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VIII

THE ISLAND PALACE

ONCE upon a time there was a town called Atpat. In it there lived a Brahman. He had a disciple who used every day to go to the village pond and bathe and worship the god Shiva. On the way he had to walk through the sandy island in the dry bed of the river. And, as he went home across the island, he used to hear a voice cry, "Shall I come? Shall I come? Shall I come?"; but when he looked round he could see no one. The Brahman's disciple at last got so frightened that he withered up until he became as dry and as thin as a bone. At last the Brahman said, "You have no wish to eat or drink; yet you are so thin. What is the reason?" The boy replied, "I neither wish to eat, nor want to eat, nor crave to eat. But I am frightened out of my wits. For whenever I come back from my bath I hear a voice behind me call out, 'Shall I come? Shall I come? Shall I come?'; but when I look round there is no one there." The Brahman said, "Do not be afraid, and when you next hear the voice, do not look behind you, but call out as boldly as you can, 'Come along, come along, come along.'" Next day the disciple went as usual to his bath in the village pond. He worshipped the god Shiva, and as he came home he heard the cry behind him, "Shall I come? Shall I come? Shall I come?" The boy was very frightened, but he did not look behind him. In a short time he mastered his fears, and then in a voice like a bull roaring he cried out, "Come along, come along, come along." At last he reached home, calling all the time and without once looking behind him.

The Brahman looked up as the disciple came in, and he saw that just behind was walking a young girl. He at once married the girl to his disciple and gave them a house to live in close by his own. Now, on the first Monday in the month of Shravan, or August, the disciple got up and said to his wife, "I am going out to worship the god Shiva. But do not wait for me. Just eat your breakfast directly you feel hungry." He went out, and in a little time his wife began to feel hungry. Nevertheless, she knew that, in spite of what her husband had said, she ought not to eat anything while he was worshipping Shiva. So she waited for a little time, but at last she got so terribly hungry that she could not wait any more. So she sat down and cooked her breakfast, and had just put one mouthful into her mouth when her husband came to the outer door. "Wife, wife," he called, "open the door!" Then the little wife got very frightened. She pushed the uneaten breakfast under the bed, got up, washed her hands, and opened the door. She then told her husband that she had waited for him, and she cooked a fresh breakfast, which both ate one after the other. Next Monday exactly the same thing happened. The little wife cooked her breakfast and was just beginning it when her husband came. She then hid her uneaten breakfast under her bed and pretended that she had waited for his return. And on the two following Mondays the naughty little wife deceived her husband in just the same way.

Now on the last Sunday in Shravan, when husband and wife went to lie down, the former noticed a light shining under the bed. He looked to see what it was, and saw several platefuls of jewels. He asked his wife whence they had come. Now they were really the uneaten breakfasts, which the god Shiva had turned into gold and jewels. But the naughty little wife got very frightened and told her husband a bigger story than ever. "They are presents," she said, "from my mother and father and their family." "But where is your father's house?" asked the husband. "It is in the sandy island," said the little wife, "which lies in the dry bed of the river." "You must take me there," said her husband. Next morning they started off together. And the naughty little wife could hardly walk, she was so frightened. For she knew quite well that her father had no house in the sandy island. But on the way she prayed to Shiva, "Please, please, god Shiva, create a house for my father in the sandy island which lies in the dry bed of the river, even if it be only for half an hour." At last the husband and wife came to the sandy island. And there, lo and behold! they saw a great big palace, and a splendidly dressed young man came forward and greeted the disciple as his brother-in-law. And a handsome old knight came forward and greeted the disciple as his son-in-law. And a beautiful young woman greeted the naughty little wife as the sister of her husband. And a lovely little girl ran up and embraced her and called her "sister." And slave girls and maid-servants ran forward to offer her their service. A guard of soldiers kept watch by the palace, and at the door there were sentries, who made way for them as they passed. Inside the house the little wife and her husband were given platforms to sit upon, and a splendid feast was all ready prepared for them to eat. After they had feasted, they got up and said good-bye to the little wife's father and mother, and garlands of flowers were placed round their necks, and they started for their home. When they had gone half-way, the naughty little wife remembered that she had hung her garland on a peg and had forgotten to bring it with her. So she and her husband went back to the sandy island. But when they got there, there was no palace, there were no soldiers to guard it, there were no sentries at the door, there were no maid-servants nor slave girls. There was nothing there but just a sandy island in the middle of a dry river-bed. And on the sand lay the garland which the naughty little wife had forgotten. She took it up and put it round her neck.

But her husband asked her, "What has happened to your father's house?" The naughty little wife replied, all in tears, "As it came, so it went. But if you promise to forgive me, I shall tell you." The husband promised. So she told him how every Monday she had felt so hungry and how she had cooked her breakfast, and then, on hearing her husband's voice, had pushed it under their bed. She also told him that the god Shiva had turned the food into gold and jewels. "Then when you asked me," she went on, "I felt so frightened that I said they were presents from my father and mother and the rest of my family. And when you made me take you to my father's house, I prayed the god Shiva to create, if only for half an hour, a house for my father on the sandy island in the dry river-bed. And he graciously granted my request." Then the husband forgave the naughty little wife. And she became quite good and never told him any more stories. And they both went home and lived happily ever afterwards.