Old Deccan Days/The Wanderings of Vicram Maharajah
THE WANDERINGS OF VICRAM MAHARAJAH.
THERE was once upon a time a Rajah named Vicram Maharajah, who had a Wuzeer, named Butti. Both the Rajah and his minister were left orphans when very young, and ever since their parents' death they had lived together; they were educated together, and they loved each other tenderly—like brothers.
Both were good and kind—no poor man coming to the Rajah was ever known to have been sent away disappointed, for it was his delight to give food and clothes to those in need. But whilst the Wuzeer had much judgment and discretion, as well as a brilliant fancy, the Rajah was too apt to allow his imagination to run away with his reason.
Under their united rule, however, the kingdom prospered greatly. The Rajah was the spur of every noble work, and the Wuzeer the curb to every rash or impracticable project.
In a country some way from Rajah Vicram's there lived a little Queen, called Anar Ranee (the Pomegranate Queen). Her father and mother reigned over the Pomegranate country, and for her they made a beautiful garden. In the middle of the garden was a lovely pomegranate tree, bearing three large pomegranates. They opened in the centre, and in each was a little bed. In one of them Anar Ranee used to sleep, and in the pomegranates on either side slept two of her maids.
Every morning early the pomegranate tree would bend its branches gently to the ground, and the fruit would open, and Anar Ranee and her attendants creep out to play under the shadow of the cool tree until the evening; and each evening the tree again bent down to enable them to get into their tiny, snug bedrooms.
Many princes wished to marry Anar Ranee, for she was said to be the fairest lady upon earth. Her hair was black as a raven's wing, her eyes like the eyes of a gazelle, her teeth two rows of exquisite pearls, and her cheeks the colour of the rosy pomegranate. But her father and mother had caused her garden to be hedged round with seven hedges made of bayonets, so that none could go in or out; and they had published a decree that none should marry her but he who could enter the garden and gather the three pomegranates in which she and her two maids slept. To do this, kings, princes, and nobles innumerable had striven, but striven in vain.
Some never got past the first sharp hedge of bayonets; others, more fortunate, surmounted the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, or even the sixth; but there perished miserably, being unable to climb the seventh. None had ever succeeded in entering the garden.
Before Vicram Maharajah's father and mother died, they had built, some way from their palace, a very beautiful temple. It was of marble, and in the centre stood an idol made of pure gold. But in course of time the jungle had grown up round it, and thick straggling plants of prickly pear had covered it, so that it was difficult even to find out whereabouts it was.
Then one day, the Wuzeer Butti said to Vicram Maharajah, 'The temple your father and mother built at so much pains and cost is almost lost in the jungle, and will probably ere long be in ruins. It would be a pious work to find it out and restore it.' Vicram Maharajah agreed, and immediately sent for many workmen, and caused the jungle to be cut down, and the temple restored. All were much astonished to find what a beautiful place it was! The floor was of white marble, the walls exquisitely carved in bas-reliefs and gorgeously coloured, while all over the ceiling was painted Vicram Maharajah's father's name, and in the centre was a golden image of Gunputti, to whom the temple was dedicated.
The Rajah Vicram was so pleased with the beauty of the place, that on that account, as well as because of its sanctity, he and Butti used to go and sleep there every night.
One night whilst there Vicram had a wonderful dream. He dreamed his father appeared to him and said, 'Arise, Vicram, go to the tower for lights which is in front of this temple.'
(For there was in front of the temple a beautiful tower or pyramid for lights, and all the way up it were projections on which to place candles on days dedicated to the idol; so that when the whole was lighted, it looked like a gigantic candlestick, and to guard it there were around it seven hedges made of bayonets.)
'Arise, Vicram, therefore,' said the vision, 'go to the tower for lights; below it is a vast amount of treasure, but you can only get it in one way without incurring the anger of Gunputti. You must first do in his honour an act of very great devotion, which if he graciously approve, and consent to preserve your life therein, you may with safety remove the treasure.'
'And what is this act of devotion?' asked Vicram Maharajah.
'It is this.' (He thought his father answered.) 'You must fasten a rope to the top of the tower, and to the other end of the rope attach a basket, into which you must get head downwards, then twist the rope by which the basket is hung three times, and as it is untwisting, cut it, when you will fall head downwards to the earth.
'If you fall on either of the hedges of bayonets, you will be instantly killed; but Gunputti is merciful do not fear that he will allow you to be slain. If you escape unhurt, you will know that he has accepted your pious act, and may without danger take the treasure.'
The vision faded, Vicram saw no more, and shortly afterwards he awoke.
Then turning to the Wuzeer he said, 'Butti, I had a strange dream. I dreamed my father counselled me to do an act of great devotion, nothing less than fastening a basket by a rope to the top of the tower for lights, and getting into it head downwards, then cutting the rope and allowing myself to fall; by which, having propitiated the divinity, he promised me a vast treasure, to be found by digging under the tower! What do you think I had better do?'
'My advice,' answered the Wuzeer, 'is, if you care to seek the treasure, to do entirely as your father commanded, trusting in the mercy of Gunputti.'
So the Rajah caused a basket to be fastened by a rope to the top of the tower, and got into it head downwards; then he called out to Butti, 'How can I cut the rope?' 'Nothing is easier,' answered he; 'take this sword in your hand. I will twist the rope three times, and as it untwists for the first time let the sword fall upon it.' Vicram Maharajah took the sword, and Butti twisted the rope, and as it first began to untwist the Rajah cut it, and the basket immediately fell. It would have certainly gone down among the bayonets, and he been instantly killed, had not Gunputti, seeing the danger of his devotee, rushed out of the temple at that moment, in the form of an old woman, who, catching the basket in her arms before it touched the bayonets, brought it gently and safely to the ground; having done which she instantly returned into the temple. None of the spectators knew she was Gunputti himself in disguise, they only thought 'what a clever old woman!'
Vicram Maharajah then caused excavations to be made below the tower, under which he found an immense amount of treasure. There were mountains of gold, there were diamonds, and rubies, and sapphires, and emeralds, and turquoise, and pearls; but he took none of them, causing all to be sold and the money given to the poor, so little did he care for the riches for which some men sell their bodies and souls.
Another day, the Rajah, when in the temple, dreamed again. Again his father appeared to him, and this time he said, 'Vicram, come daily to this temple and Gunputti will teach you wisdom, and you shall get understanding. You may get learning in the world, but wisdom is the fruit of much learning and much experience, and much love of God and man; wherefore, come, acquire wisdom, for learning perishes, but wisdom never dies.' When the Rajah awoke, he told his dream to the Wuzeer, and Butti recommended him to obey his father's counsel, which he accordingly did.
Daily he resorted to the temple and was instructed by Gunputti; and when he had learnt much, one day Gunputti said to him, 'I have given you as much wisdom as is in keeping with man's finite comprehension; now, as a parting gift, ask of me what you will and it shall be yours—or riches, or power, or beauty or long life, or health, or happiness—only choose what you will have.' The Rajah was very much puzzled, and he begged leave to be allowed a day to think over the matter and make his choice, to which Gunputti assented.
Now it happened that near the palace there lived the son of a Carpenter, who was very cunning, and when he heard that the Rajah went to the temple to learn wisdom, he also determined to go and see if he could not learn it also; and each day when Gunputti gave Vicram Maharajah instruction, the Carpenter's son would hide close behind the temple, and overhear all their conversation, so that he also became very wise. No sooner, therefore, did he hear Gunputti's offer to Vicram, than he determined to return again when the Rajah did, and find out in what way he was to procure the promised gift, whatever it were.
The Rajah consulted Butti as to what he should ask for, saying, 'I have riches more than enough, I have also sufficient power, and for the rest I had sooner take my chance with other men, which makes me much at a loss to know what to choose.'
The Wuzeer answered, 'Is there any supernatural power you at all desire to possess? If so, ask for that.' 'Yes,' replied the Rajah, 'it has always been a great desire of mine to have power to leave my own body when I will, and translate my soul and sense into some other body, either of man or animal. I would rather be able to do that than anything else.' 'Then,' said the Wuzeer, 'ask Gunputti to give you the power.'
Next morning the Rajah, having bathed and prayed, went in great state to the temple to have his final interview with the Idol. And the Carpenter's son went too, in order to overhear it.
Then Gunputti said to the Rajah, 'Vicram, what gift do you choose?' 'O divine power,' answered the Rajah, 'you have already given me a sufficiency of wealth and power in making me Rajah; neither care I for more of beauty than I now possess; and of long life, health, and happiness, I had rather take my share with other men. But there is a gift which I would rather own than all that you have offered.'
'Name it, O good son of a good father,' said Gunputti.
'Most Wise,' replied Vicram, 'give me the power to leave my own body when I will, and translate my soul and sense and thinking powers into any other body that I may choose, either of man or bird or beast—whether for a day, or a year, or for twelve years, or as long as I like; grant also that however long the term of my absence my body may not decay, but that whenever I return to it again I may find it still as when I left it.'
'Vicram,' answered Gunputti, 'your prayer is heard,' and he instructed Vicram Maharajah by what means he should translate his soul into another body, and also gave him something, which, being placed within his own body when he left it, would preserve it from decay until his return.
The Carpenter's son, who had been all this time listening outside the temple, heard and learnt the spell whereby Gunputti gave Vicram Maharajah power to enter into any other body; but he could not see nor find out what was given to the Rajah to place within his own body when he left it to preserve it, so that he was only master of half the secret.
Vicram Maharajah returned home, and told the Wuzeer that he was possessed of the much-desired knowledge. 'Then,' said Butti, 'the best use you can put it to, is to fly to the Pomegranate country, and bring Anar Ranee here.'
'How can that be done?' asked the Rajah. 'Thus,' replied Butti; 'transport yourself into the body of a parrot, in which shape you will be able to fly over the seven hedges of bayonets that surround her garden. Go to the tree in the centre of it, bite off the stalks of the pomegranates and bring them home in your beak.'
'Very well,' said the Rajah, and he picked up a parrot which lay dead on the ground, and placing within his own body the beauty-preserving charm, transported his soul into the parrot and flew off. On, on, on he went, over the hills and far away, until he came to the garden. Then he flew over the seven hedges of bayonets, and with his beak broke off the three pomegranates (in which were Anar Ranee and her two ladies) and holding them by the stalks brought them safely home. He then immediately left the parrot's body and re-entered his own body.
When Butti saw how well he had accomplished the feat, he said, 'Thank heaven there's some good done already.' All who saw Anar Ranee were astonished at her beauty, for she was fair as a lotus-flower, and the colour on her cheeks was like the deep rich colour of a pomegranate, and all thought the Rajah very wise to have chosen such a wife.
They had a magnificent wedding, and were for a short time as happy as the day is long.
But within a little while Vicram Maharajah said to Butti, 'I have again a great desire to see the world.'
'What!' said Butti, 'so soon again to leave your home! So soon to care to go away from your young wife!'
'I love her and my people dearly,' answered the Rajah; 'but I cannot help feeling that I have this supernatural power of taking any form I please, and longing to use it.'
'Where and how will you go?' asked the Wuzeer.
'Let it be the day after to-morrow,' answered Vicram Maharajah. 'I shall again take the form of a parrot, and see as much of the world as possible.'
So it was settled that the Rajah should go. He left his kingdom in the Wuzeer's sole charge, and also his wife, saying to her, 'I don't know for how long I may be away; perhaps a day, perhaps a year, perhaps more. But if, while I am gone, you should be in any difficulty, apply to the Wuzeer. He has ever been like an elder brother or a father to me; do you therefore also regard him as a father. I have charged him to take care of you as he would of his own child.'
Having said these words, the Rajah caused a beautiful parrot to be shot (it was a very handsome bird, with a tuft of bright feathers on its head and a ring about its neck). He then cut a small incision in his arm and rubbed into it some of the magic preservative given him by Gunputti to keep his body from decaying, and, transporting his soul into the parrot's body, he flew away.
No sooner did the Carpenter's son hear that the Rajah was as dead, than, knowing the power of which Vicram Maharajah and he were alike possessed, he felt certain that the former had made use of it, and determined himself likewise to turn it to account. Therefore, directly the Rajah entered the parrot's body, the Carpenter's son entered the Rajah's body, and the world at large imagined that the Rajah had only swooned and recovered. But the Wuzeer was wiser than they, and immediately thought to himself, 'Some one besides Vicram Maharajah must have become acquainted with this spell, and be now making use of it, thinking it would be very amusing to play the part of Rajah for a while; but I'll soon discover if this be the case or no.'
So he called Anar Ranee, and said to her, 'You are as well assured as I am that your husband left us but now in the form of a parrot; but scarcely had he gone before his deserted body arose, and he now appears walking about, and talking, and as much alive as ever; nevertheless, my opinion is, that the spirit animating the body is not the spirit of the Rajah, but that some one else is possessed of the power given to him by Gunputti, and has taken advantage of it to personate him. This we must try and discover. Do therefore as I tell you, that we may put the matter to proof. Make to-day for your husband's dinner some very coarse and common currie, and give it to him. If he complains that it is not as good as usual, I am making a mistake; but if, on the contrary, he says nothing about it, you will know that my words are true, and that he is not Vicram Maharajah.'
Anar Ranee did as the Wuzeer advised, and afterwards came to him and said, 'Father' (for so she always called him), 'I have been much astonished at the result of the trial. I made the currie very carelessly, and it was as coarse and common as possible; but the Rajah did not even complain. I feel convinced it is as you say; but what can we do?'
'We will not,' answered the Wuzeer, 'cast him into prison, since he inhabits your husband's body; but neither you nor any of the Rajah's relations must have any friendship with, or so much as speak to him; and if he speak to any of you, let whoever it be immediately begin to quarrel with him, whereby he will find the life of a Rajah not so agreeable as he anticipated, and may be induced the sooner to return to his proper form.'
Anar Ranee instructed all her husband's relations and friends as Butti had advised, and the Carpenter's son began to think the life of a Rajah not at all as pleasant as he had fancied, and would, if he could, have gladly returned to his own body again; but, having no power to preserve it, his spirit had no sooner left it than it began to decay, and at the end of three days was quite destroyed; so that he had no alternative but to remain where he was.
Meantime the real Vicram Maharajah had flown, in the form, of a parrot, very far, far away, until he reached a large banyan tree, where there were a thousand other pretty pollies, whom he joined, making their number a thousand and one. Every day the parrots flew away to get food, and every night they returned to roost in the great banyan tree.
Now it chanced that a hunter had often gone through that part of the jungle, and noticed the banyan tree and the parrots, and said to himself, 'If I could only catch the thousand and one parrots that nightly roost in that tree, I should not be so often hungry as I am now, for they would make plenty of very nice currie.' But he could not do it, though he frequently tried; for the trunks of the trees were tall and straight, and very slippery, so that he no sooner climbed up a little way than he slid down again: however, he did not cease to look and long.
One day a heavy shower of rain drove all the parrots back earlier than usual to their tree, and there they found a thousand crows, who had come on their homeward flight to shelter themselves till the storm was over.
Then Vicram Maharajah Parrot said to the other parrots, 'Do you not see these crows have all sorts of seeds and fruits in their beaks, which they were carrying home to their little ones? Let us quickly drive them away, lest some of these fall down under our tree, which, being sown there, will spring up strong plants and twine round the trunks, and enable our enemy the hunter to climb up with ease and kill us all.'
But the other parrots answered, 'That is a very far-fetched idea! Do not let us hunt the poor birds away from shelter in this pouring rain, they will get so wet.' So the crows were not molested. It turned out, however, just as Vicram Maharajah had foretold; for some of the fruits and seeds they were taking home to their young ones fell under the tree, and the seeds took root and sprang up strong creeping plants, which twined all round the straight trunks of the banyan-tree, and made it very easy to climb.
Next time the hunter came by he noticed this, and saying, 'Ah, my fine friends, I've got you at last,' he, by the help of the creepers, climbed the tree, and set one thousand and one snares of fine thread among the branches, having done which he went away.
That night when the parrots flew down on the branches as usual, they found themselves all caught fast prisoners by the feet.
'Crick! crick! crick!' cried they, 'crick! crick! crick! O dear! O dear! what shall we do? what can we do? O Vicram Maharajah, you were right and we were wrong. O dear! O dear! crick! crick! crick!'
Then Vicram said, 'Did I not tell you how it would be? But do as I bid you, and we may yet be saved. So soon as the hunter comes to take us away, let each one of us hang his head down on one side, as if he were dead; then, thinking us dead, he will not trouble himself to wring our necks, or stick the heads of those he wishes to keep alive through his belt, as he otherwise would, but will merely release us and throw us on the ground. Let us when there remain perfectly still, till the whole thousand and one are set free, and the hunter begins to descend the tree; then we will all fly up over his head and far out of sight.'
The parrots agreed to do as Vicram Maharajah Parrot proposed, and when the hunter came next morning to take them away, every one of them had his eyes shut and his head hanging down on one side, as if he were dead. Then the hunter said, 'All dead, indeed! Then I shall have plenty of nice currie.' And so saying, he cut the noose that held the first and threw him down. The parrot fell like a stone to the ground, so did the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, and so on up to the thousandth parrot. Now the thousand-and-first chanced to be none other than Vicram;—all were released but he. But, just as the hunter was going to cut the noose round his feet, he let his knife fall, and had to go down and pick it up again. When the thousand parrots who were on the ground heard him coming down they thought, 'The thousand and one are all released, and here comes the hunter; it is time for us to be off.' And with one accord they flew up into the air and far out of sight, leaving poor Vicram Maharajah still a prisoner!
The hunter seeing what had happened, was very angry, and seizing Vicram, said to him, 'You wretched bird, it's you that have worked all this mischief! I know it must be, for you are a stranger here, and different from the other parrots. I'll strangle you, at all events—that I will!' But to his surprise the parrot answered, 'Do not kill me. What good will that do you? Rather sell me in the next town. I am very handsome. You will get a thousand gold mohurs, for me.'
'A thousand gold mohurs!' answered the hunter, much astonished. 'You silly bird, who'd be so foolish as to give a thousand gold mohurs for a parrot?'
'Never mind,' said Vicram, 'only take me and try.' So the hunter took him into the town, crying, 'Who'll buy? who'll buy? Come buy this pretty polly that can talk so nicely! See how handsome he is; see what a great red ring he has round his neck! Who'll buy? who'll buy?'
Then several people asked how much he would take for the parrot; but when he said a thousand gold mohurs, they all laughed and went away, saying, 'None but a fool would give so much for a bird.' At last the hunter got angry, and he said to Vicram, 'I told you how it would be. I shall never be able to sell you.' But he answered, 'Oh yes, you will. See, here comes a merchant down this way; I dare say he will buy me.' So the hunter went to the merchant and said to him, 'Pray, sir, buy my pretty parrot.' 'How much do you want for him?' asked the merchant, 'two rupees?' No, sir,' answered the hunter, 'I cannot part with him for less than a thousand gold mohurs.' 'A thousand gold mohurs!' cried the merchant, 'a thousand gold mohurs! I never heard of such a thing in my life! A thousand mohurs for one little wee polly! Why, with that sum you might buy a house, or gardens, or horses, or ten thousand yards of the best cloth. Who's going to give you such a sum for a parrot? Not I indeed. I'll give you two rupees and no more.' But Vicram called out, 'Merchant, merchant, do not fear to buy me. I am Vicram Maharajah Parrot. Pay what the hunter asks, and I will repay it to you; buy me only, and I will keep your shop.'
'Polly,' answered the merchant, 'what nonsense you talk!' But he took a fancy to the bird, and paid the hunter a thousand gold mohurs, and taking Vicram Maharajah home, hung him up in his shop.
Then the Parrot took on him the duties of shopman, and talked so much and so wisely, that every one in the town soon heard of the merchant's wonderful bird. Nobody cared to go to any other shop—all came to his shop, only to hear the Parrot talk; and he sold them what they wanted, and they did not care how much he charged for what he sold, but gave him whatever he asked; insomuch that in one week the merchant had gained a thousand gold mohurs over and above his usual weekly profits; and there Vicram Maharajah Parrot lived for a long time, made much of by everybody, and very happy.
It happened in the town where the merchant lived there was a very accomplished Nautch-girl, named Champa Ranee. She danced so beautifully, that the people of the town used always to send for her to dance on the occasion of any great festival.
There also lived in the town a poor woodcutter, who earned his living by going daily far out into the jungle to cut wood, and bringing it into the bazaar to sell.
One day he went out as usual into the jungle to cut wood, and, being tired, he fell asleep under a tree and began to dream; and he dreamed that he was a very rich man, and that he married the beautiful Nautch-girl, and that he took her home to his house, and gave his wife, as a wedding present, a thousand gold mohurs!
When he went into the bazaar that evening as usual to sell wood, he began telling his dream to his friends, saying, 'While I was in the jungle I had such an absurd dream! I dreamed that I was a rich man, and that I married the Champa Ranee, and gave her as a wedding present a thousand gold mohurs!'
'What a funny dream!' they cried, and thought no more about it.
But it happened that the house by which he was standing whilst talking to his friends was Champa Ranee's house, and Champa Ranee herself was near the window, and heard what he said, and thought to herself, 'For all that man looks so poor, he has then a thousand gold mohurs, or he would not have dreamed of giving them to his wife; if that is all, I'll go to law about it, and see if I can't get the money.'
So she sent out her servants and ordered them to catch the poor woodcutter, and when they caught him, she began crying out, 'O husband! husband! here have I been waiting ever so long, wondering what has become of you; where have you been all this time?' He answered, 'I'm sure I don't know what you mean. You're a great lady, and I'm a poor woodcutter; you must mistake me for somebody else.'
But she answered, 'Oh no! don't you remember we were married on such and such a day? Have you forgotten what a grand wedding it was? and you took me home to your palace, and promised to give me as a wedding present a thousand gold mohurs! but you quite forgot to give me the money, and you went away, and I returned to my father's house till I should learn tidings of you; how can you be so cruel?'
The woodcutter thought he must be dreaming; but all Champa Ranee's friends and relations declared that what she said was true. Then after much quarrelling they said they would go to law about it; but the judge could not settle the matter, and referred it to the Rajah himself. The Rajah was no less puzzled than the judge.
The woodcutter protested that he was only a poor woodcutter; but Champa Ranee and her friends asserted that he was, on the contrary, a rich man, her husband, and had possessed much money, which he must have squandered. She offered, however, to give up all claim to that if he would only give her a thousand gold mohurs, which he had promised her as a wedding present; and so suggested a compromise. The woodcutter replied that he would gladly give the gold mohurs if he had them; but that (as he brought witnesses to prove) he was really and truly what he professed to be, only a poor woodcutter, who earned two annas a day cutting wood, and had neither palace, nor riches, nor wife in the world! The whole city was interested in this curious case, and all wondered how it would end; some being sure one side was right, and some equally certain of the other.
The Rajah could make nothing of the matter, and at last he said, 'I hear there is a merchant in this town who has a very wise parrot wiser than most men are; let him be sent for to decide this business, for it is beyond me; we will abide by his decision.'
So Vicram Maharajah Parrot was sent for, and placed in the Court of Justice, to hear and judge the case.
First he said to the woodcutter, 'Tell me your version of the story.' And the woodcutter answered, 'Polly, Sahib, what I tell is true. I am a poor man. I live in the jungle, and earn my living by cutting wood and selling it in the bazaar. I never get more than two annas a day. One day I fell asleep and dreamed a silly dream; how I had become rich and married the Champa Ranee, and given her as a wedding present a thousand gold mohurs; but it is no more true that I owed her a thousand gold mohurs, or have them to pay, than that I married her.'
'That is enough,' said Vicram Maharajah. 'Now, Dancinggirl, tell us your story.' And Champa Ranee gave her version of the matter. Then the Parrot said to her, 'Tell me now where was the house of this husband of yours to which he took you?' 'Oh!' she answered, 'very far away—I don't know how far—in the jungles.' 'How long ago was it?' asked he. 'At such and such a time,' she replied. Then he called credible and trustworthy witnesses, who proved that Champa Ranee had never left the city at the time she mentioned. After hearing whom, the Parrot said to her, 'Is it possible that you can have the folly to think any one would believe that you would leave your rich and costly home to go a long journey into the jungle? It is now satisfactorily proved that you did not do it; you had better give up all claim to the thousand gold mohurs.'
But this the Nautch-girl would not do. The Parrot then called for a money-lender, and begged of him the loan of a thousand gold mohurs, which he placed in a great bottle, putting the stopper in and sealing it securely down; he then gave it to the Nautch-girl, and said, 'Get this money if you can without breaking the seal or breaking the bottle.' She answered, 'It cannot be done.' 'No more,' replied Vicram Maharajah, 'can what you desire be done. You cannot force a poor man who has no money in the world to pay you a thousand gold mohurs. Let the prisoner go free! Begone, Champa Ranee! Dancing-girl, you are a liar and a thief; go rob the rich if you will, but meddle no more with the poor.'
All applauded Vicram Maharajah Parrot's decision, and said, 'Was ever such a wonderful bird!' But Champa Ranee was extremely angry, and said to him, 'Very well, nasty polly—nasty stupid polly! be assured before long I will get you in my power, and when I do, I will bite off your head!'
'Try your worst, madam,' answered Vicram; 'but in return, I tell you this; I will live to make you a beggar. Your house shall be, by your own order, laid even with the ground, and you for grief and rage shall kill yourself.'
'Agreed,' said Champa Ranee, 'we will soon see whose words come true, mine or yours,' and so saying, she returned home.
The merchant took Vicram Maharajah back to his shop, and a week passed without adventure; a fortnight passed, but still nothing particular happened. At the end of this time the merchant's eldest son was married, and in honour of the occasion the merchant ordered that a clever dancing-girl should be sent for to dance before the guests. Champa Ranee came, and danced so beautifully that every one was delighted; and the merchant was much pleased, and said to her, 'You have done your work very well, and in payment you may choose what you like out of my shop, or house, and it shall be yours—whether jewels, or rich cloths, or whatever it is.'
She replied, 'I desire nothing of the kind; of jewels and rich stuffs I have more than enough, but you shall give me your pretty little parrot; I like it much, and that is the only payment I will take.'
The merchant felt very much vexed, for he had never thought the Nautch-girl would ask for the parrot of which he was so fond, and which had been so profitable to him; he felt that he would rather have parted with anything he possessed than that: nevertheless, having promised, he was bound to keep his word; so, with many tears, he went to fetch his favourite. But Polly cried, 'Don't be vexed, master; give me to the girl; I can take good care of myself.'
So Champa Ranee took Vicram Maharajah Parrot home with her; and no sooner did she get there, than she sent for one of her maids, and said, 'Quick, take this parrot and boil him for my supper, but first cut off his head and bring it to me on a plate, grilled; for I will eat it before tasting any other dish.'
'What nonsensical idea is this of our mistress?' said the maid to another, as she took the parrot into the kitchen; 'to think of eating a grilled parrot's head!' 'Never mind,' said the other; 'you'd better prepare it as she bids you, or she'll be very cross.' Then the maid who had received the order began plucking the long feathers out of Vicram Maharajah's wings, he all the time hanging down his head, so that she thought he was dead. Then, going to fetch some water in which to boil him, she laid him down close to the place where they washed the dishes. Now, the kitchen was on the ground-floor, and there was a hole right through the wall, into which the water used in washing the dishes ran, and through which all the scraps, bones, peelings, and parings were washed away after the daily cooking; and in this hole Vicram Maharajah hid himself, quick as thought.
'Oh dear! oh dear!' cried the maid when she returned; 'what can I do? what will my mistress say? I only turned my back for one moment, and the parrot's gone.' 'Very likely,' answered the other maid, 'some cat has taken it away. It could not have been alive, and flown or run away, or I should have seen it go; but never fear, a chicken will do instead.'
Then they took a chicken and boiled it, and grilled the head and took it to their mistress; and she ate it, little bit by little bit, saying as she did so—
'Ah, pretty Polly! so here's the end of you! This is the brain that thought so cunningly, and devised my overthrow! this is the tongue that spoke against me! this is the throat through which came the threatening words! Aha! who is right now, I wonder!'
Vicram, in the hole close by, heard her, and felt very much frightened; for he thought, 'If she should catch me after all!' He could not fly away, for all his wing-feathers had been pulled out; so there he had to stay some time, living on the scraps that were washed into the hole in the washing of the plates, and perpetually exposed to the danger of being drowned in the streams of water that were poured through it. At last, however, his new feathers were sufficiently grown to bear him, and he flew away to a little temple in the jungle some way off, where he perched behind the Idol.
It happened that Champa Ranee used to go to that temple, and he had not been there long before she came there to worship her Idol.
She fell on her knees before the image, and began to pray. Her prayer was that the god would transport her, body and soul, to Heaven (for she had a horror of dying), and she cried, 'Only grant my prayer only let this be so, and I will do anything you wish—anything—anything.'
Vicram Maharajah, who was hidden behind the image, heard her, and said—
'Champa Ranee Nautch-girl, your prayer is heard!' (She thought the Idol himself was speaking to her, and listened attentively.) 'This is what you must do: sell all you possess, and give the money to the poor; you must also give money to all your servants, and dismiss them. Level also your house to the ground, that you may be wholly separated from earth. Then you will be fit for Heaven. Come, having done all I command you, on this day week to this place, and you shall be transported thither body and soul.'
Champa Ranee believed what she heard, and, forgetful of Vicram Maharajah Parrot's threat, hastened to do as she was bidden. She sold her possessions, and gave all the money to the poor; razed her house to the ground, and dismissed her servants, which being accomplished, on the day appointed she went to the temple, and sat on the edge of a well outside it, explaining to the assembled people how the Idol himself had spoken to her, and how they would shortly see her caught up to Heaven, and thus her departure from the world would be even more celebrated than her doings whilst in it. All the people listened eagerly to her words, for they believed her inspired, and to see her ascension the whole city had come out, with hundreds and hundreds of strangers and travellers, princes, merchants, and nobles, from far and near, all full of expectation and curiosity.
Then, as they waited, a fluttering of little wings was heard, and a parrot flew over Champa Ranee's head, calling out, 'Nautchgirl! Nautch-girl! what have you done?' Champa Ranee recognised the voice as Vicram's; he went on—'Will you go body and soul to Heaven? have you forgotten Polly's words?'
Champa Ranee rushed into the temple, and, falling on her knees before the Idol, cried out, 'Gracious Power, I have done all as you commanded; let your words come true; save me; take me to Heaven.'
But the Parrot above her cried, 'Good-bye, Champa Ranee, good-bye; you ate a chicken's head, not mine. Where is your house now? where your servants and all your possessions? Have my words come true, think you, or yours?'
Then the woman saw all, and in her rage and despair, cursing her own folly, she fell violently down on the floor of the temple, and, dashing her head against the stone, killed herself.
It was now two years since the Rajah Vicram left his kingdom; and about six months before, Butti, in despair of his ever returning, had set out to seek for him. Up and down through many countries had he gone, searching for his master; but without success. As good fortune would have it, however, he chanced to be one of those strangers who had come to witness the Nautch-girl's translation, and no sooner did he see the Parrot which spoke to her, than in him he recognised Vicram. The Rajah also saw him, and flew on to his shoulder, upon which Butti caught him, put him in a cage, and took him home.
Now was a puzzling problem to be solved. The Rajah's soul was in the parrot's body, and the Carpenter's son's soul in the Rajah's body. How was the latter to be expelled to make way for the former? He could not return to his own body, for that had perished long before. The Wuzeer knew not how to manage the matter, and determined therefore to await the course of events.
It happened that the pretended Rajah and Butti had each a fighting ram, and one day the Rajah said to the Wuzeer, 'Let us set our rams to fight to-day, and try the strength of mine against yours.' 'Agreed,' answered the Wuzeer; and they set them to fight. But there was much difference in the two rams; for when Butti's ram was but a lamb, and his horns were growing, Butti had tied him to a lime-tree, and his horns had got very strong indeed by constantly rubbing against its tender stem, and butting against it; but the Carpenter's son had tied his ram, when a lamb, to a young teak-tree, the trunk of which was so stout and strong, that the little creature, butting against it, could make no impression on it, but only damaged and loosened his own horns.
The pretended Rajah soon saw, to his vexation, that his favourite's horns being less strong than its opponent's, he was getting tired, and, beginning to lose courage, would certainly be worsted in the fight; so, quick as thought, he left his own body and transported his soul into the ram's body, in order to give it an increase of courage and resolution, and enable it to win.
No sooner did Vicram Maharajah, who was hanging up in a cage, see what had taken place, than he left the parrot's body and re-entered his own body. Then Butti's ram pushed the other down on its knees, and the Wuzeer ran and fetched a sword, and cut off its head; thus putting an end with the life of the ram to the life of the Carpenter's son.
Great was the joy of Anar Ranee and all the household at recovering the Rajah after his long absence; and Anar Ranee prayed him to fly away no more as a parrot, which he promised her he would not do.
But the taste for wandering, and love of an unsettled life, did not leave him on his resuming his proper form; and one of the things in which he most delighted was to roam about the jungles near the Palace by himself, without attendant or guide. One very sultry day, when he was thus out by himself, he wandered over a rocky part of the country, which was flat and arid, without a tree upon it to offer shelter from the burning sun. Vicram, tired with his walk, threw himself down by the largest piece of rock he could find to rest. As he lay there, half asleep, a little Cobra came out of a hole in the ground, and, seeing his mouth wide open (which looked like some shady cranny in a rock), crept in and curled himself up in the Rajah's throat.
Vicram Maharajah called out to the Cobra, 'Get out of my throat!' But the Cobra said, 'No, I won't go; I like being here better than under ground.' And there he stayed. Vicram didn't know what to do, for the Cobra lived in his throat, and could not be got out. At times it would peep out of his mouth, but the moment the Rajah tried to catch it, it ran back again.
'Who ever heard of a Rajah in such a miserable plight?' sighed he to Butti; 'to think of having this Cobra in my throat!'
'Ah, my dear friend!' Butti would answer, 'why will you go roaming about the country by yourself; will you never be cured of it?'
'If one could only catch this Cobra, I'd be content to wander no more,' said the Rajah, 'for my wandering has not brought me much good of late.' But to catch the Cobra was more than any man could do. At last one day Vicram, driven nearly mad in this perplexity, ran away into the jungle. Tidings of this were soon brought to Butti, who was much grieved to hear it, and sighed, saying, 'Alas, alas! of what avail to Vicram Maharajah is his more than human wisdom, when the one unlucky self-chosen gift neutralises all the good he might do with it! It has given him a love of wandering hither and thither, minding everybody's business but his own; his kingdom is neglected, his people uncared for, and he, that used to be the pride of all Rajahs, the best, the noblest, has finally slunk out of his country, like a thief escaping from jail.'
Butti sent messengers far and wide seeking Vicram Maharajah, but they could not find him; he then determined to go himself in search of his lost friend; and having made proper arrangements for the government of the country during his absence, he set off on his travels.
Meantime Vicram wandered on and on, until at last one day he came to the Palace of a certain Rajah, who reigned over a country very far from his own, and he sat down with the beggars at the Palace gate.
Now, the Rajah at whose gate Vicram Maharajah sat had a good and lovely daughter, named Buccoulee. Many Princes wished to marry this Princess, but she would marry none of them. Her father and mother said to her, 'Why will you not choose a husband? Among all these Princes who ask you in marriage there are many rich and powerful—many handsome and brave—many wise and good; why will you refuse them all?' The Princess replied, 'It is not my destiny to marry any of them; continually in my dreams I see my destined husband, and I wait for him.' 'Who is he?' they asked. 'His name,' she answered, 'is the Rajah Vicram; he will come from a very far country; he has not come yet.' They replied, 'There is no Rajah, far or near, that we know of, of this name; give over this fancy of yours and marry some one else.'
But she constantly refused, saying, 'No, I will wait for the Rajah Vicram.' Her parents thought, 'It may be even as she says who knows but perhaps some day a great King, greater than any we know, may come to this country, and wish to marry the girl; we shall then be glad that we had not obliged her to marry any of her present suitors.'
No sooner had Vicram Maharajah come to the Palace gate and sat down there with the beggars, than the Princess Buccoulee, looking out of the window, saw him, and cried, 'There is the husband I saw in my dreams; there is the Rajah Vicram.' 'Where, child, where?' said her mother; 'there's no Rajah there; only a parcel of beggars.'
But the Princess persisted that one of them was the Rajah Vicram. Then the Ranee sent for Vicram Maharajah, and questioned him.
He said his name was 'Rajah Vicram.' But the Rajah and Ranee did not believe him; and they were very angry with the Princess because she persisted in saying that him, and no other, would she marry. At last they got so enraged with her, that they said, 'Well, marry your beggar husband if you will, but don't think to remain any longer here as our daughter after becoming his wife; if you marry him it must be to follow his fortunes in the jungle; we shall soon see you repent your obstinacy.'
'I will marry him, and follow him wherever he goes,' said the Princess.
So Vicram Maharajah and the Princess Buccoulee were married, and her parents turned her out of the house; nevertheless, they allowed her a little money, for, they said, 'She will soon enough find the difference between a king's daughter and a beggar's wife, without wanting food.'
Vicram built a little hut in the jungle, and there they lived; but the poor Princess had a sad time of it, for she was neither accustomed to cook nor wash, and the hard work tired her very much. Her chief grief, however, was that Vicram should have such a hideous tormentor as the Cobra in his throat; and often and often of a night she sat awake, trying to devise some means for catching it, but all in vain.
At last, one night when she was thinking about it, she saw, close by, two Cobras come out of their holes, and as they began to talk she listened to hear what they would say.
'Who are these people?' said the first Cobra.—'These,' said the second, 'are the Rajah Vicram, and his wife the Princess Buccoulee.'—'What are they doing here? why is the Rajah so far from his kingdom?' asked the first Cobra,
'Oh, he ran away, because he was so miserable; he has a cobra that lives in his throat,' answered the second.
'Can no one get it out?' said the first.
'No,' replied the other;' because they do not know the secret.'—'What secret?' asked the first Cobra.—'Don't you know?' said the second; 'why, if his wife only took a few marking nuts, and pounded them well, and mixed them in cocoanut oil, and set the whole on fire, and hung the Rajah, her husband, head downwards up in a tree above it, the smoke, rising upwards, would instantly kill the Cobra in his mouth, which would tumble down dead.'
'I never heard of that before,' said the first Cobra.
'Didn't you?' exclaimed the second; 'why, if they did the same thing at the mouth of your hole, they'd kill you in no time; and then, perhaps, they might find all the fine treasure you have there!'—'Don't joke in that way,' said the first Cobra, 'I don't like it; 'and he crawled away quite offended, and the second Cobra followed him.
No sooner had the Princess heard this, than she determined to try the experiment. So next morning she sent for all the villagers living near (who all knew and loved her, and would do anything she told them, because she was the Rajah's daughter), and bade them take a great, caldron and fill it with cocoanut oil, and pound down an immense number of marking nuts and throw them into it, and then bring the caldron to her. They did so, and she set the whole on fire, and caused Vicram to be hung up in a tree overhead; and as soon as the smoke from the caldron rose in the air it suffocated the Cobra in Vicram Maharajah's throat, which fell down quite dead. Then the Rajah Vicram said to his wife, 'O worthy Buccoulee, what a noble woman you are! you have delivered me from this torment, which was more than all the wise men in my kingdom could do.'
Buccoulee next caused the caldron of oil to be placed close to the hole of the first Cobra, which she had heard speaking the night before, and he was suffocated.
She then ordered the people to dig him out of his hole; and in it they found a vast amount of treasure—gold, silver, and jewels. Then Buccoulee sent for royal robes for herself and her husband, and bade him cut his hair and shave; and when they were all ready, she took the remainder of the treasure, and returned with it to her father's house; and her father and mother, who had repented of their harshness, gladly welcomed her back, and were both surprised and delighted to see all the vast treasures she had, and what a handsome princely-looking man her husband was.
Then one day news was brought to Vicram that a stranger Wuzeer had arrived in the Palace as the Rajah's guest, and that this Wuzeer had for twelve years been wandering round the world in search of his master, but not having found him, was returning to his own home. Vicram thought to himself, 'Can this possibly be Butti?' and he ran to see.
It was indeed Butti, who cried for joy to see him, saying, 'O Vicram! Vicram! do you know it is twelve years since you left us all?'
Then Vicram Maharajah told Butti how the good Princess Buccoulee had married him, and succeeded in killing the Cobra, and how he was on the point of returning to his own country. So they all set out together, being given many rich presents by Buccoulee's father and mother. At last after a weary journey they reached home. Anar Ranee was overjoyed to see them again, for she had mourned her husband as dead. When Buccoulee Ranee was told who Anar Ranee was, and taken to see her, she felt very much frightened, for she thought, 'Perhaps she will be jealous of me, and hate me.' But with a gentle smile Anar Ranee came to meet her, saying, 'Sister, I hear it is to you we owe the preservation of the Rajah, and that it was you who killed the Cobra; I can never be sufficiently grateful to you nor love you enough as long as I live.'
From that day Vicram Maharajah stayed in his own kingdom, ruling it wisely and well, and beloved by all. He and Butti lived to a good old age, and their affection for each other lasted to the end of their days. So that it became a proverb in that country, and instead of saying, 'So-and-so love each other like brothers' (when speaking of two who were much attached), the people would say, 'So-and-so love each other like the Rajah and the Wuzeer.'