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15. Can the laws of nature ever really be broken?

16. What is the only way in which man can conquer nature?



CHAPTER IX


The magician was very angry indeed when he heard that the field was
ploughed and the seed sown. He knew at once that some magic had
been at work, and suspected that Rupa-Sikha was the cause of his
disappointment. Without a moment's hesitation he said to the prince:
"No sooner were you gone than I decided not to have that seed sown. Go
back at once, and pile it up where it was before."

This time Sringa-Bhuja felt no fear or hesitation, for he was sure
of the power and will to help him of his promised bride. So back he
went to the field, and there he found the whole vast space covered
with millions and millions of ants, busily collecting the seed and
piling it up against the wall of the town. Again Rupa-Sikha came
to cheer him, and again she warned him that their trials were not
yet over. She feared, she said, that her father might prove stronger
than herself; for he had many allies at neighbouring courts ready to
help him in his evil purposes. "Whatever else he orders you to do,
you must see me before you leave the palace. I will send my faithful
messenger to appoint a meeting in some secret place."

Agni-Sikha was not much surprised when the prince told him that his
last order had been obeyed, and thought to himself, "I must get this
tiresome fellow out of my domain, where that too clever child of mine
will not be able to help him." "Well," he said, "I suppose the wedding
must take place to-morrow after all, for I am a man of my word. We
must now set about inviting the guests. You shall have the pleasure
of doing this yourself: then my friends will know beforehand what a
handsome young son-in-law I shall have. The first person to summon
to the wedding is my brother Dhuma Sikha, who has taken up his abode
in a deserted temple a few miles from here. You must ride at once to
that temple, rein up your steed opposite it, and cry, 'Dhuma Sikha,
your brother Agni-Sikha has sent me hither to invite you to witness
my marriage with his daughter Rupa-Sikha to-morrow. Come without
delay!' Your message given, ride back to me; and I will tell you what
farther tasks you must perform before the happy morrow dawns."

When Sringa-Bhuja left the palace, he knew not where to seek a horse
to bear him on this new errand. But as he was nearing the gateway by
which he had gone forth to sow the field with seed, a handsome boy
approached him and said, "If my lord will follow me, I will tell him
what to do." Somehow the voice sounded familiar; and when the guards
were left far enough behind to be out of hearing, the boy looked up
at Sringa-Bhuja with a smile that revealed Rupa-Sikha herself. "Come
with me," she said; and taking his hand, she led him to a tree beneath
which stood a noble horse, richly caparisoned, which pawed the ground
and whinnied to its mistress, as she drew near.

"You must ride this horse," said Rupa-Sikha, "who will obey you if
you but whisper in his ear; and you must take earth, water, wood and
fire with you, which I will give you. You must go straight to the
temple, and when you have called out your message, turn without a
moment's delay, and ride for your life as swiftly as your steed will
go, looking behind you all the time. No guidance will be necessary;
for Marut - that is my horse's name - knows well what he has to do."

Then Rupa-Sikha gave Sringa-Bhuja a bowl of earth, a jar of water,
a bundle of thorns and a brazier full of burning charcoal, hanging
them by strong thongs upon the front of his saddle so that he could
reach them easily. "My father," she told him, "has given my uncle
instructions to kill you, and he will follow you upon his swift
Arab steed. When you hear him behind you, fling earth in his path;
if that does not stop him, pour out some of the water; and if he
still perseveres, scatter the burning charcoal before him."

17. Can you discover any hidden meaning in the use of earth, water,
thorns and fire, to stop the course of the wicked magician?

18. Do you think the prince loved Rupa-Sikha better than he loved
himself?



CHAPTER X


Away went the prince after he had received these instructions; and
very soon he found himself opposite the temple, with the images of
three of the gods worshipped in India to prove that it had been a
sanctuary before the magician took up his abode in it. Directly
Sringa-Bhuja shouted out his message to Dhuma-Sikha, the wicked
dweller in the temple came rushing forth from the gateway, mounted
on a huge horse, which seemed to be belching forth flames from its
nostrils as it bounded along. For one terrible moment Sringa-Bhuja
feared that he was lost; but Marut, putting forth all his strength,
kept a little in advance of the enemy, giving the prince time to
scatter earth behind him. Immediately a great mountain rose up,
barring the road, and Sringa-Bhuja felt that he was saved. He was
mistaken: for, as he looked back, he saw Dhuma-Sikha coming over
the top of the mountain. The next moment the magician was close
upon him. So he emptied his bowl of water: and, behold, a huge river
with great waves hid pursuer and pursued from each other. Even this
did not stop the mighty Arab horse, which swam rapidly across, the
rider loudly shouting out orders to the prince to stop. When the
prince heard the hoofs striking on the dry ground behind him again,
he threw out the thorns, and a dense wood sprouted up as if by magic,
which for a few moments gave fresh hope of safety to Sringa-Bhuja;
for it seemed as if even the powerful magician would be unable to get
through it. He did succeed however; but his clothes were nearly torn
off his back, and his horse was bleeding from many wounds made by
the cruel thorns. Sringa-Bhuja too was getting weary, and remembered
that he had only one more chance of checking his relentless enemy. He
could almost feel the breath of the panting steed as it drew near;
and with a loud cry to his beloved Rupa-Sikha, he threw the burning
charcoal on the road. In an instant the grass by the wayside, the
trees overshadowing it, and the magic wood which had sprung from the
thorns, were alight, burning so fiercely that no living thing could
approach them safely. The wicked magician was beaten at last, and
was soon himself fleeing away, as fast as he could, with the flames
following after him as if they were eager to consume him.

Whether his enemy ever got back to his temple, Sringa-Bhuja never
knew. Exhausted with all he had been through, the young prince was
taken back to the palace by the faithful Marut, and there he found
his dear Rupa-Sikha awaiting him. She told him that her father had
promised her that, if the prince came back, he would oppose her
marriage no longer. "For," he said, "if he can escape your uncle,
he must be more than mortal, and worthy even of my daughter." "He
does not in the least expect to see you again," added Rupa-Sikha;
"and even if he allows us to marry, he will never cease to hate you;
for I am quite sure he knows that you shot the jewelled arrow at him
when he was in the form of a crane. If I ever am your wife, he will
try to punish you through me. But have no fear: I shall know how
to manage him. Fresh powers have been lately given to me by another
uncle whose magic is stronger than that of any of my other relations."

When Sringa-Bhuja had bathed and rested, he robed himself once
more in the garments he had worn the day he first saw Rupa-Sikha;
and together the lovers went to the great hall to seek an interview
with Agni-Sikha. The magician, who had made quite sure that he had
now got rid of the unwelcome suitor for his daughter's hand, could
not contain his rage, at seeing him walk in with her as if the two
were already wedded.

He stamped about, pouring out abuse, until he had quite exhausted
himself, the lovers looking on quietly without speaking. At last,
coming close to them, Agni-Sikha shouted, in a loud harsh voice:
"So you have not obeyed my orders. You have not bid my brother to the
wedding. Your life is forfeit, and you will die to-morrow instead of
marrying Rupa-Sikha. Describe the temple in which Dhuma Sikha lives
and the appearance of its owner."

Then Sringa-Bhuja gave such an exact account of the temple, naming
the gods whose images still adorned it, and of the terrible man
riding the noble steed who had pursued him, that the magician was
convinced against his will; and knowing that he must keep his word to
Rupa-Sikha, he gave his consent for the preparations for the marriage
on the morrow to begin.

19. What is your opinion of the character of Agni-Sikha?

20. Do you think he was at all justified in the way in which he
treated his daughter and Sringa-Bhuja?



CHAPTER XI


The marriage was celebrated the next day with very great pomp; and
a beautiful suite of rooms was given to the bride and bridegroom,
who could not in spite of this feel safe or happy, because they knew
full well that Agni-Sikha hated them. The prince soon began to feel
home-sick and anxious to introduce his beautiful wife to his own
people. He remembered that he had left his dear mother in prison,
and reproached himself for having forgotten her for so long. So he
said to Rupa-Sikha:

"Let us go, beloved, to my native city, Vardhamana. My heart yearns
after my dear ones there, and I would fain introduce you to them."

"My lord," replied Rupa-Sikha, "I will go with you whither you will,
were it even to the ends of the earth. But we must not let my father
guess we mean to go; for he would forbid us to leave the country and
set spies to watch our every movement. We will steal away secretly,
riding together on my faithful Marut and taking with us only what we
can carry." "And my jewelled arrow," said the prince, "that I may give
it back to my father and explain to him how I lost it. Then shall I
be restored to his favour, and maybe he will forgive my mother also."

"Have no fear," answered Rupa-Sikha: "all will surely go well with
us. Forget not that new powers have been given to me, which will save
us from my father and aid me to rescue my dear one's mother from her
evil fate."

Before the dawn broke on the next day, the two set forth unattended,
Marut seeming to take pride in his double burden and bearing them along
so swiftly that they had all but reached the bounds of the country
under the dominion of Agni-Sikha as the sun rose. Just as they thought
they were safe from pursuit, they heard a loud rushing noise behind;
and looking round, they saw the father of the bride close upon them on
his Arab steed, with sword uplifted in his hand to strike. "Fear not,"
whispered Rupa-Sikha to her husband. "I will show you now what I can
do." And waving her arms to and fro, as she muttered some strange
words, she changed herself into an old woman and Sringa-Bhuja into
an old man, whilst Marut became a great pile of wood by the road-side.

When the angry father reached the spot, the bride and bridegroom were
busily gathering sticks to add to the pile, seemingly too absorbed
in their work to take any notice of the angry magician, who shouted
out to them:

"Have you seen a man and a woman pass along this way?"

The old woman straightened herself, and peering, up into his face,
said:

"No; we are too busy over our work to notice anything else."

"And what, pray, are you doing in my wood?" asked Agni-Sikha.

"We are helping to collect the fuel for the pyre of the great
magician Agni-Sikha." answered Rupa-Sikha. "Do you not know that he
died yesterday?"

The Hindus of India do not bury but burn the dead; so that it was quite
a natural thing for the people of the land over which the magician
ruled to collect the materials for the pyre or heap of wood on which
his body would be laid to be burnt. What surprised Agni-Sikha, and
in fact nearly took his breath away, was to be quietly told that he
was dead. He began to think that he was dreaming, and said to himself,
"I cannot really be dead without knowing it, so I must be asleep." And
he quietly turned his horse round and rode slowly home again. This was
just what his daughter wanted; and as soon as he was out of sight,
she turned herself, her husband and Marut, into their natural forms
again, laughing merrily, as she did so, at the thought of the ease
with which she had got rid of her father.

21. Do you think it was clever of Rupa-Sikha to make up this story?

22. Do you think it is better to believe all that you are told or to
be more ready to doubt when anything you hear seems to be unusual?


CHAPTER XII


Once more the bride and bridegroom set forth on their way, and once
more they soon heard Agni-Sikha coming after them. For when he got
back to his palace, and the servants hastened out to take his horse, he
guessed that a trick had been played on him. He did not even dismount,
but just turned his horse's head round and galloped back again. "If
ever," he thought to himself, "I catch those two young people, I'll
make them wish they had obeyed me. Yes, they shall suffer for it. I
am not going to stand being defied like this."

This time Rupa-Sikha contented herself with making her husband and
Marut invisible, whilst she changed herself into a letter-carrier,
hurrying along the road as if not a moment was to be lost. She took no
notice of her father, till he reined up his steed and shouted to her:

"Have you seen a man and woman on horseback pass by?"

"No, indeed," she said: "I have a very important letter to deliver,
and could think of nothing but making all the haste possible."

"And what is this important letter about?" asked Agni-Sikha. "Can
you tell me that?"

"Oh, yes, I can tell you that," she said. "But where can you have been,
not to have heard the terrible news about the ruler of this land?"

"You can't tell me anything I don't know about him," answered the
magician, "for he is my greatest friend."

"Then you know that he is dying from a wound he got in a battle with
his enemies only yesterday. I am to take this letter to his brother
Dhuma-Sikha, bidding him come to see him before the end."

Again Agni-Sikha wondered if he were dreaming, or if he were under
some strange spell and did not really know who he was? Being able,
as he was, to cast spells on other people, he was ready to fancy the
same thing had befallen him. He said nothing when he heard that he was
wounded, and was about to turn back again when Rupa-Sikha said to him:

"As you are on horseback and can get to Dhuma-Sikha's temple quicker
than I can, will you carry the message of his brother's approaching
death to him for me, and bid him make all possible haste if he would
see him alive?"

This was altogether too much for the magician, who became sure that
there was something very wrong about him. He knew he was not wounded or
dying, but he thought he must be ill of fever, fancying he heard what
he did not. He stared fixedly at his daughter, and she stared up at
him, half-afraid he might find out who she was, but he never guessed.

"Do your own errands," he said at last; and slashing his poor innocent
horse with his whip, he wheeled round and dashed home again as fast as
he could. Again his servants ran out to receive him, and he gloomily
dismounted, telling them to send his chief councillor to him in his
private apartments. Shut up with him, he poured out all his troubles,
and the councillor advised him to see his physician without any delay,
for he felt sure that these strange fancies were caused by illness.

The doctor, when he came, was very much puzzled, but he looked as
wise as he could, ordered perfect rest and all manner of disagreeable
medicines. He was very much surprised at the change he noticed in his
patient, who, instead of angrily declaring that there was nothing the
matter with him, was evidently in a great fright about his health. He
shut himself up for many days, and it was a long time before he got
over the shock he had received, and then it was too late for him to
be revenged or the lovers.

23. Can you explain what casting a spell means?

24. Can you give an instance of a spell being cast on any one you
have heard of?


CHAPTER XIII


Having really got rid of Agni-Sikha, Rupa-Sikha and her husband
were very soon out of his reach and in the country belonging to
Sringa-Bhuja's father, who had bitterly mourned the loss of his
favourite son. When the news was brought to him that two strangers,
a handsome young man and a beautiful woman, who appeared to be husband
and wife, had entered his capital, he hastened forth to meet them,
hoping that perhaps they could give him news of Sringa-Bhuja. What
was his joy when he recognised his dear son, holding the jewelled
arrow, which had led him into such trouble, in his right hand, as he
guided Marat with his left! The king flung himself from his horse,
and Sringa-Bhuja, giving the reins to Rupa-Sikha, also dismounted. The
next moment he was in his father's arms, everything forgotten and
forgiven in the happy reunion.

Great was the rejoicing over Sringa-Bhuja's return and hearty was the
welcome given to his beautiful bride, who quickly won all hearts but
those of the wicked wives and sons who had tried to harm her husband
and his mother. They feared the anger of the king, when he found out
how they had deceived him, and they were right to fear. Sringa-Bhuja's
very first act was to plead for his mother to be set free. He would
not tell any of his adventures, he said, till she could hear them
too; and the king, full of remorse for the way he had treated her,
went with him to the prison in which she had been shut up all this
time. What was poor Guna-Vara's joy, when the two entered the place in
which she had shed so many tears! She could not at first believe her
eyes or ears, but soon she realised that her sufferings were indeed
over. She could not be quite happy till her beloved husband said
he knew she had never loved any one but him. She had been accused
falsely, she said, and she wanted the woman who had told a lie about
her to be made to own the truth.

This was done in the presence of the whole court, and when judgment had
been passed upon Ayasolekha, the brothers of Sringa-Bhuja were also
brought before their father, who charged them with having deceived
him. They too were condemned, and all the culprits would have been
taken to prison and shut up for the rest of their lives, if those they
had injured had not pleaded for their forgiveness. Guna-Vara and her
son prostrated themselves at the foot of the throne, and would not
rise till they had won pardon for their enemies. Ayasolekha and the
brothers were allowed to go free; but Sringa-Bhuja, though he was the
youngest of all the princes, was proclaimed heir to the crown after his
father's death. His brothers, however, never ceased to hate him; and
when he came to the throne, they gave him a great deal of trouble. He
had many years of happiness with his wife and parents before that,
and never regretted the mistake about the jewelled arrow; since but
for it he would, he knew, never have seen his beloved Rupa-Sikha.

25. What is the chief lesson to be learnt from this story?

26. Do yon think it was good for those who had told lies about
Guna-Vara and her son to be forgiven so easily?

27. Can you give any instances of good coming out of evil and of evil
coming out of what seemed good?

28. Do you think Rupa-Sikha deserved all the happiness that came
to her?



STORY VI

The Beetle and the Silken Thread. [2]


CHAPTER I


The strange adventures related in the story of the Beetle and the
Silken Thread took place in the town of Allahabad, "the City of God,"
so called because it is situated near the point of meeting of the two
sacred rivers of India, the Ganges, which the Hindus lovingly call
Mother Ganga because they believe its waters can wash away their sins,
and the Jumna, which they consider scarcely less holy.

The ruler of Allahabad was a very selfish and hot-tempered Raja named
Surya Pratap, signifying "Powerful as the Sun," who expected everybody
to obey him without a moment's delay, and was ready to punish in
a very cruel manner those who hesitated to do so. He would never
listen to a word of explanation, or own that he had been mistaken,
even when he knew full well that he was in the wrong. He had a mantri,
that is to say, a chief vizier or officer, whom he greatly trusted,
and really seemed to be fond of, for he liked to have him always near
him. The vizier was called Dhairya-Sila, or "the Patient One," because
he never lost his temper, no matter what provocation he received. He
had a beautiful house, much money and many jewels, carriages to drive
about in, noble horses to ride and many servants to wait upon him,
all given to him by his master. But what he loved best of all was
his faithful wife, Buddhi-Mati, or "the Sensible One," whom he had
chosen for himself, and who would have died for him.

Many of the Raja's subjects were jealous of Dhairya-Sila, and
constantly brought accusations against him, of none of which his master
took any notice, except to punish those who tried to set him against
his favourite. It really seemed as if nothing would ever bring harm to
Dhairya-Sila; but he often told his wife that such good fortune was not
likely to last, and that she must be prepared for a change before long.

It turned out that he was right. For one day Surya Pratap ordered
him to do what he considered would be a shameful deed. He refused;
telling his master that he was wrong to think of such a thing, and
entreating him to give up his purpose. "All your life long," he said,
"you will wish you had listened to me; for your conscience will never
let you rest!"

On hearing these brave words, Surya Pratap flew into a terrible rage,
summoned his guards, and ordered them to take Dhairya-Sila outside the
city to a very lofty tower, and leave him at the top of it, without
shelter from the sun and with nothing to eat or drink. The guards were
at first afraid to touch the vizier, remembering how others had been
punished for only speaking against him. Seeing their unwillingness,
the Raja got more and more angry; but Dhairya-Sila himself kept quite
calm, and said to the soldiers:

"I go with you gladly. It is for the master to command and for me
to obey."

1. What is the best way to learn to keep calm in an emergency?

2. Why does too much power have a bad influence on those who have it?


CHAPTER II


The guards were relieved to find they need not drag the vizier away;
for they admired his courage and felt sure that the Raja would soon
find he could not get on without him. It might go hardly with them if
he suffered harm at their hands. So they only closed in about him;
and holding himself very upright, Dhairya-Sila walked to the tower
as if he were quite glad to go. In his heart however he knew full
well that it would need all his skill to escape with his life.

When her husband did not come home at night, Buddhi-Mati was very
much distressed. She guessed at once that something had gone wrong,
and set forth to try and find out what had happened. This was easy
enough; for as she crept along, with her veil closely held about her
lest she should be recognised, she passed groups of people discussing
the terrible fate that had befallen the favourite. She decided that
she must wait until midnight, when the streets would be deserted and
she could reach the tower unnoticed. It was almost dark when she got
there, but in the dim light of the stars she made out the form of him
she loved better than herself, leaning over the edge of the railing
at the top.

"Is my dear lord still alive?" she whispered, "and is there anything
I can do to help him?"

"You can do everything that is needed to help me," answered
Dhairya-Sila quietly, "if you only obey every direction I give you. Do
not for one moment suppose that I am in despair. I am more powerful
even now than my master, who has but shown his weakness by attempting
to harm me. Now listen to me. Come to-morrow night at this very hour,
bringing with you the following things: first, a beetle; secondly,
sixty yards of the finest silk thread, as thin as a spider's web;
thirdly, sixty yards of cotton thread, as thin as you can get it,
but very strong; fourthly, sixty yards of good stout twine; fifthly,
sixty yards of rope, strong enough to carry my weight; and last,
but certainly not least, one drop of the purest bees' honey."

3. Do you think the vizier thought of all these things before or
after he was taken to the tower?


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