No. XIX—pp. 88 and 213.

WE have in the Persian text of this ancient tale a curious parallel to a custom which prevailed in Europe during the Middle Ages. The house of the bountiful man is represented as having “neither door, nor lock, nor porter.” In the Mabinogion, we read: “If it should be said that there was a porter at Arthur's palace, there was none;” on which Lady Charlotte Guest remarks: “The absence of a porter was formerly considered as an indication of hospitality, and as such is alluded to by Rhys Brychan, a bard who flourished at the close of the 15th century:

The stately entrance is without porters,
And his mansions are open to every honest man.”

The original form of our story of the Poisoned Guests seems to be found in the 13th of the Twenty-five Tales of a Demon (Vetála Panchavinsati). The wife of a man named Harisvāmin having been stolen from him one night by a Vidyādhara prince, he gave away all his wealth to the Bráhmans, and resolved to visit all the holy waters, and wash away his sins, after which he hoped he might find his beloved wife again; and the story thus proceeds:

“Then he left his country, with his Bráhman birth as his only fortune, and proceeded to go round to all the holy bathing-places in order to recover his beloved. And as he was roaming about, there came upon him the terrible lion of the hot season, with the blazing sun for mouth, and with a mane composed of his fiery rays. And the winds blew with excessive heat, as if warmed by the breath of sighs furnaced forth by travellers grieved at being separated from their wives. And the tanks, with their supply of water diminished by the heat, and their drying white mud, ap­peared to be showing their broken hearts. And the trees by the roadside seemed to lament on account of the departure of the glory of spring, making their wailing heard in the shrill moaning of their bark, with leaves, as it were, lips, parched with heat. At that season Harisvāmin, wearied out with the heat of the sun, with bereavement, hunger and thirst, and continual travel­ling, disfigured, emaciated and dirty, and pining for food, reached in the course of his wanderings a certain village, and found in it the house of a Bráhman named Padmanābha, who was engaged in a sacrifice. And seeing that many Bráhmans were eating in his house, he stood leaning against the door-post, silent and motionless. And the good-wife of that Bráhman named Pad-manābha, seeing him in this position, felt pity for him, and reflected: ‘Alas, mighty is hunger! Whom will it not bring down? For here stands a man at the door, who appears to be a householder, desiring food, with downcast countenance; evi­dently come from a long journey, and with all his senses impaired by hunger. So is not he a man to whom food ought to be given?’ Having gone through these reflections, the kind woman took up in her hands a vessel full of rice boiled in milk, with ghee and sugar, and brought it, and courteously presented it to him, and said: ‘Go and eat this somewhere on the bank of the lake, for this place is unfit to eat in, as it is filled with feasting Bráhmans.’

“He said: ‘I will do so,’ and took the vessel of rice and placed it at no great distance under a banyan-tree on the edge of the lake; and he washed his hands and feet in the lake, and rinsed his mouth, and then came back in high spirits to eat the rice. But while he was thus engaged a kite, holding a black cobra with its beak and claws, came from some place or other, and sat on that tree. And it so happened that poisonous saliva issued from the mouth of that dead snake, which the bird had captured and was carrying along. The saliva fell into the dish of rice which was placed underneath the tree, and Harisvāmin, without observing it, came and ate up that rice. As soon as in his hunger he had devoured all that food, he began to suffer terrible agonies, produced by the poison. He exclaimed: ‘When fate has turned against a man, everything in this world turns also; accordingly this rice, dressed with milk, ghee, and sugar, has become poison to me.’ Thus speaking, Harisvāmin, tortured with the poison, tottered to the house of that Bráhman who was engaged in a sacrifice, and said to his wife: ‘The rice which you gave me has poisoned me; so fetch me quickly a charmer who can counteract the operation of poison; otherwise you will be guilty of the death of a Bráhman.’ When Harisvāmin had said this to the good woman, who was beside herself to think what it could all mean, his eyes closed, and he died. Accord­ingly the Bráhman who was engaged in a sacrifice drove out of his house his wife, though she was innocent and hospitable, being enraged with her for the supposed murder of her guest. The good woman, for her part, having incurred groundless blame from her charitable deed, and so become branded with infamy, went to a holy bathing-place to perform penance. Then there was a discussion before the superintendent of religion as to which of the four parties, the kite, the snake, and the couple who gave rice, was guilty of the murder of a Bráhman, but the question was not decided.”

This forms the 16th tale of the Tamil version (Vedála Cadai) and the 12th of the Hindī (Baitál Pachisí); in the latter, the traveller, having placed the dish of food at the foot of a fig-tree, went into the tank to wash his face and hands; meanwhile a black snake, gliding from the roots of the tree, thrust its venomous mouth into the food, and then went away.—An in­cident resembling this story is found in the Bahár-i Dánish (Story of the First Companion): A snake bites the lip of the lady's paramour while he lies asleep, and kills him; then it dropped some of its poison into the goblet of wine, which the lady when she awoke drank, and she also died.