72. A Wager
A king had an only son. Every day the king would finish his morning bath and devotions, have something to eat, then saddle his horse, go on his rounds in the city, come home by noon, and call his son to eat the midday meal with him. He had taught his son every kind of art that a prince should know. One day, after the usual rounds on his horse, he came home, had a wash, sat down for his midday meal, and called his son to join him. But that morning the son had thought: “My father takes his horse out every day. When am I going to do the same? Let me take my horse out today, ride twenty-five miles, and return by the time he finishes his meal. Let me surprise him.”
So he untied his horse, sat on it, spurred it, and whipped it lightly. The horse galloped so fast it was like flying in the air. It didn't even leave a whiff of dust behind it. In no time, he came to a new village. As he cantered through the streets, the prince saw the local rich man's daughter sweeping their dooryard. She was utterly beautiful and he stopped in front of her to pose her a riddle:
O Idiga man's daughter, tell me, of all sesames
which is the smallest sesame?
She replied at once:
Of all the flowers, tell me now,
what's the price of jasmine?
The prince flew into a rage. He said to her, “O Idiga man's daughter, you don't know who you're talking to. You talked back to me. So I'll marry you and shut you up in my basement. If I don't, I wouldn't be my father's son.”
She countered at once, “O king's son, I'll marry you then, and I'll get your own son to tie you up to the post in the marketplace. If I don't, my breast is no breast but a nut of the ekke tree.”
The prince rode back to his palace home, tied up his horse, and went to his room, and lay there face down on his bed. The king came out and looked at the horse, which was foaming at the mouth, panting after a long hard ride. He asked the grooms, “Who has been riding this horse?” They answered, “No one else but the prince, sire.” So he went to his son's room and found him lying face down on his bed. “Come, eat with me,” he said. The son wanted no food. The king asked, “What's wrong? Did I do something?” The son said, “No, father, not you,” and told him how he had taken a ride into the next town and how the Idiga girl had insulted him, bandied wager for wager.
“So,” he said, “I must marry her and teach her a lesson. I want you to get her here and arrange my marriage.”
The father tried to reason with him. “That's no good reason to marry anyone. Furthermore, they are of the Idiga caste, and we are Kshatriyas. We are different kinds of people with different customs.”
But the prince wouldn't listen. He would touch no food till they agreed to his wishes. The king finally yielded to his son's stubbornness, and said he would try. Then he asked the groom to saddle his horse, and rode into the next town and talked to the Idiga girl's father. The Idiga gentleman was quite overcome with awe when his servants announced that the reigning king himself had come to visit him. He went into a panic. The king quelled his fears and said, “Please don't be afraid. You've done nothing wrong. We would like to make a marriage alliance with your family. My son likes your daughter.”
The Idigas were delighted. The marriage was arranged. The wedding was to take place three or four months later. The prince, meanwhile, ordered an underground basement house to be built three miles out of town and got it furnished and ready for his bride.
Four months later, the marriage took place. When it was time for the bride to go to her father-in-law's place, she called her father aside and told him, with tears in her eyes, “ Appa, you must now forget any hopes you may have for your daughter's future. It's finished.”
“What are you talking about?” asked the father. “You have a whole kingdom at your feet. You're a prince's wife, the future queen. He's not lame, he's not blind. He looks wonderful. What's wrong? Why are you crying?”
“Appa, this prince came here a few months ago. And he said to me,
O rich man's daughter, of all sesamesAnd I replied:
which is the smallest sesame?
O great king's son, of all the flowers,He thought I was talking back to him and mocking him. He made a vow at once that he would marry me and shut me up in a basement. So I too made a wager that I would marry him, beget a son by him, and get his own son to tie him to the post in the marketplace. That's why he's married me now. I've heard he's got a basement house all ready for me. It looks as if he'll win his wager. How do I win mine?
what is the price of jasmine?
Then the father said, “Daughter, if you'd told me all this, we would never have agreed to this marriage.”
“Now it's done. A wager is a wager. Promise to help me and I'll tell you what to do,” said the daughter. She had her own plans.
When the father promised her his help, she asked him to dig and build a secret passage, a tunnel, between the basement house and his own mansion. Then she left for the palace.
The prince didn't even look at her. He sent her to the basement house and shut her up in it. Then he went to another country in search of a new bride, married again, and lived with his new wife quite happily.
Meanwhile, the father finished making a secret passage between his daughter's basement house and his own. When he visited her, she said to him, “Father, I've got to win my wager. So I want you to find me an expert teacher of acrobatics and several women acrobats, in fact, a whole troupe. Will you bring them here as soon as you can?”
He found the teacher and the troupe for her in no time and brought them secretly through the tunnel into the basement house. The teacher was an experienced old man. She gave him a high seat and said to him, “Grandfather, tell me all the different kinds of dances and acrobatic feats you know.”
“I know any number of things, not only acrobatics, but the arts of magic, black and white, that can call up demons and spirits, and I've the ash that can put people to sleep.”
“O yes?” said the young woman, and proceeded to take lessons from him every day, and learned all his arts. Then she came out one dark night with her father to the field outside her husband's palace and pitched an acrobats' tent there. Next morning, the town crier was engaged to make announcements through the town that there would be a fantastic new show outside the palace. The prince too came to watch the show. More than anything, he was dazzled by the saukar's daughter and her incredible skill in dance and acrobatic feats. He was stricken by her beauty. He sent for the old acrobat, and asked him who the lovely acrobat was. The old man told him she was his own daughter. The prince told him, “I would like to visit her tonight.”
The old man was disgusted by this proposition and told the saukar's daughter about it. “ Amma, the king's son has cast his eyes on you. What shall I do?”
He was quite nonplussed when he heard her say, “That's all right. Ask him to come tonight.”
Well, that night, the prince dined and wined happily, and came to the tent with many costly gifts. The saukar's daughter came down from her cot and asked him to sit on it.
“My lord, what's your wish?” she asked, as if she didn't know.
He replied, “I like you a lot. Can't take my mind off you, ever since I saw you dance this evening.”
So they bathed and ate together, and gave each other much pleasure.
“I've never seen anyone so beautiful and artful as you. Ask what you want and I'll give it to you,” said the prince, sated with pleasure.
“O, I want very little,” she said. “Give me the ring on your finger, as a memento.”
“Take it,” he said, and gave it to her, promising to visit her again the next night. And he spent the next night with her, and gave her the necklace he was wearing. On the third night, she took from him the dagger at his waist.
The next day, the acrobats left the palace outskirts. She went back to her father's house with the old acrobat and his troupe, gave them money and many gifts, and returned to her underground basement house. She was happy to see that she was pregnant. Nine months and nine days later, she gave birth to a baby boy. As he grew up, she taught him all the arts she had learned from the old man. He grew up to be a very clever, a very accomplished young man. One day, mother and son were having their dinner and chatting, when the mother asked him, “I've a wager and I can't win it without you. Will you promise to win it for me?”
“Of course,” said the son, thinking that nothing could be more precious than one's mother. “Tell me what it is, and I'll do it.”
“Listen carefully, my son. Before you were born, I was sweeping our dooryard. The king's son came riding and asked me out of the blue,”
‘O saukar's daughter, tell me: of all the sesames,“And I replied,
which is the smallest sesame?’
‘O king's son, of all the flowers
what's the price of jasmine?’
“If my father never came here, how did I come about?” asked the son, all eyes and ears by now. Then she told him about the acrobats and the three nights she spent with the prince.
Then she showed him the tunnel. The young man hastened to his grandfather's mansion through the tunnel and asked him for an old shirt, some old half-pants, and a dirty blanket. The grandfather, who knew something was afoot, arranged to get them. The young man wore them and went towards his father's city. About a mile away from the palace, he saw a hut and approached it. The old woman of the hut inquired, “Where do you come from? Who are you? Have you eaten or would you like something to eat?”
He answered “I don't have a home to call my own. I wander here and there in search of work and wages.”
She said, “I too am alone. I've nobody to call my own. Stay here with me. I live by selling milk and buttermilk.”
He accepted her invitation, and stayed with her, grazing her cows all day. He made friends with other young cowherd boys, played village games with them, and learned the ways of the bazaar nearby. One day they were roaming the streets and came to the palace. He said, playing the innocent, “Look, what a beautiful and strange-looking house!”
His friends enlightened him and gave him the gossip.
“O that, that is the palace. The king's story is quite something. He married a woman from the village and has shut her up in a basement house. After shutting up his first wife, he went and married a second wife. They say he is quite happy with the new one and has several children. Up there in the third storey is their bedroom. In the middle of it stands a golden cot with silver legs on which they sleep. They have servantmaids at their beck and call all hours of the day to bring them their slightest wish and to give them baths and massages.” And so on, they told him everything they had heard, adding spice and salt to it.
That evening, he tied up the cows in the shed, waited for the night, and went to the palace. Deftly, he threw the ash that makes people fall asleep into the eyes of the guards, and they sank down in sleep in the very places they stood. He entered the palace bedroom and, sure enough, the king and queen were sleeping on the legendary bedspread on a golden cot with silver legs. He removed the silver legs one by one, replacing them with banana trunks cut to the right lengths; he removed, with the lightest of fingers, every piece of jewelry the queen was wearing from all over her body; then he came out on silent feet, as he had gone in. He hid the jewelry in a hole behind the hut and went to bed.
The king and his queen stirred in their sleep. The banana trunks on which the cot was precariously perched slipped from under them, and they rolled to the ground, shocked awake. When they lit the lamps, they found to their amazement that all the jewelry was gone. Even the silver legs of the cot were gone. They shouted for all the servants and the guards, but no one knew a thing. The king punished them all. He called the bailiff and gave orders that the thief be caught at once. Whoever it was, he seemed to be no ordinary thief. He seemed well-versed in all the black arts.
Next day, when the young man was driving his herd of cows, he met the bailiff making his rounds in broad daylight. He asked him, “Bailiff sir, you seem to have started work early today. What's the matter?”
The bailiff replied, “Go your ways. Some clever thief has robbed the king's bedroom, and the king is punishing us all. We have to catch him right away or else we will lose our heads. Don't ask too many questions. Just go about your business.”
The young man said he could perhaps help in bringing the thief to justice. The bailiff said, “If only my son-in-law were here! He would have caught this thief in two minutes!”
“Isn't he in town? Where did he go, sir bailiff? Can I go get him?” said the young man, showing concern.
“O, how can you? He left town the day after he married my daughter. His skin was the color of oil, a bit on the brown side. He always wore white clothes. He was about your height and weight.…” The bailiff went on to give him a full description of his absent son-in-law.
The young man listened to everything carefully, made sympathetic noises to the bailiff, and drove the cows home early that day. He warned the old woman, “Grandma, there are robbers in town. They've even robbed the king's palace. You'd better be careful. Bolt all doors before you sleep. I'll sleep in the shed with the cows and guard them.”
But he didn't sleep there that night. He dressed himself up as the bailiff's son-in-law and went to the city gates, where the bailiff was keeping watch in the dark. He addressed him as father-in-law, and said, “Father-in-law, why are you sitting here alone like this?”
The bailiff was taken aback but was also happy to see his absent relative.
“I was just talking about you to someone today. Where have you been all these days? The king got robbed yesterday, so he has put me on day-and-night duty at the city gates.”
“That's what I heard and so I hurried back,” said the young man.
“That's my boy! I'm so glad you're back. You can help us catch this thief. But first go home and see your wife. She would be so pleased,” said the bailiff.
The young man took his leave and went to the bailiff's house and said to the bailiff's wife: “Mother-in-law, I'm employed in the south, far away. The weather there has completely changed my skin color and looks, as you can see. I thought I should come home, be with my wife for a couple of days, and go back. I'll soon arrange to take her there.”
She and her daughter welcomed him and gave him a fine dinner. Then he joined the daughter in bed, slept with her, and left quietly before dawn.
When, next day, the king asked the bailiff, “Did you catch the thief?” all he could say was, “Master, what shall I say? Yesterday he came in the guise of my long-lost son-in-law, slept with my daughter, and disappeared. He is no ordinary thief, believe me.”
The king agreed. “He does look like a superthief. I'll make the rounds myself tonight and catch him,” he said, and sent out warnings to the entire city through the town crier.
The young cowherd came home early again and warned the old woman, “It looks as if the king himself will make the rounds of the city today and try to catch the thief. You'd better be careful lest the thief come into this house. Check the doors before you sleep.”
Then he went out and bought puffed rice, peanuts, fried bondas, and other snacks, as well as cigarettes and matches. By midnight, he had built a little booth and set up shop on a street corner. He kept it open, with a little oil lamp flickering all night, and sat at the till. The king came there on his rounds and asked him, “What are you doing, keeping a snack shop open at this midnight hour? Who'll come and buy from you at this time?”
The young man winked and said, “O, there are always night people. Every night ten men come from this side and ten from that. Trade is quite brisk at this time.”
The king thought that it must be the thieves who came at night to the shop for a bite to eat, and said, “Look here, I have to catch a thief in that gang. I'm no other than the king. I've decided to catch him myself.”
The young man pretended to be all agog, and whispered to him respectfully, “ Swami, master, of course, of course. I'll be at your service. Anything you say. But those fellows have come and gone already tonight. If only I'd known.…But tomorrow I'll arrange to catch them, bind them up, and deliver them to you. I promise.”
Next day, he drove the cows to pasture as usual, returned as usual, and warned the old woman again, “Robbers are rampant in town. Double-lock the doors before you sleep. I'll sleep in the shed.”
Then he went to a laundryman, gave him a costly jewel, and bought from him a large bundle of dirty linen. He also picked up a large burlap bag and some rope. He went to the tank, disguised as a laundryman, and started washing the clothes. The king came there late that night on his rounds, his face hooded in a cloak. He asked the fake laundryman, “What are you doing at this hour washing clothes?”
The man replied, “O sir, I'm the same fellow who runs the booth at night. Now I have to wash these clothes. These belong to the robbers. They want the dry ones right away. They'll come here to change into disguises and they will give me more clothes.”
The king was all fired up and said, “Then I'll wait here and catch him.”
“I'll help you, sir. But then, if you stand here like that, strong and tall, they will see you and vanish. You must hide in this bundle of clothes and make no noise,” said the young rogue, smothering the king in the dirty linen and tying a bed sheet all around him, making a firm knot at the top.
At the crack of dawn, people began to come towards the tank for water. He called them all and said, pointing to the bundle of clothes, “Here, this is the thief. Take him in this bundle and tie it up to the post in the marketplace. Don't listen to anything he says. He's much too clever for all of us, as you know.”
The people carried the bundle, with the king screaming and shouting inside, and tied it up to the post. By the time they got there, the young man was already sitting there, dressed like a lord, in a high chair, twirling his mustache. He had meanwhile sent for the king's old father. When he arrived, he asked the people to untie the bundle.
“At long last. Let's see the face of this superthief. Untie it,” he ordered. Out of the bundle scrambled a bewildered and disheveled king. When he looked at his captor, he was amazed, for the young man looked like himself. His second queen also hurried to the place and saw the two of them, look-alikes—her husband tied to a post in the marketplace, and a young man standing stylishly in front of him with a whip in his hand. King and thief, thief and king, handy-dandy, it was hard to tell who was which. Only their ages gave them away.
Then the young man addressed the crowd and told them that he was really the prisoner's son. He also sent for his mother in the basement house. She hurried to the marketplace and quickly asked the servants to untie the king. She told the assembly about her wager, why and how she was married, and how her son now had helped her win the wager. She showed them the dagger, the necklace, and the signet ring that had once belonged to the king. They went with her to inspect the underground tunnel her father had built for her. Then the king said, “You are truly my first wife. Queen, you've won your wager.”
Then he called his son to his side and embraced him. Everyone, needless to say, was happy.
[Cf. AT 870, The Princess Confined in the Mound; and AT 1525G, The Thief Assumes Disguises.]