64. A Thief, a Ram, a Bear, and a Horse
A thief had a wife who suited him very well, and the two of them lived by cheating others in various ways. Once, he set out on his usual rounds and bought a ram from a goatherd. As he drove it before him on his way to the next village, it was evening and it also began to rain. He ran and took shelter in the verandah of a house. It continued to rain. So he thought he would dry his clothes and sleep the night there, and go about his business in the morning. He took off his clothes, wrung them dry, and hung them out. Then he tied the ram to a pillar at his feet and slept with almost no clothes on his body. In the small hours of the night, the man of the house came out to answer a call of nature and saw this man lying on his verandah fast asleep, with no blanket or cover, almost naked. He shook him awake and asked who he was and why he was lying in the cold with nothing warm around him. “Aren't you cold?” he asked, with concern.
The thief said, “I come from such and such a village. I don't feel the cold, even if I wear no clothes. That ram at my feet eats up all the cold around me.”
The man of the house was astonished. “I've an old mother in my house. She is always cold and complains night and day in this season. The warmest woolen blankets are not warm enough for her. She gives me no peace and we get no sleep. Why don't you sell me your ram that eats up the cold?” he offered.
“ Che, che! This ram is a rare creature. I'll never be able to get another like it. How can I part with it?”
“Whatever the cost, I'll pay it. You must give it to me. I want my mother's last days to be comfortable, warm, and happy,” urged the man. After much hesitation, the thief said at last, “After talking to you, I feel your mother and my mother are really the same. All right, I'll give it to you. But if I part with it, I'll have to buy another like it. I don't even know where to look for one. This one cost me five hundred rupees.”
The man of the house didn't want to wait a minute longer lest the stranger should change his mind. He went into the house and hurried out with five hundred rupees. The thief took the money, led the ram into the house to the old woman's bedside, where he tied it to her bedpost at her feet, and left before it even dawned.
That night, the man of the house slept the sleep of the contented man. Early in the morning, his old mother felt terribly cold, and began to make noises like “Ha!” and “Hu!” The ram, tied to her bedpost, thought that another ram was in the room, making battle noises. He, too, spoiled for a fight and butted the old woman thrice. The old woman died on the spot and made no further noise. Till morning, the son heard no more Ha!'s and Hu!'s. The sun rose and was two yards high, but the old mother was silent. “Aha, the ram has eaten up all the cold in her room. So she's at last sleeping happily,” thought everyone in the household. But she didn't even get up for mealtimes. When they went in to wake her up, they found her gone to the land of Siva. They could see that the ram had butted the old woman with its horns and killed her. The man of the house blamed himself for her death. “I got her killed for nothing,” he said, and hit his forehead in remorse as he moved her body to the burial ground. Then he vowed revenge against the thief who had made a fool of him.
The thief was hurrying with the money to the next village when he found himself in a forest. As he made his way through a narrow path, a bear jumped on him from somewhere and attacked him. He wrestled with the bear's forepaws and tried to get out of its deadly bear hug. The bear was scared too and dropped dung. The silver rupees in the thief's pocket also fell to the ground. In the struggle, the rupees were mixed with the dung. Neither the bear nor the thief could let go of each other's grip. Right then, a soldier came riding his horse that way and saw the man and the bear in hand-to-hand combat. He also saw bear dung with silver rupees in it. He was quite amazed by the sight. So he dismounted and came up to them, asking, “What are you doing with that bear?”
“O, nothing,” gasped the thief. “This pet bear of mine drops dung full of rupees. So I'm making him do it. Yesterday, he dropped a thousand rupees. Today, for some reason, he's dropped only five hundred. So I'm forcing him to drop some more.”
The soldier's mind raced at the thought of rupees. What's the point of making war and courting death? If he had only one such pet bear, he could live like a king, he thought, captured by a fantasy. So he said to the thief, “Just give me that pet bear and I'll bless you all my life.” All this while the thief was struggling with the bear.
“ Che, che, how can I give away such a precious animal? I get money everytime it takes a crap. Give it away? Just forget about it! Impossible!” said the thief.
“O, don't say that. I've three thousand rupees on me. I also have this horse. Take both and give me your bear,” begged the soldier. After many such pleas, the thief reluctantly agreed.
“All right, give me the money here. Come behind the bear like this and hold him. He will drop another five hundred any minute. After he has done that, you can take him home. Look after him carefully, like your own son,” said the thief.
The soldier gave him the money, gave him the horse, and stood behind the bear holding it. The thief released himself from the bear's grip, mounted the horse, and rode away. How long can a man hold a bear? Soon the soldier's grip weakened, the bear slipped loose, scratched his face and mauled him, and ran away. It dawned on the soldier that he had been cheated. He, too, vowed vengeance, decided that he would get his three thousand back somehow, and went in search of the scoundrel.
By the time the thief reached the next village on his horse it was night. He thought it would be a good idea to rest that night there and go back to his hometown the next day. But he had three thousand on him and needed to be safe somewhere. He looked around and found the house of a harlot. She was the king's own harlot. He went to her and asked for shelter. He offered her twenty, even thirty, rupees for a place to sleep in. She agreed and gave him a place on the verandah. He tied up his horse and went to sleep. But he woke up before dawn, removed the horse dung the animal had dropped in the night, and arranged three or four heaps of rupees under the horse. Then he went back to bed. When the harlot came there in the morning to wake him up, she saw the horse and noticed the heaps of rupees near the horse's hind legs.
“Look, rupees! Rupees! How did they get here?…Who cares how they got here? Let me get them before he wakes up,” she said to herself, and put her hand to the dung, when the thief sat up. He said, “Lady, that dung is mine, not yours. Don't touch it.”
That wasn't just dung. There was money in it.
“What did you say?” she asked, not believing her own eyes and ears.
“O, really nothing. My horse drops ten thousand rupees a day with its dung. It's morning now, isn't it? It should have dropped at least a thousand,” he said casually.
She went back and counted. There were a thousand rupees. She began to fancy the horse. If it gives ten thousand a day, how much does it add up to in a month? How much can even a king give? If only she had this one horse, she could live without depending on any king, she thought, and said, “You look like a good man. Why don't you give me that horse?”
“ Che, che, what will I do if I give you that horse? I can't get another one like that for a hundred thousand.”
“All right then, I'll give you a hundred thousand and buy it from you,” said the harlot. He didn't agree. He made it clear he wouldn't part with it for love or money. At last, she threatened to tell the king, who would certainly like to have such a horse himself and would seize it by force. The thief feigned great fear at the mention of the king and said weakly, “All right, give me at least a hundred thousand. I'll leave my horse and go. What else can I do?”
She at once got busy, pawned all the jewelry the king had given her, raised a hundred thousand, and gave it to the thief. He tied the horse to a tree in her yard and left the place. The horse dropped ordinary horse dung all day till evening, as was its wont. The harlot began to suspect something was wrong but decided to wait till the next day. The horse dropped ordinary dung as usual. She now knew she had been cheated, felt quite ill, and took to bed.
That very evening, the man who had bought the ram from the thief and the soldier who had bought the bear arrived at her house looking for the scoundrel. They stayed there and the harlot overheard them talking about how they had been cheated. So she joined them and told them her story. Next morning, all three went in search of the con man.
Meanwhile, the thief went home directly after he took the harlot's hundred thousand. He knew they would come after him. So he called his wife and instructed her thus: “Tomorrow, I want you to dress up as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and wait in the attic. When I call you, just come down, and leave a trail of rupees behind you as you walk.”
Next day, he arranged a huge banquet and invited the whole town. Hundreds of guests arrived, and they were fed in long rows. The man who had bought the ram, the soldier who had bought the bear, and the harlot who had bought the horse—all three of them also arrived at his doorstep, looking for him. The thief courteously offered seats to them as to everyone else. They planned to wait till all the guests had left and then corner him.
After a while, the thief brought out a round grinding stone, placed it under the attic, and began to offer it worship, chanting various spells in a loud voice. The guests crowded around him to watch what he was doing. After chanting for a long time, he looked up at the attic, and begged, “O Mother, Lakshmi, Goddess, come down, come down!” His wife, as arranged beforehand, descended from the attic dressed as the goddess and began to pour down a stream of rupees from the lap of her sari. The thief said, “Enough, enough! Please!” and begged her to stop. She stopped and vanished into the attic. The three victims watched all this with their mouths open, their hearts filled with fresh greed. They now wanted the round grinding stone for themselves. As soon as all the guests left the house, the three caught hold of him and said, “You have deceived us and made fools of us. Unless you do as we tell you now, we'll take our case to the king.”
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Give us that grinding stone and we'll forgive you,” they said in one voice.
The thief refused point-blank at first, but soon softened a bit, and finally his wife persuaded him to yield to their demands. Unwillingly, he parted with the grinding stone. They carried it out, and even before they reached the town's outskirts they had begun to quarrel about who should have it first. Some people say they came to blows and even killed each other. The thief, of course, lived happily with his wife.
[AT 1539, Cleverness and Gullibility.]