The Laughing Fish

There was once a merchant who prospered in his business and in the

course of time became very rich. He had five sons but none of them

was married. In the village where he lived was an old tank which was

half silted up and he resolved to clean it out and deepen it, if the

Raja would give it to him; so he went to the Raja and the Raja said

that he could have the tank if he paid forty rupees. The merchant paid

the money and then went home and called his family together and said

that they would first improve the tank and then find wives for all

his sons. The sons agreed and they collected coolies and drained

off the water and began to dig out the silt. When they had drained

off the water they found in the bed of the tank a number of big fish

of unknown age: which they caught and two of them they sent to the

Raja as a present. When the fish were carried into the presence of the

Raja they both began to laugh: then the Raja said "What is the meaning

of this? Here are two dead fish, why are they laughing?" And he told

the men who brought the fish to explain what was the matter or else

to take them away again. But they could give no explanation. Then the

Raja called all his officers and astrologers and asked them what they

thought it meant: but no one could give him any answer. Then the Raja

told the men to take the fish away again, and to tell the merchant

that, if he could not explain why the fish laughed, he would kill him

and all his descendants; and he wrote a letter to the same effect,

and fixed a day by which the merchant was to explain the matter. When

the merchant read the letter he fell into the greatest distress and

for two or three days he could not make up his mind whether to go on

with the work on the tank or no; but in the end he resolved to finish

it so that his name might be held in remembrance. So they finished the

work and then the merchant said to his sons: "My sons I cannot arrange

for your marriages, for the Raja has threatened to kill us all, if I

cannot explain why the fish laughed; you must all escape from here so

that our family may not die out;" but the younger sons all answered

"We are not able to take care of ourselves, either you come with us

to protect us or we will stay here." Then the merchant told his eldest

son to escape alone so that their family might not become extinct.

So the eldest son took a supply of money and went away into a far

country. After travelling a long time he came to a town where a

Raja lived and decided to stay there; so he first went to a tank and

bathed and sat down on the bank to eat some refreshment; and as he

sat the daughter of the Raja came down to the tank to bathe and she

saw the merchant's son and their eyes met. Then the princess sent

her maid-servants to ask him where he came from; and he told them

where he came from and that he meant to make a stay in that town,

and he promised them a rupee if they could persuade the princess to

uncover her face. They went and told their mistress all this and she

answered "Go and get your rupee from him, I will uncover my face;

and ask him what he wants." And when they went, she drew aside the

cloth from her face; then he gave them the rupee, and they asked him

whether he had seen her and what his intention was; then he said that

his wish was to marry the princess and live with her in her father's

house! When the princess heard this she said "Yes, my heart has gone

out to him also;" so then she bathed and went home and lay down in

her room and would not get up, and when her father asked her what

was the matter, she made no answer. Then they asked her maidens what

was the matter and they said that she had seen a stranger by the

tank and wished to marry him. The Rani asked whether the stranger

was still there and they said that they had left him by the tank. So

two men were sent to fetch the stranger or to find out where he had

gone. The two servants went and found the merchant's son just ready

to continue his journey, and they asked him who he was and what he

wanted. He said that he was looking for employment but would like

best to marry and live in the house of his father-in-law. Then they

told him not go away and they would arrange such a marriage for him,

so they took him to a house in the town and left him there and went

back to the Raja. They told the Raja that the stranger had gone away

but that they could follow him and bring him back if he gave them some

money for their journey. So the Raja gave them two rupees; then they

went off but only ate their dinner at home, and then they brought

the merchant's son to the Raja, pretending that they had overtaken

him a long way off. He was questioned about himself and he told his

whole history except that the Raja had threatened to cut off his

family, and his account being satisfactory it was arranged that he

should marry the princess. Musicians were sent for and the marriage

took place at once. After his marriage the merchant's son was much

depressed at the thought of his brothers' fate and in the middle of

the night he used to rise up and weep till the bed was soaked with

his tears; the princess noticed this and one night she pretended to

go to sleep but really lay awake and watched her husband; and in the

middle of the night saw him rise quietly and begin to sob. She was

filled with sympathy and went to him and begged him to tell her what

was the matter and whether he was sorry that he had married her; and

he answered "I cry because I am in despair; in the daytime I restrain

my tears before others with difficulty but in the night they cannot

be kept back; but I am ashamed for you to see me and I wait till you

are asleep before I give way to my feelings."

Then she asked what was the cause of his sorrow and he answered "My

father and mother and brothers and sisters are all doomed to die;

for our Raja has sworn to kill them by a certain day if he is not

told why two fish, which my father sent to him as a present, laughed

when they were brought before him. In consequence of this threat

my father sent me from home that one of the family might survive

and although I may be safe here the thought of them and their fate

makes me weep." The princess asked him what was the day fixed for

the mystery to be explained; and he told her that it was at the

full moon of a certain month. Then the princess said "Come take me

to your father's house: I shall be able to explain why the fishes

laughed." The merchant's son joyfully agreed to start off the next

day; so in the morning they told the Raja why they wished to go, and

he said to his daughter "Go and do not be afraid; go in confidence,

I promise you that you will be able to explain why the fishes laughed."

So they made ready and journeyed to the merchant's house; and when

they arrived they told the merchant to go to the Raja and ask him

to collect all the citizens on a certain day to hear the reason why

the fishes laughed. The merchant went to the Raja and the Raja gave

him a letter fixing the day and all the citizens were assembled in

an open plain; and the princess dressed herself as a man and went to

the assembly and stood before the Raja.

Then the Raja bade her explain why the fishes laughed, and the princess

answered "If you wish to know the reason order all your Ranis to be

brought here;" so the Ranis were summoned; then the princess said

"The reason why the fishes laughed was because among all your wives

it is only the eldest Rani who is a woman and all the others are

men. What will you give me if this is not proved to be true?" Then

the Raja wrote a bond promising to give the merchant half his kingdom

if this were proved to be true. When enquiry was made it was found

that the wives had really become men, and the Raja was put to shame

before all his people. Then the assembly broke up and the merchant

received half the Raja's kingdom.

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