Bidpai: Three Stories about Snakes

One of the stories below is about a man who is blind. As someone who is VERY near-sighted and unable to see anything without my glasses (anything that is more than an inch away from my face that is), I can appreciate the plight of people in a world before eyeglasses! While we are nowadays accustomed to use the word "blind" to refer to someone who is completely without sight, it's worth remembering that extreme near-sightedness can also result in blindness if left uncorrected, and uncorrected refractive errors (such as near-sightedness) are still the leading cause of visual impairment in the world. For more about blindness and other visual impairments, see Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Bidpai unit. Story source: The Tortoise and the Geese and Other Fables of Bidpai by Maude Barrows Dutton,  with illustrations by E. Boyd Smith, 1908.

The Sparrows and the Snake

TWO Sparrows once built a nest in the eaves of a house and hatched their first young there. The happy Father immediately flew away to find some food for his little ones. On his return, he met the Mother Sparrow flying wildly about.

"My dear, what has happened, and why have you left our little ones unprotected?" he asked anxiously.

"Alas," replied the Mother Bird, "while you were gone, a big Snake glided along the eaves and ate up all of our fledgelings. And now he lies sleeping in our nest. I have told him that you will pluck out both his eyes when you return, but he only replies, 'Bah, what has a big Snake to fear from a little brown Sparrow? Fly away and let me sleep in peace!' "

The little Sparrow comforted his mate as best he could and then flew to a branch of a tree to think how he could punish the cruel and boasting Snake. As he was sitting there, he noticed that the good man of the house was about to light the evening lamp. Quickly the Sparrow dropped to the sill and, flying in the window, seized the lighted taper from the man's hand. Then, carrying it carefully, lest the wind should blow out the flame, he bore it to his nest.

The Snake was suddenly awakened by the crackling of twigs in the nest as they rapidly caught fire. Terrified, he raised his head and was about to glide from the nest, when he was pierced by the pick of the good man, who, to save his house from catching fire, had climbed to the roof to tear down the burning nest.

The Frog, the Crab, and the Serpent

A CERTAIN Frog was wont to hatch her eggs in the neighborhood of a Serpent's hole, and always, before the tadpoles had lost their tails, the Serpent devoured them.

Greatly distressed over the loss of her young, the Frog went at last to a Crab and told him her trouble. The Crab was a kindly creature, and promised to think of a way to get rid of the Serpent. Thus it was that he came one day to the Frog and said, "There lives near at hand a Weasel who is as bloodthirsty as the Serpent. Go, therefore, and catch a large number of minnows and place them in a line reaching from the Weasel's home to the hole of the Serpent. The greedy Weasel will snatch up the little fish one by one, until he comes to the Serpent's nest. It may be that without noticing he will also devour the Serpent, thinking that it is another fish."

The Frog thanked the Crab and did as he told her. The plan succeeded, even as the Crab had said, and the Frog slept soundly that night, knowing that her brood was safe from harm.

In the meantime the Weasel grew hungry again and remembered the feast of fish. Hurrying back to the place where he had found them, he stumbled over the Frog's hiding-place, where he ate up not only the young tadpoles but the mother herself.

The Blind Man and the Snake

ONCE upon a time, a Blind Man and a Man who could see were traveling together. When it came night, they rode into a meadow, dismounted, and lay down to sleep until morning.

Before it was quite dawn, as they were about to start on their way again, the Blind Man sought for his whip. By chance a Snake was lying near by, frozen stiff with the cold. The Blind Man's hand fell upon it and, thinking to himself, "This is much softer than my old whip," he picked it up and mounted his horse.

As it grew light, the Man who could see glanced over at his companion and saw that he held a Snake in his hand. In great alarm he cried out, "Oh, comrade, what you imagine to be a whip is in reality a Snake. Be quick and throw it away before it bite you."

But the Blind Man only laughed. "What, are you envious of my good luck?" he replied. "I lost my whip, but some good fortune has placed this softer and better one in my hand. Pray do not think because I am blind that I am also a fool. I am not such a simpleton that I do not know the difference between a whip and a Snake."

"My good friend," answered the other Man, "for your own welfare, I beg of you to believe me and throw away this Snake."

But the Blind Man only clung the more tightly to the Snake, which, awakened by the warmth of the man's hand, coiled itself about his wrist and bit him so that he died.

(800 words)

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