heard from the Pundit's own lips of his love for eating Demons, thought himself exceedingly lucky to have escaped their clutches so easily; and, returning to his own land, he fetched from the Demon's storehouse a vast amount of precious things with which he was flying away with all speed (in order to pay his debt and avoid being afterwards hunted and eaten), when several of his comrades caught hold of him, and in angry tones asked whither he was carrying so much of their treasure. The Demon answered, 'I take it to save my life; for whilst wandering round the world I was caught by terrible creatures, more dreadful than the sons of men, and they threaten to eat me unless I bring the treasure.'

'We should like to see these dreadful creatures,' answered they, 'for we never before heard of mortals who devoured Demons.' To which he replied, 'These are not ordinary mortals; I tell you they are the fiercest creatures I ever saw, and would devour our Rajah himself, if they got the chance; one of them said that he daily ate twelve Demons, that his wife ate three, and each of his children one.' At hearing this they consented to let him go for the time; but the Demon Rajah commanded him to return with all speed next day, that the matter might be further discussed in solemn council.

When, after three days' absence, the Demon returned to the Pundit's house with the treasure, the Pundit said to him angrily, 'Why have you been so long away? You promised to return as soon as possible.' He answered, 'All my fellow-Demons detained me, and would hardly let me go, they were so vexed at my bringing you so much treasure; and though I told them how great and powerful you are, they would not believe me, but will, as soon as I return, judge me in solemn council for serving you.'—'Where is your solemn council held?' asked the Pundit. 'Oh, very far, far away,' answered the Demon, 'in the depths of the jungle, where our Rajah daily holds his court.'—'I and my friends should like to see the place, and your Rajah, and all his court,' said the Pundit; 'you must take us with you when you go, for we have absolute mastery over all Demons, even over their Rajah himself, and unless you do as we command, we shall be very angry.'— 'Very well,' answered the Demon for he felt quite frightened at the Pundit's fierce words; 'mount on my back, and I'll take you there.' So the Pundit, the Wrestler, and the Pearlshooter all mounted the Demon, and he flew away with them, on, on, on, as fast as wings could cut the air, till they reached the great jungle where the durbar[3] was to be held, and there he placed them all on the top of a high tree just over the Demon Rajah's throne. In a few minutes the Pearlshooter, the Wrestler, and the Pundit heard a rushing noise, and thousands and thousands of Demons filled the place, covering the ground as far as the eye could reach, and thronging chiefly round the Rajah's throne; but they did not notice the men up in the tree above them. Then the Rajah ordered that the evil spirit, who had taken of their treasure to give to mortals, should be brought to judgment; and when they had dragged the culprit into the midst of them, they accused him, and having proved him guilty, would have punished him, but he defended himself stoutly, saying, 'Noble Rajah, those who forced me to fetch them treasure were no ordinary mortals, but great and terrible; they said they ate many Demons; the man eats twelve a day, his wife eats three, and each of his children one. He said, moreover, that he and his friends were more powerful than us all, and ruled your majesty as absolutely as we are ruled by you.' The Demon Rajah answered, 'Let us see these great people of whom you speak, and we will believe you; but—.' At this moment the tree upon which the Pundit, the Pearlshooter, and the Wrestler were broke, and down they all tumbled; first the Wrestler, then the Pearlshooter, and lastly the Pundit, upon the head of the Demon Rajah as he sat in judgment. They seemed to have come down from the sky, so suddenly did they appear, and, being very much alarmed at their awkward position, determined to take the aggressive. So the Wrestler kicked and hugged and beat the Rajah with all his might and main, and the Pearlshooter did likewise, while the Pundit, who was perched up a little higher than either of the others, cried, 'So be it! so be it! We will eat him first for dinner, and afterwards we will eat all the other Demons.' The evil spirits hearing this, one and all flew away from the confusion, and left their Rajah to his fate; while he cried, 'Oh, spare me! spare me! I see it is all true; only let me go, and I will give you as much treasure as you like.'—'No, no,' said the Pundit; 'don't listen to him, friends; we will eat him for dinner.' And the Wrestler and the Pearlshooter kicked and beat him harder than before. Then the Demon cried again, 'Let me go! let me go!'—'No, no,' they answered; and they chastised him vigorously for the space of an hour, until, at last, fearing they might get tired, the Pundit said, 'The treasure would be no use to us here in the jungle, but if you brought us a very great deal to our own house, we might give up eating you for dinner to-day; you must, however, give us great compensation, for we are all very hungry.' To this the Demon Rajah gladly agreed, and calling together his scattered subjects, ordered them to take the three valiant men home again, and convey the treasure to the Pundit's house. The little Demons obeyed his orders with much fear and trembling, but they were eager to do their best to get the Pundit, the Pearlshooter, and the Wrestler out of Demon-land, who for their parts were no less anxious to go. When they got home, the Pundit said, 'You shall not leave until the engagement is fulfilled.'

Instantly Demons without number filled the house with riches; and when they had accomplished their task, they all flew away, greatly fearing the terrible Pundit and his friends, who talked of eating Demons as men would eat almonds and raisins. So, by never showing that he was afraid, this brave Pundit saved his family from being eaten by these evil spirits, and also got a vast amount of treasure. He divided the spoil into three equal portions: a third he gave to the Wrestler, a third to the Pearlshooter, and a third he kept himself; after which he sent his friends with many kindly words back to their own homes. So the Pearlshooter returned to his house laden with gold and jewels of priceless worth; and when he got there, he called his wife and gave them to her, saying, 'I have been a far journey, and brought back all these treasures for you, and I have learnt that your words were true, since in the world there are cleverer men than I; for mine is a cleverness that profits not, and but for a Pundit and a Wrestler, I should not have gained these riches. I will shoot the pearl from your nose-ring no more.' And he never did.

  1. See Notes.
  2. Wise man.
  3. Council.