Indian Fairy Tales (Stokes, 1879)/The Bed

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IN a country there was a grain merchant's son, whose father and mother loved him so dearly, that they did not let him do anything but play and amuse himself while they worked for him. They never taught him any trade, or anything at all; for they never reflected that they might die, and that then he would have to work for himself. When he was old enough to be married, they found a wife for him, and married him to her. Then they all lived happily together for some years till the father and mother both died.

Their son and his wife lived for awhile on the pice his father and mother had left him. But the wife grew sadder and sadder every day, for the pice grew fewer and fewer. She thought, "What shall we do when they are all gone? My husband knows no trade, and can do no work." One day when she was looking very sorrowful, her husband asked her, "What is the matter? Why are you so unhappy?" "We have hardly any pice left," she answered, "and what shall we do when we have eaten the few we have? You know no trade, and can do no work." "Never mind," said her husband, "I can do some work."

So one day when there were hardly any pice left, he took an axe, and said to his wife, "I am going out to-day to work. Give me my dinner to take with me, and I will eat it out of doors." She gave him some food, wondering what work he had; but she did not ask him.

He went to a jungle where he stayed all day, and where he ate his dinner. All day long he wandered from tree to tree, saying to each, "May I cut you down?" But not a tree in the jungle gave him any answer: so he cut none down, and went home in the evening. His wife did no ask where he had been, or what he had done, and he said nothing to her.

The next day he again asked her for food to take with him to eat out of doors, "for," he said, "I am going to work all day." She did not like to ask him any questions, but gave him the food. And he took his axe and went out to a jungle which was on a different side to the one he had been to yesterday. In this jungle also he went to every tree, and said to it, "May I cut you down?" No tree answered him; so he ate his dinner and came home.

The next day he went to a third jungle on the third side. There, too, he asked each tree, "May I cut you down? " But none gave him any answer. He came home therefore very sorrowful.

On the fourth day he went to a jungle on the fourth side. All day long he went from tree to tree, asking each, "May I cut you down?" None answered. At last, towards evening, he went and stood under a mango tree. "May I cut you down?" he said to it. "Yes, cut me down," answered the tree. God loved the merchant's son and wished him to grow a great man, so he ordered the mango-tree to let itself be cut down.

Now the grain merchant's son was happy, for he was quite sure he could make a bed, if he only had some wood; so he hewed down the mango tree, put it on his head, and carried it home. His wife saw him coming, and said to herself, "He is bringing home a tree! What can he be going to do with a tree?"

Next morning he took the tree into one of the rooms of his house. He told his wife to put food and water to last him for a week in this room, and to make a fire in it. Then he went up to the room, and said to her, "You are not to come in here for a whole week. You are not to come near me till I call you." Then he went into the room and shut the door. The whole week long his wife wondered what he could be doing all alone in that room. "I cannot see into it," she said to herself, "and I dare not open the door. I wonder what he is about."

By the end of the week the grain merchant's son had carved a most beautiful bed out of the mango tree. Such a beautiful bed had never been seen. Then he called his wife, and when she came he told her to open the door, and when she opened it he said, "See what a beautiful bed I have made." "Did you make that bed?" she said. "Oh, what a beautiful bed it is! I never saw such a lovely bed!"

He rested that day, and on the day following he took the bed to the king's palace, and sat down with it before the palace gate. The king's servants all came to look at the bed. "What a bed it is!" they said. "Did any one ever see such a bed! It is a beautiful bed. Is it yours?" they asked the merchant's son. "Is it for sale? Who made it? Did you make it?" But he said, "I will not answer any of your questions. I will not speak to any of you. I will only speak to the king." So the servants went to the king and said to him, "There is a man at your gate with a most beautiful bed. But he will not speak to any of us, and says he will only speak to you." "Very good," said the king; "bring him to me."

When the grain merchant's son came before the king with his bed, the king asked him, "Is your bed for sale?" "Yes," he said. "What a beautiful bed it is!" said the king. "Who made it?" "I did," he said. "I made it myself." "How much do you want for it?" said the king. "One thousand rupees," answered the merchant's son. "That is a great deal for the bed," said the king. "I will not take less," said the merchant's son. "Good," said the king, "I will give you the thousand rupees." So he took the bed, and the merchant's son said to him, "The first night you pass on it, do not go to sleep. Take care to keep awake, and you will hear and see something." Then he took the rupees home to his wife, who was frightened when she saw them. "Are those your rupees?" she said. "Where did you find such a quantity of rupees?" "The king gave them to me for my bed," he said. "I am not a thief; I did not steal them." Then she was happy.

That night the king lay down on his bed, and at ten o'clock he heard one of the bed's legs say to the other legs, "Listen, you three. I am going out to see the king's country. Do you all stand firm while I am away, and take care not to let the king fall." "Good," the three legs answered; "go and eat the air, and we will all stand fast, so that the king does not fall while you are away."

Then the king saw the leg leave the bed, and go out of his room door. The leg went out to a great plain, and there it saw two snakes quarrelling together. One snake said, "I will bite the king." The other said, "I will bite him." The first said, "No, you won't; I will climb on to his bed and bite him." "That you will never do," said the second. "You cannot climb on to his bed; but I will get into his shoe, and then when he puts it on to-morrow morning, I will bite his foot."

The bed-leg came back and told the other legs what it had seen and heard. "If the king will shake his shoe before he puts it on to-morrow morning," it said, "he will see a snake drop out of it." The king heard all that was said.

"Now," said the second bed-leg, "I will go out and eat the air of the king's country. Do you all stand firm while I am away." "Go," the others answered; "we will take care the king does not fall," The second bed-leg then went out, and went to another plain on which stood a very old palace belonging to the king, and the wind told it the palace was so ruinous, that it would fall and kill the king the first time he went into it: the king had never once had it repaired. So it came back and told the three other legs all about the palace and what the wind had said. "If I were the king," said the second bed-leg, "I would have that palace pulled down. It is quite ready to fall; and the first time the king goes into it, it will fall on him and kill him." The king lay and listened to everything. As it happened, he had forgotten all about his old palace, and had not gone near it for a long time.

Then the third bed-leg said, "Now I will go out and see all the fun I can. Stand firm, you three, while I am away." He went to a jungle-plain on which lived a yogí. Now there was a sarai[1] not far off in which lived a woman, the wife of a sepoy, whose husband had gone a year ago to another country, leaving her in the sarai. She was so fond of the yogí, that she used to come and talk to him every night. That very day her husband came back to her, and therefore it was later than usual when she got to the yogí; so he was very vexed with her. "How late you are to-night," he said. "It is not my fault," she answered. "My husband came home to-day after having been away a year, and he kept me." "Which of us do you love best?" asked the yogí; "your husband or me?" "I love you best," said the woman. "Then," said the yogí, "go home and cut off your husband's head, and bring it here for me to see." The sepoy's wife went straight to the sarai, cut off her husband's head, and brought it to the yogí. "What a wicked woman you are to do such a thing at my bidding!" he said. "Go away at once. You are a wicked woman, and I do not want to see you." She took the head home, set it again on the body, and began to cry. All the people in the sarai came to see what was the matter. "Thieves have been here," she said, "and have killed my husband, and cut off his head," and then she cried again. The third bed-leg now went back to the palace, and told the others all it had seen and heard. The king lay still and listened.

The fourth bed-leg next went out to see all it could, and it came to a plain on which were seven thieves, who had just been into the king's palace and had carried off his daughter on her bed fast asleep; and there she lay still sleeping. They had, too, been into the king's treasury and had taken all his rupees. The fourth bed-leg came quickly back to the palace, and said to the other three legs, "Now, if the king were wise he would get up instantly and go to the plain. For some thieves are there with his daughter and all his rupees which they have just stolen out of his palace. If he only made haste and went at once, he would get them again."

The king got up that minute and called his servants and some sepoys and set off to the plain. He shook his shoe before he put it on, and out tumbled the snake (the other had quietly gone into the jungle, and not come to the palace); so he saw that the first bed-leg had spoken the truth.

When he reached the plain he found his daughter and his rupees, and brought them back to his palace. The princess slept all the time and did not know what had happened to her. The king saw the fourth leg had told the truth. The thieves he could not catch, for they all ran away when they saw him coming with his sepoys.

The king sent men to the old palace to pull it down. They found it was just going to fall, and would have fallen on any one who had entered it and crushed him. So the second bed-leg had told the truth.

When the king was sitting in his court-house he heard how during the night thieves had gone into the sarai and killed a sepoy there and cut off his head. Then he sent for the sepoy's wife and asked her who had killed her husband. "Thieves," she said. The king was very angry, for he was sure the third bed-leg had told the truth as the other three legs had done. So he ordered the man to be buried; and bade his servants make a great wooden pile on the plain, and take the woman and burn her on it. They were not to leave her as long as she was alive, but to wait till she was dead.

He next sent for the grain merchant's son, and said to him, "Had it not been for your bed, I should this morning have been bitten by a snake; and, perhaps, killed by my old palace falling on me, as I did not know it was ready to fall, and so might have gone into it. My daughter would certainly have been stolen from me; and a wicked woman been still alive. So now, to-morrow, bring as many carts as you like, and I will give you as a present as many rupees as you can take away on them in half a day."

Early the next morning the merchant's son brought his carts and took away on them as many rupees as he could in half a day. His wife was delighted when she saw the money and said, "My husband only worked for one week, and yet he earned all these rupees!" And they lived always happily.

Told by Múniyá, February 23rd, 1879.

  1. That is, a resting place for travellers, composed of a number of small houses in a walled enclosure.