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Young man and snake

 
  Pakistani Folk Tale  
 
There was once a farmer who was extremely poor. It happened that when his poverty was greatest a son was born to him, and this son was such a lucky child that his father speedily became quite as rich as he was before poor, and obtained a great name over all the country.

After a certain time the farmer thought to himself, "I must get my son betrothed somewhere. I was poor once, but I am now rich, and my son is lucky. It is right that he should be betrothed to the daughter of some rich man like myself."

It was long before he found a suitable match, but at last he betrothed the boy to a girl who lived in a distant town. The ceremony came on, much money was spent, many guests were invited, and much food was given away. In short, the betrothal was splendid.

The son had scarcely grown to manhood when the father died, leaving him in the world alone.

The parents of his betrothed, when they heard the sad news, felt very sorry for him, and at first they would have brought him to live at their own house. But the mother said, "He is old enough now to come and take our daughter home with him, so let us send for him that he may do so. No friend like a good wife."

A messenger was accordingly sent off, and the lad, when he received the invitation, dressed himself up in his best, and, mounting his mare, set off.

On the way he came to a lonely jungle, in which he saw a mongoose and a snake of enormous dimensions, engaged in deadly combat. He reined up his horse to look on. The mongoose soon began to wear out his adversary, and to inflict such wounds as would have put an end to its life in a short time.

Seeing which, the boy considered to himself, "When two are contending, it is an act of charity to separate them." So he tried to separate the combatants, but every time he failed, as the mongoose again and again sprang upon his adversary in spite of him. Finding he could not prevail, he drew his sword and dealt the warlike little mongoose his death-blow.

After this he went on again, but he had not proceeded far when he found that the snake had rushed round and intercepted him.

Then began the boy to remonstrate. "I did you good service," said he. "Why, then, have you pursued me?"

"It is true," answered the snake, "that you saved me from my enemy. But I shall not let you go. I shall eat you."

"Surely," replied the lad, "one good turn deserves another. Will you injure me because I assisted you? In my country we do not deal with each other thus."

"In these parts," said the snake, "the custom is different. Everyone here observes the rule of returning evil for good."

The boy then began to argue with the snake, but he argued in vain, for the snake was determined to eat him. At last he said, "Very well, snake, you can eat me. But first give me eight days to go about my business, after which I shall come back."

With this request the snake complied, saying, "Be it so. In eight days you must return to me."

The snake, which had coiled himself round about the boy's body, now released his hold and suffered him to depart. So he rode on once more and completed his journey.

All his friends were very glad to see the young bridegroom, and especially his little wife, and at his father-in-law's house he remained for several days. But as he was always downcast and sad, they asked him, "Why are you so sorrowful?" For six days they asked in vain. On the seventh they spoke to their daughter, "Is he angry? What is the matter with him" But she also asked him in vain.

When the eight day came, he said, "Now let me go home." The father and mother then gave the daughter her portion, and, having placed them both in a bullock cart, they sent the young couple away.

So the two traveled until they had left the village far behind them. Then said the lad to his wife and to her servants, "Return now back again to your own home. As for me, it is decreed that I shall die on the way."

All the servants, being alarmed, at once returned, but his young wife said, "Where you fall, I shall fall. What am I to do at my house?" So she continued to accompany her husband.

When he arrived at the spot appointed, he dismounted from his horse and called forth the snake.

"I have come," he said, "in accordance with my promise. If you wish to eat me, come and eat me now!"

His wife, hearing his ominous words, descended also, and came and stood by her husband's side. By and by a dreadful hissing sound was heard, and the snake crawled out from the jungle, and was preparing to devour the unfortunate boy, when the girl exclaimed, "Why are you going to eat this poor youth?"

The snake then told her the whole story, how he was fighting with a mongoose, and how her husband interfered and killed his adversary. "And in this country," he continued, "our custom is to return evil for good!"

The young wife now tried all the arguments she could think of to divert the monster from his purpose, but he was deaf to her pleadings and refused to listen to them. Then said she, "You say that in this country people do evil in return for good. This is so strange a custom, and so very unreasonable, that I would fain know the history of it. How did it all come about?"

"Do you see those five talli trees?" answered the snake. Go you to them and cry out to them, 'What is the reason that in this country folks do evil in return for good?' and see what they will say to you!"

The girl went and did as she was bidden, addressing her request to the middle of the five.

The tree straightway answered her:

Count us! We are now five, but once we were six -- three pairs. The sixth tree was hollow, having a vast cavity in its trunk. It happened once upon a time, many years ago, that a certain thief went and robbed a house, and that the people followed him. He ran and ran and ran, and at last he came in among us. It was night, but the moon was shining, and the thief hid himself in the hollow talli tree. Hearing his pursuers close at hand, he besought the tree, saying, "O tree, tree, save me!"

When the talli tree heard his miserable cry it closed up its old sides upon him, and hid him in a safe embrace, so that the people searched for him in vain, and they had to return without him. When all pursuit was over, the tree once more opened and let him go.

Now, in this old talli tree there was sandal wood, and the thief, when he went forth, had the scent of sandal wood so permanently fixed upon him that wherever he was, and wherever he appeared, he diffused a delightful fragrance. It so happened that he visited the city of a certain king, and a man passing him on the road suddenly stopped, and asked him, "Where did you get this beautiful scent?"

"You are mistaken," answered the thief. "I have no scent."

"If you will give me this scent," said the man, "I will pay you its value."

Again the thief answered, "I have no scent -- none."

Then the man, who was shrewd and intelligent, went his way to the king and told him, "There is a stranger arrived here who possesses a most wonderful scent. To your highness, perhaps, he might be induced to give it up."

The king then ordered the thief into his presence, and said to him, "Show me the scent you have."

"I have none," said he.

"If you will give it up to me quietly," said the king, "you shall be rewarded. If not, you shall be put to death."

When the thief heard this he got frightened and said, "Do not kill me, and I will tell the whole story." So he told the king how his life was preserved in the heart of the talli tree, and how the scent of sandal wood had never left him since.

Then said the king, "Come along and show me that wonderful tree of which you tell me."

Arriving at this very spot, the king instantly gave orders to his followers to cut the tree down and to carry it to his palace. But when the talli tree heard his order, and when it understood the reason of it, it cried aloud, "I have saved the life of a man, and for this I am to lose my own life. For the future, therefore, let it be decreed within this jungle that whosoever dares to do good, to him it shall be repaid in evil!"

The girl, having heard this doleful story, returned once more to her husband's side.

"Well," said the snake, "have you consulted the talli tree? And do you find that our custom here is even as I told you?"

She was compelled to admit that it was so. But as the monster advanced to his victim, she wept and said, "What will become of me? If you must eat my husband, you must begin by eating me!"

The snake objected to an arrangement so unreasonable. "You?" cried he. "But you have never done me the smallest good. You have not even done me harm. How, then, can I be expected to eat you?"

"But if you kill my husband," she replied, "what's left for me? You acknowledge yourself that I have done you no good, and yet you would inflict this injury upon me."

When the snake heard these words he stopped, and began to grow remorseful, especially as she wept more copiously than ever. That the boy must be eaten was certain, but how should he comfort the girl? Wishing to devise something, he crept back to his hole, and in a few minutes he returned with two magic globules or pills. "Here, foolish woman," said he, "take these two pills and swallow them, and you will have two sons to whom you can devote yourself, and who will take good care of you!"

The girl accepted the pills, but, with the cunning natural to a woman, said, "If I take these two pills, doubtless two sons will be born. But what about my good name?"

The snake, who knew not that she was already wed, hearing her speech, became exasperated with her. "Women are preposterous beings," cried he, and he crept back once more to his hole. This time he brought out two more pills, and when handing them to the disconsolate girl he said, "Revenge will sweeten your lot. When any of your neighbors revile you on account of your sons, take one of these pills between finger and thumb, hold it over them, rubbing it gently so that some of the powder may fall on them, and immediately you will see them consume away to ashes."

Tying the former pills in her cloth, the girl looked at the other pills incredulously, and then, with a sudden thought, she gently rubbed them over the snake, saying with an innocent air, "O snake, explain this mystery to me again! Is this the way I am to rub them?"

The moment an atom of the magic powder had touched the snake, he was set on fire, and in another instant he was merely a long wavy line of gray dust lying on the ground.

Then with a glad face the little wife turned to her husband and said, "Whosoever does good to anyone, in the end good will be done to him. And whosoever does evil to anyone, in the end evil will be done to him. You did good, and lo! you are rewarded. The snake did evil, and evil befell him. All things help each other. The Almighty brings everything to rights at last."

After this the two went on their way to their own home, where they lived in happiness and contentment for many a year.
 
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