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Wealth Or Wisdom

Category: Part I.

Source: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

Once upon a time there were a Raja and a rich merchant, and they
each had one son. The two boys went to the same school and in the
course of time became great friends; they were always together out of
school hours; the merchant's son would take his meals at the Raja's
palace or the Raja's son would eat with his friend at the merchant's
house. One day the two youths began a discussion as to whether wealth
or wisdom were the more powerful: the Raja's son said that wealth
was most important, while the merchant's son declared for wisdom; the
discussion waxed hot and neither would yield his opinion. At last the
merchant's son declared; "It is of no use for us to argue like this,
let us put it to the test: let us both go to some far country and
take service with some master for a year, and try whether wealth or
wisdom is the more successful." The Prince agreed to this plan and
they fixed a day for starting

Then they both went home and collected what money they could lay hands
on and, when the time arrived, started off early one morning. After
they had travelled some distance the Prince began to think of how his
parents must be searching for him, for he had said nothing about his
going away; but the merchant's son comforted him by saying that he
had left word of their intentions at his home, and his relations would
tell the Raja; so they continued on their way, and after a time they
came to a certain country where the merchant's son proposed that they
should look for employment. But now that it had come to the point, the
prince did not like the idea of becoming a servant and he said that he
would live on the money which he had brought with him, and which would
last for a year or two. "You may do as you like" answered his friend
"but for my part I must look for work." So he went to a village and
found employment as a teacher in a school; his pupils gave him his
food and also some small wages, so that he had enough to live on,
without spending any of the money he had brought with him.

Meanwhile the Raja's son hired a house in the village and began
to lead a riotous life; in a very short time He had wasted all his
money on his evil companions and was reduced to absolute starvation;
for when his money came to an end, all his so-called friends deserted
him. Thin and wretched, he went to the merchant's son and asked him
either to take him back to his father's home or to find him work. His
friend agreed to find him some employment, and after a little enquiry
heard of a farmer who wanted a servant to take a bullock out to graze
and to fill a trough with water once a day. The prince thought that
he could easily manage that amount of work, so he went to the farmer
and engaged himself as his servant.

The terms of service were these:--If the prince threw up his work one
of his little fingers was to be cut off, but if the farmer dismissed
him while he was working well then the farmer was to lose a little
finger; and if the prince grazed the bullock and filled the trough
with water regularly, he was to get as much cooked rice as would
cover a plantain leaf, but if he did not do the work he was to get
only what would go on a tamarind leaf. The prince readily agreed to
these terms, for he thought that the work would not take him more than
an hour or two. But unhappily for him, things did not turn out as he
expected. On the first morning he took the bullock out to graze, but
the animal would not eat; whenever it saw any other cattle passing,
it would gallop off to join them, and when the prince had run after
it and brought it back, nothing would make it graze quietly; it
kept running away in one direction or another with the prince in
pursuit. So at last he had to bring it home and shut it up in the
cow-shed and even that he found difficult.

Then they set him to filling the trough, and he found that he could
not do that either, for the trough had a hole in the bottom and had
been set over the mouth of an old well; and as fast as the prince
poured the water in, it ran away, but he was too stupid to see what
was the matter and went on pouring till he was quite tired out; so as
he had not completed the tasks set him, he only got a tamarind leaf
full of rice for his supper; this went on every day and the prince
began to starve, but he was afraid to run away and tell his troubles
to the merchant's son, lest he should have his little finger cut off.

But the merchant's son had not forgotten his friend and began to
wonder why the Prince kept away from him. So one day he went to pay
him a visit and was horrified to find him looking so ill and starved;
when he heard how the prince was only getting a tamarind leaf full
of rice every day, because he could not perform the task set him, he
offered to change places with the Prince and sent him off to teach in
the school while he himself stayed with the farmer. The next morning
the merchant's son took the bullock out to graze and he also found
that the animal would not graze quietly but spent its time in chasing
the other cattle, so at noon he brought it home and set to work to
fill the trough; he soon found the hole in the bottom through which
the water escaped and stopped it up with a lump of clay and then he
easily filled the trough to the brim. Then in the afternoon he took
the bullock out again to graze and when he brought it back at sunset
he was given a plantain leaf full of rice; this meant more food than
he could possibly eat in a day.

He was determined that the bullock should not give him any more
trouble, so the next morning when he took it out to graze, he took with
him a thick rope and tethered the animal to a tree; this saved him
all the trouble of running after it, but it was clear that it would
not get enough to eat in that way, so he made up his mind to get rid
of it altogether, and when he took it out in the afternoon, he took
with him a small axe and drove the bullock to a place where a herd of
cattle were grazing and then knocked it on the head with the axe and
threw the body into a ravine near by. Then he hid the axe and ran off
to his master and told him that the bullock had started fighting with
another animal in the herd and had been pushed over the edge of the
ravine and killed by the fall. The farmer went out to see for himself
and when he found the dead body lying in the ravine he could not but
believe the story, and had no fault to find with his cunning servant.

A few days later, as the rice crop was ripe, the farmer told the
merchant's son to go to the fields to reap the rice. "How shall I
reap it?" asked he. "With a sickle," replied the farmer. "Then it
will be the the sickle and not I, that reaps it" "As you like,"
said the farmer, "you go along with the sickle, no doubt it knows
all about it;" so they got him a sickle and he went off to the
fields. When he got there, he noticed how bright the sickle looked,
and when he touched it, he found it quite hot from being carried
in the sun. "Dear, dear," said he, "I cannot let this sickle reap
the rice: it is so hot that it must have very bad fever; I will let
it rest in the shade until it gets better," so he laid it down in a
shady spot and began to stroll about. Presently up came the farmer,
and was very angry to find no work going on. "Did I send you out to
stroll about, or to start cutting the rice?" roared he. "To cut the
rice," answered the merchant's son, "but the sickle has fallen ill
with high fever and is resting in the shade; come and feel how hot
it is." "You are nothing but an idiot," answered the farmer. "You
are no good here; go back home and start a fire in the big house and
boil some water by the time I get back." The merchant's son was only
on the lookout for an excuse to annoy the farmer and the words used
by the farmer were ambiguous; so he went straight back to the farm
and set the biggest house on fire. The farmer saw the conflagration
and came rushing home and asked the merchant's son what on earth he
meant by doing such mischief. "I am only doing exactly what you told
me; nothing would induce me to disobey any order of yours, my worthy
master." The farmer had nothing more to say; his words would bear the
construction put upon them by the merchant's son, and he was afraid
to dismiss him lest he should have to lose his little finger; so he
made up his mind to get rid of this inconvenient servant in another
way, and the next day he called him and told him that he must send
word to his father-in-law of the unfortunate burning of the house,
and the merchant's son must carry the letter.

The latter accordingly set off with the letter, but on the road he
thought that it would be just as well to see what the letter was
really about; so he opened it and found that it contained a request
from the farmer to his father-in-law to kill the bearer of the letter
immediately on his arrival. The merchant's son at once tore this up
and wrote another letter in the farmer's name: saying that the bearer
of the letter was a most excellent servant and he wished him to marry
into the family; but that as he himself had no daughters he hoped that
his father-in-law would give him one of his daughters to wife. Armed
with this he proceeded on his journey. The father-in-law was rather
surprised at the contents of the letter and asked the merchant's
son if he knew what it was about; he protested complete ignorance:
the farmer had told him nothing, and as he was only a poor cowherd,
of course he could not read. This set suspicion at rest; the wedding
was at once arranged and duly took place, and the merchant's son
settled down to live with his wife's family.

After a time the farmer got news of what had happened, and when he
saw how the merchant's son had always been sharp enough to get the
better of him, he began to fear that in the end he would be made to
cut off his finger; so he sought safety in flight. He ran away from
his house and home and was never heard of more.

When news of this came to the ears of the merchant's son, he set
out to visit his old friend the Prince and found him still teaching
in the little village school. "What do you think now," he asked him,
"is wisdom or money the better. By my cleverness, I got the better of
that farmer; he had to give me more rice than I could eat. I killed his
bullock, I set fire to his house, and I got a wife without expending
a picc on my marriage; while you--you have spent all the money you
brought with you from home, and have met with nothing but starvation
and trouble; what good has your money done you?" The Prince had not
a word to answer.

Two or three days later the Prince proposed that they should go back to
their parents; his friend agreed but said that he must first inform his
wife's relations, so they went back to the village where the merchant's
son had married, and while they were staying there the Prince caught
sight of a Raja's daughter and fell violently in love with her.

Learning of the Prince's state of mind the merchant's son undertook
to arrange the match; so he sent his wife to the Raja's daughter with
orders to talk of nothing but the virtues and graces of the Prince
who was staying at their house. Her words had their due effect and
the Raja's daughter became so well disposed towards the Prince, that
when one day she met him, she also fell violently in love with him
and felt that she could not be happy unless she became his wife. So
the wedding duly took place, and then the Prince and the merchant's
son with their respective wives returned to their fathers' houses.

Next: The Goala And The Cow

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