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The Spirit-guarded Cave

Category: Tales of the Jungle

Source: Laos Folk-lore Of Farther India

When the people of the far north[3] were molested by their foes and were
in continual fear, they consulted together, saying, "Our lives are spent
in trying to escape from our enemies and no joy can be ours. Let us flee
to the south country[4] where, if the people make slaves of us, we can,
at least, know that our lives will be spared, and life, even in slavery,
is better than this constant fear of our enemies destroying both
ourselves and our dwelling-places and taking our cattle for their own."
Therefore, they gathered together all their household goods, secreted
their money and jewels about their persons, and, loading their cattle
with rice, they commenced their toilsome journey through the narrow
jungle paths and across the high mountains on their way to the south,
where they hoped for peace and safety. The way was long and difficult,
and the rice was all eaten and the cattle killed and consumed before
they had nearly reached their journey's end. Then the fugitives
commenced to use their money to buy food that they might have strength
for the journey, and they whispered one to another that the people
looked with covetous eyes on their hoard of money and jewels, and they
feared they would be slain because of the greed of the people.

One man, wiser than the others, said, "Why do we endanger our lives for
our possessions? Can we not find some secret place in which to leave our
money and jewels, and when brighter days come to us we can return and
find them even as we left them?"

All the people cried, "Your words are wise. Let us do accordingly," and
as these people were loved of the spirits, they were led to a deep cave
in the midst of a wood where man seldom came, and there they left their
possessions in the care of the spirits who promised to guard them until
in the days, when life being brighter and more secure, the owners would
come and claim them.

The people journeyed on to the south country, and there lived as slaves.
Many generations of them lived and died, but they could not escape nor
come to claim the vast wealth and jewels which they had left in care of
the spirits of the cave.

The story became known, and the inhabitants of all the surrounding
countries went to the cave and sought to secure the treasure. But such
was the care of the spirits that no man with safety could enter the
cave. A light was instantly extinguished, if let down into the deep pit
leading into the chamber where the treasure was, for the spirits blew
their breath upon it and it was no more. All devices were tried to
obtain the treasure, and from all parts of the country the people came
to try to overcome the charm which the spirits had placed upon the cave,
but no one was able to break it. One man went even into the treasure
chamber and filled his hands with the precious stones, but he was
overcome by a deadly sickness and was forced to replace the jewels in
the treasure chest and flee for his life so as to escape the wrath of
the guarding spirits. Even the white, foreign strangers, who have come
into the land and placed their strong hands on the elephants and the
trees[5] of the forest and claimed them for their use, were baffled and
driven back by the faithful spirits when they endeavored to enter the
treasure chamber, and for all time this treasure shall remain there,
for, if the white foreigner, by his wisdom, or by his craft, fails to
obtain it, verily it will remain untouched forever.

3: In China.

4: Siam.

5: Teak-wood.

Next: The Mountain Spirits And The Stone Mortars

Previous: The Enchanted Mountain

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