The Girl who showed Great Devotion to the Thief.
Did he weep or laugh?
Did he weep or laugh?
Then the king went back to the sissoo tree, put the goblin on his shoulder, and started. And as he walked along, the goblin said to him: "O King, I will tell you another story. Listen."
~ ~ ~
There is a city called Ayodhya, which was once the capital of Rama, the exterminator of giants. In this city lived a strong-armed king named Hero-banner who protected the world as a wall protects a city. During his reign a great merchant named Jewel lived in the city. His wife was named Pleasing, and a daughter named Pearl was given to her prayers.
As the girl grew up in her father's house, her natural virtues grew too: beauty, charm, and modesty. And thus she became a young woman. Now in her young womanhood, she was asked in marriage not only by great merchants, but even by kings.
But she was prudent and did not like men. She would not have loved a god if he had been her husband. She was ready to die at merely hearing talk of her marriage. So her father was silent on the subject, though his tender love for her made him sad. And the story was known everywhere in Ayodhya.
At this time, all the citizens were being plundered by thieves, and they petitioned King Hero-banner in these words: "O King, we are plundered every night by thieves, and cannot catch them. Your Majesty must decide what to do." So the king stationed night-watchmen in hiding about the city, to search out the thieves.
When the watchmen failed to catch the thieves for all their searching, the king himself took his sword and wandered about alone at night. And he saw a man creeping along a wall with noiseless steps, often casting a fearful glance behind him.
The king concluded that this was the thief who all alone robbed the city, and went up to him. And the thief asked him who he was. The king replied: "I am a thief."
Then the thief said joyfully: "Good! You are my friend. Come to my house. I will treat you like a friend."
So the king agreed and went with the thief to a house hidden in a grove and guarded by a wall, full of delightful and beautiful things, and bright with shining gems. There the thief offered the king a seat and went into an inner room.
At that moment a serving-maid came into the room and said to the king: "Your Majesty, why have you come into the jaws of death? This wonderful thief has gone out, intending to do you a mischief. He is certainly treacherous. Go away quickly."
So the king quickly went away, returned to the city and drew up a company of soldiers. With these soldiers he went and surrounded the house where the serving-maid had been.
When the thief saw that the house was surrounded, he knew that he was betrayed, and came out to fight and die like a man. He showed more than human valour. He cut off the trunks of elephants, the legs of horses, and the heads of men, and he was all alone, with only his sword and shield. When the king saw that his army was destroyed, he ran forward himself.
The king was a scientific swordsman, so, with a turn of his wrist, he sent the sword and the dagger flying from the thief's hand. Then he threw away his own sword, wrestled with the thief, threw him, and took him alive.
The next morning the thief was led to the place of execution to be impaled, and the drums were beaten. And Pearl, the merchant's daughter, saw him from her balcony. All bloody and dusty as he was, she went mad with love, found her father, and said to him: "Father, I am going to marry that thief who is being led to execution. You must save him from the king. Otherwise I shall die with him."
But her father said: "What do you mean, my daughter? That thief stole everything the citizens had, and the king's men are going to kill him. How can I save him from the king? Besides, what nonsense are you talking?"
But the more he scolded, the more determined she became. And as he loved his daughter, he went to the king and offered all he had for the release of the thief.
But the king would not be tempted by millions. He would not release the thief who stole everything, whom he had captured at the risk of his life. So the father returned home sadly. And the girl, not heeding the arguments of her relatives, took a bath, entered a litter, and went to the death-scene of the rogue to die with him. Her parents and her relatives followed her, weeping.
At that moment the executioners impaled the thief. As his life ebbed away, he saw the girl and the people with her, and learned her story. Then the tears rolled down his cheeks, but he died with a smile on his lips.
The faithful girl took the thief's body from the stake and mounted the pyre to burn herself. But the blessed god Shiva was staying invisibly in the cemetery, and at that moment he spoke from the sky: "O faithful wife, I am pleased with your constancy to the husband of your choice. Choose whatever boon you will from me."
The girl worshipped the gracious god and chose her boon: "O blessed one, my father has no son. May he have a hundred. Otherwise his childless life would end when I am gone."
And the god spoke again from the sky: "O faithful wife, your father shall have a hundred sons. But choose another boon. A woman faithful as you are deserves more than the little thing you asked."
Then she said: "O god, if I have won your favour, may this my husband live and always be a good man."
The invisible Shiva spoke from the sky: "So be it. Your husband shall be made alive and well. He shall be a good man, and King Hero-banner shall be pleased with him."
Then the thief arose at once, alive and well. And the merchant Jewel was overjoyed and astonished. He took Pearl and the thief, his son-in-law, went home with his rejoicing relatives and made a feast great as his own delight, in honour of the sons he was to have.
And the king was pleased when he learned the story, and, in recognition of the stupendous courage of the thief, he appointed him general at once. The thief reformed, married the merchant's daughter, and lived happily with her, devoted to virtue.
~ ~ ~
When the goblin had told this story, he reminded the king of the curse, and said: "O king, when the thief on the stake saw the merchant's daughter approaching with her father, did he weep or laugh? Tell me."
And the king answered: "He thought: I can make no return to this merchant for his unselfish friendship.' Therefore he wept from grief. And he also thought: Why does this girl reject kings and fall in love with a thief like me? How strange women are!' Therefore he laughed from astonishment."
When the goblin heard this, he immediately slipped from the king's shoulder and escaped to his home. But the king was not discouraged. He followed him to the sissoo tree.
Next: The General's Wife