Story of the Lost Camel.

Now there was in Alakápuri a rich merchant who lost a camel one day. He searched for it without success in all directions, and at last reached a road which he was informed led to another city, called Mathurapuri, the king of which was named Mathurésa. He had under him four excellent ministers, whose names were Bodhaditya, Bodhachandra, Bodhavyapaka, and Bodhavibhishana. These four ministers being, for some reason, displeased with the king quitted his dominions, and set out for another country. As they journeyed along they observed the track of a camel, and each made a remark on the peculiar condition of the animal, judging from its footsteps and other indications on the road.* Presently they met the merchant who was searching for his camel, and, entering into conversation with him, one of the travellers inquired if the animal was not lame in one of the legs; another asked if it was not blind in the right eye; the third asked if its tail was not unusually short; and the fourth inquired if it was not suffering from colic. They were all answered in the affirmative by the merchant, who was convinced that they must have met the animal, and eagerly demanded where they had seen it. They replied that they had seen traces of the camel, but not the camel itself, which being inconsistent with the minute descrip­tion they had given of it, the merchant accused them of having stolen the beast, and immediately applied to King Alakésa for redress. On hearing the merchant's story, the king was equally impressed with the belief that the travellers must know what had become of the camel, and sending for them threatened them with his displeasure if they did not confess the truth. How could they know, he demanded, that the camel was lame or blind, or whether the tail was long or short, or that it was suffering from any malady, unless they had it in their possession? In reply, they each explained the reasons which had induced them to express their belief in these particulars. The first traveller said: “I noticed in the footmarks of the animal that one was deficient, and I concluded accordingly that it was lame in one of its legs.” The second said: “I noticed that the leaves of the trees on the left side of the road had been snapped or torn off, whilst those on the right side were untouched, whence I concluded that the animal was blind of his right eye.” The third said: “I saw some drops of blood on the road, which I conjectured had flowed from the bites of gnats or flies, and I thence concluded that the camel's tail was shorter than usual, in consequence of which he could not brush the insects away.” The fourth said: “I observed that while the forefeet of the animal were planted firmly on the ground the hind ones appeared to have scarcely touched it, whence I guessed that they were contracted by pain in the belly of the animal.” When the king heard their explanations he was much struck by the sagacity of the travellers, and, giving 500 pagodas* to the merchant who had lost the camel, he made the four young men his principal ministers, and bestowed on each of them several villages as free gifts.

From that time these four young men became the confidential advisers of King Alakésa in all important affairs of state, and, as night is the house of sins, they in turn kept a regular watch in the city of Alakápuri, each patrolling the streets during three hours of the night. Thus they continued to faithfully serve King Alakésa, till, one night, the First Minister, when his watch was over, pro­ceeded, as usual, to see whether the royal bedchamber was properly guarded; after which he went to the temple of the goddess Kálí, where he heard what seemed to him the voice of a woman, lamenting and sobbing in great distress. Concealing himself behind the vád-tree of the temple, he called out: “Who are you, poor woman? And why do you thus weep?” At once the cries ceased, and a voice from the temple inquired: “Who art thou that thus questionest me?” Then the minister knew that it was Kálí herself who wept; so he threw himself on the ground, and, rising up, exclaimed: “O my mother!—Kálí!—Sambhavi! —Mahámayi!* Why should you thus bitterly weep?” Quoth Kálí: “What is the use of my revealing it to thee? Canst thou render any assistance?” The minister said that, if he had but her favour, there was nothing he could not do. Then the goddess told him that a calamity was about to come upon the king, and fearing that such a good monarch was soon to disappear from the world she wept. The thought of such a misfortune caused the minister to tremble; he fell down before the goddess, and with tears streaming from his eyes besought her to save him. Kálí was much gratified to observe his devotion to his master, and thus addressed him:

“Know, then, that your king will be in danger of three calamities to-morrow, any one of which were sufficient to cause his death. First of all, early in the morning there will come to the palace several carts containing newly-reaped paddy grains. The king will be delighted at this, and immediately order a measure of the paddy to be husked and cooked for his morning meal. Now, the field in which that paddy grew was the abode of serpents, two of which were fighting together one day, when they emitted poison, which has permeated those grains. Therefore, the morning meal of your king will contain poison, but only in the first handful will it take effect, and he will die. Should he escape, another calamity is in store for him at noon. The king of Vijayanajara* will send to-morrow some baskets of sweetmeats. In the first basket he has concealed arrows. King Alakésa, suspecting no treachery, will order the first basket to be opened in his presence, and will meet his death by that device. And, even should he escape this second calamity, a third will put an end to his life to-morrow night. A deadly serpent will descend into his bedroom, by means of the chain of his hanging cot, and bite him. But, should he be saved from this last misfortune, Alakésa will live long and prosperously, till he attains the age of a hundred and twenty years.”

Thus spake Kálí, in tones of sorrow, for she feared that the king should lose his life by one of these three calamities. The minister prostrated himself on the ground, and said that if the goddess would but grant him her favour he was confident he could contrive to avert all the threatened evils from the king. Kálí smiled and disappeared; and the minister, taking her kind smile as a token of her favour, returned home and slept soundly.

As soon as morning dawned, the First Minister arose, and, having made the customary ablutions, proceeded to the palace. He took care to reveal to no one the important secret communicated to him by the goddess—not even to his three colleagues The sun was not yet two ghatikas* above the horizon when several carts containing the finest paddy grains, specially selected for the king's use, came into the courtyard of the palace. Alakésa was present, and ordered a measure of it to be at once husked and cooked. The coming in of the carts and the king's order so exactly coincided with Kálí's words that the minister began to fear that he was quite unequal to the task of averting the fatality; yet the recollection of the smile of the goddess inspired him with fresh resolution, and he at once went to the palace-kitchen and requested the servants to inform him when the king was about to go to dinner. After issuing orders for the storing of the grain, King Alakésa retired to perform his morning ablutions and other religious duties.

Meanwhile a carriage containing the pots of sweet­meats sent by the king of Vijayanajara drove up to the palace, and the emissary who accompanied the present told the royal servants that his master had commanded him to deliver it to King Alakésa in person. The First Minister well understood the meaning of this, and, promising to bring the king, went into the palace, caused one of the servants to be dressed like Alakésa, and conducted him to the carriage. The officer of the Vijayanajara king placed the first pot before the supposed Alakésa, who at once opened it, when, lo! there darted forth several arrows, one of which pierced his heart, and he fell dead on the spot.* In an instant the emis­sary was seized and bound, and the officers began to lament the death of their good king. But the fatal occurrence spread rapidly through the palace, and soon the real Alakésa made his appearance on the scene. The officers now beheld one Alakésa dead and fallen to the ground, pierced by the arrow, and another standing there alive and well. The First Minister then related how, suspecting treachery, he brought out a servant of the palace dressed like the king, and how he had been slain in place of his royal master. Alakésa thanked the minister for having so ingeniously saved his life, and went into the palace. Thus was one of the three calamities to the king averted by the faithful Bodhaditya.

When it was the hour for dinner, the king and his courtiers all sat down, with the exception of the First Minister, who remained standing, without having taken a leaf for his own use.* The king, observing this, with a smile pointed out a leaf to him, but Bodhaditya would not sit: he wished to be near the king and to abstain from eating on that occasion. So the king allowed him to have his own way. The food having been served on the leaves, the hands of all, including the king, were mingling the rice, ghí, and dhal for the first course. Near the king stood his faithful minister Bodhaditya, and when the king raised the first handful to his mouth, “Stop, my master,” cried he; “I have long hoped for this handful as a present to me from your royal hands. I pray you give it to me, and feed upon the rest of the rice on your leaf.” This was uttered more in a tone of command than of request, and the king was highly incensed at what he naturally considered as insolence on the part of the minister. For such a request, especially when made to a king, is deemed nothing less than an insult, while to refuse it is equally offensive. So, whatever thoughts may have passed through Alakésa's mind, recollecting how the minister had that morning saved his life, he gave him the handful of rice, which Bodhaditya received with delight, feeling grateful for the favour of the goddess in being the means of averting this second calamity. Far different, however, were the sentiments of the king and the assembled company. One and all de­clared Bodhaditya to be an insolent, proud fellow; but the king, while secretly blaming himself for having allowed him to use so much familiarity, suppressed his anger, in consideration of the important service the minister had rendered him in the affair of the arrows.

On the approach of night the heart of the First Minister throbbed violently, for the third calamity predicted by the goddess was yet to be encountered. His watch being ended, before retiring to rest he went to examine the royal bedroom, where he saw the light burning brightly, and the king and queen asleep side by side in the ornamented swing-cot, which was suspended from the roof by four chains. Presently he perceived with horror a fierce black snake, the smell of which is enough to kill a man, slowly gliding down the chain near the head of the queen. The minister noislessly went forward, and, with a single stroke of his sharp sword, cut the venomous brute in two. Bodhaditya, to avoid disturbing any person at such an hour of the night, threw the pieces over the canopy of the bed, rejoicing at having thus averted the third and last calamity. But a fresh horror then met his eyes: a drop of the snake's poison had fallen on the bosom of the queen, which was exposed in the carelessness of slumber. “Alas, sacred goddess!” he muttered, “why do you thus raise up new obstacles in my efforts to avert the evil which you predicted? I have done what I could to save the king, and in this last trial I have killed his beloved queen! How can I remove the poison from her bosom? How can I profane that sacred spot with my hand? But I regard her even as my own mother; and do not children draw their nourishment from the breasts of their mothers?” Having thus briefly reflected, he wiped off the poison from the queen's bosom with the tip of his little finger, and in case the contact of the venom with his finger should endanger his own life he cut the tip of it off and threw it on the canopy. Just then the queen awoke, and perceiving a man hastily leaving the room she cried: “Who are you?” The minister respectfully answered: “Most venerable mother, I am your son Bodhaditya,” and at once retired. Upon this the queen thought within herself: “Alas, is there a good man in this world? Hitherto have I regarded this Bodhaditya as my son; but now he has basely taken the opportunity of thus disgracing me when my lord and I were sound asleep. I shall inform the king of this affair, and have that wretch's head struck off before the morning.” Accordingly she gently awakened the king, and, with tears trickling down her beauteous face, she told him what had occurred, and concluded with these words: “Till now, my lord, I considered that I was wife to you alone; but this night your First Minister has made me doubt it, since to my question, ‘Who are you?’ he answered, without any shame, ‘I am Bodhaditya,’ and went away.” On hearing of this violation of the sanctity of his bedchamber, Alakésa was greatly en­raged, and determined to put to death such an unprincipled servant, but first to communicate the affair to his three other ministers.

When the Second Minister's watch was over he went to inspect the guard at the royal bedchamber, and Alakésa hearing his footstep inquired who was there. “Your servant, Bodhachandra, most royal lord,” was the reply. “Enter, Bodhachandra,” said the king. “I have somewhat to communicate to you.” Then Alakésa, almost choking with rage, told him of the gross offence of which his colleague the First Minister had been guilty, and demanded to know whether any punishment could be too severe. Bodhachandra humbled himself before the king, and thus replied: “My lord, such a crime merits a heavy requital. Can one tie up fire in one's cloth,* and think that, as it is but a small spark, it will do no harm? How, then, can we excuse even slight deviations from the rules of propriety? Therefore, if Bodhaditya be really guilty he must be signally punished. But permit me to represent to your majesty the advisability of carefully inquiring into this matter before proceeding to judgment. We ought to ascertain what reasons he had for such a breach of the zanána* rules; for should we, carried away by anger, act rashly in this affair, we may repent when repentance is of no avail. As an ex­ample I shall, with your majesty's permission, relate a story.” The king having at once given his consent, the Second Minister began to relate the